31 May, 2014

I Deal In Ideals

Heather Mallick of the Toronto Star has written an article--actually, most of the Star's Insight section for today--that hurt to read. It's not available online as of yet, or I'd link to it, but let me give a summary. Because Canada's laws are about to change regarding prostitution, Mallick took a trip across Europe to see how various countries there deal with sex work and sex workers. What she found changed her mind about prostitution and it's caused me to question my beliefs on...quite a lot of things.

She believed, before she embarked on this trip, that sex work was, or at least could be, a job like any other. That legalization would offer some protection for women whom our society has chosen to marginalize. She found otherwise. In Germany, one brothel has flat rate specials, anything goes, and German net forums are flooded with complaints that the women there are "unfit for use" after a few hours. None of the many women she interviewed, in three countries, wanted to be photographed; many were hesitant to even talk to her. They seemed to exist, she wrote, entirely for the men; the idea that they themselves might have sexual desire wasn't even an afterthought. In most cases, while lip service was paid to the ability of the workers to refuse clients, reality suggested that would be, shall we say, an unwise career move. And so on. Basically, in the course of four pages, Mallick rubbed my nose in reality, and how it differs from my ideals. This really bothered me, because reality differs from my ideals in many, probably most ways, and I hate to be reminded of that.

I have this fault: I insist on seeing the world not as it is, but as I think it should be. It's not a pretty fault to have. When presented with irrefutable evidence that reality doesn't measure up to my ideal, I'm apt to withdraw from reality entirely rather than exert pointless effort trying to change it. And in the meantime my ideals blind me to the way things actually are.

Prostitution is one example. I've written on it here, here, and here; that last entry was even framed as a clash between my idealistic view of the trade and how it actually is. I suggested there that we could change the way sex work is viewed with a few simple paradigm shifts. After reading Mallick's exposé, I'm no longer sure about that.

The overwhelming takeaway from the article I just read is that men--it seems like all men, although I know otherwise--think women in general and prostitutes in particular are holes. Receptacles. The thought sickens me. It's not just that I do not and have never thought that way, but my heart aches that any woman--any person--should be thought of that way. It's not just one man thinking this about one woman, however. It seems like it's endemic. How the hell do you find the vaccine for a disease like that, and where do you apply it?

It's by no means just sex. My thoughts on love are unconventional, to say the least. I've been mocked online every time I've dared to bring them up. My sexuality has been questioned, repeatedly, because my claims that I find women beautiful regardless of their physical appearance are apparently impossible to believe, despite being true. (You'd think that my loving so many women would qualify me as heterosexual, but you'd be wrong.)

Politics--I'm forever looking for consensus, trying to drive people towards the center and get them to respect each other's points of view. That's so old-fashioned it's laughable: everyone knows right wingers are evil and left wingers are stupid. Or maybe it's the other way around, but c'mon, Ken, get with the program.

Religion: I'm really not keen on proselytizing, because if you feel the need to do it you view yourself as superior and everyone else as inferior. I have my own spirituality that works for me, and I'll talk about it here and if someone asks me about it--but I'd never suggest for a second that you adopt it. "Mine is not a better way; mine is only another way." Again, weird. I mean, if you listen to the militant atheists, any belief in God or gods is self-evidently infantile; evolved human beings, by which they mean them, have no time for fairy tales. You know what? I ask two things. One, examine your beliefs. If they work for you, great. Two--don't presume to make them mine. Beyond that, believe in one God, or seven, or none--makes no difference to me.

My thought processes, in short, are so uncommon that I often feel the need to defend them. But sometimes--like today--I get to wondering if I should just let these uncommon thoughts go. It looks from here like it would be so much easier to row with the current.

17 May, 2014

"Impure Thoughts"

Administrivia: my next economic post will be forthcoming in a couple of days. Or not. My aunt-in-law (is that a thing? Screw it, my aunt) provided me with an article that inadvertently activated a time machine, carrying me back to

THE TIME MACHINE: WESTMINSTER S.S., LONDON, ONTARIO, MAY 1989

Her name is Danielle, and right now she's the most enthralling thing in my universe.

