The Horror That is Black Friday

Ever since I was aware of this thing called ‘Black Friday’, which is an uniquely American shopping craze the day after Thanksgiving Thursday and may result in someone losing an eye, limb or more during the shopping excursion, I’ve made a point to not leave my house. In fact, I do not leave my house for the whole of Thanksgiving weekend, from Thursday to Sunday. I buy whatever I need to buy with my Thanksgiving day dinner shopping (if I am doing one) and if I am missing anything, I just wait until the next week.

Since this year I decided to not do a Thanksgiving shindig, I didn’t do my weekly shop. As a result, I didn’t keep an eye on the necessities, the stuff that can’t wait until Monday, such as dishwasher detergent (of which our house will not function without) and feminine hygiene products (sorry for the TMI). So on Black Friday, I bravely ventured out of my home to the nearby Target store to pick up what I needed with the intention of getting out of there in one piece. Hopefully without being shoved or pushed over so someone can get to the flat screen TV that is 50% off.

I am happy to report I wasn’t shoved or pushed and I got out of there in relatively good time, all things considered. But there was a different sort horror show which we rarely see in America: haggling at the checkout counter. I have never witnessed anything so tedious as people haggling over clothes and knick knacks, whether they should be $12.99 or $10.00. There was some sort of promotion going on where if one purchased x amount dollars they got $5 or $10 additional discount on the final sale and you have folks who come up a few dollars short of the x amount and so on. Though there was only a couple of people ahead of me in line, I was in line for over 30 minutes.

This led me to think, is this what Americans are doing post Thanksgiving (and some even shop on Thanksgiving day as some stores are open on Thanksgiving day)? By just looking around, there is a major case FOMO (fear of missing out) going on. It seems as if people are just mindlessly buying things just so they don’t miss out on the sale, regardless if they really need it. I am not on any moral high horse. I love shopping just as much as the next girl and in my younger days, especially pre-kids, I’ve definitely purchased things on impulse, things I didn’t need, such as that extra handbag, extra pair boots or shoes. But part of getting older and growing up is being mindful of your actions and also having children seriously constrains your budget and you find yourself wearing the same clothes for years on end because your children grow out of their clothes and shoes faster than you do. It’s just a fact of life.

During the recession of 2008, the economy had difficulty recovering because of high job losses, a credit freeze and consumers were mired in debt. So for a few years, consumers spent all their disposable income paying down credit card and household debt and saved the rest if any was left, so very little was left for retail spending. Expert after expert on television and in print said the US economy is not rebounding because people aren’t spending, if there is no demand then companies can’t hire and it’s a vicious cycle of belt tightening leading to less spending and unemployment . We need to create demand they say, and that is code for people need to spend more money they don’t have or government needs to step in and create ‘shovel ready’ jobs, whatever that means. Obama tried to enact some sort of FDR like policies but he was met with heavy resistance and opposition. They wanted to bail out the banks instead. The experts made it seem like consumers paying down their debt is a bad thing because they are not contributing to the engine of the economy. Then you have financial planners such as Suze Orman who tell people to not spend money they don’t have on crap they don’t need, which is sound advice, especially when the US was bleeding jobs every month. It’s not wise to spend money when job security is shaky. Pretty obvious one would think.

The problem is the fundamental structure of our consumer based economy. If people don’t buy stuff, the economy stalls, if people buy a lot, a bubble is created, even if bought on credit (or money they don’t have) and then the crash is bigger so there’s no real growth, just a cycle of bubble and bust. American savers are punished for saving by way of taxes and low interest rates. Americans have no incentive to save unless it’s through a pre-tax retirement plan such as a 401K or company pension.

The frenzy on Black Friday is evidence of this trend. This mad frenzy of buying buying and buying without any thought or consideration of what one is buying. Right now, as people are handing over their hard earned cash or charging more on their credit; analysts, economists are crunching their own numbers right now so on Monday, before the markets open there will be ‘news’ to report. That news will determine the economy for the rest of the year and the first quarter of the next year.

It’s ironic to think the economy of the richest nation on earth is supported by middle and working class people, not millionaires and billionaires, yet they are the ones who dictate the economic policy to benefit them. They move their money offshore to avoid paying taxes in the United States. They buy their big ticket items such as yachts and planes in countries where they are not required to pay sales tax and store it in countries where they don’t have to pay personal property tax. But the average hard working American is handing over their hard earned money to Uncle Sam and big corporations.

So as a lone citizen protesting this unfairness, I do not shop on Black Friday or any other holiday shopping frenzy and this includes online shopping as well. I am interested in creating real wealth to sustain my family and peace of mind for when there is an emergency, not to satisfy the American economic engine.

Happy Thanksgiving

The American tradition of spending the last Thursday of every November eating and drinking insane amounts of food and drink and then wake up at the crack of dawn the next day to wait in line with hordes of people to buy flat screen TVs for half or one-quarter of the price, with the possibility of  losing a limb in the process, is always beyond me.

How a holiday which celebrates being thankful but then going out the next day spending obscene amounts of money on things we don’t even need but just want is beyond my comprehension. To add to the absurdity, the whole of the American economy, the predictor of the American business cycle wholly depends on how much money people (mostly middle and low income people) spend on crap they don’t need. You have economists, the Federal Reserve Chairman, pundits, experts, the President of the United States sitting in their offices the following Monday morning, waiting with baited breath, for the results and numbers of the spending reports from the prior weekend. The numbers are then sliced and dissected every which way to make the not-so-good data look better and the good data to look even better. This one single weekend of how much crap people buy with money they most likely don’t have and will spend the next year paying it off will determine the health of the American economy.

Thanksgiving was never that big of a deal in our household. My mother being Chinese, our Chinese New Year celebrations exceed Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas celebrations combined, especially in the food department. But there are two things we do not do during Chinese New Year. First, we do not eat turkey, to Chinese and most Asians, turkey is a stiff old bird that is impossible to cook. There’s no way to make that big old bird taste good unless you cook it in bacon grease. I only like the legs but when you go to someone’s home for Thanksgiving celebration, it’s rather poor form to call dibs on a leg, since there’s only two. Second, we do not go shopping on Chinese New Year. Most stores are closed and there’s no post Chinese New Year sale where everything is 50% off or more.

There is nothing better than Chinese New Year food. Nothing. I don’t care what anyone says. Every family has their own traditions, depending on the region they come from. Our table is filled with chicken, pork (my grandmother was especially well known for her chicken wings and pork chops), beef, seafood, and traditional Chinese New Year food like nian-gao (年糕), a pastry-like food made from rice flour and sugar. Chinese New Year celebration begins on New Year’s Eve (on the Lunar Calendar) and continues for the next 7-10 days. In China, Taiwan and Hong Kong, Chinese New Year is a national holiday where people get minimum of one week off (paid) and depending on the employer, one may get up to one month off. Even factory workers in China get this paid holiday, usually with bonuses.

Chinese New Year besides being a pig-out fest, just like Thanksgiving and Christmas, but for children, there’s an added bonus, we get red envelopes of money from our parents, grandparents, uncles and aunts. My cousins and I, at the end of the night would lay out all of our red envelopes and then count how much money we got. I don’t know about them but I was never allowed to spend my money right away, the envelopes were then duly returned back to my mom for safekeeping and I was only allowed to spend the money when I earned the privilege to, such as getting good grades or coming in at the top of my class.

Chinese New Year is not a holiday for shopping, in fact, it’s the opposite. Chinese New Year is the time you spend with your family. Factory workers who live thousands of miles from home return home during this holiday to see their families, and shopping is rarely on the agenda. It’s a time for self-reflection, you let bygones be bygones, you become a better person for the new year. During Chinese New Year (a stretch of at least 10 days), my grandmother forbade us from speaking ill of others, forbade us from getting into arguments with people, especially not with each other. Arguments from the previous year is to be forgotten and forgiven and we start the new year with a clean slate. Or if the argument is too serious for immediate forgiveness, it’s to be put on ice until Chinese New Year is over and everyone is back at work, and hopefully by then it’s blown over. It’s a time for good tidings and happy returns, not pettiness.

With the death of my Chinese grandparents, sadly, we’ve not kept up these traditions. They were the glue of our family. After they passed the walls caused by disagreements and past wrongs crept up again and they remain there to this day. Since I got married and I had children, we’ve hosted Thanksgiving dinner exactly four times, but never with a turkey. We prefered ham and chicken. Though we had guests who enjoyed turkey, I didn’t want to be stuck with a huge amount of leftovers, especially as I don’t enjoy eating it. I don’t want eat turkey sandwiches or soups for a week. The thought of that is quite terrifying.

I suppose I am not a natural host or a Martha Stewart. Putting on these events always stressed me out to no end, the endless work and preparations, most of which are done on my own in my small and inadequate kitchen. I always thought when I have my own house and my own family, I want to do these ‘traditional’ things and create memories. I want to be that idyllic family where I make a scrumptious Thanksgiving meal and everyone has a jolly good time. I never realized how much work was involved in throwing these things together and I realized I wasn’t doing it for the right reasons. I was doing it to fulfil this false sense of what a normal and functioning family should do. For some people, throwing dinner parties like these is like second nature to them. I have a friend who has a smaller kitchen than I, but she’s able to put together an amazing Thanksgiving table each year, in her small house from her tiny galley kitchen. She loves doing it, it doesn’t stress her out and leave her anxious. In fact, she can pull a dinner party together any day of the week. I admire that, but that’s not me.

So this year, we did NOTHING but be thankful and grateful. I slept in with my kids as I didn’t have a big meal to prepare. We woke up, I went and made them some hot chocolate with lots of whip cream on top, a favorite of my daughter’s, she was in chocolate heaven. I made some brownies last night and we tucked into that for ‘breakfast’. Then we went out about our day as though it was like any other day, most importantly, I was relaxed and truly had time to reflect upon the blessings in my life and feel grateful and thankful for everything I have. I was not buzzing around trying to prepare this huge meal, while trying to make sure nothing gets burned and my children stay away from the kitchen and the hot burning stoves (whoever said an open floor plan is the it thing in real estate will get a very stern talking to from me).

The relaxing scenes in movies where people are drinking their wine and cooking and chatting with their family and friends while this huge meal sort of comes together in time has never been a reality for me. So, this year, I forewent all that and just went about my day normally, and it’s the best Thanksgiving yet. I have the time and emotional reserves to feel happy and grateful for all the blessings in my life. I don’t need a table full of food to realize this.

Happy Thanksgiving and many blessings to you to all.

 

 

Of Lunacy and Rabid Dogs

Since our ‘leaders’ are not leading in the kindness and compassion department, it’s incumbent upon ourselves to show kindness, love and tolerance to refugee families. It is incumbent upon us to make them feel welcome in our schools and communities. Instead of being treated with suspicion, they should be cared for. Bravo to this teacher.

undercoverBAT's Blog


“[The] idea that we should bring tens of thousands of Syrian Muslim refugees to America — it is nothing less than lunacy.” –Senator Ted Cruz

M enters my classroom on the first day of school tall and quiet and skinny. His eyes carry a haunted expression.

M is a Syrian refugee.

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Book Review: Wait For Me! By Deborah Mitford, Duchess of Devonshire

WaitForMe-DeborahMitford

Deborah (Debo) Mitford, Duchess of Devonshire (DD) was the younger sister of Jessica Mitford. She was the youngest child of Lord and Lady Redesdale. Her book starts out in the most charming and unassuming manner:

Blank. There is no entry in my mother’s engagement book for 31 March 1920, the day I was born. The next few days are also blank. The first entry in April, in large letters, is ‘KITCHEN CHIMNEY SWEPT’. My parents’ dearest wish was for a big family of boys; a sixth girl was not worth recording. ‘Nancy, Pam, Tom, Diana, Bobo (Unity), Decca (Jessica), me’, intoned in a peculiar voice, was my answer to anyone who asked where I came in the family.

The sisters were at home and Tom was at boarding school for this deeply disappointing event, more like a funeral than a birth. years later, Mabel, our parlourmaid, told me, ‘I knew what it was by your father’s face.’ When the telegram arrived Nancy announced to the others, ‘We Are Seven’, and wrote to Muv at our London house, 49 Victoria Road, Kensington, where she was lying-in, ‘How disgusting of the poor darling to go and be a girl.’ Life went on as though nothing had happened and all agreed no one, except Nanny, looked at me until I was three months old and then were not especially pleased by what they saw.

Lady Redesdale was forty when Debo was born. It was her last chance at having another boy, so everyone was bitterly disappointed when Debo was a girl. If this happened in 1990 instead of 1920 and someone relayed the story of their birth in this fashion, social services would be called and the parents would be brought up on charges of child underappreciation and a thorough enquiry will have to be opened to ‘investigate’ the matter further. But this was 1920 and people just got on with life.

Debo was the sixth girl and seventh child of a large family full of strong and disparate personalities. They, especially her sisters, all teased her for being the unwanted, superfluous, extra daughter which nobody needed in a family of already too many girls. This was the 1920s after all, such sentiments weren’t taboo. Her mother didn’t do much to stop the teasing (which was a Mitford past time and usually ran rampant and unchecked). She was a typical mother of her time and social class, which left such matters in the capable hands of their staff (nannies, governesses and servants). Debo didn’t mind being unimportant and being at the bottom of the Mitford totem pole. She had many other things to occupy herself with: her hens, ponies, guinea pigs, dogs, fishing, hunting and the occasional school lesson. Her closest sister growing up was Jessica Mitford, but this is simply the function of birth order. Debo was too distracted by country pursuits to care much what her older brother and sisters were doing. She said besides Jessica, who was her ‘favourite’ sister growing up, she never got to know the others properly until she was grown up and married, when they all finally had something in common.

Jessica Mitford said in ‘Hons and Rebels’, her younger sister was interested, bordered on obsessed with her hens, their mother gave the younger girls some hens to raise and when the eggs were laid, they ‘sold’ the eggs to their mother to earn pocket money, it was their ‘only economy’. However, Jessica warned to not be fooled by her younger sister’s contentment with rural life, Debo was not a simple girl with no aspirations. Just because she was happy with rural country living (all her other sisters, except for Pamela, and brother hated it), it didn’t mean she was a simpleton and didn’t understand the complexities of life and people. Of all the sisters, Jessica would know Debo the best because of their close age.

But not to worry, this girl that nobody wanted or was excited about became the the favorite child of her parents, after her brother. Unlike her sisters, Debo loved Swinbrook House in the Cotswolds, which was a large draughty freezing house in a small village with nothing to do and they were under the strict rules of their mother. All her sisters hated it. Nancy called it ‘Swinebrook’, Diana was bored to tears there and got married at eighteen to Bryan Guinness to escape the boredom, all the others bid their time there until they could leave (usually when they are to be married). Not Debo, she loved it, she loved fishing and hunting with her father and she loved all the animals and the groundskeepers who worked for her father. The irascible Lord Redesdale also appreciated his youngest daughter’s love of the countryside and Swinbrook House as he was privately very hurt by the mocking and rejection of the house he designed and built by the other girls. Lady Redesdale came to especially adore her youngest daughter for her easy going nature and not challenging her rules too much. Also, Debo never incited any scandals which landed her in the papers, a major concern for the Redesdales in the 1930s.

Deborah Mitford, Duchess of Devonshire was a very unique and some would argue an important figure during her time. Because of her social class and the connections which came with it, she knew some of the central figures during a turbulent time in history. Some could say the same about her sister Diana Mosley but with one marked distinction, Diana Mosley’s aim was to help her second husband Sir Oswald Mosley, the British fascist leader to get ahead politically, Deborah Mitford from cradle to grave hated politics, never involved with herself with politics, never cared about politics but she cared about the people behind their politics.

She was one of the few people who knew Winston Churchill (Lord Redesdale was a first cousin of Clementine Churchill)  because he was a relation. She knew Sir Oswald Mosley because he was her brother-in-law, a rather awkward situation for a long time. She met Adolf Hitler once for tea with Unity and her parents, his flat was ‘ugly and brown’ she noted, and found him to be rather dull and lacking in charisma and he didn’t look like he did in his pictures (she didn’t clarify if it was a good thing or bad thing) – she didn’t understand the waving and spontaneous weeping at the Nazi rallies. She was a very good friend of President John F. Kennedy because his sister Kathleen ‘Kick’ Kennedy was married to her brother-in-law, William Cavendish. Even after the tragic death of William (killed in action), Kathleen Kennedy remained very friendly with her in-laws and was even buried at Chatsworth, the ancestral home of the Devonshires when she met her early and untimely death. She and her husband, the Duke of Devonshire were invited by JFK as his personal guests to his inauguration in 1961.

