Old Journals

I rarely keep the journals I write. I usually cringe when I read them back even if just a month later. At the time I was writing the entries I am convinced I was composing my next masterpiece, only to read it back later and be revolted. I’ve kept journals intermittently since the second grade until my mid-twenties. I’ve thrown them all away. Sometimes because the writing is so awful, other times the content is too traumatic and sad to relive, throwing it away was a way to cleanse myself of what was polluting my life, be it people or certain situations.

I found an old journal I wrote in late 2004, when I was twenty-five years old. It was also the last journal I kept. I didn’t throw away that journal, I can’t recall why, maybe because I like how the journal looked, it had a lovely felt cover. I found it as I was going through my belongings. I found it in my metal Mooncake keepsake box with all of my wedding mementoes from seven years ago. And I did the unthinkable and read it. I was blown away. No, not at my writing skills at age twenty-five, though markedly improved than say at age twenty, but how much everything has changed but much remained the same. The same frustrations I had about my life, my lack of direction, my lack of moving fast enough in a certain direction are still largely true. My unfulfilled ambitions, my failures and feelings of inadequacy which resulted. The circumstances may have changed, but the feelings and sentiments are the same. I could have written that journal today.

I wrote about my feelings of shame – a recurring theme for me, the depression I was suffering from, which seemed endless. My detailing of going from one shitty job to another, tracking my insufficient wages while living in a city with ever rising living costs. The bitter disappointment I felt when my then boyfriend (now husband) didn’t come through for me when I counted on him one hundred percent for this one thing, even though I was fully aware it wasn’t his fault. My realization over and over again that a woman can’t depend on a man, not even for ONE thing, we must be self-sufficient. But being self-sufficient on 0.79 cents to 1.00 every man makes seemed insurmountable. I had a college degree from a decent four year institution, since my college graduation in 2002, I’ve never been out of a job for more than 4 months, I’ve always worked white collar jobs, by all accounts I am lucky, yet the financial struggles of keeping my head above water kept creeping up in the pages. I could never keep up with the bills, whenever I feel like I’ve caught a breath, my car would break down, my engine light, transmission light all would light up like a Christmas tree or that my tires would blow out on my way to work while I am going 60 miles an hour on the freeway – totaling my car and narrowly escaping serious injury or death myself, and I got no compensation from the insurance company because I could only afford the cheapest liability only insurance, which means any of losses to me would not be covered. I wrote about how my body ached from stress, from overwork, from tiredness, being in a hamster wheel and not being able to get off. People say hardship builds character, and I don’t even think I had it that hard – there were plenty of entries where I had a rollicking good time with my friends. But I am not sure how much character I built from that time. And I am not sure how much residual bitterness from that time still lingers on today. I don’t even know if all of the collective struggles and pain from my life made me a better person.

I’d like to say my struggles in my younger days made me the person I am today, but I can’t be sure of that either. Today I am still struggling with many of the same things, but maybe in a different context. Then I just had myself to worry about, today I have myself and two children to consider first. Every decision I make has to be their best interests. I still doubt some of the decisions I’ve made, whether they were the best decision in the long run. My depression still plagues me from time to time, re-reading my journal helped me recognize some of the triggers I’ve forgotten. It confirms once again, what I always knew to be true and that is when I don’t honor my voice and my truth, I fall into the dark hole of depression. When I please others in an effort to “keep the peace”, I pay for it with my depression and anxiety. I learned that not standing your ground in your relationship, hoping for a later pay off because he’ll ‘remember’ the time you yielded to him is bullshit. People take what they can, I have to set my own boundaries.

What I did realize from reading those pages is that deep down I was always the same person. I already was a good person. I didn’t need hardship and struggle to “make me a better person.” I am still that same good person today. I can’t decide if I am happy or sad after reading my old journals, but surprised that much of what triggers my emotions is still true today. My penmanship is still God-awful, my voice was acerbic and cutting as it is today. One passage read, after meeting an unfortunate member of my extended in-laws:

“I’ve never heard any woman who spoke in such loud decibel, as if we are all deaf. I’ve had to excuse myself to go outside to pretend to smoke just to get away from her voice (I don’t smoke). Yet her extended family sits there listening, including ***** (my husband), as she is shouting and shrieking away, in a small confined room, like nothing is happening. I was appalled and aghast at the same time.”

This brought me back to the time it happened and laughed out loud, reading my own journals, something I thought I could never do.

My self-defiance came through the journal pages as well. When an attempt was made to gaslight me, I called it out for what it was, and despite my doubts, I refuse to cave in to it. And one of my most oft repeated phrases to this “I don’t deal well with crazy” or “me and crazy don’t get along” was littered through the entries, prompting another giggle from me. I still have no tolerance for crazy and that’s still my mantra today.

Reading my old journals also started a new wave of self-reflection and how I like to proceed with my life as I get closer to middle age and the big 4-0. Finding that journal was God’s way of telling me that I’ve been in a rut for far too long, while progress has been made, it’s not nearly enough and I need to break out of that rut, free myself from the  chains of self-limitation, my self-confining thoughts which lead to self-limiting actions. It also forced me to address my relationships with the important people in my life and reset some boundaries and rules.

I closed my journal and put it back in my Mooncake Keepsake Box with the rest of my wedding mementoes. This is a journal I will be proud to keep and maybe one day show my children. 

 

“Bathroom Bill” Lies – Part 2

One of the tried and tested ways to scare the public into believing a lie to be true is to inject moral implications into the lie. Examples throughout recent times are:

Wide distribution of female contraceptives is an inherent evil because it will promote promiscuity without consequences and women will be EVEN more promiscuous and abandon their virtues. The possibility of an unwanted pregnancy was the only thing keeping women in check. Maybe so, but who cares? Girls can have fun too.

Feminism is bad because women would then all abandon their duties to their families (i.e. domestic slavery and caring for husband) and go earn an income and leave said family. (Side note: as a mom, I’d never leave my kids behind to pursue a greener pasture, they come with me everywhere I go. Women do not abandon their children not because they are feminists, women abandon children because they choose to abandon their children regardless what their self-identification is – feminism has been coopted to excuse bad behavior for all women).

Civil Rights Movement is bad because if black people and other minorities are freed from the shackles of white supremacy and institutionalized racism, they will take revenge on white people and kill them all and take over the governance of the nation. Cue to 2008, the election of President Obama, the Right had a complete existential meltdown, went totally batshit-cra-cra and as a result ruined the political legitimacy of their own party. And guess what? As far as I can see, institutionalized racism is still alive and well, if not worse due to aforementioned psychotic meltdown by the white establishment. The police are as brutal as ever towards people of color. School to prison pipeline is still ongoing, mass incarceration of black and brown people is still ongoing, everything the white supremacists feared would happen didn’t really happen, despite the election of a liberal black president.

Homosexuals, besides being sexual deviants are a moral threat to the fabric of society. Homosexuals would promote their ‘lifestyle’ on to heterosexuals and the whole moral structure of society will breakdown and it’s going to be a Sodom and Gomorrah free for all. The gay community seems to be rather traditional after all, demanding legal marriages recognized by the state and form families of their own.

While most rational people of society have gotten over the hysteria of the above mentioned, there is a new one hysteria pedalled by the political right: transgender people are natural predators, they are dangerous because their transitioned gender doesn’t match the one they were born with, so they need to be watched, supervised and surveilled at all times; including when they visit the facilities. We must especially protect our children and women from these natural predators and we  must also make sure cisgender men don’t feel uncomfortable when sharing the bathroom with a transgender male, that their masculinity isn’t threatened or questioned. Transgender people, roughly 700,000 American adults who fit this category are to be collectively feared. They are to be collectively supervised and surveilled by the cisgender population.

If we want to talk predators, here are some numbers on real predators, people who’ve been convicted of sexual assault. According to the Department of Justice, The Office of Sex Offender Sentencing, Monitoring, Apprehending, Registering and Tracking, here are some key facts and statistics on sex offenders.

Victims of Sexual Abuse

Adults
  • About 20 million out of 112 million women (18.0%) in the United States have been raped during their lifetime. 12
  • Only 16% of all rapes were reported to law enforcement. 12
  • In 2006 alone, 300,000 college women (5.2%) were raped. 12
  • Among college women, about 12% of rapes were reported to law enforcement. 12
  • A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention survey on the national prevalence of intimate partner violence, sexual violence, and stalking found:
    • 81% of women who experienced rape, stalking, or physical violence by an intimate partner reported significant short- or long-term impacts. 18
    • About 35% of women who were raped as minors also were raped as adults, compared to 14% of women without an early rape history. 18
    • 28% of male rape victims were first raped when they were 10 years old or younger. 18
Child/Teen Victims
  • In a 2012 maltreatment report, of the victims who were sexually abused, 26% were in the age group of 12–14 years and 34% were younger than 9 years. 9
  • Approximately 1.8 million adolescents in the United States have been the victims of sexual assault. 4
  • Research conducted by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that approximately 1 in 6 boys and 1 in 4 girls are sexually abused before the age of 18. 1
  • 35.8% of sexual assaults occur when the victim is between the ages of 12 and 17. 1
  • 82% of all juvenile victims are female. 5
  • 69% of the teen sexual assaults reported to law enforcement occurred in the residence of the victim, the offender, or another individual. 5
  • Teens 16 to 19 years of age were 3 ½ times more likely than the general population to be victims of rape, attempted rape, or sexual assault.6
  • Approximately 1 in 5 female high school students report being physically and/or sexually abused by a dating partner. 7

Perpetrators of Sexual Abuse

  • An estimated 60% of perpetrators of sexual abuse are known to the child but are not family members, e.g., family friends, babysitters, child care providers, neighbors.
  • About 30% of perpetrators of child sexual abuse are family members.
  • Only about 10% of perpetrators of child sexual abuse are strangers to the child.
  • Not all perpetrators are adults—an estimated 23% of reported cases of child sexual abuse are perpetrated by individuals under the age of 18.

And on their fact sheet “What You Need to Know About Sex Offenders” – it explicitly states:

There is no such thing as a “typical” sex offender. Sex offenders can:

• be male or female;

• be young or old;

• have different levels of education;

• be married or single;

• have strong ties to their families and communities, or have weak ties; and/or

• have no record of prior criminal involvement or have a record either for sexual or non-sexual offenses.

The reasons why they offend, the kinds of interventions required to help them stop offending, and the risks they pose also vary.

Nowhere does it say transgender people are more likely to offend than other groups. Also, “An estimated 60% of perpetrators of sexual abuse are known to the child but are not family members, e.g., family friends, babysitters, child care providers, neighbors,” again, nowhere is transgender people specifically singled out for predilections towards predatory behavior. The assertion that transgender people are morally and sexually deviant simply isn’t true, just as it wasn’t with homosexuals, it wasn’t true with women on the pill or feminists.

I am not an expert on gender identity. I don’t know what makes one male or female besides the obvious. I know it’s more complicated than just sex and reproductive organs and I also know during the chromosomal divisions and multiplication process during the formation of a human being, lots can happen and chromosomes can end up mismatched where the physical gender of an individual doesn’t match their heart. Hence we have hermaphrodites, intersex people and possibly this is how transgender people are created, all of which are natural and perfect in its manifestations. There is no need for society to single people out because of these differences.

