Category: perspective

What the government shutdown means for your cats

Your cats, of course, are only dimly aware of what is going on in Washington. They probably have only the slightest opinions on the matter. When they woke up, the sun was still shining in that perfect little cat sized spot by the window. Even if they remain ignorant, here is what they can expect going forward:

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All nonessential cats will not be paid. All essential cats will also not be paid either obviously because cats don’t have jobs. The one exception is the cats from the Meowmix commercials, they will still be paid because those little guys are a national treasure.

What this means is that for the duration of the government shutdown, nonessential cats will not be allowed to work. Some cats want to work even without pay but they will not be allowed. They will not receive backpay. Nonessential cats are out of luck because of a small minority of Republican Representatives.

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No cats allowed in National Parks, Zoos, or Museums. These have traditionally held a strict “no cats allowed” policy that will be continued to be enforced while they are shuttered. The Pandacam will not be active so if you stream it for your cat while you are at work so he or she doesn’t poop on the floor out of boredom you will need to find a new activity for your cat.

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Cat food will not be monitored by the FDA nor will kitten treats. The FDA is furloughing its workers so cat food is not expected to be monitored by a quality control worker. Expect your cats to show just how they feel about this development by throwing up on your rug. No not that rug, the more expensive one that stains really easily. Food will have to be cooked for your cats just to be sure it doesn’t have any harmful bacteria in it (remember, there is literally no one checking to make sure there isn’t before it gets shipped), so for those of you who already have cats that play you like a fiddle and emotionally manipulate you into doing things that are annoying, time consuming and wasteful get ready for a whole new level of neuroticism.

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The already weakened economy will weaken more so. Your dollars are already stretched pretty thin and the odds of you getting that raise are just a little bit slimmer now. But see if your cat notices? See if your cat puts a paw on your shoulder and says “It’s okay, buddy. Maybe we can cut down to the cheaper cat litter. I definitely won’t freak out and pee all around the house until you fork over the good stuff. What gave you that idea?”

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Cats won’t get approved for disability money, nor will cats who served overseas. Cats with itchy chins will be left itchy and without money because the office that approves disability funding including for soldiers will be empty. Some cats will be able to get by by relying on family to scratch their chins and behind their ears for them but the ones who don’t have family or whose family are also on disability and unable to perform chin scratches will be left to itch. This is because a minority of Republican Representatives felt it was worth it if it meant not having to pay a little bit more so that 26 million people could get health insurance.

I don’t think anyone could object to the fact that the Republican party just singlehandedly shut down the United States government. It sounds like a statement with an agenda. It sounds like something a liberal would say, but alas, it just objectively happened. A small group of Republicans in the House of Representatives threw a literal tantrum and literally shut down the government because they couldn’t have their way.

Their “way” was to kill Obamacare. They took a normal job requirement of their elected positions (i.e. funding the government and keeping this whole grand experiment running) and decided to use that as a hostage in their Quixotic quest to prevent giving healthcare to people they don’t think deserve it. It’s almost poetic how they took their “invisible hand of the market” and extended it even to the issue of whether or not a person should be able to see a doctor if he or she is injured or sick. If God truly wanted this person to have that operation, their thinking goes, why doesn’t he have a job that gives him health insurance? If he works part time, or if he doesn’t work, or if he works part time at several places, or he works independently or if he had a pre-existing condition then why should he be allowed access to medicine? Better to keep taxes low than suffer the suffering.

This whole affair makes me angry. We live in a powerful and rich nation, we’ve had to exploit and strong arm other nations and even our own ancestors to get us to this position. It is for nothing if we can’t even agree to provide the basics to our citizens. Access to medicine should be considered one of those basics. If we can’t use our privileged and unique place in the world to help our neighbors then what is it all for? This isn’t just a problem that is political. When newspapers and TV networks throw up their hands and say “Can’t you people just get along?” they are doing a disservice to the issue. They are intentionally or unintentionally ignoring that there was a traceable cause to this crisis and that cause lies squarely on the shoulders of a minority of Republican Representatives who are ideologically opposed to government. Not just this government. ANY government.

I highly encourage you to click on the sources I linked to in this article. That’s the impact of this shutdown, among many other things. That’s the kind of stuff a minority group of elected officials are willing to gamble with in order to “win”. If things like National Parks, jobs, oversight, and social safety nets seem like something a nation as prosperous and free as this should have then you are not in line with the people who just took those things away. They may assume that those things will eventually come back and that Americans have a short memory, but they just tipped their cards for all of us to see and what they’re holding is, and pardon the cheesiest thing I’ve ever written, is no hearts.

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What the hell happened last night? #RIPlarryshippers and twitter nonsense

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While twitter trends are unpredictable and oftentimes not a good reflection of what is actually happening in the world at that moment, there is one amorphous group that can be counted on to consistently be in the top ten: they are of course, the various pop fandom groups made up of preteens and teens (mostly) that back one singer, tv show or band and work hard to defend their identities. They go by cutesy names like “gleeks”, “directioners”, “twihards”, “beliebers”, etc. and they can be found all over twitter fighting the good fight.

Preteens and teens are especially good at doing this because they literally have all the time in the world. They have absolutely nothing better to do than to sit online and stoke virility. Their trends have become so common that seeing something like “#43millionbeliebersstilllovejustin” trending is par the course on twitter, something to be ignored and skipped over as more serious trends like “Cairo” or “#badbandnames” engage your attention.

