Thursday, December 22, 2011

A Mythunderstanding of Slang

by gendanke

I used to love pointing out that the sadist who put the “s” in lisp was the same one that stuck an “r” in rhoticism, defined as the inability to pronounce the letter “r.” This would eventually draw out that one illiterate prig who, with double-negatives arguing that “nobody owns no language,” only served to put an extra sniff in my Awesome Scholar’s Arrogance. Because everyone knows educated people don’t start sentences with “because,” don’t use slang, and most certainly never aim to boldly split infinitives. The “gifted underachiever” is that guy delighting that he finds Sara Lee’s “Nobody Doesn’t like Sara Lee” grammatically offensive as it associates him with class, regardless of how much of the dirt on his face is chocolate frosting.

In 2003, Lynn Truss wrote Eats, Shoots & Leaves, a hilarious tale of a pedant mourning the death of punctuation; she refuses to board the buses at Victoria Station because posters on the side advertising Hugh Grant’s Two Weeks Notice [sic] were maliciously missing an apostrophe. Defining the capacity for nausea at the comma in “Bob,s Pets” as a Seventh Sense only the elite possess, she’d rather curl up in a box than live in a world where signs like “Waiter’s Wanted” exist to offend with their awful punctuation.

Now, there is no question language is important; the human brain assembles the world a million ways a million times a day by juggling words in combinations the best computers sweat through. It shapes culture in fascinating ways; the Australian aboriginal language Dyirbal classes nouns into four categories: 1) animate objects and men 2) women, fire, and dangerous things 3) edible produce 4) miscellaneous. So where an English speaker inflects nouns only in respect to plurality and verb agreement, the Dyirbal speaker must first identify that noun as either male, female, possible threat, or whether or not he can eat it before uttering a single sentence. Isn’t that interesting?

Some languages, like Japanese, have the “adversative-passive” tense for verbs which, like the insanity clause, allows people to abdicate responsibility. Mishima didn’t commit suicide; he was suicided. But despite awesome German nouns like Rindfleischetikettierungsüberwachungsaufgabenübertragungsgesetz, which means “beef-labeling-regulation-and-delegation-of-supervision-law” or the Spanish word for handcuffs meaning “wife,” language, like all heroes, has a tragic flaw. Without a pinch of salt, it achieves the alchemy of transmuting the ugliest hypocrisies into a “spreading-of-democracy” or arbitrarily vilifying human impulses by labeling them a “sin.” In one swoop, it undermines a person’s social class and therefore value by lumping how he speaks into a subcategory called “slang,” which we’re taught to associate with imbecility without having to prove why that person is below us.

It slaughtered Lenny Bruce, a genius smarter than the morons who never had to explain why Bruce was being arrested other than because he used words like cocksucker and was therefore disobedient. In 1966, two such cocksuckers conducted tests on black children and concluded that from their absent use of Proper Grammar they were little more than animals. So what else could condescending bigots do but set up “Bereiter-Engelmann” preschools, where these awful little savages could be taught a little class by imitating white people?

Exactly how is being repulsed by the way a person speaks different than being nauseated by their skin color? It’s a bitter pill to swallow for us pedants; both are forms of willful negligence allowing you to assume value without having to create it. So what if it’s amusing knowing your gorgeous ear is sensitive to the erroneous modifying of verbs with adjectives? There is little qualitative difference between Ms. Truss refusing to board a bus transporting awful grammar and Miss Annabelle refusing to because there’s a Negro riding on it.

The real imbecile is the one presuming he knows what you are because he buys into the myth of slang being “immoral.” It grants him the petty narcissism of being able to show that he’s offended. Does this mean grammar is racist and should therefore be scorned? Before you go around lynching grammar as elitist, I leave you with this—in 1327, Welsh conspirators needed to murder King Edward II without clear evidence of their involvement. One of them sent this note to the perpetrators: “Kill Edward not to fear is good.” Purposely ambiguous, punctuation was left out in case the plot backfired. So poor Edward did die at the mercy of a scalding iron shimmied up his anus where, quite frankly, the one thing that could’ve saved his colon was a colon.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Suddenly Santorum

I guess it was inevitable, though I would never have dared to hope for such a thing. Now that the, "Anything but Mittens," contingent of Republican primary voters have worked their way through Michelle Bachman, Rick Perry, Herman Cain, and Newt Gingrich, it looks like it just might be Rick Santorum's turn on top. Rick Santorum. The man whose name will forever more be synonymous with, "the frothy mix of lube and fecal matter that is sometimes the result of anal sex," thanks to sex columnist Dan Savage. Really. He's doing well in Iowa.

