Friday, February 27, 2015

American History Exed

I am not sure if there is a competition about which the general public knows nothing, but it seems that a number of states are trying to out-stupid each other in the realm of children’s education. Oklahoma legislature passed a bill that would essentially defund AP US History in high schools, because a committee deemed the curriculum “threatening the public peace, health and safety”. They are not the first to try to push legislation against funding AP History; Colorado, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and, of course, Texas, all had lawmakers who voiced opposition to the AP curriculum.

Why? Because it focuses on some darker parts of the US’s history, like the Trail of Tears, the Chinese rail workers’ plight, Japanese internment, and also a lot of the intricate details of historical figures that get left out or glossed over in regular high school history. They claim that it focuses too much on these negative aspects of our past, which is “unpatriotic”. Sayers of “nay” also claim that there was inadequate talk of important documents like the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, or of important figure like the Founding Fathers and important social leaders, which makes it inadequate for national testing standards.

Of course, all of these claims are utter tripe. Anyone who has taken an AP exam knows that you get enough talk of the Founders and MLK and Eli Whitney to fill more than a few essay questions worth of facts about them. If you don’t believe me, check out this practice exam. I would like to see the lawmakers who raised this issue take and pass the exam. Given state legislatures’ knowledge of the female human anatomy, I highly doubt that they were great history scholars either. Furthermore, why are we even letting states with the some of the LOWEST scores in education have any say in our children’s education? Of the mentioned states, only Colorado is in the top 10 in overall ranking, and NC, SC, and GA have some of the least safe schools. Of the six states, Texas spends the least in education. If educators and legislators in the #1 and #2 in education, New Jersey and Massachusetts, made a gripe, then maybe I’d pay attention, but these states are consistently bad at education spending and deployment. It is kind of like trying to take Mississippi serious about mending and cooperative race relations when they just ratified the 13th Amendment 2 YEARS AGO.

Some have been saying that these smudges in our armour of perfection is lying. Let us be clear: TALKING ABOUT THINGS THAT YOU DON’T LIKE DOES NOT MAKE THOSE THINGS LIES. Saying things that are not true make them lies. Omitting things that ARE true and bad is almost as bad as lying. Barack Obama was not being unpatriotic and lying and anti-Christian when he pointed out at a prayer breakfast that Christianity has been used to do horrible things to people. Mass lynchings of black people happened. Jim Crow happened. Chattel slavery happened. The Trail of Tears happened. The Salem Witch Trials happened. All of these were terrible, and all of them were justified by the twisting of a mainstream religion. If I hit someone with a hammer, the hammer is not bad. I am bad...unless it’s Sean Hannity or Tyler Perry’s hand as he tries to hand in a new script. People who pretend that these things didn’t happen because that cannot IMAGINE these bad parts of our collective history sound as ridiculous as people trying to bend over backwards to concoct conspiracy theories to deny the 35+ Bill Cosby rape allegation just because they have very fond memories of The Cosby Show and Fat Albert.
Lack of teaching “American Exceptionalism” is a common complaint among the idiocracy, as if bringing up these bad things of the past somehow makes us anti-American and unpatriotic. I will concede that the United States of America is exceptional. We only took a few years build a representative government with a living constitution that can be amended. Our government structure was a mix of previously attempted democratic republics and something completely new. It was the model for future governments. We have a foothold in the world economy and civic policy (whether you like it or not) not seen since people thought the world was flat and only the indigenous people of the Western Hemisphere knew about the Western Hemisphere. In less than 300 years, our worldwide influence is unprecedented. It took other governments up to 1000 years to achieve that in their known world. That is pretty exceptional.

Do you know what else is exceptional? That we had men who fought for and built the skeletal structure of this country based on the freedom and autonomy of every man, but still owned other men and considered them only 60% human, and that was only because of a compromise. Also, we built our base economy on the backs of those 60% people, and when we freed them, we did little to protect them from the wrath of those who once owned them until nearly 100 years later. We made land treaties with people who we KNEW had a different idea about ownership, and then when we reneged on those deals, we either killed them or made them walk thousands of miles to a completely different part of the country. In either case, we kidnapped their children and forced them to stop learning about their own personal history. We joined a war to fight a dictator who deemed it necessary to pen certain people in work and death camps, while we put our own citizens and residents in “relocation camps”. The atrocities we have imposed on our own citizens in less than 300 years are pretty amazing. It took other governments up to 1000 years to achieve that in their known world. That is pretty exceptional.