Last night though, the preteens rose their little idol worship obsession into something more: the collective consciousness of the rest of us. Sometime on the night of August 16th, a hashtag began trending that was obscure enough to beg for the uninitiated to click it “#RIPlarryshippers”. Who was Larry Shippers? Did the world lose another celebrity struggling with substance abuse and paying for a life of excess? No.

Reading a few tweets exposed that Larry Shippers wasn’t a person but in fact 14 young, fresh faced One Direction fans who, like sunni and shiite muslims, had been recently engaged in a sectarian war with other One Direction fans over whether two bandmates (Louis and Harry) were romantically involved. It’s apparently a big deal if your version of a big deal is following the lives, rumors and Public Relations releases of pop bands. Unfortunately, it took tragedy to remind these preteens that even if Louis and Harry weren’t together, ALL Directioners were deserving of life. The tragedy was the alleged suicide of 14 (or 28 or 42 or 56?) “Larryshippers” (Larryshippers = people who were pro-louis and harry having sex) after a scathing documentary that was released on England’s Channel 4. So damaging was the documentary, so tasteless and unfair, that teens were driven to suicide over just watching it. It was like a more efficient “Ring” video.

Also it happened to be complete nonsense. It is, without a doubt, not true. Not one scrap of evidence supports that a single child killed themselves over the Channel 4 video. It simply did not happen. But that wasn’t going to stop the Directioners who were really gaining traction with this thing.

Manufactured outrage is nothing new. Fox News has built an entire network on the premise. People love to feel outrage. I suspect it has something to do with the simplicity of it. Channel 4 is a “hater” and because it hates One Direction (probably from jealousy), it made an unfair and untrue documentary that was so mean that it drove kids to suicide. Immediately after the outrage began, One Directioners started posting anti-bullying pictures and numbers to suicide hotlines. It’s well meaning, but completely misdirected. The message being lost when the same “anti-bullying” fans threaten to kill people working at Channel 4 for being mean. It also assumes that a documentary picking on One Direction fans is somehow driving people to suicide, which it wasn’t. These kids are at risk of bullying and do commit suicide sometimes, but for all the uninteresting reasons that most kids do.

The general sense of bafflement (as an outsider) continues as you watch other “fandoms” come to One Direction fans’ defense. Directioners started retweeting this picture, taken from a tweet of a belieber:

belieber tweet

Which then led me to learn that until recently One Direction fans and Justin Bieber fans had been engaged in a twitter war (as a preteen there are lots of wars you need to keep track of, none of which have the names Syria or Egypt in them).

I would give almost anything to watch this night unfold from the perspective of the Channel 4 team that made the documentary. So many emotions were probably at play. I’m sure there was a mix of bafflement and surprise, but also perhaps a sense of powerlessness. Do they need to respond to something so silly? The public at large would probably mostly miss the fake, viral, twitter story but still… a bunch of preteens were going around saying that their tv show just killed 14 (or 28 or 56?) Larryshippers. I still would love to find out what they made of the situation. As far as addressing the outrage, Channel 4 wrote a piece about itself and calmly documented the oddity of the rumors.

It would be easy to believe that this type of event is unique to the unchecked speculation machine of the 21st century Age of Social Media, but I’m not so sure. The faces are probably younger (adults move on to more mature forms of gullibility such as Birther movements and Death Panels) but the premise of an unfounded claim whipping an ignorant group up into a frenzy is a common human experience: think Jews poisoning wells rumors common in the Middle Ages, or Salem Witch Trials.

As I wrote before, these events are probably extremely satisfying to those who allow themselves to become wrapped up in it. It’s so rare these days to be able to freely and openly lose yourself into a self-righteous, targeted outrage frenzy. The sense of community it builds – as proven by the uniting of even the bitterest of enemies: Beliebers and Directioners – has to feel great. It’s also rare to be able to feel like you are really having an impact and by seeing your group’s hashtag trending or retweeting a picture you are made to feel as if you, individually and in a group, have contributed to the success of something big. That’s gotta feel pretty satisfying.

As a whole, the experience of fandom is replacing religion. And here politicians and clergy were terrified that science would destroy people’s belief in God, when it has now been replaced by worship of another kind. It is only when looking at fandom as frantic as this that the Old Testament’s God’s commandment to not worship any god but Him is so reasonable. I guess, in his mysterious way, God knew that in 4000 years he would have to compete with Harry Styles and his smile.

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A dangerous threat indeed.

But what is also remarkable is how much fandom borrows from religion: Unquestioningly loyalty, policing of group membership by self-appointed members, fanaticism, fantasy, and even group ritual.

One of the things that struck me about last nights twitter event was how many Directioners invented ways to show solidarity with their (not at all) dead comrades.

It’s enough to make a Directioner get dizzy. If I wanted this much group enforced shared ritual I would be Catholic!

Russell Simmon’s Harriet Tubman fiasco is proof that some things are still sacred

via @BritniDWrites

via @BritniDWrites

Tonight, Russell Simmon’s made a terrible decision. He decided to promote a video (produced by his video company All Def Digital) made by Jason Horton a white guy (his tagline: “The World’s Only White Male Comedian” because that’s clever). The concept of the video? Take a hero of American history, Harriet Tubman, who was literally responsible for leading hundreds of slaves to freedom and risking her life to do so, and attempt to make a funny viral video from that premise. The execution? A joke about the rape that thousands of African slaves endured at the hands of their white masters, fat shaming, and an appalling lack of sensitivity to both a woman who deserves more than to be a punchline in a viral marketing campaign and towards a people whose descendants ARE NOT Jason Horton.