Much has been made of Ron Paul's surge in the Iowa polls. He does share the racist, misogynistic, homophobic values so dear to the Republican base, it's true. But apparently he doesn't take them far enough, because he's not the only candidate benefitting from Newt's demise. Rick Santorum's numbers are climbing too. And God knows, there is no one more racist, misogynistic, or homophobic than Senator Santorum.

In case you've forgotten what an abomination of a human being Santorum is since Pennsylvania voters finally mustered the good sense to vote him out of office last year, let's take a little trip down memory late, shall we?

He may be best known for his virulent homophobia. He has compared homosexuality to bestiality, pedophila, and incest. He's bizarrely equated the love between same sex couples with his for his children and mother-in-law. He doesn't really see what all the fuss is about same sex marriage anyway, as his view of marriage has nothing to do with affirming one person's love for another, but is all about being, "open to children," whatever exactly that means, and bettering civilization.

He takes the anti-choice agenda to an astonishing new level. Not only does he want Roe v. Wade overturned, which is par for the patriarchal course, he'd like to see Griswold v. Connecticut thrown out as well. It was the pre-Roe ruling in which justices first invoked the right to privacy, in granting married couples the right to use birth control. For one thing, in Santorum world there is no such thing as a right to privacy. None at all. Nothing extant protects the physical bodies of citizens from the exercise of state power. That in and of itself carries terrifying implications a plenty.

Just as importantly, Santorum thinks birth control itself is a bad, bad, thing, saying in 2005:

I think it’s harmful to women, I think it’s harmful to our society to have a society that says that sex outside of marriage is something that should be encouraged or tolerated, particularly among the young. I think it has, as we’ve seen, very harmful long-term consequences for society. So birth control to me enables that and I don’t think it’s a healthy thing for our country.

So, no birth control, and no sex outside of marriage. Santorum seems to believe even sex within a marriage should be federally regulated. Because, you see, "if the Supreme Court says that you have the right to consensual sex within your home, then you have the right to bigamy, you have the right to polygamy, you have the right to incest, you have the right to adultery. You have the right to anything." Consensual sex, amongst adults, leads inexorably to the legalization of polygamy, adultery, and incest. I'm pretty sure adultery is legal already, but maybe the imagined threat of imprisonment is the only thing keeping Santorum from straying beyond the marriage bed. Even more disturbing, though, is the moral equivalency drawn here between adultery, polygamy, and incest. Don't we all agree that incest is worse than adultery, or even polygamy, carried out among consenting adults?

Abortion is, of course, even worse. In Santorum world, it is, in fact, worse than slavery. “But unlike abortion today, in most states even the slaveholder did not have the unlimited right to kill his slave,” he tells us, in his 2005 book, "It Takes a Family." It's nice how he's found a way to combine two of his favorite hobbies, racism and misogyny in a single insane sentence.

More recently, he did it again, saying in January, " find it almost remarkable for a black man to say ‘now we are going to decide who are people and who are not people’.” Apparently black people have no business being pro-choice, because having been legally defined as something other than fully human in the days of slavery. Which gets really confusing, because he's also said legal abortion is worse than slavery, which wasn't really so bad after all. Or something like that.

He made a similar point when he joined Michele Bachmann in signing a family values pledge stating,"sadly, a child born into slavery in 1860 was more likely to be raised by his mother and father in a two-parent household than was an African American baby born after the election of the U.S.A.'s first African American President." Because slave owners were super respectful of their possessions' family feelings, and never, ever, sold parents off to the highest bidder without their children. Right.

He's described the interactions between Catholic Priests and any children they sexually abused who were over the age of 13 or so as, "a basic homosexual relationship." He thinks it's horrible and selfish for women to work outside the home just because they need to provide for their children, or, worse yet, find it satisfying and fulfilling to do so. He blames Social Security's financial woes on legal abortion. He thinks something specific to American freedoms has lead to doubling human life expectancy. He's either a little bit crazy, or unfathomably stupid. Neither of which, recent history tells us, necessarily rules him out of the presidency.

Granted, his numbers haven't gone up as far or as fast as Paul's have. But the most recent Public Policy Polling survey of Iowa has him up from 6% to 10, tied with former frontrunners Michelle Bachman and Rick Perry. And Mike Huckabee did win Iowa in 2008. So anything is possible.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Alabama Law can not only take a Child away from a Parent, Make False Accusations, and it Can Make the Parent Pay Child Support

Parents beware!!

Layne Gunter of Trussville, Alabama was falsely accused of child neglect. It is his job as nuclear engineer to travel to facilities throughout the South to fix trouble that occurs there. There are only two people in the South who does the kind of troubleshooting work he does. Mr. Gunter is one of them. Nuclear industry is keenly aware of wanting to avoid the same disaster that occurred in Japan on March 2011.