While I am not a member of the LGBT community, I know how it feels to be singled out for refusing to conform or “do as I’m told” (and I am not comparing my own experiences to the marginalization transgender people feel). Many times, in moments of exasperation my mother wished I would just conform and agree to make my life and hers easier. It was excruciating then and it is excruciating now to be expected to conform to a role and execute your duties as such. I cannot imagine what it’s like for members of the LGBT community to face this expectation from society everyday. If they don’t want to conform, then “don’t rub our noses” in your “lifestyle” and “culture” is what the rest of society likes to say, even from tolerant people. They’d rather not see and hear what members of LGBT people do. Have your Gay Pride parades in the part of town where we don’t frequent. Members of the LGBT community are expected to live anonymous and invisible lives out of the sight of the public so that they don’t make the gender and sexual orientation conforming community uncomfortable with their outward expression of their uniqueness.

It is precisely this type of thinking that gives rise to “religious freedom bills” allowing businesses including lifesaving ones like doctor’s offices to deny services to members of the LGBT community. It’s this type of mentality and pathology that gives rise to these ridiculous “bathroom bills” under the guise of safety for women and children when its real purpose is to make single out transgender people and make them squirm while in public, even when using the bathroom, since it’s illegal to openly discriminate them any other way. The religious freedom bills, where it allows a bakery to decline to bake a wedding cake for a gay couple is not exercising their religious freedom, because Christianity asks us to not judge others and be tolerant and kind, they are exercising their bigotry and it’s a way of saying: the state may recognize your marriage, but we (the, cisgender, straight, Christian community) don’t. Also, dogma and religious freedom aside, it’s just bad business to turn away good money on the table for something so ridiculous as the couple being gay. This is one thing I’ve never understood; nothing would ever induce me turn away an honest opportunity to make money.

For those hysterical people who are so convinced that a transgender army of 700,000 strong is here to attack unsuspecting women and children, according to statistics, it’s best to look in their own backyard first for that predator; the creepy uncle, the soccer coach, softball coach, camp counselor, the babysitter, parish priest, pastors, and extended families as statistics tells us 60% of the time, it will come from one of those people, not the socially awkward, shy, perhaps depressed or suicidal transgender classmate of your child.

The Bathroom Debate is Based on Lies

The Republicans are back at their oldest past time – hypocrisy. The party that promotes freedom and getting “the government out of our lives” are back at legislating the most intimate parts of people’s lives. They’ve seemed to temporarily moved on from restricting women’s choice to choose and now are attacking transgender people and restricting them to which bathrooms they can use, which, according to laws in some states, must be the gender at birth, not the gender they transitioned to.

The transgender community are the smallest in population in the whole LGBT community. It’s estimated that transgender adults account for 0.3% of the whole US population or about 700,000 adults, even if that’s a conservative figure, let’s say transgender and non-binary transgender people top out at 1,000,000 adults (very unlikely but for the sake of argument let’s assume so), the chances of a cisgender person running into a transgender person in a public restroom in America is near nil. Unless you are in San Francisco during Gay Pride week, the chances of transgender people running into each other in any random public bathroom is rare as well.

The Republicans have once again, decided to marginalize an already marginized group further. They’ve decided on the grounds of safety for the cisgender people that transgender people shouldn’t be allowed to use the bathroom of their transition. This extends to all public spaces, schools, parks or any other public restrooms. North Carolina just passed a ‘bathroom bill’ which requires people to use the bathroom of their assigned gender at birth. Alabama has a similar law but they decided to go one step further and criminalize and arrest people who use the wrong bathroom, with the suggestion that police officers will ask for identification to ascertain that the suspect is using the correct bathroom.

All of these laws are based on the false premise of ‘safety’ for the majority of gender conforming people, that a transgender person who was born of the opposite sex at birth is sharing a bathroom (or locker room) with cisgender people is inherently unsafe. It’s implying that transgender people are natural predators and cisgender people need to be afraid of them, especially in small confined places like bathrooms and locker rooms. This is total hogwash.

The most dangerous place for child who is bullied at school are bathrooms and locker rooms where they are ‘jumped’ by other cisgender people, usually people of their own sex, not the shy and socially awkward transgender teen if there is even one at the school. Just one week ago, sixteen year old high school girl Amy Joyner was ‘jumped’ in the bathroom by other girls, she hit her head on the sink and later died. The dispute was apparently over a boy. There was not a single transgender girl in the room.

Former Speaker of the House, the third most powerful man in the country, after the President and Vice President, Dennis Hastert was convicted of child molestation and has just been handed a 15 month jail sentence. He is more of a danger in the men’s room than any transgender male (who would most likely be jumped by other cisgender men). Michelle Duggar of 19 Kids and Counting, instead of making robocalls to Arkansas voters to vote against an anti-transgender bathroom bill, her efforts would have better been served into teaching her eldest son Josh Duggar proper sexual boundaries between boys and girls instead of using her whispery hysterical voice of allowing “boys to use the girls’ bathrooms”. Josh Duggar would have benefited from some educational talks from his parents about sex.

The transgender community is a community that is gaining more acceptance and recognition but it’s still a community that is suffering deeply. Transgender teens are twice as likely to attempt sucide and be depressed. They face rejection from their families, their church, school, communities. They are more likely than their other LGBT peers to to be unemployed and suffer from depression and anxiety. They struggle to get through their daily lives without harrasement. They face a daunting choice between living their true selves or the identity that soceity ascribes to them based on gender at birth. To then pass these pointless bathroom bill making the lives of transgender people even harder, is an abuse of human rights.

Republican lawmakers need to stop watching ‘Orange is the New Black’ and look at the realities of the real world with respect to  transgender people. They are no threat to soceity. Society is a threat to them.

Another Rant: That annoying mosquito which won’t die.

The sound of a fly or mosquito buzzing in one’s ear has got to be one of the most irritating sounds in the world. It’s usually benign (unless it’s a disease carrying mosquito) but that unrelenting buzzing right at the periphery of your ears, where you can see it and hear it but can’t catch it to hack it to death have turned rational people into temporary fly-swatter holding lunatic chasing a microscopic insect around the room where you won’t quit until it’s squished to death.

There is one mosquito that just won’t die, who just keeps giving his unsolicited advice and opinions on matters he doesn’t understand and don’t relate to him. No, I am not talking about Donald Trump. I am talking about Piers Morgan. The former CNN host who succeeded Larry King Tonight, who was sacked due to low ratings. Apparently, he went back to the UK and is the host of some local Good Morning America type of breakfast show. Once a week he also imparts his sage opinion on the UK’s number one dirt rag of a tabloid paper masquerading itself as a proper newspaper – The Daily Mail. It’s a mouthpiece for their Prime Minister David Cameron and like US conservative tabloid outlets, they spend a considerable amount of time telling its readers that people are on welfare because they are lazy, they are scum, they breed and have children they can’t afford, they breed only to get welfare, they can’t afford food is not because of the austerity welfare cuts but because they buy cigarettes and beer instead and the list goes on. They also incite Islamophobia, they call anyone who doesn’t subscribe to the patriotic values of the British Empire unpatriotic and a traitor or a terrorist (Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn is their favorite target). They write pointless fawning articles about Kate Middleton and what she feeds George and Charlotte and where they get their clothes. In the same publication, they also see themselves as qualified enough to critique America and its policies – there’s lots to critique there but they are hardly qualified to do it, it’s like the teapot calling the kettle black. They won’t drop the ‘non-issue’ of why Obama returned the bust of Winston Churchill and the reason is because Obama is “Kenyan” and is angry about the Mau-Mau uprisings (which by the way, the International Court found Britain guilty and ordered them to pay restitution). The whole publication is Fox News in print on steroids.

So, Beyonce dropped another album over the weekend called ‘Lemonade’. I haven’t seen it, haven’t listened to it, but it’ a visual album and she alludes to the rumors surrounding her personal life, namely the cheating allegations of her husband Jay Z. People are trying to work out who exactly is the “Becky, with the good hair” she’s talking about. She talks about racism in America, police brutality and with the permission of Mike Brown and Trayvon Martin’s family, showed images of the slain children and their mother as a testament of the brutal police state in America. Two months ago, right before her Super Bowl Halftime show, she released a new song call ‘Formation’ which talks about black power and references to the black nationalist group The Black Panthers. She performed the song at the Super Bowl Halftime show and she and her dancers were outfitted in Black Panther inspired costumes. Apparently, this bothers Piers Morgan and he felt the need to devote column inches to it. That Beyonce dared to express authentic ‘black’ culture – not the white washed, mainstream palatable version of black culture, but the nationalist militant black culture offended Piers Morgan on the other side of the pond.

This white middle-aged, upper-class British male, who knows nothing about black people or black history in America or even in his own country (the Afro-Caribbean descent in the UK experience the same type of racism, police brutality and racial profiling as the black people do here) deemed himself qualified to critique Beyonce and her album. But he had his reasons for raising objections, specifically to her Super Bowl halftime ‘Formation’ performance:

The Black Panthers, set up as a group who would protect black Americans from police brutality, became infamous for their own brutality, especially against police, and widespread criminal and murderous membership within their ranks.

Beyonce’s tribute to them was branded ‘disgraceful and outrageous’ by former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, incensed that she had ‘used the platform of the Superbowl to attack the police.

Really? This is the ‘real’ history of The Black Panthers? Do a quick google search and you will find out that the Black Panthers were infiltrated by the FBI and shut down. Their activities criminalized because the government is afraid of black power. And he quotes Guiliani – that washed out politician whose glory days are long gone is trying to stay relevant. Giuliani defends murderous police officers as “doing their jobs”.

For the album Lemonade itself, he didn’t like the “political” images of Malcolm X and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., which Beyonce portrayed in her videos, and showing the pictures of mothers of slain children by the police is “shameless exploitation” a ploy used to sell albums contends Morgan. Beyonce can sell albums any which way, she can stand there and sing in a potato sack and sell albums, but Morgan goes one step further, he uses the words of an interview he did with her over 5 years ago to convict her:

My mind went back to my CNN interview with Beyoncé and the moment when we discussed her live performance at President Barack Obama’s first inauguration ball in 2008.

‘Did you experience racism as you grew up?’ I asked.

‘A bit, but I feel like with my career I’ve now broken barriers. I don’t think people think about my race. I think they look at me as an entertainer and a musician and I’m very happy about that because that’s how I look at people. It’s not about color and race, and I’m happy that’s changing.’

There! She said it, “it’s not about color and race”, it’s how people look at her as an “entertainer”, therefore from there on out Beyonce is not allowed to make any political reference or controversial content because in 2008, right after she performed at the Obama Inauguration, she talked about herself in the capacity of an “entertainer”. For the rest of her career, she’s only to manifest herself as an entertainer, a black woman who doesn’t threaten or offend the status quo, who doesn’t tell the uncomfortable truth about race relations in America or elsewhere in the world. She’s to get up on stage, put on a cute outfit and dance and sing her butt off. Anything she does that is out of the boundaries of harmless entertainment is considered “political” and self-serving to sell albums.

Another UK entertainer Jamelia wrote a perfect response to Piers Morgan:

You are a middle-aged, British white man. You have no idea – I repeat, NO. IDEA. – what it is like to be a black woman. And furthermore, the sacrificial, struggle-filled, tongue-biting, mask-wearing fight it is to become a successful one.

Let me break this down for you.

Beyoncé’s album is not an attack on anyone. It is a celebration of the strength, endurance and potential within black womanhood. The fact that you are mad/uncomfortable/agitated about it is evidence enough of how blind you are to the realities of being one.