I don't rank my crushes--I'm really not that good at the kind of advanced math that would take--but if I did, she'd be at the top of the second tier. That's to say, on days when Darlene hasn't favoured me with any attention at all, Danielle's among the first people my ever-restless brain turns to.
This particular crush is a little more...physical...than most of them. That's because Danielle is one of those misunderstood, thoroughly wonderful women who are free with their affections. She doesn't think twice about doling out hugs and pecks (and her hugs are the number-1 hugs of someone who means it, not the awful letter-A hugs that connote fear of disease). I've no doubt that some people thought of her as that word that starts with s and rhymes with lut...and nothing could be further from the truth. She has a devoted boyfriend, and she's sure to let everyone know it. But not in that way that high school girls the world over have perfected...you know, the "my boyfriend says it's nice outside today". No, there's just a line that you don't cross with her...call it the first base line...but you're free to come to the ballpark and she has this way of making you feel like you've caught a home run ball...every day. (2014 Ken intrudes: in all my life, I've met exactly one other person who has this mindset...it's rarer than albino unicorn tears.)
The lovelorn teenager I am can't help but take these hugs and the odd peck and throw them headlong into the fantasy fire, where they burn with a heat that melts mattresses. The adult struggling to birth himself recognizes Danielle's free-floating love for what it is (exactly the sort of love he feels himself and wishes everyone felt comfortable expressing) and what it isn't (the sort of love that melts mattresses)...and he's more than content to spend time in her company on her terms.

Now, a few months down the road, after I've moved away from Darlene, Danielle, and everybody else I ever cared about, I'll be asked what colour paint I want in my bedroom, and I will find a shade of paint called 'danielle', and it will be a lovely light blue, but it won't matter if it's  pus-coloured, I'll take danielle for my bedroom, please and thanks. Teenage Ken won't be going away any time soon.

But that's the unknowable future. Tonight's all about the past.

It's nothing short of incredible what this school has turned into. Scores of teachers and students have worked long and hard to transform different rooms of the school into time portals. There's a 1950s sock hop in the cafeteria, complete with classic car show outside. One gym is now smack dab in the Middle Ages, with mosaics and troubadours and fencing duels; they're building a pyramid to Cheops in the other gym.  My French classroom has become 1890s Paris. And I'm part of a smoking hot quartet in a 1920s speakeasy that was an auditorium yesterday.
It really is amazing: we've got smoke, imitation '20s spotlighting, a capicola sandwich vendor in the corner...and me at the piano, wearing a shirt that says "don't shoot the piano player". I'm just the accompaniment to Craig, smoking away on trumpet, our music teacher on spoons...and Danielle on clarinet, who is just plain hot in a red dress with a strategic slit up the side.
We're doing Chimes Blues, something I will believe for years that Mr. Hall wrote for us, until I stumble on it when YouTube becomes a thing. Regardless, Mr. Hall wrote the arrangement, and coached us a bit  on jazz improv, telling me to just use the music as a rough guide except for the 'chime' measures in the middle.

I am in my freaking element. I've been playing piano since I was four and I've gotten as far as Grade 5 Conservatory before dropping out in disgust because I was never allowed to experiment with the music. Now here's a teacher not just telling me it's acceptable, but flat-out demanding it. "Take this music and improve on it", he says. "I know you can do it." That heady praise goes straight to my fingers: it's damned hot in this costume...and it's about to get a damned sight hotter.

Craig launches into a solo and Danielle sashays out into the middle of the room...and then, with a flick she'll later tell me she's practiced for weeks, her dress will swirl and...just for the barest instant...the slit up the side will part and I'll be vouchsafed a vision.
My fingers are on autopilot, tickling ivories and wishing they were tickling something else. I've found a way to get my eyes on porn by this age and I gotta say, heaving thrusting naked orgies have got nothing on this young woman in red. An entire song I'll call 'Danielle's Ditty' coruscates out of my mind and through my fingers when it comes time for my solo. I will never compose another jazzy song, even though  'composed' is entirely the wrong word for this one. It's born without thought: just a mindless, hedonistic musical ejaculation.  It occurs to me that jazz is to music what Danielle herself is to love: free-flowing, grab-you-by-the-seat-of-the-pants and don't let go.  It belongs in dark, hot, smoky secret spots, even if it's thoroughly respectable on the surface.