Ever since his first wife died, he had an agreement and relied on his grown and married daughter next door to watch his one minor child whenever he had to go on business trips.
On his business trip in January 2011, he did the usual. He called her daughter to ask to watch the 13 y.o. child.

When he returned, he was already accused of “child neglect”, the child had been “removed from home” and placed in official custody of the daughter next door. Ironically, this was the same one who was supposed to be watching over the young child in the first place. The social security payment that the child received due to her mother’s death had already been transferred to the married daughter.

DHR had been lied to by the daughter next door and the minor child, and was used to crucify this very devote church-going man who meticulously keeps all his commandments. The judge did not hear anything he had to say, including proper documentation of phone calls he made to the daughter next door to make sure the youngest was being watched.

The judge was not listening to Mr. Gunter. He heard all the lies, and the youngest lied just as good as the rest. She had good coaching. The daughter next door who has the custody has particular need for extra money. In addition to $750/mo. social security, now they are to get $900/mo in child support.

Mr. Gunter would rather rot in jail rather than pay something for false accusation that he is not guilty of. He will also retire from the nuclear industry. It would be best if people in the South pick up their things move to the Northwest.

Kazumi Hart

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Twilight of Taste

If you knew me, you wouldn't be surprised to hear I won't be seeing the new Twilight movie. I've long since aged out of its target demographic, and I usually see smart movies. I'm amazed by how good the third Olson sister was in Martha Marcy May Marlene. I can't stop thinking about Melancholia. When I do go for silly, it's silly with a meta twist of irony. Stepbrothers, maybe, or Wet Hot American Summer. If you knew me, it would never occur to you I'd consider doing any such thing.

But I did. Not for long, one minute, maybe five, that's all. For the very same reason I decided in the end against it. I love the Twilight books, especially the last, beyond all reason. So just like I never saw Demi Moore's turn as Hawthorne's Hester Prynne, or last year's Never Let Me Go, I won't be seeing Breaking Dawn because I like the book too much to want to see a filmic version.

I know better, I really do. I'm entirely too old to be reading teen vampire porn at all, let alone loving it. I know the books aren't very well written, the heroine is intolerable until the last book, and there's arguably an anti-choice Mormon subtext. My love for them is every bit as weird and inappropriate as the books themselves.

I don't know what possessed me to start Twilight in the first place, not a clue. It was Edward Cullen, Bella Swan's vampire boyfriend, though, who kept me reading, kept me coming back for more.

For starters, he is exactly my type. Tall, skinny, pasty, and deeply invested in his vision of himself as dark, complicated, solitary and strange. His please stay, go away, initial approach to courting Bella was also awfully familiar. So I kind of couldn't help myself. That's what I always say.

As things progress, however, Edward becomes something else entirely, the world's most perfect boyfriend. Really, without flaw. He likes to talk about feelings, he craves commitment, he never presses Bella sexually, giving her space to sort out her own teenage desire, and of course, he's good for rescuing her from the endless parade of evil vampires out for her blood. And that's the least of it.

Edward has nothing to do but hang out with Bella, think about Bella, talk about Bella, protect Bella, watch Bella sleeping, Bella, Bella, Bella. He's rich like Warren Buffett, so doesn't have to work. In high school for maybe the 25th time, academic work is nothing to him. All he has to do is kill a deer or something now and then, to keep himself in blood. That's it. He has nothing better to do, nothing he's more interested in, nothing to distract him from his Bella. When he tells her, "You are my life now," it isn't just romantic hyperbole. He means it literally. Best of all, when Bella tells Edward to go away, he does. What could be better?

Bella herself, however, is a whiny brat, throughout the first three books. She wants to become a vampire herself, immediately. She wants to have naughty pre-marital sex. She doesn't like Edward's extravagant gifts. She can't do much of anything for herself, she's impossibly insecure, and has no discernable sense of self protection. She's exactly as unbearable as any actual 16 year old girl.

