Abortion Debate? Let’s cut it out…

The terribly insensitive title was a bit attention seeking I’ll admit, but it speaks to this notion that abortion is still a divisive issue for so many people and it’s frustrating amid a spectrum of social problems that require much of the activism and discourse that is wasted on what I feel to be a open and closed issue. Let’s simply and quickly breakdown the debate from the three most popular perspectives and I’ll add one caveat at the end.

Not a solution to unsafe sex-This idea that men and women actually consider the relative “ease” of “taking care of” the potential result of their subsequent sexual encounter before they engage in intercourse is quite hilarious. No one reaches the critical moment of decision and is comforted by the possibility that an abortion will solve the dilemma that having sex might bring about. So, why do we punish young women by arguing, “Hey you should have thought of this before. You don’t get an easy way out.” Well, we are past that point if she is already pregnant and we know that outlawing abortion would not act as a deterrent so therefore, that argument of “It shouldn’t be an option to erase a mistake” is unfounded because it’s not viewed as an option before the mistake is made, it’s viewed as a choice (a very difficult one) for someone who is already pregnant. Abortion is not an easy way out, it’s not a time machine that transports someone back to before their moment of conception, nor is it murder.

Religious Argument (God’s plan)-If it is murder, so is masturbation, sodomy, oral sex, homosexuality, wet dreams, protected sex, birth control…All of the potential sperm involved in those instances are being preemptively restricted from “babymaking” it’s just cutting out the middle man.  The idea that God treats conception differently because it’s “meant to be” and therefore that fetus is immediately a person means that every person who uses in vitro fertilization, a surrogate, or adopts a child is defying God’s plan because if he wanted them to have kids then he wouldn’t have forced them to be in their childless predicaments in the first place. I mean Jesus Christ, Mary and Joseph didn’t have sex (or so they told the town) and they had the son of God so he can make that stuff happen if he wants it to right? That fetus is a result of sperm fertilizing an egg, not some divine intervention.

Roe v Wade reversal-This is a popular harping point for a lot of right wingers. It’s funny, if you actually study politics you’d realize that the reversal of Roe v Wade would be incredibly detrimental to the conservative base. As it stands now, it is a rallying cry that segues into family values, religious traditionalism, and us v them galvanization that resulted from the Culture Wars of the 1970’s and 1980’s which catapulted Reagan into the Presidency. The idea being, find what people perceive to be integral to their lifestyle among a certain homogeneous base (the South in this case) and latch on to an event or decision (Roe v Wade) that exemplifies the heavy hand of the government telling that base that their way of life was inferior or that the government knew better. The republicans rode the coattails of the Culture Wars to win three consecutive elections from 1980-1992 and their next two term representative in the Oval Office was George W. Bush who ran a campaign based on? You guessed it, family values and liberty with an emphasis on religious freedom. Any republican who wishes to reverse Roe v. Wade is suggesting opposition to the true party line which benefits greatly from using that decision and this issue to further their propagandized mission to convince “the real America” that their religious and family values are antithetical to the aims of a left winged Federal government. Sorry, but it’s all bullshit.

Furthermore, the idea that Roe v Wade is recycled as a point of contention to rally the conservative troops around the “core” issues explains why people have such a visceral reaction. It’s programmed. Pro life is just a response born out of fear and fear-mongering in this case. It is a convenient argumentative position that directly opposes the pro-choice (which actually speaks more towards liberty and freedom despite the party connotations) movement while giving religious backing in order to degrade and judge women who choose to do what’s best for their bodies and their lives. I contend that we shouldn’t care as much as we do and I’ve outlined the reasons why so many think they should but few actually sit down and think about it. If you would, you’d be like me and you’d just want everyone to cut it out. Simply put, I do not feel I deserve the power to tell someone what they can and cannot do with their body. I have no right nor do I have a place. God has nothing to do with this and legally there could be few more restrictive laws than one that would outlaw abortion (which will never happen). So, can we just give up and focus on things that matter? People protest, they drive vans with obscene images of dead fetuses, they hound young women who enter abortion clinics and tell them that they are scum. For what? Where is your right? And don’t say, what about the baby’s right to life? Well, again, life is a result of a sperm and an egg so unless you advocate that every sperm is sacred you have no basis there. Let’s cut it out, protect our rights, and fix real social problems.

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Michael Sam: The First Gay Gladiator

Welcome to a seminar on sexual orientation and the workplace…Let’s begin. I’ll spare you the agonizing b.s., but what if your workplace is a football field? Better yet, what if much of your workplace activity revolves around following and debating things that happen on a football field? Well then, chances are you know the name Michael Sam by today.

The Missouri graduate is eligible for the NFL draft this May and he is gay. Players are and have been gay while earning NFL paychecks but they never have entered or at any point in their career been open about their sexuality until now prospectively. The media seized the opportunity, and rightly so, to publicize this heroic announcement for Sam. The question quickly arose: How will this affect his draft stock? Unfortunately, that’s a valid question due to the culture of the sport in question but also the fanaticism attached to that culture.

The NFL is a physical game, a sport that glorifies toughness, strength, even anger. It is a sport of intimidation. Some might accurately call those primal characteristics, while others are fans of the sport because of this gladiator worship. But, this news story framed against the backdrop of the NFL’s image of brutality brings about a meaningful discussion of abhorrent stereotypes associated with homosexuality. Let’s examine a few

Gay men are weak: Michael Sam lead this SEC in sacks this past season at a position that demands physical strength.

