Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Occupied Wall Street (Part Three): The Notary, the Suit, and the Trader

A short time after I finding the giant dry-erase board with the minutes and  issues from meetings of the General Assembly, I came upon a curious sight. A woman sitting on the ground underneath a tree, behind a small table she had set up. Above her, a sign which read "Public Notary." A handful of clipboards and a stack of forms sat beside her. Wondering what it was she had set up, I decided to ask if she'd be open to an interview. She agreed, as long as I filled out one of her forms - the purpose of which she was about to explain - in exchange.

Me: Could I have your name again?

Caren: My name is Caren Dashow, otherwise known as Yesiree, the public notary.

Me: And how long have you been here at Occupied Wall Street?

Caren: I've been coming down every few days. I just started doing this the other day.

Me: Now "this" is - you're sitting under a sign that says "Public Notary" and you've got these manifestation forms here. Could you tell me what it is you're doing here specifically?

Caren: I am asking people to write down their visions for the future, and then I will notarize them - and they have to show proper identification - and the idea is to get a legal manifestation, a compilation that can be a document, and that could be used in different ways. It could be used as a document for the Library of Congress, it could be used by the General Assembly, however it is that we want to do this, but it's a good way to - kind of like what you're doing - to get a smattering of what different people think, what is our vision, what it is we want as opposed to what it is we don't want.

Me: Now, the message that I've been getting from the outside media sources covering the event is that this is . . . unorganized, it's divisive, it's . . . Americans against Americans, class warfare gets thrown around a lot. What's your impression of the attitude here (unrelated cheers in the background) besides the obvious brotherhood happening behind us?

Caren: Okay, well I think the disorganization is the strongest part. I think this is beautiful that for three weeks these people have been negotiating and figuring out ways that they want their future to be, you know? And . . . and the world is changing, and this is a big say in the way people want the world to change.

Me: What would make - you say you've been coming here about three weeks -

Caren: Yeah, off and on, not the entire time. I'd come when I could and I was trying to figure out what I could do to help this, and I thought "well, what I don't see is, not just a list of demands, but, I want to be able to see what it is people really want." So, this was a way to individually get voices to figure out what it is people want, and then I could do that, but also, as you're saying, to get that out, get that information out.

Me: Well thank you very much Caren, and I guess I'll fill one of these out now.

And I did, and she notarized and recorded my statement. It might even be up at one day.

After almost two hours of wandering around Occupied Wall Street I had yet to even really scratch the surface of the amount of diversity present in my interviews. The ways people had found to coexist peacefully and productively in the throng of humanity was nothing short of remarkable. I found myself at what sounded like a drum circle from a distance, but turned out to be just a handful of individuals banging away constantly to the cheers of onlookers and the consistent outbursts of pro-Occupation chants.

What I noticed a lot of as I made a lap around the park was the number of people with recording equipment. Voice recorders, camcorders, video phones, television cameras and sound equipment; there was no shortage of people going in amongst the people and trying to hear what they were saying and get the message out. It's a wonder to me I haven't heard more of the voices of the people in the mainstream media, because there is a wealth of recordings which must exist if what I saw was any indication. If you're looking for coverage of why the people are doing what they're doing, what they're saying about their reasons for being there, what it is they want, simply go to the scores of people - some, I'm sure, amateur reporters, others perhaps more like me, curious as to what people will say and wanting to spread their words to the outside - who have been covering the Occupation and posting their results on blogs, twitter, or YouTube. The age when the media could black out an event is over. The people can be their own media now.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Occupied Wall Street (Part Two): The Gospel of Reverend Billy

After my talk with Jacob I spent some more time going through the camp, but it wasn't long before my attention was taken by a figure in a white sports jacket, white dress pants, white collar and black shirt. He sported a mass of bleach-blond hair atop his head which waved back and forth rhythmically as he called to the audience gathered around him. Cameras were on him. A crowd had formed quickly. Every few words of his spirited sermon, he would pause, and just as they did when someone was making an announcement, the crowd would repeat everything he had just said loud enough for everyone outside the circle to hear.

He was passionate in every word, and spoke with a voice that infused the crowd with energy. This was my encounter with Reverend Billy of the Anti-Consumerist Church, and this is what he had to say. Ellipses added wherever the crowd shouted back what he was saying.

"To my daughter Lina . . . back in Brooklyn . . . Amen!

I'm Reverend Billy . . . from the Stop-Shopping Church (applause, cheers). I've been talking to . . . sooooome people! Arooound New York . . . and arooound the world. And some of them . . . laugh, and loath this thing we're doing.

And some of them . . . they go "ohhhhhhhh . . . I don't know!"
"Ohhhh . . .how is that gonna work?"
"Ohhhhhhhh . . . it's kinda . . vague!"
"What are the . . . specific demands?!"
"What do they WANT?"
And I say . . . the answer is . . . to occupy Wall Street!"

Let me share with you . . . what I believe . . . and the people in my Anti-Consumerist Church believe . . . that occupying Wall Street . . . could not be more specific!

(Extended cheers)

Living here . . . living here on this square . . . exercising the freedoms . . . of the First Amendment . . . Speech! Worship! Press! Peaceable gathering! And protest! The First Amendment . . . has not been in public space . . . in New York City . . . since 9/11!

We have it here now.

(Cheers, applause)

We are living in the First Amendment! It is a part of the occupation . . . speaking and singing . . . feeding and making media . . . and being surprised by people. People arriving from everywhere . . . for a thousand different reasons . . . is completely specific.


I'm losing my voice . . . but you have many voices.

Those freedoms . . . Americans have died for . . . and now we . . . are living those freedoms.