There was no one more happy than me when he got sacked from CNN and went back to the UK. I hated his jokes, he wasn’t funny, he’s a phony especially when brown nosing important guests, unpleasant to listen to and totally clueless about American politics despite living here for years and having “loads” of American friends. He sees the world only from his white, male privileged vantage, totally unable to validate a different view. When a black writer Toure, respectfully, told Piers Morgan on live TV that he has no clue what it’s like to be black in America (they were discussing Trayvon Martin murder), therefore he should withhold his harsher judgements and opinions, Morgan called him a “tedious little twerp”.  His unrepentant support for Donald Trump (another favorite subject of his on his odious column) is telling of his deficient morals and character, all based on his own personal character attestation of Trump. Because, many years ago, they worked on Celebrity Apprentice together (which Morgan won) and they remained great friends since. Well, let’s nominate Trump for the Nobel Peace Prize then.

While a majority of Piers Morgan’s drivel is ignored, this one about Beyonce isn’t and it’s getting a lot blowback from every corner and that is good and bad. Good that he got called out and isn’t getting away with being an elitist, racist and sexist prig, but bad that his odious column is being read and talked about thereby giving him more attention than he deserves. Like a mosquito, they are hard to put down, even from the other side of the Atlantic.

The Dirty Business of Mt. Everest

Ever since Tenzing Norgay Sherpa and British New Zealand mountaineer Sir Edmund Hillary in 1953 scaled the Summit of Mt. Everest, a new frontier was opened for those who wish to test the limits of their mental and physical strength. Mt. Everest is the highest peak in the world, it sits at 29,029 feet above sea level. It’s one of the many high peaks which make up the group of mountains in The Himalayas. The Himalayas are scattered across Nepal, Tibet, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bhutan. Mt. Everest is named after the Welsh surveyor and geographer Sir George Everest who was largely responsible for surveying the mountainous regions of India and Nepal. The Sherpas refer to Mt. Everest as Chomolungma, which means Goddess Earth or Holy Mother Peak.

In the 1950s, scaling the Himalayan mountains were for serious mountaineer enthusiasts equipped the mental and physical strength of taking on such an endeavor. Since then, mass commercialization and romanticizing of going to the ‘top of the world’ has degraded this holy journey. Upwards of four thousand people attempt the scale the mountains every year (and they leave behind thousands of pounds of rubbish too). Mountain season is during the spring and summer months, which is the most optimal time but the Himalayans are snow capped year round. The ice never melts on the Himalayas, there are still risks of storms, avalanches and other fatal accidents waiting for climbers, thousands of feet above civilization and help. It’s not for the faint of heart. When you are struggling with altitude sickness on the mountain, it’s not your physical strength that gets you through, it’s your mental and physical preparedness. And also, the chance of getting into an accident or falling ill and dying is ever present, and you may not be rescued, not because there’s no one there, there is always someone there, but if rescuing you would put other lives in danger and they may choose to preserve the group over you, as that’s what happened with British mountaineer David Sharp. He was falling behind his group, deemed too ill to rescue, they were on the final ascent to the Summit and it was too dangerous to carry him. The expedition group left him there thinking they’ll tend to him on their descent, which was about 2 days later. David Sharp died, under a rock on the Himalayas, body frozen solid. It was estimated 42 people walked by David Sharp, even those on the way down, no one helped him. The circumstances surrounding the death of David Sharp started a debate about the morality and ethics of mountain climbing, that debate is still raging on today. There are still about 200 corpses buried in the frozen mountains of the Himalayas, some of them have become landmarks. It’s an icy jungle up there, where jungle rules dominate.

Scaling Everest has become a big business for expedition companies. They are usually companies owned and operated by Westerners, usually British or Australian, where people pay them upwards of $100,000 for a chance to climb to the Summit of Everest. These expedition companies organize everything with the help of the Sherpas for the mountain climbers: oxygen, food, campsite equipment (which in recent years include flat screen televisions and wifi connection), route plotting, etc. It’s like a five-star experience  in the world of mountain climbing, they just have to show up with their mountain gear and clothing and the rest is handled. For all of this work within a 8 week period, the Sherpas are paid about $5000, which is roughly 10 times the Nepalese average income. This insulting amount of money (even if it works out to be 1000 times the Nepalese national income) is not nearly enough to compensate for the anguish of what the Sherpas and their families endure. Until 2015, the Sherpas do not receive any assistance from the state except for a $400 death benefit which doesn’t even cover funeral costs. They do not receive any form of health insurance, pension or compensation in the event of permanent disability or death. The Nepalese government have left all of the aspects compensation of the Sherpas to the Western owned expedition companies for all eventualities, meaning there are no laws guaranteeing the safety, working conditions and basic rights of the Sherpas.

Nepal entered the modern era as one of the least developed countries in the world, owing to its remote region. It’s not easily accessible by outsiders, it’s hard to get in and out of Nepal. Since Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay’s ascent to the Summit of Mt. Everest, the international spotlight was shone on Nepal. Hillary set up the Himalayan Trust, which he helped fund, that goes towards improving the lives of the Sherpas. The fund helped build roads, schools, hospitals and basic infrastructure. Only less than 10% of the Sherpas received secondary education in the 1950s, today, 80% of Sherpa children are educated to high school level. Despite these improvements, the Sherpa community is still largely an agrarian community, usually potato farming or yak herding. The mountaineer tourism trade brought in by Westerners have given Sherpas a new economic lifeline. They can earn in 8 weeks their entire year’s salary and then go back to tending the herd or the farm, and they out earn other Nepalese by 10 times. Mountaineer tourism brings in $350 million a year for Nepal, which is over 50% of their tourism revenue. Besides the Sherpas working as mountain guides, lifesavers and porters, mountaineer tourism also keeps local hotels, lodges, restaurants and shops in business. Any place Westerners go, inevitably they bring their bank notes, narcissism and arrogance with them, and in this case, it’s no exception. The Sherpas are perceived as a quiet and docile people, probably influenced by their Buddhist traditions and practices (the sect of Buddhism they practice is very similar to Tibetan Buddhism). They take to chanting whilst going about their daily lives, even doing daily activities, thereby giving them a zen like state of mind. They take tragedy, adversity and great joy in a sort of emotional equilibrium, they neither get too excited or too overcome. They are portrayed as people who assist the Western mountain climbers. They are the quiet worker bees in the background who can magically setup and breakdown camps at good speed and efficiency without becoming winded or fainting. The Sherpas receive their due praise and credit for their kindness, generosity and physical stamina, which will put the most fit Western mountaineer to shame. But they’ve never been given full credit or recognition for what they go through for their job and just how poorly they are compensated in every way; monetarily and spiritually.

The documentary film Sherpa, by Jennifer Peedom explores the unholy alliance between the Western mountaineering industry against the very traditional and spiritual beliefs of the Sherpas, of whom without, there would be no mountaineering tourism. Even if Edmund Hillary came back from the dead today, he could not guide the expeditions as expertly as the Sherpas can. It’s a job only the Sherpas can do, physically, mentally and spiritually.

The Sherpas are an ethnic group of people who live on the Himalayas in Nepal, parts of India and Bhutan. They are similar in ethnicity to Tibetans and their more distant Chinese cousins. Their surnames all end in Sherpa because in the Sherpa traditions there is no notion of a family last name or clan name. The Nepalese government, in order to make census taking easier, have decided to tack on Sherpa as the surname of all the Sherpa people. They are devout Buddhists and practice Nyingmapa, the “Ancient” school of Tibetan Buddhism. They are also deeply spiritual people. The Himalayan mountains (and other things occurring in nature) are venerated like a deity. The whole idea that Westerners wish to climb Everest just see if they can push their physical and mental boundaries is slightly blasphemous to them. They do not understand nor accept this concept at all. You do not challenge Chomolungma, their Mother Earth, you ask for permission to climb Everest, and each step of the way you chant in gratitude that Mother Earth is allowing you to take this journey. At every camp they perform Buddhist rituals honoring the mountains, the snow and the earth, to give them safe passage. And one must be very mindful of the surroundings on the mountains, not just look out for avalanches, snowstorms and other weather patterns, but one must listen to the mountain. The elders of the Sherpa community, even to this day, are still very wary of the notion of climbing the mountain just for the sake of climbing, to see if you can do it and come back down in one piece, without seeking a spiritual revival when you do get up to the mountain. The director of Sherpas Jennifer Peedom wanted to explore this aspect more, the aspect that is usually left out in mountaineering stories:

“I also immediately noticed their spiritual belief is at odds with their work on Everest, and that intrigued me.” – Jennifer Peedom

This film took decades to prepare. Jennifer Peedom wanted to gain the trust and friendship of the Sherpa community before she would make a film about them. She finally begun filming in 2013, right at the time when a fight broke out between Western climbers and Sherpas, the first such fist fight that’s happened at such high altitudes where the braun and physical strength of a Westerner is of no help to him. A mountain climber, perhaps due to stress or fatigue refer to the Sherpas as the “fucking Sherpas”, a Sherpa heard it, and began shouting at the Westerner, first for swearing on the mountain, which is blasphemous and offensive and in their beliefs, might get them all killed and secondly, the blatant disrespect for the Sherpas as a whole. It’s the Sherpas that attach oxygen tanks to people who are passing out and guiding them to their feet again, they set up and breakdown the camps, which are a convoy of tents on solid rock earth, they prepare their meals every night, they greet each climber every morning with a hot towel to wash their faces with and serve them a cup of hot tea at their tents! Never mind it’s the Sherpas who map out the route for them, try to get everyone up to the Summit and back down safely in one piece. So, a fistfight ensued and the Sherpa called the climber a “motherfucker”, the climber was seen giving groveling apologies to which the Sherpas weren’t too keen on accepting. On the surface this just seems like your average men brawling, except this shattered the vision that Westerners had about Sherpas, that they are docile and detached people, not prone to get angry or upset and will basically, for the sake of economics, take any kind of indignity lying down. In the last twenty years, the digital age also reached the mountainous villages of Nepal, they are also on Facebook and social media, they know their own worth and position in this frivolous Western pursuit of mountaineering for mountaineering’s sake. They also know what Westerners pay and what they get paid and the cut their government gets for these expeditions.

On April 18, 2014, the biggest tragedy on the mountain happened, an ice block slid off the frozen waterfalls and killed 16 Sherpas in one day. One of the men had a young wife and newborn baby at home, born on the day he went up the mountains. You see women and family gathered at the Buddhist temple bowled over with grief, chanting, hoping their bodies will be found and returned, or else, according to their beliefs, their souls will wander and cannot reincarnate and reach Nirvana in a future life. It was a huge blow to their community. They expressed their grief in solidarity. For the first time, they stood together and made demands of their government to give them better wages, health insurance, pension and adequate and disability and death benefits or they will cancel the rest of the climbing season. They demanded better wages and working conditions from Western Expedition companies. It was an incredible scene, seeing all the Sherpas banded together, essentially unionizing, on a snow capped frozen mountainside demanding nothing less than what they deserve. The most prominent owner of an expedition company, a New Zealander called Russell Brice, who owns Himex, decided to act as liaison between the Sherpas and the Nepalese government to hopefully workout a deal so that the demands of the Sherpas can be met and the interests of his company and clients can be preserved and after a sufficient time of grieving, the climbing season can continue. The Nepalese government reserves the right to shut down the climbing season should they choose to. They flew in the tourism minister to Everest Base Camp, clad with his oxygen tank and did a bullshit meeting and resolved nothing. He didn’t even shut down the climbing season, which was the most basic demand by the Sherpas, they let the Sherpas decide if they want to shut the season down or not, which means they are letting the Sherpas take the brunt of the blowback. The government didn’t want to offend the Western imperialists. After that non-meeting, the Sherpas took matters in their own hands and said they will cancel the season, they won’t climb or lift a finger (or leg) and if they don’t get paid, then so be it. This time, their lives, their community, their dead are more important than what these ‘mountain climbers’ want.