In Breaking Dawn Bella is transformed, literally and figuratively. Her fairy tale doesn't end with the wedding, it continues into the days and months after, during which Bella gets everything she's ever wanted, and it's even better than she'd dreamed. Clumsy and awkward as a breathing being, Bella is great at being a vampire, amazing the others by taking so easily to the whole thing. She and Edward have a lot of fabulous married vampire sex. Her werewolf ex moves on. Chronically victimized, requiring endless rescue through the first three books, here, Bella does the rescuing. She saves Edward, his family, and all their vampire friends, from the power mad vampires of the Voltari. She doesn't just become a vampire, she becomes a sexy bad ass. I'd take her over Edward any day.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Off Grid

By Lee Waites

The novelty will probably wear off before too long. But for now the various little chores and big tasks required to get up and running are kind of fun. I, my wife and our two young children are living off grid. By off grid, I mean backwoods off grid. We’re away from it all. It has been our plan to build an earth berm house for years, incorporating various alternative energy sources and a complete lifestyle change to reduce our addiction to the wasteful habits of modern life. Some of these habits are so ingrained we don’t even think about them.

I once worked for this woman who lived in a very large house. She dressed in expensive hippie clothes. The police in her neighborhood would more likely than not pull me over if I was there after dark. From what I could tell of her life, she was very spoiled and very wasteful. I remember when she saw some of my stickers she began to identify with me. I don’t think people like this understand how uncomfortable that kind of thing makes people like me. You simply can’t have it all. We have completely different ideas about success.

After we spoke for a while she told the nanny to get the kids ready. She politely and with a look of utter self-satisfaction, put the kids in the back of her SUV and drove away. She had just had a lovely encounter. I winced at the “Live Simply So That Others May Simply Live” sticker on the back of her Chevy Tahoe. (If you don’t get why I winced, ask just about anyone else around you to explain.)

My family struggles to have enough money to get started. I’ve researched alternative living for years, since my days as an anthropology major at our prestigious local U A of B. I’ve kept up to date on the emerging technologies and improvements to old technology. But like so many others we kept spinning or spiraling into debt, or when lucky, just dead broke. I know many of you can understand how wonderful it is to make it back up to just broke.

A while back, we moved into a little farm house in the country, trading work on the house for rent. We bought a wood burning stove and some propane heaters and began to practice for our new life. The house was built in 1860-something, had real log floor joists set up on dry stacked stone. When built, there were no building codes and it was put together a bit on the cheap. Of course, I need to shut up because it was put together before electric circular saws and nail guns. So the men who built it are probably tough enough to rise up from the grave and come give me a good thrashing. We spent a great deal of time and effort to get the house livable. But it was a constant uphill battle. In truth, the house needed far more love than anyone will ever give it again. But it helped toughen us up. It never got cool enough in summer or warm enough in winter. It was full of brown recluse spiders (who really never bothered us by the way). Once they figured out we lived there they moved into the walls and left us alone. But it was a good transition to a hard life.

Earlier this year, we had a bit of a disagreement with our landlord at the farmhouse. We had a few words when I refused to shoot some stray dogs that were making a ruckus on the property. The spirit at the old farm house became tainted. It was time to move.

We bought an older RV and pulled it over to the property on the river. And yes, I do realize how lucky I am to have a few acres on the river. The beauty of an RV is that it is actually self-contained and designed for conserving energy and water. We already had an old school bus on the property so we had plenty of storage space and a fairly safe haven in a storm. The beauty of the school bus is that they’re made strong. Until we get our first shipping container out here, a component of our future house, we’ll use the bus as a safe haven during storms. Not the best by any means. But after weathering the fear of twisters in the old farm house, the bus is actually a step up. So with a few generators and some salvaged lumber we’re setting up camp.

I know once we get established we will be able to have most of the comforts offered by the grid. I’ve seen others who live the same if not better from renewable resources. But for now, it’s the hard life. I try to look at the positives, the way man once must have. For instance; the rains just came back in. It makes our new driveway a complete mess. My kids cried because we had to walk 1000 feet to get to the car parked past the mud puddles (the jeep broke down again). They made it onto the bus and I got back home. I realized how much water was falling out of the sky onto my head. So I quickly set up several wash basins under those troublesome low points in the tarp and sliced a drain hole. Rainwater for free. That’s how it is.

The Inevitable Smoking Ban

by Ian Hoppe

Photo by Mark J Sebastian
Initially, when I conceived of this piece, it came to me as a knee-jerk response to the (somewhat) self righteous pandering of those involved in, or peripheral to, the anti-smoking campaign in the Birmingham area and Alabama at large. In the interest of full disclosure, I am a smoker. Not an incredibly heavy smoker, but I spend a lot of time at Birmingham bars and night clubs and smoke much more heavily when I am partaking in the drink. Hence I am one of those people at whom an attack of this kind is leveled. So, as is the case with most smokers, I was immediately defensive. My hard-line libertarian streak began swinging around wildly, calling up those arguments that one might see in a chain e-mail sent from some reactionary friend or family member decrying the ‘Nanny State’ and paternalism ruining businesses across the country.