Gay men are a locker room distraction: Why? Because once everyone hits the showers they are just going to rape the enitre locker room? This idea is homophobic, born out of fear by heterosexuals. Being homosexual is not equivalent to being a sexual predator. Get over yourselves straight men. What makes you think you’d even attract gay men?

Why does a gay athlete have to be open about his or her sexuality? This comes from a starting point of bigotry. The only reason this is news is because we are such an intolerant people and worship traditionalism even in the realm of sports which is such an asinine ideal that sports deserve some sort of sanctity. Michael Sam didn’t have to come out before he becomes an NFL player, but he felt it was important that he did so that there could be a shift in the NFL status quo which I find admirable.

Now, more importantly, consider the reverse of some of these stereotypes. Why is it assumed that masculine male athletes in the NFL are heterosexual? I think this is important because there is an association that develops. Masculinity=glorifying the gladiator mentality which is celebrated therefore gay men are excluded yet that assumes that we are to take gender cues and subsequently sexuality clues from this primitive idea of the male athlete (hero). This is a huge issue because we want our boys to play sports and compete and emulate their pro athlete role models but why must that encouragement be reinforced with the idea that this is the only way to be a man? Michael Sam is a gay football player. There are straight ballet dancers too but yet our associations tell us that those caricatures are to be gawked at. This comes from an unexplored place in our culture that has everything to do with gender when it doesn’t have to. Our love affair with the NFL has adverse affects when it comes to ideas about how the next generation of men should behave. This is extremely problematic and ignorant. You are not more or less of a man if you tackle other men, or if you have a “mean streak”, or if you play the piano, or tap dance. This big news about Michael Sam is big news because of our tendency to compartmentalize and stereotype but we often do not consider that this mistake permeates to subsequent generations who will do the same unless we teach them tolerance and openness when it pertains to gender and sexuality. The NFL is so mindless, the gladiator mentality so pointless and impractical, so why should we allow it to be so prominent in what we think a masculine man should be? Why do we strive to emulate that archetype? There were Michael Sams before and there will be more gay athletes and the way Michael Sam is accepted or rejected will have a lot to do with how comfortable those athletes are in sharing their true identities with the unforgiving sports world. We all should reflect on why it has taken this long and prioritize what is truly valuable if anything about the NFL while realizing that it’s reach extends further than we acknowledge it does.

The Martin Luther King Legacy: More Than a Monday in January?

I am not a holiday person. Christmas is religious only in its lustful devotion of consumer materialism. July 4th is weighed down by ignorant patriotism and distracted by fireworks displays. Valentine’s Day is usually disappointing no  matter what your relationship status is. Columbus Day is an atrocity (We still call Native Americans Indians. See Louis C.K. stand-up). Anyway, holidays are hollow. As I talked to people yesterday and today concerning this holiday, Martin Luther King Day, I got some pretty surprising reactions. “Why is this a holiday?” “He accomplished what someone else would have.” “This doesn’t deserve to be a Federal holiday.” Cue the about face for me, the holiday hater. Jesus Christ, of all of the stupid things we celebrate, this day has some potential. How can we appreciate what MLK went through? How can we honor his legacy?

I like the general skepticism when it comes to anointing Dr. King as the second coming, but he was this country’s most successful social activist in the past half-century. But, we all know his accomplishments and his trials and tribulations along the way. After today, I’ve become more interested in his legacy and how we have seemingly taken his persona and made it into a universal truth. I think this is dangerous. Before the Civil Rights movement, realities that we can’t imagine were the norm. It is hard to fathom what it truly took to break down those pillars of injustice and restore a foundation of liberty and tolerance. It seems as though many people are sick of MLK posthumously getting so much credit, but his experience was far from ordinary. He was a revolutionary and died for his cause. Viewing his legacy in a vacuum with a defined start and end point undermines the fight he waged. Civil Rights and the broader cause of battling social injustice is an eternal struggle. We cannot rest on our laurels and assume that his fight ended in victory.

King said, “History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.” That is his legacy. “America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check that has come back marked ‘insufficient funds. But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation.” Since that monumental speech echoed off of the Washington monument, more oppressed people have arrived in Washington to cash checks of equality and justice and the funds are still very much insufficient. We have come a long way in terms of civil rights for African Americans and others, but each instance of hate and persecuted group should not require the effort and struggle given by Dr. King. We should not live as Americans waiting on the next hero to accomplish King’s goal of a world where people are judged solely on the content of their character.. We are the silent, but good people who should be appalled by our own inaction.

Gay rights, poverty, declining education systems, hostility toward immigrants, residual racism, and other issues plague our brothers and sisters and we tend to seek comfort in our ignorance and insulation. I am heterosexual and can get married, not because I made a choice but because I was born into a majority, so I don’t care that, because others fall in a minority by also not making a choice, I should allow bigots to make a choice to restrict their liberty? I accept that fewer people in this country get richer while the overwhelming majority gets poorer? I accept that because I can afford to live in an area with high property values, my kids will get an adequate education and the children in the neighboring city will go without textbooks? I pretend that my immigrant heritage is any different from someone who cannot speak English? I accept that Civil Rights laws were passed so racism must also have ended? Our world is full of social injustice and we discuss it constantly, but we do so in whispers. We don’t make enough noise to drown out the disharmonious tones of prejudice and hate. We are so busy feeling sorry for ourselves that we forget that others aren’t asking us to feel sorry for them, but merely to stand in unity and fight for their just cause.

