Category Archives: Politics

Why “Black Lives Matter” Matters

So, the other day, I saw a banner posted in front of a church or a school that said “Black Lives Matter”. It had been vandalized, spray painted to replace the word Black with All, which appeared on other spots on the banner.

Now, I’m white, so I lack the understanding born of experience for what a black person goes through in a typical American lifetime. One could even argue that I have no horse in this race whatsoever. But seeing that vandalism, hearing the “All Lives Matter” thing irks me a bit. And I want to try to explain why.

Fair warning, though… I lack knowledge and experience about these matters and am really just trying to piece together gut reactions to these events, so I may say something silly or fail to explain myself very well. But bear with me.

Seeing the vandalism of the banner made me realize that my biggest issue with “All Lives Matter” is that it denies that black lives matter at all.

Do all lives matter? Every person born into this world should have a shot at living it, and their lives have value until their actions rescind that value (such as murder or some other such egregious crime). Even then, no one should be gunned down in the street unless it is to immediately protect people from imminent threats. Even mass murderers deserve trials and the justice of the law. Whether that justice leads to death or not is a whole different argument. The point is, you won’t find many, and hopefully any, sane people disagreeing with the statement “all lives matter.”

But in America, all lives are not currently suffering systemic and violent injustices.

“Black Lives Matter” started because the black community is tired of seeing the government, via its law enforcement agencies that are intended to serve and protect Americans, kill its members, both young and old, when said members were of no threat or danger. Sure, go ahead, argue about Michael Brown. His death may have started the movement, but his is not the only grievance. Even if you think Officer Darren Wilson was justified in killing Brown, it would be EXTREMELY difficult to argue that the killings of Tamir Rice, Oscar Grant, Eric Garner or many others made any sense.

Feel free to argue that it’s not systemic, they’re just well publicized occurrences across many separate areas that are simply coincidental. Feel free to argue that cops shoot unarmed white people and people of other races, too. Feel free to disagree with their tactics or what happened with Bernie Sanders. Feel free to talk about how blacks have a higher statistic of homicide and how gang violence is a much bigger issue and blah blah blah blah blah. I don’t really care about those arguments. This isn’t about those things. This isn’t about whether or not “Black Lives Matter” is “right” or “logical” or “efficient” or “inappropriate” or whatever. You can have your opinion on those matters. My problem is the desire to force their movement to be quiet and/or change.

Seeing that vandalized banner made me realize why I really have an issue with “All Lives Matter” other than the immensely condescending and hateful way I’ve heard SO MANY PEOPLE say it in. The black community in America, by and large, feels this is an issue for them that deserves to be addressed. Good for them. It’s an issue that may help everyone by bringing to light over-militarization of police forces, poor training, aggression and psychological issues in the police force at large, etc. “Black Lives Matter” may indeed be a positive force for all lives. But the real issue I have is that crossing out black and replacing it with all is basically saying that they’re wrong.

Black lives don’t matter. Your suffering isn’t special. Your shared grief means nothing. Don’t pretend you’re better.

That’s what it feels like to me. Some will argue, “It’s about equality!” But “Black Lives Matter” is about justice. And those are two different things. There’s a picture I’ve seen on Facebook that shows three different sized people – one short, one average, one tall – all looking over a fence at a ball game. Equality gives everyone a single box to stand on… which means the short person cannot see over the fence to the game. Justice takes the box the tall person doesn’t need and gives it to the short person so everyone can view the game equally. Changing “Black Lives Matter” from an argument of justice to one of equality completely throws their grievances out the window.

We don’t ask people raising awareness for breast cancer to say “All cancers matter!” Or raising awareness for ALS to say “All diseases and debilitating conditions matter!” Again, you won’t find a sane person that says they don’t, by and large. It’s about a cause, pushing for a cause, finding justice for a cause and seeking solutions for that cause.

Black people aren’t saying they’re better than you when they say “Black Lives Matter.” They’re saying they want to live in a world where they don’t feel the need to remind people that they matter.

We should all be able to agree. Black lives do matter. Every human life matters. But right now, “Black Lives Matter” matters. Taking that away and trying to change it is telling them to shut up. And if you can’t see why that’s wrong, then you’re one of the reasons “Black Lives Matter” is sticking around.

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The Good, the Bad, the Ferguson

America’s pretty messed up right now.

We’ve got vitriolic divisions on racial lines, political lines, ideological lines, religious/non-religious lines… We’re divided on so many fronts, I still find myself unable to pledge allegiance to the flag. Why should I? It’s not true. One nation? Sure, even if a lot of people want to secede. Under God? Well, that’s definitely questionable. Indivisible? The only way we as a country could be indivisible right now is if we’ve already divided ourselves so much that we can no longer be divided. And we seem to be nearly there. With liberty and justice for all? That statement seems almost as laughable as “indivisible,” especially in the light of the events of Ferguson, Mo.