Many journalists and Mitford family biographers love to focus on the two hours she met Hitler, which she finds boring and tedious. She was 17 years old, still regarded as a child, didn’t know a word of German and Hitler wasn’t interested in her or really speaking to her, Hitler was interested in her sister Unity and their mother. She can’t even recall what the conversation was about with one of the most evil men in history, but that he had an ugly flat for someone of his stature and had monogramed bathroom towels. They had tea, and he shook her hand twice. She can’t even recall if the tea was any good.

Besides people in politics, she knew all the leading literary figures and artists of her time. They were all her friends and she cherished each and every one of them for who they were, not what they did. One bit of irony is, though she was good friends with Evelyn Waugh, Patrick Leigh Fermor, John Betjeman and others, she rarely reads and considers herself a literary idiot, especially when compared to her more sophisticated sisters Nancy, Diana and Jessica, who read and wrote prodigiously. Her sister Nancy was convinced she was totally half-witted and one of the nicknames Nancy had for Debo was ‘Nine’, the mental age in which she stopped developing (according to Nancy). When Debo’s letters were not frequent enough to Nancy, who lived in France after the war, she wrote to her youngest sister lamenting about how her nine year old ‘fist is incapable of holding a pen.’

Debo never minded being the butt of the family jokes, even as they were teasing her, as she matured from a child into a young  woman, she was proving her mettle and her sisters took notice too (her brother, Thomas Mitford died while fighting in Burma during World War II). From the beginning to the end of her book, she was self-deprecating and humble throughout. For all of her achievements, she always recognized those who were smarter or more capable than her. She praised Jessica for her academic aptitude as she was ‘too stupid’ to know what teachers wanted on the few occasions they did attend school. She praised Nancy, Diana and Tom for their intellectual prowess, devouring volumes upon volumes of books, teaching themselves whole languages in the process. Her second eldest sister Pam was described as the ultimate country woman with an innate understanding of the land and the animals which reside on them and Pam was also an excellent cook. Unity though always a bit awkward and a bit of an oddball at times, but beneath all that she recognized a vulnerability in Unity which made one want to protect her. She never defended the beliefs or actions of her sisters Diana and Unity, their views were not her views but they were her sisters and as such, she loved them.

No doubt her greatest achievement and claim to fame is transforming her husband’s ancestral home Chatsworth House from a family home which sat empty through the two World Wars into a thriving business entity. She refurbished the entire building from roof to basement. Started a farm shop, orangery and tea house. She describes in her book:

The total living space, I learned, was 1,704,233 cubic feet. There were 1.3 acres of roof. Of the 297 rooms, 48 were very big indeed and some were no more than glorified cupboards. I did not employ a decorator; I was too mean to pay for something I could do myself and cannot imagine living surrounded by someone else’s taste; and besides, I loved every minute of it.

It was decided by their estate agent, in order for Chatsworth to be a self-sustaining and profitable entity, it must be a family home as well as a museum opened to the public. It needed to feel cozy and lived in, so they made the decision to move their whole family to Chatsworth and divide the home into private and public quarters. Since the 1990s the estate is self-sustaining and turning a profit each year. Through sales of the estate’s artwork, the viability of Chatsworth has been guaranteed for in perpetuity. It’s one of the few grand ancestral homes in the UK which has achieved this status. But the duchess didn’t take all the credit for herself, she gave credit to the hundreds of sewers, seamstresses, painting and art restorers, gardeners, artisans and builders as she is unqualified to do all these tasks. Her eldest sister Nancy, her chief teaser, when she saw the finished and newly restored Chatsworth House for the first time paid her youngest sister a sincere and heartfelt compliment. But, Nancy Mitford being the ultimate jokester had to add ‘who is my sister going to wash in all these bathrooms?’ Debo added 17 bathrooms during the remodel and refurbish.

The duchess did all of this on no formal education. She had no business school training or experience. According to Debo, they (Mitford sisters) were unqualified and untrained to do any paid work. She hated school, she never understood her lessons, she learned to read, write and do basic maths and the rest were all a blur. It is her sister Diana’s theory, which, for all of Debo’s plea of ignorance of the written letter and anything associated with it, she was actually a secret reader who spent many hours devouring books. All of her sisters, including Nancy who called her ‘Nine’ knew there was more than meets the eye when it came to the intellect of their youngest sister.

In her book, she recounts her childhood, her adolescence, adulthood and motherhood with deep emotion, at time sadness but without sentimentality. She spoke of the deep pain she felt (like an amputation) at the sale of her childhood home Swinbrook and the separation of her parents in the 1940s, her sister Jessica running away without telling her thinking she was never to see her again, her sister Diana being imprisoned without charge or trial for most of the war and missed her wedding to Andrew Cavendish, the future Duke of Devonshire. During the war, there was a four week period where she lost 4 of her best friends and cousins and her brother-in-law died shortly after. Though she disliked Jessica’s husband Esmond Romilly, when his plane went down in the North Sea, she was deeply upset and hurt for Jessica and Constancia Romilly. And then of course there are the losses of her children, her first child was stillborn, three others were lost at various stages of pregnancy, including a set of twins. Even at old age, she thinks about what might have become of these children. She eventually had three surviving children. As she approached old age, as her sisters died one by one, she missed them all, sometimes forgetting they’ve gone and was about to take a pen and paper and write them about something amusing which happened only to realize the futility of it.

The one area she didn’t touch too much on was her long marriage to her husband Andrew Cavendish, Duke of Devonshire. They were married for sixty-four years until he died. They married in the middle of the Blitz in 1941, right before clothing rationing came into effect, she was nearly out of a white wedding gown. Many journalists ask Debo directly just how she felt about her husband as she was rather vague about him. He was a recovering alcoholic, his alcoholism caused much turmoil in their marriage. He also had affairs, but she accepted it as part and parcel of married life. She didn’t like it but she had enough to occupy her time with. She never sought to rewrite the history of her marriage after her husband has died, nor did she make her marriage out to be some sort of a fairytale. They were in love when they married, the war happened, people they knew and loved died, life happened, but all in all, in the final analysis, Andrew was great company. He had great humor, and he was ‘never boring’, which to any Mitford, being a bore is a cardinal sin. When asked, ‘I adored him.’

She belonged to the stiff upper lip generation, she lived and died by it. But it doesn’t mean the tragedies in her life were insignificant or wasn’t deeply felt. She was also deeply funny and humorous. She said the funniest people she knew were her father, her sister Nancy followed by Jessica, but she isn’t too shabby herself in the humor department.

About her engagement to her future husband:

In late 1940, on a visit to Andrew’s parent’s house in Derbyshire, we became officially engaged. My future mother-in-law said to Andrew, ‘You have either got to marry that girl or stop asking her here.’ So that is how it happened.

About her experience with a dimwitted young journalist:

Recently a young journalist came to interview me about what I was doing the day war broke out. During the course of the interview, I recounted the deaths of my only brother, Andrew’s only brother, a brother-in-law (Esmond Romilly) and four best friends. ‘So,’ she said, ‘did the war affect you in any way?’

About Americans and our penchant for divorce (my personal favorite):

“It was absolutely fixed that we shouldn’t divorce or get rid of each other in any way. It’s completely different to Americans, who all divorce each other the whole time. Such a bore for everyone, having to say who’s going to have the dogs, who’s going to have the photograph books.”

Yes, I am afraid Americans are a real bore when it comes to divorce.

Lastly, the duchess’s view about the all important self-esteem, she talks about it as though it’s some bizarre esoteric concept.

I read about the necessity of self-esteem in children. We would have become impossibly pleased with ourselves had we been indulged with such a thing.

The duchess died on September 24, 2014 at the grand old age of 94. She is survived by her three children and many grand and great-grandchildren. Chatsworth Estate is thriving, her son the new Duke of Devonshire has taken over the running of the estate when his father passed away in 2004. Chatsworth is still open to the public to see and is considered one of the gems of United Kingdom.

Do The Thing That Makes You Special…And Don’t Fucking Apologise

Source: Do The Thing That Makes You Special…And Don’t Fucking Apologise

I very much needed to read this today. So big hugs to Hugzilla. Especially as mothers, we are made to feel guilty if we spend any significant amount of time (more than 10 minutes a day) on our own likes and pleasures. Sometimes the ones that make us feel guilty and like shit about it are the ones closest to us. Once we become a mother, it’s as if others suddenly have a say about how we spend our time and doing what. Anything that is not related to keeping the family and children fed, clothed and alive doesn’t matter and therefore doesn’t count. Fuck that.

So, even if it makes no money and therefore cannot contribute to family finances, do it anyway. In order for families to stay sane and keep it afloat, mothers need to stay sane. When the chips fall, it’s on the mother to keep this ship going and if she needs to keep it going by blogging her rants and thoughts on a blog which generates no income, then so be it.

So, yes, park your kids in front of a ‘Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood’ DVD marathon and do what you do best (they will be fine, their brain cells will still be intact afterwards, I promise). Be it cracking that bottle of wine you’ve been saving for a special occasion, catching up on your reading, writing, daydreaming and career planning, go do it.

No more shame, blame or guilt.

Book Review: Hons and Rebels, By Jessica Mitford

Hons and Rebels
Caption: Favorite sisters. Unity Mitford (about age 8) holding the book, Jessica Mitford (about age 5) sitting on the bench

For the next two book reviews I write, I will no doubt out myself as an Anglophile with an appreciation for the eccentricities of the aristocracy. How heavenly it must be to be born of a certain time in history where your social status affords you to be as eccentric as you like without many repercussions.

Jessica Mitford was the fifth daughter and sixth child of David Mitford-Freeman, aka, Lord Redesdale and his wife Lady Redesdale, Sydney Bowles. She was born on September 11, 1917 and died on July 22, 1996 from lung cancer after a lifetime of chain smoking. Jessica Mitford was a member of the notorious Mitford family and one of the six Mitford sisters which shocked and amused London society in equal measure in the 1930s. Jessica and her sisters came of age in a time of political and social turmoil. Fascism was on the rise in Europe and Communism had already taken root in Russia.

The members of the ruling class feared communism as they were convinced the proletariats were coming for their land and belongings. Many disliked and mistrusted fascists but if presented with a choice, many would choose fascism, at least their land, belongings and position in society are safe. This was also the view held by Lord Redesdale, Jessica Mitford’s father.

Of all the people in the Mitford sisters’ lives, none was more fascinating than their father Lord Redesdale. He was one of a kind, an original, unapologetic in his views, love him or hate him, he was as he appeared to his contemporaries. One of his daughters, Diana Mosely said he was “one of nature’s fascists”. He was unreasonable, ill tempered, brash, he either liked you or hated you (his children called them ‘favourites or non-favourites’), there was no in between. His wife Sydney had stopped reasoning with him as there was no point. Being an aristocrat, he was appalling with finances and business, he nearly sank his family into poverty many times and if for not the inheritance of his wife, he and his brood could have been in serious trouble. In spite of all this, he was loved by all that knew him, even the people he declared as ‘non-favourites’. There was an honesty and directness about him which people loved and appreciated. One always knew where they stood with Lord Redesdale.

According to Jessica’s eldest sister, novelist Nancy Mitford, her father had an awful temper, was the most ungracious and inhospitable of hosts. He once shouted down his long dinner table at Nancy Mitford’s friends (whom he disliked and mistrusted because they were Oxford graduates and deemed too liberal) during dinner, “have these people no homes of their own?” Lord Redesdale was a veteran of both the Boers War (which Nancy’s friends refer to the Bore’s war) and World War I (‘the green and unpleasant land haha’ – was a common Oxford retort), he was a through and through English patriot and those who didn’t agree with his views, he had no time for and chucked them out of his home, even in the pouring rain. He took umbrage at many things, many would seem totally absurd and unreasonable. For example, one of Nancy Mitford’s friends carried a comb in his suit pocket, which he deemed too feminine (or gay) and shouted at him for it. When one of Nancy’s friends had the nerve to ring up the Redesdale mansion asking to speak with Nancy (no one was allowed to use the telephone but him), Lord Redesdale shouted ‘Nancy, that hog Watson wants to speak to you’, without removing his mouth away from the mouth piece. From that point on, poor Watson was always known as ‘the hog’, that nickname stuck with him long after he was married and Nancy was married and Lord Redesdale long gone. When Nancy wrote letters to her friend Watson, it begun ‘Darling Hog’.

He hated Germans as he fought them during World War I, he referred to Germans as Huns and ‘murderous gang of pests’ in a letter to his other daughter Diana. And ‘the frogs begin at Calais’ he would say. He was proud to be English, happy to remain in the English countryside pursuing country pursuits of shooting, hunting, fishing and gardening. He had no use for foreigners, though he spoke perfect French as a result of his education, he had no use for frogs either. When the political tide turned, before Hitler declared war on Poland and before the United Kingdom declared war on Nazi Germany, he was of the view which, if an ‘understanding’ could be reached with Germany and another devastating war avoided, he’s all for it. But as soon as the United Kingdom declared war with Germany, he was on board with the United Kingdom. He was often unfairly referred to as a fascist by Esmond Romilly, the first husband of Jessica Mitford called him ‘the Nazi baron’. Not that this registered with Lord Redesdale, he couldn’t stand Esmond Romilly and referred to him as ‘that boy’ Jessica is married to.

Having said all this, he adored his family of six daughters and one son. At various points in their upbringing, most of his daughters took turns being his favorite. Though he was a typical sexist of his era (he opposed women being admitted in the House of Lords because then women’s lavatory facilities will have to be installed), he treated his daughters like people with minds of their own and not girls he must marry off to suitable husbands in due time. Jessica Mitford was no exception, for many years she was the apple of his eye. She loved teasing her father to see how far she could push him before he got angry. She called him Lord Remnant because he was so backward in his views – which her mother punished her for by withholding her pocket money as she considered it rude to refer to their father as Lord Remnant, but Jessica insists her father didn’t mind. Lord Redesdale loved his daughters and was totally exasperated with them at the same time, especially when they landed in the newspapers for the wrong reason. Lord Redesdale had a bone dry sense of humor, if one wasn’t family, one wouldn’t know if he was joking or serious. Jessica’s younger sister, Deborah Mitford, Duchess of Devonshire said her father (with her sister Nancy at a close second) was the funniest person she knew. He put all comedians to shame.

Jessica’s mother, Lady Redesdale was a more difficult character to describe. All of her daughters except for Deborah Mitford (the youngest) had strong misgivings about Lady Redesdale in their childhood. Jessica and her older sisters found their mother to be rigid and ‘schoopid’ (stupid in Mitford speak) in a intractable, following the herd, totally unimaginative sort of way, holding on to stupid old rules. Their mother, in an attempt to protect her daughters’ reputations for future marriage proposals was very strict with them. They were to be chaperoned at all times by either herself, their nanny or a married woman from their family. Diana didn’t ride the train by herself until she was married. When Nancy rebelled and cut her hair short, wore trousers, wore red lipstick, and rode the trains by herself to visit her brother and friends in London, her father deemed her unmarriageable and if she were already married, it would be grounds for divorce. They were allowed very little freedoms prior to marriage besides flitting to and from the country homes of other aristocrats in their area.

However, their mother Sydney Redesdale was one of the most devoted and loyal mothers, even Jessica admitted as such. When either one of them was in a scandal or crisis, Sydney Redesdale dropped everything to attend to that child. She visited Diana Mosley in prison every two weeks, rain or shine, even in pitch black conditions (due to wartime blackouts) just to see her daughter for 30 minutes and to provide her with some comfort. When Jessica was stranded in France, unwed, pregnant (with Esmond Romilly’s child), barefoot and running out of money, Lady Redesdale went to France with a new dress and a few wedding gifts from her sisters. She even went to a magistrate to petition for Jessica and Esmond to marry (legal age is 21 and they were both under 21) so that Jessica won’t have a child out of wedlock and preserve the last ounce of respectability for her daughter. And this is months after Jessica ran away from home, giving everyone a fright as she told no one where she went. When her family found out she went to war zone, her parents nearly fainted and her younger sister Deborah cried for days. Everyone wrote letters begging them to return. Even Unity, who joked Jessica sparked the biggest crisis in the British Empire since The Abdication of Edward VIII, begged her to return. The government, at Lord Redesdale’s demand, sent a navy destroyer ship with Nancy Mitford and her then husband Peter Rodd on board, with the expressed order to ‘bring Jessica home’.

The mission failed as Jessica refused to get on the ship without Esmond but they agreed to go to France and leave Spain as a compromise. Afterwards, Lady Redesdale met her daughter in France, told her about a ‘few facts of life’, keeping a home, being a wife, budgeting money, etc., and organized their wedding and took them out for a nice meal afterwards, to make the occasion feel less sad. She was sad to see her daughter, easily her ‘funniest child’, sitting there pregnant in a messy hotel room in France, as the start of her married life. With a heavy heart, she left her pregnant and newlywed daughter behind in France.

