The Quiet Space; Why PC Culture is Dangerous

Posted in Uncategorized on July 19, 2018 by willard43

Don’t get me wrong, I love Jim…er…John Krasinski. Jim was one of my favorite characters in The Office and the show only got stale for me when he and Pam’s relationship was no longer the focal point (don’t get me started on Andy and Erin, or as I call them, Walmart Jim and Pam). And his movie The Quiet Place is phenomenal. A great horror flick with a sense of family. That’s a hard trick to pull off and he and his wife, and all the actors, pull it off with aplomb. Probably one of my favorite flicks of the year.

However, something bothered me the whole flick. Certainly not enough that I didn’t enjoy it, (hell, the suspense was palpable. I couldn’t take my eyes off the screen), I just didn’t get the motivation for the daughter’s character. It’s one of those things that annoyed me more than anything, but I chalked it up to her being a teenager and there needs to be some conflict within the family or the family is just too good. Too Brady, and therefore I’d have a hard time rooting for them.

Obviously the main conflict is with the bad guys, and I won’t spoil it for anyone, but I get that there needs to be conflict within the family as well. Especially given the crazy tension they live with every day. It makes the family real and identifiable for the audience, and kudos to everyone in the flick for doing a great job. But I’m still gonna put this one criticism out there.

For some background, without spoilers, The Quiet Place is a horror movie that forces the family in question, and they’re really the focus as we see very few people outside the family (though we know they’re there based on a few plot points), to be quiet all the time. The baddies can hear you a mile away and every little detail in their lives revolves around keeping quiet to survive. Their lives depend on it as we find out very early on. The family consists of the Dad, Mom, and their three kids, a girl and two boys, the oldest of which, the daughter,  is deaf (and played to perfection by an actress who is actually deaf). The mother is also pregnant with their fourth, which is a key part of the action later in the movie (again, Emily Blunt works overtime doing a phenomenal job in a cast that all do a phenomenal job).

The conflict in question revolves around how the family deals with tragedy. The dad is extremely protective (go figure, monsters abound in a world so unforgiving the slightest sound will get you killed), and worries that his teenage daughter (13?), who is deaf, will be the next victim. He works on a hearing aid for her in the little spare time he has, to provide her with the help she needs if she’s ever to leave the protective environment of their farm, rigged to give her, and everyone, the best advantage to survive in this universe.

This is where the daughter and dad but heads. She thinks the dad is mad at her because of an earlier tragedy, and this is why he will not take her along when he needs to venture out for supplies and to check fish traps he’s set up at a river not far from their farm. He takes the next oldest, his son, instead who is terrified because of the same tragedy, but he can hear. This is the key point that I have a problem with; the daughter can’t hear. She’s not stupid by any means, and I get that at one time people may have wrongly assumed that deaf people were, but that’s a very old prejudice you don’t really see much any more. I certainly never heard of anyone making fun of a deaf person or assuming they were not intelligence because of their deafness, even in my school days and I’m 52. So it’s a prejudice that, while probably not dead, is only shared by idiots.

What I don’t understand is that, being an intelligent 13 year old, how is it possible that she doesn’t understand that her dad is not being overprotective just because she’s a girl or because of a past tragedy. She really is “handicapped” in this environment. She can’t hear, therefore she has no idea if she’s making any noise and attracting the attention of the baddies. Even within the comfort and safety of the farm they’ve rigged to help her not make any noise, there’s always the chance that she could and not know she did, bringing disaster. And I get it, she’s still 13 and immature. She takes it the wrong way, but there’s a slight element of something else in here. She seems offended at her father’s efforts to make a hearing aid that will help her, and almost refuses to use it (it’s a major plot point later). It’s almost as if she’s saying, “you’re ashamed of my deafness and blame it for [past tragedy].” When in fact he’s simply trying to provide safety to his daughter who already has one strike against her in a world where sound can be the difference between life and death.

This leads me to my premise that PC culture is dangerous. In this universe, not being able to hear, especially the sounds you are making, is almost a death sentence. Outside the safety of their farm, and in some cases the paths they’ve created outside of that farm that are safe, she’s not likely to survive very long. This is why he doesn’t take her on any expeditions outside the farm. Why risk both their safety? Why take a chance with both of their lives when it’s unnecessary. Even if it wounds her pride, at least she’s alive to be poopy about it.

Like I said, it’s just a plot point I didn’t care for in an otherwise excellent movie, but I think it speaks to this idea of safe spaces and political correctness and how it makes us weaker in some ways. Only in our world are we supposed to think that people with limitations magically overcome those by being better at everything else (e.g. blind people have a better sense of smell and hearing because their bodies compensate for that limitation). That a deaf person will be able to somehow survive in a world where even the slightest sound could mean death because they can see better? They’ve developed some preternatural sense that takes the place of hearing? Of course not. I’m not suggesting that anyone with any limitation is somehow less of a person, so don’t straw man me on that point. I’m suggesting that we put ramps up to buildings for a reason. That the elevator says the floor for a reason. That we have braille on ATMs (though I’m a little concerned about the one’s with braille at the drive-thrus) for a reason. To make the world as safe as possible for those who may need just a bit of help.

But this idea that we have to pretend they don’t really need that help is dangerous. Making a blind person feel like they don’t need a service animal or a cane and they can simply walk down the street using their other senses is ludicrous. Same goes for a deaf person in a world where sound can get you killed. There’s no way this girl would survive unless she had some help, and why risk it just to make her feel like she’s the same as everyone else. Also, why have her resistant to wearing a hearing aid? It was almost like she was offended by that. Like her father was trying to put a sign her her “warning! deaf kid!”

