The Class Politics of Adoption 

 


If we are to treat child adoption like a ‘market’ with its own supply and demand, most prospective adoptive parents are white who prefer to adopt healthy white infants, but most babies available for adoption in America are not white. Since Russia and the Ukraine have banned parents from the United States from adopting their children, healthy white babies are even harder to come by. The reasons why white parents wanting to adopt white babies may seem obvious from the perspectives of race but many studies have shown it is better for children if they are adopted by at least one parent who are of the same race. Race should not be the only deciding factor but it should be considered. Anecdotal stories of black children being raised and socialized as white people by their white adoptive parents presents issues which can be hard to overcome as they grow up.

The supply and demand issue of healthy white babies brings us back to domestic adoptions in the United States. The best demographic for healthy white babies are the babies of white teenage mothers, especially poor teenage mothers whose families will have trouble caring for the baby without assistance from the state. The logic goes, if the child is going to be on welfare until it reaches 18, why not have them be adopted by a family who can care for them. They can finish high school, get a degree, get married or at least meet a more suitable man and then start a family when they are older. Also, teenage mothers in general, regardless of social class, aren’t usually the most reliable or best parents. It doesn’t mean all teenagers make bad parents, but generally speaking, they have a lot of growing up to do themselves before they are able to take care of another person. And without exception, most of these teen mothers do not ride off into the sunset with the boy who got them pregnant, though a lot of them try and put in a valiant effort in maintaining a two parent family unit. A lot of fathers slowly disappear overtime, feeling overwhelmed by his new responsibilities, some don’t even bother to try to be a father, some fathers are pushed out of the picture due to anger by the mother’s family. And as for child support, you can forget about it. The few fathers that stick around are usually supported by their families. The life of a poor teenage mother is bleak, lonely and overwhelming. And the biggest lesson is love doesn’t conquer all. It is one hurdle after another, where the mother, who is still a child herself struggle to overcome. Love is the most important thing in raising a child, but love alone without the adequate support system and maturity is usually not enough.

This then begs the next question, and a sensitive one with political and social class implications. Who gets to be a mother? Just because you can biologically but should you? Is there someone out there more qualified than you to be a mother because they are older, have more resources, stable income and emotional maturity, the ‘everything else’ on top of love that is required for parenting. They also have the desire and love to start a family. Most adoptive couples in the US go the adoption route when they’ve exhausted all options of having biological children of their own. Is it moral or ethical to coax and emotionally manipulate a vulnerable and overwhelmed teenage girl to give up her child and her reward is resuming her old carefree teenage life?  With some private adoptions the mother’s living and medical expenses including maternity care and delivery are fully paid for by the prospective adoptive parents for the duration of her pregnancy. Though no direct cash is given to the pregnant teenage mother, isn’t this another way of ‘buying’ a baby? And as for returning to her old life; it’s ridiculous, no one, after delivering a baby, regardless what happens to that baby, is she ever the same. Most girls will never return to their ‘old lives’ as they were before they became pregnant regardless if they’ve kept their baby or not. Even if they gave the baby up for adoption, they are never the same. There is no ‘returning’ to an old life after having a baby. Their lives separate into before baby and after baby.

To address the shortage of healthy white infants available for adoption and the many prospective adoptive parents waiting for a baby, social workers have begun to zero in on poor white teenage mothers; especially those with intellectual challenges.


 

Should people with intellectual challenges be allowed to be a mother or father children? They perhaps can but should they? Since it’s illegal for the government to sterilize people with diminished mental capacities on the grounds that it’s inhumane to deprive someone the basic right to reproduce, but the question still remains, should people with diminished capabilities have children? Not just for the fear of passing on the same intellectual vulnerabilities, but parenting while you have all of your faculties is hard enough, can someone who has challenges navigating day to day life on a cognitive and intellectual level cope with all that is involved with parenting? It’s back at the same argument, if you can’t take care of yourself, how can you take care of a child? What is the ‘standard’ in which we deem people mentally fit and capable enough to take on the rigors of parenting? Whose and which standards are we using? Are there any biases in those standards? Are those standards even reasonable? Is anyone really fit to parent at the time they have their baby, regardless of her intellectual or physical challenges? Conventional wisdom and most first time mothers all say they were scared shitless when they bring their first baby home from the hospital. The thought of keeping a tiny vulnerable human being alive on your own, when you’ve never done it before is scary for anyone. The pediatrician’s phone number is kept on speed dial.

Just like the urge to have one’s sexual needs met, the urge to love and protect one’s child is equal if not stronger. Taking a child from its mother is one of most cruel things to do to someone and it shouldn’t be done unless there is a pressing emergency to do so. To remove a child from its mother and family is a serious thing and for the most part, the policies of social services now have focused on family reunification as opposed to permanently removing the child from the home. Studies have also shown regardless of the social class and the situation of the family, it’s always better for a child to remain with one of their family members if they can’t live with the parents than to be in foster care or be adopted.

Massive, longitudinal studies have recently shown that kids, especially older ones, do better over the long term (less likely to wind up pregnant as teenagers, to be addicted to drugs, to land in prison) living with their own kin, even if those families are broken, chaotic, or neglectful. In the best of all possible worlds, “substitute care,” as the state euphemistically calls it, functions as a time-out in a family’s life, a chance for parents to reorganize so their kids can safely come home. – Lisa Miller

Family dysfunction and abuse knows no boundaries, the poor are not any more or less likely to abuse their children than the rich. The poor are simply more exposed than the rich. The poor do not have the money to hire fancy lawyers or the connections to shield their crimes and dysfunction from the authorities like the rich can. While poverty can exacerbate addiction, domestic abuse and general family instability, poverty itself doesn’t cause domestic abuse or family dysfunction.


 

The article ‘Who Knows Best’ for New York Magazine about such a case is about Sara Gordon, a 19 year old teenage mother, who has an IQ about 70, whose baby was taken away from her days after birth because the medical staff at the hospital were concerned about how she was (or wasn’t) properly caring for her baby. Her baby was taken against her will and she was ready to do anything to get her baby daughter Dana June Gordon back. This drew the attention of many people including the Department of Justice and Health and Human Services. This family was prepared to do everything right to prove that they deserved to keep Dana June Gordon but social services at every turn tried to find fault and undermine Sara Gordon and instead of trying to help her parent her little girl. They stood by to watch her fail and then declared she wasn’t fit to parent.  The fact that they had an older Mennonite Christian couple foster the baby with the intent to adopt her while she was getting her parental rights restored was not lost on Sara or her parents. It was very clear to all the observers including the journalist reporting, this is a healthy white baby with a mother who has a diminished intellectual capacity. They were poor, they do not have the resources to fight this, little Dana June Gordon is the perfect baby to legally snatch from her mother, under the guise of doing ‘what’s best for the baby’. For this report, Lisa Miller tried to represent all sides fairly, she tried her best to not editorialize though it’s a very emotional subject and hard to not inject your own feelings about this.

Sara Gordon was single, white and poor when she found herself pregnant. She had sex with a man whom she described as “that low-life scumbag”. There was no relationship, just “sex and a pregnancy.” This same man also had another baby with another woman and he relinquished his parental rights immediately. With Sara Gordon’s pregnancy, he denied paternity altogether. As soon as her parents found out she was pregnant, they immediately made plans to care for this baby. Her mother, Kim Gordon knew that social services will be all over them so she worked out a plan with her husband where she would quit her job at the local hospital when the baby is born and her husband will try to support them all with his job at the local junkyard. The implication is whatever financial shortfall there is they will request state assistance. They live in the state of Massachusetts where universal health insurance for everyone was enacted long before Obamacare was passed and their social welfare and anti-poverty programs are more robust than other states. This was not a family in denial of their limitations, financial and otherwise. This baby was unplanned, but they will move forward and take care of this baby the best they knew how. Kim Gordon is very familiar with her daughter’s disability and has cared for her since she was born and she was willing to take on her grandchild too.

As for Sara Gordon herself, she was giddy to be a mother in a childish way. She clearly had no clue what it entailed or what it meant. She loved Winnie-the-Pooh growing up and all of her baby’s clothes and blankets are Winnie-the-Pooh themed. She looked forward to the birth of her baby knowing she has the full support of her parents. She wrongly believed that it will all go well.

It is also worthy to point out, social workers have to do an impossible job. When facts aren’t black and white as most cases aren’t, they must make a decision based on their experience, judgement and sometimes their intuition or what their gut tells them. For every social worker who overreacts and improperly removes a child from its family, there are scores of others who are doing the right thing by the children they are tasked to serve and protect. Social workers tend to be blamed for everything when something terrible happens to a child. Why wasn’t the child removed from the home sooner if it was seriously harmed by its parents. If the child gets abused at a foster home and it turns out their parents were innocent of the allegations against them, then social services are blamed for overreacting and if it involves a minority family, whispers of racism and discrimination are alleged.

For this case, it’s important to point out exactly what Sara Gordon’s intellectual limitations for they are at the crux of the case social services had against her. Sara has an IQ about 70, which is the only quantifiable measurement in this whole case. She can read, but has difficulty doing so “and prefers not to do it” if she didn’t have to. She missed a feeding at the hospital because she can’t tell time on a clock as she prefers digital clocks. While she successfully filled out the birth certificate and social security number request forms, when the nurses handed her a checklist of things to while caring for her baby, it was too much for her. She was observed to be “checked out, watching cartoons, according to a DCF account, while the baby cried.” The hospital was also concerned that Sara “was not able to comprehend how to handle or care for the child due to the mother’s mental retardation,” A social worker called Scott Henderson came to observe Sara with her baby at the hospital and according to his observation Sara was too slow and too awkward in caring for her baby. She swaddled her baby incorrectly, forgot to burp her after one feeding and took a really long time to change a diaper.

Sara’s mother Kim Gordon feels they were judged the minute they walked into the hospital,

Sara Gordon is not like most of the young women who give birth at this small-town hospital. She takes little care of her appearance, preferring large, baggy T-shirts with wiseacre slogans (“I’ve stopped listening. Why haven’t you stopped talking?”) over clothing that might flatter her more. Her speech is flat, her enunciation imprecise, and she has a hard time paying attention in groups because too much chatter whizzes past her brain.

In short, she was judged for her attire, her intelligence (or lack of) which is associated with her social class, her single status and her youth, or in a word ‘white-trash’. What business does she have bringing another human being into this world? How on earth is she going to care for the baby? It’s not reported if the hospital staff knew of her intellectual challenges prior to her being admitted to hospital.

In any event, DCF decided that Sara Gordon couldn’t go home with her baby. She needed to take parenting classes to prove that she was fit to to care for her baby.

[T]he state articulates a set of tasks and goals, called a “service plan,” that the parent must meet to ameliorate the agency’s concerns and achieve family “reunification.” A drug user might need to enter rehab; a batterer might have to go to anger-management sessions.

However, with the case of Sara Gordon, DCF didn’t seek to ameliorate the state’s concern against her abilities of being a mother, they wanted her to fail so someone else can adopt her baby, a healthy white baby. A prized baby such as Dana June Gordon should not be left in the care of some like Sara Gordon.

Sara, though intellectually challenged was very aware of the fact that she had better do everything DCF wanted her to do if she wanted her baby back and she did. She went above and beyond the checklist which was given to her by DCF.

She attended individual therapy and parenting classes and practiced diapering on baby dolls. She stayed in school. On her own initiative, she took and passed a CPR course.


 

For the next two years she was allowed supervised visits with her baby. It started out as one hour per week to slowly dwindling to just twice a month. Finally she was told that it was DCF’s recommendation that her baby should be adopted by her foster parents, a Mennonite Christian couple, whose religious beliefs the Gordon family found too restrictive and were not consistent with their own beliefs and what they wanted for baby Dana June Gordon. A touchy subject was how baby Dana was being dressed, usually in long uncomfortable restrictive Mennonite clothing by her foster parents. At every visit, Sara made a point to change out of the clothes her foster parents provided and put her baby in the Winnie-the-Pooh themed clothes she bought. The Gordons, and especially Sara, felt her child was slowly being taken away from her right under her nose and there’s not a damn thing she could do about it.

Nothing Sara did was good enough or right for social services, at times DCF sent male social workers to supervise her while she’s taking care of her daughter, and when the male social workers demonstrated that he could change a diaper, swaddle her baby, dress her baby, clean her baby better than she, a woman, the baby’s mother, this was used as proof that she is unfit.

Even after months of supervised visits between Sara and her baby, social workers still observed that Sara was awkward with her baby, slow to respond to her baby’s cries and cues, at times walking away from her baby when she was crying and took an inordinate amount of time to do tasks such as diaper changing, getting a bottle ready and just general care. She was also clumsy and uncoordinated.

It must not have occurred to social services that all first time mothers are clumsy for the first few months, regardless of her intellectual capacity. How intelligent a mother is prior to having her baby is of absolutely no use during those first few months. It wouldn’t have mattered if she was a nuclear physicist. Since Sara only gets to see her daughter for one hour a week, there is no way for her to practice these practical skills of parenting which can only be mastered by repetition.

That Sara’s mother Kim Gordon was proactive and made arrangements to care for the baby before the baby was born, DCF instead of seeing this as a good thing, which most logical people will conclude, they used it against her. This action by Kim Gordon proves that she knew her daughter couldn’t handle the task of being a mother. When Sara Gordon requested more time or more instructions to learn to do something better, instead of being applauded for her willingness to learn and ask for help, she was written up as unfit.

Sara speaks especially bitterly about her first social worker, who would stand aside and watch as she tried to feed, soothe, and diaper Dana during visits, timing her and taking notes on her phone but offering no encouragement. “I needed more time. I can’t learn in five minutes. It just doesn’t fit in my book,” she tells me.

Besides the issue of Sara’s intellectual limitations, there was also the issue of her parents, Sam and Kim Gordon. Many years before, when Sara was 4 years old, the Gordons came under the attention of DCF because of Sam Gordon’s issues with alcohol. He was ordered to go to rehab and Sara and her siblings were put in foster care for 9 months. The family was ultimately reunified and Sam Gordon has maintained his sobriety until now. This was 18 years ago. There were also accusations that Sara had been sexually abused by her father, to which everyone was adamant this didn’t happen. The state’s forensic team could not find any evidence proving Sara was sexually abused. The intervention by DCF ultimately was a positive one for the Gordon family, even Sara admits as much, she said it got her father sober and made him a better person.

For all of Sara’s challenges, lack of awareness of her own deficiencies was not one of them. She fully understands where she needs help and is not embarrassed to ask for help when she needs it. Sara, like many children with intellectual disabilities, was subjected to cruel “retard” jokes at school, but Sara is tough, she got through all that and she doesn’t care. She will ask for help when she needs it. Call her what you want, she will fight for everything in this life, including the right to parent her daughter. This is an extraordinary strength of character and source of pride for her family.


 

When baby Dana’s status changed from temporary fostering to adoption, Sara Gordon charged into action. She filed a discrimination suit in the spring of 2014 on the account of her diminished intellectual capacities against DCF and the Department of Justice and Health and Human Services got involved. She also wrote emails (with the assistance of her mother) to anyone and everyone with influence and told them her baby is being stolen from her by DCF.

(The foster parents in this case Jenny and Daniel Fox, by all accounts were good foster parents. They adopted two boys as Jenny Fox wasn’t able to have children of her own. Their two boys were nearly grown and they desperately wanted to adopt another little girl. While they loved baby Dana and would love to keep her permanently, it doesn’t appear they were complicit with DCF in actively trying to remove baby Dana from her biological family.)

Lisa Miller also touched on the issue of what makes a mother. Is it biological connection or connection of the soul between adoptive parents and child? It’s related to the previous point of how much intellectual capacity does one need to be a competent parent. According to the Jenny, being a mother entails:

“[being] a solo operator, a keeper of details, the family’s representative to the world, a resource for her children during squabbles with friends and struggles at school. Jenny cooks and cleans and shops and remembers scheduled doctor’s appointments, ferrying the kids back and forth to church and school. She knows shoe sizes and emergency phone numbers and the names of teachers and favorite foods, and when she disciplines her children, she speaks to them quietly, gently, almost in a whisper.”

For Sara Gordon, blood ties, kinship, biological connections, blood relations is paramount in what defines a mother. She thought of her baby Dana as a “mini-me” and she resembled her mother when her mother was at the same age.

It’s interesting how Lisa Miller points this out. They seem to represent different world views on what makes a family, specifically what makes a mother. The Foxes value competence over blood ties, which is understandable as Jenny Fox is unable to have children. To Jenny, besides that fierce maternal love you have for a child, which most biological mothers will have in abundance without being prompted, you also need to be able to fulfill a list of requirements before you can consider yourself a mother. And that list reads like June Cleaver’s to do list. By judging Lisa Miller’s description of Jenny Fox’s parenting style, she embodies the quintessential ideals of what a mother should be.

The Gordons value blood ties before anything. One doesn’t need to be perfectly organized in order to be considered a good mother. That love which comes with biological and blood ties will compensate for other shortcomings, provided that those shortcomings are not detrimental to the child. It’s a ‘love conquers all’ attitude, where children should remain with their biological family as much as possible.

The view of the Foxes (which is also consistent the view of DCF) is one that is adopted by middle and upper class families. Families with means and resources. The view of the Gordons is one that is adopted by working class and underprivileged families. Blood ties are everything. Family ties are everything. Your kin is everything. No one should come between blood ties and kin, even if the family is less than ideal. To take away a child from a poor family is akin to taking from them what little they have, which is each other.

These two different worldviews is clearly a clash of social-class values.


 

Just how smart do you have to be to be a competent and fit mother? If we are to start down this slippery path, there are plenty of mothers of exceptional intelligence who are sadistic, monstrous and neglectful. Unfit doesn’t even begin to describe them. Their intelligence has got nothing to do with how they are able to parent. Having cognitive deficiencies and not being to navigate certain daily tasks does pose a threat to a child, but what if that person has support? Such as the case of Sara, her mother dropped everything to help her. Doesn’t that count for something? Not if you are poor it doesn’t.

If healthy 15 and 16 year girls, who can’t vote, can barely drive and can’t even hold a job in some states can keep their baby, with or without the support of their parents; why can’t a 19 year old mother with intellectual deficiencies but who has the support of both of her parents keep hers? Yes, Sara gets confused easily, frustrates easily, can’t tell time on a clock, reading and writing ability is stuck at elementary school level, has trouble coordinating and scheduling but she has a mother who is physically and mentally able and willing to step in and help. And it’s not like Sara can’t do any of the things required to parent her baby, she just needs someone by her side to guide her. If women who have been to prison and still can get custody of their children back after her prison sentence, if drug addicts can regain custody after becoming sober, what is the reason why Sara can’t keep her baby?

If any social worker made a random check on any given day to someone’s home. They are not responding to any particular allegation, but just for the sake of argument, a social worker lands on your front door step one day, what will they likely find? An orderly house where everything is in its place and the children are quietly and contently eating their breakfast? There are no toys or books on the ground? The laundry is in its proper place? And mom is enjoying her cup of coffee whilst her children are eating their breakfast like something from a Norman Rockwell painting? Any household with small children by default can become disorderly and chaotic. On most days parents have found a way to cope with that disorder and the din that comes with family life. But everyone has bad days where one more complaint about how the cereal is too soggy can send mommy into a breakdown. Parents, even the most competent parents are human. We are not made to withstand the litany of chores that is required in child rearing on a daily basis without a breaking point. What if the social worker walked in on a bad day and they see me being short tempered with my children on what may seem like a trivial matter, does that make me an unfit parent based on one incident? Will they think if someone loses their shit on spilt cereal what else will she lose her shit on?


 

The conclusion of this saga ended in January of 2015:

DOJ and HHS issued a letter finding the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families had committed “extensive, ongoing violations” of the Americans With Disabilities Act in the case of Sara Gordon. “DCF acted based on Ms. Gordon’s disability as well as on DCF’s discriminatory assumptions and stereotypes about her disability,” it said. The letter said nothing about adequate parents or optimal outcomes or a 2-year-old’s best interests. It merely said that in its dealings with Sara Gordon, DCF made assumptions about Sara’s ability, that it did not take into account her strong support network, and that it consistently failed to accommodate her disability to help her live as much as possible like everyone else.

By March of 2015, Dana June Gordon was reunited with Sara and her parents. Parenting is still challenging for Sara as is expected for someone with her disabilities. She still has childlike fantasies about what it’s like to parent. Sara’s parents Sam and Kim Gordon was granted guardianship of Dana June Gordon. This way Sara can still maintain a strong presence in her baby’s life and the safety and wellbeing of baby Dana can be secured. For baby Dana’s third birthday, the first birthday the Gordons got to celebrate with her; Sara wanted to do a blowout style birthday party with Winnie-the-Pooh theme. The Gordons can ill afford it, her parents know that but Sara still believes she can make her daughter’s first birthday with them special.

This story reached its natural and happy conclusion, but how many other unwitting, poor young mothers had their babies taken away from them for no just cause. Their babies were taken away on the account that they are poor and single. It’s an extra bonus if their babies are healthy and white. While adopting children whose parents are not able to care for them is a wonderful thing, when social workers have to go about sourcing babies who meet a specific criteria to meet the adoptive parents’ demands and when those adoptive parents have cash in hand to make this transaction go smoother, it crosses a serious moral and ethical line.

It’s one thing when a teenage mother (or any mother) willingly gives up her baby for adoption because she is unable to care for it, but when vulnerable young mothers who are poor are convinced or talked into giving up their babies because they are doing the ‘right’ thing for the baby, and she’s made to believe, against her wishes, that this is the only choice for her baby, it’s tantamount to baby snatching. Accidental pregnancies happen everyday to women, during the initial stages, she may be confused or scared. But when she comes to and decides what she wants to do with her baby, whether to have a termination, to parent or place for adoption, these are choices she has arrived based on her maternal instinct. Just because a girl is very young or very poor (or both) doesn’t mean she’ll just hand over her baby to someone else who can care for it better. What’s more abhorrent is social services (private and state) deliberately go after people who are poor and know they don’t have the resources to fight this. They think if they put enough road blocks for the young mother, she’ll eventually rollover and capitulate.

Sara Gordon herself and her parents knew, if they were rich, social services wouldn’t dare do this to them. Sara, her mother Kim and her baby Dana each had appointed lawyers paid for by social services to represent their interests. Kim Gordon’s attorney Kalley Walsh felt the way social services is being run is “among the human-rights outrages of our time — “the new innocence project,” – a legal field where attorneys represent clients who’ve been wronged by the criminal justice system to help defendants redress justice, except this time it’s directed at social services.

Adoption is a wonderful thing. Adoption should be encouraged, it should be consensual between birth mothers and adoptive parents and not at the expense taking poor children away from their families.