If you have no idea what events I’m talking about, go ye forth and seek ye a friggin’ newspaper and a house that isn’t under 6 miles of rock. The problems in Ferguson are so layered and numerous and ridiculous that one would THINK, as a nation, we could finally see eye-to-eye on something with only a few freak outliers in the data. I mean, we’ve got excessive, militarized police blowing responses out of proportion. We’ve got an unarmed, non-violent (at LEAST in that moment) person WHOSE SKIN COLOR OR CRIMINAL RECORD SHOULDN’T MATTER dead without a good explanation. If he was a criminal, he was executed without due process, a Constitutional right. We’ve got the freedom of assembly and the freedom of the press getting hampered by cops, not to mention the violations of the 4th, 5th and 6th amendments. And you’d better believe that 2nd amendment wouldn’t get upheld if a Ferguson protestor legally had a gun. We’ve got proof of this sort of activity happening all over the country for YEARS without appropriate punishments. We’ve got scientific data showing a decrease in police brutality and harassment claims anywhere cameras are required to be in cop cars or on their person. We KNOW, without a doubt, that there needs to be change. Race shouldn’t even be an issue.

But, no. Nothing’s ever that simple. See, too much has happened. There have been riots and looting. Those are bad, so Michael Brown deserved it. He may or may not have stolen cigars. Therefore, he deserved it. Oh, and he’s black. Which makes a difference. Because when you’re black, if you’re not an honors student planning to attend Harvard with a spotless record, a 4.0+ GPA and have never smoked, drank, had sex, owned a gun or hung out with another person of color who is less “perfect” than you, then you’re going to be demonized. This guy says all of this much more poignantly than I can, so I suggest you read it.

I was born extremely lucky. I reached into the lotto bowls of race and gender and got white male. As a man, I will tend to get preferential treatment over women when it comes to being hired and paid. I have a far lesser fear of sexual assault and rape. As a white person, I don’t have to worry about being treated as a stereotype. I don’t worry about being frisked. If I were to commit a crime, I’m likely to spend far less time in jail than a non-white person. And if I get randomly killed by police, at least I won’t get my name dragged through the dirt postmortem.

But do you know what the worst part of this all is? Nothing will really change. People will pretend it’s an isolated incident, like Eric Garner choked to death in New York, like Rodney King in California, like Trayvon Martin in Florida, like Matthew Shepard in Wyoming, like Michael Bell in Wisconsin. It was a fluke. It wasn’t a symbol of larger problems. They weren’t perfect people, so they deserved it. They goaded the cops. For goodness sake, we’ve got a crowdfunding campaign in support of Officer Darren Wilson, the man who shot Brown, and you can see how many people are apparently GLAD the boy got shot. Because blacks kill blacks and no one complains? Because he was a thug anyway? Excuse after excuse after excuse.

Nothing will change because we allow it to stay the same. Because we choose to see people as different and lesser than the rest of us.

America is going to be one of the most disastrously failed experiments if we let this keep happening, but there’s too much pride, ego and ignorance blinding people to that fact. Hopefully, I’m wrong. Hopefully, Brown’s death will ignite a spark of change for the better. Because we desperately need it before we burn.

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Depression, the Genie and Me

Robin Williams wasn’t my favorite actor.

I mean, if you asked me who my favorite actor is, I’d say Johnny Depp (yeah, yeah, whatever). If you asked me to name some actors I would always go to see a movie they’re in, I’d probably tell you Alfred Molina, Julia Stiles and John Goodman.

But when I heard about Williams’ suicide, I stopped to think of all the ways he influenced me. And he really did. I can’t remember a single movie I’ve watched with him in it that I didn’t enjoy. I grew up watching “Jumanji,” “Fern Gully,” “Aladdin” and its sequels. I constantly watched “Hook” and quoted lines from it, though I admittedly more often imitated Dustin Hoffman chewing the scenery as Captain James Hook. I remember getting in trouble for repeating a line from “Mrs. Doubtfire” as a child. (The line was, as Williams imitated Porky Pig, “Bedabba dabba dabba, p-p-p-piss off, Lou!”, not that I actually knew the words I was saying.) In high school, I was introduced to the beautiful film “What Dreams May Come,” an interpretation of Dante’s Inferno. In college, I discovered “Patch Adams,” “Night at the Museum” and “August Rush,” as well as two of my favorite films of all time, “Good Will Hunting” and “Dead Poets Society.” It’s movies like those, especially the Academy Award-winning performance Williams gave in “Good Will Hunting,” that remind me that comedians often have a great capacity for drama. Even my lesser loved comedians, like Jim Carrey and Adam Sandler, have stunned me with their dramatic performances. But Williams had the special gift of making me love him both as a comedian AND a dramatic actor.

Even beyond acting with a bodily presence, Williams influenced me most notably with his impressions. Were they always great, pitch perfect imitations of specific people, like his John Wayne performs Macbeth? Nah. Could I always tell if it was Williams? Yup. I was the only one in my family that could tell from voice alone that Williams was not the voice of Genie in “Return of Jafar.” Even so, Williams had a talent for impressions and voices. His gift was in the total and complete dedication to the bit, as well as being able to switch from one character to another faster than should be humanly possible. I’ve always enjoyed doing voices myself, and it was Williams and Mel Blanc, the voice of many beloved Warner Bros. cartoon characters, that helped guide me in that direction.

He wasn’t my favorite actor, but that might be because I had trouble thinking of him as an actor. I thought of him more as a friend to hang out with, the funny guy with all the voices that could make me laugh. But there’s no denying that he was definitely one of the people I would always enjoy watching on screen.