Needless to say, the expedition companies and climbers were beside themselves. Their fee is nonrefundable so they just plonked $100,000 plus months of physical preparation and training for nothing. Their reactions were varied, most were upset and disappointed but understood, a few American climbers stood in solidarity with the Sherpas. Another American climber called the Sherpas “terrorists” for holding them hostage, for refusing to climb, the fact that they just lost 16 people didn’t register, he even compared it to 9/11, being terrorized by terrorists. This was based on some rumor that certain Sherpas were going to break the legs of the Sherpas who dare to cross the picket line. The main Sherpa featured in this film Phurba Tashi Sherpa (who was aiming to scale to the Summit of Everest for a record 22 times) said no such thing happened. They just wanted to grieve and they wanted to make sure all bodies are recovered. They were also scared for their lives. The frequency of ice blocks falling were increasing. Due to global warming, huge chunks of ice blocks are falling off of the Himalayas more frequently than before, so the perilous “ice crossing” portion of the ascent is even more dangerous. They could not, for any amount of money, put their families through anymore. Russell Brice, said rather distastefully, they were overreacting, that he’s never seen them like this, they’ll have nothing to eat in a few months and then what?

The Sherpas did get all that they demanded from the Nepalese government. But the huge earthquake in Kathmandu – the capital of Nepal on April 25,2015 triggered a huge avalanche on Mt. Everest, killing 25 people, deadlier than previous year. The climbing season has been abandoned for the second year in a row. Nepal is still reeling and recovering from the earthquake that killed over 8,000 people and injured 21,000. Given its remoteness, it’s been hard to deliver aid and render medical care. Many people probably died just waiting for help to arrive. The 2016 climbing season will commence, very cautiously, with a lot of prayers to Mother Earth, but most importantly, it will be at the terms of the Sherpas.

The main Sherpa featured Pherba Tashi who is also the expedition manager for Russell Brice, at the urging of his wife, retired from mountain climbing, he didn’t scale Everest Summit for the 22nd time and he was fine with that. His earnings over many years have brought a degree of financial comfort to his family. His home is cozy and modest – like the rest of the village has no outward signs of sudden affluence. The houses are well maintained, clean and the residents are happy. He is now tending to a herd of yaks for a living instead.

For those who wish to marvel at the majestic beauty that are the Himalayas up close, this is a wonderful film to see. We also get to see the intimate lives of the Sherpas – a group few know much about besides their mountain climbing prowess, we get to see their customs, their culture, their rites and rituals, their stamina from being born of that thin air. Jennifer Peedom started out making a film about the Sherpas and their role in the mountaineering industry, but events on the ground turned it into a film about social justice and worker’s rights and the workers win. Watch out Norma Rae, you have competition!

My Father’s Republican Party

My father died in March of 2008, right before the presidential race kicked into high gear. Hillary Clinton was still sort of the front runner then and my father hated the Clintons with a passion. He thought them both to be small-time crooks who sleazed their way into the White House. He felt that they destroyed the credibility of the Democratic Party. Though a fervent Republican himself, he admired Jimmy Carter and George McGovern, at least they had some principles and stuck to them, even at their own detriment. One memorable thing that stays in my mind is he had a poster that screamed in big red letters ‘Stop Hillary Now’ in his study. It made me laugh every time I saw it. He knew I admired Hillary Clinton for her academic achievements and career achievements, he said I was better than that and I do far more than she ever could. The Clintons were a bunch of small town opportunists who got lucky – in his not so flattering description of them.

So it was an even bigger irony that dad was a George W. Bush supporter, he donated money to his campaign, the amount was large enough that it earned a signed letter of thanks from Dubya himself. He had that letter framed and hung it in his front door entryway. Half of me thinks he put it there to wind me up, he knows I roll my eyes every time every time I walked by it. He was proud of his association with the GOP and his support for Dubya. But when George W. Bush invaded Iraq and when it became plain as day that it was a serious mistake, and the public support for the war was waning, yet Bush still insisted that he was right in doing what he did, my father regretfully lamented, “to strongarm an untenable position isn’t smart politics. Sometimes you are just dead wrong and it’s best to admit it.”

My father was what one would consider a Northeast Republican or a WASP Republican, indifferent about social and moral issues but conservative with fiscal issues. He was pro-choice. He was pro-gay marriage, pro-LGBT rights. He believed that people should live how they wish without government intrusion – though not sure what he would think about the bathroom debate these days; but like people of a certain age, he’d rather not see it, not hear about it or know about certain lifestyle details of the LGBT community. You’ll never catch him dead at a gay pride parade. He believed in equal pay between men and women and women shouldn’t be discriminated against. In fact, some of his best employees in his many years of running his own company were women, women were the most reliable and he’s rewarded them accordingly. he didn’t preach the gospel at every doorstep and couldn’t stand people who preached. And until the Clintons came onto the political scene he didn’t even dislike the Democrats, it was just not his political or life philosophy.

My father wanted government to stay out of his money and bank account i.e. low taxes. Like many, he’d complain just exactly what did the government do with all the taxes he’s paid over the years (The war in Iraq, dad). He was wary of the Patriot Act enacted by the man he supported with his vote and money. He felt that was one step too far even after 9/11. He didn’t like the snitching atmosphere that George W. Bush fomented and fostered. “That’s not the way to catch terrorists” he’d say. The extra airport security were cumbersome to him, especially with his arthritic bum knee. He was doing some consulting work for a friend which required him to travel to Kansas City once a month, he called the friend and resigned. The surveillance state alarmed him. But in spite of it all, he still considered himself to be Republican. Switching to the Democratic Party was out of the question, especially after the Clintons “crashed the party”, being an Independent seemed too wishy-washy. He liked his conservative convictions.

My father today would be ejected from the Republican Party. He’d be derided as a RINO (Republican in name only). He’d be booed out and shoved out like Trump’s opponent at his rallies. He’d also be disgusted with how the party took a sharp right turn after Obama got elected in 2008. Whereas the party’s right wing in 2008 was on the fringe, in 2016 the fringe became the mainstream. He’d be appalled at Trump making lewd references about certain body parts – he’d get on the stage and shove Trump off himself and then take him to get his head examined. The wall separating Mexico and US is equally ludicrous. Ted Cruz would be unfathomable to him as a serious presidential candidate, he barely tolerated Dubya’s sudden embrace of being born again, a militant Christian for president is making this country a real theocracy. I told him that he need not vote for Bush Jr. out of loyalty to Bush Sr., he told me to shut my yap.

He spent most of the 70s through 90s in Asia, running his businesses. The whole counterculture in America blew by him. By his assessment, Americans have it so good compared to what’s in Asia, he’s got no clue what the liberals were protesting about all day long. The only serious event which would warrant large scale protest was The Vietnam War, which he opposed strongly, but he didn’t understand anything else from the counterculture. Drugs appalled him (“I’ll stick to my scotch – thanks”), the open free sex was distasteful (not the sex, but the openness of it all – old WASPy mentality of  keeping your business private out of respectability and such). Large groups of people huddled together in some muddy field in Woodstock listening to music is just beyond his comprehension. He likes his surroundings dry, neat and orderly.

The Republican Party today would break his heart. For someone as parsimonious as he, for him to donate his hard earned money to the party is a big deal. Today, the Republican Party has morphed into a monstrosity that he no longer recognizes. In some ways, though I miss him awfully, I am glad he’s not here to see it.

Bernie Sanders and the Pope

Ever since the Bernie Sanders was invited to speak at the conference at the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, held at the Vatican City, a swirl of conspiracy theories and blatant misreporting of the news came out in media.

Firstly, the media outlets got the initial reporting wrong mostly because Sanders relayed the news of the invitation incorrectly (I will get to that later). Sanders and his campaign said the Pope invited Sanders to speak at the conference. The Pope himself didn’t invite Sanders. The organizer of the conference bishop Marcelo Sanchez Sorondo invited Sanders, the conference happens to take place in Vatican City, the epicenter of Catholic Church. Not everything that goes on in the Vatican City is sponsored or attended by the Pope himself. However, Bishop Sorondo allegedly didn’t go through the president of the Pontifical Academy (in the US) Margaret Archer to extend the invitation to Sanders, as protocol would dictate. Archer, without checking her facts with her counterparts in the Vatican, said Sanders committed a “monumental discourtesy” by not going through her office before accepting the invitation and accused Sanders of inviting himself. Archer’s statement to the press through a telephone interview was: “Sanders made the first move, for the obvious reasons, he may be going for the Catholic vote but this is not the Catholic vote and he should remember that and act accordingly — not that he will.”

After this statement was made to the press, the anti-Sanders brigade started mocking Sanders for ‘inviting’ himself to a party where he’s not wanted. But within 24 hours, Bishop Sorondo clarified that he did indeed invite Sanders and that Margaret Archer was perfectly aware of this invitation, saying her comments were a bit “strange” – basically accusing her of lying. Bernie Sanders, not being Catholic himself, isn’t one-hundred percent sure on how the Vatican City and Catholic politics works. Many Catholics have a vague idea of how all this works and are better initiated than those who aren’t Catholics. He told MSNBC and The View that “the Vatican” invited him to speak at the Pontifical Academy of the Social Sciences and that the invitation came from the Pope. Some immediately accused him misrepresenting the facts and pandering to the Catholics, which accounts for 25% of Americans.

The Vatican City has a religious body which deal with religious matters and a political body which deal with diplomatic matters and politics with leaders around the world. Within that there are organizations which exist in the purview of the Vatican City that are not affiliated to either governing bodies, such as the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences. The invitation came from a bishop of the Catholic church, the ‘boss’ of the bishop is the Pope and Bishop Sorondo is another fellow Argentine like the Pope and is close with the Pope as well, so naturally Sanders assumed the invitation came from the Vatican City and the Pope himself. Sanders reportedly said the Pope himself have arranged a meeting with him for the less than 24 hours Sanders will spend in the Vatican. Sanders didn’t say a meeting with the Pope was already prearranged, he said he would like to meet the Pope, but the chances are probably slim as the Pope is leaving for Lesbos the next day to address the refugee crisis. The Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said “There won’t be a meeting with the Holy Father,” the Pope was not planning on meeting with anyone from the conference as it was right before his trip to Greece. The point being made here is, you get invited to the Vatican at their leisure. This isn’t an Upper East Side charity event where if you know the right people you can get yourself an invitation to rub shoulders with important people and drink nice champagne for a night.

The invitation from Bishop Sorondo Bernie Sanders is an interesting one. The obvious being Bernie Sanders isn’t Catholic – he’s Jewish, he’s pro-choice and pro-LGBT rights, positions directly against the doctrine of the church. With all of the arm flailing, Bible beating Christians from the Republican side, not one of them has been asked to go near the Vatican. Hillary Clinton being a Christian herself, wasn’t asked either. Being a Catholic doesn’t guarantee an invitation either, as the church has expressed its displeasure and scorn at Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State John Kerry.

What Sanders does have in common with the current agenda of the Pope is alleviation of suffering for the dispossessed people of the world. Capitalism has gotten out of control. Rampant and unfettered greed and market speculation of the last twenty years have destroyed the economy for many. The Pope has dedicated his papacy to shining the attention on the downtrodden, the poor, the persecuted and dispossessed. He wanted to turn the church’s obsession with dogma, doctrine, finger wagging and focus the spotlight on those who need help, mercy and kindness first. If the Pope’s message were turned into a political campaign, parts of it would mirror Sanders’s political revolution very closely.

