This place matters

This place matters

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

The persistence of memory

Packed away in a basket inside a box of forgotten things I found a small muslin bag the size of the palm of my hand. The size of the little muslin bags that tourist shops let you fill with as many polished stones as you can. This bag once held a hunk of pyrite, which my mom bought me in a little shop in Loudenville during the apple butter festival.
The pyrite is gone - I don't know what ever became of it. Inside the bag is now a box - polished wood with a mother-of-pearl in-lay, too small to ever hold anything practical. The box was a gift from a woman I am no longer friends with. She gave it to me wrapped in a scrap of purple fabric for my eighteenth birthday, and I remember right where I was sitting on the floor of my parents' living room when I opened it. 
Inside the box are six rocks - tiny, of various shapes and colors, each representing a moment I wanted to remember forever. I got the idea from an utterly forgettable movie with Brendan Fraser and Danny Devito - With Honors. Pale imitation of The Fisher King. I saw the movie twenty-five years ago but I remember one of the memories was of making love on the beach.
I don't remember what the rocks are for. One's a first kiss, I think. One might be prom. What did a teenage me consider worthy of always remembering? I only remember that every one of those moments seem unforgettable. 

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Or does it explode?

Following the violence in Charlottesville, there have been a whole lot of white people invoking the name of Martin Luther King. Protesters who do not like Nazis should resist nonviolently, like Dr. King. Should meet hatred and violence with peace and love. Some have gone so far as to say that those who fight back against the Nazis' threats, beatings, and murders are "just as bad" as the Nazis are. 
I wonder how many of the people invoking the name of Dr. King have actually read his writings, his speeches, his sermons. How many have really understood his words and what he stood for.

Others counter that if we follow King's dictates, they'll be passively resisting their way to the grave. That his strategy of nonviolence failed. That the time has come when we can and must fight back, violently if necessary. I wonder, too, how many of the people dismissing King's methods have read and understood his words.
Because here's the thing. I happen to believe that Dr. King, flawed though he was, was one of the greatest Americans to ever live. I believe that with all my heart. In times of greatest hopelessness I turn to his words for hope and for guidance on a way forward. And if you think that Dr. King's entire life's work can be summed up as "nonviolence," then I believe you've been sold a bill of good, my friends. 
Yes, Dr. King preached nonviolence, preached passive resistance. He believed violence was abhorrent, although he didn't condemn it unequivocally. Asked to speak out against race riots he instead said "a riot is the language of the unheard." America, he said:
 "...has failed to hear that the plight of the Negro poor has worsened over the last few years. It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice, equality, and humanity." 
Pause for a moment and reflect on just how true those decades-old words remain. King said that wherever there is injustice, violence will follow, and that "social justice and progress are the absolute guarantors of riot prevention."

I think that a lot of the folks who extol King's strategy of passive resistance are focusing way more on the word "passive" than they are on the word "resistance." And we can't be totally to blame for seeing it this way. I think educators, when they blow the dust off of their Black history lessons every February, tend to preach that what made King special was his nonviolence, as if Black folk before Dr. King had been meeting every injustice with armed insurrection. But Dr. King was one of the good ones, they say without saying. He was well-behaved and respectable. It's a self-serving narrative, and it's a shamefully incomplete one.
King was about so much more than nonviolence. He was about the tireless struggle for justice. He was about using boycotts to hit oppressors where it truly hurt - the wallet. He was about marching through the streets not in a show of passive resistance but in a show of empowerment. He was about seizing the right to speak, to protest, to demand justice in the strongest possible terms. No justice, no peace.

Before invoking Dr. King, read his Letter from a Birmingham Jail in its entirety. In it, he says "Over the past few years I have consistently preached that nonviolence demands that the means we use must be as pure as the ends we seek. I have tried to make clear that it is wrong to use immoral means to attain moral ends. But now I must affirm that it is just as wrong, or perhaps even more so, to use moral means to preserve immoral ends."

Next time you think to use Dr. King to urge Black folk to calm down and be peaceful, take a look at his A Time to Break the Silence speech. Know that he is speaking right to you when he says "A time comes when silence is betrayal." 

Sociologist Doreen Loury says that she gets "so tired of people turning King into a dreamer." She says that people reducing him to that "made him safe. He was a revolutionary. That's reflected in his last book when he says 
"White Americans must recognize that justice for black people cannot be achieved without radical changes in the structure of our society. The comfortable, entrenched, the privileged cannot continue to tremble at the prospect of change of the status quo... This is a multiracial nation where all groups are dependent on each other... There is no separate white path to power and fulfillment, short of social disaster, that does not share power with black aspirations for freedom and human dignity."
Whenever I read King's words, I get the eeriest feeling that he's talking directly to us today. But are we really listening? Or are we waving his name like a cudgel? Are we advocating for him or are we merely trying to gag Black voices with his name alone? Before we go on quibbling over whether this or that action flies in the face of King's message, we ought to all know exactly what his message was. 

Monday, August 14, 2017

Ignoring the wolves at our doors

I saw something that shocked me today. A Facebook friend posted an article from The Daily Stormer about Heather Heyer, the woman murdered for participating in an anti-Nazi protest, titled "Woman killed in road rage incident was a fat, childless 32-year old slut." The headline itself wasn't the thing I found shocking. I am sure tons of hate sites ran similar stories today. What I found shocking was that other people were surprised by this.
And that made me realize I've been harboring a hideous, toxic secret. For years the prevailing online wisdom has been to ignore the trolls. Don't reward the online Nazis and white supremacists with attention. It's wisdom along the lines of "don't engage the trolls" and "don't read the comments."
That seemed like a good idea at the time. But now that the knives are out, I realize that I've kind of known about the Nazis hanging out in the bowels of the Internet for years and I guess I thought everybody else knew too.
The Huffington Post ran this story today about a televised exchange between CNN's Symone Sanders and conservative politician Ken Cuccinelli. The two were brought on to discuss the events in Charlottesville this weekend. At one point in the conversation Sanders interrupts Cuccinelli's attempt to justify the actions of the Nazis, and Cuccinelli says "Will you just shut up and let me finish, Symone?" 
Well Sanders just lets him have it, saying "Under no circumstances do you get to speak to me in that manner. You should exhibit some decorum. And understand that you were trying to defend and excuse white supremacy on this program. And under no circumstances will I sit by while that happens." 