This is our United States of America. Looking and learning about the bad parts does not make one unpatriotic, but only focusing on the good aspects and denying/ignoring the dark side definitely is. You are lying to yourself if you think you are doing yourself a favour by raising holy hell every time someone talks about the horrors of slavery or the Japanese internment or the involuntary scientific testing or fighting against woman sovereignty. You only make yourself look like a fool. People with spouses love them (hopefully), but they love them despite their flaws, and if they have a detrimental habit, they help their spouses grow out of those flaws. Pretending that things in the past didn’t happen and trying to make it so that our children won’t know does not create a super patriot. It creates an idiot who lags in the world in the realm of true knowledge. We need to stop these lawmakers from trying to out-stupid each other.

Friday, February 13, 2015

50 Shades of Shaming

I got through about 3 chapters of 50 Shades of Grey before I had to put it down, lest I continually carry a vomit bag. It is some pretty terrible writing. It reads like Twilight fan fiction…then I found out IT WAS ORIGINALLY TWILIGHT FAN FICTION.
The story is this:
  • Rich distant boy meets poor charming girl
  • Rich boy has a “quirk”: he’s into BDSM.
  • Girl submits to boy’s “quirk”, because she sees something in him.
  • As boy falls in love with girl, he abandons his “quirk”, because she’s worth it, and he was just hiding from his emotions.
  • Boy and girl forever have “normal” missionary sex and fly off into the sunset on a pearl embossed carriage filled with dove feathers driven by unicorns that poop candy (I didn’t read the last chapter, so I’m speculating based on the beginning.)

Basically, 50 Shades of Grey is the plot of every romcom, but with leather and chains. You would be more entertained setting your money ablaze than using it to watch or read 50 Shades of Grey.
I initially tried reading the book because I thought it was a fictional introduction to BDSM culture. Sadly, it approaches BDSM using the Hottentot Venus method: It examines it, sensationalises it, pokes fun at it, and then when it is done, it reminds readers that “thank goodness you’re ‘normal’!”, and then throws it to the wayside without actually truly delving deeper than the surface. The franchise has built a mountain of money based on turning kink culture into a freak or minstrel show. Since neither the author nor the director seemed to actually delve into kink or BDSM culture beyond observing it for reference, one could posit they were actually just putting on blackface…I guess in this case, “leatherface”? Even the actors expressed their disdain for the subject matter in cast interviews. The fact that there was an uptick in handcuff and bondage-related injuries since the book came out indicates that there was a lot of shallow treading of the subject and glamourizing it without actually expressing the value of responsibility and true consent. Those who are into BDSM and practise it responsibly and ethically probably feel the same way about “50 Shades of Grey” that black artists feel about mainstream hip-hop, or how Asian producers and actors feel about nearly every token Asian character in movies and TV shows, or how everyone feels about Iggy Azalea.

One might think I’m down on 50... because a woman wrote the book, and a woman directed the film. I have two words for you: Tyler Perry. Playing up the stereotypes of a culture without going deeper is as demeaning as if someone from outside the community did it. Because of Sam Taylor-Johnson’s  directing credit and EL James’s writing credit, producers tried to wrap this up as a story of female empowerment the only “power” message in the story is that if you’re a good girl, you can change any man into anything you want him to be, and you’ll live happily ever after. So close your legs, but only open them for the right guy, and then mold him like clay into the cast that our society allows!

The whole message of the film is that if you are a young chaste woman, you can turn that Vince Vaughan typecasty jerk into a sweet young man, and once you do, he’ll stop doing all the things he once loved to do, and you both will then not be allowed to pass “GO” and collect 200 lashes. You go straight to “missionary” from then on. Life is never like that.

Women like sex as much as men do, some like a little rope & leather play. If you think that you can “change” someone’s kinks, you are a fool, and if you DO “change” him/her, then that person has no spine, and you would not be attracted to him/her. If you are truly interested in BDSM and kink culture, reach out to your local kink society. Nearly every area has one, and they will teach you how to play safely. If you just wish to be entertained, “The Secretary” is on Netflix now. It’s much more egalitarian, and it beats watching/reading a minstrel show in leatherface.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

#JeSuisAméricain: What Domestic Terrorism Looks Like

Yusor Abu-Salha, her sister Razan Abu-Salha, and her husband Deah Barakat were murdered in Chapel Hill, N.C. on Tuesday, 10th February 2015. Their killer shot them in their apartment. He then turned himself in to Chapel Hill Police. The victims were Muslim, and the murderer is a proud “anti-theist”. As expected, Twitter went crazy. Everyone was waiting for a hate crime charge, but thus far, the police are saying this murder was about a dispute over a parking space. This is where I call bullshit.