Again, the daughter seems to smart for her not to get why her father is reticent to take her outside of the comfort zone of their farm. Then again, parents go through this every day with their kids as they hit puberty. Kids think they’re grown up enough to handle everything an adult can, and parents still look at them as kids who need to be protected all the time. It’s a struggle any kid and parent can relate too, and I see why it was part of the narrative here, but I just think the girl would get the concept that it’s just too dangerous out in that world for a deaf person, and also those around her. Why risk it?

I feel I have to put this disclaimer at the end. I loved the movie. I thought everyone did a great job. I look forward to more movies from Jim…er…John. And NO, I don’t think deaf people are incapable of living in the hearing world. That’s not my point. My point is that I don’t think a deaf girl would be dumb enough not to get that her father wants to protect her in a world where sound can get you killed.

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A Better Prison

Posted in Uncategorized on December 29, 2017 by willard43

Bear with me as there are a few caveats to this idea:

 

1 – I don’t know shit about prisons. Never been in one (except for the time I toured the Easter State Penitentiary in Philly), never been sentenced to jail time of any kind, never been a CO (though I did take/pass the test), don’t have any educational background in penology.

 

2 – I think jail/prison sucks. I hate that people have to go there, but what is the alternative? I would love to live in a world where it wasn’t necessary for people to steal, sell drugs, or hurt/kill other people, but that’s a fantasy land. At least in my example, the physical damage would be reduced to the bare minimum.

 

3 – This is just me spit-balling. It seemed like a good idea at the time and I can’t shake it. I think there’s something here.

 

4 – I know this idea sounds a little Big Brotheresque, but the intent is to reduce violence and there is already tons of surveillance in prisons.

 

5 – Overall my idea is not to create the perfect prison as there’s no such thing (I don’t care what those Norwegians say). The idea is to create a safer space for people facing that time for the lowest cost. It seems silly the way things are done today, given the horrific example below.

 

 

Inspired by The Kalief Browder Story.

 

 

Background: Kalief Browder was an innocent young black man who was locked up in Riker’s Island prison in New York, one of the worst prisons in  America, as a juvenile. The proof against him was vague at best and he ultimately spent almost three years in jail, only being released after the case was dropped. Tragically, he killed himself not long after release. The trauma of being locked up in Riker’s ruined him and his future. The above documentary reveals the conditions of his imprisonment in the juvenile ward of Riker’s through anecdotes and actual video footage. It is dismal at best. Both inmates and guards contribute to the hell that is Riker’s Island. There is no safety in this environment and this made me question why we would ever house inmates in this manner in this day and age. There has got to be a better way.

 

Objective: To outline a plan for a better prison system based on social media and carefully monitored interactions between inmates, especially the most vulnerable, juvenile inmates.

 

Parameters: This is solely based on one of the worst jails in the country; Riker’s Island, and the video footage and anecdotes in the above documentary.

 

The Problem: Violence to both inmates and staff of the prison brought on by unmonitored interaction between inmates. Prison society is one where the strong dominate the weak, and gangs are the only real authority. Prison staff are there to monitor, at best, and only intervene in emergencies. More often than not, they either participate in the violence and corruption, or at best, they are merely witnesses. This is not to condemn prison staffs as they are given an insurmountable task given the nature of the offenders, the environment of the prison, their lack of tools to deal with inmate behavior, and most importantly, the lack of structure in the prison environment.

 

Prison is a free for all. Yes there are rules, but they are last ditch efforts and do little to prevent violence. Predators run rampant and no amount of punishment within the system can stop this from happening. Predators and gangs, not mutually exclusive, run the prisons and exploit all those who do not willingly participate. This leads to violence to inmates and staff and does absolutely nothing to rehabilitate.

 

Solution: Segregate all prisoners coming into the prison and do not allow any physical interaction until each prisoner has proven they are capable of functioning without violence in the prison system. This would seem to be cruel and unusual punishment akin to 24/7 solitary confinement, which has proven to be extremely detrimental to inmate mental health. However, there are ways to allow for social contact without physical contact and my proposal is to use the following to not only allow for social contact, but to monitor and mold that social contact into a functional prison society that reduces contact and therefore violence:

 

1 – Social Media – Use social media and telepresence to allow inmates social interaction without the threat of violence by removing physical contact. Telepresence, Facebook and or Reddit like communities, strictly monitored by not only staff but also inmates could be use to tailor behavior.

 

2 – Online Education – Use of online tools/staff to train inmates to interact within the prison community (both virtual and physical). Also provide educational opportunities and job training in a virtual environment. This can be used and monitored by both staff and inmate community representatives.

 

3 – Tiered Incarceration – Use the above to prep inmates for limited interactions with staff and inmates. As inmates progress, they get more and more opportunities for interaction without risking the health and safety of both other inmates and staff. Inmates who do not progress, do not move on to more interaction. Inmates who do move on but fail in interactions, are moved back to the appropriate tier based on their failure and must retake all courses and be re-vetted for interaction by both staff and inmates.

 

Conclusion: While this may not resolve all instances of violence, it does:

  • Provide a pathway for inmates to be integrated into the prison population via something other than rudimentary staff/institutional rules and the unofficial rules leveed by the population itself.
  • Reduce opportunities for violence to staff as those monitoring social media interaction are in no physical danger. If a prisoner misbehaves, they are cut-off. They cannot participate unless they follow the rules.
  • Opens up avenues for counseling and education that don’t involve physical contact from staff.
  • Reduces medical costs related to violence in the prison for both inmates and staff
  • Increases control over the prison population through non-violent/non-physical means

 

 

Again, I can’t emphasize how little I know about the subject of penology, but I think I’m onto something here. It’s a panopticon for the modern age that would require very little in the way of hardware, but likely pay great dividends in controlling prison populations and reducing violence.

Democrats in 2020?