That’s probably one of the reasons Williams is the only celebrity whose death I’ve cried over. It’s weird, right? Crying over someone dying when you’ve never even met them? There have been people I HAVE known in real life to die I haven’t cried over. I suppose that could very well be a testament to how powerful Williams’ gift of connection and humor and emotion was.

But if I’m going to be honest, that’s not the only reason I cried. That might not even be the main reason I cried. No, if I’m honest with myself, I think it was because Williams was depressed and almost no one knew.

Depression is definitely one of those things people at large are largely ignorant about, myself included. Part of it has to do with the fact that we use the word as a synonym for being sad. That ASPCA commercial with the Sarah McLachlan song? So depressing. Got an F on a paper you worked all night on? Now you’re depressed. Except there’s a distinct difference between momentary sadness, no matter how deep those moments get, and systemic depression. Depression isn’t cured by a funny movie or a pint of ice cream or hanging out with friends. It isn’t something you can just “nut up” and “get over.” And the worst part about depression? Based on my personal experience and the stories I’ve heard from other depressed people, depression is seen as undesirable and shameful, so the person that has it tends to do their damnedest to hide it.

Have you ever noticed that there are a lot of creative types, and often comedic types, that are on drugs or are depressed? Many of whom end up dead? People like Philip Seymour Hoffman (drug addiction) and Chris Farley (drug addiction) and Heath Ledger (couldn’t pull out of his roles). But everyone knows drug and alcohol addiction are things to seek help over. They’re obviously bad things, right? They’re self-destructive behaviors that can ruin your life. But when it comes to depression, most people shrug off the entire idea. Even though I am willing to bet that a large chunk of addiction is born of depression and the desperate attempt to escape that soul-crushing feeling.

Cracked.com, the source of many a funny thing on the internet, has more than a few articles about depression and anxiety in funny people. Here’s one by David Wong, who talks about why people constantly cracking jokes are often depressed. And here’s another one by Mark Hill, about misconceptions of depression. Wong’s article has many, many links to many, many other writings by comedians about depression, but these are the two I’ve read. And they have some good points, many of which I agree with, based on personal experience.

Yeah, I’ve kinda sorta admitted that I might be depressed before. Yeah, I’ve talked about it before. But people don’t seem to be too receptive to the idea until they see depression’s effects laid out in front of them. Until the man that never stopped being hilarious and bringing joy to everyone killed himself because he felt life had crapped on him one too many times, finally with a Parkinson’s diagnosis, people by and large ignore the issue.

I suppose it’s not anyone’s fault. In America, mental health and awareness has taken a veritable nosedive with absolutely no changes no matter WHAT happens. We have mentally unstable people shooting and killing in double digit numbers and nothing changes with our mental health system because the conversation become bluster about guns and gun rights. We have veterans returning home with PTSD and mental health issues, becoming homeless and forgotten, and nothing changes with our mental health system because the conversation becomes bluster about war and the people still fighting. And we have an Oscar-winning actor, a beloved father and husband, an immensely successful comedian, an intensely well-liked celebrity (which seems rather hard to come by sometimes), a man known for his voice who chooses to die by strangling that voice until it no longer exists… and likely, nothing with change with our mental health system because we’d rather focus on other stuff, be it injustice in Ferguson painting some bigger, disturbing pictures of America or be it dumping ice water on our heads to raise money for ALS and/or whining about people dumping ice water on their heads. Because as uncomfortable as those things might be, depression may be even more uncomfortable.

Here’s my personal experiences. As a kid, I was bullied for all sorts of reasons. I was too smart. I was weird. I looked stupid. I had glasses. I had a dumb haircut. I wore a suit to picture day. This caused me to develop a temper. And I got into fights sometimes, too. Not often, and I never went home bruised and bloody, but that’s because what fights I did get in I either refused to do much other than run away or, in one case, won by dropping a kid on his head. I didn’t have friends, either. Not really. There weren’t really any kids my age in my neighborhood, and my parents weren’t too big on my hanging out with anyone. That could be blamed on their being used to my older sister’s anti-social nature, but who knows. My one early creative outlet, playing violin, was taken away because I “didn’t practice enough.” When I eventually discovered acting, I fell in love with it. I got to be SOMEONE ELSE. That amazing feeling of escapism brought me so much joy.

This sort of thing continued for quite a while. My temper was an issue all the way into high school, with my father and I twice coming to physical altercations during my junior year of high school, altercations that were ultimately just him with his hand around my throat. My mother would take his side and say I shouldn’t have goaded him. That loneliness was not a good feeling. By this point, I’d buried myself even further into acting. While at the Alabama School of Math and Science, I finally found groups of socially rejected people who were just as nerdy, intelligent and ridiculous as me. My grades slipped as I focused my time and attention on the social connections I had never been able to have before. Eventually, I failed out, losing those connections.

In college, the struggle continued, but I found small groups to accept me, groups like the Quizbowl Team. A nerdy bunch, to be sure. And there were people on that team that made my social ineptitude seem like I was the most desirable socialite on the market in comparison. Plus, I had tampered down my temper throughout my time at college, and I started to find a way to be acceptable: Talk. A lot. Make jokes. Be interesting. Grab their attention for just a moment. Maybe they’ll just groan and roll their eyes, maybe they’ll laugh, but at least they’ll know I’m there. And I found people that didn’t outright reject me for that.