[UPDATE] The full video has been re-uploaded by someone on youtube so here it is

The actual video was immediately taken down after intense backlash but here is the preview video (which is bad enough). I’m assuming it too will eventually be taken down but I’ll try to find a new version of it when it does go down.

Fellas, you had to know this was in poor taste? Like, everyone in the room during filming had to have been thinking that maybe this crossed some line. Right? I mean I know it can sometimes be hard to find out where the edge is between edgy comedy and plain old offensiveness but this is well beyond the gray area.

There are funny ways to depict history, and even funny ways to deal with sensitive topics but this… this is shameful. What a disgrace.

Over-analyzing the rap game: Kendrick Lamar is a Kardashian

From: Goodreads.com

From: Goodreads.com

If you’ve been on social media recently you will have noticed that the rap world is in Game of Thrones level turmoil. Headlines abound. Kendrick Lamar blasts other rappers. Kendrick Lamar scorches other rappers. Kendrick Lamar hostile verb other rappers. In his new freshly leaked song* (*meaning “released by Kendrick Lamar’s people at a pre-established time”), Kendrick Lamar spends a great deal of time “calling out” other big name rappers and declaring himself – in no uncertain terms – the King of both the East Coast and the West Coast (why it took so long for rappers to discover manifest destiny is beyond the scope of this article).

I heard the barbershops be in great debates all the time
Bout who’s the best MC? Kendrick, Jigga and Nas
Eminem, Andre 3000, the rest of y’all
New niggas just new niggas, don’t get involved
I’m usually homeboys with the same niggas I’m rhymin’ wit
But this is hip hop and them niggas should know what time it is
And that goes for Jermaine Cole, Big KRIT, Wale
Pusha T, Meek Millz, A$AP Rocky, Drake
Big Sean, Jay Electron’, Tyler, Mac Miller
I got love for you all but I’m tryna murder you niggas
Tryna make sure your core fans never heard of you niggas
They dont wanna hear not one more noun or verb from you niggas
What is competition? I’m tryna raise the bar high
Who tryna jump and get it? You better off tryna skydive
Out the exit window of 5 G5’s with 5 grand
With your granddad as the pilot he drunk as fuck tryna land
With the hand full of arthritis and popping prosthetic leg
Bumpin Pac in the cockpit so the shit that pops in his head
Is an option of violence, someone heard the stewardess said
That your parachute is a latex condom hooked to a dread

Rap fans ate it up.

That was the point.

You know what else was exactly the point? What happened next. What happened next was this: The rappers who were (and weren’t) named spent the day responding to Kendrick Lamar in kind. More headlines came in, more page views were achieved, more hashtags were made trending.

Kendrick Lamar could be a great Kardashian

Kendrick Lamar could be a great Kardashian

Obviously the rappers eviscerated in the song played their part (they knew the role well) and responded with come backs, drama and vows to get lyrical on his ass. Secretly, they were probably giddy. The only thing that can make someone swallow their ego is the prospect of making big money to do so. That’s what this latest spat of drama means. Dollars all around. Stoke the fires of manufactured drama and the public will pay for the privilege of being along for the ride, such is our addiction to intrigue.

Big K.R.I.T. (one of the rappers named) said it best:

Gladiator shit not in its combative sense, but in its sense of spectacle. Rap has always walked a very different path then that of other genres of music. Calling people out, creating drama and sadly, even actual violence, are all part of its legacy. It’s like a less regulated pro wrestling saga, where age old feuds and convoluted backstories (complete with betrayals, sacrifices and shaky alliances) play out in the public eye and raise the stakes of the music. Tupac and Biggie engineered such a masterful publicity feud that it still plays out daily for their legions of fans who have not forgotten (it also ended, sadly, with both promising rappers dead).

This is all so reality TV. Real Housewives of Compton called by any other name would seem as shamelessly self indulgent. This is no different than what Keeping up with the Kardashians does so well, and like a reality producer who knows when the drama is in need of a boost, Kendrick Lamar recognized that the rap game needed someone to rake the coals.

What this means in terms of money can only be positive. Loyal fans in both camps will feel it is their duty to vote with their wallets. It’s the only way, aside from ineffectually dissing one another on Youtube videos, that they can support “their guys”. Us vs Them is a helluva drug and one that leads to a vested interest in winning something. The feud is amplified further by social media algorithms that act as a feedback loop as more and more people see trending topics about Kendrick Lamar and chime in, making the topics trend even stronger.

Whether or not Kendrick Lamar is lyrically King of the rap game is of little consequence, he’s certainly the King of playing the rap game.

“Hyperloop” sounds like something out of science fiction… good.

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I’ve written in the past about ideas that, while not entirely feasible, are still helping push our society forward in the direction of a better tomorrow. With science and technology, it is often just as important to be ambitious as it is practical, unless we want ours to be a country of stagnation – comfortable but lagging in every way that matters.

It seems straightforward. Innovation and progress are goals to strive for, and for a long time that’s what our country fawned over, but in the past few decades those ideals have been replaced by fear and xenophobia. Often xenophobia takes the shape of fearing people different from ourselves but it also applies to ideas different from what we know. America is now a country desperate to hold onto a perceived past – imagined more than real – of a simpler time and devoid of shades of gray. It fears what it doesn’t know and doesn’t seem to want to learn.

Conservatism, even it’s name suggests an inability to move forward, is built on fear. It’s chief weapon is fear, and it is swung wildly and ferociously in all directions. What is opposition to immigration reform if not a form of racial fear? What is opposition to climate change if not a form of environmental fear? What is opposition to gay marriage if not a form of sexual fear? Progressivism has it’s flaws, but it often in the form of caring too much, not too little. It dares to try to change things. Conservativism clings on.