Several fellow students and more than a few adults will ooh and ahh and sigh in my vicinity over the next hours and days: in true Danielle fashion, that flick of the dress was repeated several times to various corners of the room. The words "impure thoughts" will be mentioned by one of the teachers, and be echoed by another. I doubt anyone here will forget her anytime soon.

----------------------
Danielle came to mind as I read this.

A 17-year-old girl named Clare was booted, along with her friends, from her homeschool prom because her dress--which is shorter, but trust me, a good deal more conservative than that flaming number Danielle wore--was causing some chaperoning dads to think 'impure thoughts'. They actually stated they were concerned the 17-year-old boys were also thinking impure thoughts.

Well, duh. Any seventeen year old boy is a jittering jiving impure thought on legs (three of them) and any parent who believes otherwise has drowned in an Egyptian river.

Part of the problem here, I'm convinced, is in the first sentence. HOMESCHOOL PROM? I mean, good on the organizers for granting their charges this rite of passage, but pardon me for questioning whether a homeschool program in Virginia bothers to teach girls or boys anything about the facts of life. It also, quite evidently, imparts that peculiar Christian ethos that blames women for the conduct of men--we all know Eve tempted Adam with that fruit.

(It was not an apple, by the way. Apples are not native to the Middle East. The Latin words for "apple" and "evil" are identical. Just one of dozens and dozens of mistranslations in the Bible...some of them a good deal less trivial.)

The comments below this article contend the dads should have been kicked out instead. That's stupid. Not as stupid as kicking Clare and her friends out, mind you, but stupid. If we're to be punished for our very thoughts,  there's no hope for any of us. I think of Danielle, and the bevy of impure thoughts she inspired, and how we all healthily sighed and giggled over them. Nobody kicked her out. Nobody was kicked out. And you know what? Nobody went after Danielle that night and assaulted her, either. In fact, all of us congratulated her, and she basked in the love we gave her, so similar really to the love she'd been giving herself.

Nobody deserves to lose her prom for clothing that met the dress code. We are not responsible for how our messages are received, only for how clearly we send them, and the message Clare was sending (to me. at least) was clearly inoffensive. Even granting some license for licentiousness--say, a subtle flick of a dress--and even as I acknowledge I had thoughts that would make a longshoreman blush confronted with that flick--I actually thought of Danielle at the time, I kid you not, as completely pure. An essence not of woman, but of Danielle. Is it really not possible to see Clare in that light?

Ever since that high school year, I have made it my life's mission to discover the essence of people. On some memorable occasions I've been responsible for people discovering parts of themselves they didn't know were there; on many, many others I've given them permission to be who they are. For me, that's purity, even if it yields the odd impure thought.



12 May, 2014

Poor

There are, by and large, two parts of our economy that are still functional. The tippity-top is going great guns, of course...they engineer it that way. The stock market is nosing around all-time highs. The price of admission to this market--in an example of truly side-splitting irony, it's called a "share"--well, some of them are five or six hundred bucks apiece, and if you call up the guardians at the gates and ask to buy just one "share", you'll be laughed into another dimension. For most of us down here in the sweatshops, five or six hundred bucks is a non-trivial amount of money. For more than a few of us, it's more than we earn in a week's work (and that's not even mentioning the countries where five hundred bucks is an above-average ANNUAL income).
As much as we need to talk about those countries, let's focus on ours for now. As I said, if you're monied, you're doing well, and the more monied you are, the better you're doing.

There is another part of the economy that's doing very well, and that's towards the bottom.