Posted in Uncategorized on October 31, 2017 by willard43

I’ve pretty much given up on politics as of the Trump win. My heart is just not in it any more. Not that I was a politics junkie to begin with, but I did keep my ear to the ground. This past election was very entertaining, and largely due to Trump being involved. I watched in horror as a rich, over-privileged asshole stole the show on the RNC side, was shocked he got the nomination, and couldn’t believe reality was real when he got elected. That being said, he did and we’re stuck with him for the time being. I don’t see him being removed any time soon.

As for Clinton, she lost the election in my opinion. I voted against Trump vs. for her. Not because she was a woman (and frankly, anyone who voted for her solely because she was as some ort of horseshit gender war, is just as bad as the assholes who voted for Trump just because he was white and male). I saw Clinton as a career politician who rigged the DNC candidacy and rallied her troops to oust Sanders, a better candidate, from the running. But hey, that’s politics and she played hardball. I was actually impressed and it played to her strong suits and experience as Secretary of State. So often Democrats get blamed for bringing a “knife to a gunfight,” but HRC bucked that trend and played hardball. Still, she was not an appealing candidate. I think she was a fine Secretary of State, but would be a weak president. Again, not because she was a woman, but because of her party’s insistence on catering to the far left. She would have been a populist landing somewhere right of Obama and left of Bush. All the gains of the past eight years would have rotted fallow in the fields, whereas Sen. Sanders would have capitalized on them and moved us forward (e.g. Healthcare, foreign policy, taxes, income inequality).

So who’s next? Sen. Sanders is running again, but after the last election he has serious problems. The butthurt from Clinton supporters is strong and as she’s not running again, they’ll likely go their separate ways vs. supporting a replacement. I don’t see him gaining more than the support he gained in the last go. This is truly a shame. Probably the only candidate that has any true honor and honesty wants to make this country a better place for all.

Clinton? Never. She’ll not run again and she’d be guaranteed to get less support than the previous election. If she was hard to like then, she’ll be hard not to hate now. You can forget the support of anyone who championed Sanders.

Joe Biden? While I adore Joe Biden, being a Delawarean and having actually met the man (he and his wife lead the parade at the Italian Festival in Wilmington one year and I shook hands with them in front of my very house), I don’t think he’d be taken seriously unless there were no other serious contenders (e.g. Sanders and Clinton don’t run). Here’s a career politician with decades of experience. I just think that multiple personal tragedies have taken some of that fight out of Mr. Biden. I don’t know if he could withstand the scrutiny of an election involving an incumbent Trump. He may not have his heart in it.

Tim Kaine? Who? I mean, he was good enough as a running mate for Clinton (or was he?), but on his own? I couldn’t tell you one thing about him. He has no cache even though he’s been in politics for decades himself. Hell, he’s even a veteran, which should play in his favor, but the guy is simply milquetoast.

Cory Booker? Now here is an interesting proposition. I, for one, would love to see Sen. Booker run. He’s young, a person of color, has tons of experience, and has the “audacity of hope.” I’d happily vote for him if he won the DNC candidacy. I just don’t think it’s his time yet. IMO, I think he should run for Governor of NJ first, and then make a play for 2024 or 2028.

Elizabeth Warren? Another excellent candidate and one with tons of credibility and integrity. I just don’t know if she has the desire to be the president. I think she likes where she is now and is doing the day to day work that is pushing the agenda of the progressive left ahead. I don’t think she’d like being the president, but, like Cincinnatus of old, she’d be perfect for the job. I’d vote for her if she were the DNC candidate over Sanders or Booker.

Tulsi Gabbard? Here is one of my favorites. Woman? Check. Veteran? Check. Progressive? Check. I like her, but the fact she’s not a Christian and dared to back Sanders over Clinton severely limits her chances as a serious candidate. That makes me like her even more, but for her to navigate a presidential election, she needs the support of her party, salty as it is.

Finally a slew of celebrity, or rather novelty, candidates. Zuckerberg? Oprah? Kanye? Fucking please. If Trump made a mockery of the presidency, any of these people would solidify that America is on the downward spiral into irrelevancy. In fact, I think it’s high time that there be a requirement that anyone who wants to hold political office have a minimum amount of experience. This would have eliminated Trump from the running and saved us all four years of this nightmare. I’m not saying any of these people would be any worse than Trump (though I have my suspicions), but they wouldn’t be much better either. Any one of them as president would remind me of the president in Idiocracy, though I wish Terry Crewes was our president over Trump.

So as of today, I don’t see any serious contender that’s going to oust Trump, an incumbent president, especially if the economy keeps trucking away at its current pace and he manages not to blow anything up (and by that I mean North Korea, Taxes and or Healthcare).

Westworld; A World Without God?

Posted in Uncategorized on November 8, 2016 by willard43

The newest show on HBO, Westworld (adapted from a 70’s sci-fi movie of the same name),  is apparently the godless world the religious have warned us about. The argument that, without a God, there would be nothing to stop humanity from raping, killing and otherwise destroying ourselves has been around for a while. Most atheists would agree that morality is not interdependent on religion, and you can be a moral person without joining a cult or religion, but believers still make this argument. What does this have to do with a sci-fi show?

Well, in this show, “guests” are normal folks who can afford to pay the entrance fee to the “park” where “hosts,” robots who are way too human, interact with them. The park set in the late 19th-century Wild West, and guests can interact with hosts at varying levels ranging from simple “hey bartender, give me a whisky” to complex plots where the guest can shoot the bad guys, rob a bank or save the girl. Herein lies the rub, there are little to no consequences for shooting a host. That’s right, if you felt like it, you could just wade into town and start gunning down hosts at your pleasure. Bullets from a guests gun can destroy a host, but bullets from a host’s gun only sting the guest a little. The hosts are also programmed NOT to harm a guest (other than maybe a light slap or ouchy bean bag bullet).