The defining moment in Jessica Mitford’s life was when she met Esmond Romilly (nephew of Winston Churchill and Jessica’s second cousin) at the home of their mutual relative. She was just nineteen years old and decided right then and there to runaway with Esmond to fight in the Spanish Civil War. Esmond Romilly was part of the International Brigades fighting fascism in Spain. By then she was already a committed socialist and on her way to being a communist. Jessica loathed fascism with everything in her and it’s also a source of personal heartbreak for her. Jessica’s favorite elder sisters Diana [Mosley] (and friend of Hitler) and especially Unity Mitford (a rabid admirer of Hitler’s) had turned fascist before her eyes. She was heartbroken, especially with Unity. Growing up, she was closest to her sister Unity who was three years older, they invented a language together called Boudelidge and Unity was her ‘boud’ (means ‘friend’ in their invented language) and she was Unity’s ‘boud’. Unity, who was never a favorite with either of her parents and was deemed a difficult and awkward child (standing over six-feet tall) found an enduring bond with her younger sister Jessica. No matter what, no matter their differences, Unity was Jessica’s protector. Even when Jessica was away in Spain, Unity wrote her long loving letters begging her to return and that all will be well and they were sisters and best friends forever. When Jessica ran away, ‘sides’ were formed, and ironically, her fascist sisters Diana and Unity along with her brother Tom was on Jessica’s side, telling their parents to take it easy on the young runaways. Deborah was too distraught to pick a side she just wanted her favorite sister home again, and her other sister Pamela was too far removed from family events to intervene. Jessica was disappointed with Nancy, whom she called ‘my socialist sister’ didn’t take her side.

One of the biggest conundrums about Jessica’s life was, she could never forgive her other elder sister Diana (elder by seven years) for becoming fascist and becoming friends with Hitler but she didn’t hold the same grudge against Unity. Unity was far more right wing and was a rabid Nazi supporter when compared with Diana. Diana was mostly a supporter of her second husband Sir Oswald Mosley, a fascist but not a Nazi. Unity was a Nazi, she was ready to give up her British citizenship for a German one if Hitler let her. She never excused Unity’s political allegiance to Germany and Hitler, but she could not totally cut off ties or disown Unity either. When Unity died in 1947 of meningitis because the bullet lodged in her head (self-inflicted wound) had gotten infected. According to Jessica’s daughter, Constancia Romilly, her mother was ‘heartbroken’ and cried for days. She did not get to see Unity before she died.

Jessica Mitford’s first husband, Esmond Romilly, was another eccentric, but the opposite Lord Redesdale. Esmond Romilly was a nephew by marriage to Winston Churchill (he was the son of Clementine Churchill’s sister), he and his brother Giles was sent to Wellington College, a well known public school. But they ran away from school when they were forced to join the Officers’ Training Corp. Esmond became a pacifist, later a socialist and anti-fascist. Esmond Romilly hated war, especially World War I, he also disliked the British Empire and its colonizing practices and vowed to be a pacifist and never to fight in a war. After he ran away from school, he couch surfed and wrote and distributed underground ‘subversive’ magazines railing against war and all the British Empire stood for. He turned his back on his birthright, his privilege. His mother all but disowned him and made a ward of the state, she told the magistrate that her son, Esmond, ‘refuses to submit to any form of control.’ But when he saw that Spain was falling to Franco’s fascist army, he decided to break his pacifist vows and take up arms to fight against fascism. He hated fascism more than anything in the world and vowed to destroy it.

The young couple  met at their mutual relative’s house, over a weekend party. Jessica asked Esmond to take her with him back to Spain. He was home on leave to recover from dysentery. He agreed and that was it, she withdrew money from her ‘runaway fund’ (a bank account of shillings, crowns and pounds she received as gifts and pocket money since she was a child so she can run away when she’s of legal age) and off they went. It’s not clear exactly when they realized they were ‘in love’, but to make things easier, they decided to share a hotel room along the journey to save money, since they were to be married soon anyways. ‘Soon’, by the way, was two years away, they were not legally permitted to marry without parental consent unless they are at least twenty-one years old. Jessica was knocked up within weeks.

Jessica and Esmond Romilly suffered many tragedies in their young life. The child Jessica was carrying in that messy French hotel room was their first daughter Julia Decca Romily, born seven months after their wedding. She died from measles within months of her birth. The Romillies were devastated. By 1938, the political situation in Europe was going from bad to worse, Nazi Germany was gaining strength and Esmond knew there was going to be another war. But he didn’t want to join the British army because he believes there were many secret fascists in the army and he would loathe to serve under one of Jessica’s ‘ghastly relations’ as he called them. So he and Jessica decided to sail for America and wait out the situation there. They arrived in New York in 1938, and at the suggestion of a friend went down to Washington DC to meet with Virgina Durr and her husband Clifton Durr (who would become lifelong friends of Jessica).

The couple worked as many jobs as they could get, they took a road trip through United States, they even owned a bar together in Florida at one time. This was their ‘honeymoon’ before that awful war with Germany is about to start and they savored every moment of it. During this time, Jessica became pregnant again, right before Esmond joined the Canadian Air Force, she would have her daughter Constancia in Washington DC, under the watchful care of Virginia Durr and her husband (whom Esmond personally entrusted Jessica’s care to them). Luckily, while Esmond was on liberty in Montreal, Jessica was able to take the baby up to Montreal to meet her father. It was the last time they saw each other. After his training in Canada, he was given a mission to fly bombing raids over Germany. His plane disappeared over the freezing North Sea on November 30, 1941. His plane nor his remains were ever found. Winston Churchill, while on a trip to Washington DC to meet with President Roosevelt, asked to see Jessica Mitford at the White House and told her the news of Esmond’s plane personally and he assured her that he’d done a thorough search of the North Sea and he’s afraid Esmond is gone (when his plane went down, she hoped that he’d be found or be taken POW by Germany). He then handed her an envelope full of US notes, fully aware she is now a young widow with a baby on her own in America. Winston Churchill had been fond of his wayward nephew and he was fond of Jessica and her family as well. Churchill knew her parents and siblings well as they used to vacation at Churchill’s country retreat when they were children.

Jessica was under twenty-five years old when she lost her husband and baby daughter. But this was only the beginning, more tragedy is to follow later.

After the death of Esmond Romilly, Jessica made the decision to stay in America with Constancia and make a life for herself. As ironic as this sounds, especially Jessica being a communist, she was admired for her aristocratic background. She never publicizes it but everyone knows she’s Winston Churchill’s relative so she must be from the aristocracy. And when her mother writes her, she always addresses her envelope with her official name which is ‘The Hon. Jessica Romilly’ – which she begged her mother not to do, ‘The Hon.’ is afforded to children of a baron, which is the rank of Lord Redesdale. When Jessica was young and a budding socialist and communist, she’d use her parent’s ballroom in their London mansion to hold communist meetings, her eldest sister Nancy, always seeing the ridiculous minutiae of life, teased her sister that she’s really just a ‘ballroom communist’ and not a real communist in the trenches.

Perhaps what Nancy Mitford was trying to say was, you can think you are communist all you like, but because of our background, we’ll never really be socialists or communists. And part of this came true, when Jessica was finally ‘allowed’ to join the communist party, she joined the California chapter with her second husband Robert Treuhaft, but by the mid-1960s, they both quit party as the party failed to live up to her ideals. She instead turned her energy to the Civil Rights Movement and took many trips to the South to campaign for Civil Rights.

As much as she exasperated her family in England, they all secretly admired her courage. The Mitford girls, as Deborah Mitford points out, were poorly educated by today’s standards, not employable and not trained to do any kind of paid work and the only career choice open to them was to marry and be a wife and mother. Jessica defied all this and made a life for herself here. Though in ‘Hons and Rebels’ she declared herself to be communist very young in her life, I have a hard time believing she has a true idea of what being a real communist means.

Virginia Durr, one of Jessica’s best friends in America said, when Jessica chooses to be ‘aristocratic’ she could turn it on. She could turn on that cold, distant, aloof persona in a minute if she needed. These were usually in emotional situations which she didn’t want to participate in. Her daughter Constancia Romilly also said, when she chooses to, her old cut glass English accent can come tumbling out when she needs to make a point. For all of her distancing herself between her father, she was very much his daughter, for all of her criticism of her father and his social class, she was always in some way proud to be a part of the long lines of Freeman-Mitfords.

‘Hons and Rebels’ was Jessica Mitford’s first book. She wrote it for her daughter Constancia Romilly, nick named ‘Dinky Donk’ or ‘The Donk’. It was her way of telling her daughter who her father was and how she came to be. In Esmond Romilly’s short life, he fought in two wars, wrote countless pacifist, anti-fascist articles and a book Boadilla, about his experience in the Spanish Civil War.

Arbitrating Our Rights Away

America is easily one of the most litigious countries in the world. Anyone with a complaint, slight, gripe (perceived or real), injury (emotional or physical) – legitimate or not, can file a lawsuit against the party or parties who’ve wronged them. The goal of tort law is to protect the rights and properties of people in civil actions, to make someone ‘whole’ again after they’ve been injured, harmed or treated unfairly in a business contract or a civil action.

We’ve become a nation of frivolous lawsuits. The civil courts have become a place where the ‘aggrieved’ come to congregate. The courts are backlogged with a series of bogus lawsuits filed by people seeking to make a quick buck from a quick settlement and egged on by second rate lawyers who otherwise have no other source of employment.

People have sued for the most ridiculous reasons, the most notorious was the woman who sued McDonald’s because her coffee was too hot, she put cup in between her thighs, attempted to open the lid to add her cream and sugar, the coffee spilled while the vehicle was moving and in the process she suffered third degree burns. Or the obese teenagers who sued McDonald’s for making them fat (not their lack of self-control). It’s no longer just lung disease or lung cancer patients suing tobacco companies for failing to inform the public about the dangers of smoking. Or residents of a small town suing the town’s chemical processing plant for contaminating their water source and giving them all kinds of illnesses including cancer. Anyone can sue any person or business if they are injured in their place of business (even if it may not be the fault of the other party). People sue when they get their feelings hurt by insensitive comments made or they sue when they are having a bad day and some unfortunate person happens to be in their way on that unfortunate day. People sue for all kinds of stupid reasons.

As a result, companies put warning labels on everything. Don’t use a blowdryer while in a bathtub full of water, you might electrocute yourself. Don’t leave a toaster unattended because if the toast burns it can be a fire hazard. Anything which comes with a electrical plug comes with a warning label. Foreigners must think Americans are some of the dumbest people who ever lived to need such warning labels. The elevator must not reach the top for most Americans. It’s the most obvious conclusion.

It may seem harmless to file frivolous lawsuits to see what you can get out of it, but it’s not. Many people who identify as socialists or lean left believe big corporations are evil anyways, they poison the public, they gouge the public, treat their employees poorly, what’s wrong with filing a few lawsuits against billion dollar corporations and see if you can get them to pony up some money? It’s not like they’ll miss it. This is very skewed thinking based on crooked logic.

Billion dollar corporations notwithstanding, most small businesses cannot afford to fight frivolous lawsuits. Even if the court decides to dismiss the lawsuit or find in favor of the defendant (small business), there are still significant attorney’s fees which a small business has to shell out. The burden of proof is on the defendant to disprove the lawsuit. And it’s money most small and moderate sized businesses can ill afford.  And when people file frivolous lawsuits, it adds to the backlog in court and prevents legitimate lawsuits from being heard in a timely manner. So, the teenagers who thinks it’s harmless to sue McDonald’s for making them fat, they are preventing legitimate lawsuits to come before a judge, they are preventing real victims for getting their justice.

To counter this, big corporations have paid big money to get the best legal brains together and seek a solution. And find one they did, they created the ‘Arbitration Clause’ to be included in all kinds of contracts, service contract, employment contracts, every single contract out there has an arbitration and mediation clause. You want to get cellular service from AT&T, you must sign an arbitration agreement, which bans you from filing a class action lawsuit if they start charging your erroneous fees. If a customer is unsuccessful in getting the fees reversed from their billing department, that customer is banned from filing a class action lawsuit and pooling all the other customers who’ve been charged with the same fee. This is because of the Federal Arbitration Act, which was passed in 1925 and came into effect on January 1, 1926, which states:

[The Federal Arbitration Act] provides for contractually-based compulsory and binding arbitration, resulting in an arbitration award entered by an arbitrator or arbitration panel as opposed to a judgment entered by a court of law. In an arbitration the parties give up the right to an appeal on substantive grounds to a court.

The Federal Arbitration Act requires that where the parties have agreed to arbitrate, they must do so in lieu of going to court.

Once an award is entered by an arbitrator or arbitration panel, it must be “confirmed” in a court of law. Once confirmed, the award is then reduced to an enforceable judgment, which may be enforced by the winning party in court, like any other judgment. Under the Federal Arbitration Act awards must be confirmed within one year; while any objection to an award must be challenged by the losing party within three months. An arbitration agreement may be entered “prospectively”—that is, in advance of any actual dispute; or may be entered into by disputing parties once a dispute has arisen.

Big corporations have added one caveat in Arbitration agreements, if the plaintiff doesn’t agree with the results of the arbitration and decides to bring a lawsuit before the court, and if the plaintiff loses, they are responsible for the attorney fees and costs of the winning party. Most individuals do not have the resources to do this. So, people are left with two choices, accept the arbitration which they deem to be unsatisfactory or abandon the complaint all together.

The guy that comes to steam your carpet makes you sign an arbitration clause in case you are unhappy with his work and decide to sue him. Employers make their employees sign arbitration agreements as a condition of their employment. Doctors make their prospective new patients sign an arbitration agreement to settle any malpractice claims. Hospitals make patients sign arbitration agreements, as they are being wheeled in for life saving surgery, the nurse is having you sign a contract promising you won’t sue them if they remove the wrong organ or limb by mistake.

Because lawyers failed in their fiduciary duty to the justice system and are after a quick buck, they’ve co-opted away the rights of consumers, patients, employees and the average citizen and the small to middle size business owners took advantage of this opportunity.

The proliferation of mediation and arbitration agreements have reached absurd levels. Even religious organizations who offer controversial therapies and treatments are having their parishioners sign arbitration agreements:

“Religious arbitration, at its best, ensures that people can resolve their disputes in accordance with deeply held religious beliefs,” said Michael A. Helfand, an associate professor at Pepperdine University School of Law and an arbitrator in a rabbinical court in New York. “But both religious communities and courts need to make sure that the protections the law has put in place to make it a fair and unbiased process are actually implemented.”

Few courts have intervened, saying the terms of arbitration are detailed in binding contracts signed by both parties. Some judges are also reluctant to risk infringing the First Amendment rights of religious groups, according to a review of court decisions and interviews with lawyers.

In a case of a former Church of Scientology member who ran afoul of this organization and was declared a suppressed person, because of the binding arbitration agreement he signed with the church when he joined, he was forced “to take his claim that the church had defrauded him of tens of thousands of dollars before a panel of Scientologists, instead of going to court.”

In many large class action suits, the main complaint was always the lawyers kept 50% of the settlement and the plaintiffs split the rest of the 50% amongst themselves, which depending on the number of plaintiffs, each plaintiff may not end up with much. Many viewed this system to be unjust. The other side of that argument is lawyers do all the work as class action plaintiffs do not pay attorney fees to file their suit, their lawyers only get paid when there is a settlement and some cases could take years.

Both sides have their valid points, but the main concern here is if the tort action is taken out of the courts and into the private offices of attorneys, there is no judicial oversight. There is no judge to preside over the matter so all parties are operating under the same set of rules. The binding arbitration agreements have privatized a whole section of the legal system and this is denying plaintiffs their due process.

When faced with signing an employment contract which has a binding arbitration clause versus not having a job, this is not a choice. When you wheeled into the ER for an emergency and you are in need of life saving surgery and you or your next of kin is handed a piece of paper which basically signs your life away if the surgery goes wrong, is that really a choice?

When a motion to dismiss class action lawsuits comes before some judges, due to the laws in place, they must dismiss the class action suit with a heavy heart knowing what injustice they’ve inflicted on the plaintiffs, but they must follow the letter of the law:

The class action was brought by a former waiter on behalf of other low-wage employees. The waiter, Charles Walton, said Applebee’s made workers sweep floors, stock silverware, scrub booths and empty trash cans, but did not pay them a fair wage for the extra tasks. The Applebee’s employees, who relied on tips, often ended up making less than minimum wage. Employment lawyers said these practices were widespread in the restaurant industry.