People are unaware of this--they hear the latest "job creation" figures and think that those jobs fit their preconceived notions of what a job is and what it's supposed to do. But for the most part, that's not true. Most of the jobs being created are part time, minimum wage or-so-near-to-it-as-to-make-no-difference positions without pensions or benefits of any kind. Such is the society we are creating for ourselves: consumerism run amok, supported by a phalanx of 'service industry' drones who aren't paid enough to serve themselves, let alone the world. Many of them can't afford to buy the goods they create, or sell.

This is what it's like to work for the world's most profitable retailer. It's an American article, of course. and many of us up here in Canada with our inferiority complex that manifests as a superiority complex will immediately dismiss it on those grounds. But there are political forces at work in our country that seek to make us just like America; indeed, our job creation figures are very much like theirs. Outside of Alberta, of course, where you can make a fantastic wage helping to destroy the environment.

Whenever the poor work and life conditions in the service industry are brought up in polite company, I've noticed that they are brushed off as unpleasant but necessary. Nobody is expected to stay in such a job for long, we're told. They're starter jobs, for kids, and if they paid a "living wage", nobody would have the ambition to better themselves.

This is, of course, absurd. The rich person doesn't stop at his first million.; why would a poor person stop at her first thousand?  But don't blame the monied people for thinking it--they have no idea what a "living wage" actually is, because quite frankly, they have no need to know that sort of thing. They are not accustomed to thinking in terms of  where their next meal is coming from; for them, it's more where their next luxury automobile is coming from.

 Poor people, to the rich, aren't really people at all. They lack some fundamental ingredient that would make them so. What is it the poor lack? Ambition? Drive? Integrity?

In most cases, non of these. No, in most cases poor people lack...money. But that's enough to dehumanize them, We live in a culture where people are judged not by their self-worth, or their worth to others, but solely by their net worth. Sad, but true.

 And most importantly, the rich tend not to  have a concept of the low-income trap that keeps people in these "starter" jobs for years, often for entire careers.

That trap has a number of springs. The first and most obvious is that there are more and more "starter" jobs and fewer and fewer jobs above that rung, making the competition  more and more intense over time. (This is called 'social Darwinism' and it's a favourite philosophy of the rich. Why wouldn't it be? We're all looking for confirmation that we're the best...for most of the rich, that confirmation is right there in their bank accounts.)
The second spring in the trap is a little more subtle. Finding a new job isn't simply a matter of effort. A sustained job search is expensive in time and money, for values of 'expensive' that only the poor can appreciate. Proper interview attire; resume writing and interview coaching; transportation to and from interviews; sufficient time off from work (unpaid, of course) to search in the first place. And I'm completely disregarding the most expensive item of all: an education. School costs. A lot. It's one thing to want to better yourself--most of us do--it's another entirely to have the means to do it!

But the third low-income trap is the killer. It's expensive to be poor. From bank accounts with minimum balance requirements you can't meet, to limited to nonexistent healthy food options, when you are poor, there are a host of factors conspiring to keep you that way. Poverty truly does act like a disease: it infests entire areas, like a cancer might, and it  hardens hearts and attitudes in those areas such that climbing out of poverty often carries a social cost.

I will write soon on my ideas for  needed paradigm shifts to elevate the poor among us. For now, take heart: it doesn't have to be this way.


11 May, 2014

Every Day is Mother's Day

I have three mothers.  Besides my Mom, there's my stepmom, Heather, and my mother-in-law, Anne. All three of them put a high value on their privacy, and so this paean to motherhood probably going to come off sounding a little generic. It shouldn't. These three women are anything but ordinary...even among mothers, who tend to be a cut above the ordinary themselves.

Circumstances prohibit my seeing any of the three of them near as often as I should. (I'm known as the invisible son-in-law; to my shame, I'm also an invisible son and stepson.) But I carry the three of them with me through my life, and I'm so very grateful for that.

The three of them, each in their way, are strong and resilient beyond my ability to describe. That strength can be intimidating, viewed at a distance. They do not live life in the passive mode; they are actors, fully conscious and competent. But again, each in their way, they embody compassion, not just cold competence. They are strong, yes, but so is their love.