Let’s look at what these three people were doing with their lives. All three were students. Deah Barakat was enrolled in UNC’s school of dentistry, and his wife, Yusor Abu-Salha, was to be enrolled in the coming semester. Deah also obviously loved his UNC sports, because when Dean Smith died, he simply tweeted, “UNC lost a legend today”. Razan Abu-Salha was a sophomore at NC State University. All three were honour students. All three participated in charities to help the less fortunate and refugees of war. Yusor Abu-Salha recorded a StoryCorps interview, regaling how great life is, and great the USA is. STORYCORPS, people! You can't get much more American than a public radio project! Deah sent out tweets denouncing violence as a tool and how just killing your enemy makes everyone ignorant. There is not one picture of any of these three people where their smiles look forced. These three individuals were doing America better than all of us.

The killer is, as stated before, an anti-theist and very pro-Second Amendment. These two things are not necessarily indicators of bad behaviour. However, anti-theists are a little bit different from atheists, in that they tend to take time out of their day to hate on a religion. Imagine a right wing religious zealot spewing fire and brimstone, but replace the misinterpreted Sturm und Drang with misinterpreted science and logic. That is an anti-theist: same amount of hate, different roots. However, his wife (soon to be ex) claims he sees everyone as equal. I guess premeditated murder was the dealbreaker for their relationship, but this defence that he sees everyone as “equal” does not hold up to his own words on his Facebook account about religion:

“When it comes to insults, your religion started this, not me...If your religion kept its big mouth shut, so would I. But given that it doesn’t, and given the enormous harm that your religion has done in this world, I’d say that I have not only a right, but a duty, to insult it, as does every rational, thinking person on this planet.”

Yeah...That is exactly how a champion of equality sounds. I remember when Martin Luther King said, “I have a dream that one day little black girls and little black boys will go hand in hand with little white girls and boys...but fuck those dirty Canadians”.

The murderer’s ex-wife, Cynthia Hurley, has a different view of his character, noting his disturbing obsession with the movie Falling Down, which should be retitled “The Passion of the Middle Aged White Dude”. His neighbours also describe him as a bully who was confrontational, especially about parking and neighbourhood noise. One neighbour essentially said he was an equal opportunity asshole to everyone. See? So it wasn’t a hate crime, because he hated EVERYONE! This really was about a parking space, so calm yourselves.

Perhaps a parking space was the  motivation for violence, but why did he think that he could walk into someone’s house with a gun and shoot them over it? This whole thing was about a parking space as much as Michael brown was killed because of stolen cigars, or as much as Eric Gardner was killed because of loose cigarettes, or as much as Marissa Alexander was not allowed to used Stand Your Ground defense because she “stepped forward”, or as much as Officer Dawon Gore was indicted because he assaulted someone on the hand with a baton while Officer Darren Wilson was not indicted at all. It was as much about a parking space as the traffic stop regarding the validity of my registration was actually about the validity of my registration. The murderer may have been an ass to everyone in his neighbourhood, but he targeted the ones who looked different and acted different upon which to enact violence, and loose gun laws gave him a murder weapon. He targeted the people who were divergent from what he considered was “normal”, and they happened to live their lives practising something he previously aggressively railed against.. He did not even have enough respect for them as people to honour the boundaries of their home. Ironically, they were probably the most American people in that neighbourhood. Perhaps on the surface this was about a parking space, but let’s not pretend that, like other cases mentioned, there aren’t much deeper, more potent layers. Things were a lot easier to define when “veiled racism” actually involved an actual white veil and a few burning crosses, but make no mistake: that disputed parking space was nothing but an excuse. Yusor Abu-Salha, Razan Abu-Salha, and Deah Barakat were killed because they were different, and the different is an easy target. Perhaps it is hyperbole to say that they were the greatest examples of a true America, but they were damn close.

Their killer is the face of the domestic terrorism about which we must be vigilant. That is not hyperbole. These "men" who can't can't fathom a person that is outside of their demographic who think that they have a say over what others do and what they see in front of their faces are a danger. If it's just some idiot ranting online about how Spider-Man is ruined if Danny Glover plays Peter Parker or kvetching because the Ghostbusters reboot has an all female cast, it's annoying, but almost adorably chauvinistic and racist, like a drunk uncle. When it's in the real world, like fake-retching when seeing two guys kiss outside, it's a bigger problem. This murderer acted because he thought he had dominion to do what he wanted since his victims were not "like him". If his act isn’t a hate crime, then I don’t know what is.

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