The Rose Group, which owned the restaurants, defended its practices and urged Judge Schiller to dismiss the lawsuit since Mr. Walton signed an employee contract that included “a mutual promise to resolve claims by binding arbitration.”

The request troubled Judge Schiller. “It is just these kinds of cases where it’s important to have a jury,” he said.

Big corporations and big moneyed interests have one-upped the American public again, besides paying low wages, no benefits and job insecurity, now they are unwilling to pay their fare share of damages.

 

Islamophobia

With the attacks in Paris on November 13, the feared result is increased Islamophobia and racism against peaceful and law abiding Muslim citizens.

Islamophobia can manifest itself in many ways, just like racism and sexism. There are the overt Islamophobes like the whole Republican voter base, and the candidates running for the Republican presidential nominee. And you have the quiet, discreet, ‘polite’ Islamophobes, the garden variety kind, the private sneers and mocking about Muslims and their customs.

This one scene on the show ‘Legends’, starring Sean Bean shown on TBS portrays this type of sneering and mocking type of Islamophobia perfectly.

Narrative: An English school girl Kate Crawford who emigrated from Russia with her mother when she was a toddler is living in Surrey, a pretty, upper middle-class part of England with her mother, step-father, who is a solicitor practicing law in London and her two younger half brothers. They seemingly live an ideal life of upper middle-class respectability with all trappings that come with it: a nice house, cars, private schools, etc. 

But Kate and her mother Ilyana are not Russian, they are Chechen and Kate’s biological father was a Chechen warlord and part of the underground Chechen mob, he was mixed up with really bad people and died when Kate was very young. Her mother Ilyana fled the Chechnya region to England, pretended to be Russian, remarried to an Englishman and begun a new life. But Kate found found an old Soviet Union identification card of her mother’s and it said her ethnicity was Chechen and not Russian. So she begun to do some digging into her real family background with the help of the local Chechen-Muslim community and she was able to confirm her biological father was in fact a Chechen and a Muslim. 

Her ‘friends’ in an attempt to convert her to her true faith and leave the infidel Christian faith behind, convinced her to begin wearing a hijab to show her devotion to God. Kate was hesitant at first because she knew her parents would not be happy with her, she was going to explore Islam on her own, in secret and in private. But one day she got bold enough to get dressed one morning and come down to breakfast in a hijab. 

And the conversation with her family went like this: 

Her two younger brothers were sitting at the breakfast table taking their breakfast before school, her mother and and step-father was trying to get to work and her mother was trying to get the children into the car and school on time. 

Kate Crawford walks down the stairs in her hijab and says nonchalantly: ‘Is there any toast?’

Her step-father is on the phone, presumably with a client, sees his step-daughter in a hijab and says ‘l am going to have to call you back’ and abruptly ends his conversation. 

Younger Brother 1: ‘What’s that on your head Katie?’

Kate Crawford: ‘It’s called a hijab.’ 

Younger Brother 2: ‘Why are you wearing it?’

Kate Crawford: ‘To show my devotion to God.’

Younger Brother 1: ‘I think it looks pretty on you.’ 

Kate Crawford: ‘Thanks, muffinhead.’ 

Kate Crawford looks over at her horrified mother and says ‘I don’t want to miss my bus’, 

Her mother, Ilyana Crawford responds sternly: ‘Car, now.’

Kate Crawford defiantly throws the piece of toast she was eating on the kitchen counter and walks to the family car as her parents look on in horror. 

Step-father: ‘Her devotion to God? What? Does she think she’s a bloody Muslim?’

Ilyana Crawford: ‘I don’t know what she thinks anymore.’ 

Step-father: (with a suspicious tone in his voice) ‘Where does she get an idea like that?’

Ilyana Crawford: ‘She’s a teenager, she’s just trying to get a reaction from us.’ 

Step-father: ‘She could try some normal form of rebellion, like drugs or sex.’ 

Ilyana Crawford rolls her eyes at her husband’s sarcasm, then tells her boys at the breakfast table ‘let’s go boys, let’s go, in the car,’ and off they go about their day. 

When I first watched this, I laughed. I appreciate the dry sarcastic humor as espoused by the British, it makes life easier and more bearable. But after I was done laughing, I thought about what her step-father was trying to say. It’s more ‘respectable’ to have his daughter get high on drugs or have sex and risk getting a STD or worse, fall pregnant, than her come down to breakfast in a hijab. It’s his way of saying anything is better than any of his family members becoming a Muslim, including doing drugs and having underage sex. 

This is pretty heavy. This goes way deep in the psyche of Islamophobia. Robert, the step-father, has no problem seeing Muslims in London everyday, dealing with Muslim clients, working with Muslims, but God forbid, should anyone in his family become a Muslim, that would ruin the facade of British respectability.

The actor playing the step-father got the British sneer down to a tee and he was effective in getting his point across.

This is the sort of garden variety Islamophobia and racism that Muslims living in the West face. Behind a facade of middle-class respectability, lies a sneering and mocking attitude towards those who aren’t like them.

The young girl Kate Crawford hasn’t become a committed Muslim, she’s doing this to get a rise out of her mother for lying to her about her true heritage. At this point, she’s only curious about Islam and wants to try it on for size, but even that was too much for her parents to bear. Her mother’s fear is she’s hiding a secret from her husband and the step-father’s worry is losing respectability. But to suggest that doing drugs and having sex is preferable to her putting on a hijab, goes beyond the pale.

 

 

 

Post Paris: The Bigots Are Out in Full Force

It’s been six days since the tragic November 13 massacre in Paris. As expected, it drew out all the stupids on the left and right about the refugee crisis from the Middle East. On the left you’ve got post-colonial apologists like UK Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn saying it’s an attack on a ‘multicultural’ city but that the west has created a ‘situation’ for this to occur (no we didn’t Mr. Corbyn). And of course you’ve got all the loons from the right frothing at the mouth with an almost schadenfreude ‘I told you so’ glee. The Paris tragedy cemented justification in their anti-immigrant, xenophobic and racist views.

Some of the choice responses from the Right are:

“[The refugees] could be ISIS — I don’t know”

“They’re all men, and they’re all strong-looking guys. … There are so many men; there aren’t that many women. And I’m saying to myself: Why aren’t they fighting to save Syria? Why are they migrating all over Europe? Seriously.”

“Military tactics are very interesting. This could be one of the great tactical ploys of all time. A 200,000-man army, maybe. Or if they sent 50,000 or 80,000 or 100,000 …  that could be possible. I don’t know that it is, but it could be possible.”

“If I lose, I guess they’re staying. But if I win, they’re going back [to Syria].” – Donald Trump

 

 

Even as chaos rages in Paris, we need to take immediate, commonsense steps to preserve our own safety. We need to consult closely with our NATO allies who may be targeted for additional attacks. We need to immediately declare a halt to any plans to bring refugees that may have been infiltrated by ISIS to the United States. We need to redouble our efforts to prevent ISIS agents from penetrating our nation by other means. – Ted Cruz

 

“I do not trust this administration to effectively vet the people who are proposed to be coming in, in order to protect the safety and security of the American people, so I would not permit them in,” Christie told conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt.

Hewitt pressed Christie on the possibility of even accepting “orphans under the age of 5,” but the governor held firm.

“We can come up with 18 different scenarios. The fact is that we need appropriate vetting, and I don’t think orphans under 5 should be admitted into the United States at this point,” Christie said.

“They have no family here. How are we going to care for these folks?” he asked. “The fact is, you can come up with a number of different scenarios, Hugh. But in the end, I don’t trust this administration to effectively vet the people that they’re asking us to take in. We need to put the safety and security of the American people first.” – Chris Christie 

I reject both of these reactions. The left apologist attitude is every bit as infuriating as the xenophobic and racist attitude from the right. The west has nothing to apologize for terrorist attacks and killing of innocent people. The west have nothing to apologize for when foreigners come to our countries and shit on our values and way of life. The west is liberal and secular and as a result of such freedoms, there are things which leave a lot to be desired result, but we like our hard won freedoms, even if we have to put up with The Kardashians and Jersey Shore. It’s the price you pay for freedom.

The colonial past of the West is appalling, there’s no denying it, but it’s got nothing to do with the slaughter carried out by ISIS in France, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and elsewhere. These people would have done what they’ve done regardless if the Middle East was colonized or not. They are sick, twisted, demented beasts who aren’t fit to be called human, nothing they do can be justified.

As Paris was in turmoil, radical Islamists in the UK convened a meeting in Bedford, England stating it’s every Muslim’s duty to establish an ‘Islamic State’ in the UK and to enforce Shariah Law. I have no problem telling these people to pack their shit and go home, and if they are second generation Muslims they can follow their parents back to their countries of origin and see how they like it. Really, go back to whatever hell hole you came from and preach your hate there. Stay there. Live in third world conditions where healthcare isn’t free and you aren’t entitled to welfare benefits if you can’t find work. Please. Do us all a favor and wage your sick twisted jihad there.

The duty of every immigrant, migrating to any place in the world is first and foremost to respect the laws, customs and culture of the host nation. This is not to say you can’t celebrate your own heritage and practice your faith and cultural customs but you cannot expect your host nation to accommodate your every demand. The immigrant has to assimilate while the host nation need to be gracious and sensitive to the needs of newcomers. Integration is a two way street.

If for any reason, I, a very liberal western and Christian woman, have to move to a Islamic country for work, I would respect said country’s customs and dress modestly and cover my hair if that is required of me. I would not seek to stand out like a sore thumb with my western clothing or my hair exposed as it would offend the sensibilities of a modest society. I also wouldn’t go to a local restaurant and demand they cook me a rack of babyback ribs and when they don’t shout abuse at them. I also wouldn’t go to an Islamic country and preach my Christian beliefs and if I am criticized proceed to denounce them as heretics and apostates and call them intolerant bigots (if I am not locked up first). If I find the restrictions and customs of a  traditional Muslim society too restrictive for me, I’d seek a job transfer and if I can’t, I put up and shut up until a time when I can leave. It’s that simple.

Due to harsh economic conditions, war, internal conflict, there is a mass movement of human migration right now (something humans have always done throughout history when conditions get tough). It’s not just people from Afghanistan, Syria or Iraq, people from the African continent are migrating northward to Europe too, crossing the same treacherous seas in search of a more tolerable life, even if it’s one at the bottom of the economic heap. It’s not a political discussion of pro or anti-migration or what a bunch of brown and black people will do to a secular white Europe, it’s happening because the conditions in the world right now drive people to migrate. There’s nothing anyone can do to stop it, just like the United States couldn’t stop Mexicans and Central Americans from crossing the US border illegally, sometimes multiple times if they fail. It’s the nature of humans to fight or flight. Many right-wing European governments blame Angela Merkel’s largess and generosity for the refugee crisis, but it’s not her fault, they are coming anyways. All she did was propose a humane and responsible solution to the crisis. She didn’t start the war in Syria, she didn’t order the German army into Iraq and dismantle the whole government on false intelligence, she didn’t order troops into Afghanistan, she was minding her own business in Germany. The refugees came to her doorstep and she chose the moral high ground above all the noise and proposed a solution instead of dithering, unlike what she did with every other crises that went before her.

The United States have agreed to take in 15,000 registered Syrian refugees in the next two years and by 2017, 100,000 Syrian refugees will be resettled in the United States . These refugees are chosen from the UN Refugee Resettlement program, which means they need to be formally registered with the UNHCR and prove their status as refugees. It’s also the only way they can receive aid from the UN. The argument from the Republicans is there is no way to vet every single one of them to make sure they have no nefarious ties to ISIS. Fake Syrian documents are everywhere right now and can be purchased for a price, all of this is true, but does this mean as a nation we can turn away desperate people who’ve lost everything? And by the way, there is no ‘fail safe’ system, human or machine. There’s no fail safe way to detect welfare fraud, food stamp fraud, public housing fraud, immigration fraud, none of it. You put in the best anti-fraud process in place along with diligent due process by humans and you hope for the best. This doesn’t sound encouraging or promising but believing that we can create a fail safe process for any system is naive, foolish and unrealistic. So when the FBI director was asked if we can one-hundred percent guarantee no ISIS infiltrators can pose as a refugee and come to the US. The honest and prudent answer is of course ‘no’.

The immediate assumption by right-wing parties in Europe and the US is Syrians, especially Syrian Muslims, have no clue about western culture and values. They will bring their backward and barbaric ways with them, their supposed intractable conservative views (about same-sex relationships, liberal attitudes towards sex etc) are not compatible with western liberal attitudes of live and let live. This is a fallacy of gross proportions. And some Republican candidates and European leaders differentiate Christian Syrian refugees v. Muslim Syrian refugees with the belief (again, wrong) at least the Christians are more civilized because Christian people, just by virtue of being Christian, are civilized (cough gag cough). Because they are Christian, they will be more amenable to a secular western society. Again, all assumption not based on facts.

There is no question any immigrant coming to America needs to respect our laws, our customs and our culture, however repugnant they find it. They don’t have to like it but they must respect it. Not even Americans like everything about America, but it’s our home, our country so we give it proper respect.

For all the governors who are rejecting Syrian refugees, many whom have small children, shame on you. You call yourself Christians? You don’t know the first thing about being Christian, which is ‘love thy neighbor as you love yourself’ – and to clarify ‘neighbor’ means other people you encounter, not your literal nextdoor neighbor. You do not get to shame my religion by being a bigot. And the ‘religious test’ as some geniuses recommend be given to every Syrian refugee before they resettle in the US, the Republicans will fail it at every turn.

 

When Drug Addiction Went from Black to White

For the longest time, addicts were divided into two groups. White people drank and abused prescription medication and black and brown people did street drugs. White people drugged and boozed in their own homes behind a facade of respectability and black and brown people scored drugs on the streets to feed their addictions. Law enforcement punished the latter and consigned them to a life of recidivists and turned a blind eye to the former. Society at large had more sympathy for alcoholics and prescription drug abusers because, well, they are procured legally and alcoholism has been around since the substance was invented. Society treated street drug addicts like criminals, and if you sold drugs to other drug addicts, you are not just a criminal, you are scum, corrupting the community.

During the Crack Epidemic of the 1980s, as a whole generation of inner city youth threw their lives away on drugs, law enforcement not only didn’t help them but punished them further by making the sentence for crack cocaine possession more punitive than powdered cocaine (which, coincidentally or not, was what yuppie white people snorted). This wasn’t corrected until 2010 with the Fair Sentencing Act. The War on Drugs was a war on the poor inner city youth. It was a war on impoverished and underprivileged black and brown people who needed help and guidance and not prison sentence.

The scourge of drugs was seen as an inner city problem, an impoverished, underprivileged black and brown problem and the solution is to lock them up. It is far far away from the white suburbs. Far away from middle-class respectability for it to be a real concern. Now poor white people are drugging themselves to death prematurely and the opioid addiction has reached the suburbs where the white granny who lives in that cute house around the corner is found with a needle sticking out of her arm. Even in squeaky clean Utah, where drinking alcohol, coffee and teas are banned, there’s a prescription drug abuse problem. Prescription drugs falls under that gray category of medicine prescribed by a doctor, so it’s good for your body, therefore it doesn’t violate Mormon rules. The problem isn’t just among teens and young adults, there is prescription drug abuse among housewives, working professionals, even people 55 and over.

In middle America, heroin abuse stemming from prescription opioids has reached epidemic levels. It’s not just confined to big inner cities anymore. In a recent 60 Minutes report (aired Nov. 1), postcard farming towns, dotted with pretty barns and sprawling homes, in the middle of Ohio is experiencing a heroin abuse and overdose crisis. When junkies look like the all-American girl next door, people stood up and took notice. Parents broke the veil of shame and silence and banded together with law enforcement to help solve this crisis. The coastal town of Gloucester, Massachusetts, the only town in America to grant asylum to drug addicts. Police will not arrest someone in possession of drugs and instead will offer them help instead. The state of Kentucky, home of horse breeding and all that come with it is facing a heroin epidemic as well, the state recently passed new laws to move away from the punitive measures to deal with drug addiction and focus on treatment, healing and recovery instead.

Only now, it’s considered a national crisis, an emergency. People have been overdosing and dying from drug abuse for decades, but it’s the wrong kind of people for society to care.

The medical community has long acknowledged addiction is a disease, it’s an illness which requires treatment under supervision of medical professionals. An addict cannot be left to their own devices and expect them to miraculously get and stay clean. To help a person maintain their sobriety requires a team of people, not least of all the patient himself. Yet, before the drug problem spread to the pristine suburbs of America, before the scourge attacked white people, no one cared to get the addicted people treatment. Law enforcement just arrest them, lock them up, release them when their time is up and then they go back to using and the cycle repeats itself until the addict is out of options and is locked up forever.