The deepest, most life-sustaining parts of me come from my mother. I owe her my spirituality and my twin passions for words and music. The deep, seemingly limitless wellspring of love that is my single defining characteristic is her greatest gift to her son. She's a complicated woman, a study in opposites that somehow synthesize into a walking miracle.Kind of like my wife...of course. They say that men marry their mothers. That's not true, thanks to my next paragraph...but there are definite similarities between Eva and my mom, and all of them are good similarities to have.

The lessons I've absorbed from Eva's mom have largely come secondhand, through the remarkable woman she helped to craft. Among the many, many gifts that Eva has granted me, two stand out above all, and both come direct from Anne: her limitless strength in the face of anything life can throw at her (which, admittedly, I can only tap, so far)...and her restless, roving mind, endlessly curious, which gathers blacks and whites and produces lovely shades of grey. Eva, like her mom, is a woman of strong opinion who nevertheless can argue any side of any issue. From Eva I have learned that no position is worth taking unless you understand how you get to it...which means understanding how others derive different positions. That's a rare quality in the world.

Heather's lessons also come to me secondhand, through my father, whom she loves dearly. She has given my dad the freedom to let his emotions out, which has brought us closer together. She's a conciliator, a consensus-builder, a person who projects above all an aura of caring. That mix of indomitable spirit and empathy is a source of inspiration for me.

I love all three of you. I hope you know that.

Happy Mother's Day.

10 May, 2014

Dream A Little Dream...

“No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream."--Shirley Jackson, The Haunting of Hill House

In the last week, I've

  • spent three days and two nights in Australia with a friend;
  • suddenly grown fifteen inches and found myself in the seventh game of an NBA playoff series;
  • found myself on a beach somewhere, being stung to death by dozens of jellyfish;
  • decided I wanted to become a tax accountant, got myself accredited, found a job and got myself immediately fired for showing up to work naked. Well, I was wearing a tie. It wasn't knotted in an appropriate place (I was told), but the knot was impeccable.
Dreams are weird.

Ever had a scorchingly hot quadruple-x-rated dream starring somebody you're actually repulsed by in real life? That's one of the world's little nonplussing experiences. If you're a guy, you wake up in a puddle of gelatinous horror, trying mightily to square residual sexual tinglies with acute shame and revulsion, (Those feelings don't square very well, not when the shame and revulsion are circular, like a vortex coming to swallow you whole, and never you mind how she did just  that in the dream. Wow. I mean, ugh.)

Except in cases of serious psychological disorder, all of us dream. But we tend to forget around ninety percent of our dream life: we're more likely to recall an individual dream if we wake in the middle of it.

Science is less sure about the concept of time in dreams. Current theory is that the brain is free to work at its own pace when it is not limited by waking consciousness, and that pace is fast, allowing the mind to create a vivid and rich dream which seems to last hours--or days--in only minutes or even seconds.

That Australian adventure was a real anomaly...I've only ever had one dream I can recall that involved me waking up, and until this week I've never done it twice in the same dream, to my knowledge. As strange as that dream's timeframe was, however, it followed a standard progression. I don't know about you, but the longer my dream goes, the more likely it's going to turn nightmarish. In this case we found ourselves stranded, 448 km from Sydney (a sign very helpfully informed us). Google tells me that could be Leeton or Wagga Wagga, and let me tell you that I'm kind of afraid to go searching images in case I recognize something. In the dream, I was frantically trying to find a way to call home, to let Eva know where I was and try to explain--somehow--that although I was with another woman, I hadn't run away from her and by the way, I'm supposed to work tonight, could you call them and tell them I'm Down Under the weather or something? Except I had no money and just the clothes I was wearing (clothes I don't actually own) and...damnit, that dream was odd.

The NBA dream. I'm not a big basketball fan. I watched a little of the Raptors-Nets series because, hey, hometown team making good, maybe. (Or maybe not; they lost by a single point in game seven, because Toronto is cursed like that.) Anyway, evidently my mind was busily storing up footage for me to play back and insert myself into later. And it took some inserting. I knew my suddenly 6'10" self belonged on the team, and most of my team-mates welcomed me, but a few of them were hostile and the refs wouldn't allow me to take my place on the court, at first.  Then I picked up a a foul by drawing the word "FOUL" in Sharpie on the floor...and then I woke up.