But then I took a deep breath and decided to look at this issue with the most objectivity I could muster.

First things first, read the proposed ban. The bill up for consideration at the moment is HB149 and is what British folk might call ‘The Full Monty.’ This bill, in its current form, wants to completely outlaw smoking in and around bars, restaurants, and night clubs. For clarification, the term “smoking” in this context is entirely inclusive and includes not just cigarettes but pipes, cigars, cigarillos, bongs, hookahs, and even those newfangled electric cigarettes.

I should also mention that there is no provision allowing smoking on patios or outside of establishments. The bill even goes so far as to say that ashtrays or other smoking receptacles must be removed from all areas.

I get the feeling that the strategy here is to go for the whole enchilada (I like colloquialisms . . . and enchiladas) with the expectation of rolling back some provisions during the legislative process. However, I think that it is safe to say that a bill of this kind would negatively affect businesses to which it applies. I talked to a local smoky bar owner/operator who asked to remain nameless. He agreed with me that these provisions are extreme and would have a dramatic affect on his patrons, most of which come there to drink and smoke profusely. He did say, though, that he would be in complete support of a ban, if it allowed for smoking on a patio, was e-cigarette friendly, and made exemptions for cigar/hookah bars, tobacco shops, and other establishments whose primary function is smoking things.

This seems like a legitimate stance to me. But it takes the argument in a completely different direction. If we allow smoke shops to remain open and for people to smoke inside of them as well as lighting up on the patio of a restaurant, then the implicit statement goes from, “Smoking is bad for everyone, and you ought not do it” to the much more reasonable, “Smokers are not allowed to negatively affect those around them.”

If this second statement is what we can agree on, that smoking is fine but that smoking ought not to affect involuntary non-smokers in a negative manner. Then I would like to ask smoking ban supporters what they think about the following proposition. Tax breaks for bars and night clubs that prohibit smoking altogether, and tax credits for smoking bars to have effective smoking ventilation professionally installed. This would simultaneously give owners incentive to go non-smoking and clean the air for patrons and bartenders alike. There would be no change in the flow of business; contentedness of everyone involved would only increase, and my libertarian streak would be satisfied.

Sumiton Annexes Birmingham

by Jim Reed

Listen to an audio version of this column.

I learned the other day that my driver’s license had expired. Note that I did not receive a notice stating that my driver’s license is due to expire soon. I learned that only late notices are issued.

“Why would that be?” I ask a friend. “They could just send me a note three weeks before expiration instead of three weeks after—you think?”

“Why would they do that?” says the friend. “If they tell you you’re delinquent, they get to assess a penalty on top of the license fee. It’s called revenue-generation.”

I don’t argue with this statement, since I can imagine no other reason. I have to admit it is clever—and, of course, evil. That’s why I find myself standing here in a Butler Building-type structure in Sumiton, Alabama, about to receive my pain-free driver’s license.

The day before, I had gone to the Jefferson County cathedral of licensing to obtain my renewal, only to find a long, long line of people ahead of me, some of whom had been waiting a long, long time. Denial is always my first defense, so I walked past the extended queue to speak to anyone who could tell me that this wasn’t really the license line.

“Yes, this side of the hall is driver’s licenses,” a very pleasant employee told me. “And this other side is everything else having to do with licenses and the like.”

I said, “This is wild—is there a better time to come?”

She smiled and reported that the situation is the same every day. “People start lining up at five a.m., even though we don’t open the doors till eight.”

I turn and begin the hall-long trek to the end of the line.

“Hey, Jim!” a familiar voice beckons. I look at the middle of the “other” line and see my friend Ben Elliott standing there grinning his usual sardonic grin. “

Are you trapped here?” I ask.

“Yep,” Ben says. “It’s the way of the world.”

We chat and giggle at the outrageousness of it all. Ben is resigned to his certain fate, but I decide to just leave the building.

Being an optimist, I had parked at a half-hour meter.

So, next day, here I am in Sumiton, northwest of Birmingham, grateful that Liz suggested I pay for my license in another, less disorganized county. It actually works! A pleasant drive to this village, a chat with the librarian and a patron, a meandering path to the Butler Building, and I’m only third in line! Life is good.

Ms. Ash is the sole officer who processes licenses and apparently runs everything else: answers the phone, takes the ID photos, does the paperwork, and wrangles the crowds—yep, she’s prepared for crowd control, herding the three of us as if we were fifty people. “Take a number . . . stand right there ’til that chair is empty . . . now, take the yellow chair after that . . . now, read this chart.”

We have a nice conversation, she does her duty, and I’m out of there in minutes, feeling smug but sorry about the long gray lines in Birmingham.