I think it’s all very simple. Live your life with the desire to make the world a better place than you found it. Nothing else really matters. As Dr. King so aptly stated, “And so we’ve come to cash this check, a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and security of justice. We have also come to his hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism.” There are many checks to be cashed and there is plenty of money in the bank of social justice in order to make the world a better place. But, we cannot be afraid to cash in on what is right and true. We cannot wait for a leader to inspire us to fight, because that leader already did so and that is what we should take from today. Martin Luther King’s legacy is not about not getting mail one Monday in January or even necessarily about just civil rights for people of different races, but it is about recognizing and defeating injustice. Right now is the time and plenty is the cause. Whether it’s marching, voting, speaking, or listening, we cannot be docile in this battle anymore because our brothers, sisters, and forefathers can’t afford to suffer the tranquilizing effects of gradualism.

Deja Vu All Over Again

It’s seriously like I am back in elementary school.

In elementary school, I was a smart kid. A “gifted” one. One that was always ahead of the class and learning things that other kids couldn’t understand, and learning them better and faster than those that did comprehend them could. I wasn’t a super-genius, not some kind of Ender Wiggin wunderkind that was destined to save the galaxy;  I simply had an above average intelligence.

We had what were called “reading buddies” in kindergarten. You had a “buddy” who was in 3rd grade who would help you learn to read through partnership while learning to take books out of the library. Except, I was a better reader than he was. I had read my first “chapter book” (The Boxcar Children) by the age of 5, and was on to more chapter books by the next year. My reading buddy was still stuck in The Berenstain Bears (which I did like), but only casually flipped through at that point in time. So as it turned out, I started teaching him how to read. It even got to the point where I started getting books that were below my reading level out of the library simply for the reason that I could teach him to read better that way.

It was like that all throughout elementary school. There were not really any accelerated classes, and besides the “gifted program” they had for kids with an elevated IQ, I was mostly stuck with my classmates learning subject material. I never tried or applied myself, and coasted through elementary school with straight A’s across the board, not yet having learned what “real work” was like. School was easy, play was fun, life was good. Aside from my slave driving parents that is, who liked to burden me down and teach me character building and discipline with chores. I mean, why couldn’t I just play RollerCoaster Tycoon all the time? (Side note, I suppose I am thankful now for the way they raised me then. I eventually beat every RCT map anyway.)

I bring this up now, because I see my current job as elementary school. Without going terribly in-depth, I’m exceedingly good at what I do. It isn’t anything terribly special, but I am just good at it. In less than 8 months of employment, my bosses have put me in three completely different areas of the warehouse that I work in and I have excelled. In all three areas, I have been offered promotions but have turned them down because the hours of work were not what I wanted, and the pay raise wasn’t enough. After the ninth such offer, I finally found one that suited me and started the application process, which I am currently still going through (which is why I still have time to write this while at work). The sad thing is,  in my opinion I haven’t even done anything special while I’ve worked here. I have done my job. I have even read about twelve books and done my fantasy research every Sunday morning. And still with only eight months of employment under my belt, one of the supervisors who isn’t even my boss said that I’ll be “the next clerk turned supervisor”, referencing a coworker who recently went from being an hourly associate to a salaried supervisor (which is about a 1.5x pay jump). One of the stockers even went as far as to talk about me (and subsequently tell me about the discussion) to the Union President about how the ‘new young guy’ is one of the few people who actually “gets it”. Yet, I don’t think I have gone above and beyond my duties, I’ve just showed up when I was told to and done what I thought consisted of my job. Apparently, just doing that is deemed going above and beyond the call of duty. It’s like elementary school all over again. I am not even trying, yet I’m blowing away the competition.

Which leads me to a couple of points. One, that if you’re a fan of or have read my past blog (a link is posted on the “Meet the Writers” page if you’re ignorant to this fact), how absurdly pathetic my past employer was. In eight months here without working nearly as hard as I used to, I have attracted the attention of multiple “higher-ups” who have set about in a way to best utilize my skills and reward me for doing good work, something that was glaringly missing from my previous occupation. To synopsize, I was only ever given one opportunity for advancement at my old employer (which I took) and at the same time, one small pay raise from above the abysmal depths of minimum wage, in more than five years of work. That goes without mentioning the fact that I never called off, always came in on time, and always stayed as late as needed, whenever I was needed (which was always Friday, Saturday, and Sunday).

Of course, said ex-employers have also have the audacity to plan opening a new store soon, at an expense of millions of dollars and the mistreatment of their staff, regardless of personal talent.

It also made me realize several things about myself. Right off the bat I realized the fact that without my past blog, and without writing about what a terrible company I was employed for, chances are I would still be there. I would be stuck in the doldrums of underacheiving mediocrity and a life that ill befit my talents. My life would be entirely different now if for some reason I had succeeded in reconciling with the grocery store. I’d like to think I did myself a favor in displaying such truths on the interwebs and thus getting myself canned, but in my vaunted opinion the old Company still owes me recompense for unemployment.

In turn, I started to question not just my motivation but how my motivation is contrasted with that of others. What drives me? Do I have any long-term goals that are more than just fantasies, or am I simply being a temporal hedonist? Am I just trying to get by with the least amount of work for the greatest personal profit?

Some of those questions I can’t answer because I have not yet matured to the point where I know most everything about myself. Every year I look back and see that I’ve grown in leaps and bounds in the year prior, but usually just through temporary personal experiences instead of time invested journeys. I have learned that I am not terribly hard to please, in that I am satisfied with just getting by and flying under the radar. I dropped out of college because I didn’t feel the need to attend or even try to go back, because I could easily get by without it. I stayed at my old job because it paid the bills that I needed to survive. It wasn’t until I needed a new job that I applied myself to upgrade my life and take it somewhere that it hadn’t previously been. I found out that when driven by need, that I was capable of taking myself to a better personal state.