Jellyfish: I've had that one before, several times, most memorably the night before my vasectomy. It's one of many, usually fatal, repetitive dreams I've had through my life. God knows how many times I've found myself splattered over several city blocks from an overenthusiastic swan dive, or shot in the face by a home intruder, or in this case mauled by jellyfish. That jellyfish dream always starts off sexual, too. I'm laying on a beach with my eyes closed, deep in fantasyland and sporting a streetlamp between my legs...the longer and harder it gets, the more jellyfish it attracts, except I don't know there are any jellyfish there because my streetlamp is flashing on and off in a very distracting way. The power surge and the stinging start simultaneously. It is very disconcerting to wake up dead, with your streetlamp extinguished forever.

The less said about that accountancy dream the better. Though, again, I must say that Windsor knot was impressive.

The more perceptive of you will notice a common theme: Ken neck-deep  in situations out of his control and often beyond his...ken, you might say. Some people are able to control their dream lives. Not me, not ever. I'm strapped to a missile whose guidance system is malfunctioning. Even my nice, non-nightmare kind of dreams almost always involve situations I'd never find myself in out here in wakeworld, and my actions and reactions are not those I'd imagine myself pulling off. Very rarely does my dream even start from a known where/when in real life...and if it does, it diverges right quick from the life I already lived, sometimes for the better but usually for the worse. I'll find myself in a car driving on the 401--bad enough since I don't drive--and then the car will suddenly turn into a plane and I'm taxiing down the 401, having to leap over the overpasses...I'll be at work and everything's normal except I see I have instructions to individually price all the penny candy/drink all the milk on the milk counter (that one didn't end well)/ hop on till (which I've never worked in a grocery store) and serve all the customers--who turn out to be zombies buying brains.

You probably don't want a starring role in a Ken-dream. Trust me on that.

05 May, 2014

WiFi in the Wild

I'm on vacation right now. And I've been glued to this computer even more than I usually am.

My French  IV class has been cancelled due to lack of interest--only four people enrolled, and I was one of 'em. I thought this might happen, as many of my French III classmates expressed serious misgivings about the intersession class, which was supposed to be a twice-a-week affair over eight weeks (as opposed to the three classes I've been through so far, which were Tuesday nights only).

Me, I'd go all day five days a week if it would get me fluent faster. As it is, by the time my fall course starts up, I'll probably have finished all the exercises in the textbook. I'll have to, just so I don't forget what I've learned already.

WiFi hotspots are coming to Canada's national parks.

Your reaction to this probably depends on your age. I've written before about wifi at Disney World and the reaction to its coming, which boiled down to "it's about bloody time".  I was incredulous. I simply couldn't believe any sane, rational person would survey the so-called 'Happiest Place On Earth' (it is, trust me) and say to themselves, you know what's missing here? The Internet! "Flabbergasted" doesn't even begin to cover it.

Now they're putting wifi hotspots in our national parks. Because, you know, this

doesn't hold a candle to the latest Tweet. Because people would rather stare at their screens than at something like this...



Because camping at Georgian Bay National Park

just can't be camping if your employer can't get a hold of you and make you work on your vacation.

I say I'd quit a job that pulled that stunt, except in all honesty I'd probably be fired. Because if my boss said something to me about  keeping in touch, I'd ask him if he had a family he cared about.

That people would willingly, even eagerly, tote their smartphones into the backcountry--while I wouldn't even put myself in a position where I could be forced to--just speaks to how alien I seem to be.

The only blog entry I've done about camping is also, oddly enough, about cell phones. But the cell phone part of the blog did not intrude on the camping part. To this day, nothing does intrude on my memories of camping: they're pure and pristine, like the lake, like the air, like the forest.