Denmark has done it. They will take what few possessions refugees have. 

The Danish legislature passed a law allowing authorities to require migrants and refugees to turn over any cash in excess of 10,000 kroner (about US $1455) and hand over any valuables that are not of sentimental value such as watches or computers. Wedding rings, engagement rings, family portraits and badges of honor and other sentimental items are exempt. The purpose of this provide for the upkeep and maintenance of migrant and refugees whom have already entered Denmark, which are about 20,000 people right now. One tidbit which has been overlooked is, legislators in exchange for raising the threshold of cash to be seized (from 3000 to 10,000 kroner), the family reunification period has been increased from one year to three years. This means refugee and asylum seekers must wait a minimum of three years before they can reunify with their families, even if they establish themselves and become gainfully employed and financially independent before three years. Especially for people with young families, this is a punitively long time to be separated by arbitrary circumstances. The seizures of cash and valuables is Denmark’s way of making themselves as unattractive as possible for refugees and migrants so that they go elsewhere to claim asylum. It’s another way of saying ‘not in my backyard’.

The Danish government claim this isn’t discriminatory or racist. They require all Danish welfare applicants to do the same before they claim welfare benefits. They also allege, if their asylum claims are successful, they will become legal Danish citizens and will be entitled to all of the privileges and benefits of all Danes, which are quite generous. Free medical care from cradle to grave, free tuition until college, housing benefit, paid maternity and paternity leave and generous unemployment benefits are guaranteed for Danish citizens, except migrants and refugees didn’t pay into the Danish treasury like native Danes have done all their working lives. Denmark is also known for their eye watering tax rates to pay for all of these benefits. Denmark is socialist democratic country, Danes pay huge sums in taxes in exchange for the government taking care of all the citizens from cradle to grave. It is a mutually beneficial exchange. Law abiding Danes can expect a life of relative comfort and security even in the face of recessions, unemployment, sickness, disability and other unforeseen events because of everyone’s contribution to the purse and because of this taxpayer funded security, the Danish government in turn expect their citizens to be law abiding and peaceful. After all, what is there to complain about, along with with generous benefits, which nearly everyone contributes to, they live in a clean and orderly country, where all the infrastructure is functioning, they also have human rights and freedoms of speech and expression, people can live as they choose. Many people on the political left view countries like Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Finland as some sort of utopia, where the government takes care of its people and the people return that gratitude by being good and law abiding citizens. What is not explicitly expressed in this mutually beneficial arrangement between the government and its people is that it only works if all the people who contribute to and live with in this system are on the same page as to what’s expected of them.

One of the first lessons we learn as children is “there is no free lunch”, which translates to nothing in life (nothing good and worthwhile at least) is free. The same can be said for the socialist democracies of Scandinavia and to some extent Germany. In order to maintain this very generous social contract with its citizens, along with punitive tax rates, they also need a big tax base, where virtually everyone contributes, not just the rich, upper-class and middle class, even the working class must contribute from their meagre wages. This also means countries like Denmark cannot support a sudden influx of a large immigrant population and while they learn to speak the language, integrate into a very western society and become gainfully employed preferably with a skilled trade and during which they bring over the rest of their families, which are probably larger than an average Danish family all on the Danish dime. Learning the language is hard enough and could take years for some and for others it may be impossible to fully master, as I understand Danish isn’t the easiest of languages to learn. If a refugee knows some English, it can help them in learning German, not so with Danish or Swedish. The second choice would be to master English but it’s not the dominant language in non-English speaking countries. I mentioned in a previous post the generosity of the more welcoming nations to refugees will run out sooner rather than later. And now it’s happening. Migrants and refugees have been entering Europe in large numbers for the last two years or so and enough time has passed where numbers and statistics can be collected. And in light of those numbers and recent events of women being assaulted in public places, night clubs; countries who were once willing to take on refugees and migrants are taking a pause.

  • 38% of migrants and refugees in Europe are from Syria, which technically means, countries can eject 62% percent of their refugee and migrant population.
  • Denmark has accepted 20,000 people in 2015
  • Sweden has accepted 120,000 in 2015
  • Germany has accepted 1.1 million people in 2015
  • Switzerland has received 45,000 refugees but they are not part of the EU and can do what they like.

According to authorities in Austria, Germany is turning back a lot more people. They are holding persons who are not of Syrian, Iraqi or Afghani origin at the Austrian border. There is already some talk in the EU governing body, where they will deport economic migrants from peaceful nations such as Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia.

The message from the EU is clear. The gravy train is over. While German Chancellor Angela Merkel has maintained the “we’ll handle it” message to her detractors, she is slowly caving into the political reality and the actual reality that Germans do not want to “handle” it. No matter how she feels about the “humanitarian imperative”, she is an elected leader who is governing with a coalition and she cannot force her hand and go against the coalition and the people who elected her.

With the recent spate of crimes and social indecencies committed by a small number of migrants, the level of hysteria in the EU has been cranked up. Besides women being assaulted at refugee intake centers, these assaults have spread to the local population. Most prominent being the NYE assaults in Cologne, where women were encircled by marauding gangs of Arab or North African looking men, openly assaulted in public, groped and robbed of their mobile phones and cash. At least one woman was raped. There are reports of women being targeted by migrants and refugees in Hamburg and smaller incidents of inappropriate touching in other parts of Germany.

Until the German police and authorities can get a handle on the situation, migrants have been banned from certain nightclubs, because female patrons don’t feel safe. In Denmark, there’s been an ad hoc nationwide ban on migrants from night clubs because they don’t “know the rules” of nightclub etiquette (keep your hands to yourself unless invited). A public pool in Germany near a migrant intake center has temporarily banned migrants because they were harassing the women and were seen urinating in the pool and masterbating until, well, the desired results of such an action in the pool. Cartoon drawings have been made showing the migrants of appropriate social etiquette, such as not groping women in public, not staring at homosexuals holding hands in the streets and oddly, no shouting or abusing children in public. The bans on public pools and bathhouses are meant to be temporary. German authorities have dispatched social workers to speak to these migrants on what is appropriate public decorum and etiquette. I’d love to be a fly on the wall when the social worker is trying to explain to migrants how jerking off in public especially in a pool especially where others are present is considered poor form. I pity the person that has to impart this message.

Many on the left have spoken out about these exclusionary measures. Hysterically calling it an apartheid, instead of trying to integrate migrants into mainstream German society, they are being deliberately excluded. This notion is extraordinary, if people don’t know where they should use the toilet and handle their private biological urges in private, they should be banned until they learn the rules. I think what Germans and the Danes are doing is sensible. Their first duty is protect the rights and leisure of their own citizens. Nobody wants people urinating or jerking off in public pools or spaces. It’s disgusting and unsanitary. Women do not deserve to be groped on a Friday night out with friends at a nightclub. And if migrants don’t understand this or cannot abide by this, then they should be banned from places of leisure until at a such time they do understand. Banning migrants from bathhouses, public pools or nightclubs is not violating their basic human rights. They are not being tossed out in the street or deprived meals or basic necessities.

The tragic case of the murder of Alexandra Mezher, a case worker at a migrant intake center in Sweden for unaccompanied minors ages 15 to 19. She was stabbed to death by a 15 year old Syrian migrant. The circumstances of her murder are not clear except that a fight broke out and she was stabbed, she died of her injuries later in the hospital. In this case, the fear is justice for the Mezher family will be insufficient. The perpetrator is a minor, he cannot be deported back to Syria because of human rights laws which govern EU countries, at best he’ll serve a sentence for juvenile offenders and he’ll resume his freedom, all on the Swedish taxpayer. Alexandra Mezher’s family is from Lebanon, it is presumed that she chose to work at migrant shelter so she can help people from the Middle East adjust to Sweden, especially with her Arabic language skills and cultural familiarity. Her family said she was an “angel” who loved to help people.

Let’s look at another set of numbers. Presumably, there are 1.3-1.4 million or more migrants and refugees from North Africa, sub-Sahara Africa and the Middle East in Europe right now, and out of those numbers let’s say 14,000 have committed crimes or behaved inappropriately, that is only 1% of the migrants who’ve committed crimes. The way they committed some of these crime in mobs such as NYE in Cologne makes it seem like all of them are marauding gangs preying on vulnerable women, but if you breakdown the numbers, they are in the small minority. The level of hysteria whipped up about the migration crisis doesn’t commensurate with the actual numbers. The next hysteria is the diseases these people from third world countries are bringing. According to Danish health officials, migrants have brought diseases to Denmark which they haven’t seen in the last 20 years such as diphtheria, malaria and tuberculosis. Keep in mind Denmark has just 20,000 migrants compared to 1.1 million in Germany and 120,000 in Sweden. On top of their routine medical exam, it may be wise to give them a sleuth of vaccinations to prevent such hysteria. These people are from third world countries where health infrastructure is shoddy or nonexistent, of course they will bring third world country diseases. This is to be expected.

Another number, the total number of migrants in Europe right now is about 1-2% of the whole population of the European Union. For the purposes of comparison, the United States has about 11.1 million undocumented immigrants, most of whom are from Mexico or Central America, which accounts for 10% of the whole Latino population in the US. The Latino population in the US is between 10-15% of the total US population, which is about 50 million people, and more than one-fifth of the 50 million people are undocumented immigrants. What the EU is dealing with is peanuts.

I am no leftist apologist when it comes to immigration and crimes committed by immigrants. I do not apologize for or minimize violent crime against women or murder. I also believe that immigrants need to respect the laws, rules and customs of the country that is hosting them. Leering and groping at women in public is unacceptable, so is jerking off or urinating in a public pool. Telling migrants to not do these things isn’t imposing western ways on them, or ‘cultural imperialism’ – another wrong application of a very complicated and totally unrelated concept. If westerners did what migrants did in their home countries, we’d be arrested and jailed, perhaps in some extreme cases executed. So, let’s get a grip on all fronts here.

Between the hysteria of the political right and human rights violation bleatings from the political left, it’s up to sensible people in the middle to state the facts as they are, not what people wish them to be based on where they stand on the issues.

There is an underbelly of society in every country, even pretty places like Germany, Austria, Sweden, Denmark and and the pristine shores of Lake Geneva. There are jerk-offs (literal and metaphorical), public urinators, rapists, abusers and murderers in every country. The difference is, in the west, especially wealthy countries in Europe, U.K. and America, people with means can segregate themselves from these unsavory sides of society. People living in pretty middle class neighborhoods have the luxury of not seeing what we don’t want to see, which are the disenfranchised members of society. People whom mainstream and polite society have cast out as being unwanted and they’ve been left to rot in their crumbling neighborhoods. No one cares, no one takes a second look at the members of the underclass. The migrants who are popping up in European cities, most of whom are indigent, traumatized, perhaps lost many family members along the way, their backgrounds unknown or sketchy, perhaps they really are sociopaths – no one really knows, many perhaps are barely literate in their own language have landed in Europe are being shoved in the faces of traditionally civilized, orderly and clean cities. Where the rules and decorum of such societies are unspoken, unwritten but strictly observed. The poor and disenfranchised of the first world are hidden inner cities, ghettos and towns which people have forgotten. The disenfranchised of Germany, Denmark or elsewhere will not go to public pools, bathhouses or fancy nightclubs to embarrass themselves. They know better than that and unless they clean up or move up the social ladder, they aren’t welcome. Migrants and refugees don’t know that. The disenfranchised people of the first world is how a majority of the people in the third world live. The five Giant Evils of society as identified by Sir William Beveridge, the creator of the modern welfare state in the UK: ‘Want, Disease, Ignorance, Squalor and Idleness’. These five Giant Evils are staring at Europe in the face and they don’t like what they see.

Taking what little they have and flogging it to pay for their upkeep and maintenance is adding insult and injury to their current existence. The computer they want to take to pay for their one month’s rent for their bed at the refugee shelter could be a computer which helps them learn the language or find a job. The phone they want to take way could be his or her only way to contact their families. The jewelry and mementos which are deemed not of sentimental value could be their father or mother’s watch or jewelry, maybe the only thing they’ve left of their family. Taking the cash which exceeds a certain amount, did it ever occur to them that if they take their extra cash upfront and they run of money and they are ineligible to work yet, it’s the government who has to give them more cash? Taking from people who have the least is one of the most despicable things and the EU, as they proclaim themselves to be a bastion of human rights, they ought to know and do better. The argument which they are only enforcing the same rules on Danish citizens is false comparison because native Danes are clearly in the advantage in terms of finding new employment:

The Danish government has claimed they are just applying similar rules they do to Danish citizens on welfare benefits. But refugees are not in the same situation as Danish nationals. They don’t speak the language or have the same connections or social networks and they’re entering an unfamiliar country with different customs or ways of working – all of which affect their ability to find work and provide for their families. – Tania Cheung

Not to unfairly focus on Denmark; Switzerland, arguably the wealthiest nation in the world, also has ‘rules’ in place to ensure migrants pay their fair share by seizing their assets as well:

[Switzerland is] acting to seize financial assets over 1,000 Swiss Francs (£690) from refugees. The money will be returned to refugees, but only if they leave voluntarily within seven months. On top of that, refugees who are given the right to stay and work in Switzerland will have 10 per cent of their pay taken away from them until they “repay” 15,000 Swiss francs for the costs of processing asylum seeker applications and social assistance. – Tania Cheung

But Switzerland insists, of the 45,000 refugees they’ve received so far, this rule only applied to 112 people. So, not so bad then? Switzerland isn’t part of the EU or EEA (Europe Economic Area) but is part of the single market, which allows Swiss citizens to live and work anywhere in the Eurozone. Since they aren’t part of the EU or EEA and do not need to answer to Brussels, they are free to make their own rules and policies.

It also serves to remember, prior to migrants coming from Africa and Middle East, the last major ‘migration crisis’ were the Romanians and Bulgarians, specifically the Roma Gypsies in those countries. When on January 1, 2014, restrictions on the movements of Bulgarian and Romanian citizens were lifted and they were allowed to travel to any country in the Eurozone to work or live. The major concern was the Roma Gypsy populations in these countries would overrun countries with generous welfare benefits like France, Germany and the U.K. and these people could freely travel without having to slip through the Calais borders. They can jump on a bus, train or airplane and legally get to their destinations. Roma Gypsies were the nomadic peoples of Europe who didn’t conform to mainstream European society. Many aspersions and prejudices were cast on them, they were and to some extent still are marginalized members of European society. No country claims them as they don’t belong to any country, the are ethnically Roma. To survive and exist on the margins, some have turned to petty thieving, financial fraud and gang activities and enterprises, though many Romas have tried integrate into mainstream society with varying degrees of success. In the second half of 2013 and early 2014, newspaper upon newspaper article, especially from the UK hysterically reported on how Romas will ruin their towns and cities with their constant begging and loitering. They only come to UK to claim benefits because even people in their own countries don’t want them. Roma Gypsy camps in France, similar to The Jungle in Calais now but at a smaller scale were constantly being raided and razed by the police, forcing people living in the camps to scatter or go into hiding. Even Germany was exasperated with them as they turn to begging in every street corner. The same things being said about the migrants today are the same accusations being levied at Roma Gypsies. They are ill suited for modern society, their values are incompatible with European values, they beg and steal as a way of earning a living. They all live in caravans and live in filth. They have large families and they do not send their children to school. Their own standards for living and personal hygiene is low so they can live, sleep anywhere, in squalor and filth, even in the Marble Arch in London where any passerby can see you. These people have no pride because if they did, they’d sort themselves out and fast. Germany’s Der Spiegel sympathetically calls them “The Unwanted People of Europe”. They routinely suffer from discrimination and racism and the direct result of that discrimination is poverty and squalor. Roma Gypsies are excluded from legitimate employment, even menial and manual labor so they turn to selling scrap metals (often stolen), begging or pickpocketing to survive. This type of reporting went on and on until the new ‘migrant crisis’ emerged and that’s people from the Middle East, North Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa began to arrive in Europe in large numbers. Now the Roma Gypsy ‘crisis’ is barely a blip on the radar, a non-issue. In fact, the European leaders probably wished they could have the Roma Gypsy crisis back.

“A nation’s greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members.”
~ Mahatma Ghandi

The most troublesome members of society are often the weakest members of society. Those with the least. The least education, the least access to education, least resources and employment opportunities, the least support from family and community and of course the most tangible, the least money. It’s very easy to toss these people aside with scorn and say they are unwilling to help themselves or they are beyond help. After all, do you have to tell grown men it’s unacceptable to grope and rape women or urinate or masterbate in public? Didn’t their parents tell them this? Many social pundits say ‘to cure crime first need to cure poverty’ as if ‘curing’ poverty is so easy.

The migrants and refugees in Europe stand out like sore thumb right now, just like the Roma Gypsies did in early 2014. These people are easy targets for what’s wrong with a country or how they are bringing a country down the tubes with them, when in fact, the same things refugees and migrants are being accused of already exist in said countries, but are out of sight.

Cleanliness is Godliness as the old saying goes. No it’s not. Cleanliness is a sign of wealth, luxury and stability or in religious terms, a blessing. A blessing most in the world can ill afford.

***Correction: The suspect in the stabbing of Alexandra Mezher is not a 15 year old Syrian migrant, but a 15 year old Somali migrant, who has made his first appearance in court.

#OscarSoWhite – White Nominees And Winners, If You Don’t Know What You Are Saying, Do #STFU

Oscar So White
2016 Oscar Nominees #OscarSoWhite 

Since the Oscar nominees were announced a week ago, the media has been ablaze with outrage. Everyone took to social media and print media decrying and denouncing the obvious bias of the academy. While it’s too simple to accuse the all white Oscars as case of straightforward racism and discrimination against black and minority actors and filmmakers, as it has every bit to do with the capitalistic filmmaking economy and how Hollywood conducts business, which results in poor quality films with very little actors of color; the biases of the majorly white members of the academy of a certain age has reared its ugly head two years in a row.

White America this time, has wisely stayed out of debate except to express outrage. There will be no more of the Nancy Lee Grahn’s style of outbursts criticizing Viola Davis’s Emmy Awards acceptance speech. The backlash which resulted from those few tweets by Nancy Lee Grahn have taught the white collective to keep their big mouths shut when black people and minorities are talking about lack of diversity in television and movies. Even if they don’t agree with Jada Pinkett-Smith and Spike Lee calling for all black people to boycott the Oscars or any other method of protest, it’s best to keep that opinion to yourself if you are white.

So far the white collective have been good about keeping contrary opinions about the so-white Oscars to themselves, that is until our European counterparts decided to express theirs. Before the American media comes down too hard on the statements of Charlotte Rampling, Julie Delpy and the confusion of Michael Caine of not realizing no black people were nominated in the major Oscar categories, these people are European, French and English to be exact. While racism, elitism and classism exists in the UK and France, at least in artistic circles they’ve achieved a level of egalitarianism where racism, bias and discrimination against minorities isn’t as blatant. Good actors and filmmakers can be judged on their abilities and quality of work. It’s not total egalitarianism but compared to Hollywood, it’s a much better situation. It is doubtful that Rampling, Delpy and Caine are fully aware of the tinderbox that is racism in this country. They may have heard about the police shootings of black men and children and the death of Sandra Bland while in custody etc., but they are perhaps not as aware about the rampant institutionalized racism that plagues every corner of this country. They probably naively assumed that the lack of minorities being recognized for the Oscars is simply because there aren’t any good movies to choose from which contain minority actors, writers and directors. This is fair enough. They live and work largely in Europe, if they do come to the States it’s for work and promotion and they stay in swanky hotels and dine in fancy restaurants for the duration of their stay. Their ignorance can be forgiven.

However, if this is the case, then please do us all a favor. Please STFU (shut the fuck up) about things you know nothing about. If I went to France or the U.K. and mouthed off about some domestic issue which is specific to the country, I’d be called an ignorant American with a big mouth who knows nothing. 

There is no such thing as “being racists to whites” or what we call reverse racism. It’s something a bunch of  mediocre disgruntled white people made up because they didn’t get what they want based on the color their white skin. It’s not a real thing. Dominant powers in any society cannot experience racism and discrimination the oppressed minorities experience. The supposed ‘racism’ white people experience is merely a minor inconvenience compared to the real soul crushing racism minorities experience on a daily basis.

Rampling’s further comments in the same interview,

Why classify people? We live now in countries where anyway people are more or less accepted. There are always problems: ‘He’s less handsome’ or ‘He’s too black’ or ‘He’s too white.’ There will always, always be someone who will say, ‘Oh, you’re too…’ What are we going to do? We’re going to classify all that to create thousands of little minorities everywhere?

In a perfect world, this would be true, though her delivery is very insensitive and abrupt. While it’s true in television and movies, any actor or actress can potentially be told they are ‘too…’, but the fact that there are few faces of color should lead anyone with a logical mind to conclude that the whole industry itself is too white.

Julie Delpy would rather be black in Hollywood than a white woman? She needs her head examined. If she were black, her charming little film ‘2 Days in New York’ would have never been made. She would have never been chosen to write for the movies ‘Before Sunset’ and ‘Before Midnight’ even if it was her concept to begin with. Hollywood is also notorious for hijacking the ideas of writers, paying them a paltry sum for the ‘idea’ and then taking that idea to later make millions with it, of which the original writer with the idea won’t see a penny of. If she weren’t white, she’d have never received Oscar nominations for those efforts, which to be honest, are mediocre at best. But the old white guys up at the academy liked it.

Delpy’s full statement reads: “Two years ago, I said something about the Academy being very white male, which is the reality, and I was slashed to pieces by the media. It’s funny — women can’t talk. I sometimes wish I were African American because people don’t bash them afterward. It’s the hardest to be a woman. Feminists is something people hate above all. Nothing worse than being a woman in this business. I really believe that.”  

It’s also funny to note, Delpy said this at a Sundance Film Festival press conference while promoting her movie which Macaulay Culkin was present as he is in her movie, as she was talking he put his head in his hands, knowing the shitstorm that is about to hit her. If only she had such foresight.

Delpy’s statement besides being highly inappropriate, is also implying that African Americans can say what they want and get away with it because to openly speak out against African Americans would be seen as racist and no one wants to be called a racist so people keep quiet. I am not sure if this is true, this could just be her perception. But if it were true and Hollywood does give carte blanche for black people to say what they want about the filmmaking industry, did it ever occur to her that the supposed silence is not one of agreement but one of quiet contempt and dismissal? Just because the powers that be in Hollywood let black people criticize the system and get away with it, it doesn’t mean they are being heard or taken seriously.

It’s not easy being a woman in Hollywood either, especially a woman over a certain age. Women have their own struggles when trying to get their work recognized, so the blanket dismissal of bias by Rampling and Delpy comparing her plight as a white woman to those of minorities are incorrect and out of order.