But it isn’t perfect. I’m not terribly funny. I consider myself a member of the school of quantity: If you crack enough jokes, eventually a good one will slip through. And it’s only through the past year of my job as a trivia jockey that I’ve become even remotely comfortable working a crowd directly, as opposed to in theatre when you work the stage/scene/character and the entirety of the performance works the crowd. I have tried to get better, to be a more desirable person to be around, et cetera.

And yet, I find that I’m still too honest for some people. On Twitter and Facebook, I was fully willing to admit when I was feeling crappy/lonely/hurt. Because I’m still trying to remind myself about the difference between a friend and a friendly acquaintance. Twitter followers, blog readers, Facebook friends… they aren’t the same as real friends. But I haven’t really had too many “real friends” growing up. I have my one best friend that I can call on whenever, and I only met her during my fourth year of college in 2010. I had a regular group of buddies I’d go out with to play trivia and board games, but jobs and distance have broken us up. At this point in my life, even more so than in college (though it was true in college), I don’t really have a group of friends I can say I’m truly a part of. I don’t have people I feel I can call up and say, “Hey, let’s hang out.” Maybe that’s due to years of being told, by words or actions, that I wasn’t desirable to hang out with. Maybe that’s because I just don’t understand social cues and don’t realize I do have friends like that. I dunno. But friends like that? Those are not the same as people you share internet social media information with, apparently.

Take a semi-recent example. A girl messaged me on Facebook to tell me I’m cute. I respond because why the hell not, what do I have to lose? We talk for a few months. We hang out a few times. She’s into me, I’m into her. All seems pretty great. Then, without any warning given to me, without any conversation about problems, she tells me we should stop hanging out. When I finally ask why two years later, she says it’s because I’m too depressing and self-deprecating. She suggests I see a counselor.

I would love to say this is some sort of isolated incident… but I know from my life and the lives of others it’s not. Misery may love company, but company doesn’t love misery. People don’t want to deal with miserable, depressed people. And why would you? Happiness is a good feeling. Sad people make YOU sad, and that sucks, right?

So, if you want to know why you’re shocked and surprised that someone you know was depressed and killed themselves, that’s exactly why. Because depressed doesn’t mean stupid. Depressed people know you don’t like to be around depressed people. Hell, I host trivia for 2+ hours five nights a week. Do you think I would still be paid if I told all of them how down I was? People don’t want a 2-hour sadfest. So those that are depressed, lonely, miserable… they tend to hide it. I’ve made the mistake in years past of thinking friendly acquaintances would care about my feelings, but they don’t. Those feelings are a drag. They’re a downer. So I’ve been teaching myself to try to keep my chin up, to “fake it until I make it” so to speak… and to really not announce my depression every time it hits me. And despite what those on my social media networks may think, I’ve been getting a lot better at just hiding my feelings in crappy eating habits and losing the desire to ever leave bed.

Am I depressed? …maybe. I’m too afraid to see a counselor and find out I am, that I’m not in complete control of my mind. Personally, I like to think I’m just having a slump. A really long one. There are good moments in my life that bring me cheer… and moments, even recent ones, that nearly kill me. I had one such moment last month. I asked two friends to kill me (only slightly joking before I broke down in tears). I ended up telling my tale to a cop that pulled me over for speeding later that day when my hand was shaking so badly I couldn’t get my driver’s license out of my wallet. He asked if I had any guns in the car. I didn’t get a ticket. To date, only 7 people, including the cop and the other person involved, know what happened. Not just because I hate myself for what happened and am afraid of what people will think of me… but also because I don’t know who’s there for me.

And that’s one of the worst things about depression. It blinds you to the people there for you. The lonelier moments are more clear than the ones with people who care. If someone like Williams, who had success and love in his life, couldn’t find a way out, what hope would someone like me, someone told to get over it, have?

So I hope I’m not depressed. Not just because it’s a pretty awful mental health disorder, but also because that’s a level of hopelessness I don’t want to think about. I’m not looking for pity. I’m not looking for close, buddy-buddy friends. I wouldn’t know what to do with them at this point in my life anyway. I’ve got some good things going on that I’m trying to focus on. The moral of my story, the point I’m trying to make, isn’t a personal one. It’s to say that I think everyone can do better. Everyone can be more diligent looking for depression. Don’t reject the funny person the day he or she drops the act around you and tries to tell you about his/her crap. We need to learn to accept the people we like for their good AND their bad. Don’t call suicide a selfish act. That’s like calling drowning after years of trying to swim to the surface a selfish act. The selfishness is in the people that see depression and ignore it. The selfishness is in people that don’t want to be sad so they give sad people distance. Some days, people want to be left alone. But it’s so much better to know someone is there when you walk back into the crowd than to know you’ll be alone whether you jump back into the crowd or not.

If we want anything to get better, we have to start taking steps on a personal level.

Robin Williams, you influenced me more than you will ever know, and the world will miss you. I hope maybe something good can come of all this sadness.