And this force . . . will cross that sidewalk . . . and go up that escalator . . . and walk into the corner office . . . where they keep those financial formulae . . . that victimize us . . . our living . . . will dismantle . . . their mathematics.

Thank you, people."

I kept getting hung up on his emphasis on what about the protest was, in his words, completely specific. Thousands of people from thousands of places coming for thousands of different reasons, all because they heard of the Occupy Wall Street movement and said "yes, the thing I am concerned about directly relates to that. This is where I need to go."

And the Reverend was right. That is very specific.

Occupied Wall Street (Part One)

The last 21 days have seen the birth and growth of a movement which has come to be known as Occupy Wall Street. Thousands of protestors from around the country have gathered in the nerve center of America's financial institutions to protest . . . well, that's the question, isn't it?

I have heard a lot in recent weeks about what the protestors stand for, or don't stand for. I've heard them called a mob, heard them called divisive and un-American, heard that they're instigating class warfare. I've even heard from potential Presidential candidate Herman Cain that they're just jealous. The country's largest news organization, on the front page of its website today, lent two stories to the protests; one about how they're dirtying up the park, and another criticizing their criticism of banking based on frozen donation funds. On the other side of things, people have extolled to me the virtue of what's happening, that this kind of revolution taking place is exactly what the country needs. People are angry at Wall Street and the way business has been done in this country, the disproportionate wealth, the unfair and unscrupulous business practices, the influence of corporate money in our politics, and more.

What I've been told more than anything though, from people who both support and detract from the movement, is that the movement has no direction, no cohesion, that it's disorganized and rudderless, and without a specific message, they're not going to get anywhere. It's great (or terrible) that they're there, but they won't accomplish anything until they propose some solutions or list some demands. Without that, they're just a bunch of angry college kids.

So I decided I'd heard quite enough from people outside of the occupation about what was happening within it. Today, I went into Occupied Wall Street to bring the message from the people there out to rest of the world. These are some of those messages.

It is October 7th of 2011 and I am on my way to Wall Street to find out exactly what the protestors there want from the financial institutions of America. At 3:50 PM, I enter the occupation and look around for people to talk to. After some time spent just getting my bearings in the camp staked out at Zuccoti Park, I came across a pair holding up two particularly well-made signs. As you might imagine, the protest area is awash in cardboard and posterboard, rampant with slogans ranging from scathing to humorous, along with a solid mixture of both. This pair, however, were holding up two professionally-made banners which caught my eye. That's what prompted me to approach Troy, a twenty-something Occupier and, I found out, the maker of the signs.

Me: Hi, would you mind saying your name?

Troy: My name is Troy Kreiner.

Me: Troy, how are you doing today?

Troy: Doing well, how are you?

Me: Good. So what brings you to Wall Street? To Occupied Wall Street, specifically.

Troy: To ask questions. And to help hand out statements from the General Assembly's declaration, which is like the one I'm holding above me and the one my friend is holding next to me. I came here last week, I noticed a lot of people voicing their concern of not understanding why people are here, and saying "well, it's all unorganized," and, uh, I wanted to, you know, make some signs for people that they could define themselves with, something that they could gravitate towards, so they could have something that they'd want to associate with. So, I've been handing out some of these signs, and this one associates with myself, and the one next to me probably associates with other people as well.

Me: Now, I don't have a camera, so do you mind if I just read what your sign says? (He answers no). The sign Troy is holding says They Have Held Students Hostage With Tens of Thousands of Dollars of Debt on Education Which is Itself A Human Right and the sign next to him says They Have Poisoned the Food Supply Through Negligence and Undermined the Farming System Through Monopolization. So, if you had the chance to send this message, or a message, directly to Wall Street, to someone who had some actual influence over these things, what would you tell them? What would you - if you had just an argument to make or a solution to propose, what would you say?

Troy: This is the thing - I don't have a solution yet. I'm just scratching the surface and asking questions and - trying to start a dialogue. I don't have an answer yet, and . . . it's okay.

Me: It is. That's actually the best answer I could've asked for.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Guest Gentleman: Dear DCPS...

Today's Guest Gentleman is a dear friend and very, very good teacher with more patience and love in her heart than I can ever imagine possessing.

Thank you for your honest and informative feedback provided by your most recently hired “Master Educator” of the current WL teacher at $%HS in Washington DC. According to your rubric, she has been qualified as a Minimally Effective teacher, scoring not so much as one 3 or 4 out of 4 points in any of the Teach 1-9 categories on your IMPACT rubric. According to your score, this is what a “minimally effective” teacher looks like:

- She has been at the same position for 3 years and has developed positive rapports with 80-90% of the students she’s taught (P.S. She almost just wrote “teached”. Thank you also for the stellar grammatical influence your environment has on college graduates).
- She has gotten to school hours before and after the required time to A) plan lessons, B) grade quizzes, projects and in-class assignments that clearly show production of a language other than English and C) organize extracurricular activities that you put on her shoulders the DAY BEFORE THEY TAKE PLACE because you failed to take the responsibility on yourself and she didn’t want to let the students down.
- She is currently pursuing a Master’s degree in Foreign Language Education and Teaching English as a Second Language Certification to become a better teacher for your students.
- She was nominated as her Department Chair in her second year of teaching (granted by default) and took an enormous workload including statistical analysis of the (non)growth of student achievement without so much as training her in any of the documentation that is so “official”.
- She remains a solid presence in her students’ anything-but-stable lives, serving as a mother, best friend, sister, guidance counselor, mentor and teacher while also trying to maintain her own life separate from work.