That’s the crux of my argument here; is Westworld the world that believers think will happen if there is no God to direct them. My argument against this moral vacuum has always been “well, do you, as a believer, think that if you didn’t have God or church, you’d just walk out your door and begin killing and raping people?” In essence, is morality dependent upon your belief in a higher power and is that the only thing keeping you from becoming a monster. I’d wager that for most “normal” people, the answer is no. If you were given irrefutable proof that there is no God tomorrow, would you just walk out your door and start shooting your neighbors? Sure, there are some crazies out there for whom God is the only impediment to their murderous rampage, but no, humanity as a whole can have morality without God.

However, in Westworld, these same people spend tens of thousands of dollars to apparently just show up in the park to, at the very least, have sexual interludes with robots, or, at worst, rape and kill them. Obviously the show is making the point that the humans are the monsters and the robots victims of their basest desires, but there seems to be a preponderance of people willing to spend a lot of money to commit the most heinous and violent acts against the hosts. Who are these people? Am I just being naive in thinking that most of us do not want to go to a park where all bets are off and we can rape and murder at will? The show is aiming at making the hosts sentient (SPOILER? I don’t know that, but I’m presuming it based on the episodes to date; six). The guests would not know this, so they are going in thinking these are just robots, but even so, is everyone out there just waiting for the day where they can do this?

I know the next argument, “but video games have all these things now!” True. I am no shrinking violet when it comes to playing video games. The GTA games alone make me wonder at my own, moral compass. Granted, the plots in the games only give you a very limited number of choices, but sometimes, after I’ve beaten the game, I like to just fill up all the weapons and armor and go around the city causing mayhem. I don’t think I’m alone in this? When there are no consequences, and I’m not hurting anyone, how will I behave. Apparently like a raving maniac armed to the teeth waging destruction upon all who cross my path.

So therein lies my quandary. While I am repulsed at the idea of people paying to go to a park where they can kill damn near sentient robots that look like real people, I have no problem doing same (minus the rapey bits) in a digital world.

The Pronoun Wars

Posted in Uncategorized on August 14, 2016 by willard43

“In the parlance of our times” I’m a cis hetero male? Hell, “in the parlance of our times” I’m the spawn of the devil; a straight, white male. Supposedly the peak of entitlement and the object of contempt for everyone who is not in this group of people. And yet I find myself outside even that group as I’m not rich, connected, and have worked for everything I have.

I’m a full-time, single dad who gets no support from the mother of my kids (thought, ironically, her family does help out and hold me in higher esteem now than they ever did when I was married to their daughter). I’m a vet and I worked for a while as a 911 Operator and Police Dispatcher, so I’ve contributed to my country and my community. I smoke pot and think it, and all drugs, should be legal, taxed and regulated. I don’t, however think all guns should be legal. I would have voted for Bernie if he’d made it to the DNC nomination. I believe in equality across the board, and merit-based rewards. I’m an atheist and an agnostic, but I respect those of faith and their cultures. I hate extremism of any sort. I think Donald Trump is the embodiment of what is wrong with this country as is Ted Cruz, Sarah Palin, Karl Rove, Chris Christie and Ben Carson to name a few, but I respect their right to speak their minds, though I disagree with almost everything they say. I like all kinds of music, especially Ska/Reggae, Progressive Rock, Rush (because they should be their own genre, imo), but I get a bit cringey when I hear the New Country and top 40 type songs that just drone on about the same things. I think there are artists and entertainers, and plenty of crossover, but I prefer the artists. I shed a tear when both David Bowie and Prince died. I hate Minecraft, but play COD, WOW, D&D, and okay, I tried Magic, but didn’t get into it. I read anything, and even have a Masters in English. I find value in both pulp and pomp, and believe the canon is a living, breathing thing that should be under constant examination. Though I disagree that we should ignore works by dead white men, just because they make up a good portion of its oldest works; lets add anyone we missed versus taking any out because of race and gender. I am not a feminist. At least not as it is defined today, which doesn’t seem to jibe with its original definition, which is all about equality for all, not the supremacy of some.

I’m pre-internet. That is I remember a time when there was only one phone in the house; it was in the kitchen and had a 10-foot long cord, and it was obligatory that when you were trying to call buddy or, heaven forfend, a girl, everyone in the house was privy to that conversation, and you absently twisted that cord around you as you talked (sometimes almost causing you to fall to the ground like a roped calf at a rodeo). Being pre-internet, my skin is a bit thinner and I’ve worked hard to toughen it up. I present myself on the internet as exactly who I am. I have not mastered the art of detachment like so many folks from the generation(s) that have grown up on the internet. As a result, I still believe there is a certain responsibility that goes along with my right to say what I want. Unfortunately for later generations, that may be a lesson waiting to happen as more and more people are being called to task for what they do and say on the internet, especially social media. For a while there, that was not the case, and it shows. Daily I see horrific things being said to people who, in the pre-internet days, would never have the balls to say those things, even if they did actually believe them. While I too revel in the new forum we all share, I also see this as the most glaring flaw; a lack of accountability resulting in a dearth of humanity. And, on the other end of the spectrum, a rabid sense of injustice for eons of persecution by people who did not truly suffer like their predecessors. I’m talking about any group that was marginalized, colonized, beaten, imprisoned, ridiculed by a society that called itself “free,” but for this essay, I’m strictly speaking about the LGBTQ community.

As far as the LGBTQ community, I have always been a supporter of personal freedom and equality; it shouldn’t matter what your race, sex, religion, sexual orientation is, all should be equal under the law. LGBTQ people should be afforded the same rights as anyone else, and should never be limited because of their sexuality. Transgender people should be allowed to use whatever bathroom they feel comfortable using. I’ve always seen the world this way, and even in the face of ridicule for who I am now, I’m never going to change that position.