I didn’t intend to write this as a way of bashing conservatives, but it is important to note their popularity in America as a testimony to how far we’ve fallen. Instead of approaching the changing geopolitical, social and environmental challenges with gusto and a will to always try to better ourselves, we’ve allowed an entire national political party to provide a giant hole in the sand for defeatists and pessimists to stick their heads in.  And that’s because fear is easy. It’s easy to be small, and isolationist, and enjoy the sense of superiority that tribalism provides no matter how objectively false it is. What is harder is doing something.

That is why, when an ambitious plan comes out by a creative thinker it is crucial that we let it thrive.

Also, he gets his fashion advice from Ricky Gervais apparently

Also, he gets his fashion advice from Ricky Gervais apparently

In many ways, Elon Musk is the best of what American capitalism can provide. When people think of that “entrepreneurial spirit” that is so often trumpeted by politicians and cited by frauds like Donald Trump to justify their wealth, it should be for people like Elon Musk that they look to as the defining argument.

Elon Musk, a South African-American inventor and entrepreneur, is bold. While still in his 20s he co-founded Paypal, that site you use to securely shop online. It was enough to make him rich, but he didn’t rest. Next he co-founded SpaceX, that privately owned space program that is still the only one that has ever launched a nongovernmental space craft into orbit and successfully docked with the International Space Station. (Musk has said in interviews that he was inspired by Isaac Asimov’s Foundation book series, so give another point to the power of science fiction as a motivator.) Finally, he went on to co-found Tesla Motors and still works as head of production design. He’s a guy who gets things done.

Now, he wants to get it done quicker by moving people from Los Angeles to San Francisco in times that conventional transportation cannot come close to matching.

Wired.com describes his plan:

Musk’s proposal to revolutionize mass transit is called the Hyperloop. It would transport passengers in individual aluminum pods powered by turbines and solar energy in above-ground tubes, cost $6-10 billion to build, and make the trip from San Francisco to Los Angeles in 35 minutes.

But it only exists in a 57-page alpha white paper. And if someone grabbed the idea and ran with it today, Musk says it would still be 7 to 10 years away.

It began with an idea similar to the vacuum tubes used to shuttle the check from your car to the bank. But maintaining that level of vacuum for hundreds of miles, according to Musk, was untenable. “The basic calculations for energy was enormous,” Musk said during a conference call. And it’s also incredibly dangerous. So Musk enlisted a dozen engineers from Tesla and Space X to start playing with the idea. They wanted to use to existing technology, require as little land as possible, and get the pressure down inside the tube, determining that about half-bar of pressure was the sweet spot. And now Musk and Friends have released it to the world.

Two tubes — one for each direction — would be mounted on pylons spaced between 50 and 100 meters apart, and Musk envisions the Hyperloop running alongside Interstate 5 in California. Because it’s elevated, there’s less environmental impact (farmers can still use their land), it can be built to withstand earthquakes (using the same technology as buildings in the Golden State), and would have solar panels mounted on the roof.

“There is way more surface area on the top of the tube than you need [to power the Hyperloop],” Musk says. “You would have more power than you could possibly consume.”

Inside the tubes, each pod would be mounted on a pair of skis made out of inconel — the same metal that SpaceX uses to handle high heat and pressure — with air being pumped through small holes in the skis to create an air cushion. Combine that with magnets and an electromagnetic field, and you’ve got levitation with very little drag.

Now this is years away from being a reality. That’s fine. In fact, that’s a good thing. It gives us a vision for the future that is beyond the next 140 character tweet we’ll read. It should motivate and inspire, and more importantly, remind the next generation of would be engineers that, to paraphrase Edward R. Murrow, they come from a country that is not descended from fearful men. America can still do great things, if only we have the courage to dream of them.

See, told you.

See, told you.

Republican National Clowns: The RNC’s latest unintentional joke

stooges

Recently, CNN and NBC separately announced that they would be airing documentaries about Hillary Clinton. At best, that should have aroused an “Oh, that’s cool” response from anyone. If you have been following politics in the last, let’s say, two decades, or if you plan on following politics into, let’s say, 2016, Hillary Clinton is a person of interest.

Television has always been a medium of guessing at the public’s interest in people and events and anticipating a demand of that interest. That’s its entire business model. People want to watch things with people and things they care about: Hillary Clinton being an obvious choice. This whole thing seems so darn reasonable and straightforward that it should come as no surprise that the Republican National Committee, the head of the GOP, has overreacted badly to it.

You see, Hillary Clinton, three years away from a 2016 election, already terrifies the GOP. This isn’t baseless worrying, Hillary Clinton has a sizable lead in popularity and name recognition over pretty much anyone else in the potential candidate pool. Hillary Clinton (despite early jabs by Republicans) is fast tracked to the DNC’s nomination for President. But let’s not lose our heads, all of that is still three years away.

Republican's Wife: "Honey, you were shouting in your sleep. What's wrong?" Republican: "Nothing. It's nothing. Just a bad dream."

Republican’s Wife: “Honey, you were shouting in your sleep. What’s wrong?” Republican: “Nothing. It’s nothing. Just a bad dream.”

The GOP, already hurting after two sound presidential defeats (by a socialist, atheist, Muslim no less) are worried. So when they heard about these two documentaries they promptly freaked out. They needed to prevent these documentaries (which they assumed would be pro-Clinton) from airing. The only problem is that stupid “freedom of the press” and, gasp, “independent private industry” were working against them. So they played the only card they had.