But as my state improves, need starts to disappear and I return to the vicious cycle of lethargy. In order to best use my talents and elevate my personal being, I have acknowledged the fact that I must learn how to be driven by my wants. And not just my desires, but how I can best use the talent and motivation behind those ambitions to better others in the world around me.

What I needed, was a goal and a plan of attack. I am a list-writing person, who sits at his desk at work with all sorts of scraps of paper in his pockets littered with things that need to get done. So, I came up with an idea for a long-term goal and started a list.

I have decided to write a book. I have faintly sketched out the details, creating a plot that is loosely based on a modern day retelling of the Greek Mythological story of Jason and the Golden Fleece, with the story being told through the eyes of Jason’s Guardain Angel.

Of course it is a long way from the inception of an idea to it becoming fully realized. As a perfectionist when it comes to things that I’m good at, each chapter will more than likely receive multiple re-writes and revisions before a rough draft of the final project will be a reality.

Which is where you as the reader comes in. As I have stated above, I’m not terribly competent with long-term goals, so keep me honest and ask me how progress is going. Just don’t ask to read any of it, because the answer will always be the same. Secondly, in more direct relation to this post, find out what motivates you and what you’re good at. Make a plan to achieve a long-term goal that won’t just affect you, but will have a positive affect on others around you as well. Accordingly, as friends hold you accountable for your hopes and dreams, hold them accountable right back to ensure that they are making an effort to better themselves in a way that truly reflects their unique talents. And if you are having trouble finding that motivation, remember that that horrible cliché about there being no better time tha now is actually true. Especially, during the Christmas Season, which I have found is always a good time for miracles.

Why I Love the ‘Christmas Season’

It’s simply bound to happen. You know exactly what I am talking about. There’s going to be someone in your group of friends or family that is going to hate Christmas. They’re going to spew on and on about how it has simply become a season of rampant capitalistic commercialism that has turned whatever base it used to stand on into a season of greed and madness surrounding the accumulation of stuff. Then there are the people who hate on the religious founding of the holiday, and then argue about how it was founded by the Pope to counter a pagan holiday, and that Christ wasn’t even born during December. Furthermore, you will also have those that insist there should not be a set aside day or “season” that promotes generosity because well, people should always be generous not just at Christmastime.

I’m here to say that I do not care what those people have to say. It simply doesn’t matter to me. Call me selfish, simple-minded, or traditional.

I don’t care.

Normally, I’m a rather complex person with tastes that stray away from the category of simple. Sure, sometimes the small things in life, like a cool summer breeze or watching a sun set while driving across an open expense, I enjoy and will point out. But for the most part, I like chaos. I’m a fan of a busy life with many intricacies, I like things with a compounded meaning and deep creativity, and can at the very least pretend to appreciate it on all levels.

But when it comes to Christmas, I don’t over think it and do not nitpick it. Those people who naysay the Christmas Season are honestly probably not wrong in what they have to say. Sure, it’s overwrought with commercialism and probably isn’t the exact time of year when Jesus Christ was born, but as I said earlier, I don’t care. To me, the Christmas season is something to be enjoyed rather than critiqued. It’s like the music of my favorite band, Oasis. Sure, half of Noel Gallagher’s lyrics are total nonsense. Even he will admit that he hasn’t the faintest idea what “slowly walking down the hall, faster than a cannonball” means in Champagne Supernova. But as he later explains, it doesn’t matter what he think it means, because when 60,000 people are all singing it together all with different meanings for each one, the original nonsensical intent ceases to matter.

Commercially speaking, Christmas is a time when the best movies are released. I have great memories of Lord of the Rings, (up to five December installments as of tomorrow), The Chronicles of Narnia, Night at the Museum, I Am Legend, Seven Pounds, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Avatar, True Grit, and Sherlock Holmes. It’s also when Egg Nog comes into season, Troeg’s releases their Mad Elf Ale, McDonalds has their holiday pies, and all coffee and donut outlets have festive themes with their peppermint and gingerbread coffees. Stores, and especially malls, are decorated in Christmas fashion. Everyone is playing Christmas music, and since I no longer work in retail it doesn’t earn my temperamental scorn. Especially here in the Northeast, it usually snows a few times which adds to the ‘Winter Wonderland’ theme. There just seems to be some sort of feeling in the cold air during the month of December that vanishes in January. In December, the snow and chill seems almost magical. It’s like it belongs there, and is fun to interact with. When the Christmas Season dissipates, the cold instantly feels dank and dreary. There’s no Christmas to look forward to, no froofy holiday coffee flavors to warm you up. Instead it is a cold dark emptiness, with your black coffee that tastes like stale cigarettes in lukewarm water.

That holiday spirit obviously isn’t completely made by the things you can buy to stimulate the economy and promote greed, as I’m told. It’s the time where family and friends aren’t pressed into service at Work or School, and the busy schedule and hectic pace of life slows down to the tempo where I can schedule things that I want to do, instead of things that I must do. There is time to see beloved family members whom I haven’t seen in too long, or friends who are off at school or have graduated that finally have some time off back home. I am not forced to go into work on Christmas or Christmas Eve, instead I know those days I can set aside for catching up on some of the people that matter most in my life. I can finally schedule a 16 player Halo 2 LAN Party, because I know that I’ll have at least sixteen friends free on a Friday night for once.