I’ll also admit to a certain amount of ignorance, not being a part of that community. I don’t think I’m alone there, and other, like-minded cis hetero white guys often shake their heads in confusion as we’re bombarded with more and more rules we were heretofore unaware of. Pronouns being a huge part of this. Somewhere along the lines, the pronouns we had used for time immemorial, have become either obsolete or downright offensive. New buzzwords have come to light for us like non-binary, gender fluid, cis, trans, pansexual. On one hand, you want to celebrate these changes as they make language more exact. On the other, it seems these terms just sprung up for us who have no experience with them, and we’re likely to be ostracized for our ignorance rather than patiently taught their proper use. Much like anything else, immediate gratification is the expectation in our culture.

Though pronouns had remained virtually unchanged for centuries, and the world was binary, as far as gender was concerned (and I’d be remiss for not mentioning that this was largely due to my brethren’s behavior in violently suppressing anyone outside the “norm”), doesn’t seem to register. We want change and we want it yesterday. In fact, the whole “white privilege” and “cis scum” arguments kind of hinge on this idea that if we try real hard, we can erase history in favor of a new paradigm. Unfortunately we have no time machines to travel back and right all the wrongs (I truly wish there was one, as I and my fellow cis scum are left holding the bag for all previous generations’ sins). And would we want to? Do we want to forget all those people who fought and died for LGBTQ rights? I mean, they are the reason for “pride” are they not? They are celebrated for getting us to this crucial point in our culture and even thought I don’t belong to that community, I still can be proud that, in my time, our culture is working to right that wrong. And, (this is the part that seems to be forgotten and also to enrage people, thought I’m not sure why), is this culture not based on the work of cis hetero white men? Would we be where we are now, in a society of laws and a blueprint for equality (The Constitution), that has forced society to right those wrongs by espousing them as the principles by which we live? I’m certainly not suggesting that the LGBTQ movement’s successes are the result of straight white men, but I am saying that the framework within which they occurred was started by them. “White Privilege” is a whole, other topic that I’ve written my views on, so I’ll stop there.

Having said all that (here it comes), I think that the pendulum has, as per usual, swung too far in the opposite direction. We spend our lives, the bulk of us, in the middle, but we are often slaves to the extremes. This is why our current election had a far right (pretty much fascist, imo) Trump and a far left Sanders in it. The extremes of our culture are growing and louder and are rapidly eating the meaty center. While some see this as wondrous times to be alive, I see it as the last rumblings of the end of an era. What Yeats called the “widening gyre.” We’re at the end of one cycle and the beginning of another. I see a bright future if we can get through these times, but for now, reason is being drowned out by the death throes of the old and the bloodthirsty howls of the new.

The howls of the new often win out as generations die. Old values and mores die with them. I can see it in my own kids. They don’t even think of race as a factor, as I barely did growing up. I was lucky, as the only racists in my family were my American step-dads. My mother was born and raised in Ireland and I don’t think she even met a black person until she was in her 20’s living in London in the 60’s. So she didn’t grow up with the embedded racism that we in the US are victims of. I only came to this country at the tender age of six, and learned any racism from my step-dads, though I’m sure, if he had lived, my real dad would have passed on a diluted version of the racism he grew up with. And like we look at our parents and scoff at the silly ignorance of their forgotten time, so too do my children shed any residue I left them with. Time is the great equalizer, and it cannot be forced to speed up even the most righteous of changes in our behavior.

Unfortunately, and even thought old ignorance dies, what takes its place is often new ignorance. The assumptions that because one appears to be a white, hetero male means they are racist, misogynistic, homophobic, islamaphobic, right-wing, Christian, nut-jobs bent on taking us back to an imaginary cultural apex is just as bad as assuming that because someone appears to be a black male, wearing the athletic gear of a street thug, and driving a Lexus, isn’t a rich, trans, Harvard Law student, who happens to like hip-hop. You can say, “well, you had your time and it’s over so you get to eat shit,” but in fact, what time was that? I have never lived in a community where it was okay to be racist. No one I know thinks it’s okay to denigrate people from the LGBTQ community. I have never laid hands on a woman, nor ever treated them as anything less than an equal across the board. My family never owned slaves, nor were they rich. Hell, I’m the first college graduate in my line. And let’s be clear, this isn’t an apology for the sins of the past. I never had a say or a part in them. I’m also not saying “poor poor me, those guys had all the fun and left me holding the bag.” When we judge people by their appearances, we cheat ourselves as much as we cheat them. And though our particular corner of the community may be basking in the light of righteous comeuppance, it will not be long before the next generation comes along to prove how wrong we are, as they usher in the new “gyre.”

So, if I use the wrong pronoun, please correct me, but do so in the same civil manner I will correct you if you assume something about me simply because a small, vocal minority of my brethren are close-minded assholes, who are afraid their country is slipping away from them, which it certainly, and thankfully, is.

White Water Adventure

Posted in Uncategorized on September 24, 2015 by willard43

White water rafting. It’s the family vacation thing to do. It’s almost a cliché, until you actually do it. Many times I have bought into a vacation idea or adventure, fantasizing about daring do and “burning the fat off our souls” as Hemingway has said, but they usually do not live up to one’s expectations. White water rafting was the exception for me.

I booked a three-day adventure on the Youghiogheny River in Ohiopyle, PA over the summer. I’m a full-time, single dad of three teenage kids (well, two teenagers, 17 and 14, and one on the cusp of teen anyway), who go out to relatives throughout their summer vacations. Partly to just visit and spend time with family and partly to give dad a break. They usually get up to some fun hijinks whilst out in the mid-West, and Dad doesn’t often have the time or money, or both, to compete. I try, though, and we manage to take a week off together and do something. On year was simply the City Pass for Philly, which included the Franklin Institute, the Camden Aquarium, the Philly Zoo, and a choice of some other historical and interesting sites. We’re only 20 minutes away, so each day had something fun and it didn’t break me. This year I actually managed to save enough money to not only go out to Ohiopyle, a 4.5 hour drive (which was actually fun; there’s a stretch of 76 that’s 70mph…WOOT!), and not only go rafting, kayaking and zip-lining, but also camping. We stayed in a cabin with more electrical outlets than you could shake a stick at for our phones, but what the hey, we still had a campfire, so it’s camping, dammit!