But to compare Sanders and Pope Francis I is like comparing apples and oranges. Religious differences aside, they are chalk and cheese. They agree on issues of social justice, creating a moral economy and curbing climate change but on everything else, they are in opposing extremes.

Many mistake Pope Francis I for who he really is and what he’s about. Francis preaches tolerance, mercy and love for the people who the Catholic church has marginalized and expelled (divorcees, LGBT community, women who’ve had abortions and non-observant Catholics) but it doesn’t mean he’s changed his mind on these matters. He asked for reintegration of divorcees into the church but he falls short of saying they can receive communion or that divorce is just an unpleasant fact of life sometimes, we don’t like it but it’s no longer a sin. He preaches tolerance of of LGBT community and to show love to them and if they follow the path of Jesus “who are [we] to judge” but he falls short of saying being LGBT isn’t a sin. There is still a stigma attached to women who have had abortions even though he asks his church to be merciful and forgiving towards them. He still, to the detriment of the impoverished developing and third world countries in the world, preaches against the use of contraceptives unless in extreme cases like preventing the spread of diseases. In short, he is as every bit as conservative as his predecessors, he just says it all with a bright smile and a joke. Francis I has perhaps widened the margins of what’s acceptable to the church but the church will not change its positions on any of these issues soon, if ever. The institution itself doesn’t believe in changing its doctrine just to suit the times. They don’t care that over 95% of observant Catholic women have at one time or another used contraceptives in their childbearing years and so they should do away with that ridiculous doctrine as no one observes it anyways. Or that divorce is a part of life and as long as sufficient effort was made to salvage the marriage, divorcees should still be part of the congregation. Or that being LGBT isn’t a choice but sexual orientation and gender identity is predetermined so to call them sinful is counterintuitive to the teachings of the Bible – none of these scenarios will happen.

Francis I still idolizes the role of mother. He’s still speaks of women in a patronizing manner, as a great importance to the church but only in a supporting and nurturing role. Nuns and laywomen defer to priests. The activities of nuns are to be watched over like a hawk by their male superiors. He did little to quash the ‘feminist conspiracy’ rumors in the Catholic sisterhood propagated by his paranoid cardinals and bishops. The Catholic clergy, most of whom have never lived in the real world where they had to keep a roof over their heads, children fed and navigate a marriage, but they see fit to tell us how to do all of these things. Francis I appears to make the church more liberal and open, but it’s only nominally. He’s opening the door to allow re-entry to those that left or wish to join you can sit with us but you are still not part of the club.

Bernie Sanders is the opposite of all of this. Sanders’s respect for the Pope only extends to social justice issues, issues relating to creating a fair and balanced economy and caring for the downtrodden. On issues of morality, Sanders takes a secular approach, which again is a striking contrast to the church.

In the end, Sanders did get to meet the Pope, at the Pope’s leisure. For those that don’t know, you don’t make an appointment to see the Pope, the Pope asks to see you, you make yourself available for him, should you be inclined. After all the commotion around the “invitation” or non-invitation, the Pope, in his typical candor, said meeting with Senator Sanders was nothing more than “good manners”.

“This morning when I left, Sen. Sanders was there. … He knew I was leaving at that time and I had the kindness to greet him and his wife and another couple who were with them,” the pope told reporters traveling back with him to the Vatican.

“When I came down, I greeted them, shook their hands and nothing more. This is good manners. It’s called good manners and not getting mixed up in politics. If anyone thinks that greeting someone means getting involved in politics, they should see a psychiatrist.”

As for the charge that Sanders is after the Catholic vote – the ‘Catholic vote’, like all other voting blocs are not a monolith and is very diverse. He’s running for election for the highest office of the land, so presumably, any votes from any voting bloc would be welcome.

Kramer v. Kramer Revisited

Kramer v. Kramer was Meryl Streep’s breakout movie performance for which she won an Oscar for her performance as Joanna Kramer in 1980. The movie nearly made a clean sweep in all of the major categories and depending on who you talk to, it was either hailed as a film which promoted the feminist cause or promoted the patriarchy.

The first time I saw it, my feelings were indifferent. Meryl Streep was Meryl Streep, able to deliver a good performance when required of her. Dustin Hoffman’s performance as Ted Kramer was too schizophrenic, too jumpy for my liking. It’s not a stretch to see why his wife left him, even if he wasn’t an alcoholic, didn’t beat her and didn’t have affairs (as so eloquently stated by Ted’s divorce attorney). As for the subject matter, it was no big deal to me. I was born in 1979 (same year the movie was released), came of age in the 90s, my parents were divorced, it wasn’t nasty, it wasn’t pretty, it just was. Almost everyone I knew had divorced parents or if not yet divorced were well on their way. Gen X accept divorce as a reality of our lives. Some people coped better than others, some parents behaved better than others, we children just got on with our lives the best we could.

I recently saw it again and this time I paid closer attention to the subject matter and how each character was portrayed. One of the commentary one consistently hears about this movie is that it gives equal weight to the point of view of both Joanna and Ted. That Joanna had legitimate reasons for her being discontented with her marriage and her role as a mother and her taking off to California for 18 months to get some therapy and find herself is just as valid as the anger, sadness and disappointment of Ted when his wife walked out on them. Each character got to present their side of the equation, and it got heated and contested at times, but in the end, they put the needs of their little boy Billy first and was able to functionally co-parent.

This is not a movie that promoted the cause of feminism. This is a movie pretending to promote women and feminism but it’s really shaming women who dare to walk out on their children and after walking out have the gumption and audacity to come back and claim them. If you walk out on your child once, you lose your right to be their mother forever. Especially if the reason for the mother’s departure is personal, as opposed to getting treatment for addiction, serving time in prison or any other reason which the mother was separated from her child against her will; she will receive extra harsh judgement from society, even from other women. Voluntarily walking out on your child and abandoning your duties as a mother even just temporarily is about the worse sin you can commit as a mother. No one will look at you or speak of you the same after that. Fathers walk out on their families all the time, some don’t even bother showing up to begin with, yet, when they decide that they’ve been selfish and cruel and want to reconcile with their estranged children, they are welcomed like heroes returning from battle. Everyone is delighted and doesn’t ask the hard questions, such as, why were you a selfish bastard to begin with?

The movie was adapted from Avery Corman’s novel of the same name. Corman was inspired to write this book because he was tired of hearing feminists haranguing on about how all men are arseholes (I don’t entirely blame him, they were becoming increasingly shrill). So, he decided to write a book to show that women can also be an arsehole and what’s a bigger arsehole than a mother walking out on her family? In Corman’s book –

Joanna Kramer [is the problem], who finds motherhood, by and large, “boring.” She starts taking tennis lessons. Sex with Ted is mechanical. About 50 pages in, Joanna informs Ted that she’s “suffocating.” She’s leaving him, and she’s leaving Billy. (“Feminists will applaud me,” she says.) Ted overcomes his shock and gets back into the swing of single life. More important, he learns how to be a good father. It is then that Joanna does the unthinkable: she returns from California and tells Ted she wants Billy back. The ensuing custody battle, which gives the novel its title, lays bare the ugliness of divorce proceedings and the wounds they allow people to inflict on each other.

If he wanted to make a point that not all men are arseholes and women are just as capable of being arseholes, Kramer v. Kramer is a cheap shot and doesn’t illustrate this point at all. There are several things wrong here.

Firstly, the feminism isn’t about absolving women of their arsholery. It’s about in spite of being an arsehole, our personhood and rights are not diminished or taken away, we still have our rights even if we are arseholes – like men. Feminists are aware that not all men are arseholes, but the patriarchy and all that subscribe to it (which include some women) provide blanket cover and rights to all men, regardless if they are worthy of it or not. Men who behave badly are not called out, it’s chalked up to “men being men” or “boys being boys”. Men who cheat on their wives, abuse their wives and children and don’t meet their financial obligation to them are scum, but they aren’t punished to the degree which women are punished should they commit these sins. Women who behave as men do, in a good or bad way, are routinely shamed, belittled, patronized and condescended. And if you are a woman who just happens to be a mother, you are held even to a higher standard, even by other women. That Corman used this situation to illustrate his point only reveals his own sexism and misogyny. He knows that everyone has strong and harsh opinions on women who walk out on their children.

Secondly, Corman need not write a book of fiction to depict how women can behave in an appalling manner. He can just look back at history and see that some of the most evil people, most manipulative people are women: Mary I (also known as Bloody Mary) comes to mind, Catherine the Great, Tony Soprano’s mother (not a real person but we all know someone like that), the Chinese Empress Wu Ze Tian of Tang Dynasty – she killed her infant daughter so she can frame the Empress for killing her daughter so that the Empress would be ousted from court and she can take her place. This is the greatest evil, a mother killing her child. There’s a Chinese idiom: Even the treacherous tigress will not eat her cubs, Wu Ze Tian killed her cub. So, the point being, Corman need not convince his readers that women can be evil. The need for feminism and the need for the constant reminders (or haranguing) from feminists is not predicated on women are inherently kinder, more ethical or moral than men; it’s predicated on women (regardless if they were good or bad people), throughout history have been oppressed by men and the patriarchy. Our bodies are abused by the patriarchy, our time to attain self-fulfilment and achievement is robbed – especially those of us who have families by the patriarchy and the need to keep society’s engine flowing. Women’s wants, needs and desires come second to those of men. Employment laws are written to benefit men (and women without children) and their schedules. Women who have children or desire to have children or have other caregiving obligations they have to meet outside of her work have to find her own way, which sometimes leads them to dropping out of the workforce. Pregnant women are seen as an inconvenience. A woman with small children are seen as a burden and someone they must accommodate their work around. But all the times she’s accommodated others prior to becoming a mother is forgotten. Women get paid less than men, about 0.79 to every  dollar a man makes. All of these issues have no bearing on whether she walks out on her family or not.

Thirdly, For Corman to use a woman who walks out on her family to prove his point is appealing to the lowest common denominator of society’s boiling scorn against women who walk out on their families, especially their child. Society doesn’t punish men the same way as they punish women who walk out on their families. He doesn’t become a social pariah and he doesn’t lose the right to see his children forever because he walked out once.

Joanna Kramer was gone for 18 months, not 18 years. So, a little perspective please. Little Billy was 7 years old when his mother left. Ted, prior to his wife leaving them was your typical ‘loving but absent’ father. He was too busy working, earning the bacon to bring home to his family. His wife did all the heavy lifting at home. Because his wife left he’s had to step up to the plate and be a full time parent and work full time, which incidentally, is what many women do on much less income. This glaring fact is conveniently left out of the movie. So Ted was his son’s main caregiver for 18 months, Corman seems to believe this has earned him an award for heroism and that he is unimpeachable. And exactly what is so “unthinkable” about a woman coming back to claim her child? Even if she left of her own volition, to find that greener pasture, to find that perfect man, to find herself and to do so, she did a supremely selfish thing and left her child behind with his father – not with a stranger, she didn’t drop him off at the firestation, she left the little boy with his father, in their home, where he sleeps in his bedroom with the white clouds on the walls every night. Don’t men do this all the time? Leave their wives for the secretary or the nanny?

There’s no way to prepare for parenthood except trial by fire. There are some people whose dream is to become a mother, until she becomes one, when she finally experiences how much work it involves and how much is taken from you. Not just sleep, your weight or  your figure, but quiet time, alone time, time to think, which for those of us who are artistically inclined is like oxygen. Children demand attention from you twenty-four seven, non-stop. They find the most inconvenient time to have an ’emergency’ and that emergency can be ‘I want orange slices nooowww’ or tripping and scraping its knee and you’ve got to drop everything in your hands to attend to that emergency. Some people take these impositions better than others. Some people have no coping ability for them. Parenting can be equal parts soul draining and joyful elation. For those that lack coping skills, parenting is a suffocation, a slow death of yourself.