The round-trip voyage to Sumiton gives me time to plan my next civic action. My campaign to have Birmingham annexed is all in my head, but with a little help from you, it could become reality.

Hard Times

by Glennwood Urbz

On a recent trip to New York City, I decided to take a walk and catch the soul of Harlem. I stumbled upon Marcus Garvey Park, where kids were playing in the water fountains and several games of intense chess were in session. There was a card game with money on the table and a young man selling freeze cups; I bought two. This was Harlem at its finest—electric and caught up in the energy of the moment. I flipped my camera out in true tourist form and begin snapping away. I was about to take a picture of several elderly black men sitting on a park bench until one of the men noticed me and alarmed the others. They pointed fingers in protest of my invasion of their privacy! So I asked “My brother what’s the problem?” He informed me in his Caribbean dialect that he and his friends were hustling up money for something to eat and fell short of the goal. The older one said it was hard times in Harlem and that I should go downtown and take a picture with the Happy People. Where’s my bailout?

The men in the park reminded me of a friend who told me he was tired of taking handouts. He had served several years in Alabama Corrections and was doing the best he could to avoid trouble. In his attempt to gain employment he put in a number of applications to no avail; nobody’s rushing to hire felons. I felt his pressure building and saw the tears in his eyes when he said his daughter called and asked, “What kind of father is that?” My friend said he was going to go and see the judge that sent him to prison and ask where felons can find work. He said it was hard out here for him and the monkey on his back was now a full-grown gorilla. He once told me that, believe it or not, he was doing better in prison than on the streets. They say, “It’s billions to be made behind bars!” I haven’t heard from my friend in several weeks. Last I heard he had some time on his hands. It’s hard times in Birmingham just as it is in Harlem.

They say the message is in the music so I asked Hip Hop what has happened to our song? Why are we leading these kids on in these Rap Video Universities? Our ancestors once sang songs that lifted our spirits beyond our conditions. Today the lyrics are intensifying the celebration of guns, sex, money, and violence, promoting foolishness and mental genocide, furthermore handicapping our conditions with a crab in the bucket attitude. Sometimes I wonder why rappers glorify bling and drug sales. They sell the youth dreams when in reality, the only thing waiting is a jail cell. So the seven year-old has his pants sagging because he sees Lil’ Wayne do it and thinks it’s cool. We as black men need to reevaluate or do a better job of raising our sons instead of watching them raise their guns.

Or we find ourselves in a compromising position with a gun to the rib cage and the youth saying it’s hard times. Give it up!

So you must ask yourself what kind of human being are you if you see wrong and don’t say nothing or turn the head? The same problem you choose not to correct will be sitting in your lap in the near future. What happened to the village that raises our children? At what point in time did we stop caring? My uncle sent a letter yesterday saying that the prisons are full of men 18 to 24 years old with lengthy sentences. It’s no wonder they are tearing down schools and building prisons. Economically depressed communities with drug addictions breed violence. So on 16th street in Birmingham, where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once marched, an addict is crying for help. She says, “It’s hard times in Alabama.”

False Flag

By Stephen Smith

On October 11, FBI director Robert Mueller called a press conference to announce that a sinister plot by Iran to assassinate Saudi ambassador Abel al-Jubeir with the help of a Mexican drug cartel had been foiled. The whole thing was described as a James Bond-type operation that Mueller said “reads like the pages of a Hollywood script.” The assassination was to take place in Washington D.C. and involve the bombing of both the Saudi and Israeli embassies. It was big news for about 24 hours and then disappeared from the American press in favor of more important things like Kim Kardashian’s divorce. The rest of the world continued to report on the story with an air of skepticism and Iran called the whole thing “laughable.”

We Americans have to have a boogieman. And that boogieman has to be totally irrational and pure evil. There is nothing too far fetched that you can say about the boogieman that the American public won’t buy into. As we continue to downgrade our military presence in Iraq and Afghanistan the boogieman is starting to look more and more Iranian. Why would Iran take such a foolish gamble that might very possibly result in military retaliation by a trigger-happy U.S. that loves to watch explosions on television? Why would they be so careless as to deposit large and easily traced sums of money into a dummy bank account set up by an FBI agent posing as a Mexican hit man?

One of the two suspects in the alleged assassination plot is Manssor Arbabsiar, a 56-year-old naturalized U.S. citizen and used car salesman who has lived in Texas for over two decades. Arbabsiar isn’t particularly religious and is known to be a heavy drinker who frequents strip joints. His boss described him to the Voice of America as “a simpleton who failed at even the most menial tasks.” This is not your typical James Bond villain. Arbabsiar was arrested at J.F.K. airport and has pleaded not guilty to the plot, though his “confession” is the primary evidence for Iranian involvement. The other suspect is Gholam Shakuri, who the Department of Justice claims is a member of Iran’s elite Quds Force and Iran claims is a member of an exile group whose aims are to overthrow their current government. U.S. officials maintain that the plot was orchestrated from the upper echelons of the Iranian government.