The rafting part was two days; first day, an easy introduction to rafting on class I & II rapids on an 11 mile section of the Youghiogheny River. Nice and easy, learn how to maneuver the raft, get acclimated. Day two was class III & IV rapids; the real deal! Last day was really just an “adventure” park with all kinds of obstacles to tackle and a zip-line of like 200 feet in the woods; meh. So the dumbass who made the reservations…me…picked the wrong section of the river for the first day. So day one, was now day two; trial by rapids. The guide even asked if anyone had a) ever been white water rafting and b) were not confident they were up to the challenge. We all laughed nervously, paled, but sacked up and got our gear on.

After a lecture on basic safety and how to maneuver the raft (luckily we had a guide in the raft to bark out orders), we hit the river. First rapid, my daughter’s in the drink. My oldest son and I are in the front and my daughter and youngest were right behind us. There was a father and son in the back with the guide. We hit the first rock and she jettisons out of the raft. I see her eyes bugged out in fear looking up and like an idiot I jump across the raft to save my baby (“the rapids ate my baby!” [in a horrible, Australian accent]). We got her back in in a millisecond, but all my fears came to bear and I’m thinking, “we’re all going to drown in this river whose name I can’t quite wrap my tongue around.” No time! We’re off down the river to multiple rapids. They take pictures later down the river for family keepsakes and, ironically, we’re all digging in with our oars, rowing for our lives, but my daughter is the only one beaming her smile at the camera. It reminded me of the Far Side cartoon with the guy pushing a wheelbarrow in Hell while one devil says to the other, “we’re just not getting through to that guy.”

Lucky for us, some of the most difficult rapids are right at the beginning, conveniently placed for those of us with no experience to learn or swim. We make it through, though I almost fall out, my oldest grabbing by life jacket in the nick of time, keeping me from tipping out (I’m a large man, and I can’t imagine that, even with everyone’s help, I’d be pulled back into the raft). I return the favor and we’re doing this back and forth all day (I saved him 3 times and he saved me 2). The most dramatic save was at the most dangerous part of the river, Dimple Rock. I’m convinced that Dimple Rock is named after the crease it put into the skull of the first person to “kiss the rock.” Right before we entered the rapids, the guide swaps me and my oldest so I’m on the left and he on the right. I didn’t question it at first, but basically he was willing to sacrifice me to the rock because  I was the biggest person on the boat; cushion for the blow. Unfortunately, we did not hit the rapids at the perfect angle, and “kissed the rock” in the middle of the raft, spinning us, in the middle of the rapid mind you, and sending my oldest almost out of the raft. I grabbed him by the ankle and just pulled him into the raft before his head would have smacked into Dimple Rock (at the velocity his head was travelling it would have been more like “frenching Dimple rock), as we came around the corner and down the chute. “Just like when you were born. I caught you by the ankle as you slid out of your mother’s vagina and hit the floor, saving your life,” I extolled to the rest of the raft.

We all managed to stay in the raft for the rest of the five hour journey, except for a stop at a big rock, where folks in the rafts got out and took turns jumping off of and into the river. We also learned that “swim breaks” between rapids were really bathroom breaks. At the last rapid our guide congratulated all of us for braving some of the most challenging class III & IV rapids in the country, and as we went into the last rapid asked, “should we do this easy or hard?” Like idiots, we all replied “HARD!” (My daughter claims she said “easy,” being the only one of us to go into the river). So we did it the hard way and as soon as we set ourselves up to enter the chute, I realized it was a mistake. I could see the orange-ish rock in crystal clear detail (even now), waiting for us under the current. We hit the rock with the front, right side of the raft right where I was perched. I even managed to “lean into the raft” in anticipation of the impact, but to no avail. I went ass over end into the river. I was soaking wet from the spray and the water coming into the raft at every rapid, but nothing prepares you for that shock of cold fresh water when you’re not expecting to be submerged. For a brief moment, you’re all alone in the current and cold, reaching out for the raft though you’re not quite sure where it is. As predicted, it was a herculean effort on my and my raft-mates parts to get my fat ass back in the raft. We did it though, and I lay there huffing and puffing, looking up at a cloudy, drizzling sky waiting for either the pain of some injury to kick in or the heart attack. Neither came and we were right at the take out point. We lugged our raft (easily the most difficult part of the day being fat, out of shape, and spent from trying to pull myself into the raft) up the hill to the buses.

We picked up pizzas in town (I was not doing campfire grill shit after that day), and headed back to the cabin. Though tired, we did light a fire in the drizzle and hung out listening to music and chatting about the day. Smiles all around. My oldest son wanted us to go back and do that part of the river again tomorrow instead of the easy part, but I was not about to. Don’t get me wrong, it was amazing and I’m glad I did it. I look forward to doing it again in the not too distant future too, but I was not ready to do it again the next day. I looked forward to an easy day, and was not disappointed.

For all the excitement and exhilaration the class IIi & IV rapids had to offer, that’s all we did. Rarely did we get a chance to just enjoy some of the most beautiful and untouched scenery PA has to offer. And rightly so, white water rafting is supposed to be exciting. I had mentioned to our guide my mix up in booking the trip and he commentated that the next day was going to be decidedly less exciting, but still a lot of fun. He suggested that instead of a raft, we switch to individual, inflatable kayaks, “duckies,” for the middle or easy section of the river. And right he was. These were easy to maneuver, virtually impossible to tip, inflatable kayaks. Very comfortable too. The worst that happened on our trip was a torrential downpour and getting stuck in shallow sections of the river, which were easy enough to get out of by simply standing up and pulling the kayak out or putting one foot out and one in, while pushing it like a scooter. We did hit some fun rapids, which we were fully prepared for due to our trial by rapids the previous day. Navigating through “waves” and “hydraulics” (the opposite of waves; holes that suck you in and keep you if you don’t hit them head on and with enough velocity) was a blast, though all but my oldest son got pinned at one rapid. We eventually broke free.