One doesn’t need to be an addiction medicine specialist to know that an addict is an addict, it doesn’t matter if you are an addict behind mansion gates or the streets of Skid Row, the end result will be the same if the addict doesn’t get treatment and stay in treatment. The War on Drugs was a colossal waste of money, all that money spent hunting down Mexican drug cartels could have been spent treating people with addiction. If there is no demand, supply will be diminished or the presence of the supply won’t be as tempting.

The Reagan ‘Just Say No’ campaign is equally hare brained. Not all drug users become drug addicts, not all drinkers become alcoholics, people use drugs at various times in their lives for many different reasons. When they are young, it’s peer pressure, wanting to appear cool in school. Older people may use drugs and alcohol to alleviate emotional pain or mental anguish. Some people stop using drugs on their own and continue with their lives. Some people use drugs recreationally on weekends when partying or blowing off steam with their friends. And you hear about the people who take one hit of whatever and they knew right then and there they are addicted. Sometimes it’s recreational use which then got out of control, sometimes it’s a deliberate attempt to mask the pain in their lives. But, telling kids to ‘just say no’ makes them want it even more.

There is no silver bullet to solving the addiction problem. If Western society has a downfall, it’s addiction and the havoc it wreaks. Drugs are ever more cheaper, more potent and on every street corner, even in middle America. The one thing that doesn’t work is punishing drug addict in hopes the punishment will scare them off drugs. What’s clear now is drug and alcohol treatment needs to be a federal nationwide effort. We can no longer leave it to individual states and municipalities to deal with the drug problem. All the money that’s being allocated to build prisons is better spent at treating addicts, so that they don’t go to prison.

The actor Charlie Sheen just revealed he is HIV positive and has been for some time. No doubt his lifestyle of drugs and unsafe sex caught up with him. He’s just turned 50 years old, but decades of drug and alcohol abuse has clearly caught up with him, it’s written in his eyes and face. He’s lucky to be alive. He’s been given more second chances in a fickle town known for kicking you when you are down than any of his peers. He has 5 children yet he can’t find the reserves in himself to try and beat his addiction.

Robert Downey Jr. was a notorious drug user, he was arrested and sent to prison. After he got out of prison he had a role lined up for him already, a guest starring role on the hit show Ally McBeal – which he was great in, it was the only reason I watched the show. He relapsed during filming and was arrested again, but he went to rehab and stayed clean. He was able to collect his Golden Globe Award and made a few jokes about his recent incarcerations. He’s been clean since, his career soared to stratospheric heights, he remarried, had more children and is light years away from that wild eyed drug addicted youth. His wife, Susan Downey says she doesn’t know who ‘that’ Robert Downey Jr. is, she’s never met the crazy drug addict, when people tell her stories about his past, she’s shocked (and very naive). So recovery, with the right support, can be done but it’s a choice that has to come from the addict themselves.

At the end of the 60 Minutes broadcast, Bill Whitaker asked Tracy Morrison, the mother of a heroin addicted child:

Bill Whitaker: I’m sure there are some who would be watching this and would say, “Heroin addicts are junkies and they brought this on themselves, so why should we care?”

Tracy Morrison: Because we don’t throw diabetics who sit on the couch eating Bon Bons and smoke and they weigh 300 pounds in prison. We don’t belittle them and there’s not a big stigma; we don’t do that to people that chain smoke and develop lung cancer. It’s a chronic relapsing brain disease, period, amen, end of story and we need to accept it– even if it makes people uncomfortable. And if people don’t like that, I’m sorry.

Tracy Morrison is right, however, it took her daughter, a white upper-class American girl next door becoming a drug addict for people to sit up and pay attention. Black and Latinos have been suffering from drug addiction for decades and everyone turned a blind eye to their suffering and locked them up instead. Drug addiction only got the attention it deserved because white people are becoming addicted.

 

Idle, Depressed and Addicted: The Plight of Middle Aged White People

When the research published by Princeton University came out, which says whites between the ages of 45-55, with a high school education or less are dying of drug overdoses, alcoholism and suicide probably linked to depression, underemployment (or unemployment) and the general feeling of malaise amongst the American white working class, shockwaves were felt amongst the social scientists. After all, this was a phenomena only in America, other middle aged white people in developed nations are living longer and better. However, upon closer examination of the research data, it’s further revealed that working class women with lower education levels are dying at higher rates than their male counterparts. This is the real shock, because throughout most of human history, with all risk factors considered, women almost always outlive men across every social strata. The reasoning is women by nature are caretakers and so they visit the doctors sooner rather than later when they feel they’ve a health issue and women engage in less dangerous and risky activities than men, which can contribute to premature death. Prior to advancements in modern medicine, the biggest health risk to a woman is childbirth, as it can go spectacularly well or its exact opposite.

The economy has been brutal for those who are not academically inclined or entrepreneurial. Americans who do not wish to or cannot afford to go to college (even that’s no guarantee anymore) and are not entrepreneurial by nature do not have factory jobs to fall back on anymore. Those factories have upped and relocated to Mexico, China, South East Asia where corporations don’t have to deal with unions. In the 2008 recession, whatever was left of the car-making industry died too. So, the old creed of having a ‘strong pair of hands’ and good work ethic won’t help working class folks anymore. This may not mean much for those of us who live in major metropolitan areas on the East and West coasts, but factory work was a lifeline for those who live in the Midwest and the South.

I do not fall into these demographics, I am a late Gen X, we have our own problems but as of right now, premature death from prolonged abuse of drugs and alcohol isn’t one of them (yet). Late Gen X and Millennials still have the benefit of youth and the vigor which comes with youth to push through our obstacles before we grow tired and weary.

I attribute a lot the drinking and drugging the pain away to the changing American economic landscape and in particular our ethos of hard work.

The concept of hard work, industry and strong work ethic is the ethos of Americanism. America was built on these concepts. If one isn’t hardworking they are deemed useless. We don’t have to all become millionaires but we all must work hard in our chosen field to the best of our ability and if we are lucky, we can amass more wealth than our parents or grandparents, or in a word, upward mobility. For any self-respecting American this is a must. And our country for a long time benefited from this ethos, some would argue it’s how our nation was built. We stood out from our European peers in our willingness to work harder and longer without complaint. We expected to earn our living and not have one handed to us. There is no ‘la dolce vita’, stop and smell the roses here in America, that’s for losers. The fact that a whole self-help movement sprung up just to encourage people to stop and smell the roses is evident we are seriously lacking in enjoying the simplicities of life.

This concept is great if work is plenty, such as the post World War II boom years until Reaganomics. But what if there aren’t jobs available for everyone who is able bodied and wishes to work? Temp agencies are now testing people for math and writing skills for a retail job at Macy’s, who knows, Walmart might require a physics degree next in order to be employed with them and earning just above minimum wage. It would be one thing if these low wage, low status jobs led to higher wage, higher prestige jobs, but they don’t, they are dead end jobs to nowhere. Is it dignified to ask someone of a certain age to work these low wage low status jobs, competing with younger high school or college graduates? And to expect them to do these jobs without complaint or resentment, to expect them to answer to a manager who is half their age and is still living in their mother’s basement? Does anyone in their forties or fifties want to work at Walmart or a fast food job if they’ve other choices?

The Republicans are telling Americans it’s the obligation of any out-of -work person to take any job that’s available, regardless if it’s light years away from their skills set or previous experience. For example, out-of-work accountants who refuse to work at McDonalds and would rather continue to collect Unemployment Benefits (which is totally within their rights to do so) in hopes of finding a job that’s in keeping with their skills and experience are now in the Republican’s category of new losers (after the welfare queen and food stamp bum).

For all the jobs that were lost, no effort has been made to replace them (in quantity and wages). No Democrat or Republican administration has put in serious effort into retraining workers who’ve lost their jobs, especially if the job loss was due to factories shutting down, which is no fault of their own. The ‘they can go back to school and get a new degree’ is nonsense. What if they have children to feed and a mortgage to pay right now, do you really expect them to go back to school, rack up student loan debt without any possible guarantee of a more lucrative job only to end up more indebted, especially if they go to these for profit colleges.

Especially for economically deprived areas, in absence of well paying, skilled factory jobs, the only jobs which are available are low paying, customer service, fast food and other light industrial work, which offer no job security nor benefits. Does society expect someone 45-55 years old, who have been gainfully employed until recent years to be satisfied with this type of work and wage until their retiring days? A lot of people in this age group probably have children, besides the inability to adequately provide for their family, there’s also an element of shame. No parent wants to admit to their children they can’t provide the the lifestyle they were accustomed to, or to tell their children all the little extra creature comforts (playing basketball, piano lessons, dance lessons, the accoutrements of middle class life) is no more because mommy and daddy can no longer afford it. In fact, mommy and daddy have trouble affording the basics. This alone is enough to drive people to despair.

The alarming rate of white women, middle aged, high school and below education dying at alarming rates, I’d argue feminism has failed them. The feminist movement was started by middle class women with education and some means who sought to include all women in their struggle for equal rights. However, the modern feminist movement are headed by people like Hillary Clinton, Sheryl Sandberg, Anne-Marie Slaughter, Ellen Pao, all of whom are well educated, have advanced degrees, high earning, high status women. And the other side of the feminism movement is headed by minority and Black Lives Matter activists, who seek to include all minority and marginalized women (transgender, sex-workers) in their fight for equal rights. The one group, a rather silent group who are left behind are white women who are not high earning, who do not have advanced degrees and are at the bottom of the economic heap. These women are assumed to be coasting by on white privilege alone.

It’s not reasonable to tell a woman working at Taco Bell to ‘lean-in’ at board meetings. First of all, there are no board meetings. Second, if she complains about her wage theft and being made to work many overtime hours unpaid, she’d get fired or hours reduced and now with employers making employees sign employment contracts which contain arbitration agreements, workers have less rights than ever. This is not to dismiss the sexism and discrimination high earning women face, but the feminist movement failed to recognize the needs of the low wage, lower educated women.

The feminist movement with respect to the men, we’ve pushed men who’ve no use to us aside. Some of us have lost compassion, patience and tolerance for men who are down on their luck and are very quick to toss them aside when they are of no more use to us. Meaning, if the men cannot provide (through job loss) but are unwilling to step up and help with childcare to the standard we demand. And because of job loss and are unable to find gainful employment again begins drinking too much or abusing drugs, most women today have no patience for this sort of thing. Many women have multi-tasking down to an art, we’ve learned to adapt to our surroundings quickly, many of us survive on less sleep, less leisure time, less ‘me’ time and though we realizing how taxing it is, we demand the same from our significant other. Also, childcare and parenting is a hot button topic amongst couples now, and many women have no problem moving on from marriages and relationships if they find themselves incompatible in the parenting department with their significant other. The view that we should compromise for the sake of the family is no longer as prevalent as women begin earning more money. 

The reasons why middle aged, low wage, lower educated white people are dying at alarming rates are many and varied and to find one main reason and apply that reason across the board would be absurd. But most of society’s ills can be traced to, according to Sir William Beveridge, the creator of the modern welfare state in Great Britain, the ‘Five Giant Evils’ of ‘Want, Disease, Ignorance, Squalor and Idleness’. And I’d argue the last one, ‘idleness’ is the most evil of them all. When one is idle, all the other ‘evils’ follow it, but when one is occupied, be it with a job, parental duties, hobbies, community service, volunteer work, it takes care of the ‘want’, ‘ignorance’ and ‘squalor’.

Perhaps for America, it’s time to move away from the notion that one must be in the process of being upwardly mobile to deserve respect from society. There’s nothing wrong with having a lack of strong ambition. Not everyone is born ambitious with the need to conquer the world. There is respectability and dignity in earning a decent living, being happy with that and enjoying the time off when one isn’t working. Must we convince everyone, in order to be considered successful by any measure, we must work down to our bones and chase the next promotion? Must our whole identity be tied to what we do for a living? Isn’t being a good friend, loyal companion, animal lover, good parent, good daughter or son and all around good person enough? It ought to be.

 

Do All Lives Really Matter?

Since Hezbollah is being mentioned, let’s get a few facts straight about the so-called ‘nefarious’ Hezbollah organization, which is technically a terrorist group. It doesn’t acknowledge Israel as a nation and probably doesn’t recognize its right to exist either. Up until now, they haven’t ‘blown it off the map’ and probably won’t as they’ve more pressing matters than Israel. Hezbollah is a Shiite militia which is heavily funded and supported by Iran (another fellow Shia country) and antagonizer of Israel, who does want to blow Israel off the map. Metaphorically.

So far, and this is rather awkward for the West to admit, Hezbollah is one of the most effective fighters against ISIS. They have held ISIS back in Lebanon and Syria from gaining more territory. They are ferocious fighters with discipline with the will to fight and will not drop their weapons, remove their uniforms and abandon their positions when the going gets tough (sound familiar)?
The Kurdish peshmerga fighters and the Hezbollah are about the only two organized militias who is making significant headway with ISIS. While the US media praises the bravery and sacrifice of the peshmerga fighters (as they should), there’s been radio silence on the sacrifices and bravery of the Hezbollah fighters. Why? Because we are *ahem* friends with Israel, and Hezbollah is backed by Iran (who is very hostile to Israel) and we don’t want to offend our ‘friend’ (with no benefits) because the Hezbollah is a terrorist group and do not recognize the state of Israel.

War and conflict is very messy, especially ones that are sectarian in nature. There are often no clear moral, good guy v. bad guy positions. There is just one unholy mess. What one perceives to be a ‘good’ guy can be a ‘bad’ guy to another, but the bad guy can be the one getting things done where the good guys can’t. I don’t know much about the history of Hezbollah besides what’s been portrayed in the Western media and I won’t take that account as fact, but what I do know is right now they are getting the job done so give them some fucking credit.

Just because a bomb went off in the section of Beirut where it’s a Hezbollah stronghold doesn’t make it any less gruesome or tragic. The people who died and got injured have families who love and care for them.

In Anthony Bourdain’s CNN travel show ‘Parts Unknown’, he visited Beirut last year. He went to the part of Beirut where it’s Hezbollah ‘territory’. He visited a home of a Hezbollah supporter where his living room was kitted out with Hezbollah flags and symbols, when asked why he supports Hezbollah (a known terrorist organization) he said because they (Hezbollah) kept him and his family safe and that was it. The man didn’t mention what religion or sect he belonged to, but his loyalty to Hezbollah is because they were effective in providing security to their neighborhood. His children were able to attend school and play outside safely. And the man also mentioned, for good measure as I am sure he’s aware this program is to be broadcast in America, Hezbollah was able to hold back ISIS from two Christian villages on the border between Syria and Lebanon, they saved two Christian villages from total slaughter and destruction. So, yes, he put his money on Hezbollah, regardless what the West calls them. As for their neighbor Israel, that doesn’t even register on the minds of most Lebanese, as they’ve got a much bigger fish to fry than a paranoid and over-reactive prime minister screaming bloody murder all day long. There is bloody murder, but not inside Israel.

Aftermath of the Paris Attacks

The Politics of Writing

After the night of fury and chaos in Paris, the world is still dazed. It’s being reported that 129 people were murdered, but with many more still injured and in critical condition. President Francois Hollande called the attacks an “Act of war“. And although the French government has only just begun to identify the attackers (You can read the passport nationalities further down in the Reuters article) ISIS has already claimed responsibility for the attack. It is too early yet to know anything for sure.

This attack comes just months after the ruthless slaughter of the Charlie Hebdo office in France. Using the recent past as a guide, it is possible to make assumptions on the aftermath of the attack.

What was unique about the Charlie Hebdo attack was that since it specifically targeted the magazine, the event sparked a wave of free speech sentiment. But what was…

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France: Liberté, égalité, fraternité

The motto of the Republic of France is Liberty, Equality and Fraternity. The French Revolution ushered in an era egalitarianism. Opportunity was given based on ability and effort and not the privilege of birth. The result of the bloody and gruesome French Revolution was the conception and birth of modern democracy based on egalitarianism.

The coordinated and ghastly massacre in Paris on 13th of November is an attack on liberty, equality and fraternity. These attacks were carried out by Islamic extremist which in no way represent their faith. These attacks will no doubt give way to a fresh wave of even more virulent Islamophobia. Law abiding and decent Muslims all around the world will suffer even more discrimination and marginalization as a result of these attacks. The West likes to see itself as more enlightened than that, but we really aren’t. We are just better at concealing hatred.

After the shock wears off, talking heads, pundits, politicians, social commentators, opinionists will begin to try to ‘explain’ why this happened in The City of Lights, one of the most beautiful, civil, refined and cultured places in the world. The explanation is done in the spirit to ‘understand’ what happened and to prevent the next attack.