In a letter to CNN and NBC, RNC chairman Reince Priebus said that if CNN and NBC didn’t drop the documentaries, he wouldn’t allow either network to air the Republican Primaries. In other words, Mr. Priebus threatened to take his toys and go home.

Obviously, threatening to not air your own party’s primaries on two large networks is kind of like punching yourself in the face to avoid doing the dishes. The GOP wants attention for its candidates, that’s how it gets people inspired to vote for one of them. The only way this threat has any sort of bite is by the fact that in recent elections the GOP primaries have become wildly popular with people just tuning in to watch a train wreck. It shouldn’t even be considered controversial to say that the typical Republican primary is filled to the brim with absolute clowns: Literal jesters with no hope of appealing to a national audience but allowed to share the stage – and sometimes win a straw poll or two – with Presidential hopefuls that actually have a chance. Last election’s was a doozy.

We had Herman Cain – Pizza mogul, 9-9-9 flat tax proponent, Pokemon quoter, sexual harrasser, all around idiot.

We had Michelle Bachman – Climate change denier, gay basher, insane person.

We had Rick Santorum – a frothy mixture of homophobia, idiocy and religious zealotry.

We had Donald Trump – Billionaire, blow hard with less brains than hair.

We had Ron Paul – a crazy person’s crazy person, paranoid, racist and kind of weird looking.

And watching the debates was like watching a beauty pageant with ONLY Miss South Carolina’s.

So by threatening to pull that circus off the air for CNN and NBC, the networks do miss capitalizing on the sheer rubbernecking potential of a group of people who know people are laughing but aren’t quite sure if it’s with them or at them. For television ratings, it’s as close as we get to a “sure thing” without being a Two and a Half Men rerun.

Like Rick Santorum, it too is popular for irrational reasons

Like Rick Santorum, it too is popular for irrational reasons

Of course, NBC and CNN will risk alienating the increasingly alienated GOP and air the documentaries. No more than ever, they have to. Interest in the two documentaries is probably higher now than ever. They also can’t be seen as backing down to a political party (not after the outrageous PBS Park Avenue cancellation debacle that seriously harmed the reputation of that highly reputable network). The show must go on, whether the RNC likes it or not.

My only consolation to the RNC is how stupid they are being for thinking this is going to noticeably sway the 2016 presidential election. By assuming that Hillary Clinton is the de facto nominee, they are losing sight of a history filled with “de facto nominees that end up kicked to the curb”, most recently in the form of Hillary Clinton herself by a young upstart from Illinois who went from unknown to presidential nominee in less than two years.

The RNC is also mistaking NBC and CNN for Fox News. I can see how it’s easy to do. They are used to networks that broadcast unfiltered propaganda for the Right and understandably assume that other Networks must operate the same way. It’s the “thieves think all people steal” effect. CNN has responded to this unreasonable demand by telling the GOP to wait and see before overreacting.

The GOP has assumed that any documentary focusing on Hillary Clinton must show her in a good light. High praise from the Right, if you think about it. Maybe what scares the GOP about Hillary Clinton the most is the fact that they are closet fans of hers, secretly wishing a GOP candidate would emerge that was half as interesting and half as popular as the woman in the pantsuits.

How was “Asian Girlz” possibly made?

Another week, another outrageous act of racism (or two). This week, we were treated to the unveiling of a ridiculous song that is audibly awful as well as racially offensive. “Asian Girlz” by something called Day Above Ground (a band that looks as if Creed were headlined by Mark McGrath and then re-imagined as a boy band… Jesus Christ, I can’t believe I just wrote that sentence.) is by any rubric a truly racist song. What’s really criminal about it though is just how mind numbingly dumb it is. But here is the thing: dumb racist things are all over the place. On Twitter, on Facebook, on Youtube, and everywhere you look you can find videos and comments that are really insensitive, that isn’t surprising (people are awful). What is surprising is how a professionally produced video for a band was able to go so wrong. How many eyes have laid eyes on this abomination and thought, “Yeah, this is fine.”?

I famously wrote about another racist song as the inaugural post for Jamesonstarship.com but “Accidental Racist” by Brad Paisley and LL Cool J pales in comparison.  That song was, at least, accidentally racist. “Asian Girlz” revels in it.

Also spelling “girls” with a “z” is dumb.

The song is nothing more than a list of asian stereotypes thrown together in a string of lines devoid of logic or larger meaning. The video is a master class in sexual objectification. You can’t help but feel pity for the young woman whose sole contribution was dancing provocatively and faking an orgasm in a bathtub (She has since expressed regret for her role in the video).

I’m sure the band thought that this was just a fun and lighthearted attempt at being “funny”. The song certainly tries to be funny, but it doesn’t even achieve that. What’s left is just stereotypes aimlessly thrown about and nothing redeeming. There are also curious lines such as:

17 or 23, it doesn’t matter to me.

Okay…

Or: Come and sit on my lap or we’ll send you back

Awesome sentiment fellas.

But again, if this were simply a self made youtube video it could just as simply be dismissed as a poor decision by a band of idiots. Instead, many people saw this before it was released and either didn’t realize it could be construed as racist or didn’t want to speak up. This seems to happen a lot more than it should.

ktvu_asiana01

Something is systematically wrong here.