Those were fun moments, but what really put the zap on our heads was the beauty of the landscape. We wound our way through unspoiled mountains on the river. Here and there we encountered some groups on the raft tour and a few fishermen, but otherwise the river was ours. No houses, no parks, nothing but forest and mountains, interrupted by a few old bridges and a mail cable, which crossed above us, no longer in use. 11 miles that took us nearly five hours to navigate. Three quarters of the way through, we hit a downpour. You could see the wall of rain coming down the mountain, and the sky went from sunny and dry to dark and wet in an instant. We laughed and laughed and just kept rowing, unable to distinguish rapid from calm.

As I recount it, I get a sentimental tear in my eye as it is one of the few moments of pure joy I have in my memories. Sure, I have the big moments we all naturally feel; first love, marriage, sex, births of our children, but these are rudimentary in comparison. This was unexpected, overwhelming and it stays with me, crystal clear like the river to this day. Me and my family; the people I hold dearest, paddling down our river, unsullied by the world. Not “… beat[ing] on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past,” but coursing with the current, lost and reveling in our moment.

Privilege is Bullshit

Posted in Uncategorized on August 25, 2015 by willard43

Privilege [priv-uh-lij, priv-lij] noun 1. A right, immunity, or benefit enjoyed only by a person beyond the advantages of most: the privileges of the very rich.

I recently got into a discussion on a popular forum concerning Literary Chauvinism, which I called a bullshit feminism term. The premise of the article, was that there are a corps of men out there who read only male writers, deeming women writers inferior. This is why there are so few women writers in the cannon…blah blah blah. It’s bullshit and it’s an excuse for bad writing. I’m not saying there aren’t tremendously good female writers, there most certainly are. And I’m not saying they’ve gotten their due in the cannon, they have not. But it’s not just because men won’t read them. I do believe, though, that there is a small group of, and not only men as this isn’t a gender-specific issue, who will buy books they think will look good on their shelves, but never read them. Molly Fischer in her article goes after the David Foster Wallace fanboys specifically, but you know the type; great works on the bookshelf at home in pristine condition as the person has never really read them (maybe they saw the movie). I’ll even admit that I have DFW on my nightstand, but I keep taking breaks. That shit is hard to read. I find myself constantly stopping to review and ponder what I just read. I don’t entertain a lot, and least of all in my bedroom, to my chagrin, so I’m devoid of pretense in that arena. Ultimately, I think it’s a bullshit term. People don’t read books to support a gender. If they do read mostly male or female it’s either because that’s an issue for them (either way, they’re assholes if they pick books by gender of the author), or it’s coincidence due to taste. Doesn’t it make sense for a male reader to choose books written by men and gender is such a huge part of who we are and a male author would speak to that same experience?

So the person that commented back basically said I should back off the MRA a bit and basically asserted that it’s not a bullshit term because of “privilege.” This is, in my opinion, the concept that everything I have and am is because I was lucky enough to be born a white, straight male. Now, I do get the concept in general and yes, I understand that it’s much easier, still, to be a white, straight male in this society than every other race/gender/sexual orientation. And gladly, that is changing for the better. My problem is that I think it’s also bullshit. Not just from a personal standpoint, from which I responded because I’m a single-dad of three kids who has not only worked for everything I have (I’m not rich nor were my parents; my mom has a sixth grade education and immigrated here from Ireland), served my country (USN; First Gulf War), served my community (911 Operator/Dispatcher for my state’s police for a period of time), and just a generally good citizen. I realize that’s easier for me to do that even as US culture grows up and sheds some of these outdated values, but still, I don’t think “checking my privilege” is the answer. Just because I fit into a demographic is no reason to suggest I, or anyone else does not deserve an opinion.

But that led me down another path, because, even though it’s the internet, I feel a sense of obligation to constantly re-examine and educate myself. In doing so, I’ve come up with this, very high-level and source-lacking theory:

Privilege is Bullshit.

The premise is that white, straight patriarchal society is to blame for all the world’s ills right now, and anyone who is, actively or incidentally, a part of that demographic has no right to criticize anyone except those within that demographic. Kinda makes for one-sided arguments then doesn’t it? But that’s the beauty of the victim mentality; you’re always beyond reproach or criticism because anyone that would is attacking you and part of the problem. Like I said, “Bullshit.” But I’ll keep digging. Why is my demographic “privileged?” Because white, straight men ruled the Western World for so long on the backs of others. They conquered and enslaved the rest of the world and now owe it reparations. Let’s go with that. How then did they do that? The prevailing wisdom for centuries was because the white race was some how more advanced than all the others (ok, maybe not Asians, but let’s not talk about them all the way over there in the East and all). We know now that’s bullshit, though it was accepted all the way into the 20th-century (and I’ll wager there are far too many white people who still believe it; I’m not one of them, of course because that’s just silly).

Jared Diamond in his book and documentary “Guns, Germs and Steel” is the most famous anthropologist to research and come up with the most accessible theory on why race is not a factor in Western Civilizations domination of much of the world, and I’m going to rely on that…heavily. Dimon suggests that rather than race, climate and environment are the two key factors in European domination of much of, if not all of, the Western hemisphere and beyond. Europe was a temperate zone lending itself to the best growing conditions to build an agrarian society with, and it did so. The environment was also amenable to the best grain crops and livestock, allowing the perfect conditions for growing food with minimal effort compared to other temperate zones. So, Europeans grew crops and livestock (the most varied in the world; cows, pigs, goats, sheep, fowl, horses) allowing them to spend time advancing methods and technology, and the means to defend their territory. Animal husbandry on and expanded level in comparison with the rest of the world, exposed them to a variety of diseases building their immunity and making white people little bio-chemical weapons when they began exploring other lands. In this crucible arose a well-armed and infectious group of people with advanced technology, the means to travel to distant lands and a thirst for riches and land to add to a rapidly crowding, European continent. And when they got to these lands, they were at a great advantage to the native population who had not had the same advantages in climate and environment. Between the weapons and disease, they didn’t stand a chance. Tragic, truly, but, and this may sound callous, the way of Nature, no? Nature does not play favorite to the weak. Any animal that has an advantage, be it size, teeth, defenses, survives, and we are part of that Nature.