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The Trouble With Portraying Sexuality

There’s something that’s been sitting on my mind for a while now, and I wasn’t really aware of the cognitive dissonance until I had a recent discussion with a friend of mine. In feminism, a movement apparently in its third wave according to academics, yet still struggling to find a unified front on many issues, there is a bit of an issue when it comes to the public perceptions of female sexuality.

Basically, it boils down to two views. First, you have the idea that sexuality should not be shameful. Sex isn’t something to shame people for having. Doing such can cause all sorts of psychological problems, first off. It’s a completely natural process that, unlike most animals in the world, is enjoyable for recreational purposes and is not solely a procreational action.

Unfortunately, when it comes to shame over sex, women get the worst rap. We all probably know the double standard by now… men who have multiple partners are conquerors. They’re virile. They’re manly. They can hold their tally like a trophy, the quantity of their conquests far outweighing their abilities (or inabilities) in the bed itself. Meanwhile, women are to keep their sexual lives quiet. Women with multiple partners are sluts. Shameful. Dirty. Broken. In a weird twist, sometimes people that want to help protect women from being sexual victims apply the term “victim” all over the place, even when sex is fully consensual… because it’s inconceivable for some people that a woman might seek out and desire sex. So, there’s the faction that wants to eliminate sex as a dirty word and deed, particularly for women. If a woman wants to be a stripper, let her. If she wants to be a prostitute/escort (when legal), why not? If she wants to dress provocatively, she should be allowed without being called names, or seen as “asking for sex.” Consent is different from how one dresses one’s self.

But then, there’s the other faction. The faction that says they’re tired of women being objectified and seen as sexual pleasure units. That’s tired of cleavage and boobs and butt on every single advertisement. That’s tired of having products directed at women (and men) because of their chromosomal makeup. Tired of the media using tired, false gender narratives and tropes, like the damsel in distress. But, mostly, tired of just being deemed as sexual, being boiled down to physical bodies and sexual performances. Tired of being “Hot Girl #3” on the TV.

Now, some of these things are shared by both groups, like being tired of the tropes and the gendered products. But sometimes, even those things find fractions between the factions. Because, despite being feminists and desiring an equality between all genders and sexualities, there’s just too many problems and not enough solutions.

It is definitely a problem that women exploring their sexualities are seen as sluts and looked down on. It is also definitely a problem that society demands sexual performance from women. It’s a hypocrisy that continues to harm our social makeup where men expect sex from women, and women have the choice of either being degraded for complying or degraded for not complying. And then possibly being raped and blamed for it by society. It’s not exactly a kind world for women today (and the scary thing is that it seems like it might be kinder than it once was).

I’ll give an example of the disparity. In the BBC show “Sherlock,” a show I find to be quite fantastic, in season 2 we were introduced to what is perhaps Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s most infamous female character, Irene Adler. Appearing in “A Scandal In Bohemia,” she is the one woman Sherlock Holmes has shown obvious affection and admiration for. To quote,

To Sherlock Holmes she is always THE woman. I have seldom heard him mention her under any other name. In his eyes she eclipses and predominates the whole of her sex. It was not that he felt any emotion akin to love for Irene Adler. All emotions, and that one particularly, were abhorrent to his cold, precise but admirably balanced mind. […] And yet there was but one woman to him, and that woman was the late Irene Adler, of dubious and questionable memory.

In the BBC show’s re-imagining of the character, she was recreated as a dominatrix, using her wits and dominance in the bedroom to put powerful people in compromising positions and obtain information she hoped to use to her advantage. In her first meeting with Holmed, she introduced herself in the nude as an attempt to throw him off his game. It worked. …but this portrayal exemplifies exactly the difference in the factions.

On the one hand, there shouldn’t be anything wrong with a woman willingly working in the sex industry. (We’ll skip the discussions of abuse and slavery for now to make the discussion simpler, but I wouldn’t count anyone coerced or forced into that industry in any fashion as working in it willingly.) There shouldn’t be anything wrong with a woman using her body or sexuality for any (legal) reason, even to win a battle of wits against a certain private detective. However, some feel that being portrayed as a sex worker diminished the focus on Adler’s mental acuity and ability as written originally by Doyle. It felt like a cheap gimmick, a typical jump in today’s media to make the woman a sexual being, an object of pleasure.

This is, of course, not helped out at all by show-runner Steven Moffat’s rather well-documented casual sexism and poor treatment of female characters in his other show, “Doctor Who.”

Personally, I think the Adler character (unlike many of the women in “Doctor Who”) was well done. The sexuality wasn’t really a focus the way I saw it. It was never portrayed in a gaudy, ridiculous fashion. Rather, it was run as a counter to Sherlock’s discomfort with the sensual, as sensuality requires physical and emotional responses that he has spent years ridding himself of for the sake of logic and reason. Others, like my friend, disagree.

The sad thing is, there’s not really a way I can see out of this sort of conundrum. It seems perfectly obvious to me that both factions have absolutely correct and poignant points. Both of these hypocritical philosophies of our society (particularly American) are damaging. On their own, they’re bad enough. Combined, they are a maelstrom of harm and sexism. And that’s just for the women. It damages men, too, as does our portrayal of men in the media. So, should one aspect be focused on more than the other? Can both be fixed without a complete reset of social norms and ideals? Or is this something we will constantly be fighting against, one way or another?