Both actresses have since apologized for their remarks. I hope they’ve learned their lesson. As privileged white people, don’t talk about things which don’t relate to you.

Michael Caine’s crime is he is seemingly unaware there were no black actors nominated. He asked the interviewer at one point:

“The one I — I don’t know whether Idris [Elba] got [nominated] because I saw Idris [in ‘Beasts of No Nation‘], and I thought he was wonderful. I thought he would get [nominated]. Did he not get nominated?”

No sir, that’s the problem that everyone has been talking about. No black actors or actresses were nominated.

Prior to that, he also said the Academy can’t vote just vote for an actor because he is black even though “He’s not very good, but he’s black. I’ll vote for him.” Again, the same problem, there hasn’t been any black actors to vote for, you couldn’t vote for a bad acting performance from a black actor even if you wanted to. Do keep up Mr. Caine.

Racism has changed in America. It went from the overt, frothing at the mouth, KKK marching and church burning type of open racism and bigotry to the quiet, covert and passive aggressive kind of racism, or what some would call ‘micro-aggressions’, barely detectable but for the most attuned and keenest of observers. It’s the inappropriate jokes which are meant to serve as icebreakers, the barely detectable slights and the ‘accidentally on purpose’ exclusions of minorities for plum projects. The unemployment rate of blacks are 9.2%, double that of whites. This statistic alone should paint a picture of racism in America. Being gainfully employed is a marker of inclusion or lack thereof. Being employed offers one dignity in life, it gives one an opportunity to contribute to society at large.

The Imitation Game (2014)

 

the-imitation-game

For any self-professed nerd, coding or computer science enthusiast, the name Alan Turing will have significant meaning. Alan Turing was the father of computer science and computer programming, except when he was alive, such terms were not used. He simply wanted to “build a brain” to aid humans in analyzing data and occasionally think for humans.

Turing was the original ‘nerd’, before Bill Gates, Steve Jobs or Steve Wozniak were even a thought. Turing’s life’s major achievement was cracking the German Enigma, an encryption code machine which the Nazi forces used to communicate with their commanding officers and it was what Hitler used to communicate with his generals too. The Enigma was deemed undecipherable, many of the brightest and best minds in Great Britain, France, Poland even Germans have tried and failed. The only people who have cracked the code were the Poles in 1932:

The Poles had broken Enigma in 1932, when the encoding machine was undergoing trials with the German Army. But when the Poles broke Enigma, the cipher altered only once every few months. With the advent of war, it changed at least once a day, giving 159 million million million possible settings to choose from. The Poles decided to inform the British in July 1939 once they needed help to break Enigma and with invasion of Poland imminent.

Many in the upper echelons of the British government and intelligence services have already secretly resigned to the fact that Enigma was undecipherable, even though they kept recruiting mathematicians, cryptanalysts, staticians, even national chess champions to try and break the code. Alan Turing was not recruited, he walked into Navy Commander Alistair Denniston’s office for an interview. Turing went to the interview acting as though he already got the job and he was the only person able to do the job. He was cocky bordering on rude, snappy and showed no deference to the office of the navy commander. Even though the Enigma was a top state secret, no one outside of the most inner intelligence circles is supposed to know of its existence, Turing knew about it and said he could decipher the undecipherable. There was nothing that excited him more than solving a problem others couldn’t solve.

Alan Turing was born on June 23, 1912 in London. He was from an upper-middle class family of the gentry (but not aristocratic) and his father was in the Indian civil service. He came from a family of means and his education reflected that. Because his father was in the Indian civil service, his parents were away a lot. Alan Turing and his brother closest to him in age, Julius, lived in a series of English foster homes until his father retired from the Indian civil service in 1926 and returned to England full time. Like many upper-class childhoods of that era, it was a childhood marked by isolation, loneliness, academic rigidity and emotional suppression.

Alan Turing showed a gift in mathematics (applied and theoretical) and applied physics since he was a boy in boarding school but during those times, those gifts and interest were not appreciated. People of his class are to study the classics and languages, maths (as it’s referred to in the UK) and the sciences are for dilettantes and people who aren’t serious about their future. His mother Ethel Sara Turing knew her son was an oddball who had different interests than other boys of his age, she didn’t encourage it but she didn’t discourage him either, she secretly hoped those interests would go away and he’d go back to learning serious things.

The great tragedy of Turing’s life was his arrest and conviction for gross indecency, in one fell swoop he lost his security clearance with the government and his reputation was forever tarnished as his arrest made the papers. He was a homosexual and in 1951 he was caught out having relations with a young man in the city of Manchester in the north of England, a far more conservative part of England where such things are not tolerated. ‘The Imitation Game’ focuses on his achievements as well as the injustice and bigotry that was meted out to him. Turing was a war hero to the British government, except his work was so highly classified no one knew of his true contributions until 50 years later.

The story is told in a non-linear fashion with flashbacks and flash-forwards to present day, during the war and his childhood while at boarding school. The movie begins with an “investigation” by the Manchester police of a possible break-in at the home of Alan Turing (he was teaching at the University of Manchester during that time). When the police officers Nock and Staehl arrive at Turing’s home, Turing acted suspiciously and told the “bobbies” everything was fine, nothing was stolen and what he really needed was a good cleaning as his house was a tip and unless either one of them wanted to put on an apron and clean his house for him, he would have no use for them and would like them to leave.

Turing’s tone was very condescending and in this exchange, the snobbery of the upper-class was revealed. He treated the Mancunian police officers as intellectual inferiors. They were clearly working class, and their almost unintelligible northern accents proves that. For being an English gentleman, who received the best education in the world, he was sorely lacking in manners, social graces and basic decency when dealing with another human being. His rudeness and abruptness is not only confined to Mancunian police officers, he’s like that with everyone, even his superiors and friends.

Officer Nock was suspicious and felt that there was more to this break-in than meets the eye. So he decides to do his own investigation and requests Alan Turing’s war records. When he was told by the Home Office that Turing’s war records were classified, he got even more suspicious. Nock forged Turing’s name on an official war records request form and sent it in to the Home Office again, he got an empty envelope back. The Home Office wasn’t going to supply Turing’s war records under any circumstances. Nock got even more suspicious, he begun to suspect that Turing was a Soviet spy, as he was from London, he went to Cambridge for university, which was a known breeding ground for communism at the time. Nock suspected Turing was part of or associated with the ‘Cambridge 5’ of Soviet spies.

On a side note here, this exchange with the Manchester police officers are a pattern of Turing’s life. Turing could have made this easily go away had he been nice and courteous and even ‘professor-like’ to the police officers. The officers, due to entrenched social class system, would have respected Turing’s higher station in life and left him alone. But because Turing chose to be so rude and condescending, the police officers decided to investigate him, which eventually led to the discovery that he was a homosexual and the ‘break-in’ was done by one of the rent boys he solicited and his life and secrets came crashing down.

The movie then flashes back to the Bletchley Park days, the site where hundreds of men and women were working night and day intercepting German messages and trying to decipher the codes. In a small hut or warehouse near Bletchley Park was where Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch), Hugh Alexander (Matthew Goode), John Cairncross (Allen Leech), Peter Hilton (Matthew Beard) and Joan Clarke (Keira Knightley) attempted to build the first computer to try to break the Enigma. Since the Enigma had 159 million million million settings and those settings reset at midnight each day, there is no way humans can even attempt to break any of the codes before it resets at midnight every day. So, Turing decides from early on that only a machine can even attempt to decipher the Enigma. He decided to build a “Turing Machine” with the specific intent to break the Enigma.

Turing spent the day building the machine while the others spent their time trying to manually decipher the messages. This caused some resentment amongst the men, since Turing declared himself to be the smartest amongst them, why isn’t he helping them decode the messages but instead he’s building this machine which he names “Christopher” (after a childhood paramour who died). Turing didn’t care what anyone thought of him, he was convinced “Christopher” was their best shot at cracking the Enigma.

Another side plot of the story is the relationship between Joan Clarke (Keira Knightley) and Turing, Joan Clarke was recruited after Turing put a very difficult crossword puzzle in the paper along with an advertisement which read anyone who can finish the crossword puzzle in 10 minutes or less can send a letter with their contact information to the paper and they may have an opportunity to work at the job of a lifetime. Keira Knightley was one of the advertisement respondents, she was a Cambridge student with a double first degree in Mathematics, because she was a woman, she was not offered a diploma when she finished her courses. Like Turing, Joan Clarke was a natural mathematician. After receiving her letter in the mail, she came to the secret location where all the other prospective interviewees were and she realizes that she’s the only woman. Turing then gave all the prospective cryptographers a task in which they had to finish in under 6 minutes. He reveals to the head of MI6 Sir Stewart Menzies (pronounced Mingis) that it is not doable as it took him 8 minutes to finish, he simply wanted to see who could even finish the task. Joan Clarke finished it in under 6 minutes and was promptly hired. However, when it came time for Joan Clarke to show up to work, she was nowhere to be seen. Turing then raced to her parents home and finds out her parents didn’t allow her to go back because she was amongst a lot of strange men which is “indecorous” and because of the distance she’ll have to live in the dormitories there so her parents disapproved. Turing assured her parents that Joan will be very “decorous” and she is to work with the secretaries, who are all women and will room with the ladies. Her parents agreed to let her go. Turing forged a very close friendship with Joan and they were each other’s intellectual soul mates. A couple of years into the war, Joan’s parents again recalled her back home, stating she was now 25 and unmarried and it was about time she looked for a husband and settled down. Turing didn’t want her to leave as he enjoyed her company and she was good at her job, he proposed marriage to Joan to solve the no husband problem. Joan knew Turing was probably a homosexual but she accepted his proposal. She didn’t mind that he was gay and she wanted a marriage of intellectual equals. After all the work that she’s done, there’s no way she was going to go back to being a housewife.

About two years into building “Christopher” at considerable expense to the government, and still producing no results, Commander Denniston was on the verge of firing Turing. Denniston never liked Turing to begin with because he was rude, obnoxious and didn’t follow the chain of command orders. But he could overlook all this if Turing was contributing to the war effort and the defeat of the Nazis. Denniston had tried to use many excuses to fire Turing, even accusing him of a being a Soviet spy as there were whispers that one of the men in the cryptanalyst group was a Soviet spy. It wasn’t Turing, it was John Cairncross, and he wasn’t a very good spy. Menzies already knew Cairncross was a spy and deliberately put him in Bletchley Park so that the Soviets who were fighting the Nazis alongside the Allies can have access to some of the intelligence the British were gathering. But Cairncross doesn’t know that MI6 knows he is a Soviet spy. It had to be done through the MI6 because the government would not authorize sharing of intelligence with a communist regime, which on an idealogical level is still an enemy of Britain. When Turing found out Cairncross is the Soviet spy, he threatened to tell Menzies but Cairncross threatens Turing back with revealing his “secret” which is his homosexuality if he tells Menzies. But Menzies already knew everything, including Turing was gay. He is not the head of MI6 for nothing.

What sealed his fate ultimately is when Turing went over Denniston’s head and wrote to the prime minister Winston Churchill directly to get funding to build his machine, Churchill not only agreed and ordered Denniston and everyone else to stay out of the way and promoted Turing as the leader of cryptanalyst team replacing the twice national chess champion Hugh Alexander. This left Denniston fuming and was ready to fire Turing at the first opportunity. When Denniston wanted to fire Turing for wasting government funds building a machine that didn’t work, the other members of the team, Alexander, Cairncross and Hilton threatened to quit too if Denniston fired Turing. Denniston gave them one month to make the machine work or else the machine will be turned off and funding stopped.

An epiphany came when Turing heard his fiancee Joan Clarke chatting with her friend Helen at the pub after work about how the German messages every morning are the same and how it became a running joke with the girls. Every morning begins with a weather report at 6:00 AM and ends with “Heil Hitler”. Turing then realized instead of programming Christopher to decipher every possible setting variation, they should just put all the fixed variables into Christopher and then they fill in the gaps. In the end, it’s the German’s penchant and fastidiousness for organization and precision that gave them away and of course “Heil Hitler”. Turing programmed “6:00 AM” and “Heil Hitler” into Christopher as those are the same words used at the first message transmission every morning, and viola, the Enigma was cracked. Overnight, they were able to locate all of the German U-boats and British convoys in the Atlantic.

But Turing’s genius doesn’t stop here. Turing, who can be very logical to the point of being cold, figured out right away that they cannot act one every piece of intelligence gathered from the Enigma machine otherwise the Germans will find out the British Intelligence Services cracked the code and they will recalibrate the settings of the Enigma again and they’ve just wasted two years of their time. So while everyone is celebrating and trying to call Commander Denniston, Turing stopped them, even at the expense of passenger convoys in the Atlantic and soldiers. Hugh Alexander was angry with Turing as was Peter Hilton (his brother was on board one of the navy ships in the cross hair of German U-boats) but they soon realized Turing was right. They have to choose to reveal their intelligence in a methodical, statistical manner where it cannot tip off the Germans but also secure the Allies victory. They have to calculate with statistical and mathematical accuracy to secure the Allies victory with minimal loss to life but it cannot rouse suspicions with the Germans.

Turing and Joan Clarke decided to go to Sir Stewart Menzies with their information and plan. Turing suggested that Menzies should feed ‘false intelligence’ to the government and military on how they came about the German positions and even go so far to spread this intelligence overseas within earshot of the Germans so that they are for certain their Enigma encrypting machine was not cracked. Instead, Turing’s team will give Menzies which German positions to attack everyday, based on statistical analysis and chance. Menzies remarked to Turing and Joan Clarke that the fate of soldiers and civilians will be at the hands of “mathematics” and “statistics”? To which Turing answered “yes”, it’s the only way.

It wasn’t all smooth sailing after the initial breakthrough, the German’s changed the Enigma settings a few more times but Turing and his team already had a good grasp of how the German messages and their subsequent codes worked and they were able to decode all the messages. In the end, it was estimated with Turing’s work, the war was shortened by at least 2 years if not more and 14 million lives saved.

Turing narrates rather cynically, this whole war was protrayed as a clash of civilizations, a fight between freedom and tyranny and how God chose the side of good over evil, but it’s not. It was careful application of maths and statistics that won the war. Anyone who believes otherwise is foolish.

When the war was over and Allied victory is declared, Sir Stewart Menzies ordered Turing and his team to never speak about their work during the war to anyone and to never see each other again. Their one last task was to burn all the papers. Menzies said “this war is over, there could be another, but with any luck, we may never have to see each other again.”

Another huge part of Turing’s life is his homosexuality. He never denied he was a homosexual and he wasn’t ashamed of it either. He realized he was gay when he was very young when he fell in love with another boy at his school Christopher Morcom,

[who was] a year ahead of him at Sherborne, to whom Alan Turing found himself powerfully attracted in 1928. He, Christopher Morcom, gave Turing a vital period of intellectual companionship — which ended with Morcom’s sudden death [from bovine tuberculosis] in February 1930.

Turing’s conviction that he must now do what Morcom could not, apparently sustained him through a long crisis. For three years at least, as we know from his letters to Morcom’s mother, his thoughts turned to the question of how the human mind, and Christopher’s mind in particular, was embodied in matter; and whether accordingly it could be released from matter by death.

When Turing went to Cambridge for university, he was able to fully explore his homosexuality as a lot of Cambridge University students explored their sexuality while on campus, whether they were homosexual or not. I suppose as long as you don’t hold hands and openly kiss whilst crossing the hallowed halls of this respected institution, what you do in your rooms is entirely your business. Evelyn Waugh wrote at length about this sort of permissiveness in his novel ‘Brideshead Revisited’ and how Cambridge University for upper-class people at least is a place where boys can safely explore their sexuality without the legal repercussions.

Being a homesexual wasn’t a crime on its own but engaging in homosexual activities was a crime (gross indecency) in Great Britain, therefore he wasn’t out and proud. Because of his highly logical mind, his homosexuality was very natural to him, it was how he was born, therefore there was nothing wrong with it. When he was arrested on gross indecency charges, he didn’t admit or deny the offenses and he also told the police officers he doesn’t think there is anything wrong with being a homosexual either. The judge gave Turing two options, go to prison for two years or take a hormone therapy which will chemically castrate him and cure him of his “homosexual predilections”. This way he could keep his post at the university and continue his work and research. But after a year of being on chemical castration treatment, the side effects and personal humiliation got to be too much for him. He chose to end his life by eating an apple laced with cyanide.

He was found by his cleaner when she came in on 8 June 1954. He had died the day before of cyanide poisoning, a half-eaten apple beside his bed. His mother believed he had accidentally ingested cyanide from his fingers after an amateur chemistry experiment, but it is more credible that he had successfully contrived his death to allow her alone to believe this. The coroner’s verdict was suicide.

Besides his remarkable genius and intellect, another strong feature marked Alan Turing’s life is his profound loneliness, his solitary life save for rent boys. Since his school friend Christopher Morcom died, he never really formed any other deep friendships aside from Joan Clarke. After the war, Joan Clarke married and moved to Scotland after her husband’s retirement due to frail health. They remained good friends after even after their ‘engagement’ ended. Turing couldn’t go through with the wedding knowing he is a homosexual and even though Joan Clarke was unfazed by that, it was unfair to her.

For such a brilliant and accomplished professor (as no one knew he helped cracked the Enigma during the war yet), as the inventor of ‘The Turing Machine’ – a precursor to the modern day computer, this is an ignominious end. A humiliating end on a personal and professional level. To chemically castrate a red blooded male just because he was gay and then splash his disgrace and private business all over the newspapers so that he is thoroughly humiliated in front of his peers as well, Turing didn’t deserve this even if he wasn’t a war hero who saved millions of lives. Turing didn’t deserve this even if he was a complete “ass” as Joan Clarke calls him. No human being deserves this.

In 2013, Queen Elizabeth II granted him a posthumous pardon. Turing is now considered a LGBT icon, a title he most likely would have scoffed at.

Like all Hollywood adaptations of true life events, certain artistic liberties are taken to dramatize events. The machine wasn’t called “Christopher”, it was called Victory and his whole team worked on building the machine not just Turing himself. The movie was filmed in England, some parts of it in the real Bletchley Park where men and women  toiled day and night to defeat the Nazis by breaking their codes. Alan Turing’s niece was sceptical about this movie at first, but after she saw it, she were happy with the result as it honored the life and achievements of her uncle and didn’t focus on his disgrace.

I enjoyed the movie tremendously. I am a nerd in some sense. I like math, I like computers especially the early computer pioneers who built these machines from scratch and programmed everything from scratch. Alan Turing’s approach to building a computer is like building an extension of the human brain. It’s to assist humans not take over as the human brain. The human brain to Turing is still far superior than any machine can build.

The so-white Oscars.

 

The coveted golden statute.
For the second year in a row, the Academy Awards is accused of excluding people of color in their major categories. All the actors nominated in the four acting categories (lead actor, lead actress, supporting actor and supporting actress) are all white. The directors nominated in the best directing category are all white except one, Alejandro Gonzales Inarritu, who is Mexican. 

Many thought with the uproar last year, things would change for the better this year, that people of color would be better represented at least in the acting, directing and writing and best picture categories. It appears the members of the academy doubled down on selecting what they believe to the best acting, writing, directing and best picture categories without any regard to the racial composition of the movies they choose. 

For the past 10 years, the movie experience has been depressing for me. The quality of good films are getting less and less each year. Most films just pander to audiences to ensure ticket sales. Films do not have a message anymore. There are no lessons to be drawn from films, there are no lessons taught, only entertainment and even that’s dubious. Films today are safe, controversy-free, and if they want to generate controversy, it’s got to be the right kind of controversy. Not the uncomfortable kind where it requires its audience to think and process unfamiliar ideas. Films today definitely don’t seek to expand its audience’s world view. 

The Academy Awards are a funny thing. Ever since I have been following the Oscars (with less interest each year), the ‘Academy’ is treated with scorn and reverence all at the same time. Actors, directors, producers, writers, film editors, costume designers, anyone who can receive an Oscar for their work all trash the members of the academy and revere them at the same time. When certain actors or movies are snubbed, the Hollywood establishment and reporters are all out with full force with their criticism. But when anyone wins an Academy Award, whether for acting, directing, writing or the less prominent categories, all the winners are gushing with gratitude and praise for the same academy members they were just criticizing just a few weeks ago. Everyone who works in Hollywood wants their work to be recognized by the ‘academy members’ but they don’t want to look like they are desperate for the recognition. They want to maintain a certain aloofness and nonchalance about it and when the academy fails to recognize what the Hollywood establishment believes to be good work, the claws are out and accusations begin to fly. But when award day rolls around, all the winners are equally gracious and thankful to the ‘members of the academy’. 

The truth is, the ‘members of the academy’ rarely gets their nominations and winners right by public opinion or the critics. There are 5 nomination spots for each of the acting, directing, writing categories and thankfully they’ve increased the best picture category to 10 spots as it’s near impossible to narrow all the films which entered competition to just 5 of the best, even for a really shitty film year, which has been the case for the last 10 years or so (if not longer).

I know for a fact ‘Titanic’ was not the best picture of the year, it was not best anything yet it won the most awards in 1998. It was one of the highest grossing films of all time, but it was far from the best. The acting was mediocre, the story was mediocre and it’s a typical James Cameron film full of technological and special effects gimmicks and not so much the actual substance of the film. At least his subsequent film ‘Avatar’ had a political and environmental message but for ‘Titanic’, besides the attractive lead actors and a soppy star crossed lovers story line, it was a mediocre film which panders to teenagers. 

I am an amateur movie-watcher. I didn’t study film and I know nothing about what makes good editing, cinematography or directing. When I watch a film, I watch for good writing, good acting, accuracy if it’s pertaining to a specific time in history and cultural accuracy if it’s about a specific culture. And if they can make a movie on a location outside of a Hollywood studio and they make good use of God’s green earth to accentuate the film, that’s even better. Some of the best films have never been seen from an American movie theater. Some of the best films are subtitled made in a different country which no one has even heard of. One comes to mind is ‘As It Is In Heaven’, a Swedish film by Kay Pollack. It was the last film I watched where it moved me on a deep level. It is a film about a world famous conductor returning home to the small Swedish village he was born and raised because of his heart condition. He was bullied growing up and while he went on to become a world famous conductor, the people who bullied him stayed behind in that small village. When he returns home, he realizes not much as changed. However, he finds it in his heart to forgive his tormentors and tries to find new meaning in his life by conducting a small church choir. Because of his world class music education and training, the little choir got so good that they got to enter a nationwide competition. That little tiny insignificant, nondescript Swedish village is a microcosm of the larger world. You have the blowhards, the bullies, the kind people who do good but don’t get recognized for their kindness, and you have romantic rivalries and jealousies. 