If you followed the conventional wisdom and didn't read the comments, you wouldn't know that the vast, vast majority of the comments attacked Sanders. She was a "typical" bobble-headed Black woman. One user said that Sanders had demonstrated everything that was bad about "these people," and another blamed "people like her" for the events in Charlottesville. There were attacks on her race and attacks on her gender and attacks on the Left and there was vitriol and hate. HuffPost has since closed the article to comments.
And the thing is, these commenters could be anyone. They could be an ER doctor. A hiring manager. The guy in the next cubicle. 
They could be cops.
I should have told you about these people. I should have told you how often you can find them spouting off their racial hatred in YouTube comments sections and on news websites and on homegrown forums where they meet and collaborate with other hateful people.
I should have told you about the forum on Reddit, the one with hundreds of thousands of followers, the one where men who could be your coworkers or neighbors how worthless women are, how they are only good for one thing, and how to get that thing come rape or high water. I should have told you how many of these people there are. I should have told you that women have to interact with them every day. How they are raising their sons to be just as hateful as them. I should have said. 


I should have told you about 4chan, the asshole of the Internet, where Nazis and white supremacists scheme and plot and claim when they are called out that they are only joking. That they are doing a "social experiment." 
I should have told you about the Nazis. Then maybe you wouldn't think that we live in a post-racial America. That racism is over and the pendulum is swinging too far in the other direction. If I'd told you sooner about the Nazis you'd understand that people aren't just being oversensitive when they talk about systemic racism - maybe you'd know that there are millions of racist dirtbags hiding in every corner of the Internet. Maybe if you read their words you'd understand.
I should have read the comments. I shouldn't have told you not to read the comments. I shouldn't have ignored them. I shouldn't have let you ignore them. I should have said. 
I should have said.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

To the conservatives I love

Just now at least one person is dead and another nineteen are injured in Charlottesville, Virginia today after a car plowed into a group of anti-racism protesters, a cowardly act of terrorism.
Those protesters were there to speak up against what's being called the largest gathering of white nationalists in a decade, and those white nationalists are doing this in YOUR name. Are you going to let them?
They're calling their event "Unite the Right." You see, these un-American fascists are sure that all good conservatives believe that America is "fundamentally a white man's country," and that all conservatives should support white people taking the country back. Last night, they marched through the streets chanting Nazi slogans and performing the Nazi salute. See, even though millions of Americans served, and hundreds of thousands died to destroy Nazism, these new American Nazis think that all conservatives want to be "united" with them. When they say "unite the right," what they're really saying is "we assume other conservatives are just as hateful as we are." 
But you're not. I know you're not! I know we don't see eye-to-eye on a lot, but we both know that Nazism is evil and racial violence is wrong. We all know that conservatism and Nazism should be mutually exclusive, that hatred of, violence against people based on their skin color or religion, is evil. These Nazis represent everything America isn't and they want you to unite with them.
Now is the time for you, for all of us to say that enough is enough. No more violence in the name of conservatism. No more hate in the name of patriotism. You and I might not agree on much but we do agree that America, in the words of the great Republican Abraham Lincoln is a great nation, "conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal."
Don't let Nazis speak for you. Speak out against their violent agendas. Join your voices with other conservatives who don't want violent hate groups to steal their voices. Speak out against racism and hatred. Call your congressmen and local government officials and let them know that conservatives hate racism too. Consider donating to the NAACP - they're not some far-left liberal group; they're America's oldest civil rights organization, formed by patriotic Americans of many political ideologies. If you're the religious sort, you could call some Charlotteville churches, see what they're doing to stop the violence and what you can do to help. 
Or you could just... listen, when people say they're afraid. Instead of getting mad at people who see conservatism as racist, get mad at the racist conservatives giving you a bad name. Show kindness and compassion to everybody, in the hopes your kindness and compassion ripple out and make America a kinder and more compassionate place. Don't let the evil ones steal your voice. 

Thursday, August 10, 2017

The triumphant return

Okay, I realize it has been a stupid long time. We moved, you see, and then there was the two week grad school residency. And then there was all the unpacking and cleaning, and god these things look filthy now that we live in a place that light can reach. 
One of the speakers at my residency this year was the poet Dexter L Booth. Guy's amazing. And his talk was titled Of the Same Earth: Race, Poetry, and Absurdity in America. He talked about how often artists use absurdity to face the otherwise un-facable. He told us that the hyper-violence of old timey cartoon shows is a product of the horrors of World War I; people who faced those horrors went home and recreated those horrors as wildly absurd comedy. 
He gave us this poetry prompt, asked us to write poems about some unusual current events. I got the story of the man stuck inside the ATM. I'm no poet, god knows, but I don't hate what I came up with.

I only wanted to withdraw money
I didn't intend to withdraw other people's problems. 
You think you've got it bad, huh,
being stuck inside an ATM?
Way I see it you are the one 
sitting on a pile of money,
whining about "oh poor me,
I'm stuck in a big box of money."
And I tell you what, Mister Woe Is Me,
I have to WORK for my money
Yeah, so people have to work for what they've got.
Unlike you
sitting on a pile of cash talking about "oh poor me", "oh I'm stuck in here with all this money," "boo hoo I've been here for hours and I'm running out of oxygen." 
Whining about "let me out."
Well I'll tell you what, Mister Money Box,
I never had anything handed to me my entire life
cept this note.
cept other people's problems.


Thursday, June 29, 2017

Here's how we'd all benefit from legal pot - even if you never touch the stuff

It's no secret that Jeff Sessions has a big problem with weed. Remember, this is the guy who once quipped that he thought some Klan members who murdered a black man were okay until he learned they smoked pot (it was a joke. 'Cause if you can't laugh about a brutal lynching, what can you laugh about?)
In his role as Attorney General, he plans to go after pot with both guns blazing - including medical marijuana. He says pot's a gateway drug, despite the fact that it most definitely isn't - most people who try pot don't even try pot again, let alone harder drugs.