Sure, we can delve, dissect, and debate Christmas and its applications all day long. But you won’t change how I love the ‘Season’ surrounding it.

It’s a magical world out there right now. Gather your friends and family, and go explore it!

The Death of Paul Walker and What it Should Mean to You

In case you didn’t notice, American actor Paul Walker was killed in a car crash this past weekend. As the media is wont to do when a celebrity dies, investigations and coverage is running in an overflow of excess. Any of you that use social networking are also privy to the fact that many people are critical of those members of the proletariat that post material in memoriam of Walker, because they say that humans die every day that have more needs or have done greater deeds than a Hollywood star. They further say that people should not post things about dead celebrities since greater masses of people die every day.

Those that say these things in an outrage are simply wrong.

Firstly, this needs to be put out in the open. Paul Walker’s death is not a tragedy. Although by definition, “tragic” means dreadful or disastrous, it is not tragic. The connotation that comes with a tragedy is the implication that innocence or goodness has been destroyed through harmful forces outside of the control of the innocent. The fact of the matter is, Walker was a passenger in a fast sports car, which was reportedly being driven in excess of a safe speed. Cars are and always have been death traps, especially at volatile speeds which was the case. When driving at that speed, the driver and passengers accept responsibility for all effects to follow. As a result, innocence is lost. When something happens to a person that is unfortunate, but a direct effect of their action or inaction, the result can no longer be deemed tragic. It can be unfortunate, it can be sad, but the word “tragedy” has too strong implications and should be reserved for truly tragic events.

Moving forward, let us tender the following two statements as fact. When somebody inherently “good” dies, it is a sad occurrence. Especially when they pass at what seems like an early time; a time that could have been used touching and improving the lives of others around them.

Transitively, the death of Paul Walker is sad because of the kind of person that he was. However, it is going to be sad to so many more people than the death of an average person. This is because throughout his film career, Walker managed to reach out and touch the lives of untold millions of people. When you go to see a (good) movie, through the storyline and acting you are placed in empathetic touch with the protagonist. To me, Walker was a good enough actor that through the Fast and Furious movies that I watched and own, I felt for his character in Brian O’Conner. I wanted to see Brian succeed, to witness him overcome his weaknesses and create a circumstantial outcome that was best for him and the people he loved. Again, transitively that makes me feel for Walker, through the character he portrayed. Although I do not feel for Walker as much as I would someone like Tom Hanks, whose roles I identify and empathize with more than Walker’s, during the two hours of a Fast movie, Walker is my protagonist.

Putting this into another view, imagine how you would feel if your current favorite (alive) singer/songwriter died. The lyrics they have written, and the melodies they have composed would cease to continually be created. The essence of their being, the emotion and creativity they wrote with, and the emotions and lyrics that you identified with, would be somewhat of a memory. In the duration of the songs you listen to, you are totally empathizing and placing yourself into the shoes of the singer. They have now touched your life and are a part of you. Truth is, part of you is going to be sad if they passed away.

Although Walker’s death isn’t very personal to me particularly, it is sad. However, it is personal to some people, which I can still identify with. When Sean Taylor (Washington Redskins safety) died in 2007, I will be the first person to admit that I was personally in a somber mood. Taylor was one of my favorite players on my favorite football team, and was in the midst of a career year on the rebound from having personal problems. I liked Taylor and it was upset to see him gone. He touched my life enough that I posthumously bought his jersey so that I could remember the player that he was.

There are people who have had their lives touched by Paul Walker in a significant way, like Taylor was with me. Yes, some did not personally know him, but like the death of a character in a book, they empathized and were placed in the shoes of his characters, transitively being placed in the shoes of Walker himself. And yes, the death of a good person on any scale is sad, but not every person has the opportunity to be a part of so many lives like a movie star can. If someone who could not have possibly known Walker is bemoaning his passing, be respectful and let them be. Their influences and lives are different from yours, so treat your reactions to them as such. Remember what you were told to do as a child, and fully think through what words you are going to attribute to yourself before you make a foolish statement.

I’m Grey on Black Friday

As another Thanksgiving weekend winds down and the stampedes at every Target, WalMart, and Best Buy are slowing to reveal their trampled victims, I’m a bit less in awe of all that is Black Friday than I have been in the past. People camped out for several days, they went without sleep, they devised strategic plans that actually involved them choosing to stand in the bitter cold or in endless lines, but something else happened: the people not participating bitched incessantly. As someone that enjoys doing that when it concerns an ideology or practice I don’t like, I think it’s a bit shallow this time. If you want to put yourself through that Black Friday insanity, that’s fine with  me. If you think taking a week off from work to pitch a tent in your local Best Buy parking lot in order to save 50% on a TV, Ok. But, saddling up your high horse to dispute the tenets of consumerism and preach the merits of a family holiday one day out of the year is truly disappointing. Everything you are saying is legitimate. People shouldn’t care so much about material objects, they should take more time to relax and enjoy the company and fellowship with family, and the advertising cycle that we are confronted with is unfathomable. I concede, I hear you.