The last American film which remotely moved me to the same degree as ‘As It Is In Heaven’ is ‘One True Thing’, a film with Meryl Streep who was terminally ill with cancer and her daughter, Renee Zellweger returns home to care for her mother, whom she was never close to,  she never really got along with her mother and never looked up to her because she saw her mother as ‘just a housewife’. She was always daddy’s girl, she went to Harvard and studied English like her dad and she became a well regarded journalist (albeit a ruthless one) and her father is a tenured English professor at Harvard but ultimately a failed novelist. She returns home and finds out several family secrets that do not put her father in the best light. Over time she realized what a strong person her mother is and mother and daughter reconcile their differences, but not in a kissy-huggy, I love you all is forgiven way. She really saw her mother’s soul and she learned her mother ‘saw’ her all along. Her mother didn’t just favor her younger brother because he was sweet and uncomplicated when compared to her. Her mother was her biggest champion, biggest cheerleader, all done from the quiet corners of her soul, while she was toiling in her kitchen. 

While Meryl Streep was nominated for an Academy Award for her role as the mother, the movie got very little else recognition. ‘As It is in Heaven’ was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film but it didn’t win and it never got wide release in the United States. This brings me to my next point. Film critiquing is highly subjective. It’s very rare you will find total consensus on how great a film is (or how awful a film is), and because it is subjective, you are allowed to discriminate based on that subjectivity. People watch and critique film with their judgement and biases. I would be hard pressed to find a film critic or member of the academy who will watch a film based solely on the quality and content of the film and not factor in their own biases of likes and dislikes. The ‘members of the academy’ are 94% white, 77% male with an average age of 62, black members of the academy account for 2% and Latinos even less than 2%. With this composition, it’s very unlikely they will nominate ‘Straight Outta Compton’ for best picture, best director or the acting categories. It’s also the same reason why ‘Selma’ didn’t get more nominations. A 62 year old white guy isn’t going to identify with the struggles of Dr. King and most definitely not the inner city struggles of Compton.  As much as they would like to give all films equal consideration but when other films like ‘Birdman’ (the eventual best picture winner over ‘Selma’) or ‘American Sniper’ or ‘Whiplash’ are in contention, the 62 year old white guy will probably go for ‘American Sniper’ and the more cultured will probably go for ‘Birdman’. I can’t critique as I’ve not seen either film. 

The second problem with Hollywood is one of their own doing, and that is the lack of good films being made. The Hollywood films being released now is a string of comic book, dystopian and vampire novel series with 3 or 4 movies in the pipeline to guarantee studios profits. Book adaptations such as ‘The Hours’ and ‘The Reader’ are far and in between and for an original screen play to be made is even more rare. Hollywood studios will not part with their cash unless they can reasonably predict a return on investment. And this may be harsh, but moviegoers are usually children and teenagers, not exactly the most literate or sophisticated demographic who will appreciate a nice Henry James adaptation or a Todd Haynes film. Children, understandably like to see animation films or films that feature talking animals. Teenagers like to watch Star Wars, The Hunger Games, 50 Shades of Gray, Fantastic Four, etc. They are less likely to go watch films like ‘Carol’ or ‘The Danish Girl’. Another one of my favorites films ‘The End of the Affair’ (which Julianne Moore was robbed of an Oscar win in my opinion), I went to see it in the theater, the theater was more than half empty. The people watching that are people at least 30 or older. Perhaps it’s just me, people 30 or older rarely line up around the block on premier night to see any film. Most can’t be bothered until it’s out on DVD or Netflix. 

The combination of having a white, male and above a certain age demographic for academy members and Hollywood not making enough quality films where people of color are represented in lead or supporting roles, the result will be an all white Oscars. A good place to start would be to ‘retire’ some of the old, male and white academy members and replace them with younger, ethnically and racially diverse members. As for the gender quota, it may be wise to make it 50-50. Next, an equally important component is for Hollywood studios to take a chance and invest in smaller more artistic films and feature up and coming, more diverse and less well known actors to give them a chance to shine. For once, stop worrying about ticket sales and take a leap of faith. The billions earned from The Hunger Games and Twilight Series should be able to sustain a few losses and give audiences a more comprehensive theater experience. 

Creating more movies from original screenplays can also solve some of the stereotypical role type casting problems for minorities. It can open up a plethora of opportunities for people of color. Black men don’t have to play the gangster, a corrupt cop, a drug dealer, a wife beater to get noticed, black women don’t need to play a prostitute, junkie, a sadistic mother or a self-loathing woman who sleeps with her husband’s executioner in order to win Oscar awards (Halle Berry in Monster’s Ball). The problem is not a shortage of talent in the writing, acting and directing genre, there is plenty of talent to go around. Just think of all the piles and piles of scripts waiting to be green lighted, there must be some Oscar worthy material in there.  The problem is lack of opportunity. As Viola Davis said in her Emmy Award acceptance speech, the first black woman to win an Emmy for lead actress in a dramatic role: “You cannot win an Emmy for roles that are simply not there.” 

The politics of American education.

StackofBooks

As a news junkie, the amount of attention I pay to developments and ‘news’ about education is cursory at best. From what I hear, I am just glad I am no longer in primary or secondary education. I am close to the big 4-0 but I graduated from high school in 1997 and university in 2001. It wasn’t that long ago…And I don’t recall education being so politicized back in the day.

In fact, I don’t think education should involve politics at all except when it has to do with funding. This current trend of comingling politics into our education system makes me very uncomfortable. To allow prayer or not at school: NO – never, it’s not necessary, you can pray at home, to whichever God you like on your own time, in the comforts of your own home. Our children are at school between six to seven hours a day, they can do without prayer, God will understand. School lunch and who gets to eat what based on income: all students should eat the same thing, children whose parents who cannot afford lunch even at the discounted rate or parents who forget to reload their children’s lunch money card should just get to eat what everyone else is eating. There’s no need to single out students by making sure everyone in the cafeteria knows they are from a low income family by giving them a dry hamburger bun with a slice of cheese and a small serving of milk. Lunch food doesn’t cost that much, especially the crap that they feed the kids in school these days. The Common Core: one of the most ridiculous advents in the history of education.

My daughter will be entering full time education soon. She is four years old now, in about two years she’ll be in first grade. Though my husband and I purchased a home in an area with good schools, we always knew we were sending our children to Catholic private school. The good public schools are just a backup should we not be able to afford private education. We are Catholics, most of our families have been to Catholic schools for at least primary education until middle school and later transitioned to public high school and it’s worked out well for them. For all of the problems of the Catholic church, their education and curriculum and its results have been consistent.

Over the years I’ve also come across school teachers who teach in the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) and let’s just say the morass that is LAUSD can leave the most enthusiastic and eager of teachers burned out and disillusioned. The teacher’s union is strong and powerful here, the union is racially and ethnically diverse and they try to serve all the people who have an interest in the union. As a result, they end up serving no one. Not even the students, which should be their main priority. Teachers have scant control over their curriculum and how they’d like to present that curriculum. Teachers are stuck in the middle between school administrators to deliver good test results or else the funding of the school can be affected and unreasonable and belligerent parents who challenge teachers when they give out bad grades, never believing their precious snowflakes can get a D in a class.

During the brutal second term of governor Arnold Schwarzenegger  where California faced a huge budget deficit, funding for education was cut. The policy for laying off teachers as dictated by union contracts was by seniority and tenure and not by skill or merit. This angered a lot of younger teachers who have put in good years in teaching but has not yet earned tenure and it discouraged a lot of new people from becoming teachers because of the lack of funding, so the LAUSD was left with a brain drain. I met a teacher where she literally didn’t know if she was going to be laid off from month to month. And she was a fine teacher who loved to teach, who didn’t want to do anything else but teach. The thought that she could be laid off from teaching through no fault of her own but by the state’s finances and her lack of seniority and full tenure made her physically ill, as it should.

Public school teachers, in order to protect their professions have no choice but to enter the political fray, which leaves a bad taste in my mouth. I looked up to teachers as people who imparted knowledge to the next generation, who were not about politics but about knowledge. Their job was to teach and they left the politics to others. It’s now no longer the case. This fraught political environment, where special interest groups have stuck their tentacles of influence in the public school system have changed the nature of teaching for the worse, in my humble opinion.

I had the unique opportunity and privilege to experience two types of education systems by accident of my birthplace. I was born in Taiwan because my parents lived there and I received my earliest education in the very rigorous and takes-no-prisoners style of public education in Taiwan. Even in the first grade, we were in our classroom seats by 7:30 AM. Our homeroom teacher got there before us and had already filled the chalkboard full of Chinese vocabulary, sentences and and words we are to learn for the day. Before the first lesson is to begin, we had to copy everything on the chalkboard onto our notebooks, our teacher watched us like a hawk to make sure we didn’t cheat and skip sentences or words. We were but six or seven years old but we were not spoken to in soft tones, we were spoken to sternly and we were made very clear what was expected of us. No one cried or complained. It was just the way it was. If people think right now students have too much homework, they have no idea what too much homework looks like. We didn’t have small classrooms sizes either, each classroom had about 50 students but you heard not one peep from us. The teacher had full command of the classroom, no one talked back, no one talked when they weren’t supposed to and we all respected and feared her. What’s worse, our semester and year end final grades are posted on the door of the classroom so everyone and their mothers (literally) knows what your report card grades are. Chinese parents invented the ‘helicopter’ parent and there is a line of mothers standing by the classroom door to see where their child ranked. It was competitive from day one and an early introduction to public humiliation. I remember at the end of first grade, my final average grade from all of my classes (math, history, social studies, Chinese studies, writing composition, abacus – yes, I had to take abacus) was 95.5% and I was ranked only in the top 15. There were kids who had 100%. And there will be no parents berating the teachers for giving their students a bad grade. Taiwanese parents give school teachers a lot of respect and deference as it is the teachers who is imparting knowledge on to their children.

I am forever thankful to my early education in Taiwan. Though not recommended by education experts, their style of rote learning and memorization gave me the skills to get through any class, no matter how difficult and how boring I found it. Because of the rigor and discipline enforced upon me at first and second grade, I can teach myself or force myself to learn and do anything. There was no one in Taiwan then (I don’t know about now) who said they didn’t ‘like’ math or science. Not ‘liking’ a class isn’t an option. In fact, the idea of having a favorite subject is not introduced or allowed. We were expected to do well and take an equal liking to all of the classes.

My aunt was a middle school teacher in Taiwan. She explained to me that the goal of ‘learning by force’ is to bring all students up to a standard that is above their natural ability. To make gifted students more exceptional, to make mediocre students excellent students and indifferent and bad students at least mediocre so that they can advance to the next level of education. In order to advance to the next level of education in Taiwan, very difficult state standardized tests must be taken for admission to high school, university and some vocational schools. I believe recently they’ve abandoned the high school entrance test, so compulsory education has been extended through high school.

Looking back, this style of rote learning by memorization doesn’t emphasize enough on critical thinking and critical analysis and just having a student ‘figure stuff out’ on their own, but each style has its pros and cons. Having the skills of rote learning and memorization can help someone jump start a difficult subject and then later find the time to critically analyze and understand the subject. If I had finished out my education in Taiwan and not the US, I would have been seen a failure and a loser, as I am a critical thinker by nature and not so much with the memorization thing.

When I came to America to finish the rest of my education, I was in for a surprise. A nice surprise at how little homework there was. Due to my early force feeding of math, I was able to stay ahead in math up through 9th grade. But I would be foolish to dismiss American curriculum as not being challenging enough. It’s challenging in different ways. While we are not forced to memorize and do by rote hundreds of pages of homework for just one subject, we are required to think for ourselves. The school science projects and presentations where you had to illustrate and and define your points of view isn’t as easy as it seems if you aren’t taught to do it at an early age. One thing that always baffled me was how so many of my classmates all through elementary, middle school, high school and even college said they hated math and how they refuse to take any more math class that is minimally required. I loved math though I am not genius at it. The right answer never changes. As long as you arrive at the right answer, it will always be the right answer. One plus one will always be two. A squared plus B squared always equals C squared. If you plug in the formula correctly, you get the right answer. It’s one of the few sure things in life.

Educator and Professor P.L. Thomas of Furman University writes an insightful blog called The Becoming Radical, and he talks about how elitism, racism and classism are rife and rampant in public school education. He dispels rumors and falsehoods reported by the media about public education with real data and not urban legend. In all of his writings, what is most concerning to me is, and he proves it with data and facts, education is not the great equalizer, teacher ability only accounts for 10-15% of student achievement and student achievement is more likely than not to depend on factors outside of the classroom, such as poverty, unstable home life, lack of strong role models at home to instill the importance of education.

I left a comment for him asking him for solutions, since in most of his writings he points out problems, all legitimate and true, but no solutions. He scolds politicians and interests groups tainting the education system, taking the power away from teachers. He scolds journalists for not doing their homework when reporting on education as they rarely consult teachers or educators as a source, but he rarely points out solutions. He asserts that allowing parents school choices aren’t good either because it creates segregation. Having a standard of learning such as Common Core doesn’t make sense because the standards are biased. The lack of black history besides the slavery and post slavery era is a problem and contributes to bad feelings for black students in school. All of it true but no solid solutions or a suggestion of solutions. I guess my comment got stuck in ‘moderation’. He failed to post my comment nor responded to my comment.

The task of educating the masses is not an easy proposition. Especially in such a diverse population such as the United States. Public education can’t please everyone and it cannot guarantee the results for every student, but what it must do is to adequately educate a healthy majority of students to a level that is competitive. There must be a uniformity in standards from the most wealthiest of districts to the most disadvantaged but with some flexibility to adjust to the different needs of different students. The idea which everyone learns at their own pace, learns with their own method so therefore they should be allowed to do so sounds good in theory. However, teachers do not have enough hours in the day to accommodate each student’s different style or preference of learning. In this country, the problem began when too many people and interest groups stuck their hands in education. Unqualified know-it-alls proposing avant garde unproven ideas on how to overhaul and improve the schools end up making the situation worse. The single thing a teacher can do, and this is what my first grade teacher did for me in Taiwan, above and beyond their teachings skills, is drill the idea of the inherent importance of having a good education into their student’s heads. And it is important not because you want to go to college and get a good job, not because you want to win academic excellence awards or become famous but because you want knowledge. You want to be in possession of one of the most important things in life, and that is knowledge. The ability to seek knowledge, the thirst for knowledge, not in a creepy Faustian way, but the continual strive for accumulating more knowledge to enrich one’s soul, to make one’s life more meaningful through knowledge and learning. No one can take your knowledge away from you. Once you learn it, you own it. It’s yours. This was the lesson imparted by one of the greatest teachers who ever lived: Confucius.

“Please take responsibility for the energy you bring into this space.” – Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor

Dr. JBTaylor
Source: Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor

This quote, often repeated by Oprah, “you are responsible for the energy you bring into the room”, has been replaying in my mind lately.

On top of not being a morning person, I am also virulently anti-new age-y, huggy-kissy kumbaya, positive thinking will bring you riches, ‘The Secret’ worshiping cult. If we can all positive think and manifest our way to riches, we’d all be rich. Self-help books such as ‘The Secret’ and anything written by Tony Robbins are anathema to me. I liken these people to selling you a false hope of becoming rich if you just follow their methods and they charge you money for it. They also charge exorbitant fees for their ‘weekend seminars’ where everyone stands up in the room and clap. You feel a rush and a high for the weekend and on Monday you are back at your old grind and $300 poorer.

Though I am now attempting to become a morning person, I am still anti-new agey, huggy-kissy, kumbaya, positive thinking will bring you riches, ‘The Secret’ worshiping cult. But this quote: “Please take responsibility for the energy you bring into this space” has been set on replay in my mind and consciousness. We’ve all known toxic people in our lives, where every time they walk into a room, they suck the energy and life out of it. They don’t even have to speak. Their mere presence makes you want to cringe. That look of bitterness combined with anger and resentment on their face makes you want to leave the room.

Though I can’t be described as a ray of sunshine or a bundle of warmth when I enter a space, I’ve always tried to be very cognizant of my attitude a try not to contribute to or create toxicity. Even if I am having a foul day and in a horrible rancid mood, I pull it together in front of others so I don’t infect them with my foulness. I try not to project my problems onto other people and make it their burden.

Lately I’ve gotten lazy. The huge and sudden changes and upheaval of the last few years have made me lazy and less cognizant of the energy I bring into a room. I’ve not always taken responsibility for the energy I bring into a room. Though I don’t think I am at the ‘toxic’ level, I have definitely dampen the mood when it wasn’t necessary to do so.

Like many women, I suffer from intermittent bouts of depression. Last year the intervals got longer and more difficult to manage and recover from. I decided to examine the reason. Suffering black clouds is a time consuming and tedious process. And I have a short supply of time. I do not take medications for depression nor do I see a therapist but I do have my own methods which are a combination of exercise, meditation, modifications in diet and increased doses of my fish oil supplement and St. John’s Wort (both have been clinically proven to reduce depression for mild to medium sufferers).

The last few years were years of great change and upheaval for me and I didn’t take the time to properly mourn the losses, celebrate the gains and all the emotions in between. When I had my daughter four years ago, I was on an incredible high. I had job security and a job to return to after I had my baby. I anticipated everything would change, I’d be more tired and my nerves would be more frayed. I got in robot mode buckled down and soldiered through, telling myself it was only a phase. Putting myself second, third, fourth or fifth was just a phase because I have a baby and I have responsibilities. One day, when she is older, she’ll be in school and I’ll have my time back again. So, I put my nose to the ground and that’s how I got through my 18 hour days, existing on 5 hours of sleep or less.

Sleep deprivation can cause depression, or in my case, reignite my depression and it did, over and over again. I felt I had some sort of postpartum anxiety, but it was never diagnosed. I had no time to go get it diagnosed, but I felt something. My exhaustion combined with not enough hands pitching in, unbeknownst to me made me angry and bitter. But the joyous moments of motherhood sustained me and I thought this was my new normal. People I trusted to step up disappointed me. Though I had child care arranged for the 8-10 hours I had at work, everything outside of that was my responsibility. Bottle sterilizing, feeding my baby, bathing her, soothing her when she was crying, the second I step through my front door, I was expected to take over. Outside of work, I had no leisure time. I felt I didn’t deserve any, in fact, I was told by the inaction of others, I didn’t deserve any. Perhaps this wasn’t true, since I never talked to anyone about it, I internalized all of it.

Between the births of my first and second child we hit a financial road bump, which if the kind people didn’t step forward to help us, we’d have been in serious trouble. I was pregnant with my son and the being pregnant and experiencing financial distress nearly put me under physically and emotionally. Again, I reached for inner reserves and delivered a healthy baby. After the birth of my son, I became a full time work-at-home mother, which initially was a relief but a new set of emotional challenges revealed itself and I failed to deal with that either.

I never dealt with the pain of being let down by people I trusted and counted on. I never confided in anyone about this, least of the all the people I felt should hear it. In my ignorance or perhaps arrogance, I felt these people should know the situation they put me in. After all, I drag my body around everyday like a zombie, I shouldn’t have to say anything.

I was in new mother mode and I decided to focus all of my attention on my children. The physical act of caring for them became the distraction to my other problems. Caring for them gave my life purpose and for now, that was good enough. It was all I could have hoped for. I will deal with the other stuff, grownup people stuff later, when I can find the right words to say.

Little by little, I changed. I brought my malaise everywhere with me. I noticed my then three year old daughter give me random, purposeful hugs and kisses during the day, she didn’t have the vocabulary yet but she knew her mommy was in distress. I could barely carry on a conversation with another adult, least of all my husband. In fact, some days, it would have been easier if we just quietly existed without speaking. It would make my life easier. I don’t have to explain myself, since it’s pointless (I am just exhausted, exhausted from life, don’t you get it?).

During this time my mother also got seriously ill but she was overseas. She had to have major surgery in hospital and I couldn’t be there. It was a surgery that she may not wake up from and I couldn’t be there. Me, her only child, could not be there. What use am I? Financially it wasn’t possible and logistically, with a toddler and a nursing infant, bringing a 10 month old baby on an 18 hour flight, it just wasn’t happening. I kicked myself so hard for it. Though no longer in financial distress, I blamed that time for putting me in this situation now, the inability to just get up and tend to emergency matters such as these. I felt as I’ve failed in my most basic duty as a daughter, to be there for my mother when she needed me. She wasn’t alone, she had scores of friends with her and I am forever grateful to them, but I should be there. When her surgeon had to make an overseas call to me to ask me what I wanted to do should her surgery not be successful, I could have just crawled into a hole and not come out. My mother made it through the surgery and is back at full health.

No one who lived under the same roof as me knew about any of this, I didn’t tell them. Perhaps it’s unfair, but I blamed them. Slowly, bitterness and resentment took over me and I am generally not a bitter and resentful person under any situation. I have always been quite optimistic and when something doesn’t go my way, I figure a way out and move on. But after so many things happening in such a short amount of time, my optimism and pragmatism was on short supply.

I had two small children permanently attached to me. While it’s reasonable to put myself aside, I didn’t come to terms or mourn the loss of my old identity either. I didn’t mourn the loss of my pre-mommy days. I didn’t want them back, but I didn’t properly say goodbye. Suddenly the things I was prevented from doing because no one wanted to pick up the slack for a few hours begun to bother me, or if they did, the amount of baby preparation I had to do before I could step out of my house (food, bottles, clothes – all of which are right there to access), it was too much work. I felt so alone. I had many eager friends to help, but because of the situation at home and a permanently unkept house, I appreciated their help but ultimately couldn’t take it.

During this time I also forgot to be grateful for the little things in life which go a long way when you are distressed. My days felt like one long unending list of things to do. Two little amazing people who need me so much, all the time. My daughter’s bright gapped teeth smiles got me through the day. When she was able to speak in sentences, we had the funniest of conversations. “Mommy, I can’t sleep”, “Why?”, “It’s too dark.”

This cloud of unresolved conflicts, emotions, hurt, anger and deep resentment followed me everywhere. I was no longer mindful or responsible for the energy I brought into a space. I no longer cared. I became defiant. You are having a bad day? You want to hear about my bad year? You are pissed off? Oh really? You want to know what being pissed off really looks like?

So, when I casually saw this quote again while internet surfing, something clicked in my consciousness. I have not been mindful nor responsible for the energy I brought into spaces. I’ve been careless and infecting people with my dark clouds. This has hurt myself more than it has hurt others. I was not punishing others, I was just punishing myself, living under this cloud of malaise. I can choose to be happy, even for the small things. I needed to take responsible for my own emotional well being. I cannot wait for other people to shape up and step up emotionally before I forgive them. I will choose to forgive them even if they didn’t know they did anything wrong, even if they think they did nothing wrong. I will live my best life everyday and be the best person I can be everyday. I learned what others say about me mean nothing, it’s only a reflection of themselves. If people are nasty to me, I should feel sad for them and not anger, because it just means they think badly of themselves.