So you know how I'm always insisting there's no Big Pharma plot to keep people sick so they can make money treating them? There's an exception to every rule. The drug companies dump millions into anti-weed campaigns and lobbying efforts. Insys Therapeutics spent half a million on scare-mongering ads opposing medical pot in Arizona last year. Insys, it should be noted, manufactures a drug synthesized from fentanyl, an obscenely potent opiod that is as deadly as it is addictive. Perdue, which makes Oxy-Contin, sponsors anti-pot events all over the country. These organizations claim they're trying to protect people from the evils of pot all the while the drug that butters their bread is killing people from sea to shining sea. 

Drug companies lobby their asses off to keep weed illegal, and it's not hard to see why. Marijuana is a very effective painkiller, and unlike prescription opiods, it's not physically addictive (i.e., you won't get sick and go through withdrawal if you go off pot). In fact, pot might help treat opiod addiction (we don't have enough evidence to say so for sure, but we know that pot effectively treats symptoms like pain and nausea, which are part of opioid withdrawal).  Robust scientific studies show that pot can help with muscle spasms from MS, nausea from chemotherapy, seizure disorders, and more. It's also way, way safer than a lot of the pharmaceutical drugs used to treat these things. 
Pot isn't without side effects - it can suppress immune function, cause memory loss, even trigger psychosis in people predisposed to it. But if you compare those side effects to the ones caused by the pharmaceutical alternatives, the weed wins it.
So what's it to you? Well, imagine your community with less opioid addiction. Studies show that wherever medical marijuana becomes legal, opioid use and opioid addiction drop. That means fewer deaths, fewer opioid-related traffic accidents. It means if you have a heart attack, EMTs might get to you sooner because they're not busy administering Narcan to someone on the other side of town. It means government needing to use fewer resources for addiction treatment.
Medical pot means if you get cancer, or shingles, or fibromyalgia, you'll have another tool in your treatment arsenal - one that's relatively safe and affordable. Medical pot means your loved ones might suffer less when they get sick. Medical pot's a source of tax revenue. Medical marijuana means the justice system will be able to worry about bigger crimes. According to the New York Times
“Each year, enforcing laws on possession costs more than $3.6 billion, according to the American Civil Liberties Union,” the Times explains. “It can take a police officer many hours to arrest and book a suspect. That person will often spend a night or more in the local jail, and be in court multiple times to resolve the case.”
Now I should point out that pot's bad for developing brains. Teens should not smoke pot. You might think legal pot will increase the likelihood of teens using it, but the science doesn't support that. Little kids can get really sick if they get into mom and dad's edibles, but lock up the edibles. Problem solved. 

Legalized pot is good for sick people, good for cities, good for you.
 

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Things I learned from my mother

My mom always said to always go dutch on dates. She said if you pay your own way, there will be no misunderstandings about who is indebted to whom.
I like this advice. This is good advice. The whole idea of the guy always paying creates an imbalance, with the guy always feeling like he's owed something, and the women always feeling like she owes.

We should do away with this custom, which dates back to a time when women didn't work, or didn't get paid well enough to be able to take care of themselves. 
Folks tend to think that when feminists complain about the patriarchy, we're accusing all men of oppressing all women. But this is one of many cases where following the rules of the patriarchy is equally unfair to women and men. 

Sunday, May 21, 2017

A new hope

Sometimes we find hope in really unexpected places. Today I'm finding it on Lip Sync Battle.
This is Tom Holland, the newest Spider Man, putting a new spin on Rihanna's Umbrella. And I feel like not too many years ago, such a gender-bending performance might have really undermined the perceived masculinity of a fledgling action star. Might have been career suicide even. A couple of years ago, he might have gotten away with it if it was played for a joke, but it isn't a joke here - when he steps out in this very feminine costume, the audience doesn't laugh, they cheer - wildly. And he's not mocking or goofing, he's dead damn serious. 
Because here's the funny thing about clothes: this getup is feminine now, but back in the Victorian era, it would have been scandalous or even blasphemous for a woman to wear clothes like that - even under her nine layers of shifts and petticoats and skirts. It was utterly unacceptable for a woman to wear any sort of bifurcated undergarment then - might have turned her manly - might even have turned her wanton. Queen Victoria herself wore crotchless underwear. 
The outward trappings of gender in our society are as nonsensical as they are arbitrary as they are mercurial. A man can't be a man if he wears a skirt, unless it's a kilt, in which case it's okay, but only if he's Scottish. But Scots have been wearing kilts a lot less long than Braveheart would have you believe. The knee length pleated skirt we associate with Scotsmen today only became acceptable in the 18th century; before that, a kilt was a full length garment. But that garment dates only back to the 16th century - before that, men wore pants.
Today many, if not most Americans see makeup as a thing women should wear, and a thing men should not. But women in America didn't really start wearing makeup until the 1920s. In the early 20th century, the only place a person could buy makeup would be a theatrical costume store. In Europe from the Renaissance on, men often wore makeup to appear more aristocratic - pasty skin was a status symbol because it showed that a guy had so much money he didn't need to work outdoors. Men and women have been wearing makeup for 6,000 years, and only in the last century did makeup become associated with women and women only. 
I always find it funny when people use religion to justify a hatred of cross-dressing. Sure, the Bible condemns men who dress like women, but when the Bible was written, dudes wore dresses. If you want to dress like a man dressed back in ancient Israel, you've got to dress like a lady. According to Deuteronomy, God detests dudes who don't wear dresses. And what's absolutely bonkers is that here in the 21st century, people are murdering trans women by the thousands all over the world just for failing to wear articles of clothing that didn't even exist when their holy book of choice was written.
What I'm getting at is that rules about how women and men are supposed to look on the outside are arbitrary, mutable, and utterly pointless. But the good news is that we don't have to conform to these pointless rules. And the more young male action stars who say "fuck it, I'm wearing the bustier," the easier it gets for all of us. For trans men, and gender queer people, gender non-conformists and women who can't stand pantyhose and little boys who like the way their nails look when they're painted. For people who just want to look on the outside like what they feel on the inside. 
I dunno, maybe I don't know what I'm talking about. I just know my life got a lot better, my self-esteem got a lot higher, when I realized I was under no obligation to try to look "like a girl." And I really value celebrities who are willing to refuse to conform. From Alicia Keys refusing to wear makeup to Alexander Skarsgard dressing in drag to Diane Keaton and her four decade love affair with men's suits. To say nothing of heroes like Laverne Cox to Lana and Lilly Wachowski to the late Alexis Arquette who have chosen to be their true selves with the judging eyes of the world on them.   