I could go on about the “detrimental” behaviors and actions that this teacher has engaged in to make you consider her “Minimally Effective” when, miraculously, she has never received an overall score of less than a 3.2 out of 4 in her two years teaching under this imperfect IMPACT evaluation system.

Why then did she receive in her most recent “Master Educator” evaluation a 1.66 out of 4 overall?? Tell me, was she drunk in front of the classroom? Did she by chance hit or insult any of the students in your presence? In fact, did any of the students act out AT ALL at any point throughout the tiny, 30-minute window you saw into her class when she teaches 3 classes for 80 minutes a day? (Because really, that’s what her job has become: babysitting.)

The District of Columbia is special. You tell the teachers and students so every day. We are in a unique situation and are pioneers of the future of education, specifically ensuring that every single classroom is stocked with a “Highly Effective” teacher, who apparently engages in none of the behaviors exhibited so erroneously by the WL teacher at $%HS. She understands what it takes to be an effective teacher, and in fact, scored 4. Points. Away from being considered “Highly Effective” last year and receiving a considerable amount of money, the possibility of being observed and filmed as a model classroom for potential new hires to the District. Why then did she receive a score of 1.66 out of 4?

Yes, the “Monster Educator”, Mr. @, championed for the rights of World Languages. He claimed that he was an advocate for them, and that only when we worked together to demand professional development (because it is our right) that we would receive scores that ACCURATELY reflect our teaching abilities. So Mr. @ told this poor WL teacher that her scores were essentially not accurate.

Let’s think for a moment: How can you claim to represent a system that insists upon having Effective and Highly Effective teachers in the classroom when the very rubric you work upon is NOT ACCURATE?? Her job, salary and integrity are at stake because of this imperfect evaluation system. How demeaning to hear from a man who saw 30 minutes of one lesson, on one day, in one week, of one month, in one year of a course that she is “Minimally Effective” in not one, but NINE categories. Who. Do you think. You are?

DCPS, you claim to support teachers and initiatives that retain teachers for longer than a Teach for America or DC Teaching Fellows stint of two years. This teacher CHOSE to come to the District after graduation, maybe not fully understanding what she was getting herself into, but she put her heart, soul, mind, body and LIFE into this job. You didn’t put a single person into her classroom her first year of teaching. NOT ONE. She was put out to sea with swimmies and somehow managed to make it through the Bermuda triangle, shark-infested waters and the annoyance of jellyfish stings, to stay on to a third year at an institution that you claim is “on the mend”.

I’m sorry, DCPS, but you just lost the most Highly “Minimally Effective” WL teacher that you will NEVER find again. I guarantee that not many people have the heart that she has to do what she did for so long for your district. When you continually tell her that is it HER fault that students are not succeeding, she beings to believe it.

However, she has come to realize that she doesn’t have to tread this murky water any longer. There are countless other districts around the world that would throw out life vests, buoys, canoes and jet skis just to get this “Minimally Effective” WL teacher into their programs.

So, if your goal is the retention of Effective to Highly Effective teachers, you’re doing an extremely poor job of giving them the support they need. You can’t come in three years later and assess this teacher who’s been doing a pretty good job on a rubric that you never prepared her or trained her for. You are setting teachers up for failure and you are burning them out by placing ALL of the blame on them.

It’s time for this WL teacher who is so much more than “Minimally Effective” according to your rubric to go test the waters elsewhere, reflect on her time in DCPS with fondness and to selectively remember all of the other positive comments, feedback and scores she has received in her three years of service to your District.

Thank you for your time. I wish you the best of luck. You will need it.


Friday, April 1, 2011

Something Occurred To Me while I was on the Interwebz. I had to put in my date of birth to prove that I was old enough to visit a site with graphically violent images. As I did so, I realized I'm 25. Short of running for a few elected offices, there's pretty much nothing that I'm not allowed to do anymore. I'm never going to put my birth date down and hear someone say, "Sorry, you're not old enough yet."

That's a weird feeling.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

I Was Told There Would Be Snow

A portrait of my Monday evening in three haikus:

I wanted a half-smoke.
Where are you hot dog cart guy?
Now I am hungry.

It's President's Day
And it's raining in D.C.
No one out to eat.

Saw gum in the road.
Thought that it was a quarter.
Such disappointment.

Friday, February 18, 2011

RoundTable of Loooove

Valentine's Day has come and gone, but love (and its antithesis) are always in the air.  These Gentlemen gathered 'round the RoundTable to discuss our favorite love and anti-love songs, and they go as thus...

David Pratt
I've got plenty of good love songs I could list here, but in my travels I've come across three exceptional anti-love songs.  I would be remiss not to mention them here, along with my two picks for top two in the pro-love field.

3) "
Again I Go Unnoticed" by Dashboard Confessional

Key lyrics:
Please tell me you're just feeling tired
cause if it's more than that I feel that I might break
out of touch, out of time.
Please send me anything but signals that are mixed
cause I can't read your rolling eyes
out of touch, are we out of time?

This is a wrenching song for anyone in a relationship where they can tell the days are numbered.  The singer is obviously trying desperately to hold on to a love that is slowly slipping away from him, and not in a dramatic fashion either.  The relationship is over for one of them, and she's going to slowly slip away from a person who doesn't want it to end.

2) "
Said the Spider to the Fly" by The Paper Chase

Key lyrics:
Good things die all the time,
God bless your heart, vengeance is mine.
"Kiss me like you mean goodbye," said the spider to the fly.
When all those times you thought that you were wrong, you were right.