And one day I burst out laughing over some stupid joke my husband said, whereas most days I would just roll my eyes (I know, it’s juvenile). And I felt as I was getting back to my old self, slowly. Before we married, my favorite thing was his stupid corny jokes, and now I learned to love them again. I became accountable for my own happiness through small moments of the day.

When I take responsibility for the energy I bring to a space, I am also responsible for nurturing my wellbeing. I also learned to draw new boundaries. I no longer gave into my tendency to agree to something just for the sake of not rocking the boat, while ignoring my wishes. I no longer dishonor myself and my feelings. My feelings are valid, my feelings matter and I matter.

Becoming a morning person.

cup of coffee
Source: yosaki.com

I am not a morning person. It’s not that I am incapable of rising early, I will if I need to. If I do rise early, I am incommunicable until after my third cup of coffee and it’s past 9 am. Anyone attempting to have a semi-serious conversation beyond the pleasantries will get a cold confused stare from me. Some say I walk around with an invisible “Do Not Talk To Me” sign around my neck before 9 am (and after on most days).

I wear this this peccadillo with pride. I was a proud night owl. Nighttime is when my energy comes and creative juices gets flowing. And I don’t care if people don’t think I am unapproachable. Who cares about people?

This year, as a New Year’s personal audit of my behaviors and habits (I stayed away from the word ‘resolution’), I decided enough was enough. I will rise at an acceptable hour before my two chirpy and talkative children do and start my day. I always complain that I’ve never any quiet time to myself. If I want quiet time, I will need to create it, there are 24 hours in a day, and surely, even for a full-time mother to two children under the age of 5, I should be able to squeeze 2-3 hours of quiet time for myself. So I decided to set my alarm clock.

The first few days were hard. I had to hit the snooze button a few times, but once my body got used to it and I got used to it (in my head), I realize I had morphed into a semi-morning person. I became a  more pleasant person because by 9 am, I would have already had those precious three hours of silence to myself to write , read, study, catch up on shows on my DVR (plus those three cups of caffeine either in the form of coffee or tea). I am not constantly rushing through my chores so I can sit down in mid-day and have some quiet time, which half is spent getting my children to nap. Fulfilling their endless list of “requirements” before they decide to nap, and by the time they do, I am irritated and angry and half of the afternoon is gone, which makes me ever more cross. Now, when my children nap accordingly, and I do have mid-day quiet time to myself, I treat it like a bonus. I have hit the quiet time jackpot.

I also realized creative juices can flow any time of the day. There is no special time of day where you are more creative than others. I can do whatever I need to do as long as it is quiet.

Keeping normal human hours isn’t such a bad thing. My intermittent headaches and other body aches slowly went away. I don’t know if it’s to do with my new body clock, regardless, I feel better. I didn’t make any other significant changes in my life.

If someone had told me I will feel better if I just wake up earlier, I would have told them to shut-the-front-door. I operate at night, that’s how I am. I used to scoff at the likes of Martha Stewart when an interviewer asks her how she does what she does everyday? How does she pack so much in one day? Her answer was always, “I wake up early,” as if that’s the secret to success, the golden elixir to achievement. But after waking up early for the past few weeks, I realize I do have more ‘time’ – this elusive modern day commodity. When at 9 am you are ready to go, and you’ve done eighty percent of what you need to do for the whole day, you automatically feel better.

Now if I can just work in an early workout…but baby steps.

Left-wing apologists do no favors for the rights of refugees

syrian-refugee-protests-against-cologne-attacks
Syrian refugee protesting Cologne attacks. Source: Facebook

So it’s happened, as someone of the extreme political right would say, this culture clash of East v. West, civilized and uncivilized, regressive v. progressive, the fundamental incompatibility of people from conservative Muslim societies and Western societies. People from Muslim countries do not respect women, especially white women and have no qualms about attacking white women in an open public square. These are the kind of people we are giving asylum to, these backward, uncouth, ingrates here to take from us and to live amongst us. On top of bringing themselves, they bring their dreck with them as well.

Let me preface this by saying, if prostitution is the oldest profession in the world, then rape and sexual assault has got to be the oldest crime against humanity, specifically, the female side of humanity. Rape is not specific to any race, religion, country or ethnicity. Every single country contains rapists. Every religion is also against rape and considers it a heinous crime. There is not one religion that condones or tolerates rape. But there is a difference on how different countries and societies across the globe treat rape as a crime (or not). In India, unless the rape is horrifically graphic, where the victim had to get airlifted to Singapore to get treatment, it gets no coverage (the victim died as a result of her injuries). In many conservative societies, rape is a taboo subject not for public consumption. It is not openly discussed or debated. Rape is quietly acknowledged and victims rarely see or seek justice in courts. Even in the United States, where rape and rape culture is discussed and debated ad nauseum, in reality very few rape cases ever get charged or brought to trial which result in a conviction and the rapists goes to jail.

The assaults which took place on NYE in Cologne, Germany were horrific as it was done on a mob like scale, in the middle of the city square of an ancient European city, dotted with ancient gothic cathedrals on one of what should be one of the most celebratory nights of the year. To date, there are over 500 of reported cases of assault where women lost their undergarments, cell phones and money. In some attacks, women were surrounded by mobs of men and separated from their friends. The police on site, which are always more than usual because it’s NYE could not cope with all complaints and had to disperse the crowds using water canons, not exactly a good way to end NYE.  Cologne represents Catholicism in Germany, a beautiful ancient city seemingly untouched by time even though Germany has been through two World Wars. It is Germany’s fourth largest city and it’s a city with a healthy mix of different ethnicities and minorities. Their largest minority (not counting the current people waiting for approval for refugee asylum) are Turkish, followed by Italians and people from other parts of the EU and they have a significant Iraqi and Iranian population as well. So, this is not a small town or hamlet in the German countryside where most of the residents are white or ethnically German and so are prone to suspicion or dislike of people who don’t look and sound like them.

The Mayor of Cologne and the Cologne police chief downplayed the incidents, especially about the origin of the attackers, which most of the victims said were of North African and Arab origin (basically they were brown and not white). Since Chancellor Angela Merkel threw open her doors to Syrian refugees, about 1.1 million people have entered Germany since the summer of 2015. Many claim to be refugees though not all are from Syria. Besides some fascist far-right fringe people, most Germans were kind and welcoming but also cautious about what their chancellor had done. Many Germans met refugees at train stations and brought them blankets, basic necessities and toys and candies for the little ones. Many Germans volunteered in refugee intake centers to help refugees. You compare that to the scorn Viktor Orban’s government shown to the refugees, the generosity and kindness of the Germans was moving to see.

However, not long after this initial swell of goodwill and generosity, there were whispers of ‘men of North African or Arab origin’ assaulting women and girls in refugee shelters. Women reported not feeling safe in refugee centers, they are afraid to visit the facilities at night and sleep in their day clothes. The German police were well aware of these but they chose to not make a big deal about it because they didn’t want to inflame an already volatile political situation at home and across the EU. There is already Viktor Orban and his ilk foaming at the mouth, Germany didn’t need to add fuel to that particular fire. The government was accused of hushing up rape allegations in favor of political stability, especially in the beginning months. Surprisingly, many Germans are quite level headed and agreed with this, but only to a point.

With public opinion hardening on the refugee influx, German authorities appear anxious to avoid giving extreme-right groups any opportunity to stir up hostility towards migrants, many of whom are Muslims including those fleeing the Syrian civil war.

[…]

But police union chief Rainer Wendt said he believed that authorities in Germany’s federal states, which are responsible for housing asylum seekers, were playing down the problem of assaults on women in the shelters.

Fast forward to NYE of 2015, the mob assaults in Cologne, it was not an incident the police or anyone could play down. Also, the victims in the NYE assaults are white German women, not other refugee women and they weren’t going to keep quiet. Originally the Mayor of Cologne Henriette Reker wanted to calm down the public outrage,  refused to confirm the majority of attackers of of North African or Arab origin, even though this was the account of the victims. And she went one step further, she suggested a ‘code of conduct’ for women in her city,

Her proposed guidelines included sticking to a group of trusted acquaintances, asking for help from others and informing the police. But it was her suggestion that women should keep at “an arm’s length” from strangers that has triggered most outrage on social media, with the phrase turned into a hashtag – #EineArmLaenge– on Twitter. Thousands of messages have been posted using the phrase.

The main charge being made against her online was that Reker was blaming the victims for their behaviour, rather than the attackers themselves.

Henriette Reker is one of those loathsome left-wing apologists, who will go so far to tell victims of rape to be more careful themselves rather than crackdown on perpetrators. The normally calm and levelheaded Germans took to the streets and mocked their mayor as they should.

When refugees came to Germany, Chancellor Merkel made it very clear that German laws, norms, customs and traditions are to be followed and that assimilation and integration is a requirement. Frau Merkel does not believe in ‘multiculturalism’ a la British style, where whole neighborhoods consist of people of Asian backgrounds and they carry on their lives and traditions as though they were still in their home country but with first world amenities. Merkel called this a “grand delusion”, where every culture has equal importance, living in their own communities, carrying on, oblivious to the host culture. That is a big fat ‘nein’ for Frau Merkel.

“Those who seek refuge with us also have to respect our laws and traditions, and learn to speak German. Multiculturalism leads to parallel societies, and therefore multiculturalism remains a grand delusion.” – Chancellor Angela Merkel

Merkel views her policy of accepting refugees as a “humanitarian imperative” not a free for all handout where you can come to Germany and do what you like. It’s not clear if the refugees entering or have already entered Germany got this memo.

What is more galling about leftist apologists is their tendency to well, apologize for and explain away our fundamental cultural differences and turn the problem around on the Western foreign policy, Western imperialism and Western colonization. It insults the intelligence of the people. This type of apologizing doesn’t solve any problems, it merely sweeps the problem under the carpet and create more resentment and give right-wing anti-immigration groups more ammunition to spew their hatred. It can even create resentment amongst moderate and liberal Westerners who are open minded to immigration. There is nothing more frustrating or irritating than government downplaying serious issues, such as sexual assault, racism, discrimination etc., hoping it will go away on its own. It never goes away on its own, just look at the racism issues in America today, we’ve been trying to deal with it by not acknowledging it for over 150 years.

According to a survey done of Muslims around the world in 2013 about their attitudes towards women and a lot of it isn’t pretty:

There really is a cultural gulf between rich, liberal, secular Europe and some of the countries from which recent migrants come. It is impossible to conduct surveys in Syria right now, for obvious reasons, but a 2013 Pew poll of Muslims around the world makes sobering reading. More than 90% of Tunisians and Moroccans believe that a wife should always obey her husband. Only 14% of Iraqi Muslims and 22% of Jordanians think a woman should be allowed to initiate a divorce. And although Arab societies take a harsh view of sex crimes, women who venture alone and in skimpy clothing into a public space in, say, Egypt can expect a barrage of male harassment.

-The Economist

I wonder where is the left-wing PC brigade’s outrage on these antediluvian attitudes? Where is their condemnation of sexim and  misogyny, their two favorite topics to accuse people of? Surely the above described can’t be ascribed to Western colonialism or imperialism, since it’s already established that rape occurs everywhere and therefore not imported or exported. Where is PC brigade’s tirade about how Westerners get to live the way we wish to live, in our own countries. Oh Right – our rights don’t  matter because we were conquerors once. We must spend the rest of our existence apologizing and excusing for even the most heinous crimes committed on Western women.

So, let’s declare a few facts here:

It is a FACT that Middle Eastern and Muslims societies are all around more conservative than the West.

It is a FACT that Muslim women and Muslim social attitudes towards women are far less permissive and lax than the West. Single men and women rarely socialize together. Social dating in the Western sense where you get to know someone prior to marriage or getting to know many someones before deciding which guy is the one is generally not acceptable or permissible. Marriages are usually arranged and courtships are conducted under the full supervision of parents.

It is a FACT sex before marriage for both sexes is not acceptable, but it’s more strict when applied to girls. Whereas in the West,

European women cherish their rights to wear what they like, go where they like and have sex or not have sex with whom they please. No one should be allowed to infringe these freedoms.

Because Muslim men and women do not socialize together until they are married, and 70% of asylum seekers in Germany are men, many of the single men, they haven’t a clue how to socialize normally with girls who isn’t family.

Migrants are no more likely to commit crimes than natives. But it would be otherworldly to pretend that there is no tension between the attitudes of some and their hosts.

And as uncomfortable as this sounds, it is also a FACT that some (and I emphasize some) Muslim men see white women as fair game, as meat, available to assault, for the fact that we are Westerners and do not adhere to the same strict sexual conduct as Muslim women do. They fuck white girls but marry Muslim girls. Many left-wing apologists love to deny this and accuse people of being racists when they bring up this point. Not many Muslims have these attitudes, but some do and to deny it is the same thing as denying that racism exist or the existence of rape culture.

In 2012, in Rochdale, UK, police uncovered Asian (Pakistani descent) gangs grooming white girls for sex using drugs and alcohol and even trafficking and selling them by passing them around to their friends, some were as young as 14 or 15. The shock was not the discovery. The shock was the police, social services and other authorities already knew about this but were reluctant to press charges and call it for what it is which is the deliberate grooming of vulnerable white girls by Asian gangs. They were afraid of being called racists, for singling out Asian gangs of men.

The new, Asian-led grooming is being done mostly by large numbers of men acting as a group.

Such men regard their victims with contempt – “easy” girls, often in care or on `at risk` registers, whose early isolation from school and family has already turned them to drink, drugs or both.

One of the men on trial in Liverpool summed up this attitude when he said: “You white people train them in sex and drinking, so when they come to us they are fully trained”.

The PC brigade decried the implication that this was an Asian gang deliberately grooming and trafficking underage, vulnerable white girls by plying them with drugs and alcohol. They spun it into (as usual); it’s not about race, being Asian or white but that some men have these attitudes towards women. Perhaps, but white gangs grooming underage white girls are few and there are definitely no white gangs grooming underage Muslim girls. This is specifically Asian gangs of men, deliberately grooming white girls, and it’s the vulnerable white girls who are in foster care and cut off from their families, whom they refer to as “easy” girls because no one cares where they are. They didn’t go after middle-class white girls where her father is a solicitor or investment banker. This is the result of ‘multiculturalism’, people afraid to tell the blatant truth that is punching them in the face, for fear of looking racist.

The UK, well known for its PC culture, which even exceeds the US in some ways, where respected professors have lost their tenure for making a ‘sexist’ joke on a different continent. Where a solicitor tweeted to all her followers because some random guy who wanted to headhunt her complimented her headshot on her Linkedin profile, she declared him a sexist pig and shamed him publicly yet no one dared to tell these people to “get a life or sense of humor”. The overly PC people who take offense at everything they hear and if you don’t agree when them then you are sexist, racist or whatever else -ist they can come up with. It’s just another form of tyranny, dictating to people how tolerance should be practiced. How not offending people’s sentiments take precedence over the truth.

For Germany to pretend that letting over one million people in the country, during a short time, however noble the intention is, and to think no consequences, social or otherwise will result is naive.

In any given large group of people, such as 1.1 million refugees, there will be bad apples. To assume that all of them will be grateful for Germany’s largess and will behave in a lawful and decent manner is unrealistic. If every family has at least one bad apple, then what about the bad apples in 1.1 million people?

Since the attacks on NYE, Syrian refugees took to the streets in Germany, condemning the attacks on women on NYE. They started Facebook pages denouncing the attacks and showing their solidarity with Germany. Some men were handing out flowers to women passersby when they were protesting. Syrian Refugees were seen handing out this letter, translated into German to people on the streets of Cologne:

We, men from Syria, condemn in the strongest possible terms abuse against women and the attack and robberies on New Year’s Eve.

We regret that women were injured, physically and in their honor. We hope that they will recover well and soon from these attacks.

We hope that the perpetrators of these criminal acts will be found and punished.

Our cultural values were trampled by these crimes. Those values include respect for women and men, respect for bodily integrity, and respect for personal property.

We Syrians have come to Germany as refugees, because we want to live freely in this democratic society. We want to shape, to speak, and to live democracy.

We regret that the acts on New Year’s Eve have brought our group — a group of Syrians, a group of refugees and of other Arab or North African people — and our culture into disrepute.

We’ve fled an inhuman war, in order save our lives and our ability to remain human. We want peace and security and the opportunity to provide for our families through work.

Let’s hope this bit of humanity makes into the international news cycle. This reaction from law abiding Syrians, is every bit as newsworthy as the attack themselves. This is the silent majority, the good decent people trying to make their way in Germany, to put down new roots and create new lives. It’s one thing to punish the perpetrators and make it your main agenda but to ignore the scores good people trying to do right is doing the refugees a disservice.

It’s Not OK To Troll Jack Monroe

JACK MONROE
British Cookbook Author: Jack Monroe Photo Credit: Jack Monroe’s Blog

Jack Monroe is a British cookbook author, anti-poverty campaigner, specifically anti-food poverty campaigner, journalist, blogger, mother and self-taught chef. Jack is able whip up some of the most scrumptious recipes at budget rates using fresh whole ingredients. After being on the unforgiving breadline and was subjected to harsh benefit sanctions rolled out by Prime Minister David Cameron’s government, Jack learned how to cook on a budget and shares those recipes on their blog Cooking on a Bootstrap by Jack Monroe. Besides posting their recipes, they also post the various columns they write for British newspapers and their own blog posts about the musings of their life.

I am not usually in the business of defending public figures or celebrities. If they choose a public life, they must also accept the consequences which come with it. But in the case of Jack Monroe, I must speak up in their defense. First, let me explain the pronouns in this piece. In Coming Out Day on October 11, 2015, they announced via Twitter they is transgender, but non-binary, which means they do not identify as either just male or female, it’s somewhere in between. They have publicly advised everyone to refer to them as Mx. Jack Monroe and the correct pronouns are they, them, their and they assured their readers though it’s seems awkward because we associate those pronouns as plural, they assured the readers that it is indeed grammatically correct,

Pronouns: Pronouns are how you refer to a person when not using their name. Please use ‘they/them/their’ in place of ‘she/her’ etc. They/them pronouns are grammatically correct when used to denote a single person, although common usage is plural. It might look odd at first but it’s definitely okay.

 

So, throughout this entry, I will try my hardest at using the proper pronoun and I apologize to Jack in advance if I get it wrong.

They started this journey of blogging and writing after reading a nasty article in their local newspaper criticizing and denigrating single mothers on benefits, of which they were one at time. Jack fired off a strongly worded response to the editor of the newspaper and their activism and writing career got started. Jack can tell their own story better by popping over to her blog but they ended up on benefits because they were unable to work at their job due to lack of flexible hours. They previously worked at the Essex County Fire and Rescue Service, as a phone operator calming and directing residents who are amidst a fire and in distress, their job is to calm down the callers and calmly guide them to safety until firefighters get there. Jack had a baby and was unable to arrange flex time and so had to resign from their job. Jack tried to look for another job but with a small child to care for, it proved difficult. They ended up on benefits and it came at a time where the Cameron government slashed welfare benefits to balance the budget. Jack’s column Hunger Hurts is heartbreaking read on the reality of food poverty in wealthy countries. They are the hidden invisible people going hungry in middle class towns and metropolis.

Poverty isn’t just having no heating, or not quite enough food, or unplugging your fridge and turning your hot water off. It’s not a tourism trade, it’s not cool, and it’s not something that MPs on a salary of £65k a year plus expenses can understand, let alone our PM who states that we’re all in this together.

Poverty is the sinking feeling when your small boy finishes his one weetabix and says ‘more mummy, bread and jam please mummy’ as you’re wondering whether to take the TV or the guitar to the pawn shop first, and how to tell him that there is no bread or jam.

In the UK, their benefits system do not separate food stamps (vouchers) from the cash aid. Everything is in cash aid and your food budget comes from the benefit payments. If there isn’t enough money leftover to buy food, you can be referred to a food pantry by social services and you can receive parcels of food and basic necessities. Unlike the US, you may not just show up to the food pantry without a referral slip. They will not give you food unless you are referred by social services or other approved authorities. As a result, the actual amount of people in the UK who actually go hungry is more than what’s reported.

Jack started the blog, originally called ‘A Girl Call Jack’ on an old Nokia cell phone as they sold their computer to raise money. Jack taught themselves to cook with fresh simple ingredients where a toddler will eat it. This is how I became a fan, if Jack’s five year old will eat it, so will mine. And my two children at time can be picky eaters.

As Jack’s fame grew within the UK and as Jack came to represent the face of modern food poverty in Britain, the country’s conservatives came out in droves to get them. The worst offenders are the Daily Mail and their affiliated newspapers. Prior to Jack coming out as non-binary transgender, she was an out and proud lesbian with a lot of tattoos. Jack is articulate, well-written and has a propensity for swearing, which I adore. Jack is the nightmare of conservative white middle class Britain. Jack is a member of the working class who can clearly articulate the needs of the British working poor in a way no politician can and so they tried to discredit Jack at every turn.

Jack was blamed for their own poverty as it was they who resigned their job without a backup job in place. Jack was blamed for having a baby when they couldn’t afford it. The baby’s father is a good friend of Jack’s and he is unable to provide any form of child support. Jack was criticized for the tattoos and it’s because of those tattoos Jack can’t find a job (no one will hire someone looking like that). The most absurd is the criticism of Jack’s kale pesto recipe. The fact that Jack used an ingredient like kale in her recipe proves she’s really not poor, she’s just pretending to be, because what poor person would know to use kale in their food?! Lastly, Jack’s greatest crime is being a Guardianista, as Jack writes columns for The Guardian. What the Daily Mail really wants to say is ‘we can’t stand Jack Monroe because they is telling the truth and she’s a left wing, tattooed lesbian who hates Britain and what she stands for’. To the Daily Mail collective, Jack represents the left wing luvvie who wants to let in all the immigrants, give benefits to them all and ruin Britain. Or what we call a bleeding heart liberal in America.

The Daily Mail continually print lies (not a shock there) about Jack without fact checking. Some of these lies can have serious ramifications, such as she’s been let go from certain jobs or her contracts have not been renewed. And unlike most public figures and celebrities who learn to ignore this sort of stuff, Jack doesn’t ignore it. In fact, she does the opposite, she parses the whole article sentence for sentence and then write a rebuttal on her blog on how their facts are wrong and then shares the blog with all her readers and Twitter followers. She also names and shames the reporter who prints lies about her. I don’t think to date, the Daily Mail has retracted its false reports or printed an apology. Keep in mind the Daily Mail printed a groveling apology to George Clooney when they printed some lies about his in-laws not liking him. They’ve no such courtesy for Jack.