In fact, the premise for Diamond’s research is that without those advantages and due to the limitations of their own climate and environment, natives of Papua New Guinea never developed past the Neolithic age. They had very little opportunity to develop agriculture or technology, remaining trapped in a hunter/gatherer stone age. It had nothing to do with their race and any sort of anthropological difference impacting their development.

So my first contention is that, had any other continent enjoyed the same advantages, would they have not used them in the same manner. Maybe not, but I doubt it. Once the population started bursting the seams of their homeland, Africans, South Americans, North Americans, South Asians, Arabs…any of these civilization could have (and have in some cases), looked to and coveted their lesser equipped neighbors. It could just as easily been Africa that dominated the world given the same advantages in climate and environment. Certainly Africans, within the parameters of their own environment, did not lack in ambition to conquer each other and other lands (ever heard of Egypt?).

My second contention is similar; it’s purely evolutionary happenstance that men ruled for so many centuries. These roles were determined by physiology. Males were the hunters and defenders of the hearth because female were designed to carry children to ensure the proliferation of the species. There was no caveman convention to intentionally keep cavewomen barefoot and pregnant, the roles organically happened over a great deal of time. Should we evolve past that? YES! Will it happen overnight? NO! Maybe those roles, based on millions of years of evolution, will reverse and women will have their day ruling the earth? I would love to be the guy woken up after thousands of years of sleep into a world run by women that is on the verge of the same role reversal. Groups of men, feeling subjugated and marginalized fighting for their place in society and a shot at running the show again and go “AHA! I was right!” Likely gender will no longer be a thing. Maybe we’ll evolve into a species devoid of sexuality or gender? Or even race. Everyone will just be human; a mix of all humanity and these concepts will be laughed at.

Until then, though, you can only point the “male privilege” finger at those who purposefully advocate it. It’s incidental to who were are and only culture has made this an issue. To argue that I, as a white, straight male owe anyone anything or that I have no right to an opinion is as ludicrous as those Neanderthals (and I’ apologize to any Neanderthals who do not share the stereotype) who suggest women are the “fairer sex,” (purely from an aesthetic viewpoint, though, women are prettier…for the most part).

Finally, sexual orientation; the straight, white male has privilege over all other sexual orientations. While this is also true, from a historical and, until very recently, cultural standpoint, it’s also incidental. No one chooses their sexual orientation. It’s who we are as much as race and gender. How then, unless, once again, a person advocates one over all others, can you assume a white, straight male is privileged?

I can hear the dull roar of righteous indignation as I typed those words. “But that is exactly what ‘privilege’ is and you as a straight, white male benefitted from it.” This is true and where my argument becomes dicey. Yes, race, gender and sexual orientation have historically played into the favor of white, straight males, but do they now and have they really in my lifetime? How can you say that I have benefitted now when I am not even allowed to take credit for what I’ve earned through hard work in my lifetime? LGBT Pride parades have been happening for decades. Same Sex Marriage has finally been recognized by the law of the land, the Supreme Court and there is a public outcry against the Religious Freedom Act, which would guarantee the right of anyone to discriminate based on their religious beliefs. The tide has turned in my lifetime. Am I fighting against that? NO! I embrace it. I long for it. It breaks down all the barriers and proves that this society has a chance at succeeding where so many others failed. If you looked at it purely from the standpoint of advantage, why would I support any movement that seeks to reduce my benefits? I would be on the side of those that seek to limit or eliminate those rights and go back to the straight, white patriarchy that would guarantee my “privilege.” And I am truly not alone. The majority of straight, white men in this country are on the side of change. They long to see these changes and right wrongs. If that were not true, then where would these causes be? If the majority of my societal niche were against Same Sex Marriage, do you really think it would have had a chance?

In a nutshell, here is why I think Privilege is bullshit:

1 – Guns, Germs and Steel: As Diamond proved, there is no racial advantage to being white. It’s purely luck that white Europeans were in a position to rule the world for the length that they have. Any other society would most likely have done the same if they’d had those same advantages of environment and climate.

2 – Gender Roles: These were not invented by men to subjugate women. These were imposed on us by Nature; or the nature of gender with regard to biology. They are also incidental. I did nothing to “earn” my maleness, but then again, I had no control over it.

3 – Sexual Orientation: As it is not a choice, the same argument as before; it’s incidental. Furthermore, if the majority of society were for the continued characterization of any sexual orientation other than CIS, all others would continue to be marginalized.

Privilege is bullshit! The concept not only hurts those that don’t benefit from it, but those that do. Espousing the idea that if you have benefitted in any way from incidental characteristics you had no control over, in some way invalidates your viewpoints or means you should handicap yourself in everything you do, is just as ridiculous as thinking your race, gender or sexual orientation entitles you to something you don’t deserve. I did not get my job because of privilege. In fact, when it comes to privilege, I’m a liability. Wouldn’t it have been so much better for my company to hire a female or non-white person? Diversity is key, especially in the corporate world, and I am at the bottom of that list.

Think for a minute. If all of us (and by us I mean the multitude that do NOT create policy or ensure that they remain in the seat of privilege; the 1%, the rich, the powerful) stopped vying for the winning ticket in the victim status lottery, what we could accomplish.