Clearly, there is disconnect between how things are conceptualized and how things play out, even by people whose job it is to avoid these very kinds of situations. I, of course, can’t be sure, but my instinct tells me that Day Above Ground wouldn’t consider themselves as racist. They are quick to point out that one of their members from Indonesia. While that isn’t a compelling defense of what is unmistakably a racist song and video, it does suggest they have no intention of being overtly racist. Instead, they are just ignorant. So they are just like most of us. We need to look at this because it will help us better ourselves.

This is why diversity is important. This is why things like Affirmative Action and workplace non-discrimination laws are monumentally important. It’s not that people are not well meaning, most people are. But their perspective is so narrow – mostly white, mostly male, mostly heteronormative – that they begin to forget that other perspectives exist. When only one perspective is being shared, and in a lot of industries that means the perspective of the “Boy’s Club” but also the perspective of white culture, it’s hard to identify places where problems are for people you can’t empathize with.  And from that white perspective, “Asian Girlz” seems silly and harmless. After all, can’t we poke fun at stereotypes? Like on the blog “Things White People Like”? Unfortunately no. From the perspective of minorities, it can be demeaning and derogatory.

The sad fact is, it probably took Day Above Ground all of 30 minutes to come up with the stereotypes they used throughout the song. Those stereotypes reduce an entire continent of people to a simplistic group of “proto-asians” who, you know, eat white rice and throw ninja stars and are good at math! That level of insensitivity should be unacceptable. It would also be obvious if the band, its producers, managers and film crew, took some time to shift their perspectives.

One of the biggest differences between white Americans and American minorities is privilege. That eye rolling, groan inducing term that makes internet commenters cry “reverse racism” and become defensive to the point of catatonia. Despite its threatening nature, it applies here. White people have the privilege of being beyond hurtful stereotypes. We are able to laugh at our own expense in a way that other groups cannot without feeling the slight tinge of doubt that comes with asymmetrical abuse. As usual, Louis CK explains this best and hilariously:

This article wasn’t intended to turn into a “give me a break, white people” thing (although I love writing those and lately it seems like all I do is roll my eyes and say “give me a break, white people” when I go on Facebook), but it’s a problem and one that this case – and recent others – illuminate. It seems that the answer to “How was ‘Asian Girlz’ possibly made?” is “By not adopting a perspective that seems unimaginable to most people in places of privelege: that stereotypes can hurt.”

George Zimmerman is a victim of gun culture, too

George-Zimmerman

As we continue to struggle to comprehend how a man can shoot an unarmed teenager and not be legally accountable, it’s worth noting the larger players in all of this. George Zimmerman seemed well intentioned, if overly zealous. The problem is, he was sold a fantasy propagated by gun rights activists and the National Rifle Association that sent him, unwittingly, on a collision course with an incident. Unlucky break for George that he picked the absolute worst scenario in which to murder someone. I do believe that he probably didn’t plan on nor want to kill an unarmed teenager on the way back from the store holding nothing but skittles and iced tea. I also believe George Zimmerman wanted something to happen on one of his patrols, if only in that romantic and idealized way all of us fantasize about “what ifs”. In his case though, the “what if” became reality: heartbreaking and tragic.

From this lens, George Zimmerman isn’t a monster – or even overtly racist. Instead, he was manipulated and exploited by a movement that did not care about him further than as a cow to be milked of his money in exchange for guns and the facade of safety and control over imagined (or over-reported) threats. The National Rifle Association doesn’t kill people, but they give killers the tool they need to effectively do the job. If that were the only thing they did they would simply go down as despicable moneygrabbers, but they just can’t seem to leave their true intentions laid bare like that. Buying their product isn’t enough, we have to love them too.

To achieve that goal, they have to control the narrative. In a world where gun violence is increasingly directed at the gun owners themselves, or his or her family members (and disproportionately female), it must be hard to justify wanting more guns on the streets rather than less. To ensure profits, the narrative has to be unhinged from reality in such a way as to somehow convince a large section of society that they need guns in the home to ward off threats from outside the home. It isn’t hard. Especially when you play upon ingrained and deeply held beliefs about “other” groups.

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Source: Wikipedia

Trayvon Martin had the misfortune of being born an “other”. George Zimmerman, while not Caucasian, still grew up in a society in which black men are portrayed on TV, movies and in the media as disproportionately violent, aggressive and troublesome. It’s an image that the NRA has cultivated, with great success, into a selling point. Protect your homes. People not like you are out there. Watching Trayvon slowly walk down a quiet, residential neighborhood must have seemed like something out of “The Wire”. He certainly looked like they said he would: He had a hoodie. He appeared in no hurry. He was black.

As a white male I don’t know what it’s like to be suspicious. Before writing this I walked across the street from my apartment to pick up some cat litter from a convenience store a block away. I took my time. I checked my phone. Stopped to answer a text. Kept moving. If I noticed a man following me in his car I would have been freaked out. Then again, I’ve never been treated with suspicion . I am given the benefit of the doubt. Young black males in our country aren’t given that luxury. In 2013, LaVar Burton (the reading rainbow guy) explains how differently he has to act around police officers than a white person. That should be viewed as unacceptable. That is unacceptable.

In all of this, it’s important to note that Trayvon didn’t “owe” George Zimmerman anything. I’ve heard it asked “why didn’t Travyon just stop and explain to Zimmerman that he was walking home?”, but I can’t believe that this question is what it has come to. A boy shouldn’t have to justify himself to a strange man just for being black while walking down the street. That should be viewed as unacceptable. That is unacceptable.