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Should I be planning for my parents' retirement?



Ever since the orange nightmare took office I've had this niggling worry at the back of my mind. The kind of worry like when you're on vacation and you suddenly realize you aren't sure you didn't leave the iron on. I've been worried my parents will get sick and we won't have enough money to make them well. 
The House Cut Poor People's Noses Off to Spite Their Faces Act has an uphill battle in the Senate, with senators on both sides indicating they plan to rewrite it completely. Which is a temporary relief - a literal stay of execution for many. Maybe the Senate bill won't be the cruel, spiteful nonsense the House shat out. But honestly, the fact that my parents' health now relies upon this Senate doesn't have me sleeping much easier.
Oh, my parents have savings. My dad worked and paid taxes for nigh on sixty years before very reluctantly retiring at 77. Mom did the same, though she took a few years off to stay home with my sister and me - and by "took a few years off" I mean "ran a daycare out of our home so she could bring in income while being a stay-at-home-mom." But a life savings eked out one clipped coupon, one untaken vacation day at a time amounts to little in the face of the illnesses my parents could face as they get older.
My dad was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis forty or so years ago. He was in debilitating agony for most of my childhood until the disease somewhat miraculously went into remission. And yet he literally never missed a day of work. Daily he walked to the bus stop on aching legs to a job he hated, and nightly he came home shrouded in pain and exhaustion. 
When he got let go from the Plain Dealer, it seemed like the end of the world. But he got a job as an advocate for people with physical and developmental disabilities, and there he stayed. He kept vigil at the bedsides of clients who were dying, he broke bones, he got chunks bitten out of his flesh. It paid terribly - the hardest work always seems to - and he loved it. And after all that, he deserves to be able to get sick without going broke. He has paid for it in tax dollars and in volunteer hours and in care he gave to the sick and vulnerable. His country owes him that.
My mom loved her work too. She taught kindergarten in some of the poorest, most dangerous neighborhoods in Cleveland. Teachers came from all over the city to see the way she ran her classroom - the innovative math curriculum she adopted of her own volition, the teaching methods ahead of their time. Her salary probably amounted to less than minimum wage, especially considering the fact she volunteered to run the before school program, so that parents who were shift workers could drop their kids off at school before dawn. I can't count the number of times I've been at a restaurant, or out shopping with my mom and seen some grown adult come up to her and throw their arms around her, former students who just have to tell her what an amazing teacher she was. And she deserves to not have to wonder whether she'll always be able to afford the expensive medications and treatments for her chronic health conditions. She has paid for that medication in tax dollars too, and in giving a world class education to the poorest and most vulnerable kids - kids who have grown up and gone on to be successful, productive, tax-paying members of society. 
-
Legislators and ACA opponents keep talking about how they shouldn't have to pay for the health care of the poor and the lazy. But the Affordable Care Act doesn't give free health care to the poor and the unemployed - that's what Medicaid's for. The ACA extends medical benefits to people who work, but don't make enough to pay for insurance on their own. In fact, the ACA can help keep those folks healthy and in the workforce, rather than sick and on disability. 
For people like my folks, the ACA is about having the coverage they paid for in literal blood, sweat, and tears. For folks like me the ACA means being able to afford the psych meds that keep me sane and employable. The ACA is for small business owners and freelancers. It's for single moms and helpless kids and poor people and middle class people, and even well-off people who are, as it turns out, one cancer diagnosis from broke. The ACA is for people who work and pay taxes and deserve to be able to remain healthy enough to do so. 
Edit: if I earlier made it seem as if I don't believe that the poor and vulnerable are not also deserving of adequate health care, that is not what I think. We are the richest country on the planet, we have a moral imperative to protect our most vulnerable. No one deserves to suffer and die in A nation as wealthy as ours. "Christian "Republicans ought to under stand that.

Jackdaws at Stonehenge
They're holding chunks of wool they stole from sheep in a pasture nearby

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Elegy for the shattered ones

I'd like to take a moment today to talk about the most oppressed, the most persecuted minority group in our great society: Porcelain Americans. What's a Porcelain American, you ask? Well chances are, you know several. 
Like that guy at your gym who keeps getting passed over for promotions just because he's a white male. Porcelain American. The type of person who cracks under the unbearable weight of being called out for making casually racist statements. The kind of person who shatters whenever the hero of a movie is black and the villain white. The kind of person who falls to the floor in a million tiny pieces when a person of color speaks to them with anything other than complete and humble deference. These are Porcelain Americans.
Not all white people are Porcelain Americans, and not all Porcelain Americans are white. But it is true that for Porcelain Americans, the pendulum on racism has clearly swung too far - it was all fine and good when Black people were demanding the right to vote, but the fact that Black people now demand justice for small Black children being shot by cops? Clearly demanding that individual cops be held accountable is an attack on all cops everywhere, blue porcelain shattered all over the floor. 
For Porcelain Americans, the agony suffered over a footballer of color who won't stand for the national anthem is exponentially greater than the suffering of the starving people of Somalia for whom that same footballer has helped raise millions. Hungry people are a fact of life, but when you start cracking the porcelain bust of Uncle Sam - well that's a travesty that Porcelain Americans should never be forced to witness.
It's easy to ignore the suffering of Porcelain Americans. Yes, on paper - and by almost every metric you can measure, the average Porcelain American enjoys privileges that Americans of the non-porcelain variety doesn't. But put yourself in Porcelain Americans' shoes. What good is all that privilege if you can't use it to tell racist jokes without someone getting offended? What good is anything in a country where it's no longer okay to openly discriminate against the undesirable?
And imagine... just imagine for a moment the terror of knowing that any minute, some movie that you are in no way required to watch could retroactively shatter your entire childhood? 
Who even knew that was possible? And how can we say we're fighting rape culture if every day in America thousands of Porcelain Americans' childhoods are being raped... somehow. 
 Look at what the world has done to our precious Porcelain Americans and tell me that their lives aren't literally worse than all the Black kids in Flint with lead poisoning. Look at all the horrors under which Porcelain Americans are cracking and straining and tell me it isn't literally worse than piffling concerns like "systemic racism" and "rape culture." Porcelain Americans are shattering all around us. And we're just turning a blind eye.