I honestly have no idea what should be done about these problems, save this: We need to talk about them and realize they’re problems. While we may not agree on the solutions, as long as we agree something is wrong, we can start to work toward answers. And since the world is full of people smarter than me, maybe the answer is just waiting for someone to mention the problem to the right person.

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On Boy Scouts And Equality

I was a Boy Scout, once upon a long time ago. I did Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts. Made it to Second Class… failed the swim test twice. Not because I can’t swim, but the first time was in a lake where I couldn’t touch the ground and that always freaks me out and the second time I ate too much for breakfast. …feel I have to defend myself there. Anyway, when I switched high schools, I basically just stopped doing Boy Scouts, though I probably could have made it to Eagle without much of a problem. I had most of the requirements done.

Anyway, Boy Scouts was intended to help young boys become men with a certain set of skills and traits. A Boy Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent.

Nice traits to have, right? Not bad things, I think, and entirely independent of any religion or dogma. Unfortunately, despite those traits being independent of dogma, most of the Boy Scouts have aligned themselves with a conservative Christian viewpoint. What this has come to mean is, openly homosexual males are not allowed to be involved in the organization at all.

Well, the times, they are a’changin’, maybe.

Recently, with gay rights taking some big steps in both reality, such as the new states that have legalized gay marriage and the ending of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” and symbolism, via President Barack Obama’s reference to gay rights in his inaugural address, things seem to have a bit of a forward momentum. Recently, that forward momentum hit the Boy Scouts of America and they’ve started considering dropping their ban on homosexuals.

But it’s not all good news for equality, of course. See, a large portion of Boy Scout Troops are sponsored by churches. Christian churches. Many of which have particular views about homosexuals and homosexuality. Views that are frankly often contrary both to Christianity and reality, but that’s a topic to rehash another time. Anyway, many of those churches are threatening to pull their sponsorship and funding if the Boy Scouts change their stance on homosexuals.

I just don’t get it. If you can show me once, just once, where Christ turned away a sinner and said, “No, I can’t be seen around you, I disapprove of the things you do,” I’ll eat my hat. Did he rebuke some sinners, like the Pharisees? Sure. But he also ate with sinners, mingled with them, talked to them, treated them as equals. Not as a separate species to be treated with disdain and derision.

If Christ walked among us today, it’s the conservative Christians that would have him crucified this go round. The Pharisees are back, and they just don’t like gay people.

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Since When Did Graduation Require An Oath?

Do you remember graduating from high school?

I do, vaguely. I remember standing in a long line, then sitting for what seemed like forever while I waited for the “R” section of a graduating class of some 600-plus students to start up. Then I walked some more, shook a hand, grabbed a thing, walked, sat, and done. Oh, and I sang a couple times before all that.

What I don’t remember is having to take an oath. The only “oath” or “pledge” I recall being even remotely involved in high school was the Pledge of Allegiance, and I stopped saying that my senior year based on the fact that the pledge is false. We’re not a nation indivisible, under God, or one with liberty and justice for all. But the pledge wasn’t compulsory. My choice to not say it was perfectly within my rights.

So I admit I’m a little bit confused when I see that Arizona Republicans have apparently proposed a bill that would require high school graduates to take an oath in order to graduate.

The Loyalty Oath reads:

I, _______, do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic, that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge these duties; So help me God.

So, not only is it compelling students to invoke God, clearly a Judeo-Christian reference that not every high school student will actually agree with, it’s also compelling students to, you know, take an oath. While stating in the oath, “I take this obligation freely.”

Except, no… no you don’t. You’re pretty much being blackmailed into taking the oath. You either take the oath or you don’t graduate. With 13 years of education leading you to that moment, a moment that’s practically required to actually get even close to a decent paycheck in America, there’s no way that’s not blackmail. Perhaps it’s not as blatantly malicious as most cases of blackmail, but it’s pretty bad.

And what’s the point of this oath anyway? To force kids to say something they may or may not actually be agreeing with because they really just want their diploma? This doesn’t help education in the least. Arizona remains on my list of worst legislations, continuing to throw education into the crapper and walk all over women’s rights. What a regrettable state.

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I Don’t Know That A Gun Ban Will Do Much Good

So, if you’ve read anything else I’ve written about gun control and gun control laws, you’ll know that I’m in favor of regulated gun ownership. Anything else simply doesn’t make any sort of sense to me at all. I can’t comprehend how people seem to support the idea of unadulterated gun ownership based simply on the idea that the Second Amendment says there’s a right to bear arms. The other rights are interpreted and regulated, why wouldn’t the Second Amendment be?

Anyway, that’s my opinion. The way to regulate guns sensibly and in a way to lessen gun violence is, admittedly, a sticky wicket with many several factors that exist beyond gun control. Education, poverty, the war on drugs, mental health… they’re all factors. But I do also think that there are sensible things, sensible limitations that can be made, sensible and simple steps that can be put into place to continue to help lessen gun violence and more easily apprehend those that commit crimes.