On November 18, the U.N. General Assembly voted to condemn the alleged assassination plot. The unbinding resolution was introduced by Saudi Arabia and passed with 106 votes in favor, 40 abstentions, and 9 votes against. It didn’t directly accuse Tehran of involvement but rather condemned “terrorism in all its forms and manifestations.”

As the American media seems to have lost interest in what, if true, should be one of the most dramatic foreign policy crises in recent memory, one has to wonder what really happened. Republicans are constantly threatening to bomb Iran. If they were looking for a motive to start yet another war they haven’t pursued it... yet. Possibly the whole thing is just a comedy of errors. Are all terrorists incompetent boobs? Must the American public periodically be entertained with a series of failed plots to justify our wars and suspensions of liberties?

If Iran really tried to pull off this assassination plot their motivation could only have been suicide. Conspiracy theorists point to Israel stirring the pot of antagonism between the U.S. and Iran. Possibly. That makes more sense than some incompetent used car salesman leading a secret life as an international man of mystery. More than likely the whole plot can be placed squarely on the lap of the shape shifting lizard people that secretly control the world. The only real question is “what are they up to this time?”

You Aren't So Beautiful

by Gaije Kushner

original photo by André Natta
Driving around Birmingham and its endless suburbs does not exactly offer a feast for the eyes most days. The 280 traffic, the ridiculous SUVs, remnant Bush Jr. stickers clinging to their bumpers, the ubiquitous chain stores and restaurants, especially Chick-fil-A, and the Starbucks here, there, and everywhere. Step out of the car, and it’s all unfortunate hair and pleated khaki shorts. On those days coming across one of those, “You Are Beautiful” signs is the visual equivalent of nails on a chalkboard.

It’s nothing to do with their questionable legality, placed as they are on private buildings and public structures, nor with the aesthetics of graffiti. It’s the message itself that troubles, assuring each and every passerby he or she is beautiful. Because most people really aren’t so beautiful. You probably aren’t, neither am I.

Beautiful is a word, with a specific meaning. Applied to people, it refers to someone unusually appealing to the observing eye. It is utterly superficial, and not terribly inclusive, which shouldn’t be a problem for us. Some people are better looking than others. However we might wish that truth away, it isn’t going anywhere, which shouldn’t be a problem for anyone either. No one has trouble acknowledging other physical or mental traits exist along a continuum. Some people are taller, smarter, better runners, more intuitive, more all kinds of things than others. We’re okay with those distinctions, yet we want beauty to exist in a strange, vacuum-packed category of its own. We want to see both the word and the thing itself as infinitely malleable, but neither is.

Efforts to redefine what we mean when we talk about beauty like You Are Beautiful Birmingham have two rather contradictory goals. To expand the definition of physical beauty so everyone gets a turn at it, and to remove the physicality from beauty altogether, redirecting our attention to internal qualities instead. Simultaneously saying, “this thing is not at all important,” and, “this thing is so important no one should be left out of it.” That doesn’t really work, in fact suggests a disconnection from reality and language.

We like to believe in beauty’s subjectivity. We tell ourselves and one another how widely ideals of beauty vary from one person or culture to another. It’s a generous impulse, really, wanting to believe everyone will be seen as beautiful by someone, somewhere. Unfortunately, it doesn’t hold up to the scrutiny of science. For decades now, study after study has found that across culture, race, class, gender, and sexual preference, we find symmetry and certain proportions most attractive in face and figure. Recent research suggests these traits are effective markers of genetic and reproductive health, personality even. However subjective our individual assessments of beauty may feel, however random our standards of beauty may seem, they are based in our biology, one more expression of our shared DNA.

Definitions of beauty consistently specify it as something particularly pleasing to the physical senses. Again, it is a word, bearing a limited meaning, one inapplicable to intangible inner qualities. This doesn’t diminish their importance in the slightest. They are almost unspeakably important, far more so than external appearance. But being imperceptible to the senses, to please them or do otherwise, they cannot rightly be described as beautiful. Why should they be? With so many other, better words with which to discuss interiority, why the insistence on this one? A revalorization of interiority deserves to be taken up on its own terms, not uncomfortably wedged into one that will never quite fit.