The movie didn’t explore why Joanna Kramer left except that she’s “bored” and that she didn’t know how to deal with that boredom. It made her appear flighty and irresponsible, after all, what person would just get up and move across the country and leave her family behind? The movie didn’t explore Ted much either. What was he like as a husband and father before his wife walked out? Was he was a screaming bore? What if the marriage was a mistake and they no longer had anything in common but Billy anymore? And what if she just wanted out for no particular reason but that she wants out? The most compelling scenes in the movie is when Joanna Kramer was put on the stand to testify on why now she is suddenly fit to regain custody of Billy when just 18 months ago she walked out without so much as a backward glance. The line of questioning from Ted’s attorney is your typical patriarchal bullying:

Hunching over her on his cane, he asks her to name the “longest personal relationship” of her life. Wasn’t it with her ex-husband?

“Yes,” she murmurs.

So, hadn’t she failed at the most important relationship in her life? “It did not succeed,” she answers weakly.

“Not it, Mrs. Kramer,” he bellows, sticking an accusatory finger in her face. “You. Were you a failure at the one most important relationship in your life? Were you?

You wouldn’t think she was testifying at a child custody hearing, you’d think she was on trial for murder. According to the patriarchy, Joanna is responsible for the failure of her marriage. Not Ted or his actions or their joint actions. It’s not a joint failure, it’s her failure, because, after all, Ted doesn’t beat her, he didn’t philander and he’s not a drunk. Ok – someone please hand him the Husband of the Year award.

Meryl Streep while preparing for the role demanded some script rewrites which would explore the thought processes of Joanna, she asked her own mother about the whole ordeal of raising a family and she said,

“All my friends at one point or another wanted to throw up their hands and leave and see if there was another way of doing their lives.”

Because the writer chose to not give the audience more details as to why Joanna walked out on her marriage besides that she was “bored” and felt “suffocated”. It gave very little narrative about what their marriage was like, they let the audience’s imagination wander. He chose not to depict the nitty gritty parts of the marriage which could drive one to leave, he took the convenient way out and just regurgitated what the feminists were saying at the time, that marriage and family obligations can be suffocating and boring and as women, we yearn for more. We see Joanna feeling “bored” and “suffocated”, she has a semi-nervous breakdown, leaves her family, goes to California, gets some therapy and a job of her own, recovers from the breakdown and comes back to claim her son, which apparently is the “unthinkable” part to Corman. A woman coming back to claim her child. As a result of certain omissions, the audience (male and female) cannot make a clear judgement on exactly why she would leave such a cute, mop haired little boy behind and seek greener pastures on the other side of the country. It leads the audience to only one conclusion – and that she’s selfish and unfit to be a mother.

This movie only reinforces the idea that women are held to a higher moral or ethical standard. And that for every action a woman takes, she must have a moral or ethical justification –  in the case of Joanna, she must a victim of some sort of abuse at the hands of her husband before she’s allowed to leave the yoke of her marriage and come claim her son. The movie went out of its way to portray Joanna as an irresponsible and immature mother and Ted as the heroic father who steps up to the plate when his wife leaves them. But where was he 7 years before?

After the movie wrapped, the director Robert Benton decided to re-shoot the ending with different dialogue. Meryl Streep by this time had married her husband Don Gummer and was pregnant with their first child,

[The pregnancy was] [n]ot enough to show, but enough that Joanna’s choice—a harbinger of Sophie’s—suddenly seemed unconscionable. She told Benton, “I could never have done this role now.”

Whatever happened to actors not judging the characters they play?

 

Nothing Left Unsaid (2016) and The Cost of Caring (2016)

Nothing Left Unsaid is a documentary cum interview between Gloria Vanderbilt and her youngest son Anderson Cooper (of CNN). Anderson Cooper wanted to ask him mother the big questions before it became too late (she’s 92 this year). For most that know Gloria Vanderbilt’s story, she was the original “poor little rich girl”, when she was 10 years old she was subjected to a very public and nasty custody battle between her mother also called Gloria Vanderbilt and her paternal aunt, Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, the artist and patroness of the Whitney Museum. But what’s not known is the mental anguish caused to a ten year old girl, even though she’s rich, every child – rich or poor need their parents. Her father Reginald Vanderbilt in his forties married a very young and flighty Gloria Morgan (only 17), by 18 her daughter Gloria Vanderbilt was born, by the time she turned 20 she became a widow. Reginald Vanderbilt died of a massive hemorrhage after years of dissolute living. Reginald spent millions of his inheritance on drinking and gambling but he still socked away about $4 million dollars in a trust for his infant daughter, he made no provisions for his young wife, she was to be supported from the trust he left his daughter. In short, baby Gloria is to support mama Gloria until baby Gloria becomes of age or mama Gloria remarries or whenever baby Gloria wishes to terminate the arrangement. What’s not widely known is how that custody trial effectively made her an orphan how that affected her.

Gloria Vanderbilt lost her father at 15 months old, there was a photo of her taken the day he died, holding hands with her nurse Dodo, she has no memory of her father, and she imagines what he’d have thought of her and her achievements. She wanted him to be proud of her, from wherever he is. Her mother was discredited in family court by her wealthy and powerful aunt Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney. Her mother was outed as a lesbian or a bisexual. Testimony was given in court by a maid who saw her mother in flagrante with another woman, this claim was unsubstantiated. Regardless, Gloria Sr. lost custody of her only daughter on the basis that she was unfit. The reasons were many: she was too young to be a good mother, too flighty and loved to party too much and that she was a lesbian which automatically disqualified her. Gloria was deeply sad for her mother as she had been publicly shamed by the powerful Vanderbilt Whitney’s.  So in order for Gloria Sr. to access baby Gloria’s trust fund (her only source of income), she was forced to give up custody of her daughter and was only allowed to see her daughter on weekends and holidays. And on most holidays, Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney made sure Gloria didn’t see her mother. Gloria Vanderbilt said for the rest of her life, she tried to make something of her life, tried to be successful at everything she tried so that people (the public) wouldn’t see her mother as a failure. She wanted everyone to see her mother as how she saw her, a beautiful woman who was larger than life, a woman who was too young to be a mother but tried her best and was kind and sweet even if inadequate in the maternity department. She wanted other people to respect her mother. All the millions in her trust fund cannot replace her parents, the closeness she yearned from her mother, a loving reassurance from her father, money can buy a lot but it cannot buy love and security. From age 10 and onwards, she lived with her aunt Gertrude. While aunt Gertrude was loving, she was emotionally remote and otherwise preoccupied with her own endeavors. She had no children her age to play with as aunt Gertrude’s children were much older than Gloria and were already grown by the time Gloria moved in with her. She felt like an outsider her whole life.

The Cost of Caring is an in depth report done by The New Yorker about the personal sacrifices of nannies and domestic workers. This is the opposite side of coin. Filipino women who sacrifice their families to come to New York and be a nanny for wealthy families while their own children are looked after by other people. The separations are long and lonely, some stretching decades without seeing their own children whilst they tend to the children of the wealthy. The women featured in The Cost of Sharing all have children of their own, overseas, thousands of miles away. While someone else is tucking their children in and reading bedtime stories to them, they are tending to the children of America’s privileged families. Most of these women are in this country illegally. They are paid in cash and they’ve no rights. If they are asked to work overtime without pay, they must do so or risk deportation or losing the only source of income which their whole family in the Philippines is depending on. These women pour the love and attention into someone else’s children while their own children desperately miss their mother.

In this scenario, two sets of children are missing out. Gloria Vanderbilt and her class are missing their own parents because their parents choose to hire nannies to look after them, and the nannies sacrifice their children to tend to the children of the wealthy. The families featured in The Cost of Caring aren’t in the calibre of wealth and status of the Vanderbilts’ but the idea is the same, upper class American families outsource the parenting duties to the working class, whilst the working class women’s children are looked after by extended family. So in the end, the parties involved in this exchange of caregiving labor for wages, no one is looking after their own children.

This is not to ignite another mommy war (or parent war as I believe it’s the duty of both parents to share in childcare responsibilities) but to point out the obvious. If people choose to start families, someone has to care for them. If the parents aren’t able to because of work obligations or other reasons, someone else has to step in and take their place. Children cannot take care of themselves. Depending on the level of involvement of the nannies, like in the case of Gloria Vanderbilt, the nanny becomes the surrogate mother; but most nannies are just that, a caregiver until the parents become available. In cases where the nanny takes over all of the parenting duties, the child’s connection with the biological parents are scant to none and overall, there is a cost to society when such an arrangement is made.

For parents to foment a close bond with their children, where their children confides in them when they need guidance, it can only be done when parents have close contact and involvement with their children. By close I don’t mean they are in each other’s faces twenty-four seven, all day everyday. Close as in the parents do the majority of the disciplining, praising and rewarding of good behavior. The process is arduous and can be messy. Lots of loud voices are raised and exchanged, a lot of time outs, corner time later to be replaced with love, cuddle and kisses. It’s not straightforward or sometimes altogether pleasurable, but the child is fully aware who the actual ‘parent’ is. Parents can work full time, part time, even hire a nanny, but they are still involved in all the aspects of their children’s lives. They are the drivers of their children’s lives. The nanny is an assistant to the parents, they aren’t the acting-parent. Loving your children from afar or the ‘loving but distant’ parent-child relationship will not foster that close relationship which will become so crucial in the teenage years.

Children always prefer their parents over anyone else, even if they adore their nanny or caregiver (grandparents or other extended family). Children need and want their mother and father. When parents don’t foster that bond a loss is felt on the part of the child. The loss is intangible. It’s a feeling of a wall in which it can’t be breached. It’s an inability to communicate with your parents because that close bond from infanthood to toddlerhood to childhood to adolescence to adulthood was interrupted or never properly formed. And it’s a loss which is hard to articulate, after all, the parent isn’t dead, they are alive but unreachable.

Anderson Cooper said he always felt that his mother suffered from some type of trauma as a child. There is a sadness about his mother that he can’t put his finger on. He often sees her staring into space with a very lost and sad look in her eyes. He never knew why, he didn’t know about her very public child custody battle until he was 12 years old. Of course the loss of her parents was compounded the premature death of her last husband Wyatt Cooper and tragically the death of Anderson Cooper’s older brother Carter. Carter Cooper jumped out of his mother’s 14th story penthouse apartment when he was just 23 years old and died. The theme of loss is ever present in the Vanderbilt-Cooper household and it started in Gloria’s childhood, when her parents were taken from her.

The other side of the parenting coin is that it could all go badly. One can be the most devoted of parents but their children may not feel the same. And not all people are equipped to be parents. Not all people have the fortitude, patience and emotional maturity required to be parents and it may have nothing to do with at what age one became a parent. Contrary to public belief, parenting doesn’t come naturally for everyone, when the ‘time’ is right. Until very recently, people were not ‘taught’ on how to be parents. People were not told or provided with tools to become better parents, most people try to wing it and hope for the best. Children can also be frightfully ungrateful creatures. Most children will never know just how much effort and sacrifice their parents put into raising them. Some children may never care. Usually when people become parents themselves and they realize just how hard it is, they take a kinder view of their own parents’ mistakes but this is not true for all people. Then of course there are the truly monstrous parents who don’t deserve the title of parent – between the saintly parents and monstrous parents, most people fall in the middle.