I love the online world mostly because of how it connects me to the offline world...my day isn't complete unless I check in with a couple of friends, and Facebook makes that so simple. Reddit is a source of endless blog and thoughtfodder and YouTube is, to me, nothing less than a miracle. But Ecclesiastes had it right, to everything there is a season, and as we approach camping season, it saddens me to think that someday soon, camping will be no different from sitting on your ass at home.

02 May, 2014

Sterling the Pot

There has been a surprising amount of misinformation cloaked in righteous indignation concerning Donald Sterling, the soon-to-be-ex owner of the L.A. Clippers and what widespread published reports would have you believe is his cruel and unusual punishment for uttering a stunningly inappropriate, racist comment.

The one thing everyone does seem to agree on is that Sterling is a jerk. I don't usually make light of cancer, but reports that this man is suffering from prostate cancer seem rather fitting. After all, consensus is he's a giant inflamed asshole.

But since when is being a jerk illegal? I mean, even if you aspire to be a veritable robford, surely getting fined two and a half large and being banned for life/forced to sell your team is a tad...harsh? And doesn't the U.S. believe in free speech?  There's this thing called the First Amendment, isn't there? This was a private conversation, illegally recorded, we're told. How can you be punished for saying something in private? There have been all sorts of editorials saying, in effect, hey, I'm not a racist, but what happened to Sterling is worse than racism. 

Where to begin. Let's start with the assertion that's correct. Being a jerkwad is perfectly legal in the United States.  Donald Sterling, in uttering his appallingly racist comment, broke no law and faces no legal punishment. He is (for the moment), however, the owner of a National Basketball Association team, and as such, he's the member of a private club and a stakeholder in a very lucrative business partnership. 
That means he's subject to a code of conduct, which he broke in spectacular fashion. If you break the code of conduct of a private institution, it's up to them and them alone what they do with you. The First Amendment doesn't enter into it--that protects you from repercussions from the government, which Sterling is not facing. 

When I was a university student, I signed a code of conduct promising me I'd be expelled for action unbecoming a student of the school I went to--wether that action happened on or off campus, and however it came to their attention. Judging from the asinine behaviour I saw daily from scores of university students, that clause is never enforced. But it's there. I can be fired from my job for saying or doing anything that reflects poorly on my employer. And I'm just a lowly peon. Donald Sterling is the owner of a billion-dollar in a business that happens to employ a great many African-Americans,  and his words have caused an unprecedented amount of horrible publicity. The NBA was perfectly within its rights to ban Sterling for life, and to fine him any amount of money. Forcing him to sell his team is a little more ambiguous, but only in that it requires a vote among the other 29 owners, a vote I expect will be unanimous. Reports are Sterling will then sue...because like the robford he is, he just doesn't get it. 

(In case you're wondering, there will not be a Rob Ford blog forthcoming.)

Now let's dispense with the "private conversation". Between Sterling, who is 80, and "V. Stiviano", his mistress, who's 31. She's gone by at least three aliases. She's fifty years his junior. She's the subject of a lawsuit from Mr. Sterling's wife, alleging he gave her millions of dollars in gifts, including a house and four luxury automobiles. SHE IS THIRTY ONE YEARS OLD AND HE IS EIGHTY. I think the phrase "gold digger" is the general gist here.

"Stiviano" claims, and claims to be able to produce proof of her claim, that Sterling knew he was being recorded. She says she has over a hundred hours of Sterling on record. If this is true, the taped conversation was entirely legal. Fobbing its fruit off on TMZ was kind of a dick move, but ahem SHE IS 31 AND HE IS 80 and somebody here had a serious lapse in judgement, or actually several of them. 

"We've all told questionable jokes and said questionable things", I've heard lately. Yeah, I have too. I'm kind of careful who I say those things to, though, and if any of them come back to bite me, I'll have seriously misjudged a friend. That's the risk you take, and it's a risk Sterling took, and it bit him.  I have zero sympathy.

There ARE a couple of questions I'm left with in the wake of this sordid affair, though. One: how is it that Sterling, who has been a notoriously unrepentant racist for years, has a lifetime achievement award from the N.A.A.C.P.? And two, how is it he was going to receive a second such award next week, until this happened?