But again, I don’t believe that George Zimmerman was a racist, intentionally looking for a black boy to kill. I think he was taught by cowards – who hide behind innuendo and plausible deniability – to look for young, black men when patrolling his neighborhood. They don’t say “young, black men”, that would be racist. They call them “thugs”, “urban”, or “gangsta”. They mean young, black men.

The “Stand Your Ground” law, much discussed in this case, is not a form of institutionalized racism on the scale of Jim Crow laws (as some had claimed), instead it is a loophole that allows racism to seep into vigilantism that the George Zimmerman case perfectly illustrated. Essentially, the law says that if a person feels “threatened” then they have the right to kill the aggressor and aren’t required to “retreat”. I’m not being facetious when I say that the “Wild West” that this law is clearly based on wasn’t even as dumb as that. Presumably, even Wyatt Earp would have seen how that has the potential for about a prairie sized amount of interpretation and wiggle room. Again, the NRA and gun rights advocacy groups who were instrumental in passing the idiotic, racist and impractical “Stand Your Ground” law in Florida (and other states) have safeguarded themselves from criticism, but make no mistake, they have blood on their hands. “Stand Your Ground” is nebulous and contrary to the entire reason we have laws. It’s why George Zimmerman can be acquitted of a murder he definitely committed. It has such a “gee shucks” naivete as to be nearly impossible to prosecute against. How do you prove what a “threat” is? Can a racist, who views minorities as inherently threatening, shoot anyone he pleases as long as he thinks they look sufficiently “urban”? But even more absurdly, it gives asymmetrical power to the holder of the gun (the NRA must be thrilled). Because guns kill quickly, and fists often don’t, the “threat” is the man swinging punches.

That is why George Zimmerman is free at its most distilled. The defense was able to successfully argue that because Trayvon was using his fists as weapons and George Zimmerman was clearly losing the fight (the one he instigated) that Trayvon deserved to be shot. Presumably, if Trayvon had a gun and felt threatened by George Zimmerman when he approached him he would have been in his right to kill him. But only one person had a gun that night. Fists take time. Bullets are quick. Trayvon isn’t here any more to defend himself and George walks free. That should be viewed as unacceptable. It is unacceptable.

So, in a weird way, George Zimmerman was wrapped up in something larger than he realized. He had been promised a fantasy that reality didn’t deliver. He had to learn through murdering an innocent boy that the idea that guns are defensive measures against intruders or aggressors is a false one. Unlike the simplistic world view that gun culture perpetuates, we live in a world of gray. Often the aggressors are our friends, or our family. Sometimes they are us. Our children, too. Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as watching for the black guy in the hoodie. That lack of predictability may be scarier, it means a loss of control – and guns have always been marketed as tools of control in a scary world – but realizing that means less of this. It can’t bring Trayvon Martin back but it can, hopefully, prevent the next time. That should be viewed as possible. It is possible.

Pay no attention to the little green line: A writer’s lament!

green lineSometimes I hate Microsoft Word. I wish I could tell it that I’m not writing a thesis paper, or perfecting my cover letter, or typing up a congressional report: I’m making ART. It’s going to be messy. I’m going to use fragments. My fragments are going to fragment. I’ll throw in a run-on sentence where it’s needed. Jackson Pollock didn’t have to deal with this crap.

Jackson-Pollock-1943-Mural-631

Pictured: Fragment (Consider Revising)

If that little anthropomorphized paper clip were still around I would give him a serious talking to (I’m a writer, I don’t need to justify what I do at my writing desk. I’ll talk to a virtual paperclip if I please!). I’d inform him that maybe he should focus more on making sure I don’t accidentally use “there” when I mean “their” (yeah, I do it sometimes. Arrest me, grammar police!), instead of underlining every other sentence in obnoxious, judgmental green. “Um, stop writing please. You’ve got a fragment here. Consider revising.” Hemingway would have killed Clippy. He wouldn’t have put up this.

Clippy

What’s the opposite of a muse? Clippy!

Don’t get me wrong, I bet Microsoft Word has really helped cover letter authors, thesis writers, congressional interns, but putting “Slaughterhouse-Five” into a word document should be considered high treason, such is the offensiveness. That masterpiece of a book would stand no chance against the silent, heartless, soulless grammarian that is this programs internal algorithms. Ignore the power. Ignore the sentiment. Does it violate “noun+verb=sentence”? Then, sorry Mr. Vonnegut, it appears you’ve got some fragments. Consider revising. So it goes.

Even if they can’t articulate it, I bet there isn’t an author on the planet whose favorite color is that shade of green. On some primordial, intangible level, that shade of green represents stagnation, interruption, and – the authors worst foe of all – doubt. How could an author love a color that represents such antipathy towards the creative process. Clippy is clearly not a writer, but surely he can relate. We, like him, are often ignored. Our egos are paperclip thin. We both tell inconvenient truths if we’re doing our jobs well. So back off. Let me write. If you think I need a semi-colon, wait until I’ve finished my thought. If you notice a fragment, consider that maybe it’s important. Maybe it’s exactly where I want it. Right where it belongs.

I know. I know. Just turn off “spell and grammar check”, some will say. It’s not that simple! That feels like cheating. If I did that, then I’d be wondering where the green lines would be. I can’t work under such fascism. Instead, I plead for understanding. Heck, maybe even give me some encouragement. When I write a particularly good line, grammar be damned, underline it in yellow. “Great alliteration!” that yellow line would say. “Wow, powerful stuff!” that yellow line would say. “Cool opening paragraph, but a bit contrived don’t you think?” watch it yellow line, don’t ruin this.