Okay, I'll let you in on a little secret. I'm totally a Porcelain American. When I saw that  there was a movie called Dear White People, damned if the first thought to cross my mind wasn't "DOUBLE STANDARD!" But then I remembered the whole idea of false equivalence, and I watched the movie, and it was good, and I learned stuff. Not a chip or a scratch. My inner Porcelain American's always gonna take offense at being accused of having privilege, or having someone call me out for a micro-aggression I didn't even mean to make. That initial moment of taking offense may not be voluntary, but shattering over every slight and offense and every hint of unfairness or double-standards or disrespect - that's totally optional. 

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Casting call

So yesterday I mentioned my blog to some folks at work, with the caveat that it consists mostly of abrasively liberal diatribes and occasionally some stuff about words, wordplay, and word origins. Then I looked at my blog and it turns out that the abrasively liberal has pretty much drowned everything else out. I blame school - I don't have much time to browse through my stacks of word trivia books, stuck as I am reading Important Literature, and the little free time I have between work and school is generally dedicated to laying awake nights fretting about the Trumpacolypse. 
Possibly from 9gag.com?

So today, and in light of the fact that I should be off reading some of that Important Literature I mentioned, I thought I'd tell you some fun facts from some of my favorite podcasts, and provide you with links so you can have fun too.

This is more than just the most cleverly named podcast in the interwebs - it's a really entertaining and exceedingly well-researched podcast and website that is, in their words, "a collection of entertaining curiosities in history, literature, language, art, philosophy, and mathematics, designed to help you waste time as enjoyably as possible."
Fun fact from the archives of their show: in the early part of the 20th century, Dutch forger Han van Meegeren fooled the art world into believing he'd found previously undiscovered Vermeer paintings to the tune of millions. This despite his work looking nothing the hell like Vermeer.  
Helen Zaltzman hosts this show which, unlike my blog, actually is about words, wordplay, and word history. 
Fun fact: Back in 1816, the world seemed a very bleak place. A volcano in what's now Indonesia had just unleashed the largest volcanic eruption in 10,000 years, enveloping the planet in volcanic matter that blotted out the sun, cooled the planet, and destroyed crops all over the place. Tens of thousands left their homes and wandered from city to city in search of food and shelter. That's the backdrop against which Mary Shelly wrote Frankenstein. 

Episodes of this show are short, which is too bad because you want to hang on every word. He tells stories from history, of people forgotten or misremembered.
You may have heard that Leo, the MGM lion, killed his trainer the day after he filmed his world famous roar. Well he didn't. But life after the roar was even more strange. MGM decided he'd be the first animal to fly cross country, but the plane crashed. No worries, he survived. 

There are lots of podcasts dedicated to scientific skepticism, but this is my favorite. The three hosts debunk all kinds of pseudo-scientific claims, but what I like is that they demonstrate that lay people can read scientific studies to determine just what's fact and what's crap. 
Fun fact: Gwyneth Paltrow's website, Goop.com, sells "yoni eggs" - jade eggs that you're supposed to shove up your hooha to give it superpowers, maybe. The skeptics are here to inform us that this is not where rocks are supposed to go. 
None of them, for the love of god. None of them.

If you've never listened to podcasts before, I like Stitcher. You can use the Stitcher app, or you can listen straight from your browser. This app's really simple, and you can stream directly without having to download.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

I'm still here

Sorry I've been away so long. I was looking forward to spending some time caching blog posts this week while I'm on spring break, but instead fibromyalgia decided to beat the living shit out of me for a while. I'm just hurting and exhausted and so far beyond cranky. Honestly, it makes me want to


It kind of feels like
Maybe more like 
I mean, I guess it could be worse

So here's a video I like to watch when I'm feeling bad about my own life.

I never get tired of that. Because if there's anything Tom Hanks has to teach us, it's that, no matter how shitty a hand you get, you half-ass nothing, and eventually, if you dream big enough, you can grow up to be...

Any questions?

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Hooray for hypocrisy!

So another awards season is nearing its completion and there have been, and certainly will be, some fiery political diatribes up on that podium, stars selflessly using their sixty seconds in the spotlight getting in their digs at good old Donald Trump. And good for them. 
I guess.
This parody brought to you by MS Paint.
When I saw Meryl Streep's speech against Trump's bullying at the Golden Globes, all I could think was "Then make a movie with a god damn Black person in it, Meryl." The cast lists for her movies are whiter than a Starbucks inside a yoga pants outlet, and she's not doing shit about it. Last year, defending a lack of diversity in one of her projects, she claimed it was okay because "we're all Africans." She's one of the most talented, most visible actors in Hollywood and she could be doing a hell of a lot more than making self-important speeches. 

And that's the thing about certain Hollywood liberals. They're all about conspicuous displays of liberalism, but when it comes to Hollywood's massive diversity problem, they don't want to do shit. 
Hollywood's still whitewashing roles from Michael Jackson to all the gods of Egypt and the Meryl Streeps of the industry aren't saying a thing. Scarlett Johannson and Matt Damon have condemned Trump's racism, but Damon's currently the star of a movie set in medieval China (I'm sure there's some vitally important reason the character has to be white; there always is) and Johannson's wearing yellowface in The Ghost in the Shell and says it's okay because feminism. Practice what you preach or quit preaching, dude.
I was heartened by David Harbour's SAG awards speech when the Stranger Things cast won for Best Ensemble. He talked about standing up to bullies and speaking up on behalf the disenfranchised and marginalized. But the guy's on a show with one whole character of color. The whole of the show's first season failed the Bechdel test. Maybe focus some of that fiery passion on getting Stranger Things show runners to actually cast some of the marginalized and disenfranchised folks of whom you speak.