And the explanation will go something like this: Europe and especially France has an appalling record of integrating their immigrants, especially non-white, non-Christian immigrants. Muslims, which account for 10% of their population are routinely marginalized and survive at the bottom of the economic heap. Though there are anti-defamation laws protecting anti-Semitic or hate speech against any religion, it doesn’t translate to equality and opportunity for the Muslims residing in France. What’s more, France has banned the use of the burka in public, no woman is allowed to cover her face as the French political elite has found women covering their faces oppressive and therefore doesn’t conform with the secular values of French society. This has angered many Muslims, even Muslim women, which the law sought to protect from religious oppression. And the list goes on.

But who gives a shit why? This doesn’t justify any of the violent attacks in France (and other places) carried out by Islamic extremists. This would be like Hitler trying to ‘explain’ why he felt the need to exterminate 12 million people. Does it even matter? No, not one bit. The reason(s), however, deluded, irrational, illogical, or might even have the slightest, miniscule kernel of justification, do not have a place for public discourse in the civilized world and cannot be offered as a ‘reason’ for attacking innocent people. Not ever.

It’s one thing to analyze why Muslims across continents have trouble integrating with mainstream European Christian societies and offer solutions to make everyone feel comfortable and welcome with each other, with the emphasis on immigrants must respect the culture of the host nation. But to use the ‘woe is me, I am a minority and I am picked on by bad white Christian people because I am brown and Muslim, so I hate them all and I will join ISIS and will kill them all’ is a cop out and the ramblings of the insane. You feel picked on by white people? Really? Get in line with the Africans, Mexicans, Central Americans, Chinese, other Asians, Native Americans and any other non-white group, you’ve got company.

This has come at the worst possible time, just as Europe is beginning to soften its stance on the refugee crisis and prepare to bite the bullet and offer asylum to refugees fleeing war and terrorism (the same kind of terrorism that just happened in Paris, except it happens daily where they are from). German Chancellor Angela Merkel has been eerily silent, no doubt re-assessing her largess and generosity and wondering if she’s made the biggest mistake of the century (and the century is still young). France has shut its borders, as have their neighbor Belgium, declared a state of emergency, imposed a curfew and will begin raids on possible terrorist hideouts, something they should have done years ago. In the days to come, more countries could be shutting their borders and the Schengen Agreement is all but annulled in writing.

And for all the outrage, sorrow and grief at the attacks in France, let’s be better world citizens and extend our prayers, grief and sorrow at the downed Russian flight over Sinai, the bombing in Beirut, which killed 40 people just the day before the attacks in Paris, and the daily terror people suffer in Iraq, Syria and other conflict zones. The ‘fraternity’ part of the French motto is the most difficult to carry out. It requires sympathy and empathy for people you don’t know or like. I know they are not in our ‘circles of sympathy’ because most of those regions are remote to us. Their religion and customs are remote to us. But they are people, they are suffering and even if we cannot help them, we can always spare a thought and a prayer and perhaps our collective thoughts and prayers can bring some relief. The fight against terrorism is global, especially the fight against ISIS and those who pledge allegiance to it. ISIS is even terrorizing their native populations, most of whom are Muslim. ISIS have killed many more Muslims than any other group of people. So for the people who do not have state protection like the French citizens do, and must deal with this terrorism on their own, let’s extend our circle of sympathy to include them.

Liberté, égalité, fraternité.

Belgium: On Doctor Assisted Euthanasia

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In 2002 Belgium passed a law allowing terminally ill patients to choose doctor assisted suicide (euthanasia) to end their lives if their medical condition is terminal, progressive and incurable. This allows patients who wish to seek a dignified end without being hooked on hospital machines and painkillers a path to do so. Controversially, this law also extends to patients who suffer from mental suffering. In 2014, the law was revised to include terminally ill children in their euthanasia laws. Depending on where one stands, this is either highly offensive or merciful, to allow terminally ill patients who’ve no hope of recovering their mobility or quality of life a dignified end to a painful life. This is far better than the alternative, where a terminally ill patient, hooked on machines and strong doses of pain medication to get through the day and requiring 24 hour, around the clock care, until the inevitable end comes.

All of this sounds well and good in theory. However, how ‘quality of life’ is measured is very subjective. The notion of just because a person is immobile, suffers from a terminal or degenerative disease or an incurable or untreatable genetic disorder, has diminished intellectual capacity is automatically assumed to be living a poor quality of life is a fallacy. And so is the same with the opposite, a person who is physically healthy, with no visible physical and intellectual challenges, this person is then assumed to have a great quality of life is also a fallacy. Both of these assumptions are wrong.

Stephen Hawking wasn’t supposed to make it past his 25th year due to his advanced ALS. He is now seventy-three years old. He’s married twice, fathered three children, wrote books, gave countless lectures and though his body has withered away, his mind is still sharp. Granted, he’s a special case due to his exceptional intelligence. There are a lot of people willing to help him financially and physically with his day-to-day needs. But had he accepted the doctor’s prognosis of his condition and he just sat there and waited for the end, or worse, had the option been available, chose euthanasia, instead of making the most of the time he has remaining, we would not know about one of the greatest minds of our generation.

The actor Christopher Reeve wanted to end it all too after he fell from a horse and became quadriplegic, not only was a quadriplegic, he needed help with everything, even breathing. He had no mobility except save for a finger and his breath. He couldn’t even hold his head up without assistance. This was a strapping man over six-feet tall in the prime of his life. He had a young son and young wife and an acting career in its prime. Besides being an actor, he was an avid sportsman and outdoorsman. Now his life is confined to a hospital bed with tubes going in and out of him. For Christopher Reeve to end his life would not have required doctor assisted euthanasia, they just had to unplug all the apparatus that was keeping him alive and breathing and nature would take care of itself. But at the urging of his wife, he agreed to give it some time to see if he could change his mind and find some way forward and if he didn’t Dana Reeve will reluctantly accept his wishes. But he changed his mind, not because he was religious, he wasn’t, he was agnostic, but he said he felt ‘hopeful’ after he accepted his new reality, and he felt with his high profile could do some good to the cause of treating spinal cord injury. So he spent the his remaining years campaigning for spinal cord injury research. He had one life pre-accident and had another life post-accident, both were equally meaningful in its own way.

Society has placed too much importance on the idea which in order to have a good quality of life, one needs to be intellectually and physically whole, without defect. Anything short of that, depending on the severity, begins a sliding scale into the poor quality of life territory. This is a false premise. What’s worse, it gives society the idea of people with degenerative or terminal conditions are a burden to society and its health care system.

The ‘quality of life’ for a person who’s got a terminal or degenerative chronic condition depends on many things besides the symptoms of their disease and the limitations it places. For example, does this person have a strong family network to help them with their day-to-day tasks. Does this person have access to adequate health care system to cope with their illness? Does this person have access to education which accommodates their needs? Does this person have activities and hobbies or even a paid job they can do to in spite of their limitations? Do they have a wide circle of friends? The presence or lack of these things can contribute to or diminish the quality of life for a person with terminal conditions.

The Economist did a short documentary about a Belgian girl Emily, who wishes to end her life due to prolonged mental suffering and she was no longer responsive to treatment. Emily is only 24 years old, the film starts eerily, she says by the time this film is over, she will be no longer. The category of mental suffering to be included in the euthanasia list of allowable illnesses was always controversial, even in liberal Belgium. After all, there’s no definite proof mental illness cannot improve over a person’s lifetime or that it’s all together incurable, untreatable or even unmanageable.

This girl Emily has suffered from outward signs of mental illness since the age of 12 (but she says she remembers being an anxious child since she was three years old and of not wishing to be ‘here’). She’s been to multiple hospitals, tried various treatments, therapies and medications, all to no avail. At the age of 24, she’s done. She’s done fighting the monster that is her brain. When asked what was the most difficult thing about her mental suffering, she says, when she has to pick herself back up off the floor everyday to go about her day, only to know the depression will return in five minutes and she has to do this over and over everyday. Anyone who’s suffered from depression knows how this feels. How you have to literally ‘psyche’ yourself up to do anything, take a shower, get in the car, drive to work, perform your job, get in the car, get home, crash and do it all over again. Everyday. It becomes exhausting. To just summon the energy to get out of bed can be too much.

She’s attempted suicide and was institutionalized for a while, when that failed, she’s resorted to self-harming. Her arms are full of scars from years of abuse. There is no question this girl is in tremendous pain and suffering. It’s in her eyes, her face, her demeanor. She never smiled in the whole film but once, when her mother told her how much she loves her and will ‘be with her until the end’, though she could never ‘accept’ it, no mother could. Until the end, her mother tried to get her more treatment options, doctors, hospitals until she begged her mother to stop.

Besides her mental illness, she is otherwise healthy. She’s able bodied, has a keen interest in photography, she has friends and family who care about her very much. When she told her two best girlfriends her ‘date’ had been set, one friend openly wept and begged her to reconsider, the other friend was too upset to say much except that she will eulogize her at her funeral and talk about how much their friendship meant to her. Emily reached out to comfort her friends, it was touching to watch. Emily knows she is loved, she feels the love, but still, she cannot conquer the monster that is in her head. When she applied for euthanasia, it took the government two years to approve her. She had to meet with a whole panel of doctors including a psychiatrist and her case must be approved by three doctors, they must all agree that she is unresponsive to further treatment and her condition will only worsen. The medications she is currently on are an assortment of mood stabilizers but none has lifted the darkness that consumes her.

When asked what would happen to her if the state denied her request, she said she’d die a slow, torturous lonely death, probably at her own hands. As this short documentary progressed, my heart sank. This lovely young girl, only 24, who has her whole life ahead of her, cannot see the any glimmer of hope or light, has chosen to end her life by lethal injection. If she only saw what I saw, a girl who needs help. More help than she’s already received.

When ‘the day’ came (patients are allowed to change their mind up to the last moment), her two best friends asked her if she was still going to go through with it, Emily hesitated. She said, for some reason, the answer wasn’t so clear anymore. In the end, she opted to not go through with it. She said two weeks before her death, her life became ‘bearable’, which was all she was after, to live a life that is ‘bearable’. Not happy, joyous or content, just bearable. She doesn’t know what changed (she’s not religious). She is still deeply depressed and ‘would rather not be here’ but she didn’t have those soul destroying meltdowns two weeks prior to her date with death. I was so relieved. I don’t know this young girl, but what a huge waste it would be if she ended her life like this. If she were to have good days, she’d never know it. If she were to ever feel happy again, even just for moments, she’d never know it. And this is the whole point, if one ends their life thinking there are no more good days left for them, they would never know if a good day presented itself and brought joy to them.

I believe her friends’ open outpouring of grief at her impending death changed her mind. Of course Emily knew her mother would be upset, that’s a given. But to see her friends openly weeping at the thought of her being gone, perhaps that alone helped change her mind. It’s often said, the best thing you can do for a person who is suffering from a mental illness is to be their friend. To show them they matter to you, even if they are in the midst of a psychotic breakdown. After all, to show kindness, empathy and sympathy to another doesn’t cost a thing.

Death is final. After one dies, all that was wrong cannot be righted anymore. It’s a path of no return, a fact not appreciated when one is in total utter despair. One only seeks peace when they’ve been battling depression and  mental illness all their lives, but by choosing euthanasia, you won’t be here to experience the joy.

Of course many people view this issue from a religious point of view, but it’s the wrong place to start for this argument. Countries who sponsor doctor assisted euthanasia are always portrayed as trying to ‘play God’, without any regard or respect for human life. The other side of that argument is doctors are just providing a dignified end to terminally ill patients who’ve no chance of recovering. Of course in the grey parts of this argument there are lots of scenarios to consider.

What if when the law came into effect, a patient is already in a coma, who gets to decide what to do with them? What if a patient is not in a position to make a decision about their life due to dementia but at the same time they have another terminal incurable condition as well, who gets to decide on their end-of-life care?

Governments can try to think of all the ways to protect the vulnerable from abuse (children and the elderly), but a clever person with nefarious intent can always find a way to legally dispose of family members who’ve become a burden due to age and infirmity. This idea when one becomes old, terminally ill, disabled, and infirm, their lives cease to have real meaning and they are just sitting around waiting for the end, so what’s wrong with allowing that patient some dignity and choose to end their lives before it becomes too unbearable to watch, people are making presumptions about another based on what an abled bodied and healthy person’s perspective on what a good quality of life should be.

With my own experience with my grandparents. They both passed away from short but terminal illnesses. The short part was a blessing as they didn’t suffer from prolonged pain and suffering. Even though their illnesses were short, there were moments when it became too much for them and how they wished the end came sooner. We as their caretakers tried our best to make their last days comfortable and relaxing. Just sitting there providing quiet company was a relief to them, there’s no need to speak, just sit quietly. No one wants to lie there alone while they are terminally ill and dying. The moments of wishing to expire before their intended time were usually moments of intense pain and discomfort coupled with being totally bedridden and needing around the clock care, something they were not used to. They both took hour long walks daily and were healthy before illness struck them. Usually, when pain passed and we distracted them with other things, they were back to their normal selves.

A major concern for me with regards to euthanasia rights are the vulnerable population, especially the elderly. Children are vulnerable too but most parents spend far more time, money, energy and resources trying to find a cure for their children than they do for the elderly. When people become old, ill, infirm and feeble, it’s very easy to give way to thoughts of just ending it all so that they are no longer suffering and a burden to their families. But are they really burdens? Our parents and grandparents spent the best years of their lives raising children and some spend a good part of their old age caring for grandchildren, is it so awful that we repay some of that by being kind and patient caretakers in their last days? Even if their last days are actually last years? What does it say about a society which encourages euthanasia (by making euthanasia legal is a form of encouragement) just because a medical condition is terminal?

The whole euthanasia rights movement is centered on the concept of dignity for the ill and dying. To allow someone a dignified way out of an intolerable life blighted by illness and pain. But there also people, in spite of illness, pain and disability, opt to live their best lives, hopefully with the loving support of family and community and I don’t mean famous people we know about, I am talking about ordinary people, despite illness, pain and disability, go on living their lives to the fullest. There is courage and dignity in that too. That too is also a life that needs to be protected. 

Black Lives Matter – Top Down Mandate

It’s long been believed democracy cannot legislate morality. As much as the government wants to, it cannot enact laws in the hopes people will want to behave morally, to want to be better people, to be upstanding citizens. The desire to be a good person has to come from within. A person has to want to change for the better. No one can do it for them, least of all the government.

But this is not entirely true. The suffragettes demanded society to give women right to vote, so the 19th Amendment was enacted. When white people finally woke up to the fact where slavery is an abominable crime violating the most common tenets of human rights, after a bloody war, it was finally abolished on January 31, 1865 and the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery became the law of the land. With slavery abolished another form of enslavement came in the form of Jim Crow Laws which lasted until 1965. The Supreme Court decision Brown v. Board of Education in 1954 put the final nail in the coffin for segregation in public education, the notion of ‘separate but equal’ was deemed unconstitutional by the highest court in the land and laid the groundwork for the civil rights movement.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was enacted and followed by The Voting Rights Act of 1965, which “suspended the use of literacy tests and voter disqualification devices for five years. Authorized the use of federal examiners to supervise voter registration in states that used tests or in which less than half the voting-eligible residents registered or voted. Directed the U.S. Attorney General to institute proceedings against use of poll taxes. Provided criminal penalties for individuals who violated the act. Passed by the 89th Congress (1965–1967) as S. 1564.” Between these major pieces of legislature which passed through Congress, there were many other smaller civil rights act bills which were passed.

In enacting civil rights laws, this country decided to legislate morality. The legislative body of this country (with or without the support of its citizens) decided de jure segregation is unconstitutional. ‘Separate but equal’ is unconstitutional. Labeling public facilities as ‘white’ and ‘colored’ is unconstitutional and denying any form of service (public or private) on the account of race is unconstitutional. The end of Jim Crow, separate but equal, ended de jure segregation of the South. All of these are moral stances made legal. It was clear the citizens of the South was not going to come to a moral conclusion on their own without the coercion of the federal government and if left matters up to them, the South would still be legally segregated.

Any progress this country has made on civil rights and racial equality was done with the federal government’s boots up the behind of state and local governments. The civil rights laws were almost always enacted with federal mandate often with federal supervision. The laws desegregating the South were not popular at all. In fact, in some quarters today, it’s still not popular and I don’t mean the Ku Klux Klan and other hate groups. Rand Paul, the junior senator from Kentucky, fresh from his senate win in 2010 said this:

“I think it’s a bad business decision to exclude anybody from your restaurant — but, at the same time, I do believe in private ownership,” he said.

He added that he agrees any publicly-funded entities should not be allowed to discriminate, but the law shouldn’t necessarily apply to private businesses. “And that’s most of what I think the Civil Rights Act was about in my mind.”