(I refuse to provide link backs to the trash a publication like the Daily Mail, any google search one can find these scathing articles)

Next are the Twitter trolls, you’ve got to love Twitter where anyone with two thumbs and half a brain and shoot off their infinite wisdom on how others ought to conduct their lives. It doesn’t have to even be coherent. Any Tweet which Jack reveals their vulnerabilities gets attacked by trolls.

Melissa was Jack’s given at birth, a name Jack no longer uses. This was another lie the Daily Mail printed, and that is Jack’s real name is Melissa, Jack was just a made up name to make themselves seem unique. No, Jack is the real name. Since Jack left their job at the Fire Rescue service, their name was officially changed by deed poll. So, Jack is their real name. This Alan McKenzie person is trolling Jack by using her birth name. But he wasn’t done:

https://twitter.com/MxJackMonroe/status/685973983532023809

Besides attacking Jack’s parenting skills, he decided to weigh in on whether Jack is an alcoholic or not.

These are only two short snippets, this Alan fellow went on and on, his profile page says he’s a “Tory Bastard”, so that explains it all. This was my choice response to him:

He responded and didn’t see how he was transphobic, and why I didn’t call Jack out for their “sexist” comments. So, besides being a Tory Bastard, he’s also thick.

And then there’s this:

https://twitter.com/MxJackMonroe/status/685066649762951168

I am not a LGBTQ activist, I don’t know enough about the issues to be an activist. I am an activist insofar as I believe everyone should have equal rights and express themselves as they wish. Since Jack Monroe has come into the spotlight, Jack has tried to make food poverty and how to go about alleviating that poverty their top priority. Jack dispenses excellent cooking and meal preparation tips which are useful for anyone, not just people who are on a budget. Jack raises money for various food pantries in the UK and brings awareness of the hungry who live amongst us. And Jack not gotten rich doing this work, even though they got two published cookbooks and working on a third, Jack still very much uses the budget tips they provide their readers. I follow their blog and Twitter and while a majority of their followers are supporters and fans but I also see the ugly side of social media, the trolls who attack her every weakness. This is wrong and I call it out.

 

Besieged Syrian Towns: All the Hands in the Pie (or Mess)

BBC SYRIA MAP
Source: BBC

In my last post, “Never Again” – But Not For the Besieged in Syria, I talked about the desperate situation in the town of Madaya, about 30 miles outside of Damascus and how residents there are being starved to death. The charity group Doctors Without Borders (MSF) have issued urgent and dire warnings of about 400 citizens needing to be evacuated to bigger cities or else they’ll face imminent death and the desperate need of food aid and medical supplies. Photos and videos purported to be from the town of Madaya have been posted to social media to show the desperation of the residents. The photos and film footage could not be independently verified as it’s near impossible to do so in a warzone where communication and travel is controlled by warring factions but what’s been verified is there is a hunger crisis in the besieged towns and villages in Syria and people are suffering from malnutrition and scores have died due to hunger and starvation related diseases.

However, as per usual of Syrian government denials, the Syrian ambassador to the UN Bashar al-Ja’afari has denied there are starving people in Madaya, calling it the West’s attempt to smear his government (no, sir, you can manage that on your own just fine)

[Bashar al-Ja’afari] calling the images of starving people “fabrications.” He said his government had appealed for humanitarian assistance weeks ago.

“The problem is the terrorists are stealing the humanitarian assistance from the Syrian Red Crescent as well as from the United Nations,” al-Ja’afari said.

He denied the Syrian government is using starvation as a tool of war, which is generally considered a war crime.

“The Syrian government did not stop any convoys of humanitarian assistance,” he said. “On the contrary: We sent plenty of convoys and we asked the U.N. to send more.”

So, we are back to the ‘blame all problems of Syria on the terrorists’ again. There are terrorists in Syria, in fact the whole country is teeming with them, starting at the top with Bashar Al-Assad, followed closely by ISIS, al-Nusra Front and other motley crue of Islamist and Jihadi affiliated groups.

Steven O’Brien, the United Nations under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief coordinator, have confirmed to reporters that he has received “reports of people who are either starving or indeed have starved and died.”

“I can tell you that we have had confirmation of extreme malnourishment of a number of people across all ages.”

-Steven O’Brien

As of January 11, convoys of food aid, winter kits, medicines and medical supplies have safely made its way into Madaya and its rival Shia, pro-Assad villages Fua and Kefraya, more of which I’ll get into later. After some last minute snags, over 40 trucks were able to make it safely into Madaya and have moved on to Fua and Kefraya. They have sent enough food to last for one month if they don’t get confiscated or stolen. US Secretary of State, John Kerry has demanded for full, safe, unhindered humanitarian access to all besieged and hard to reach places in Syria. Anything short of that is a direct human rights violation.

I have been called to task by some to declare a position in Syria so that we can “pressure” the right people to make this suffering stop. My initial response, and quite rightly, is there is no way to pick a side. Firstly, we don’t really know what’s going in the warzone. The news filtering out of Syria is unreliable at best and at worst totally fabricated to suit which ever side is giving the update. By last count, besides Al-Assad, ISIS and al-Nusra Front, there are at least and if not more 500 other opposition forces fighting for control in Syria. Some of them jihadi and al-Qaeda affiliated, some of them moderate, some of them non-Al-Qaeda affiliated Islamists. The Free Syrian Army doesn’t exist but in the imaginations of US foreign policy makers to make it appear there is a real cohesive moderate force fighting on the ground.

It does rather sound like a cop out to not ‘pick a side’ or show more conviction about one over the other, so I will attempt to choose a lesser evil but I doubt I’ll succeed. First and foremost, I choose the side of the civilians, any civilian, be they Shia, Sunni, Christian or others. Whether they are pro-Assad or not (and they are probably pro-Assad due to religious affiliation and not personal affection), if they are civilians and did not take up arms to fight, they deserve protection. If they do pick up arms but it’s for self-defense, such as Kurdish fighters or Christian militias to defend their people and their own territory for slaughter, they deserve protection too. For anyone else, if you pick up arms to fight for a cause, be it jihadi, moderate, somewhere in the middle, you have jumped into the fray.

As more information is coming from the besieged quadrangle of cities and villages of Madaya, Fua, Kefraya and Zabadani, the situation has become infinitely more complicated. These four areas are in close vicinity to each other and the Lebanese border, therefore it is of paramount importance to not only Assad but the Hezbollah on who ultimately has control.

Madaya is an anti-Assad Sunni town, the town is surrounded by rebel fighters (the anti-Assad fighters), Assad’s forces and the Hezbollah. They’ve boobie trapped the perimeter of the town with landmines, barbed wire and snipers are on standby to shoot anyone trying to breach the perimeters of the town. It’s been reported that residents were shot looking for food, but this town is really just a pawn for the larger prize. No one is allowed in or out.

Zabadani is a bigger city close to the border of Lebanon which is anti-Assad but an important supply route with roads that connect Syria and Lebanon. Pro-Assad forces would like to clear all opposition from Zabadani so they can have safe access between Syria and Lebanon. According to an opinion column on the The Syrian Observer, Mohamed Chebaro:

Experts explain how the removal of opposition forces from the town and valley of Zabadani clears the way to establish an opposition free zone that extends along the Lebanese Syrian border. This of course comes with the help of Hezbollah militias fighting to clear opposition fighters and people from all of the Qalamoun mountain range zigzagging along Lebanon’s eastern border with Syria.

Pro-Assad forces also want to “entertain” a land and population swap and essentially remove by force (if they aren’t killed already) anti-Assad people so that whole area can come under Assad control. It’s also a way of doing away with the arbitrary Sykes-Picot borders and the two allies Lebanon and Syria can essentially share a border. Chebaro also claims these types of land swap deals could be the first manifestations of the partition of Syria where an Alawite nation-state is established, which to him is unacceptable because it really only serves the interests of the Iranians, Shias, Alawites and Russia, for it to maintain a stronghold in the Mediterranean.

Such a state could strengthen bids made by Syrian Kurds to demand self-rule for a autonomous region regardless of the endgame arrived at with a United Syria or a carved up one.

Right wing Israelis would be another party keen on seeing minority statelets or enclaves pop up, based on religious and/or ethnic ground. This would justify calls made by Prime Minister Netanyahu’s Likud government for Israel to be recognized as a Jewish state.

In the short term, yes, dividing Syria could serve some interests of some parties for a short time. But I believe the international community must not accept or entertain a demographic or land transfer and stop flirting with and reject proposals tabled by Western policy makers that it is time in the Middle East to do away with the Sykes Picot lines in the sand drawn to carve the region up between France and Great Britain who defeated the Ottoman empire in the 20th century.

Fua and Kefraya are pro-Assad Shia villages. They are surrounded and under siege by anti-Assad forces, a jihadi group Ahrar al-Sham who has promised to slaughter all the Shia residents as soon as the siege breaks. Pro-Assad forces are desperately trying to hang on so this doesn’t happen. Because these are pro-Assad villages, the Syrian government has made intermittent food drops by helicopter so their situation is not as desperate, but they are also starving and suffering from malnutrition. Because of their loyalty to Assad, they’ve not been totally cut off and left to starve and eat their domestic animals and grass. It has also been claimed by the Syrian government that rebels and terrorists have stolen the food they’ve dropped. Perhaps they have, it’s certainly not out of the realm of imagination or possibility, but again, the claim is unverified and unverifiable.

It has been reported and indirectly verified by the UN that they (all the fighting factions) have been trying to get aid into Madaya as they are the most affected, but, and this was a huge but, the Syrian government as a condition of providing safe passage, wants aid to go to their villages Fua and Kefraya as well. They were not going to let one happen without the other and a stalemate ensued between the Syrian government, the rebels fighting in these towns and aid groups. When images and reports of extreme starvation and malnutrition coming out of Madaya, despite the images not being independently verified, all the arrangements have come together in days, which is a long time in these desperate situations where every minute counts, but it didn’t take months the stalemate between negotiations was broken. The denials from the Assad government weren’t as vociferous as well. They issued a standard denial from their UN Ambassador and moved on rather quickly. It also turns out they were in the process of negotiating a population swap between Pro and Anti-Assad areas but talks stalled there as well.

As for what should happen in Syria should war end tomorrow, this is an impossible proposition. It’s like asking what will happen with the Austro-Hungarian empire after World War I, impossible to answer. The Picot-Sykes borders were arbitrary lines, which were detested by the locals but to do away with them one hundred years after they were drawn isn’t entirely wise if there’s no alternate plan in place. Assad’s ally Russia proposes that Assad should have an ‘elegant’ way out, and if elegant means he will need to be in the picture for the near future and have him lead the Shia and Alawites until a better solution is found, and if this prevents more people being killed by opposing sects, then the West will have to bite the bullet. Most western leaders have also begun to accept this unpalatable reality. Many predict Syria will partition as a natural result of years of sectarian fighting. To try and put Humpty Dumpty back together after such a fracture is near impossible and undoable, just look at their neighbor Iraq.

To think Russia is an unconditional ally of Syria, we are mistaken as well. The 60 Minutes which just aired this past Sunday featured Vladimir Komoyedov, chairman of the Russian Parliament’s Defense Committee. He is tasked with the planning of the mission in Syria and to say he is less than enamoured of President Bashar Al-Assad is an understatement. The interview is conducted in Russian with a translator and apparently he uttered a derogatory name about President Assad and asked CBS news to not air it, they honored it and didn’t (now I really want to know exactly what he said). Komoyedov sees Assad as weak, not leading his forces, and said if he needs to personally come down and lead the army then he needs to do it.

Bill Whitaker: Did Russia overestimate the power of the Syrian Army?

Vladimir Komoyedov: But we have been fulfilling our obligations to Syria and we will go on fulfilling them. President Assad shouldn’t rest on his laurels. He needs to work on his army, and raise its morale, and if necessary, lead the army himself. He needs to unite his forces which are scattered like fingers. They must be clenched into a fist. If you can’t beat them, at least you can give them a black eye.

Not a resounding endorsement. Komoyedov also went on to say the reason why Syria is the state it’s in is because of the actions of Assad, he bombed his own people and caused this. He created the opposition and he has lost his authority to lead. However, this contradicts what he says is Russia’s aim in its operation in Syria, and that is to “restore statehood in this region, Syrian statehood.” Komoyedov almost looks regretful in sticking his hand in the mess that is Syria, but Russia does have a legitimate interest in the region and they must work with the hand they are dealt, which is a poor and ineffective military leader in Assad. The look on Komoyedov’s face is certainly less than enthusiastic, he’s more resigned than anything. It is also very unlikely Russian will put their boots on the ground any time soon, as of right now, they are doing manned airstrikes on anti-Assad targets. In the tinderbox of supercharged emotions that is Syria right now, it might be good to have more calm, cold, indifferent and secular Russia conducting military operations.

One other option is to ask all the various proxies to back out of the fight. To have the Saudis stop funding Sunni insurgents, Iran to stop funding the Shia insurgents or Hezbollah. Hezbollah will only defend immediate Lebanese interest such as the border towns but as for the wider region, they should bow out. This way the chips will fall where they may and whatever emerges is the ‘new Syria’. It would be one thing if there was a cohesive opposition fighting a regime, but it’s not. There are too many hands in the pie, too many factions and groups with opposing interests fighting for control, and they’ve not achieved their aim but have allowed Assad to stay in power.

According to ‘Middle East Research and Information Project: On ISIS’,

The Syrian war has been prolonged and intensified by outside meddling. To besiege the regime, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf monarchies bankrolled untold rebel battalions, most of which professed Sunni Islamist views. Turkey allowed several commanders to set up camp on its soil, and looked the other way as travelers slipped across its southern border to reinforce the various jihadi groups in the opposition. The US made abortive attempts to stand up “moderate” anti-Asad militias. The regime, for its part, brought in Hizballah units from Lebanon to fight alongside its army and paramilitaries. Iran sent advisers, Revolutionary Guards and money; Russia provided diplomatic cover and, starting in September, air power to deploy against the rebels. ISIS thrived in the chaos.

So, when people wonder how, after all this time Assad is still there, there’s the answer.

If Russia’s aim is to give Assad’s opponents a “black eye”, barring a truce or peace treaty, then the world should be prepared to see more years of fighting than less, more refugees and more deaths.

“Never Again” – But Not For the Besieged in Syria

map-madaya-locator
Here is Madaya on the map. Right now, right this minute, people are being starved to death. 

Desperate images have come out of Madaya, Syria, a town besieged by Al-Assad’s forces and the Hezbollah since July of 2015 and the last food aid which was allowed through by the UN was October. Their agreement was whilst the rebel forces fight Al-Assad and Hezbollah, food and aid will be allowed safe passage so that civilians don’t starve. So far, that promise hasn’t been kept. There are tens of thousands of starving people, children, whittled down to skin and bones. Desperate mothers, fathers, grandfathers, aunts and uncles, begging for help, even if just food and medicines for their children. The charity group Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said 23 people have so far died of starvation since December 1. The situation is dire. MSF is updating their Twitter feed as they get updates.

madaya baby
A starving child in Madaya, Syria

The slogan “Never Again” was adopted by the newly formed state of Israel after World War II, when the full horrors of the holocaust was revealed. The rest of the world also adopted this sentiment (12 million people died in holocaust, 6 million were Jews, 6 million were others). “Never Again” to Israel means, never again for Jews. But to the rest of the world, “Never Again” is never again to genocide, to mass starvation as a way of forcing surrender, to forced labor to an oppressive regime, to mass rape of women and abuse of innocent children. It means the world will not stand by and watch whilst one population is being wiped out or starved to death and do nothing.

The sad thing is it’s happened over and over again since the end of World War II and it keeps happening and we are doing nothing. The Yugoslavian civil war in the 1990s where 8000 Muslim men and boys were killed and buried in mass graves in Bosnia. Thousands of Muslim women were raped and abused. The siege of Sarajevo was particularly horrific, it was the longest siege in modern warfare. This happened on the back doorstep of Western Europe (Germany, France), no one batted an eyelash and treated it as a ‘slavic’ thing until news started filtering out of Yugoslavia of what’s really going on. Mass graves are still being discovered in Bosnia today. The Rwandan genocide in 1994, which was a mass genocide by the Hutus against the Tutsi (and moderate Hutus) minority. By the time the world found out about it, it was over. It begun and ended in about 90 days.

There are scores of ethnic and religious conflicts happening all around the world. Central African Republic has been in a state of civil war since 2012, a battle between Muslims and Christians. One of the most resource rich and beautiful parts of Africa is now in shambles, ungovernable. Elections were held but is ungovernable if rebel factions don’t put down arms. Boko Haram is terrorizing Nigeria and its neighbors in the name of radical Islam. In Asia, the Rohingya Muslims are one of the most oppressed peoples in the world. They are stateless, citizenless and can be homeless at any moment. For all the praise and accolade the Myanmar politician and human rights activist Aung San Suu-Kyi receives, so far she’s said or done little about the millions of Rohingya Muslims which live in her country in appalling, substandard and near concentration camp conditions. When asked about what she would do about the Rohingya issue, she said it requires “careful handling” under their Citizenship Act of 1982. For someone who was kept under house arrest and kept away from her family years at a time, all in the name of democracy and civil disobedience and peace, I expected her to have a more decisive response than “we’ll wait and see which way the political wind blows”. If she does nothing for them in her period of political honeymoon, I’d suggest she return her Nobel Peace Prize.

madaya baby 2
A baby suffering from hunger, malnutrition and disease. 

And then there is Syria, specifically the town of Madaya, is in a desperate situation. The brave medics with MSF, risked their lives to let the world know what kind of condition the resident are in, and for the first time there are no denials from the Assad government and have arranged for safe passage for the UN to deliver food, medicines and other aid. When Putin threw in his lot with with his friend Al-Assad, it was assumed by the West that Russia’s aim is to assist in destroying ISIS and bomb their targets. So far, that’s not happened. They are bombing other non-ISIS groups, other armed more moderate rebels. They’ve also killed many rebel targets which have high civilian population, they are doing what Assad is doing.

One could be sympathetic (if only a little) to Assad if he has to fight butchers like ISIS and how his forces, which now almost solely comprises of Hezbollah fighters are overwhelmed and he needs his Russian allies help to advance on ISIS. But since the official Russian involvement in Syria, Assad has only revealed himself to not just be a butcher (we already knew that), but he is every bit immoral, inhuman and beastly as ISIS. He is just the opposite side of the coin, ISIS is Sunni, Assad is Alawite but they are really the same thing: vile, depraved monsters who don’t deserve to be considered human.  What he is subjecting Syrians to,”Kneel or Starve”, is no different than what ISIS is doing. In fact, ISIS might be a bit more merciful by just gunning everyone down at the same time. Starving to death is a slow and long painful death. And even if you recover from that type of Nazi concentration camp like starvation, their health will be compromised for the rest of their lives. Some of these are just children, infants. If I were to face death, I’d choose execution by gunfire and get it over with.

From the beginning, when it was just the uprising stage, Assad has blamed everything on “terrorists”, or “armed-gangs”. Snipers are shooting protesters and unarmed civilians off of government buildings, it’s the terrorists, not Syrian forces. The Syrian government keeps iron tight security on their government building and military compounds, many of which are secret prisons and torture chambers for dissidents, and yet “terrorists” can make it to the roof to shoot protestors? The barrel bombs, it’s dropped by ISIS or terrorists not the Syrian forces. Chemical weapons, it’s released by ISIS, they breached our stockpile. Every single human rights abuse, every single military excursion, it’s all “terrorist” or “armed gangs”. When he spoke to Barbara Walters in 2011 when Syria was on the cusp of a full blown civil war, he had this to say about his “crackdown” on the protestors:

Walters: Well in the beginning these protests, the women were marching with children carrying olive branches nobody at that point was asking for you to step down. It has escalated. Do you think that your forces cracked down too hard?

Assad: They are not my forces, they are military forces belong to the government.

Walters: OK, but you are the government.

Assad: I don’t own them. I am president. I don’t own the country, so they are not my forces.

Walters: No, but you have to give the order?

Assad: No, no, no. We have, in the constitution, in the law, the mission of the institution to protect the people to stand against any chaos or any terrorists, that their job, according to the constitution to their– to the law of the institution.

Walters: The crackdown was without your permission?

Assad: Would you mind, what do you mean by crackdown?

Walters: The, the reaction to the people, the some of the murders some of the things that happened?

Assad: No, there is a difference between having policy to crack down and between having some mistakes committed by some officials, there is a big difference. For example, when you talk about policy it’s like what happened in Guantanamo when you have policy of torture for example we don’t have such a policy to crack down or to torture people, you have mistakes committed by some people or we heard we have some allegations about mistakes, that is why we have a special committee to investigate what happened and then we can tell according to the evidences we have mistakes or not. But as a policy, no.

I saw this interview when it aired and it was painful and irritating to watch Assad’s repeated denials, feigned ignorance, and how he tried to pass himself off as some genial regular guy and he doesn’t understand what the whole uproar is about. He also came across as weak and indecisive leader, who apparently had NO CLUE what his “forces” are up to. “I am only the President”, he says. When asked how he felt about been seen as a dictator:

Assad: What’s important how the Syrian people look at you, not how you look at yourself. So I don’t have to look at myself. This is… second, it’s about the system. You have a dictator and you have dictatorship, there’s a big difference between the two, dictatorship is about the system, we never said we are democratic country, but we’re not the same, we– we are moving forward in, in reforms, especially during the last nine month, so I think we are moving forward, it takes a long time, it takes a lot of maturity to be full fledge democratic country, but we are moving that, that direction, for me as a person, whatever I do should be based on the will of the people, because you need popular legitimacy and this is against dictatorship for person.

“You have a dictator and you have dictatorship, there’s a big difference between the two, dictatorship is about the system,” this is a difference without distinction. What dictator doesn’t know what his military is doing at all times. To run a successful dictatorship you need an equally successful and brutal army to carry it out for you.

When Russia joined forces with Assad, it is the hope across the world that with increased firepower and resources, this long, ghastly, brutal and bloody civil war will come to an end and civilians can stop suffering. It was obvious Assad’s army had run out of steam. They had a large number of troop defections and no new conscripts. They’ve resorted to abducting young men at gunpoint to join their army. Even if there is no decisive win by any one faction, but at least it can end. A peace deal or political solution can be brokered. Safe zones can be created where urgent humanitarian aid can enter and exit unhindered, without needing military-like planning and execution to enter and exit. Refugees and internally displaced civilians can return home and begin to rebuild their shattered lives in peace and security.