There are some celebrities getting it right. Oprah, Brad Pitt, Danny Glover, Lee Daniels, Nate Moore, Shonda Rhimes, and so many more have busted ass trying to make TV and movies that give a voice to marginalized people and a platform for them to stand on. They're not perfect people (Oprah unleashed Dr. Oz on an unsuspecting public for God's sake), but they're not shouting liberal catch phrases from awards podiums and then going home to do jack and shit.

So I'm calling you out, Hollywood celebrities who definitely read this blog and care what I think: practice what you preach. You want to make America kinder, more tolerant? You want to rise up against bullying and racism and discrimination? Make movies and television that promote diversity and draw in the marginalized. Don't just make speeches, make art. Make changes. Make waves. Make people think. Make a difference. 

Thursday, February 2, 2017

um, guys?

When I learned this morning that there'd been violent demonstrations at UC Berkeley over a scheduled speech by Milo Yiannopoulos, I'll admit I didn't know much about the guy. And now that I've wasted a little of my life reading about him, I'm gonna waste a little of yours with a theory I can't seem to stop having. Note: There are hate words below.
Pretty much everything you need to know about M.Y. is stuff he'll tell you himself. He's a self-proclaimed Internet troll with the mantra "double down, don't back down." He once said, "If someone calls you an anti-Semite, you go to their page and put up swastikas." He's not an anti-Semite himself, of course, because one of his grandparents was Jewish, and I'll just let you go ahead and connect the dots back to Hitler on your own. "I’m totally autistic or sociopathic," he once bragged to Bloomburg. "I guess I’m both." He'll do anything to get attention - he says that in the last for years he's never been alone in a room for more than an hour. And he's a genius at maintaining his brand - the embattled provocateur. 
Still, that's no excuse for censoring the guy. Even if he does insist on calling his tour The Dangerous Faggot Tour, I guess. Sure he's got no real education and his lectures generally consist of wall-to-wall anti-woman, anti-gay, anti-trans, anti-minority hate speech, but we live in a country of free speech, goddammit. And violence is never the answer, right?
Well, it might be if you're Milo Yiannopoulos. See, his big controversial tour has turned out to be kind of a dud. There were few bookings and a bunch of cancellations. A handful of students at Rutgers stood up, smeared paint on themselves, and then left. His appearance at the University of Minnesota drummed up a whole 40 protesters, only five of whom even made it into the venue. I mean, the guy proclaims himself an "Internet Supervillian" and he gets what? Some brief interruptions, a protester or two? Some supervillian.
To finally get some attention, poor M.Y. had to enlist the help of even less relevant "Pharma Bro" Martin Shkreli for a planned event at UC Davis. Now the controversy machine was firing up. M.Y. said on Facebook that the event was cancelled due to violence, but the police stated that there had been no violence or even property destruction. 
And then there was the University of Washington. Out of nowhere, this huge phalanx of organized black bloc protesters show up with fireworks and baseball bats. They're all in black, their faces are covered, and they're attacking M.Y. supporters and press alike. Finally, some headlines!
And isn't it a weird coincidence that a couple weeks later another well-organized gang of black bloc protesters showed up at M.Y.'s Berkeley engagement, dressed all in black with their faces covered, with fireworks and baseball bats to force the cancellation. Police are saying that the Berkeley students were protesting but peacefully, when all of a sudden a hundred and fifty guys dressed like ninjas showed up and started throwing bricks and setting fires. The attacks were aimed mostly at the police, but groups of peaceful protesters were targeted as well. About two hours before the event, the university said it was cancelling the event, saying they couldn't guarantee M.Y.'s safety.

M.Y. appeared on Facebook Live not long after, looking fabulous, saying he was shocked at the way some people "were so threatened by the idea that a conservative speaker might be persuasive, interesting, funny and might take some people with him, they have to shut it down at all costs."
Now M.Y. had his headlines. He was trending on every platform one can trend on. Even the President, a man M.Y. creepily refers to as his "Daddy," paid attention. M.Y. is back in the headlines and back on brand. It worked out really well for Milo. Who, remember, brags about being a sociopath and a supervillian and being willing to do anything for attention.

Is it crazy to wonder if that "anything" includes maybe a little violent pot-stirring? 
And a kitten, so you don't have to look at M.Y.'s pretty,
smug face.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Life or something like it

I've been thinking about lives and choices, on this, the anniversary week of the Roe v. Wade decision. Good, loving people are marching on Washington this weekend protesting abortion. I get where they're coming from, I do. I was a pro-life activist in high school.
And then I realized that picket signs don't prevent abortions. Contraceptives do. Education does. That's why I support Planned Parenthood. I still don't like abortion. So I support organizations that strive to prevent unwanted pregnancy. 
Abortion right now is at an all-time low - lower even than in 1973 when Roe v. Wade was passed.
Notice the nosedive it took starting in 2010? That happens to coincide with the passing of the Affordable Care Act, which put contraception into the hands of the women who needed it most. That's how you enact legislation that will end abortion.
But the Affordable Care Act is going away. And Planned Parenthood is in peril. Social programs that feed the hungry, care for the sick, and help the poor are in the cross-hairs. Do you honestly think that's going to make for fewer abortions?

Saturday, January 21, 2017

So you voted for Trump

So you voted for Donald Trump. I don't understand it and I sure the hell am never going to be okay with it, but the inauguration is over now and what's done is done. But if you're a person of good will, if you've got a conscience, if you're a person of faith, you are morally obligated to help clean up the mess your guy's about to make.