We absolutely value and reward physical beauty beyond all reason. It benefits us all to challenge those realities, no matter what we look like. But pretending differences in beauty don’t exist isn’t the way to go about it. Neither is an attempt to force the word itself into a meaning it doesn’t carry. If we describe everyone as beautiful, inside or out, we only succeed in stripping it of meaning altogether, making it that much more difficult to make any sense of one another whatsoever.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Inevitable Romney? Really?

by Gaije Kushner

For months now, all kinds of people have been insisting on Mitt Romney's inevitability as the Republican party's presidential nominee. Surely you've seen it. It's been all over cable news, editorial pages, coast to coast, and, of course, the internet. But that insistence has not been accompanied by convincing explanations as to its own existence. It's almost as if Mittens' champions believe the force of repetition, fueled by their desire, will turn insistence into reality. Alas, things rarely work out that way. They do offer reasons for their belief, of course they do. It's just that none of them bear much relation to reality.

The favorite seems to be the idea that Romney has the support of the party bigwigs, whoever exactly they may be. As evidence, they say he's getting the vast majority of GOP endorsements, and has connected with the big donors who tend to gravitate toward the institutional favorite. It's true he's won the bulk of party endorsements thus far, about 55%, according to a Huffington Post analysis. But the same analysis confirmed earlier findings that the rate of those endorsements in this election cycle has lagged far behind that of the last five contested Republican presidential primaries. So, yes, those party bigwigs who have committed themselves thus far have gone for Mittens, but an awful lot of them are still withholding judgment, six weeks from the Iowa caucuses.

As far as the big money donors supposedly swarming Romney, they haven't materialized as his supporters would like to believe. His overall fundraising total, $32 million through the third quarter of this year, is dwarfed by President Obama's $88 million.  In the third quarter, silly Ricky Perry's campaign brought in $3 million more than Romney's $14 million. More to the point, 83% of his contributions came in amounts of $259 or less. Not such big money after all.

Then there's the idea it's Mittens' turn. According to this theory, Republicans have a self-defeating prediliction for nominating the previous election cycle's loser. For instance, John McCain. The problem with this one, though comes in his ever stagnant poll numbers. Try as he might, Romney cannot seem to get above 25% in national polls. He's been running for president for the last five years, and can't break 25%. If he's going to get the nomination as a kind of consolation prize for 2008, shouldn't someone have told the voters who'll have to give it to him by now?

Romney's debate performances have been universally acclaimed. Surely that should count for something, his supporters opine, shouldn't it? Maybe it should, but it doesn't seem to. So far, Mittens hasn't seen a single post debate bump in his poll numbers. Life is full of disappointment.

Last but by no means least, we have the electability argument. As one of my two Republican friends put it, Mittens "projects an air of competence and a technocrat mien, and he's profoundly unscary, not amenable to being demonized as a raving would-be starver of granny and such." This lines up pretty well with what other supporters have had to say. Basically, as they see it, Mittens has to get the nomination, because the other candidates are just implausible. But I'm afraid this view requires an awfully optimistic view of Republican primary voters. When did competence become a priority of theirs? I just don't see a technocrat mien appealing to the tea partiers, or all those Bush Jr. voters. I disagree wholeheartedly about his not being scary, in a general election context. He has reiterated his devotion to social conservatives' anti-choice, homophobic agenda sufficiently to elicit terror on my part.

More to the point, Romney's Mormonism makes him scary indeed to the evangelicals who comprise about 40% of Republican primary voters. In poll after poll, they consistently say they do not regard the Latter Day Saints as real Christians, and are disinclined to give their votes to a Mormon candidate in the primaries. On the plus side, their hatred of President Obama is such that, should Romney be the nominee, they will support him, despite his membership in such a creepy cult. Even so, I'm not quite understanding how a candidate who continues to lose to the incumbent President, in poll after poll, can be considered so very electable. I guess these things are relative.

According to a recent Washington Post/ABC News poll, one third of likely GOP primary voters do see Romney as the most electable. Not exactly an overwhelming consensus. Worse yet, 70% say it's more important to them to vote for the candidate who most closely represents their beliefs, than for the candidate most likely to win the White House. Not a wise approach, but there it is.

It always comes back to those pesky poll numbers for our Mittens. His just aren't great, not great at all. They suggest a candidate who, far from being an inevitable victor, is something of a long shot. Whatever the reason, voters just don't like him that much. Might be that technocratic mien. Even soulless Republicans need to feel an emotional connection to their candidate. Romney offers them no point of connection whatsoever. He has no personal charisma, no compelling story, really nothing for them to grab onto. Newt Gingrich, on the other hand, is a roiling petri dish of emotions. Just saying.