I doubt Microsoft can, or will, change Microsoft Word just for us writers. It’s sold in Microsoft Office for a reason. It’s for TPS reports and interoffice memos, not short stories and unfinished novels. Besides, the word “office” implies jobs and authors don’t have jobs (haha… aw), so it’s up to us – the authors – to soldier on, ignoring critics from without and, sadly, within. Like we always have. So it goes.

Orson Scott Card’s “apology” is pathetic

As the Ender’s Game movie adaptation release date edges nearer the heat is turning up for the writer of the book whose vocal homophobia is coming back to haunt him. While Card has never shied away from saying just what he thinks of homosexuals, the increased support for gay marriage and the timing of his movie have had the combined effect of making him rethink his image if not his position.

In a statement given to Entertainment Weekly, Card provides the rationale for why you should not boycott his latest cash cow and, if anything, feel sorry for a man who just wanted to publicly express his intolerance in peace and without fear of backlash:

Ender’s Game is set more than a century in the future and has nothing to do with political issues that did not exist when the book was written in 1984.

With the recent Supreme Court ruling, the gay marriage issue becomes moot.  The Full Faith and Credit clause of the Constitution will, sooner or later, give legal force in every state to any marriage contract recognized by any other state.

Now it will be interesting to see whether the victorious proponents of gay marriage will show tolerance toward those who disagreed with them when the issue was still in dispute.

Orson Scott Card

orson scott card

“So are we cool?” – Orson Scott Card

The statement isn’t long so I think it would be apt to discuss it all. It’s amazing how its sheer concentration of condescending offensiveness allows us to get such a clear picture of the way Card’s mind works. I guess that’s why he’s a great writer, he really knows how to get to the core truths of a person, even himself.

Part one, or Denial: Ender’s Game is set more than a century in the future and has nothing to do with political issues that did not exist when the book was written in 1984.

The apology opens up with a flat out denial that Ender’s Game could even possibly touch on homosexuality or gay rights because gay rights didn’t exist in 1984.

StonewallSign

To the uninitiated, that statement might seem… well… insane, but if we take a step back and look at through the lens of Orson Scott Card it is completely logical. That’s because Orson Scott Card still believes that homosexuality is a choice, and furthermore, that it’s a choice that people make specifically to subvert traditional “society”. Gay people want to destroy our society and they won’t stop loving each other until every corner of America is reduced to rubble. You got to hand it to Card, he does have a pretty strong view on the power of love.

Part two, or resignation: With the recent Supreme Court ruling, the gay marriage issue becomes moot.  The Full Faith and Credit clause of the Constitution will, sooner or later, give legal force in every state to any marriage contract recognized by any other state.

You win, gay people and society haters. Chicken Little has thrown in the towel. While I do think, and hope, that he is right and eventually every state will recognize gay marriage (perhaps, unfortunately, in the unheroic but still effective way Pennsylvania is currently paving the way towards gay marriage), Card seems to think that because his side “lost” (as if civil rights should have sides other than “what’s right”), the battle is over and therefore he shouldn’t be persecuted for something that happened so long ago, way back to like a couple of weeks ago. Perhaps Orson Scott Card hasn’t seen this map:

Although, considering gay rights didn’t even exist until at least 1985, I guess he probably considers this a bit too fast.

Part 3, or victimhood: Now it will be interesting to see whether the victorious proponents of gay marriage will show tolerance toward those who disagreed with them when the issue was still in dispute.

If Orson Scott Card had simply published the first paragraphs I probably would have wrote him off as just another out of touch bigot who doesn’t deserve to even be given a response, so idiotic is his position, but this last part seems to be a more and more common position now that homophobia is becoming viewed as what it is: pathetic and shameful. The Onion’s AVclub satirized this ludicrous response better than I ever could, but I’ll take a swing at explaining it.

Now that more than 50% of the country views gay marriage as a civil right and ethically justified, the old position of institutionalized bigotry that had gotten used to being unchallenged and culturally encouraged is starting to make its proponents look kinda bad. Even worse, when one of its most vocal proponents has a new movie coming out which is now threatened because of the terribly offensive things the writer said about homosexuality, it’s all together unfair. I mean really gay rights supporters, isn’t boycotting a man who has given support in time, money and writing to preventing gay people from marrying because of his personal views laying it on a bit thick? Stop persecuting Orson Scott Card just because he has made it a priority to persecute others!

Ignoring the part where Card thinks that this issue has somehow been completely resolved, the premise that homophobes are in danger of being victimized is preposterous. For proof, we should look to another instance in our history that required us to rethink the way we conceptualized marriage and how people were allowed to participate in it: Let’s think about interracial marriage. Or rather, let’s think about the fact that other than overt racists and octogenarians, no one thinks about the legality of interracial marriage as a divisive issue. But it was. But now it’s not. It’s called progress, and what’s crazy about progress is that unlike the color of your skin or your sexual orientation, you can change your mind on an issue. That’s what most of America is currently doing. That’s what Obama did. That’s what Orson Scott Card doesn’t want to do. Which is fine, but don’t expect to not experience some embarrassment when you express a view that everyone else has evolved away from.

evolution of gay rightsDon’t worry, Orson Scott Card, I still think Ender’s Game is a pretty great book but your personal views leave a bad taste in my mouth. Maybe those views (which, you just proved you still believe in, having learned absolutely nothing while the world moved on) will affect ticket sales, maybe they won’t, but that’s not intolerance, that’s you getting left out in the cold because you were too busy having a temper tantrum and forgot to grow up.