This song takes place clearly after the love has already ended, and at least one of the participants is looking back on this with a little bit of bitterness ("when your lover loves to cheat there's another you can meet, it's a short pier it's a long walk - home").  If you want to look back on a failed relationship and be filled with righteous indignation about it, this is the song to listen to.

1)  "
Don't Say a Word" by Sonata Arctica

Key lyrics:
Closing your eyes, don't ever say you love me, whore
You never meant a word, I know you lied
When there is life, there is despair, indulge me now
And stay alive this night
I promise you the end before the first light arrives

So, unlike the last two, this song is about an angry, angry relationship and is about as firmly anti-love as you can get.  Whatever happened between the two people in this song was terrible, self-destructive, and mutually devastating, probably from the start.  It takes a special kind of bad break-up to spawn a metal song, and we have a front row seat to it.

I'd also list "
Almost Lover" by A Fine Frenzy, but since I'm limited to 5 I'll press on to more uplifting fare.

For Love Songs, I'm trying to stay away from songs that specifically remind me of my girlfriend and stick with those that make great statements about the emotion itself.  So with that in mind, the first two songs I think of are . . .

Can't Stop Loving You" by Phil Collins

Key lyrics:
I could say that's the way it goes
And I could pretend and you won't know
That I was lying
Cause I can't stop loving you
No I can't stop loving you
No I won't stop loving you
Why should I?

Someone might say "Hey, this song is about a relationship ending, isn't that an anti-love song?" to which I'd say "No, you ignorant pleb, listen CLOSER."  The girl in this song might be walking away from the guy, but he's not going anywhere.  He loves this girl completely, entirely, and so what if she's leaving?  She is all the love he ever wanted or needed - his life is better just for having known her.  The song is strong and up tempo, and swells as it tells the story of her departure.  He doesn't regret a thing.  He found true love.  Why would he ever try to let that go?

Thank You" by Dido

Key lyrics:
I missed the bus and there'll be hell today,
I'm late for work again
And even if I'm there, they'll all imply
that I might not last the day
And then you call me and it's not so bad,
it's not so bad

So, if you've never seen the video for this song, Dido's having a much worse day then even these lyrics let on.  She's essentially living the plot of the movie "Up," only she's fresh out of balloons.  But the point of her song isn't all the awful stuff she's going through - it's that there's someone in her life who, when all of this happens, still makes everything wonderful simply with their presence.  I don't know kids, that sounds like what love means to me.

Brett Abelman
"When You Smile," Flaming Lips - love song
Maybe it's just because I enjoy a love song that seems to compare love to nuclear fusion, or maybe it's because who but the Flaming Lips could make a love song sound as simultaneously innocent & sweet as it is trippy & dazed?

"Astral Weeks," Van Morrison - love song
I could potentially pick like a hundred Van Morrison songs, but this is my favorite for the transcendent, transported feeling.  At least, its my interpretation that it's a love song; your guess is as good as mine as to what the lyrics really mean:
"If I ventured into the slipstream/Between the viaducts of your dreams/Where immobile steel rims crack/And the ditch in the back roads stop/Would you find me?/Would you kiss my eyes?/To lay me down/In silence easy/To be born again/To be born again."

"Soon It's Gonna Rain," from The Fantasticks - love song
'Cuz I'm a sap, and it was the first stage producion I worked on out of high school.

"Hyperballad," Bjork - love or anti-love song
I know, what?  I pick it because it's either about 1) how love and the comfort of a loved one is the antidote to fear of death in a cosmic, existential way, or 2a) how the narrator is in an unhappy, reclusive relationship so bad the only way she can make it bearable is by contrasting it with a horrible death or 2b) the only way she can bear it is by (metaphorically) imagining that leaving her lover and being single would be like tumbling down a cliff to a horrible death.  It's a multi-purpose lyric!  And personally for all the stereotyping she gets as a ridiculous screecher, her singing here always gives me chills.

"Losing My Religion," REM - love song
It's actually my favorite song of all time, in a most extreme case of "songs mean a lot to you when you hear them at a certain time and associate them with the feeling of the time, regardless of whether they're extremely overexposed and well-known or not."  It was approximately 1997 when I first really heard it, in middle school, and I associate it with my first crushes and all those crazy middle school-y feelings (but, strangely/luckily enough, only the positive ones - hooray for the filter of nostalgia?).  And the lyrics just happen to fit perfectly.  I'll let Michael Stipe explain:
"When you have a crush on somebody, and you think that they understand that but you're not sure, and you're dropping all kinds of hints, and you think that they're responding to these hints but you're not sure -- that's what this song is about: thinking that you've gone too far, you've dropped a hint that is just the size of Idaho, and they responded in a way that maybe confused you, or they haven't responded at all or they responded in a way that seemed like 'well, maybe I'm gonna- maybe I'm- maybe something's gonna happen here!' and I think I've probably said this seven thousand times, but the phrase 'losing my religion' is a southern phrase which means that something has pushed you so far that you would lose your faith over it. Something has pushed you to the nth degree, and that's what this is about. Now, some people still think that it's a song about religion; it's not. It's just a song about having a crush."

Max Nova
1. For reasons trivial and not of relevance now, Coldplay's "clocks" became the soundtrack to one of my early relationships.  Soon after the relationship ended acrimoniously I was in a movie theater and the song was playing quite loudly.  Thus it went from the soundtrack of a relationship to this soundtrack to me peeing.

2. When I was in college, I had a Joy Division shirt and said to friends that the first girl that commented positively was the girl I was gonna marry.  Luckily I did not follow through on that.

3. I wonder if it's possible to have sex to Barry White without giggling hysterically.

A Love Song:

Not a Love Song

Brittany Graham
I have an annual tradition with a dear friend from high school, in which we send each other Anti-Love mixes for Valentines Day, and I’ll be posting on that later. So, in the interest of balance, all five of my choices are love songs. The very best love songs, in fact.