It is now clear that Assad’s aim is not to find a quick end to the war in his country. If this were the case, he’d spend most of his resources on defeating his most powerful foes, ISIS and the al-Nusra Front, but he hasn’t. He’s still fixated on the smaller rebel forces holding small swathes of territories on the border with Lebanon. Instead of finding a quick and merciful end to all the human suffering, he’s chosen to starve his citizens into submission, because, according to him, they are all “terrorists” or harboring terrorists.

The UK, EU and US have already begrudgingly agreed that Assad may stay in power during the transition time, as bad as he is, we don’t really want to repeat the Iraq fiasco and leave a huge power vacuum up for grabs. Also, Assad and his Alawites and Shiites are the minority in Syria, to exile or depose Assad would be akin to sanctioning the wholesale slaughter of the Shia and Alawites, which comprise about 15% of the Syrian population. In that tinderbox of sectarian hatred and conflict, after the Alawite government inflicted so much pain and suffering to majority Sunnis, a wholesale indiscriminate slaughter can happen. And as sick as some of his supporters are, posting pictures of delectable Syrian dishes on Twitter to taunt the starving Madayan residents, to sanction a wholesale slaughter of any religious minority or sect is repeating the same evil we seek to prevent. In this ugly war, in one of the most beautiful and culturally rich part of the world, where thousands of ancient cities, towns and villages which existed since the Roman times are destroyed, millions are displaced, and hundreds of thousands dead, a million wrongs do not make a right.

 

My Non-Existent Writing Career

“What do you want to do?”

“I want to write.”

“What about?”

“No idea. I just want to write.”


From as early as I can remember, the various schools I attended always asks their students on the first day of school to write down what they want to be when they grow up. I always envied people who knew exactly what they wanted to be, such as doctor, lawyer, artist, run away with the circus, actress, actor, join the military, to be rich etc. I always drew a blank.

I could never think of anything concrete or specific. The only thing remotely specific that comes to my mind is “to be totally free to do whatever I want without having to answer to anyone”, whatever that is, that’s what I want to do. When I was in elementary or middle school, I was too naive and inarticulate to put that in writing. The concept was too abstract for my young mind and I thought my lack of specificity at what I want to do when I grow up meant I was lost and directionless. In fact, I was often told that I was lost and directionless.

Whatever weaknesses I had, what I was not lacking in is self-belief and the willingness to buck the trend even at the detriment to myself. I was told that I am very “opinionated” – except it’s not a compliment, not in the context of my childhood.  Many times I left the page blank when when I couldn’t think of what I wanted to be when I grow up. I know it would draw concern from teachers and they’ll tell my mom about it but I didn’t want to write anything down just to appease anyone, not even for my mother.

I was never very good at telling people what they wanted to hear even if it was to get what I wanted. It would have made my life much easier but it was something I could never get myself to do, but not for lack of trying. I hate authority and I hate following other people’s rules. This always got me into trouble and for a while, if only for just the benefit of staying out of trouble, I tried to change this trait about me, I failed miserably. I am not saying this to toot my own horn. Nor am I more honest or have more integrity over the next person. I am simply saying I am incapable of conforming when I don’t want to, even if it’s for my own benefit. If nodding politely and saying a few words of false platitudes will make life easier for me, I can only manage the nodding politely part and that’s a vast improvement. If over the years I collected a quarter every time someone told me to “just follow the rules” or “why have got to make your life so difficult for yourself, why don’t you just do x, y or z” or “I am telling you for your own good, you have got to (fill in the blank with whatever it is someone wants me to do)”, I could have funded my college tuition without student loans.

Being a natural contrarian at heart, as my grandmother would say, is totally against the grain of my upbringing and culture. After my parents divorced, I lived with my maternal grandparents and they were conservative, old-school, traditional, Confucian practicing Chinese folks. They were sweet, lovely and took great care of me. I wouldn’t be here without them. But if you know anything about Confucianism at all, it’s all about harmony, not being unnecessarily confrontational and going with the flow or in a word: conformity. Don’t kick up a shitstorm when it’s not necessary. Don’t stand out like a sore thumb, especially for a girl and don’t be unlikeable.

It is in this backdrop I decided I need to do something which allows me to be who I am, to express myself as I want without having to apologize or compromise. I found that in writing. I think…(I am not so sure anymore with today’s overly PC culture).


 

Over the years I grew to love literature and writing. I never really had any particular teacher inspire or recommend me to read certain books or to write, I was too contemptuous of authority to take anything they had to say seriously. But I loved reading. As that old adage goes, if you want to be a good writer: read. I read everything I could get my hands on. My interests were diverse and vast. In between the Judy Blume novels and the Ramona books, I managed to squeeze in some Shakespeare, Dickens, Jane Austen, The Bronte Sisters, William Blake, William Wordsworth, Percy Shelley, George Byron, Alfred Tennyson, Voltaire, Gustave Flaubert, Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky and more all interested me and I had special love and fondness for American authors Hemingway, Faulkner, Tennessee Williams, William Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg and other writers from the Lost and Beatnik generations. Their words inspired and moved me. Their words spoke to a generation, they spoke for a generation and they spoke to me.They spoke to the natural rebel in me.

I lived in an insular immigrant family, even though I am not an immigrant, I am an American citizen born abroad, the unbearable and suffocating immigrant attitude of conforming to herd and don’t make a fuss was thrown upon me. It’s not that I am an overly confrontational person. I am not, but I don’t like to sit idly by and be forced to accept or agree with something I do not like, even if I am just a child. Children have opinions, likes and dislikes, every bit as strongly as an adult does. And while I may not be confrontational, I like the option of getting up and walking away. If only to express my dislike and desire to not be involved with something I don’t agree with. No verbal altercation involved or necessary.

Reading was my gateway and window to the greater world which I was determined to enter the first opportunity I got. It was my way out of the small minded, narrowed viewed vista of an immigrant family, who are too paranoid, too worried about being screwed over by others, convinced that everything is dangerous and the world is out to get them and so invented all these non-existent phobias and self-imposed restrictions, instead of going out there and making most of everything. I was hated and envied in equal measure by some members of my family because I am a white-presenting biracial, a fluent bilingual speaker of Mandarin-Chinese and English and I didn’t have all these hangups about things that don’t exist. I was flexible enough to blend in and out of white American society and Chinese immigrant society. Due to my mixed heritage, I can understand both sides of the coin, find a way through conflicting viewpoints of East v. West and find my own happy medium. I was so very loathed for this trait.

And I had no problem telling my family just how ridiculous they were, which didn’t win me any favors. I get that. Nobody needs a bratty teeanger rolling her eyes at them. I deserved the scorn. Reading and writing my thoughts down was a way to escape their paranoia, insularity, the small worldview and non-existent phobias. It bided my time until I was old enough to leave. Reading was my therapy, because, well, my family didn’t believe in therapy either. Some of them could benefit from some, but I digress.


Though I wanted to be a writer, I didn’t do much to enhance my writing. The most logical thing would have been to get an English degree with a minor or emphasis in creative writing of some kind. But I didn’t, I attended college after the dot-com bust, I was worried I couldn’t find a job with an English degree and I knew I couldn’t afford to go to graduate school after I finished my undergrad degree. So, I got a minor in English along with my business management major. I worked harder in my English courses than the courses of my major. It was uninspiring to say the least. My twenties passed through in a haze of misprioritized opportunities, self-doubt, self-hatred and self-sabotage; a downright vicious cycle. I should have nurtured my interests and my soul but instead I put my energy into running away from one bad relationship and then immediately getting into another serious relationship afterwards. I should have taken time out for myself. The serious relationship is now my husband, but I still regret pouring so much of my energy, youth and a vigor which only someone in their twenties can have into a relationship. I should have worked on me and prioritized me.

I joined corporate America knowing I was never going to climb the corporate ladder. I didn’t even have aspirations for middle-management. If I couldn’t feign interest in school, I most definitely couldn’t master the fakery required to be successful in a corporate America. In spite of it all, I gave it a good shake. I went after projects and promotions I felt I deserved and could be good at. I marketed and promoted my skills as honestly as I can. I didn’t embellish my resume or invent skills I didn’t have but because of my natural interest in learning new things, I treated each opportunity and project with sincere and keen interest. Some project managers took notice and appreciated that about me, but still raised issues about my prickliness. Which to me translates to, I didn’t kiss their ass enough.


A life of artistic endeavoring is ultimately a selfish one. To create art, whether be it writing, painting, sculpting or performance art requires large swathes of time away from your nearest and dearest to create and hone it. For writing and the visual arts, you need a lot of quiet alone time to create. You need space and solitude to think and be inspired to write anything that is worthwhile. I didn’t appreciate this fact when I had plenty of time in my twenties and now I am fighting for minutes and hours to be alone with my thoughts. I am a mother of two now. My children’s plethora of needs on any given second of everyday interrupts my thought process. So, I’ve learned to carve out intervals of time for  myself to think. I’ve also taken ‘multitasking’ to the next level and I think about what I wish to write or the book or article I just read while I am doing my mommy-chores.


 

An interview Barbara Walters did with the Shah of Iran, Reza Pahlavi in 1977, two years before he was deposed, he had some interesting views on women and their abilities:

Walters: I’m quoting Your Majesty. ”In a man’s life, women count only if they are beautiful, graceful and know how to stay feminine. You may be equal in the eyes of the law, but not in ability. You have never produced a Michelangelo or a Bach or even a great cook. You are schemers. You are evil. All of you.” Your Majesty, you said all these things?

Shah: Not with the same words, no.

Walters: Well, the thought, ”You’ve never produced a Michelangelo, a Bach, or even a great. . . .”

Shah: This I have said.

Walters: So you don’t feel that women are in that sense equal, if they have the same intelligence or ability.

Shah: Not so far. Maybe you will become in the future. We can always have some exceptions.

Walters: Here and there? Do you feel your wife is one of these rare exceptions?

Shah: It depends in what sense.

Walters: Well, do you feel your wife can govern as well as a man?

Shah: I prefer not to answer.

So he was a corrupt CIA puppet and a real charmer for his progressive views on women and our abilities. He said all this with wife sitting next to him, her eyes downcast, too embarrassed to look straight and terrified of having to contradict her husband on national television.

The reason why there’s was no woman Michelangelo is because Michelangelo didn’t have to change diapers. He didn’t have to wipe snot from his kid’s face and he didn’t have to tend to the endless needs of small children, his wife was tasked with that very important but thankless task. Women are tasked with the unfortunate, thankless, at times soul crushing, uncompensated chore of childbearing and child rearing, usually alone and unacknowledged. This is why women don’t have the time to go and create art and masterpieces.

Mozart, by the way, had an equally talented sister, called Maria Anna ‘Nannerl’ Mozart. When she was young, she toured with her brother, the world renowned Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and played concerts for kings, princes, emperors and other glitterati throughout Europe. But as Maria Anna got older, it was deemed “inappropriate” for her to continue playing her music and she was to learn to sew and find a husband instead. So just like that, because she was a woman, her artistic career was cruelly cut off. Her music compositions are not known, her pieces are not played alongside those of her famous brother in concert halls all over the world today, all because she was born a woman. She was told go pick up a sewing needle, find a husband and have children. Most people don’t even know Mozart had a sister, never mind her name.

Conversely, the writer Mary Shelley, and perhaps because she was widowed at twenty-five by the Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, she was able to maintain her writing career until she died. She published her world renowned novel “Frankenstein” at age twenty, at the beginning of her marriage to Shelly and while her other works which followed isn’t as well known, the point is, she was able to keep writing and producing. Because in her widowhood, she’s no longer encumbered with the task of having more children and running a house. Though she had many admirers, she was smart enough to not remarry again and thus kept her artistic autonomy for the rest of her life. Jane Austen and the Bronte sisters were able to write and publish novel after novel because they were unmarried, lived at home and had plenty of time on their hands to write. They had no outside social life besides visits with neighbors, close family friends or relatives. The only sister who married, Charlotte, died shortly after her wedding while she was pregnant with her first child, she was only thirty-eight. The Bronte brood (which included brother Branwell and another two sisters Maria and Elizabeth) were all poorly, lived under the same roof, and they suffered from one health crisis to another. All the Bronte sisters and brother Branwell perished before the age of forty. Jane Austen died at the age of forty-one, unmarried and childless.

Artists create because they have an insatiable urge to create. Writers write even if there is no one there to read it. Many writers get commissioned for their work in order to survive, but an artist will create even if they’ve no audience (VanGogh). For all the famous writers we know, what’s published is perhaps only a fraction of their total life’s work. There are perhaps hundreds of manuscripts, millions of words written which have never seen the light of day. Work they’ve dismissed as not being good enough, but if we dug it up now, they would be considered literary treasures worthy of many prizes.

To put this in perspective, if Hemingway wasn’t a famous writer, who had volumes and volumes of published work to his name, he would have just been another philanderer, drunk and an irresponsible father. Everything we loathe in a man. But because he was a great writer and produced work that influenced and inspired millions, all of his personal flaws are overlooked, excused and sometimes even glorified as the being the macho man’s man. He suffered from chronic depression, which could explain the excessive drinking. But he also couldn’t keep his pants up and treated some of his wives badly (aside from the philandering).

William Faulkner also had a drinking problem and was a less than inspired father and husband. And again, that’s been overlooked because of this literary talent. William Burroughs shot dead his second wife Joan Vollmer in Mexico by mistake because he was high on drugs. He escaped those charges, promptly went to Tangiers, Morocco and under the influence of even more drugs and alcohol produced his best work. All with the assistance of his friends. The fact that he shot dead his wife, left her child motherless didn’t register as a serious injustice to Burroughs and his friends. Burroughs felt deeply guilty of what he did and arguably that guilt fueled his best work, “Naked Lunch” but he was never held accountable for it, not by the law and not by society or his peers.

If all of these people were not writers of world renown and just ordinary men, they would be reviled and cast out of society. If these writers were women and not men, and they treated their families in this way, behaved in a booze and drug fueled and licentious manner. Their work would never be published or see the light of day. They’d have to invent male pseudonyms to get anything published and keep their real identities anonymous.

Everyone has their own demons, and everyone exorcise those demons in different ways. There’s no question Hemingway, Faulkner, William Burroughs and others were deeply troubled people, who had big demons they tried to exorcise all their lives, by drinking, drugging, writing and some ended in suicide. But because they were men, white men of literary renown, they were excused from the minutia of life, the real stuff that could have killed them sooner. These people didn’t have to go to a soul crushing 9-5 job, change diapers or look after their children or engage in something so mundane and boring as cooking or cleaning. If they did, whatever inspiration they had would have been sucked dry by the demands of family life. Their wives or their staff did such pedestrian and boring things for them, the things that makes their lives run smoothly. They had the luxury of shutting themselves in their private office or study, for hours or days at a time, without a care of what’s going on beyond those doors. When they are not at home, they did as they pleased with whomever, wherever and whatever, all in the name of pursuing their art, their writing. To tell them off would be construed as trying to hinder their art and creative process.


I squandered most of my twenties and part of my thirties in a series of uninspiring events and didn’t use the free time I had to improve my writing, I am trying to make up for that now. My children at the present are very young and require constant supervision and attention. As I am writing this, my two year old son just ate a wad of shredded paper towel, an obsession he was born with. I’ve had to stop what I am doing and attend to him. This is my reality. This is the environment in which I write and create. Even as such, I learn to how best use the few precious hours and minutes in my days to write.

I write because I want to. When I wanted to become a writer, it didn’t occur to me I could write for money. But if someone will pay me to write, to do the thing I love most, it will be a dream come true. Like most writers, I am content to be a writer whose work no one reads. A failed writer. As long as my soul is nourished, failure in the commercial sense is not a considered a failure to me.

 

 

So White Men Feel Threatened If Diversity Policies Are Introduced in Companies…Boo Hoo Hoo?

Not Your Usual Career Advice

The Harvard Business Review just came out with a “study” which says diversity policies in companies do no help women or minorities, but instead makes white males feel threatened and as a result they make the workplace even more hostile to diversity. The study claims the presence of diversity policies suggests the hiring and promoting practices of said organization is inherently fair and doesn’t practice unfair discrimination. And as such, courts would likely find in their favor.

The mere presence of a diversity policy sends white males running scared and they fear that they will not be treated fairly for the sole reason that they are white and male. And the conclusion of researchers for this study, who are three women, Tessa L. Dover, Cheryl R. Kaiser and Brenda Major say, diversity programs or workplace affirmative action does more harm than good for minorities and women. And companies who have diversity…

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5 Things the Township Taught Me

“Township” is just a fancy word for shanty-towns. We have townships in the US and it looks nothing like this.

The Disco Pants Blog

Gugulethu-006 

Countless times since starting this blog I have been accused of being privileged and clueless and white, and when I am told this about myself my only stance ever is to agree with my reader wholeheartedly. I am all of those things. In fact, I would venture to say that I am more privileged even than some people who read me imagine. Last week the hardest decision I was called upon to make was between the salmon and the tuna sashimi. Both looked delicious; it was a tough call.

I have also been told I write exclusively to and for white people, another statement which is 100% on the button. The thing is, I am a white person (if you don’t believe me there’s the flattering About pic my husband took of me one summer when all I’d eaten that month was air) and I suspect that if I…

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On Coming to Terms with Our Arseholery

An insightful thoughtful piece about racism written by a “middle-class” white woman living in South Africa. I don’t know if reading this piece and her other piece about what life is like living in South Africa’s Townships makes me feel better about the sad state of affairs in the US but it’s food for thought. I suppose we are every bit as corrupt but in a less visible way.
I don’t know enough about the ANC (pre and post Mandela) and South Africa’s current political situation (besides that it’s really “messed up”) to comment much.
But from reading this lady’s blog, for the white minority in her country, the narrative went from white people was doing this to you during apartheid and that was awful and unforgivable but now apartheid has ended for 20 years and every president since Nelson Mandela has been black and a member of the ANC, and South Africa is still messed up and even more messed up according to some people, so you (meaning blacks) are just incompetent and are doing it to yourselves now and we white people can wash our hands clean of one of the worst crimes in history. In fact, the same could be said for most of Sub-Sahara or black Africa. They wanted colonialist and imperialists out, so they out they went. The sub-saharan Africa has been independent from white colonialists and imperialists for about 50 years and what have they done with themselves in the 50 years?
This piece points out that it’s not quite so simple. Specifically referring to whites in South Africa, racism is a birthright. White supremacy is a birthright. Access to good schools, good jobs and living in safe good neighborhoods is a white birthright, so ingrained that not one white person gives it a second thought. And it’s a birthright that’s not been given up just because apartheid ended. De jure apartheid may have ended, but de facto apartheid is still alive and well.

“The legislative bit of apartheid might have ended 20 years ago, but it is not white people living in cardboard boxes beside the highway. For those countless people, apartheid is alive and well – only they have no hope of anything ever changing. For them, the cycle of poverty is as entrenched and ongoing as it’s ever been.”

And just for perspective, as of 2011, Whites comprised of 8.9% of the population in South Africa, Blacks are 79.2%, Coloured are 8.9% and other Asians and Indians are 2.5% and less than 10% of 50 million people control all of the wealth and access to wealth. The current unemployment rate is 25% and even with these appalling numbers, its neighbors are still flocking to South Africa to find work.

The Disco Pants Blog

sa flag 4
Nobody wants to think of themselves as being a bad person. Bad people are ISIS fighters, child molesters, Shrien Dewani. They do horrible things which are blatant and obvious and talked about in the media. But in the last few months I have found myself in spaces where I’ve had to take a long and careful look at who I am in the world, the attitudes that have formed me and how I conduct myself in certain situations. And to say that it’s been an uncomfortable awakening is an understatement. Because many of you who follow my blog know that I’m relatively outspoken about race issues in this country. I have strong feelings about the socio-economic disparities and the white attitudes that feed them, and while I sit behind my computer screen in my nice study on the Atlantic Seaboard it’s easy to wax lyrical about egalitarianism and the way…

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#MadMenFinale – The Women of Mad Men

I miss the ladies of Mad Men too. Here’s to good riddance to a bygone era.

Thoughts From my Kitchen

The women of Mad Men were each triumphant and tragic in their own way. They were triumphant over sexism, misogyny and other tragedies which befell them. The women fared better than the men and each in their own way found their own happy ending.

The most prominent female character is Betty Draper Francis, even though her scenes in the show dwindled when divorce from Don Draper became final. But because her character was such an embodiment of the era that every scene Betty Draper Francis told a deeper story. Betty Draper Francis was Don Draper’s first wife, and arguably first love for them both. Betty Draper was a typical woman of her time. She went to college more to find a husband than for scholastic reasons. Though her major was anthropology, she was never going to go to Papua New Guinea to study the aboriginal peoples there, she learned to speak Italian…

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#MadMenFinale – The End of Don Draper

Feeling nostalgic for Mad Men today. I watched it religiously every week when it was airing. There won’t be another show like this for a long time. Watching the show was like being a fly on the wall during the 1950s. As a woman, it’s also made me appreciate my opportunities and the choices I have in my life.

Thoughts From my Kitchen

The creator of Mad Men has created one of the most compelling characters to grace the TV screens in recent times: the character of Donald Draper. On the surface, the anti-hero Don Draper seems like another TV character cliche, a man that every man wants to be and every woman wants to be with. But once you peel back the layers, it’s much more complex than that.

First of all, Don Draper isn’t who he says he is, he assumed the identity of his commanding officer in the Korean War by switching their dog tags after the real Lt. Donald Draper was killed in a bombing raid it was believed that Dick Whitman (his real identity) was killed. The coffin that was sent home to the Whitman family farm contained the body of Lt. Donald Draper. From then on ‘Dick Whitman’ was dead and ‘Donald Draper’ was reborn. The new Don Draper set…

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HBO Documentary: Heroin Cape Cod (2015)

When America’s opioid addiction (white America in particular) spiralled out of control, alarm bells are finally raised about the drug epidemic. Especially when opioid addiction usually leads to heroin addiction which is also a particularly deadly form of addiction.When drug addiction spread from the inner cities to the white suburbs, and when opioid addiction spreading to the New England suburbs, the beautiful picturesque towns dotted on the New England coastline is now the site of a national emergency, a generational crisis.

On top of this, a new study which just came out on November 2, 2015 by Angus Deaton and Anne Case of Princeton University, Rising morbidity and mortality in midlife among white non-Hispanic Americans in the 21st century, which details the slow death of middle-aged white Americans with a high school education or less by drugs, alcohol or suicide. The erosion of the middle class, the decline of median income starting in the 1970s have plunged white working class Americans into economic and emotional despair and they are slowly killing themselves with drink, drugs and suicide. As the researchers of this study suggests, they’ve “lost the narrative of their lives”. When hard work is no longer rewarded with decent standard of living, and they have no way of correcting this due to the lack of higher education or viable economic opportunities, it gives way to despair. This phenomenon is uniquely American. When you compare the same demographic amongst other developed and wealthy nations, middle aged white people are living longer and better.