Given our aging population and the new generation of children being born all the time, people employed in the caregiving sector will not go away nor should it. It takes a village to raise a child and a nanny or extended family can definitely be part of that village. But is it right for a developing country such as the Philippines to export their caregiving expertise to the developed world thousands of miles away while their children are deprived of a parent? Because they are cheaper than hiring American born nannies or babysitters? Because they will put up with more of the indignities of their work because they’ve no choice and voice? Is it moral or ethical for nannies to pour all of the love and attention that should have been given to their children to their charges because they are being handed a paycheck at the end of the week? Do we not realize that in fact, two sets of children are being deprived of parental love – the children of the employer and the nanny.

Breaking Bad: Heisenberg 

Breaking Bad is a show about the drug trade and the drug war parallel alongside it but it’s really a show about criminal capitalism. The unchecked, unfettered, ‘invisible hand’, Adam Smith style, free market which knows all and dictates all type of capitalism. There are no laws which should interfere with capitalism, it should be allowed to do as it pleases because if you interfere with it, bad things can happen. There’s no better way to demonstrate that than with the illegal but unfettered drug trade. The underground illegal drug trade, which requires the organization, knowledge and skill set of running a Fortune 500 company is the best way to demonstrate capitalism. A Fortune 500 company has to deal with legalities, the SEC and ‘rules’ – even if they are routinely broken, but to appear legit, rules appear to be followed. Walter White doesn’t see himself as a drug dealer, or a drug manufacturer he sees himself as creating an empire, a legacy, not even for his children, but for himself, to satisfy his own ego. What started out as a panic to raise enough funds for cancer treatment and provide for his family in the event of his death, became a desire to satisfy the unfulfilled ambitions of his youth. The youthful pride that forced him to walk away from Gray Matter is what got in the way of his empire dreams, he should have forced Elliot and Gretchen out, he won’t make that same mistake again at fifty. He replaced his pride with ego, which is where he should have operated from in his twenties. His pride got in the way, his ego will now find the way.

When Walter was a graduate student at MIT, he and two other people founded a company called Gray Matter, Gretchen and Elliot Stern. Gretchen was a former girlfriend of his, Elliot was his best friend. Though the reasons were unspecific, according to Gretchen, Walter just woke up one day and packed his stuff and left. But it appeared as if she was sleeping with his best friend (Elliot) type of scenario – after all, they did marry. He left her and the company they founded. The company was founded on a lot of the research Walter worked on, he was the real brains behind it, but he chose to leave it and accepted a $5000 buyout as that time the company was in its founding stages and worth nothing. The company now is worth $2.12 billion, he checks it every week he tells Jesse, his friends are rich beyond their wildest imagination. Walter had no share in it. He is still seething from that. And he’s using his blue meth formula to create a new empire and exact his revenge. It didn’t matter to Walter that Gray Matter is legal and ‘Heisenberg’ isn’t. Legality is arbitrary – alcohol (another kind of poison and causes one to have an altered state) is legal, so the fact that meth isn’t legal, is just law enforcement BS. Walter had no moral qualms about supplying people poison to smoke, snort or inject. Addicts are addicts and they’ll get their drugs from anywhere, so why not me. My product is consistent, it’s good and achieves the desired results the meth heads want. Walter spent over 20 years eking out a living as a high school teacher, making $43,000 a year when he should have been a millionaire – he cannot go to his grave without redressing this injustice. The bodies that pile up along the way is just collateral damage.

“Heisenberg” is code name for Walter White. It’s the name he uses when he is appearing as the Albuquerque drug kingpin. The practice is common. Drug dealers of all levels have at one time or another, use nicknames to avoid being identified by law enforcement. The nicknames they choose is usually a childhood nickname that is not widely known with no identifying features. Walter White chose Heisenberg, who by the way was Werner Heisenberg, a Nobel Prize winning physicist in Germany who served in the Third Reich. Though he was never brought up on war crimes, he had to belong to Nazi Party in order to remain employed in Germany’s educational institutions.

The name choice is clever. It is obscure, not many people will know who the real Heisenberg is unless they are an advanced scientist or they go and look it up. Secondly, whoever chose this name is obviously a white man and wants it be known that he is a white man. This name choice also reveals Walter’s ego and how he thinks of himself, a Nobel Prize worthy scientist who never got the chance to showcase his brilliance. Heisenberg is not some low level or even cartel level drug dealer like a ‘Tuco’ or a ‘Combo’ or a ‘Badger’ or  a ‘Skinny Pete’ or even the more mafia-like Don Eladio. Walter White is not any of these people, he is highly intelligent, educated at the most elite institution chemist, he is not just some random meth cook. He is the best meth cook who came up with his own formula. The fact that he chose a Nazi era scientist with a distinctly German name reveals his latent fascism and contempt for those who are his intellectual inferiors. The meth trade is a legitimate business to Heisenberg, worthy of being “listed on the Nasdaq”. Though he cooked tens of thousands of pounds of meth, he never once tried it or had the desire to try it. That’s not entirely surprising since he knows all of the chemicals that go into that dreck and the user is basically smoking or snorting poison. The “blue meth” which Walter cooks, had it not been an illegal substance, he would have patented that formula and make billions from it legally. Besides never trying the blue meth he created, he is contemptuous of addicts themselves, the exact people who he is selling it to. Walter’s biggest problem with Jesse Pinkman, well, besides Jesse Pinkman himself, is that he uses drugs and to Walter, it’s a weakness. It’s what gets guys in their line of work in trouble. Gus Fring, the North American distributor of blue meth says “You can never trust a drug addict.”

Death is a looming reality for Walter. The only factor is the manner and time of death. Will he die from cancer, which in his case would be a natural death or will he die as a result of the meth trade. He is fully prepared to be taken by cancer, but as he gets deeper into the drug trade, it’s apparent that he doesn’t want to die at the hands of his adversaries. That would be a sign of weakness. Since Season 3, Walter’s cancer has been in remission. His chemotherapy and radiation treatment had been a success and his tumors have shrunk by 80%, and they were able to remove more of the tumor with surgery. Walter, in the foreseeable future, will live. He will never be cured of cancer, he’ll eventually die from cancer some day but not in the next 6-8 months like they originally thought. Instead of being delighted at this news, Walter was angry. It meant that he did all of that illegal stuff for nothing. In the perfect plan which exists in his head, he was to hear that the chemotherapy and radiation didn’t work, and on his deathbed he is to inform his wife that he had found a way to take care of them and how he got that money. By then, it won’t matter how he got it, because he will die and his wife will take care to not let others know about the drug money.

But God had other plans. He did get well, he will live and it’s long enough to get himself in serious trouble with the law if he wasn’t careful. Walter White the part time criminal, the chemistry teacher cum meth cook is to transform into the biggest, baddest meth cook and distributor Albuquerque has ever seen.

In season 5, Walter White ripped off the good guy mask. From seasons 1 through 4, Walter, at least from time to time, felt remorse at the upset he caused his wife, his son, to Jesse and felt the need to apologize for his actions. Ever since killed Gus Fring without being detected, he grew emboldened. Walter White, the former high school chemistry teacher and law abiding citizen, only existed on paper, he became Heisenberg full time. He didn’t bother to hide his evil behind a veil of maintaining a good front, there was no more ‘I am sorry but this had to happen’. It became, ‘I made it happen because I want it to happen’ – “I run things” is what he often says. In the last season is where it also ties up all the loose ends of his life story.

Towards the end is when the bodies really begin to pile (unnecessarily) up at the hands of Heisenberg. When Walter successfully killed Gus Fring, he became emboldened and he decided to go after all of Gus Fring’s associates and his would be adversaries. His verbal threats went from a polite ‘I’ll tell the DEA who the real Captain Cook is if you don’t agree to work with me – so please don’t make me do this’ to the direct “you work for me and you are done when I say you are done”. The only person he bothers with niceties is his wife Skylar, because she’s doing the washing of the drug money and perhaps there’s some real affection there. Skylar had many chances to spill his secret but she chose not to because Walter will die sooner or later, if not from cancer, then it’s from being shot and dumped in a ditch somewhere. Walter Jr adores his father, she didn’t have the heart to let Walter Jr know that his father is a drug dealer. She also had a real legitimate concern of taking care of her family in the event of his death and it’s best to deal with the situation and wash the money than worry about the morality and legality of it all. What’s done is done, and if Walter were to get locked up and all that money confiscated, she’d be homeless with two children, one with special needs and another just an infant. Hank and Marie will unlikely take them in if they find out Skylar knew all this time and didn’t report Walter. She is also an accessory after the crime. It’s best that she covers it up as best she can and hope nature takes its course with Walter sooner rather than later – probably not the ending she imagined as she walked up the aisle to greet her future husband.

Walter White reveals himself to be pure evil. In two years time, he committed crimes which would probably take a career criminal his whole life to complete. Killing people when they get in the way became a matter of routine, not really a situation to anguish over. He is a dying man, in every sense of the word. Since he chose the fuck-it list and not the bucket list to live out his last days, he felt no compunction to behave ethically or morally. People with nothing to lose and nothing to live for are very dangerous.

Breaking Bad first aired in 2008, at the height of the recession. This show is about unchecked criminal capitalism. The drug trade is an allegory for capitalism, Wall Street and its players. They foreclosed on Americans, but lined their own pockets. They had golden parachutes when millions of people lost their jobs and lost their pensions to Wall Street. Many of those people will never be able to recover their fortunes. Politicians hide behind capitalism and carry out their agendas to line the pockets of the rich. Unrestrained capitalism has been touted as the way to prosperity and stability. That is a lie. Capitalism has created two classes of people, the haves and the have-nots and political and economic instability in many parts of the world. Capitalism is where criminals go to hide in plain sight.

 

Breaking Bad: Hank Schrader 

Hank Schrader (Dean Norris) is an unknowing antagonist to Walter White. He is a ball busting DEA agent specializing in meth busts in the greater Albuquerque area. He is your typical law enforcement stereotype: white, loud, uncouth, crass, zero intelligence beyond his field of discipline, a buffoon, racist, sexist and misogynist, he abuses the power of his gun and badge to its fullest and without regret or remorse – “I am just doing my job”, a favorite refrain from abusive law enforcement officers. He also happens to be Walter White’s brother-in-law, he is Marie’s husband (Skylar’s sister). These two families are close, they often socialize together on weekends. Hank has done well for himself in his career as a DEA agent. He has his own corner office and is often asked to lead task forces. They also live in a much nicer house in a much nicer part of town than the Whites. Hank and Marie do not have children so all of their disposable income goes to indulge their individual hobbies. Hank loves to micro-brew beer at home and Marie loves to shop (though she’s a secret kleptomaniac as well). In his down time, Hank is a loyal husband (despite his bluster and references to women’s private parts), a dedicated uncle to Walter Jr and an all around nice family man. He has gone out of his way to help the Whites many times, though not all of his efforts is appreciated by Walter.

Hank is good at his job. He loves his job. It’s unclear if he loves it because he feels a moral duty to remove drugs and drug dealers and distributors from the streets or he loves it because he gets to legally exercise his racism and sexism to people who have no choice but to take the abuse from him. Hank has many confidential informants on the ground and while they provide valuable intel for him to do his work, he speaks of them with contempt, full of racist diatribes never a word of thanks or appreciation. He treats them even worse, he doesn’t even give them the respect you’d give another human being regardless of what they did for a living. As each one of them gets killed for being snitches or as a matter of course for their chosen career, he never feels bad for them, he even celebrates their death “one more scumbag off the streets”, even after these people contributed to his career. Outside of his family, he is a thoroughly deplorable human being. His family either doesn’t see this about him or overlooks it, except for Walter. His family sees him as a local hero, fighting everyday to keep drugs off the streets. One gets the sense that Walter never liked the guy, even before he began cooking meth. Walter sees Hank as his intellectual inferior, attention seeking for his antics – unseemly for a grown man in his forties. But on the surface, Walter maintains a friendly and respectful facade and he sees that Hank is very good to Walter Jr.