If you haven’t heard, Senator Dianne Feinstein has just introduced a new gun ban, an “assault weapons” ban, to Congress. It’s basically a rehash of the one from the 1990s that expired in the past 10 years or so, only it has more guns on it. But not to worry. The ban’s not going to take away anyone’s guns, even if they’re on the list. It’s just going to make the selling and manufacturing of those guns illegal. Not that you’d know from the hullabaloo upraised by gun rights people.

Still, if I’m going to be honest here, I don’t know that a gun ban will actually do much. While I do think that there are many guns and armaments that have absolutely no right being in the hands of a civilian population, nor any reason, a gun ban isn’t going to work well. Especially if it’s the only thing that’s going up to bat to lessen gun violence.

Gun violence is a sticky wicket, like I said. It has myriad sources and ways to wiggle around and survive. It’s an unkillable problem, sadly. Only in a world where guns didn’t exist would gun violence not exist, and we will almost surely never be in that world again.

While I can appreciate Sen. Feinstein’s efforts and the intentions behind her bringing the gun ban to the floor, reform cannot end there. It may possibly begin there, but I have a feeling the only beginning it will truly initiate is a conversation. That’s a good start, to be sure. But we need the conversation to be given by people with much calmer heads that won’t instantly jump to slippery slope analogies of Stalin and Hitler any time any law potentially curtailing someone’s ability to own a chainsaw slingshot is introduced into the conversation. And maybe we can stop dodging the problem by saying there are bigger ones and let’s forget this one. Yes. There are bigger problems, people dying more and more in other ways. But that shouldn’t stop us from trying to fix this one as well. And who knows? If we can start doing damage to this problem, we may find some other problems (poverty, crime, drug trafficking, education) start to fix themselves.

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Women Can Fight Now, And That’s Bad, Apparently

If you haven’t heard, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has lifted the military ban on women serving in combat.

And judging by people’s reactions, you’d think he started shooting people in the face for fun.

As you may know, in America, women have been allowed in the military for several years at this point, but there has been a ban on women being allowed in special forces units and front-line combat units. Of course, unlike in wars before Vietnam, “front-line” is now a bit of a more obscure idea than an actual thing you can point to. The theater of war has spread in a far more chaotic, guerrilla style. So there have been, for some time, women that have had to fight for various reasons, as well as women that have died in combat.

So, you start to wonder what the heck everyone’s going crazy over with this ban being lifted.

Allen West, the now civilian that gets the Sarah Palin “for some reason we think what you have to say means something” treatment, thinks that women serving in combat will destroy the military, basically. The irony there is that West is black. I recall people complaining about the dissolution of unit cohesion and disparaging the state of the military when it was desegregated, or so my history teachers informed me. Yet, our military still stands. Then there was that thing about how gays would destroy the military… which also hasn’t happened yet, oddly enough.

If you want to see just how idiotic and ridiculous the arguments against women serving in combat are, you can just take a look at this excellent “Daily Show” bit that covers it quite well.

Is it going to be a smooth transition? Probably not. Change doesn’t always go smoothly. Are there going to be problems? Possibly. Sexual assaults might increase. We’ll have to increase diligence in stopping and prosecuting any instances of sexual assault, something we should have been doing already. But the argument that suddenly men and women will be too overcome with lust to do their job is ridiculous. They tried the same argument with openly serving homosexuals… and yet no news of men randomly shagging in the desert mid-gunfire.

The argument that women won’t be able to perform physically as well as men is also stupid. Yes, statistics show that women are not, on average, as physically strong as men. However, in the military, they have these physical performance tests, minimum requirements soldiers have to meet. Physical requirements that I’m pretty certain women have been meeting for some time now. Being that there are women in the Marines, and the Marines are generally considered to be the toughest branch of the military, I should think these women can hold their own, and possibly someone else’s at the same time.

There’s the argument about men being embarrassed… Is it wrong of me to say get over it? When you’re in combat, is embarrassment really the thing you should be worrying about? And isn’t that something you can, you know, get used to and get over? I don’t know about you, but “dropping trou” in front of other men isn’t something I’m super keen on. It seems like soldiers manage to get over that eventually, though, so why not with women?

And then there’s all the severely sexist and ignorant arguments. One guy started yelling about how women were wives, sisters and daughters and who would want to put them in harm’s way and subject them to torture? At which point, my response has to be the same people that want to put husbands and brothers and sons into harm’s way and subject them to torture. So, in my opinion, I don’t want to put anyone in danger. But women in the military have always been in danger. Some have been captured and, I bet, tortured. The whole chivalrous thing is just insulting to the men that are in the same position, deeming them as expendable.

Women can fight in combat roles now, officially. Good for them. People that want to complain? Get over yourselves.

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Could We Stop Punishing Rape Victims?

So, I know I’ve been talking a lot about rape lately… but has anyone else noticed that rape has been appearing a lot in national conversation? It’s weird. I understand it in the context of the slut walks and other protests, where women are attempting to shine a light on fallacious yet pervasive thoughts pertaining to sex, sexuality and consent… but it’s been appearing more and more in the political world, too. Conservatives on a federal and state level are moving more and more often to try and redefine rape or somehow contextualize¬† and categorize it instead of simply saying “Rape is wrong and illegal.”