Weezer – Miss Sweeney: This song wins the award for most adorable EVER. About a man who has a tremendous crush on his coworker and can’t seem to keep his mouth shut about it, I get chills every time I hear that guitar riff in the chorus. This is the bonus track on their recentish Red Album, so don’t tell me Weezer can’t still do it if they put their minds to it.

The Beach Boys – Wouldn’t It Be Nice: I actually don’t like the Beach Boys at all, except for this solitary song, which I LOVE. The idea that a young couple can’t wait to grow up and grow old together really strikes a chord with me, a person who never really wanted young love anyway.

Johnny and June Carter Cash – ‘Cause I Love You: I love this song because I love Johnny and June, and think their story is one of the more romantic of our time. This is why I place them in a tie with a fictional couple with a very similar song, which inextricably binds them in my mind…

Jesse L. Martin and Wilson Jermaine Heredia as Collins and Angel – I’ll Cover You: This song, and its reprise, make me melt into a million little droplets of gooey sad/happiness/feelings. I am of the firm belief that Collins and Angel are the most perfect couple that ever lived. And don’t you even try to tell me they’re not real.

T.V. Carpio – I Want to Hold Your Hand: If given the choice, I don’t often choose the non-Beatles version of a song, but this is one glaring exception. I keep writing sentences about this song, deciding they’re not good/accurate enough, and deleting. Because the feelings I have when I listen to this song (loud, on repeat, and often in my car) are just too strong and uncomplicated, and wordless.

Daniel Bedingfield – If You’re Not the One: I don’t care what you say about the cheesy early 2000s music. This song destroys me. Every. Single. Time. I also chose it as my character inspiration song for a show I was in, in which I played a young woman in the 1940s who realizes that she is a lesbian, which biases me a bit. But seriously, if you have a soul this song is for you.

Ray Charles – Georgia On My Mind: Songs about the South, and Southern girls in particular, pretty much have full reign of my heartstrings at all times, no matter what. But this song, a love song to his home, gets me every time. For very different reasons, I too left Georgia a long time ago (the ancient 90s), but I feel the exact same way about my original home state. Ray Charles just says it sooo much better.

So there you have it, folks. We feel it. The love, that is. And also, you know, not.  We hope you enjoy our playlist, for the new songs and to commiserate with your favorites. What are your favorite love and anti-love songs? We hope you'll share.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Gay Marriage, and Feminism, and Bears*, Oh My!

Here is why gay marriage is important for the feminist cause:

Marriage is, historically, a business transaction between a man and a woman’s father.  The woman’s father trades his daughter and a dowry, in exchange for protection for said daughter and, hopefully, a higher class status.  Multiple wives have historically been important for bolstering population within the community.  Marrying for love was essentially unheard of until the mid-20th century in places like the United States and Europe, and more recently elsewhere in the world.  Judeo-Christian tradition called for a woman to be married off as soon as possible, with or without her consent, in order to prevent extra-marital sin (her fault) and extra-marital children (also her fault) from occurring.   And so the institution of marriage everywhere continues to essentially be an antiquated property exchange: for a caretaker for the man, for a provider for the woman, for children borne within the rules of society, and for a transaction of goods provided by both families.

That is, if the definition of marriage is between a man and a woman only.  Because if the definition of marriage relates strictly to a heterosexual pairing, there is also the weighty societal assumption that women cannot provide, men cannot caretake, and that the couple will do their duty to God and procreate.  Love has nothing to do with it; it is strictly business.  But.  If the definition changes as our society has changed and brings love into the mix, all bets are off.  A woman can marry the man she loves, rather than the man her family loves or the man who loves/wants her.  A woman can marry the woman she loves, rather than her best male friend who may or may not also be closeted.  A woman can marry the man or woman she loves, regardless of class, social distinctions, career, or want for children.  It’s a beautiful thing.

Freedom for one minority group of people spells freedom for the majority (52%) of humankind to love, to cherish, to spend her life in sickness and in health with the person she chose.  The tradition of marriage is important; the ceremony binds a couple, their families, and their friends together in a way that simply moving in together can’t do.  The legality of marriage is antiquated but very, very present in a couple’s everyday life.  If a couple has that legal document in their possession, they hold rights and benefits reserved only for family, particularly in the health sector:  for health benefits received from a job, for hospital visitation rights, for the right to decide whether a plug should be pulled, and for property and possession distribution after one of them has died. 

So yes, feminists, marriage is extremely important, and it should absolutely not be done away with.  But our society has changed; there is no population crisis and women are generally taught to marry for love, so the law should reflect this.  Who a woman chooses to marry should reflect on love and shared values, not ability to procreate or heteronormative tradition.

*Sorry j/k there are no bears. Please still like me even though I sometimes lie to you about bears.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

I Love the Smell of Revolution in the Morning

We're kicking off a Gentlemonth of love here at These Gentlemen, and in doing so we'll be posting a lot about things we love, or hate, or maybe just crush on a little.  So there's something going on in the world right now that I am just absolutely enamored with, and I thought I'd sing a little song about it . . .