The only thing in Walter’s favor is Hank’s tunnel vision, he only sees Walter as a harmless high school chemistry teacher, who is suffering from cancer and has financial problems; totally uninitiated with the dirty business of the meth trade and the means streets it’s associated with. Walter is reticent where Hank is full of blowhard bluster. Walter’s reticence makes him appear tame, harmless and ignorant in the ways of the world outside of the classroom. Hank also respects Walter for his position as an educator and knows Walter is all around smarter than he. If Walter White didn’t become a drug kingpin,  there would be no reason for Hank and Walter to get into any sort of confrontation. Walter may dislike Hank but he’s always kept it cordial.

Breaking Bad ran for five seasons, it is only until the end of season 4 does Hank figure out Walter White is ‘Heisenberg’ (a code name he created for himself). Partly is because Walter is very good at covering his tracks, the second part is Hank never for one second, in his wildest dreams imagined that his brother-in-law, Walter White, a quiet mild mannered high school chemistry teacher is Heisenberg, the guy who cooks the best and purest meth in town. Hank’s inability to think outside of the his self-prescribed box, never looked where no one went looking. Walter White used this weakness to his advantage.

Ironically, Walter White and Hank Schrader have something in common when they both were in dire need of medical care, they both had inadequate insurance to give them the best care. When Hank was nearly killed when two cartel men came for him for shooting Tuco Salamanca, in order to recover the mobility of his legs he needed highly specialized physical therapy which his insurance (paid for by the DEA) didn’t cover. His wife Marie was insistent that they get the best care even if they were to drain all their savings. Also, during the time when the shooting happened, Hank was suspended without pay from his job for assaulting Jesse Pinkman without just cause. If they drained their savings helping Hank recover, they would be in very serious financial straits. Ironically, it was Walter (through the insistence of Skylar) who came to his rescue. Walter paid for all of Hank’s out of pocket expenses. Skylar concocted a story to Marie that Walter got all of that money from illegal gambling, he figured out how to count cards and that it was a secret. No one knew about it, not even Walter Jr and Marie was sworn to secrecy. Marie bought the story and Hank’s medical bills were paid with drug money. Walter had just indirectly made Hank accessory after the fact. So even if Hank came for him later, he wouldn’t be totally in the clear. There would be unclean hands on the part of Hank. The credit must go to Skylar for this one, the more people she contaminates with Walter’s drug money, the less likely they’ll get in serious trouble for it.

On the other hand, for all of Hank’s bluster, deep down, he is very fearful of the job he does. He could end up dead in a shootout with the cartels but in order to “get to DC”, the peak of this profession, he must take on these dangerous task force assignments to prove himself. He must lead major drug busts and catch major players, which is why he is so obsessed with finding Heisenberg. Hank has been in two deadly shootouts before he was seriously injured. The first is a two man shoot out with Tuco Salamanca, which Hank narrowly escaped with his life after he killed Tuco. The second was when he joined a task force with the El Paso DEA office and they were patrolling the Mexican border and a shootout was engaged between DEA and the cartels, several officers were killed, again Hank barely escaped with his life. Hank was finding out he perhaps didn’t have the stomach for the brutal and cruel antics of the Mexican cartels, he begun to have panic attacks but he didn’t want anyone to know. The third incident which nearly paralyzed him was when Tuco Salamanca’s cousins came to kill Hank to avenge Tuco’s death.

Walter’s feelings towards Hank may be complicated prior to his meth cooking days, but after he begun to cook meth – it became a game of mental chess of always keeping two steps ahead of Hank, which isn’t that hard for Walter to do. Whatever Walter lacks in physical brawn and good health, he’s made up for it with intelligence, calculation and the ability to do great evil if necessary to save himself or his family. In the end, Hank does die, in an incident which relates to Walter, but Walter tried to save his life by begging the gunman to not shoot Hank. So, for whatever reason, perhaps Hank’s many kindnesses to Skylar and Walter Jr, he felt Hank’s life should be spared.

The audience shouldn’t feel too much sadness at the death of Hank in Season 5. Had he been a nicer or more compassionate cop, it may have been easier to feel some sympathy. Hank represented the worst things about the War on Drugs. Of all the arrests he made all the people he abused with his badge and gun, he never once stopped to think why they were in the predicament they were in, he treated them like gutter rats and had no problem telling them so. However, his sole redemptive moment may have been when he got into trouble for beating Jesse Pinkman to a pulp, instead of fighting the charges, he took responsibility for his actions and was willing to accept the consequences. In a reflective moment, he thought of all the ‘rules’ he’d broken throughout his law enforcement career and the suspension without pay, his panic attacks and anxiety was perhaps all of his chickens coming home to roost. However, Hank dying at the hands of Walter White is a cruel blow of fate because of all the people Hank was horrible to, Walter White wasn’t one of them. He’d been nothing but a good brother-in-law to the Whites.

The GOP’s Real Views on Women

It’s long been wondered when the take down of Donald Trump and the modern day Republican party will begin. Just how many more racist, misogynist, sexist and outrageous things must this man say before enough is enough. The mass corporate media has chosen to give this clown a lot of air time yet they deliberately freeze out Bernie Sanders in favor of Hillary Clinton. For a long time I believed it to be a mistake to give Donald Trump so much air time. To give someone like Donald Trump prime time air time is giving legitimacy to a candidate who has no business in the political discourse and Donald Trump milks this ‘free’ promotion to his benefit. It saves him the trouble of having to buy air time.

Give someone enough rope and they’ll hang themselves – the town hall meeting with Chris Matthews is that rope. When asked about abortion, which is an issue Trump is normally indifferent or moderate about about, he said definitively there ought to be some form of punishment for women who seek abortions. By punishment, they mean jail, fines and a criminal record -all for getting a medical procedure. Because it’s a medical procedure, it’s protected under medical privacy laws, no one but you and the doctor should even know about the abortion.

Trump tried to dodge the question of course, he first said “Well, people in certain parts of the Republican Party and Conservative Republicans would say, “yes, they should be punished.” – We already knew that, Rick Santorum, Mike Huckabee, John Boehner all would love to see women and children locked up for having abortions, but they dare not say it out loud. They leave it to a buffoon masquerading as a presidential candidate to do their dirty work for them. And for all of his boasting of just how intelligent and smart he is, Trump makes the fatal error of being someone else’s puppet.

Chris Matthews wasn’t done, he wanted to know what Donald Trump himself personally thought about banning abortions and what the sanctions are if a woman gets an abortion. Trump, after all, has an opinion about everything and everyone else, where he thinks only his opinion is right. As a candidate for the Republican Party, his default position has to be pro-life, that’s a given. But just how pro-life would depend on the individual candidate. Some candidates believe in allowing abortions when the life of the mother is in danger or in incidences of rape or incest, some candidates are so extreme that they don’t wish to allow abortions under any circumstance, such as Mike Huckabee, Ted Cruz and Rick Santorum to name a few.

Trump, being the misogynist he is, said that any punishment for having an abortion is reserved for the woman.

MATTHEWS:  Do you believe in punishment for abortion, yes or no as a principle?

TRUMP:  The answer is that there has to be some form of punishment.

MATTHEWS:  For the woman?

TRUMP:  Yes, there has to be some form.

MATTHEWS:  Ten cents?  Ten years?  What?

TRUMP:  Let me just tell you — I don’t know.  That I don’t know.  That I don’t know.

MATTHEWS:  Why not?

TRUMP:  I don’t know.

MATTHEWS:  You take positions on everything else.

TRUMP:  Because I don’t want to — I frankly, I do take positions on everything else.  It’s a very complicated position.

Republicans are a gift that just keep on giving. Trump not only articulated his own sexist and misogynistic views, that an unwanted pregnancy is the sole responsibility of the woman, she is to take all the responsibility legally and morally and the man just walks away scot free, like it never happened. Trump also did the extreme right wing a huge favor by articulating their views for them, which is they want to lock women and children (not all pregnant women seeking abortions are 18 and older) up for seeking abortions, and that is something they’ve been dying to say for years but dare not say it because no one wants to have another Todd Akin moment on national television.

Trump, being the slimeball that he is, try to turn this around on Chris Matthews, as Matthews is a Catholic and yet he’s pro-choice. Matthews tried to explain that moral paradox if not for the constant interruptions. Matthews can explain the position of most liberal Catholics very articulately, which includes our Vice President Joe Biden.

I am a liberal Catholic, I consider myself an observant and good Catholic (I think). The following is my take on the moral positions the Church takes. I respect all of the moral positions of my church. I do not question it nor do I wish to challenge it, I just accept it like one accepts their grumpy and cantankerous grandfather. I don’t agree with all of it. I understand my church is an antiquated institution in need of some serious reform to get with the modern times. There is a lot wrong with the patriarchal structure of the church and the inherently anti-women positions on the church. There is a lot of corruption within the hierarchies of the church. There has been a lot abuses perpetrated by the church, especially to women and non-believers (colonization). However, the church is vast, it’s teachings cover many areas not just limited to morality. The church as in institution has also done a lot of good for humanity. You don’t toss out the baby with the bathwater.

Most liberal Catholics also believe in the separation of church and state and that the state has no right to invade our personal privacy even if it’s against the teachings of the church. Most liberal Catholics I know are pro-choice, but most will not choose to get an abortion themselves should they ever be faced with such a choice as it is against our beliefs. We wouldn’t encourage another to get an abortion either but if a friend or colleague told us they had to make this choice, we’d have no judgement on it either. Nor would we get all condescending and ‘pray for them’, unless they asked of course. Again, it’s personal. Most liberal Catholics do not believe that churches should be forced to perform gay weddings as it is against the doctrine of the church but at the same time the church should respect the personal choices of others. We do not believe that just because one has been divorced, is gay and in a relationship or has had an abortion, they are not allowed to receive Communion. These decision lie with the individual and how they wish to go about these personal choices. Keywords: individual and personal. In the many churches I’ve attended throughout my life, I’ve encountered divorcees and homosexuals. It’s not a big deal. There are many openly gay people who choose to attend the church that is openly against them and what they are about because they understand the church is not just about morality, it’s much more than that. They are not self-hating or ashamed of the fact that they are gay, they just choose to be part of the church that perhaps helped them in their personal growth in other ways.

Most traditional Catholics may consider us liberal Catholics heretics and not ‘true’ Catholics, and if we were born in a different century, we’d be burned at the stake. But Chris Matthews is as every bit Catholic as the pope. I am as worthy a Catholic than those who don’t share my views on abortion and LGBT rights. I consider the most important tenets of my faith in not the ‘Thou shalt not’ items but the message of non-judgemental universal love, kindness, mercy and if people read their Bibles carefully, there is really only one commandment and that is “to Love others as I have Loved you.” And it’s love the verb, not love the noun, which means you actively love people, even if you don’t want to, even if they are unlovable.

The most important takeaway from the exchange between Chris Matthews and Donald Trump is Republicans still view women as chattel. We exist only to serve men and provide them with children. Any woman who goes outside of those boundaries do not deserve rights, even the most basic right of having adequate health care.