So how would he resolve the problem? Consistent with his small-government philosophy, he said it should be up to the people to self-correct the issue.

“In a free society, we will tolerate boorish people who have abhorrent behavior. But if we’re civilized people, we publicly criticize that and don’t belong to those groups, or don’t associate with those people,” he added.

Rand Paul is part of the deluded group people who believe society can ‘self-correct’ centuries of entrenched racism and white supremacy. He, like his equally delusional father, former Rep. Ron Paul, believes The Civil Rights Act didn’t really improve race relations but it took away personal liberty instead. Yes, it is technically violating someone’s ‘personal liberty’ if they don’t want to serve non-whites in their establishments and be forced to do so because of federal law, but what they are doing besides being racist and immoral can possibly be illegal (if the service denied can be life saving). This logic can be applied to almost any instance when one is being affronted with or asked to do something they don’t want to do. For example, it’s a personal affront to me the likes of the Pauls’ still spew this kind of thinly veiled racist propaganda, and I consider it to violate my personal liberties for having to countenance such kind of people, but there’s not a damn thing I can do about them either.

The Black Lives Matter movement is the civil rights movement of today. It’s the continuation of the civil rights movement of the 1960s. Black people, when compared to whites are at every disadvantage. Black people are incarcerated more even though crime is committed in equal rates. Black communities are policed more, thus leading to more arrests, incarceration and killings (of alleged suspects). Black people have twice the unemployment rate of whites. During the Great Recession, black people lost more wealth than whites because black people were subjected to the sub-prime mortgage scam more than whites even if their credit was good. Black children are being left behind in the education system because of the school-to-prison pipeline that’s meted out to black children. Black children are seen as more ‘criminal’ than their white counterparts thus punished more severely for the same offense as white kids. Young black men as a whole demographic has been criminalized and locked away for the simple fact in which they are young and black. The whole ‘war on drugs’ was just away to lock up brown and black people for minor drug offenses which white people can get away with a slap on the wrist. In Ta-Nehisi Coate’s opus (one of many), The Case for Reparations: Two hundred fifty years of slavery. Ninety years of Jim Crow. Sixty years of separate but equal. Thirty-five years of racist housing policy. Until we reckon with our compounding moral debts, America will never be whole, just the title alone hits nail on the head. Especially the last part, ‘Thirty-five years of racist housing policy’, the redlining which occurred have denied black people the one tried and tested method in which to generate family wealth: home ownership. FHA (Federal Housing Authority) when building homes in the suburbs of America’s cities in the 1950s and 1960s have shut out black people from purchasing affordable homes because white folks don’t want to live in neighborhoods where there are black people.

All of this was carried out under the watch of our government. Our government knew this was going on and choose to do nothing about it so it won’t upset the status quo (white supremacy). The Black Lives Matter exists to redress these wrongs and these wrongs won’t be corrected from the grassroots level. The grassroots level is good for organizing, but it needs to go all the way to the top. Interrupting Bernie Sanders or Hillary Clinton’s campaign rallies won’t do a damn thing. Change has to come from the top, from Congress, from executive orders, new laws have to be written and enacted. Existing laws have to be enforced and existing rights cannot be taken away (Voting Rights Act).

Every single police department in this country needs to be examined and reviewed. Racist cops and racist policing policies must be eradicated and subject to federal review. If we have to remove the jurisdiction of local police departments from local government to the federal government, then so be it. If it’s ‘bad for business’, so be it. The Civil Rights Act was ‘bad for business’ too but it was enforced with the National Guard and the army standing guard if necessary. The administration then made sure it got done.

Unfair housing practices needs to be addressed at the federal level right away. The notion that black and brown neighborhoods equals ‘bad’ neighborhood needs to be corrected and it can only come from the top. Neighborhoods do not need to have fixed quotas of different ethnicities (like Singapore model) but the notion which neighborhoods resided by black and brown people automatically constitutes a deprived, crime ridden and all around ‘bad’ neighborhood, therefore, that said neighborhood gets policed more aggressively is racist. Poor white neighborhoods aren’t policed in such a manner, police only come when they are called.

The education system where teachers (mostly non-black) automatically criminalize black children needs to be stopped. This fake feigning fear of black people, especially black boys and black men by white people is misplaced fear, discriminatory, racist and disgusting. The notion which black communities need to clean house in order to gain respect and deserve the most basic of human rights downright ugly and mirrors the policies of some of the most repressive regimes in the world. People deserve human rights and civil rights regardless of who they are and what they do. Be they, drug addicts, derelicts, delinquents, homeless persons, unemployed layabouts or criminals, all people deserve human rights, civil rights, due process, to be presumed innocent until proven guilty, even if they are a waste of space to begin with. Besides, being a waste of space is not race or gender specific. This is what our constitution affords every person, not just white people. After all, white people don’t have to prove they are worthy to deserve the inalienable rights conferred to them by the Founding Fathers, why do non-white people have to prove they deserve these rights.

One often hears from women and minorities, in order to get ahead, they have to work twice as hard, twice as long, never complain and put up with all kinds of indignities until they ‘make it’, this shouldn’t be the case. If a white male of average talent, average ambition and drive can coast through life easily, without having to sacrifice his dignity, why isn’t that afforded to all people? Why do black people, latinos, Asians have to double down and work harder to prove they are worthy of their success?

LaSha of the Kinfolk Kollective wrote so eloquently regarding the ‘need’ of black leadership:

FUCK YOUR LEADERSHIP! The black community does not need leadership. We do not need one spokesperson for us all. We do not need a high counsel through whom all of our concerns are heard. We do not need a few of the talented tenth to represent the most educated, most financially successful, most dignified of us so that we can be taken seriously and respected. We do not need a majority to agree on a few prominent black people as the point people to make a statement when tragedy strikes.

What we need is full status as human beings. What we need is recognition of us as people whether we be crackhead or reverend, nun or prostitute, high school dropout or rocket scientist. What we need is to be recognized as a group of individuals representing the full spectrum of humanity. What we need is to not to be painted as monolith with the same needs, dreams and desires. We need full personhood and collective humanity.

“We need full personhood and collective humanity”, this says it all. And do we walk around asking where’s the ‘white’ leadership for the white trash who lay around and collect welfare and food stamps (the majority of welfare beneficiaries are white people)? Or the Asian leadership for the Asians who are not top performers? Or the Latino leadership outside of fighting for immigrant’s rights? Where do we get this notion that black people, as a collective people, need some special kind of ‘leadership’ because they are individually too weak to lead themselves and their own lives?

There will always be racists walking around this earth, be they the garden variety kind, the rabid foaming at the mouth KKK kind, or the kind who is indifferent to the suffering of black people, we can’t stop them, nor should we, it’s a total waste of time. The only way to stop these sorts of racists getting their way in society is by force, by the power of the federal government to come from Washington with their suits, badges and guns and lay down the law, just like they did when they escorted Ruby Bridges to an all white school in Alabama. The white people today don’t think segregation is an abomination because they or their parents had a moral awakening and told them so. No, they think it’s unacceptable today because our government told them it’s unacceptable and enforced laws to change it. The same will be true for today, police departments will not reform themselves unless their jobs and department are being threatened with extinction. People in charge of housing and planning will not develop a conscience overnight and begin to apply nondiscriminatory housing laws properly, they will change when the boss upstairs demands full transparency of their daily operations and threaten their positions if they do not comply.

So, to all the libertarians out there who favor governments to stay out of people’s lives and institutions, and believe utopia will then reveal itself through the goodwill of the people, you are wrong. If America was left to its own devices, if no Civil War was ever fought to end slavery, if the civil rights marches, protests, sit-ins never took place therefore demanded action from President Johnson himself, and if Black Lives Matter never came to be due to the tragic murders of black men and boys, the plight of black people (and all other minorities) would still be stuck in 19th century barbarities.

Fibs and Tales – The Rise and Fall of Dr. Ben Carson

It’s astounding given today’s technology, people seeking high office still distort the truth about their past. Anyone can find out just about anything right now. It doesn’t even have to be a seasoned investigative reporter to verify the veracity of statements made by public officials or persons seeking public office. With people willing to spill any secret for the right price and seeking publicity at the same time, the jobs of ‘investigative’ reporters are easier than ever. Silence is no longer golden. Silence is no longer honorable. Silence used to be the norm, especially when someone’s career or reputation is at stake. For better or for worse, this is no longer the case.

Anyone is willing to spill secrets for the right price; mistresses or lovers of important people who appear ‘very married’ to the public will talk, illegitimate children sworn to secrecy since birth (and paid handsomely for the silence) will talk, former staffers, friends, colleagues, classmates of people seeking public office will talk; all claiming to talk for the same reason, ‘to tell their truth’, ‘to set the record straight’ – as if anyone really gave a damn about their ‘personal’ truth.

Of course there are exceptions such as the Brian Williams ‘mis-recalled’ news reports of his helicopter being shot down in Iraq and the soldiers involved came forward to say nothing of the sort happened. Or the author of ‘Three Cups of Tea’, Greg Mortensen, basically fabricating and taking artistic license with most parts of his book and getting huge publicity and prestige for events that never took place. President Obama even donated a portion of Nobel Peace Prize money to his charity. People as remote and as far away as Afghanistan were able to verify whether the events described in his book ever took place or not. It begs the question, why? Especially for someone like Brian Williams, who didn’t need the money or fame, choose to smash his credibility to bits, for what? He was a well respected news reader and reporter and now he’s reading cable news on MSNBC.

Republican presidential frontrunner Dr. Ben Carson is now accused of distorting the facts of his life and upbringing to make his biography more compelling. The stories of his purported youthful ‘violent‘ streak is inconsequential whether if they were really true or not. He could have easily made that up to add embroidery to his rags to riches story, godless to godly story, to emphasize the point, which, a young ‘violent’ boy such as himself, with the right discipline and attitude can grow up to be a world class surgeon. It’s kind of pathetic, but I get it. I get how it might be necessary to his narrative. Again, unfortunately, when nosy reporters with nothing better to do at CNN go around digging for facts or simply verifying what he wrote in his memoir ‘Gifted Hands’, no one could back up the incidents of violence he wrote in his book. Reporters couldn’t find people with the names Carson used in his book, Carson’s response is he changed people’s names and identities to protect them. For example, the person he stabbed wasn’t a friend but a close relative.

The more serious misrepresentation or fib is when he says he got a full scholarship to West Point Military Academy offered by General William Westmoreland. There are several problems with this inaccurate recollection. First, West Point Military Academy does not offer scholarships to anyone. Tuition of all West Point students are paid for by the United States Army, and upon graduation, the West Point cadet will serve in the army for a definite period of time to repay the gratitude of the United States Army. Secondly, General Westmoreland is in no position to offer Dr. Carson anything but fatherly advice.

According the reporting by Politico:

Carson would have needed to seek admission in order to receive an offer of free education from West Point. Also, according to West Point, there is no such thing as a “full scholarship” to the military academy, as Carson represented in his book.

An application to West Point begins with a nomination by a member of Congress or another prominent government or military official. After that, a rigorous vetting process begins. If offered admission, all costs are covered for all students; indeed there are no “full scholarships,” per se.

Dr. Carson’s campaign conceded no offers of scholarship ever took place and he never applied to attend West Point Academy.

This begs the question, a clinical one, why do people, famous people, prominent people, people who are not short on receiving attention, adulation or prestige, feel the need to fabricate, exaggerate, distort certain events of their lives to make themselves appear more important or special. Why isn’t the truth as it happened, however boring or conventional, good enough? Prior to Dr. Carson running for president, how many people did he think was going to buy and read his book for him to feel the need to fabricate certain events? What is the psychology behind this? Gen. X and Millennials are often accused of being narcissistic, self-important and self-centered, isn’t this kind of misrepresentation a form of narcissism? Especially if the aim of the lies is to make one appear more important, relevant, interesting or dynamic?

Dr. Carson, on the campaign trail right now, is known as a screaming bore. He is mild manner and speaks in soft even tones sometimes monotone. He’s no fun to watch like some of the other candidates and it’s by design. He wants to be known for his policies (which I am still unsure what they are) and not a personality type.

Dr. Carson blames all of this on the media conducting a witch hunt on him because he’s a conservative black candidate running for president and the treatment of liberal candidates in the media is more forgiving or lenient. He does have a point, however, it doesn’t change the fact he fabricated certain events in his book. Dr. Carson is not a politician by trade, he’s a doctor, a highly qualified doctor, choosing to run for the highest office in the nation, he’s got no political record to run on, which in some circles is a great thing. But on the other side of that coin, the only thing voters can judge by are Dr. Carson’s own words and if those aren’t truthful, what does that say about his credibility? As a leading presidential candidate, does Dr. Carson not expect people to vet him? Especially when he has mentioned the West Point scholarship claim in all three of his books.

More importantly, as readers, are we to believe anyone writing their own biography and memoirs anymore? Since so many people have taken great liberties with the truth, their own truth, no less. Can anyone’s account of their life ever be taken at face value again? Any reasonable person knows any given person’s life is punctuated with highs and lows, intervals of exciting events and intervals of lulls where nothing much happens. Very few people have something exciting happening every minute of every day, so why do so many people feel the need to embellish their own stories?

This phenomenon is not new, the most notorious being James Frey’s book ‘A Million Little Pieces’, an Oprah Book Club selection, and it turns out, many of the most harrowing and compelling accounts of his addictions were lies. Oprah, with her credibility on the line, ordered Frey to return to the Oprah studios and forced him to give a groveling apology which lasted an hour. Joe Biden, our vice president was accused of plagiarism during his first year in law school. One hopes people who earn a living as writers or career politicians should be able to come up with an original idea when called upon to do so. Especially a writer who’s flogging their book as a ‘memoir’ or ‘biography’, the content in the said book ought to truthful. Granted, no one can correctly recall every single detail on events which happened decades ago, no one can remember exactly what they thought, what clothes they wore on a particular event, but material facts, such as who, when and where should not differ from the truth. It’s not too much to ask, especially if it’s an event that stands out in your mind.

To expect anyone to give full honesty at all times is an impossible task, least of all a politician. But if one feels the need to lie for whatever reason, the lies should be reserved for big important things which concern the welfare and safety of others.

The Blues

So, it’s happened again. I’ve got another attack of the blues. I don’t know how it crept up on me but it has, and it sucks. It doesn’t get better each time because I have better tools to deal with it. The listlessness I feel each time is the same. Writing about it helps tremendously but it’s still painful.

The signs were all there, lethargy, excessive tiredness, restlessness, inability to focus and of course the overwhelming sadness. I’d like to say the sadness is inexplicable, but it’s not. The reasons for the attack of the blues are similar with slight variation.

This time around is due to lack of balance in my life. Balancing my own desires and wants with the other demands of my life. I’ve just concluded a particularly difficult work project. It was emotionally draining. I hated myself for needing this project financially. I would have so loved to leave everyone high and dry and just walk away. I was talked down to, ignored and treated like an idiot. It was a sisyphean project, every time when I think I’ve solved a problem, another one presented itself. Also, this work project wasn’t really mine, but it felt like I did all the boring legwork and somebody else got the cakewalk. I am very weary of this recurring theme in my life, to be stuck with the most boring tasks because I happen to be good at them. I feel like I am being punished for my abilities, punished with dealing with the most irritating people. I won’t even talk about the compensation as it’s irrelevant. Even if I am to be compensated well, it would not change how I am feeling today.

With the passage of time, I am acutely aware how little of it we have. As a result of this awareness, I am unwilling to compromise myself. I want to spend my days doing what I want to do with my free time, career path, raising my children, all without input from others. I want to do it my way. I’ve earned the right to do it my way.

It has also dawned on me recently I spent the best years of my life just struggling to keep my head above water when I should have spent more time enjoying life, despite the struggles. I got so bogged down by the negative I forgot to see the light. I revisit all the mistakes I’ve made which have cost me dearly emotionally and financially and wondered how I made them despite knowing better? All of these questions I have no answers to except to do better starting from now.

I have so many ideas, projects and businesses I want to start but I must attend to my other unfinished businesses first. I know it takes patience and all things come in due time, but while I am being patient, and as days pass me by, I feel trapped by this patience. I lose a bit of myself. And this brings me down.

I should be better at this now but I am not. Each wave of the blues hits me as hard as the last. Like all waves, you must ride it out until the tide is clear again.

In Which I Realize I Am Old.

There comes a time when the world lets you know you are getting old. It’s usually an event denoted by a single action. When your children roll their eyes at something you said which would have been cool just a short while ago. Or when one reaches a certain milestone birthday. When one consults the mirror and sees fine lines marching across one’s face which were not there the previous day. Or like me, I found out on Twitter today I am old. My firmly held viewpoints on certain subjects is now considered passe, out of date and offensive.