I love democracy
and when protesters sing
I love a free press
and when freedom rings
I love the whole world
and all its awesome things
Boom de yada, boom de yada
Boom de yada, boom de yada

I love revolution
and people in the streets
I love a spirit
That won't accept defeat
I love what's happening
Out in the Cairo heat
Boom de yada, boom de yada
Boom de yada, boom de yada

I love Tunisians
and all the change they bring
I love the new hope
that we'll see by Spring
I love the whole world
and all it's awesome things
Boom de yada, boom de yada
Boom de yada, boom de yada

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Snowpocalypse Affects the Brain, Apparently

GW Parkway had a facepalm moment last week.  If you live remotely in the DC area you remember that day last week when the foot of snow hit all of a sudden, all at rush hour, and every single commuter going in or coming out of DC had a 6-11 hour commute.  (The 6 hour commutes were reserved for those lucky enough to live a mile or two from their places of work.) 

And if you were unfortunate enough to be on the GW Parkway that day, you know that it came to a complete stop until about 4am the next morning.  What you might not know is that the reason the traffic cleared up after 4am is because a lone police officer hiked two miles to the epicenter of the traffic jam and discovered one guy, stuck in the snow, who had eventually given up and gone to sleep.  So, naturally, he banged on the window, woke the guy up, pushed him out of the snow, and singlehandedly cleared up what could have become a traffic jam of Chinese proportions.

And man, A+ to that officer, because WTF everyone else.  I related this story to a coworker the next day, thinking only of the insanity of the sudden snowfall, and she shook her head and said, “These people have no survival skills.” And I realized immediately that she’s right. Because what were the twenty or so people directly behind this guy doing all that time?  Did no one, over the course of ten hours, pop their head out their window and go, Hey what’s going on up there?  Or if they did, did they see the guy stuck in the snow and go, Welp, nothing can be done there, I guess we live here now?

Seriously, what is wrong with those people.  Even in the absence of curiosity or concern for what is going on in the world around them, where is the self-preservation that bands people together as a means to an end?

The answer is, apparently, nowhere. Everyone just sat in their cars and waited for someone else to fix the issue, because ten hours in, they were still so sure it would happen.  I mean, I’m sure the people several miles back simply thought the road conditions were undriveable or there was an avalanche or a Land of the Lost-style chasm had opened up down front and they were stuck until road crews could get them out, as opposed to one idiot who decided to take a nap instead of get his damn car out of the snow.

But the driver of the offending car and the cars directly behind him?  No excuse.  It’s called being proactive. It’s called NOT being defined by the bystander effect.  It’s called common freaking sense.

Congratulations, guys. You are an entire highway of asshats.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

February GentleMonth: Livin' on Love

Ah, the birds and the bees. Little naked cherubs. Hearts and diamonds (thanks, DeBeers).  Love is in the air; it’s everywhere, and thanks to all this snow the northeast may find itself in a slight baby boom nine months from now.  But for now, for this month, These Gentlemen are going to tackle the L-word head on. 

That’s right boys and girls, GentleMonth is back, and all through February we’ll be discussing what is probably the most oft-discussed topic in the history of man: Luurrve.  It's okay, we'll say it first.

So sit back, relax, and let the love wash over you.  Gross, guys, not that kind.  Okay maybe a little, if that’s what you really want.

Love and kisses,

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

TG Goes to the State of the Union- I Mean GChat

B.Graham: State of the Union haay
ali d: Yeahhh
ali d: I should probably listen
ali d: But I have more pressing matters
B.Graham: audition prep?
ali d: werd

B.Graham: Aw that's nice
B.Graham: They're leaving a seat open for Gabby Giffords
ali d: Awww
ali d: That is really nice
ali d: I approve
B.Graham: Also everyone was assigned a bipartisan date
ali d: Like someone they had to sit next to?
ali d: Do they have to put out?
B.Graham: lol I don't think they have to put out
B.Graham: But yes they have to sit next to them

B.Graham: I wonder if [boyfriend] is in the room
B.Graham: I don't see any suits and sunglasses, but they have to be in there
ali d: Oh man, your boyfriend is so cool!
B.Graham: I know :D

B.Graham: Look at Boehner's face
Max Nova: He doesn't need a death mask. They'll just chop his head off and put it in a museum

Max Nova: I love all the fake-listening-faces the congressmen have

Max Nova: There are gangs in Colorado!
Max Nova: My mind is blown
B.Graham: Yeah man what else are they going to do out there?
Max Nova: meth
Max Nova: meth meth meth
B.Graham: Also: The Outsiders takes place in Oklahoma... don't let the boonies fool you!
Max Nova: Good point

B.Graham: Man I didn't expect him to draw that line [regarding undocumented students]
B.Graham: Yeah Obama!
Max Nova: I just don't understand how people can believe in a god who only likes Americans born in America
Max Nova: We're such a weird country. I don't believe in god and I like all people
B.Graham: I know

B.Graham: Ginsberg is passed the eff out right now
Max Nova: There's always someone who gets caught
B.Graham: Also justices can do whatever they want
Max Nova: They are not wearing anything under those robes
Max Nova: Except for freedom

Max Nova: Dear god, Boehner, just clap for the fucking gays you dumbass
Max Nova: oy
B.Graham: He can't; he might have to let go of his ass

Max Nova: This is where Boehner is supposed to burst into tears....
Max Nova: Oh shit, Scranton!!!
B.Graham: lmao did Boehner and Biden just pound it??
Max Nova: Possibly
B.Graham: I hope so

Max Nova: I wish I had Chilean Miners on my SOTU bingo. I'd be on fire
B.Graham: lol
B.Graham: Such a cynic
Max Nova: Bingo is America!