You juxtapose this with the opioid epidemic that are plaguing the young in small towns and suburbs of America today, it makes for a depressing landscape. Chronic and excessive consumption of drugs and alcohol are a symptom of a bigger social problem. Something is very very wrong in America if large swathes of people (from different generations and social backgrounds) are drugging themselves to death. Excessive drinking and drug experimentation may be a rite of passage for many Americans, a thing one does when one is coming of age, when one is transitioning from young adulthood to mature adulthood, but when that experimentation phase turns into full blown addiction, where one’s life is totally consumed by addiction, it is no longer just a rite of passage. There is something far more serious, at the psychological level, that is going on.

People have lost the narrative of their lives. They’ve lost their life’s purpose. After all, New England is not one of the most economically depressed parts of the country and the opioid addiction is affecting children from middle and upper income families. Many children complained that their little Cape Cod community is boring with nothing to do, but this not new, kids are always bored witless. It’s part of growing up to feel nauseatingly bored with our mom and dad and what they want us to do, but never have so many turned to heroin to alleviate that boredom at so young. Heroin in the 1990s was the drug of last stop, after an addict has exhausted all the other drugs. Heroin is seen as highly addictive and very dangerous, a lot can go wrong in a very short amount of time and the window to reverse the effects of heroin overdose is very small, as the overdose deaths of Marissa and Arianna prove in this film. Even most addicts pray they don’t end up at the front doorstep of heroin. The kids of New England are using opioids and heroin before they reach 18.

The subjects of this documentary are all from the Cape Cod region of Massachusetts, the city of Falmouth to be exact. It’s also the same Cape Cod where President John F. Kennedy is from. Cape Cod today still looks like a picturesque postcard town of the Kennedy era. It’s a popular vacation spot for those with some means. The beaches are pristine, there are sailboats in the bay and it’s dotted by rows and rows of pretty Cape Cod and colonial style homes. The residents there are largely white, middle class and upper middle class. But behind that facade, there is a heroin addiction that is out of control, at epidemic levels, over 1000 deaths were attributed to heroin overdose in year 2013. Almost all of the subjects featured in this film are white, Marissa may be of Hispanic heritage as she looks ethnically ambiguous.

There are eight subjects in this film, they agreed to be interviewed on camera: Marissa, Arianna, Ryan, Daniel, Cassie, Jessica, Colie and Benjamin. Some of them even allowed themselves to be filmed shooting up, it is painful to watch, it’s like watching a car crash in slow motion. Of the eight subjects, Marissa and Daniel are the most open about their addictions. By the time the film aired, Marissa and Arianna had overdosed and died, Benjamin and Jessica “disappeared” and resumed their addiction, Daniel went to detox and got clean but relapsed three weeks later, Cassie is still struggling with detox and staying clean, Ryan is trying to stay off of heroin by doing other drugs or as he calls it “his way of staying clean” and only Colie was able to stay clean one year later. But as the story of Arianna will show, staying clean for years at a time does not prevent you from quickly relapsing and dying.

All of these people are only in their early twenties but they’ve already struggled with one form of addiction or another since they were 13 or 14 years old. Each of their stories are different and similar in their own ways. Almost all of the subjects begun experimenting with drugs and alcohol in their early teens, some as young as 12. They all started with drinking their parent’s beer or wines at house parties and smoking pot after school. From there each graduated into prescription opioids and then heroin. Ryan, Jessica, Cassie and Arianna were prescribed opioids for pain after a sport injury and from there their addictions took hold. Jessica was hit by a drunk driver when she was 17 and there was severe injuries to her face and she had to be prescribed heavy pain medication after her many surgeries. She still has big scars on her face as a result of that injury. Her addiction went from a physical dependency after so many surgeries but also because her face was permanently disfigured and she was only 18, she could not and did not want to be sober.

Arianna’s story is particularly tragic because she was a mother to two young children. At the beginning of the film she had been sober for three years and is living in a sober house with her children. She was doing so well. She had the brightest smile and blue eyes. She became sober when she found out she was pregnant with her first child and she stayed clean for over three years. Her children were her motivation and at the beginning of the film she was seen as a devoted parent who loved being a mother. However, one month after she gave her interview on film, she relapsed, disappeared, left her children with her mother and was found dead at the age of 23 from heroin overdose. Paramedics tried to revive her and they couldn’t. Her children are now motherless and in the care of her mother. Her family is devastated.

The director of the film Steven Okazaki focused on the here and now of his subjects’ addictions, he didn’t really delve into what drove them to be addicts. Some participants talked about what kept them addicted, Cassie said there are some “emotional shit” she never dealt with and ended it there. Others say it was a sports injury and it was a pain pill addiction that led to here. Daniel said he was a born addict, he was snorting pixie sticks on the school bus when he was in grade school, he’d drink a huge pot of coffee to get a caffeine high, so graduating to heroin is almost natural. Arianna said when she became unwittingly addicted she did not feel the desire to want to stay clean. Though her parents sent her to detox and rehab and sober living housing, she did not want to stay clean. When asked why she bothered with treatment if she didn’t want to stay clean, she said “she wanted to want to stay clean”, she was hoping treatment could make her want to stay clean.

The addicts featured in this documentary are not unaware oblivious junkies with no regard to the feelings of their parents and others. Many of them openly wept with despair at their addicted state but they just cannot stay clean. If they could just put it down and never touch heroin again and never want to crave heroin again, they’d do it in a heartbeat. Daniel wakes up every morning and prays that this is the day he will want to stop, he knows what a bitter disappointment he is to his parents. Ryan, in a particularly touching segment, while talking about his addiction to heroin and what he has done to his parents, a tear slid down his face, he is in total and utter despondency at his sad state but a short while later he was seen demanding sexual favors from a girl who wanted to score drugs from him but could not pay with cash. Marissa openly weeps and despairs at what she has done to herself to feed her addiction. She lies to her dad and tells him she’s fine. She says with some pride, unlike many addicts who rob and steal from others to feed their addiction, she didn’t go down that route. Marissa chose to work as a stripper and turn tricks to feed her addiction. She said doing so has destroyed her soul and impeded her recovery but that she was “a good girl” and did not know where it had all gone wrong. But no matter what she would not stoop so low to steal from others to buy drugs so she sells her body, her soul instead. She overdosed and died at age 23.

The family background of all the participants featured were of middle to upper income. Except Marissa, none of them have been to jail as result of their addictions. Their parents admitted that they were enablers. Because they have more resources than inner city families, heroin is so cheap to buy, and they realize the seriousness of having a drug charge on their children’s records, many of their parents just support their children’s habit and hope they go to detox and get clean at some point. They don’t want to see their children turn to large scale dealing to support their habit and risk arrest and prison. Perhaps it’s their way of holding on the last vestiges of respectability and pride in a very WASPy part of the country.

The parents of Cape Cod hold weekly meetings to discuss the addiction that is ruining their children’s lives and many of them despair at the lack of help available. Clearly the detox centers and sober house living arrangement isn’t working. They also get together in solidarity to break the silence and stigma of drug addiction. One mother said, if her son had any other chronic illness besides drug addiction, she’d have scores of concerned family and friends visiting with a casserole in hand. But because her son is a heroin addict, she is shunned and given the silent treatment. No one is bringing them any casseroles,  no one even asks after her son. They don’t know what to do about their children’s addiction, they can only speak to each other to hopefully bring solace and solidarity to each other.

The film is an unflinching look at the seriousness of drug addiction today. It shows how drug addiction slowly robs the person of their true self. Only a drug addict would sell her body to feed her addiction. Only a drug addict would leave her children and go get high. Only a drug addict would throw away all of their self respect to chase a high. But behind each of these subjects, you see a glimpse of a person there, the person they once were before they were addicts. This 77 minute documentary is like watching a trainwreck happen, you want to stop it but you can’t, you want to look away but you can’t. You want to shake these kids and say STOP, you are ruining your lives, but they already know that. Perhaps this is what society needs to see to understand how ruthless drug addiction is.

Long Road to Hell: America in Iraq – CNN

I have seen this program three times and each time I watch it I get physically ill. The bald faced lies told by GW Bush’s administration and the lengths to cover up their deceit is astounding. The United States went into another sovereign country, dismantled their state, dismantled their army, their civil services, induced an oil and resource rich nation with petrol and water shortages where petrol lines wrapped around the block, nevermind the humanitarian crisis which is still going on today, all of this, done on false made up intelligence. The Iraq Invasion is nothing more than a pissing match between the younger Bush and the elder Bush. The younger Bush escalated the sibling rivalry in his family (the elder Bush favored his younger son Jeb Bush), decided to invade Iraq to ‘get rid of Saddam’ all to stick it to dear old dad. It was something the elder Bush didn’t do and couldn’t do.

This program is unique in the sense that Fareed Zakaria (the host of the program) was able to get top GW Bush administration officials to speak on camera, presumably all to wash their hands of this debacle. Some showed contrition. Their tone of this program changed from the Bush-Cheney administration approved rhetoric of ‘we received faulty intelligence’ to ‘we were lied to’ by Bush-Cheney. He was also able to get former Prime Minister of Great Britain Tony Blair, which was GW Bush’s co-conspirator in this debacle  to apologize on camera. There are calls from activists in Great Britain to charge Tony Blair with war crimes.

Richard Clarke, the counterterrorism czar who served from 1998-2003 said the Iraq war really started on September 12, 2001. As soon as the two planes brought down the World Trade Center, Bush 43 was already talking about trying to tie Saddam Hussein to the September 11 attacks. This was confusing to Clarke because at that time, there were only very vague ideas about who the September 11 attackers were, World Trade Center, The Pentagon were still on fire when Bush 43 decided he was already going to invade Iraq. The Bush-Cheney administration ordered the various intelligence agencies to come up with credible, actionable intelligence to support the president’s claim.

If Valerie Plame Wilson’s account is to be believed, Dick Cheney’s chief-of-staff Lewis ‘Scooter’ Libby basically hounded and harassed the CIA to distraction so they would produce the intelligence the administration wanted so they can send our men and women into Iraq to topple Saddam Hussein. According to the movie ‘Fair Game’, Scooter Libby was portrayed as a kind of pest who would not leave the CIA alone until he got something in his hands to show Dick Cheney. They sent Wilson’s husband, the Former Ambassador Joseph Wilson IV on a wild goose chase in Niger so that he could bring back evidence that Saddam Hussein purchased materials from Niger to make a nuclear bomb. When the former ambassador found evidence to the contrary and refused to go along with the narrative of the Bush-Cheney administration and wrote about it publicly in a New York Times Op-Ed piece: What I Didn’t Find in Africa, his wife Valerie Plame Wilson was outed as a covert CIA agent and their reputations were dragged through the mud. The mud-slinging which ensued afterwards was nothing short of comical. The administration said Valerie Plame Wilson overinflated her status with the CIA, she was just a low-level operative, not some big shot covert operative she made herself out to be and her husband was derided as a has-been, a former ambassador to a small African nation that no one has ever heard of. Regardless, the fact remains, Former Ambassador Joseph Wilson IV did what he was asked by his president, Valerie Plame Wilson lost her job with the CIA, a job she loved through no fault of her own and the Wilsons were in dire straits for a while as a result.

After reading many accounts about what led up to the invasion of Iraq, the Bush-Cheney administration threw the intelligence community under the bus when it became apparent there were no weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and Iraq did not have an existing nuclear program. By the time the invasion of Iraq in 2003, the international sanctions which were placed on Iraq have severely degraded their weaponry system, their army and the general population of Iraq suffered from the lack basic lifesaving medicines and provisions.

After the administration hounded, harassed, threatened the CIA to produce the intelligence to suit their aims, when that didn’t pan out, they were tossed out with the trash. I personally do not blame the intelligence community, as Richard Clarke states, the CIA has the ability to produce any “evidence” to support any claim any administration wants to espouse. Also, if I were the CIA, I’d also show Scooter Libby anything just to not see his face again and hear his voice again. The ‘intelligence’ the CIA produced was specious and highly speculative. To any thinking person, one can easily figure out they only produced something for the administration just to get them off of their backs. CIA and other intelligence agencies produce reams and reams of ‘intelligence’ everyday, most of it is ignored or deemed not actionable or credible. It’s up to the people analysing the intelligence to decide what is actionable and what isn’t. The margin for cherry picking is very wide when analysing intelligence.

This program is helpful in the sense that facts are presented in a linear fashion, accompanied by analysis of people who were part of the decision making process at the time. The Bush-Cheney perfidy, greed and gross incompetency was exposed. They removed one regime, without having its replacement in place and ready to go. Iraq has since disintegrated to shell of its former self. The program’s host Fareed Zakaria laid out three major blunders made by the administration:

  • Power Vacuum: After the fall of Saddam, there left a power vacuum and chaos ensued. In the midst of the chaos, the various religious sects, tribes and ethnicities clung to their own identities for security. This was how the first seeds of sectarian divide was sown. You’ve got the Kurds, Sunni and Shia clinging to their own kind for survival. Over time, different sects and ethnicities began to have suspicions about each other and that deep suspicion lasts until today. Neighborhoods which consisted of mixed ethnicities, religions and sects started to be suspicious of each other. The diverse fabric which made up Iraqi society is now forever fractured.
  • De-Baathification of Iraq: First of the two most ill-advised foreign policies blunders in the modern era. Anyone who was once part of Saddam’s Baath Party were thrown out of the government and civil services. They, basically overnight, rendered hundreds of thousands of people unemployed and made them unemployable with the future Iraqi regime with nothing to fall back on. These people also happened to be the most well educated and capable people. People who knew how the government worked and how the Iraqi institutions worked. Being a member of the Baath party was a requirement to have any government job, a Baath party member doesn’t mean he is a rabid supporter of Saddam Hussein.
  • Disbanding of the Iraqi Army but not taking away their guns: In the same vein as de-Baathification, since the existing Iraqi Army served under Saddam’s command, they were decommissioned. So, again, you have several more hundred thousand young men turned out in the streets overnight. Except these young men were well armed, well trained and can withstand tough conditions. These are also young men who live in a conservative society, outside of their army posts, they’ve got nothing else to occupy their time. Doing drugs, drinking and socializing with the opposite sex is frowned upon in Iraqi society, anytime you have large groups of unemployed young men with too much time on their hands always spells trouble. But in this case, it was deadly. The seeds of ISIS was sown.

Besides these three blunders, you also have unlawful detention centers like Camp Bucca and Abu Ghraib prison where countless basic human rights violations occurred and was sanctioned by the administration under the guise of ‘national security’. Many of these men locked up in Camp Bucca were detained without charges, without access to an attorney and sometimes held incommunicado. They were beaten, tortured and stripped of their basic humanity because of possible terrorist or Al-Qaeda ties.

As Iraq disintegrated from a civilized society to anarchy due to a power vacuum, the Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s response was “Stuff happens”, this is literally what he said to the press corp when he was grilled about the deteriorating conditions in Iraq. Water shortages, petrol shortages, permanent school closures thereby cutting off the education of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children, the looting of police and government buildings, neighborhoods descending into an anarchist’s haven – all Donald Rumsfeld has to say to this is ‘shit happens’.

The poor planning and military execution of the Iraq Invasion makes the Vietnam War look like military tactical genius.

Saddam Hussein was a tyrant. He was vile and depraved. He gassed his own people and subjected his political opponents to torture, abuse and ultimately their executions. He was a monster. Hussein’s regime, similar to Syria’s situation prior to the civil war, was one where the minority ruled the majority. Hussein’s secular Sunni Baath Party ruled Iraq with an iron fist so there will be no Shia or Kurdish rebellion. Getting rid of Saddam Hussein on a humanitarian premise does hold some water but there must be an equally powerful system in place to replace him once he is gone. For all of Saddam’s faults, his was a secular regime and he was able to, even if through force, control all the potential warring factions, even amongst his own Sunni tribes. So if you were an average Iraqi citizen who had no revolutionary aspirations, who was happy to play by the rules laid out by Saddam’s regime and paint within the lines of the dictatorship, you can live your life in relative security and many did, even in face of crippling sanctions. Life went on for the average Iraqi just like life goes on for the average Iranian under sanction restrictions.

After the fall of Saddam and Baghdad, what finally replaced the old Baath regime is a Islamist Shia regime. Since roughly 80% of Iraqis are Shia, it’s only fair they get to run the government with the Sunnis, Kurds and other religious and ethnic minorities be represented in the national government, except that didn’t happen. Nouri Al-Maliki, the man who was tasked to bring a broken Iraq together is one of the most divisive and sectarian figures. Al-Maliki’s aim is not to heal Iraq and create a government which is representative of all its peoples. His aim is to create an Islamist Shia regime and a safe haven for the Arab Shiites, similar to how the Iranian regime has created a safe haven for Iranian Shiites. Al-Maliki’s dearest wish is to deny the Sunnis and the Kurds a seat at the table and he gets free rein on how to run Iraq.

In one of the most informative articles I’ve read about ISIS and its genesis, ‘Middle East Research and Information Project: On ISIS’, it points out:

But political factors are more important in explaining why ISIS appeared when it did. The first appellation of the cells that became ISIS was al-Qaeda in Iraq. These men were enlisted not in some boundless global jihad but in the battle to rid Iraq of US occupation and the government dominated by Shi‘i Islamist parties that took over in Baghdad in 2005. From the outset, though the details remain murky, these jihadi fighters joined hands with the ex-Baathists who had been army and intelligence officers under Saddam Hussein and were the backbone of the insurgency after Saddam’s ouster.

The Baathist-jihadi relationship was consummated after the US invaded Iraq in 2003, particularly in Camp Bucca, Abu Ghraib and other jails of the occupiers. An illustrative, and perhaps integral, figure is a colonel named Samir al-Khlifawi, who served in intelligence agencies under Saddam and found himself abruptly unemployed and ostracized in 2003. Like other officers, he had expected his turn in command and was embittered to discover that he had no place in the post-Saddam order. […] But in any case it is safe to say that there would be no ISIS had there been no US invasion of Iraq.

[…]

The gray markets and smuggling routes that help to sustain ISIS are another legacy of the long decade of sanctions on Iraq and the years of the US occupation, particularly the fateful choice of US proconsul L. Paul Bremer to dissolve the Iraqi army, which pushed much of the officer corps into contraband rackets. The Iraqi insurgencies of the 2000s were also thus self-funded, and the collapse of the Syrian state next door has only fueled the war economy in the region.

Though the members of the upper echelons of ISIS command are rather opaque, their organization and execution of military raids are eerily “reminiscent of Baathist party structure.” So, it is safe to assume many of the people who were turned out in the streets during the de-Baathification process and the disbanding of the Iraqi army have regrouped and formed ISIS. Many former Baathist party members could be considered as secular Muslims, just like Saddam Hussein was, but they are willing to exploit the religious and radical Muslims to serve their own ends. Many disaffected Sunnis in Syria and Iraq have chosen the lesser devil and formed an unholy alliance with ISIS even if they find their ways abhorrent. It’s better than being ruled by Shia apostates. Many have come to rue this miscalculation.

I met an Iraqi girl of sixteen near our local park by the beach just a little over a year ago. She was spending a day out with her older sister and nephews. As we got to chatting by the swing set she told me she was from Iraq. Her father died when she was just 2 years old, he died in the war, she didn’t specify if he was a civilian or a soldier. Her mom took her, her older brother and sister and fled to Jordan and they applied for refugee asylum to come to the United States. She came to the US when she was about 7 years old, she speaks perfect unaccented English. She looks and acts like a typical American high school student. She told me she skipped a grade and is on honors roll, she wants to get a scholarship to go to university as her mother is a widow and has health issues, her sister has a family and her brother has just married. She laments that she will probably never see the land of her birth again and she said even if she did, it’s changed beyond recognition. It was not the Iraq of her parents and her older siblings (they are significantly older than her, by about 15 years). She said her family was from a very diverse neighborhood outside of Baghdad, her neighbors were Christians, Muslims, Kurds and it was a lively and beautiful place, they were all friends. She said many Iraqi families have both Sunni and Shia members and there was no conflict. She said she personally was a Sunni Muslim but she’s got first cousins who are Shia, and in her very charming girlish way, she said she couldn’t even tell me exactly what the difference was, except that there was one, obviously.

I told her I am very sorry for the loss of her father and homeland. I felt compelled to apologize on behalf of the president I didn’t choose, whose policies I didn’t support, who I believe is a war criminal and should tried at The Hague as such. She looked at me like I was a little nutty but she said “it’s ok, it’s not your fault.”

The program ends with almost everyone agreeing that going into Iraq in 2003 was a colossal mistake and history will ultimately judge the West and specifically United States very harshly about what took place. The people interviewed agree that Iraq and most of the Middle East has not modernized to keep up with the 21st century, but if at least those regimes implode on their own like Tunisia, Egypt and Syria, the blood is on their own hands and not ours.

The Arab Spring on the surface looks like it was borne out of political oppression and lack of basic First Amendment rights, but if you scratch the surface, it’s a revolution of poverty. There are huge swathes of impoverished populations in the Middle East. The spark that set off the Tunisian revolution was a street vendor, Mohamed Bouazizi who immolated himself because his fruit stand was taken away by a corrupt local official who confiscated his goods and his scale (which he didn’t have the funds to replace and therefore can’t operate his business), when he objected, she slapped him, he went to city hall to file a complaint about the policewoman who slapped him, they laughed at him, blew him off and told him to go home. His little fruit stand was his only economy, the only way for him to support his family. His self-immolation was his last stand against corruption and economic deprivation.The initial uprisings in Syria was really about rural and suburban poverty and not so much political oppression. There had been a devastating drought for three years which plunged farmers into poverty so they all fled to the big cities to find work, but real work was scarce as you had to be connected to the right people to get a decent job. The Al-Assad regime did nothing to alleviate their pain or addressed their concerns. Bashar Al-Assad’s wife Esma was seen carrying new handbags and wearing the newest fashions whilst her countrymen were barely scraping by. All Al-Assad had to do was reform his country’s economy and provide relief to the farmers and the unemployed, even a symbolic gesture would have appeased his people, he didn’t need to liberalize the political system, people weren’t asking for that, they were only asking for enough to eat and live. This isn’t not doable or impossible, after all, the rich gulf nations are just as corrupt and repressive as their neighbors, but because they have enough cash to bribe their populations into submission, the people of these countries cashed the checks the government wrote and went on about their lives. It’s an unspoken quid-pro-quo.

This program has been shown on CNN several times, and it can be purchased on iTunes or here’s a grainy version of it on YouTube. It’s worth seeing, if nothing, it’s at least informative and the subjects interviewed for this program are at their most honest.