However, where is your message when you aren’t a part of a unified front trying to stem the tide against the Thanksgiving night shoppers? My concern is that the message is lost because it’s only being broadcast in a reactionary fashion. Consumerism and our incredibly corrupt economic foundation is egregious but that is just as true the day after Thanksgiving as it is the day after and the one after that. Using the emotional appeal that family is the reason that people should use to supplant their urge to Black Friday shop is fairly weak considering it’s our “family” tradition that requires us to buy every new gadget and toy for one another just to survive the Christmas season which coincidentally begins on Black Friday. I don’t know, I think I’m as sick of the Black Friday bitchers as I am the Black Friday shoppers. Black Friday is just every other day in concentrated form so if we choose to get uncontrollably upset for these amplified reasons that are perceivable every single day then shame on us. We lose our right to complain if it’s just simply a convenient platform from which we pass judgment. I’m not making an argument here, I just noticed more bitterness this year and it made me realize that it is quite detrimental to the underlying point that should be made on Black Friday and every other day. We don’t need smart watches, 10 Christmas gifts, or to have a week of our lives carved out based on a percentage discount, but we also don’t need critics who perpetuate, 364 days a year, the issue that they are criticizing.

The Five Signs You Might Drive Like a Moron on the Highway

For those of you that do not know where I work, I work in grocery distribution in Shipping/IT/Claims at a large distribution center about 35 miles from my home. Because I normally work twelve-hour shifts, during the winter months it is rather usual for me to drive to work in the dark and drive home in the dark as well. Since the route I take to work is mostly main highways, it is safe to say that I interact with quite a few other drivers on a daily basis. And in doing so, I have managed to compile a mostly comprehensive list of traits that if you possess them, might make you an idiotic driver.

1. You might be a moron if you do not use your turn signals

Vehicular safety 101 here. While switching lanes and exiting (or making any other turns to be honest), use your indicators. Failure to do so not only makes you an inconsiderate driver, but can also be dangerous in the case of sudden turns or other moronic movements caused by drivers who are simply not intelligent enough to use their turn signals. All vehicles are required to have turn signals equipped, let’s all be smart and safe drivers by taking advantage of this feature.

2. You might be a moron if you constantly drive at variable speeds on the highway

Just this morning, one of these such instances popped up. When I drive on the highway, I will typically stay in the range of 65-75 miles per hour in order to maintain good gas mileage while having a constant speed, which will assist better in estimations for arrival times at work. This morning however, as I was sitting in the right (proper) lane, some nitwit in a SUV comes zooming up behind me, and then just sits on my tail, despite decelerating at least 10 miles an hour just to simply sit on my tail. I thought that perhaps this person was just going to get off at the next exit, but that was not the case. I then slowed down to 60 MPH in order to get them to pass me in the left lane, and instead they maintained their tenuous grip on reality by slowing down even further. Chances are that this person was driving distracted (food, phone, radio, what have you) and instead of being a responsible adult and a proper motorist, they chose to not have their full attention directed toward the road, and thus did not notice that the car in front of them (me) was going 20 MPH slower than they were just a minute ago. Of course, the fact they were driving a SUV did not help either, which brings me to my third point.

3. There is a definite probability that if you drive a SUV or a Pickup Truck, that you drive like a moron

I understand the degree of usefulness of a sport utility vehicle or a pickup truck. However, the compact SUV (CR-V, Escape) has become the mini-van of our generation, with the two-row, and smaller (by comparison to other three rowers) three row vehicles evolving into the new soccer mom favorites. Which is rather annoying, because they’re built higher up, and it is simply much more difficult to make fun of someone who drives a SUV than a mini-van.  But you know what the worst part about them is? On the highway, and especially at night, people drive these things like they’re Corvettes. And, because they are built higher up, when they have their headlights on they shine like a floodlight directly into the back of whatever car the idiot driving it is currently tailgating (usually, it’s me they tailgate). I understand that you can lower your rearview mirror to decrease the brightness, but you cannot do that to your side mirrors, which reflect the glare just as bad. And because drivers of SUVs and pickups think that they are the Second Coming and have places to get faster than anyone else, they are typically the ones who will ride your butt and shine their godawful headlights all up in your business. There’s something to be said for souping up cars, because (for the most part) they are meant to handle and drive better and faster than most anything else on the highway. Yes, the guy driving the VW Rabbit with the body kit can be a bit annoying, but compare that to the jacked up pickup truck with smoke stacks in the back. One of these belongs on asphalt, the other in the West Virginian mountains where you’re related to everyone in the county, and you still marry them because the fact of the matter is, you are improving the intelligence of the local gene pool, because it is that low. When on the highway, just know your place amongst other drivers, and stop spewing smog through my sun roof.

4. Tractor-trailer drivers can be the Absolute WORST morons in the driving world

On the whole, I don’t mind tractor-trailer truck drivers. It is the bad ones that soil the reputation of them as a whole. I believe, that if a truck is going over 80 MPH, that they should be pulled over. Compared to everything else on the road, trucks are monstrosities, and can be extremely dangerous due to their weight, cargo, and blind spots. Add speed into that equation, and you have a master recipe for disaster. Drivers that spend excess time in the passing lane, belch black smoke, or constantly speed are idiots. Sometimes, I will intentionally get in front of trucks that are in the passing lane and force them to slow down by decelerating. And if they try to pass in the right lane, it is very simple to speed up because pretty much any car out there is going to have more pickup speed than a tractor-trailer truck.

The other bad part about these trucks, is that because their acceleration is very poor, merging onto highways via inclined on-ramps can be one of the more frustrating things about driving. As stated prior, because I work at a DC, there are always trucks coming and going, which means the probability of me becoming stuck behind one is very high. And, the on-ramp to the local highway from distribution is a rather steep incline that merits truck drivers a speed of about 40 MPH while entering a highway.

And last, but not least:

5. You are definitely a moron if you do not know the most basic rule of highway driving

Drive right, pass left.

 

And please, for the love of God, do not “do the mess around” like John Candy, while driving.