B.Graham: Ugh [Paul Ryan] had me until he started talking about the healthcare law
David Pratt: Yeah seriously. This guy.
B.Graham: Well not "had" me, but I was ok with it
David Pratt: His transcript is already up online so
David Pratt: I imagine he was just taking notes while the speech was happening.
David Pratt: And most of this was planned well ahead of time.
B.Graham: Yeah
B.Graham: He looks stoned

David Pratt: Nothing in this is actually reacting to the State of the Union.
B.Graham: No
B.Graham: Well what could he say? Obama was like, Yeah I love everybody
David Pratt: I guess that's their plan.
David Pratt: "This speech is gonna be pretty awesome guys so we gotta pretend it just didn't happen.”
B.Graham: lol
B.Graham: I have a crush on our president
B.Graham: I am biased
David Pratt: He's easy to crush on.
David Pratt: I don't blame you.

David Pratt: Okay
David Pratt: This stuff he's saying now is just rephrasing what Obama said.

David Pratt: And now stay tuned for Michele Bachman with the response from insanity.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Hunger Games, Or How I Remembered I Love Reading

I waited about a week to write this post, because if I had written it moments after I set the third book down, like I wanted to, this post would look a whole lot less like intelligent literary commentary, and whole lot more like EEEEEEEEOMGOMGOMGOMGPEETAMELLARKOMGGG!!!!!  So I waited a bit, dialed down my fangirl, and now I can speak to you like a regular human being who was not raised by wolves or preteens.

Remember this post?  Well I found it. This series reminded me why I love reading, and reassured me that there do exist new books (or rather, authors) that can sweep me away like my old standbys can.  Needless to say, I highly recommend it. (It being The Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins, beeteedubs. Look it up.)

I could gush on and on about the characters and the story, but I’m trying to spoil as little as I can, and what truly fascinated me was their world.  So if you want everything to be a complete surprise when (WHEN) you read the books, stop reading now, but I promise to keep the plot points to a minimum.

The main character, Katniss Everdeen, lives in Panem’s District 12, in what was formerly called Appalachia in the former United States.  I imagine it’s been about 200 years since the fall of our current society, but it’s never explicitly stated. The characters simply don’t know this kind of information, as anything not directly related to either their district’s given function or glorification of the Capitol is not taught.  The twelve districts are each mandated with a very specific purpose for serving the wealthy, exorbitant citizens of the Capitol.  Starvation is as common in District 12 as plastic surgery is in the Capitol.  Sound familiar?

What struck me most was how vital television is to the everyday lives of the citizens of Panem.  Television crews are a constant presence in the series, but in a much more recognizable way than, say, 1984 or Brave New World.  The Hunger Games are essentially the ultimate reality show in which, as an annual reminder of the Capitol’s might, each district is forced to give one boy and girl between the ages of 12 and 18 to the Capitol to fight to the death, for the viewing pleasure and horror of the citizens of Panem.  If, in the Games, a child proves to be interesting or likable, the viewing audience can sponsor gifts of food or medicine to help keep him or her alive.  If nothing interesting happens over a long period of time, ie. if no one dies in the course of a day or so, the Gamekeepers will create something in the arena to drive the kids together.  It’s grisly, and oh so human.  There is, of course, the constant reminder that everything in this world has actually happened in the realm of human history:  There are currently hundreds of reality shows on the air in which people are hurt, physically and emotionally, for our entertainment.  Ancient Romans made official sport (innumerable modern societies, unofficial sport) of watching conquered peoples, doubtfully any older than the kids in the Hunger Games, battle to the death.  But it is not this world’s relationship with our history that I found the most interesting; it was its relationship to our present.

Even in the ensuing [SPOILER ALERT: but who didn’t see this one coming] revolution, reality TV plays a pivotal role for rebels and the Capitol alike.  The most important battle fought is over the airwaves of the single Capitol-controlled television station, and in the heart of actual battle the main characters are most focused on winning over their viewing audience.  And there continues to be an unwavering viewing audience; in the middle of a civil war, in the middle of chaos, it is a given that people stay tuned in to their televisions.  In an increasingly image-based, privacy-less, information-barraged world in which kids are taught to market themselves from the moment they first set foot on the internet and revolutions are organized via twitter, this message hits home.  If we were to fall into anarchy tomorrow, you better believe the internet would be the last thing to flicker out.  Technology is our crutch and our ticket to freedom, our burden and our boon.

I’ll admit my bias: I have an affinity for young adult lit and social commentary, so this series was essentially written for me. But good luck not getting addicted to these books… and may the odds be ever in your favor.*

*Just read it. You’ll know what I mean, then.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Easing Into Pain

I didn't start feeling the tragedy in Tucson until last night. I don't know why it took me so long, but it did. And it took other people's words to do it.  Maybe I'm so used to hearing about it; so terribly used to only just getting emotionally past a national tragedy when another happens, that I'm numb.  According to The Toilet Paper (my most reliable source of interesting information), there were seventy-nine mass shootings (defined as four or more victims) in the United States between 2007 and 2009. Seventy-nine mass shootings in two years, in one stable, first world country.  That is so much bad news to take in, so often.  It's no wonder I'm desensitized to the plight of my countrymen.

I pride myself in being an overly sensitive person.  I can count on my hand the number of times I've killed bugs that weren't actively attacking me.  I don't hurt things or people, and when things or people are hurt, even if I don't know them, my heart breaks afresh every time.  Or it used to.  I would like to think it still does, because I feel it now. I feel the loss of those poor people in the Safeway parking lot, and for their families.  For the husbands who jumped in front of their wives, for the parents of that little girl at an age that I remember so well, for the fiancee of the young man, who can't even claim the badge of widow-hood.

It took others' words to do this to me, though. I was fully prepared to flit through the headlines like it was just another tragedy, as if something like that exists. Every tragedy is a complete and utter tragedy, and I almost forgot that, in the midst of my busy, fairly self-involved life.