I mean, we all should know that most social conservatives are very much anti-abortion. Speaker of the House John Boehner, for example, recently made the statement that he wanted to try to make abortion a “relic of the past.” Don’t be confused. He’s not supporting putting money into science initiatives that might research the safe and healthy removal and maturation of a fetus from a woman unwilling to continue with a pregnancy. No, he just wants to ban all abortions, except rape and incest, which anyone with any knowledge of human history, or even just American history pre-Roe v. Wade, should be able to at least guess means abortions will carry on, just more dangerously.

But now we’ve got rape entering into the abortion equation. It was thought that social conservatives were willing to swallow the “let a rape victim have an abortion” pill because, well, it’s sort of like letting someone that got stabbed go to the doctor and be healed. I know that’s a crude comparison and people will cry out about human lives being involved in abortion, but rape is a crime and pregnancy brought about through rape is an aftereffect, like bleeding out after being stabbed is an aftereffect of the crime of being stabbed. Again, not a perfect analogy, but you maybe see my point. You’d think we’d want to, as a society, not force people to suffer unwillingly with the aftereffects of criminal actions taken against them.

Except now there’s Representative Paul Ryan trying to make certain abortions in cases of rape illegal, which I’ve mentioned before. To be more accurate, he’s signed on to co-sponsor the Sanctity of Human Life Act, which would give states the right to ban all abortions. Which I feel like contradicts something that just had an anniversary… some Supreme Court case… I could be wrong, though. Anyway, the act would also allow rapists to sue women that attempt to abort the rape pregnancy if their state makes it illegal and she goes to another state where it’s okay.

But that’s not all! Ryan isn’t the only one throwing his hat into the “force women to keep pregnancies they were given in an act of crime” ring. No, now New Mexico is tossing its hat in there. New Mexico legislation has introduced a bill that would imprison any doctor and woman that go through with a rape abortion for up to three years. What’s their reasoning? It’s tampering with evidence.

At which point my head hits my desk.

I’m not certain, but I’m sure there’s a way to get DNA even from an aborted fetus that could help with that evidence thing. And with other Republicans trying to burden rape victims with the need to prove the rape was “forcible,” again trying to categorize rapes as though one were better than the other, we can see a pretty regrettable trend starting up.

Starting up… I say that as if this hasn’t been going on for years. It has. But it seems to be very frighteningly kicking into a much higher gear. And that needs to stop.

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When Will People Stop Listening To Idiots?

We have a pretty big problem in the world. America in particular has a problem.

That problem is giving stupid people a platform to speak on.

Before anyone gets all shocked and yells at me, I’m not saying we should be denying some people the freedom of speech. What I’m saying is that America has confused the freedom of speech with the freedom of national attention. We can all agree, I think, that there are some people that very simply should not have a voice in a national discussion on certain subjects. Members of the KKK probably shouldn’t be allowed to have an influential opinion on matters of Affirmative Action, for example. Nazis simply shouldn’t be allowed to be seriously considered on efforts of peace in the Middle East. They are allowed to say those opinions, but we shouldn’t be letting them mold and shift the public opinion and the direction of discourse.

And yet, we continue to let people do exactly that. All the time. It’s usually never as blatant as a KKK member or a Neo-Nazi… but sometimes, it’s pretty bad.

The thing is, sometimes we give people national platforms not only when they’re seemingly morally repugnant and wrong, but also when they’re simply factually wrong. Heck, that seems to be almost a requirement to be hired as a cable news pundit, particularly on Fox News. Probably the worst is the combination of the two.

I’ve talked about Bryan Fischer a couple of times and mentioned, subtly of course, how he’s a bit of a buffoon. Unfortunately, people still listen to him and give him support to be a nationally recognized voice that gets reported on from time to time. It’d be great if we could bring him to just enough attention to somehow work out a massive “ignore the crap out of him” campaign, but the likelihood of that is unfortunately low.

Anyway, this time, Fischer has decided to attack President Barack Obama’s mention of gay rights in his inaugural address. Apparently, “gays have no right to sodomy.” And let the silliness begin.

It’s people like Fischer that continue to perpetuate the fallacious idea that homosexuality, targeting male homosexuality almost exclusively, requires sex to be homosexuality. It also perpetuates the idea that sodomy is something only for homosexuals. Sodomy is actually any anal, oral or bestial sex. Gender doesn’t matter. And there are quite a few heterosexual couples that engage in sodomy quite often.

It’s people like Fischer that perpetuate the fallacious idea that arguments based on history are sensible and logical, that they have a place in modern discourse. As he says, sodomy was a felony for so long in American history for a reason! Why change it? It should be quite simple to realize exactly why that’s a terrible line of reasoning. Tradition isn’t a good reason to keep doing something. Arguments like that hold back the forward momentum of growth in civilization, hold back the equality of people.

I guess this is partly an argument for the desperate need of an objective, imperial and updated education system in America, and really the whole world. Without one, we just get people saying ridiculously idiotic things and ensuring that people will continue to believe them for years and years. Maybe the first step to fixing education would be taking certain people out of the national discourse. It sounds like anti-free speech nonsense, I know… But not everyone’s opinion has a right to be heard or taken seriously. If that were true, we would truly get nowhere with anything. Some people are, quite simply, wrong in every way.

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