Unleash the Christmas Madness

Light the Gingerbread Cookie Yankee Candle, guzzle a Venti Peppermint Mocha Starbucks Latte, crank up Deck the Halls and for the love of all that is good, press play so I can watch Will Ferrell adorn yellow tights and frolic in all of his Elf glory- IT’S CHRISTMAS PEOPLE! Well it’s actually November 14, 2013 but just as newly elected New Jersey Governor is as good as the President elect, (shouts, “Christie 2016!”) it might as well be December 24th, complete with Maya Rudolph reading us a Best Buy bedtime story.

For quite some time I have unsuccessfully hid a deep dark secret of mine, but here I am to proclaim it to the Internet. My name is Susan B. Johnson and I do not like Christmas- oh the shame. As much as all of this obsessive holiday hoopla makes me want to scream, I am vowing to give it somewhat of a rest this holiday season. I will let my heart grow a size or two but definitely not three.

A few of my favorite Communication scholars will help me express how I plan for us all to live in Christmas harmony:

Mikhail Bakhtin was a Russian philosopher and literary critic in the 1900s. His theory of Carnivalesque suggests that holidays such as Carnival, are isolated events in which the dominant culture allows for subversives to behave radically in a “safe environment.” People are given a few days a year to be boisterous, drunk, nude, over indulgent, and riotous, to ensure that for the rest of the year they act according to social rules and regulations. These few days a year are a release to keep people from feeling oppressed enough to incite an uprising. Bakhtin, however, saw a power that he believed the dominant culture neglected. He viewed holidays as catalysts for change. From these infrequent days of ignoring social norms and responsibilities, by acting out on the one day without consequences, he thought people might start to question why there are consequences at all and who they benefit. People might be able to see the social hierarchy more clearly by extending the holiday’s power into the rest of the year.

Antonio Gramsci, an Italian revolutionary thinker of the 1900s, founded the idea of incorporation, in which the dominant culture incorporates a counter-culture movement into order to strip it of its power. A common example of this is the grunge culture. Grunge encouraged its supporters to reject consumerism, to buy used clothes rather than buying new from multinational corporations. Therefore, worn, ripped, baggy, and faded became the trend. Fearing the counterculture’s power to affect sales, the same multinational corporations that grungies hated, welcomed grunge with open arms. They ripped and bleached and wore their new clothes to look used and sold the trend in a safe way. They made it easy for people to appear as though they joined the movement without making sacrifices that the movement depended upon, thus taking away the counterculture power.

I’ll make all of you Christmas lovers a deal- I will recognize Bakhtin’s theory that holidays, Christmas included, have power and therefore are beneficial to a progressing culture, if you recognize that, in Gramsci’s words, Christmas has been incorporated.

Christmas is powerful, I truly believe that. It spreads messages of peace, generosity, selflessness, and family. It asks all of us to slow down and reflect on what is important to us, asks us to be thankful for what we have, and to spread our wealth to those who have less than us. We put our professional aspirations on hold and focus on others, an indulgence that is dangerous to the dominant culture should it spread outside of the Christmas season.

Christmas has also been incorporated. We are encouraged to show our generosity, our selflessness, our love for our family through material gifts. We buy gifts and make care packages to send overseas to the less fortunate. In doing this, we buy gifts from a corporation, and ignore the possibility that this same corporation could be the ones exploiting our less-fortunate gift recipients for their cheap labor. Instead of questioning the system and seeking to transform it, we buy things. Incorporation provides a “safe” way to fulfill our desire to be compassionate. Instead of asking the dangerous question of why, for example, there are people in our communities who work full time and still cannot feed their families, we can buy them a box of instant mashed potatoes and some cranberry sauce and feel just as satisfied.

Now, if you want to enjoy material holiday pleasantries, like your house falsely smelling of freshly baked cookies or drinking sugary drinks, be my guest, I will not chastise you for it. But do me a solid in return, please? Add a moment of reflection in there too. Why do you like these things? Why do they mean so much to you? How do these small pleasures affect other people? Are you using them to ignore the bigger picture?

While you slurp down your Peppermint Mocha Latte and every latte after that, give the Colombian coffee farmer a second thought. 

Do not allow your Christmas contribution to the food bank to be a justification to support Welfare cuts or hate of the inconvenience of healthcare reform.

Do not allow Christmas to be an excuse for the one time a year you make time for your family.

Do not compensate the lack of time you spend with your aging grandparents or brother who lives across the country with an espresso machine.

Do not calculate your love for your children based on the number of presents under the tree on Christmas morning.

Embrace the power of Christmas as a catalyst for change.

Even I admit, Christmas has power, but it’s not in the Santa Clauses or the metallic bows or 8 foot Douglas furs. It is in the chance for self reflection. Instead of trampling each other to get our sons the PS4 on Black Friday, why don’t we say, “I love you son, let’s spend time together.” Instead saying “Merry Christmas” when we work at a soup kitchen on Christmas Eve, let’s say, “I will fight for you,” and let’s keep saying it into the New Year, the summer and back around to the start of the Christmas season again, November 14th.