First I read an account from one of my bloggers that I read regularly, Becca, and then I read our President's words in Tucson today.  Both shook me out of my indifference; one of them made me cry.  There is nothing I can do for these strangers in Tucson except feel their loss, and do all I can to send more love into the world, into the collective unconscious, and into my own daily life.  So I guess that is what I will do. And encourage you to read the same words I read, and do the same.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

A World With Only Violinists

I haven't written in a while, but an article has been making the rounds about Chinese Mothers that merits a rebuttal.

If you haven't read it, do so now, it's worth reading.

A Chinese mother (who is also a law professor and author) writes about how strict she is as a mother. She defends how she only access As on her children's report cards, force them to play the piano (at one point to the point of child abuse), never allows them to watch TV or have boyfriends in high school, saying that this shows how much she and similar parents love their children.

The author mentions in the beginning that this style of parenting isn't exclusive to the Chinese and that all Western parents aren't failures. And there's not necessarily something wrong with parents driving their kids hard (if nothing else, Western parents dominate this when it comes to sports).

But there are some gaping problems:

A world of violins is a terrible thing. If the world consisted solely of parents like the author, it would be a world where children only played one of a few instruments. In this frightening world, everyone is going for a very small number of very specific brass rings. Sure, you'd have millions of absolutely world class violin players. But a parent of this model would ever let their kid play viola or bass, because they would essentially be saying "my kid's not good enough to play first violin" and to this writer, that's not good enough. And that's the end of string quartets. If you keep pushing then you wind up with no novelists ("Who would ever let their child study something a frivolous as literature?") no rock music, probably no modern art, etc etc.

The parents aren't all setting a perfect model either. In the article, the mother mentions getting in an argument at a dinner party about her guests. She also mentions that her children never had any play dates. That doesn't seem particularly fair, does it? Shouldn't the authors parents' be ashamed? She could be writing more articles and books when she's just sitting around at dinner parties and her kids are at home memorizing math formulas.

Denying failure won't make it not happen. By preventing their kids from ever experiencing the kind of things that will happen to everyone at one point or another (failure on a test, be it literal or symbolic, love and heartbreak, communal success) you are setting them up to flame out when they've left home. Here's a little Westernism that my parents taught me and my sister: "You can, and should, drink alcohol with a meal. The two go together." Too many households treat their kids as if the merest touch of alcohol on their lips will lead them straight to Gomorrah. It won't, but everyone will drink at one point or another, or have sex at one point or another, or rebel at one point or another. It's not bad parenting to prepare your children for adult life. It's good parenting.

The underlying subtext of the article is - "Fuck everyone else's kids." By only tolerating your children as the best at everyone, you wind up going down a slippery slope. It's this pervasive attitude of "I can do it, why can't you" or "I've gotten this far with only so much support, why should anyone else have more" that is poisoning Western debate about things like health care. Just because you've gotten yours doesn't mean that everyone else should be left behind. NOT EVERYONE IS THE SAME.

I could on and on, but you get the idea. Not everyone is the same, and parents endlessly pushing their children won't lead to a utopia. It will lead to a miserable world that I would not want a part of.

Monday, January 3, 2011

New Year, New B

I blogged last year about my love for New Year’s; the starting over of it all.  I made my resolution; I sort of kept it.  I say sort of, because how do you really measure “be aware of the time I’m spending?”  I have some great memories from this year, and I think I made more active decisions this year, regarding life choices.  Sooo okay I’m going to give that one to me, what the heck. It’s a new year.

I am 55% excited and 45% terrified about my resolution for this year.  It’s simple, concise, easily measured, but it’s also one of those mythical BIG STEPS INTO ADULTHOOD that could make or break my spirit if I don’t succeed. 

I am going to finish all my started projects this year.

Okay looking at it on paper (screen?) kind of takes away from the drama, but this is a Big Deal.  It came to me, as if in a dream, a few weeks ago when the realization basically punched me in the face:  I have never finished anything that did not have a specific deadline. In my entire life.  

I have sewing projects from the 6th grade, originally meant for friends that I moved away from but to whom I now hardly speak.  I have two novels (short stories? er, free form poems?)  that I have not touched in over three years.  I have scrapbooks, frames, a Rosetta Stone, pictures, and sewing alteration projects galore collecting dust in the closet in our second bedroom. I hardly finish my meals; I always seem to have something terrible rotting in the fridge that I was totally going to reheat/bake/chef my little heart out, but never got around to it.  I currently have five black bananas in my freezer, just waiting to one day be reincarnated into banana bread.  If I can ever wrench them from the shelf, that is.

I’ve been told that I am this way because I am an artist; I have too many huge ideas and a too short an attention span before the next big creative wave.  And I totally bought into it, for years, bought into the whole “messy artist” persona: the absentmindedness, the clutter. But that kind of thinking does me (and the neat freak* who somehow persists to love/live with me) a great disservice.

My little apartment holds twenty-four years of big ideas, projects, and life-changes gone unfinished.  Where does that put me, in the grand scheme of things, when the only artist I know of who truly gets away with unfinished work is Tupac?  And I mean, I feel pretty good about the quality of work that I do, but I am not Tupac.  This is something that I know.

So this year I am finishing projects. All the ones I started long ago, and all the ones I will start in the future.  Maybe along the way I'll learn how to manage my time, or how awesome it is to actually finish stuff.  Though I have to admit, those two foreign concepts sound a little crazy to me. But I am excited. And I am about to get real crafty. 

Finished products from B.Graham? I hope the world is ready.

*I feel I should mention that he read this and insisted that the "freak" bit is an untruth.