...Am I confused or are my viewpoint out of date?
…Am I confused or did someone change the definition of sex work?

I weighed in on a ‘discussion’ between the comedienne Margaret Cho and Twitter user THE Foo (@politibunny) and the subject matter is something very close to Margaret Cho’s heart, sexual assault, sex abuse and surviving sex abuse. The actual ‘discussion’ quite tedious and is not the point I am trying to make. I added my two-cents here and said “Sex workers have rights too. They’ve a right to not be violated just because they sell their bodies for a living” and the response was swift by Twitter user Nora: “ew what? Sex workers don’t sell their bodies, yo. They sell their time, an experience, and a service.” 

I must be really confused about what a ‘sex worker’ does, or I’ve been hiding under a rock for too long. Yes, sex workers do provide a ‘service’, a very personalized one, I must add, personalized to each customer. Last I checked they are selling sex as preferred by the customer, and yes, they use their time (obviously) to provide an experience, but don’t they still do all this with their body? Aren’t they using their body to provide this experience and service?

Then it hit me, I am not confused. I am getting old. There is now a politically correct way to describe sex work where it’s a viable career option and somehow I missed it. Another lovely Twitter users (GrossMetalFuck) also chimed in to educate me about what sex workers do.

Thank you, GrossMetalFuck (catchy handle).
Thank you, GrossMetalFuck (catchy handle).

“…to say they sell their bodies is an objectifying statement” – So again, they are selling a ‘service’ (with their body) but it’s a ‘service’ nonetheless. I am not ‘objectifying’ anyone, but merely describing a job description, the oldest profession in the world no less. I must be having a slow day today. No, wait, I am just old.

I am an all-inclusive feminist, I am not a SWERF (Sex-worker exclusionary radical feminist) or a TERF (Trans-exclusionary Radical Feminist) or second wave or third wave feminist. I got cross-eyed just typing this. Anyone who defines herself as woman, regardless of how she became a one (born or transitioned) is included in my brand of feminism. No one (man or woman) should be sexually assaulted, ever, period. No one should be violated without their consent, period. Not ever, not under any circumstance, no ifs ands or buts.

Though not backed up by science or research, I believe transgender people and sex-workers are a particularly vulnerable group for assaults. Not because, as the lovely GrossMetalFuck pointed out, “Sex workers also aren’t inherently violated any more than non sex workers are. And there are more non sex workers”, but sex workers and transgender people are at the margins of society, their profession and transgender status does not provide them the same kind of sympathy or protection as other women who are not in those categories. When sex workers and transgender people are assaulted, there’s a kind of ‘they deserved it’ attitude. When your line of work is providing a service which is sex related, what does it matter if you are raped? If a transgender person is raped or attacked, the sentiment is they provoked the attack by not being upfront about their transgender status, like the story of Brandon Teena, a transgender male who was brutally raped and murdered for daring to live his life as a man. I believe all people deserve protection from sexual assault.

So, back to me being old, forgive me if I strongly feel that sex work is not something a girl should aspire to if she’s got other career options. Sex work, in my mind should be work of last resort, which many girls around the world, sadly, have no choice but turn to sex work for their basic survival. Many girls are also sold into sexual slavery without their consent and if given a choice, they’d rather not be servicing sex to her customers (trying to be PC here). This does not mean I am sex-worker phobic, but before a woman decides to sell her sexual services, she must have had other goals and dreams. But if she didn’t, that’s fine too, she still doesn’t deserve to be violated.

I mean, they don’t grade fathers. But if your daughter’s a stripper, you fucked up. – Chris Rock

If this makes me an antediluvian prig with a stick up my behind, then so be it. Chris Rock said many times, his job as a father is to keep his daughters ‘off the pole’. Amen.

Book Review: Life in Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina, By Misty Copeland

In a different lifetime, I’d have fancied myself a ballerina. An elegant swan in Swan Lake or the Sugar Plum Fairy in Nutcracker. When I close my eyes some days, I imagine myself an elegant dancer with a perfect dancer’s body whipped into perfect shape by my years of training. But, alas.

I enjoy the ballet very much. I love everything about classical ballet. The art form itself, its beautiful clean lines, the rigor and discipline of the dancers, the hours and hours of rehearsals required to perform their routines perfectly. It’s an art form which requires the artist to constantly improve their craft, regardless how long they’ve been dancing. It’s beautiful and breathtaking to watch. An accomplished ballet dancer is to make very difficult and intricate dance moves look easy and graceful.

Classical ballet is one of the traditional art forms which was not forced to undergo dramatic change in terms of its inclusivity. Classical ballet was and is to a certain extent, an art form dominated by white people, white culture and especially the white woman. In fact, it’s one of the rare art forms where women represent the art more so than the men. But it’s only a specific kind of woman. A skinny white girl with the right proportions from head to toe, literally. Ballet dancers have been dismissed for eyes being set too close or too wide apart or the curvature of their feet not meeting the exacting standards of the artistic director. She cannot be too tall or too short. All of this is grounds for dismissal, irrespective of her technique and talent. Uniformity is paramount but within that uniformity, a great ballerina can stand out and perform a great role when called upon to do so. It’s a hard balance to strike, hence only 1% of all ballerinas ever make into a top classical ballet company. Competition is stiff and unrelenting. There is always someone ready to pounce on a ballerina’s position in a dance company.

Ideally, a ballet dancer begins her training by 5 years old (if not earlier), and if she’s serious, she is to continue her classes and training through her preteens, teenage years and starting at 16 years old, she begins auditioning for major classical ballet companies, hoping to land a spot in the Corp de Ballet (similar to the chorus girls on Broadway) and dance her way up from there. The goal for every ballet dancer, male or female is to be principal dancer. They get the pick of the plum roles every season and their faces grace the billboards. It’s an honor and privilege that has to be earned, there are no shortcuts but blood, sweat and tears. To be a prima ballerina is the ultimate prize for a ballerina’s hard work and sacrifice.

The world of ballet, besides being very white, is also elitist. It’s not elitist in the sense where in order for someone to be a ballet dancer they need to come from a lot of money or a prominent family (like one would if they were to be an equestrian, polo player or cricket player), though it wouldn’t hurt. But it’s elitist in the sense that to be considered a ‘good’ ballerina, one’s got to look the part on stage and off. A ballerina’s Swan Queen persona needs to be maintained at all times. She needs to be graceful, well spoken and light on her feet on stage as well as off. A ballerina is not just a job title, it’s a persona. And it’s a persona which is adopted from the elitist European culture. There are certain expectations of a ballerina and she must maintain that reputation if she is to be successful and have a long career. She becomes her art and her manners and deportment must reflect her art.

To be a dedicated ballerina is not cheap either, especially if one starts at a very young age. Though there are lots of scholarships on offer from different elite ballet companies, they are reserved for advanced dancers and are given only to the most talented and promising dancers. It doesn’t require parents to be millionaires to train a young dancer but they do need some means and connections. And just like one often hears about training for elite olympic athletes, it’s a family effort. The whole family makes sacrifices for the one person.

In the backdrop of all this comes Misty Copeland, a newly promoted principal dancer for the American Ballet Theater, one of the top classical ballet companies in the world. She is an unlikely ballerina because she is none of the things described above. According to her own words in her newly released documentary ‘A Ballerina’s Tale’, she says her upbringing for most of her childhood was considered ‘underprivileged’. She had no access to the fine arts, she had never heard of ballet until she was 13 years old when it was recommended by her drill team instructor to attend a free ballet class being offered at the San Pedro Boys and Girls club. She is not white, she’s black, she didn’t come from a lot of money and for the Copeland family, being a ballerina is about as far fetched as being the first woman president (of any race). It was totally out of her realm or awareness.

Copeland is one of six children being raised by a single mother. The family’s fortunes depended on who her mother was married to or was dating at the time. When she had a husband, things were better, when she didn’t, things were rough. Misty was the fourth child from her mother’s first marriage, her mother married twice more and had two more children. Growing up, Misty felt like she was lost in the din of six children all trying to fight for their mother’s attention, which was scant on offer due to her exhaustion of constantly working to provide for her six children. Their mother was loving and fiercely protective, but made some poor choices in men as they were growing up.

“Through movement, I found my calling. Through ballet, I found my voice” – Misty Copeland

Misty’s story is not about going from rags to riches or even triumph over circumstance. It’s about following your intuition, grabbing an opportunity of a lifetime when presented with it and running with it, trying to make good come of it, even if every thought in your head is telling you to sabotage it. Using your gut to make split second decision even though you know everyone in your family may be against you. Misty had the foresight to see the mistakes of her mother and is determined not to repeat them.

When Misty attended her first ballet class at age 13 inside a school gym, she had no clue what ballet was except it was a form of dance. Her teacher Cynthia Bradley had to coax a very shy Misty from the back of the gym to the front. From the very beginning, Cynthia Bradley saw untapped potential in Misty and believed she could be a great ballerina with the right training. Because Misty was already 13 years old she had to make up her mind right away if she was going to pursue ballet as her future profession and begin the rigorous training required. She agreed right away. Cynthia Bradley along with her husband Patrick was going to subsidize her classes (with help from others). She received her early ballet training on a full scholarship.

This was also a particularly difficult time in Misty’s home life. Her mother had gotten divorced again and the whole family was living in a motel in a seedy part of town. The whole family of 7 plus Misty’s mother’s new boyfriend lived in two rooms. This was the lowest they’d ever been. There were days where they put their coins together to buy food. And Misty readily admitted in her book and many interviews she was embarrassed about living in a motel with her family. When she discovered ballet, it was her way out and she knew it. It wasn’t as if she was trying to get away from her family; no, she loves them. It was her way out of poverty, this vicious cycle of marriage, children, divorce, re-marriage, more children, divorce again, the merry-go-around her mother has been on since she was first married at 20 years old. Also, ballet would be something that belonged to Misty only, she didn’t have to ‘share’ ballet with her siblings.

The Bradleys, besides being her ballet teachers, were her second parents, her guardians from the age of 13 to almost 16. When Misty’s mother could no longer cope with her young daughter taking so many hours of ballet classes, she decided to end her daughter’s nascent discovery and interest in ballet. Misty was heartbroken. When Cynthia Bradley found out Misty was living in a motel with her family, she told Misty’s mother that Misty could come live with her. She only has one young son and they lived in a comfortable seaside condo. And that night, with Misty’s mother’s consent, Misty packed her belongings and moved in with the Bradley family.

Another unexpected bonus from living with the Bradleys is Misty Copeland got to see what a loving functional family with two parents looked like. Patrick Bradley absolutely adores his wife Cynthia. She brought Misty back to their home without even asking him first. She literally showed up with a 13 year old Misty and told her husband and her young son Wolf, Misty was going to live with them. After the shock wore off, Patrick Bradley invited everyone to sit down for dinner and that was then end of the discussion. Misty’s mother never experienced such adoration from any of her husbands, they were never a functional family unit as there was domestic violence and addictions issues (on the part of the husband) with Misty’s mother’s marriages. She got to observe first hand what a loving family looks like. Misty was included in all of the activities of the Bradleys; shabbat dinners, synagogue attendance and other family gatherings. She felt welcome and accepted by the Bradleys.

Cynthia Bradley also demanded Misty speak her opinion when asked. She wanted Misty to know that her voice matters, even though her voice was drowned in a large noisy family due to her naturally shy nature, it matters. There were times where Cynthia Bradley wouldn’t let an issue rest until Misty have voiced her opinion. Misty is forever grateful for that.

However, as time wore on, Misty saw less and less of her family on weekends (which was agreed upon from the beginning) due to school and dance commitments. Misty’s mother felt that Misty was being taken away from her. When Misty was 15 and after she spent a summer at San Francisco Ballet for a summer intensive training program, her mother, Sylvia DeLaCerna decided it was enough. Misty had to come back to live with her. DeLaCerna felt if Misty was good enough to get into San Francisco Ballet on full scholarship for a summer program with an offer of joining the company when she was ready, she could attend ballet class with any school or teacher, it didn’t have to be the Bradleys. Misty didn’t want to return to her mother and she wanted to continue her training with the Bradleys.

Things came to a head when Misty Copeland filed for emancipation from her mother. This is quite a common practice especially involving young athletes and dancers when they need to reside with their coaches or trainers. Misty claims she heard this from one her fellow classmates while she was at San Francisco Ballet and discussed it over with the Bradleys but she came to the decision on her own, her mother Sylvia DeLaCerna believes it was the idea of the Bradleys, so they can take Misty away from her permanently. Her mother not having the resources to fight the emancipation, places a call to the most indiscreet lawyer in America, Gloria Allred, who promptly convenes a press conference making the Bradleys look like child snatchers. It was traumatic for the shy and retiring Misty. In the end, the issue was settled when Misty withdrew her emancipation request with the demand the Bradleys be out of the picture and Misty is to continue her ballet training with another dance school. Everyone went on with their respective lives but Misty describes the forced, sudden separation with the Bradleys was traumatic and painful. Though Misty didn’t get what she wanted, the silver lining is her mother and her siblings knew she was serious about ballet, she was going to do this, and so they stayed out of her way.

Several controversies came from this. Firstly, one not helped by Gloria Allred is the notion that the Bradleys, a well-to-do white family is taking advantage of impoverished black single mother by taking her talented child away from her in more ways than one. Misty was accused of being ‘brainwashed’ by not just her mother but her siblings too as she progressed in her ballet training. As Misty became more refined in her tastes as a result of living with a white middle class family and participating in a classical artform, she became more alienated from her own family. Though Misty didn’t say it, she was accused acting ‘white’. The Bradleys claim they loved Misty like their own and she is a talented prodigy who Cynthia Bradley discovered, taught, nurtured and loved. What is Misty’s final analysis about all these accusations? About being brainwashed, though she said it wasn’t deliberate, she can see why her family felt that way and she concedes perhaps the Bradleys in an attempt to make her more presentable to the ballet world, she was a bit ‘brainwashed’. About filing for emancipation, Misty says a classmate at San Francisco Ballet told her about it and she did discuss it with the Bradleys, but the Bradleys left the decision to her. But Misty refutes the claim the Bradleys were taking advantage of her, she views them as her benefactors, people who took a chance on her and gave her the tools she needed to succeed and they, Patrick, Cynthia and Wolf Bradley, loved her and she loved them back.

Misty Copeland was eventually offered a place at her ballet company of choice, the American Ballet Theater, this was her first and only choice. It was not all smooth sailing from there either. When she hit puberty (a very delayed puberty as normal for dancers), her body changed. She went from being a lithe ballerina with the proportions of the ‘perfect‘ ballerina as prescribed by George Balanchine to a curvy and muscular dancer. This presented a ‘problem’ with the uniformity required of the dancers in the corp de ballet. She was told by the ballet company to ‘lengthen’ (ballet-speak for losing weight, as one couldn’t conceivably tell a girl who is 5′ 2″ and 105 lbs to lose weight) and that her muscular body type and full chest and hips is not acceptable to the standards of classical ballet. Misty ‘stood out’ for the wrong reasons, black, not lean enough and being the only black ballerina in a company of 80 dancers made her feel lonelier than ever. She nearly quit. But when she thought of quitting, she thought of her mother, Sylvia DeLaCerna, who ran from every bad situation without a coherent plan in mind and the whole family ended up worse off than before. They went from one bad situation to another, compounding their problems. So, Misty dusted herself off, made some changes in her diet (she became a pescatarian) and requested a meeting with the artistic director articulating her wishes. Firstly, she will no longer paint her face white to match the rest of the girls, if she is to play a ‘ghost’ she’ll make herself pale but not white, the audience will get the hint. Second, she made it clear to Kevin McKenzie, the art director of American Ballet Theater, her desire is to be a ‘classical ballerina’, she wants to do all the big classical ballets, Swan Lake, Romeo and Juliet, Sleeping Beauty, Firebird, La Bayadere, Don Quixote, The Nutcracker etc., and that’s her focus, not modern ballet, though she’s got no objection with those and they are equally good, but she prefers the classical ballets.

Unbeknownst to her, she spoke her mind, just like Cynthia Bradley taught her to do. She communicated her wishes, and Kevin McKenzie appreciated her candor and was glad he was informed of her goals. She didn’t run, she didn’t escape, she confronted her problems and communicated her wishes and she got what she wanted. She was promoted to soloist in 2007, the second black woman to attain that position and this year in June, she got promoted to principal dancer, just like Cynthia Bradley said she would be.

This book is a good read, a fun read for everyone, not just the ballet obsessed. Misty Copeland carved out a life for herself in New York City as a ballerina in one of the most prestigious classical ballet companies in the world. She achieved what seemed like the impossible by not running away from her problems, but by confronting them.