The Sport of Capitalism

Sports fans tenaciously defend the integrity of the game they love by espousing their love of their team’s tradition, the parity of their favorite sport correlating with the excitement of unpredictability and volatility, and the pureness of the game itself with the phrase “for the love of the game.” Can we draw legitimate parallels between creating a level playing field on an actual playing field and our beloved economic system? How would we feel if our favorite team lost more games simply because they had more black players than the rest of the league? What if our favorite team was prohibited from truly understanding the fundamentals and rules of the game because the governing body or league didn’t afford them the resources to educate themselves? What if our favorite team was forced to compete with the players that all the other teams did not want and had no opportunity to employ the most talented and capable athletes in their respective sport? Would we watch? Would we cry foul play? In every major sport in America, we have witnessed measures to combat these potential detriments to the playing field’s equality and the health of the game itself through revenue sharing, luxury taxes, protective free agency rights, draft pick compensation limitations, salary caps, the serpentine draft process itself, and tampering rules. These protocols were implemented to create an environment of parity and one where competition would be more entertaining and legitimate. Who is our favorite team in the sport of capitalism? Are parallel measures being implemented on this competitive playing field to make it more equal and thusly make it more worthwhile and fair to all its participants? The answer is a resounding no.

There is a fixed amount of wealth to be distributed within a society. The disbursement method espoused by capitalism can be summarized by the phrase, “You can have it when you pry it from my cold, dead hands.” The profit motive outweighs the moral imperative when regarding capitalism. Wealth is aristocratically protected by generational inheritance which ruins any possibility for legitimate social mobility. The bourgeois are for the most part exempt from significant taxation because wealth itself is not taxed. The truly wealthy do not have income and are being paid to invest their money far more than the rate at which their investments are taxed. In fact, the Federal Reserve bank in our capitalist economic system is a private organization that has its own profit agenda from which we borrow from literally and figuratively. So, in America, the proverbial championship contenders, to use a sports phrase, are always the same. They are always contending for the prize each season (maximum profit) but against what competition?

Ironically, competition is the greatest guise of all when it comes to understanding capitalism. There is no such thing as competition in a market like our own. The more sophisticated and wealthy an economy becomes, the more consolidated and monopolized the society’s capital…The housing bubble bursting in 2008 brought windfall profits for bargain shopping banks and upper echelon investors at the cost of American’s tax dollars, pensions, and mortgages. Lending subsidies were bought and sold (absorbed would be a better word) by mega banks like JPMorgan Stanley while Goldman Sachs and CitiGroup also purchased and traded derivatives of commodified mortgage subsidies that were now insured by the Federal Government (so, long story short? the taxpayer who had their mortgage with a lender, lost their house because of volatile instability in the housing market at the fault of their lender, their lender is purchased by a larger financial institution who is now collecting on their absorbed unpaid mortgages and presenting that bill to the aggregate taxpayer (the same one who is now homeless) in the form of the bailout proceedings) Oh, but they did not stop there. Some institutions purchased defaulting mortgages from failing banks and lenders, packaged the most volatile and risky of those flaming mortgage agreements, sold their derivatives as a security to another institution and or then shorted the security of handpicked failing funds. That is insider trading. It’s a fix. The game was rigged and we wonder why the same team wins every time? Not only that but look at the results. Property, or in this case mortgages, lending capacity, and financial capital were compressed and consolidated into the hands of a few exponentially more powerful banks as a consequence of the housing crisis which fundamentally was a function of the financial institutions’ response to the Federal Reserve’s prime rate at which they lend money to the financial institutions who precipitated the fallout. Ask yourself, Cui Bono, to whose benefit? Not yours and not mine but there was an exorbitant amount of power and capital that was redistributed in this capitalistic disaster and the distribution went straight up…

Mortgage backed securities where the lender gets to pick which mortgages are included in the derivative security is tantamount to a head coach of a football team reffing the game his team plays in and being the bookie who set the spread for the contest. We wouldn’t accept those circumstances for beloved football team, so why do we guarantee this reality for ourselves and those less fortunate than us? Sports is a great example to use in this discussion because they are inherently self interested and competitive. Each team wants to win, each player wants to outshine another and so on. But, as we see in sports, the true success of the product as a whole is competitive balance and regulation. The product of capitalism is riddled with competitive imbalances, based on circumstance (race, socio-economic classifcation), corruption, and barbarism. The poor stay poor in a capitalist society and the rich stay rich. Everyone in the middle believe they are more privileged and more capable of upward advance than they actually are but the lives of those in the middle class aren’t worth the upheaval it would require to provide justice for those who are being oppressed and against those who oppress from the top down. In the sport of capitalism, every team believes they can win and pull the upset but how many times do we have to witness the slaughter on the proverbial field before we realize that that upset is never going to happen?

Finally, once we conclude the level playing field is certainly not evident we ask ourselves how might it be achieved? Herein lies the biggest problem for those who are aware of capitalism’s shortcoming and exploitation. What body is capable of regulating the sport of capitalism in the same way the league office of any of your favorite sports can pass a rule change or a revenue change themselves that will better their game? We are powerless. Congress can’t even pass budgets. Not to mention the fact that Congress and the President are all classified as bourgeois anyway and as the rules of capitalism dictate, there is no moral imperative that can quell self interest so they will do what their post asks them to rather than what the people deserve. When wealth’s distribution is stagnant, every dollar you “earn” is a dollar someone else can no longer have so we are all experiencing the problem of capitalism while we are all simultaneously exacerbating that problem. The system cannot be rectified by a commissioner like the NFL and it can’t be rectified by a powerless politic (we the people) so grassroots are in order. The best place to start? Change your allegiances within the sport of capitalism. Pick a new favorite team. Better yet? Pick a new sport altogether because a game that ensures poverty, celebrates greed, insulates the wealthy from those they exploit, and disenfranchises rational dissent is an unfair contest that is not worth paying attention to because we are intelligent enough to know the score of the game without looking at it. I’ll give you a hint, the score has never been in our favor and it never will be unless we stop playing.