Trump and the Republicans aim to prevent the many male and female Medicaid patients from going to Planned Parenthood for cancer screenings, prenatal care, routine physicals, vaccinations, STI tests and treatment, and counseling services. Your guy is taking needed health care services away from people in poverty which means you have the moral obligation to do something to help those folks. You need to donate to your local free clinics, hospitals, and community health centers. Without access to the services that Planned Parenthood provides, people will die, and that's on you.

 I am not asking you to change your mind about Planned Parenthood, but I am telling you that you're responsible for helping the men women and children who will be left in the lurch. I am telling you that if you're pro-life, if you really are pro-life, it's time for you to start feeding, clothing, and caring for those babies once they're born. If you're Catholic, St. Vincent de Paul provides food, clothes, and other assistance to families in need. If you're a pro-life Catholic you are morally obligated to give generously to charities like this one, now more than ever. If you call yourself pro-life and do nothing to help people in need, you have no business calling yourself pro-life.

And another thing. Just because you voted for the guy doesn't mean you have to support his insane cabinet picks. You need to call your elected officials about his nomination for education secretary, Betsy DeVos, and you need to do it now. The woman is a menace who doesn't have any experience with public schools at all. Her confirmation hearing demonstrated that she has no understanding of Individuals with Disabilities Education Act - that she didn't even know it was federal law. She doesn't support full accountability for private and voucher schools. She also has, unsurprisingly, massive financial conflicts of interest. You have a mind. You are capable of independent thought. You know this woman isn't even qualified to run a school cafeteria and it is your responsibility to call your elected officials and tell them so. If this lady is confirmed, there's a good chance, based on her past advocacy, that she'll shift federal funding away from public schools and toward unregulated, unaccountable for-profit schools. A generation's worth of kids' education hangs in the balance, and these kids are gonna be your doctors and nurses when you get old. Get. on. the. phone. If this woman gets confirmed, on January 31st, the fallout will be on you.

You voted for a man who bragged about grabbing women by the pussy. You voted for a man who has demeaned and harassed women all his life and bragged about doing so. You voted for a man who has made sexual comments about young girls, a man who calls women he doesn't like pigs and dogs. You elected a man who in 2013 said that rape in the military is a logical consequence of having women in the military. And that means if you've got a conscience, you've got a serious karmic debt to pay. I don't agree with all the work Catholic Charities does, but they do fight tooth and nail against sexual violence and you've got no excuse not to support them. There are a ton of Christian organizations fighting sexual violence, human trafficking, and violence against women and girls, and you need to look them up and start supporting them with your time and money. If you don't agree with the awful, vitriolic comments your guy has made about women but supported him anyway for some effing reason, you have a moral imperative to do something to compensate.

You like the arts? You better start going to museums and donating dollars because Trump's promising to cut off funding for the National Endowment for the Arts. You like PBS and NPR? Better donate to your local affiliate because Trump and the Republicans are planning to cut their funding too. You like clean air and water, and bodies of water that don't catch fire on the regular? Well, with a guy who has repeatedly sued the EPA, who has called himself the “leading advocate against the EPA’s activist agenda” heading the EPA, you better start looking after the environment by reducing your own carbon footprint and donating to organizations like the Environmental Defense Fund. If the government's not going to help us preserve our planet, we're all going to have to step it up, and that means you, Trump voters who care about the environment. 

I'm not telling you to do anything I wouldn't do or haven't done. But I am telling you that you need to step up and help us preserve our education system, our (already alarmingly weak) social safety net, our planet.

You know how conservatives are always saying the government shouldn't be in the business of helping the poor and needy, that private charities should do the job? Well we are about to find out how well that whole idea works (again), so you need to pony up. I get that people of conscience voted for Trump, though I will never ever understand how they justified it. Now it's time for you people of conscience to get off your asses and get to helping us deal with the fallout.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Safety dance

As I gear up for my second semester of grad school I find myself thinking about safe spaces, those bug bears of conservative pundits and Twitter trolls alike. You know safe spaces, those things that inhibit free speech and coddle young minds on college campuses across the nation. They are destroying the Very Fabric of our education system, don't you know?
So does anybody here actually know what a safe space is? Class? Pundits? Trolls? Anybody? I mean, if people are bitching about them 24-7, you'd think we'd all have a clearer idea of what they are.
Wikipedia's as good a place to start as any. The idea of a safe space started with the women's movement; Kennedy Moira Rachel defined it as a place where there's "a certain license to speak and act freely, form collective strength." But isn't a safe space a place where free speech is explicitly banned? Women's consciousness raising groups of the 1970s were safe spaces. Later, gay bars were considered safe spaces - places where a person could be out and gay without fearing violence or condemnation. Also reasonable and very much necessary. So when did safe spaces transition from being havens for free expression to authoritarian hell holes where free speech is punishable by death? Where indeed.
For answers, I turned to Trends.Google.com, which shows the popularity of search terms over time. It turns out the term "safe space" was of little interest to much of anybody until October of 2015 when it catapulted into public awareness immediately following an episode of South Park titled Safe Space. And if you're thinking it's a little odd that the event that started getting Americans worked up about the evils of safe spaces was a satirical cartoon show, well, I felt the same. So I kept digging.
In a recent editorial for the LA Times, Frank Furendi complains that "Campuses are breaking apart into safe spaces." One of the examples he gives supporting this was a statement from Northwestern president Morton Schapiro. According to Furendi, Schapiro feels that black students should have a space reserved for them in the dining hall where white people aren't welcome, where they can be "sheltered from dissimilar people." In fact, Schapiro mentioned one specific incident in which a couple of white students asked to sit with a group of black students stating that they "wanted to stretch themselves by engaging in the kind of uncomfortable learning the college encourages." Schapiro argues that the black students had a right, in this case, to politely say no. Schapiro does NOT say that black students should be given a safe space in the cafeteria to avoid white people; Shapiro DOES say that black students have the right to decline to be treated like a civics class assignment. Now, you can disagree with what Schapiro says, or doubt that the incident went down exactly the way he says, but you've got to wonder why Furendi would need to so wildly and blatantly misrepresent Schapiro's case in order to argue against it.  

Furendi also says that "the Social Justice Living Learning Community offered by the University of North Dakota indicates that the balkanization of accommodation extends beyond ethnicity to students’ political convictions." Check out that learning community's website, though, and you'll learn that it's a service dorm where "each person shares the responsibility of creating an environment in which all residents are respected and valued – regardless of one’s age, size, gender, sexual orientation, identity or identity expression, disability, race, ethnicity, color, creed, national origin, cultural background, socio-economic status, or religious affiliation or conviction. Join us in embracing our differences and appreciating the unique perspectives each person brings." So Northwestern is bad because they allegedly want to students to be able to avoid dissimilar people, but North Dakota is wrong for wanting to bring together dissimilar people to celebrate differences and learn from each other? Because it seems like allegedly dividing students up and actually joining people together are opposite things. So how is Furendi saying they're both bad? 

I've dug through a ton of news stories about safe spaces and they all just seem outlandishly overblown. The College Fix ran a story after the Republican National Convention proclaiming "'Safe space’ offered at Cleveland university in response to Republican National Convention." The story's written to make it seem like the Cleveland State was kowtowing to student over-sensitivity by creating a safe space from nasty Republican ideas. In fact, Cleveland State is spitting distance from the convention area where, if you'll recall, law enforcement was worried about actual physical violence. Downtown Cleveland, where Cleveland State is located, is normally home to only 13,000 people. 50,000 people attended the convention; thousands more showed up to protest, and thousands more attended the many events surrounding the convention. Cleveland State would have been pretty damn remiss if it hadn't taken steps to ensure that the campus was a "safe space" for students and faculty. Not a space that was safe from Republican ideas, but a space that was safe from tens of thousands of out-of-towners, some of whom might, according to police, become violent. 

Another article on The College Fix claims "‘Safe place’ set aside for those upset at campus talk on transgenderism’s threat to liberty." In fact, transgender individuals live constantly under threat of violence, and not an imagined one. Transgender individuals are extremely and demonstrably more likely to be victims of violent crime; they're much more likely to be raped, and they're much more likely to be murdered. So when a virulently anti-trans speaker was hired to speak at UC Santa Barbara, some trans students were pretty reasonably afraid that increased anti-trans sentiment might lead to, once again, actual physical violence. They didn't ask for an anti-free speech zone, just an anti-fear-for-bodily-safety zone. 


One news story I saw claimed that a college campus had declared itself a safe space for communists. No such thing had happened - the university had just failed to officially recognize an anti-communist student group. You can agree or disagree with that decision, but the university DID NOT declare itself a "safe space" for communists.

A story claiming that Stanford had removed Trump signage because it violated "safe space" rules actually removed said signage because the university had space reserved for political signage and the signage in question was outside of that area. Here, you can disagree with Stanford's policy about political signage, but it is a fact that Stanford DID NOT remove the signage because of a rule about "safe spaces."
A story about a university offering a safe space to students who hadn't voted for Trump was actually about a university counseling center that had emailed students reminding them that, if they were stressed about current events or if they were being bullied or threatened, the counseling center was a safe space to talk about their feelings. Counselling centers have been a fixture on college campuses for decades, and they're by definition safe spaces to talk about your feelings. I've been to a lot of shrinks, kids, and I can tell you that they're not a place you can go to escape upsetting ideas - they're a place you go to learn how to deal with being upset without completely losing your shit. The letter from the counselling center didn't mention Trump, and it didn't even hint that the counseling center was not a safe space for people who voted for him. It just said "hey, if you're stressed, come to the counseling center." Is that really such a terrible thing?

However. This isn't to say there haven't been some high-profile incidents in which students DID try to censor speech on campus. However, even those events have been somewhat overblown and misrepresented. 
For instance, the Play Doh incident at Brown. You know the one, where the school brought in an unpopular speaker and scores of students demanded a safe space where they could avoid being exposed to new ideas and blow bubbles and play with Play Doh, and Brown acquiesced because the inmates are running the asylum?
So what really happened was that a student group at Brown had brought in a speaker, Wendy McElroy, who had made several public statements about rape culture that some Brown students felt were dismissive toward sexual assault survivors. The university's Sexual Assault Task Force wanted the speaker barred, but Brown refused to do that. So the Sexual Assault task force protested by establishing a competing event where sexual assault survivors could come and talk with counselors and learn about the university's resources for assault survivors. Yes, a campus group tried to have a speaker barred. Yes, I believe they were wrong. But they FAILED to have the speaker barred. Free speech prevailed. And the student group protested by holding an event meant to raise awareness about university resources for sexual assault survivors and I hardly think that's a travesty. Also there was Play Doh there. Call the National Guard. Step 1: give students Play Doh. Step 2: Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together... mass hysteria.

Finally, in 2015, some Yale students horribly, horribly bullied a professor, Erika Christakis, over an email in which she asserted that the university didn't have the right to tell students not to wear culturally appropriative Halloween costumes. While I didn't necessarily agree with everything Christakis said, but she made her point civilly and eloquently, without even a hint of disrespect or discrimination. In response, about 150 students confronted her in person, shouting and jeering while she and her husband, also a Yale prof, called for calm and civil discourse; they were afraid for their safety and if you watch the videos of the incident, it's easy to see why. Christakis was wronged, horribly. She left the college over it, although claims that she was forced out are categorically false. The dean unequivocally refused demands that Christakis be dismissed. One professor wrote a letter to the editor of a Yale newspaper in support of Christakis, and it was signed by 69 other professors. Lots of students spoke up in support of Christkis. But still Chistakis chose to leave her position, and I don't blame her. Campus should have been a safe space for her and it wasn't. And that's awful. 
Although nobody said anything about this being a "safe spaces" issue, near as I can tell. There was talk on campus around that time about how Yale could be a safer space for disadvantaged and minority students, but that was a mostly separate issue. You can research that on your own though, as my hands are tired.

So, to summarize this outlandishly TL;DR post for which you all deserve cookies for slogging through, we have a whole crap ton of smoke and one unconscionably but ultimately isolated fire. 

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