This year’s journey

This year’s journey

This has been one of, if not the, biggest year of my life. Granted, I’m only 25, the age considered “old” to annoying teens and “kiddie” to people collecting Social Security. But it’s still been a significant year. I lived in DC for several months while working as an editorial intern with The American Prospect. I connected with some incredible people. I improved my skills. Hell, I even endured my first snow storm (I now hate snow) and lost 25 pounds (hello again, pant size I haven’t seen in 5 years).

But perhaps the biggest impact of the year has been more self discovery and a deeper understanding of the connections that bind friends and family. I can truly say that I’m a different person than I was during December 2013. Then, I was about to finish college with a BA in Communication and was eagerly awaiting my internship with The Prospect. I was sure that I would move to DC and end up staying there – I just knew that I’d somehow get a job by the end of my internship. I was so sure that I packed up my room before leaving, that way my parents wouldn’t have to pack my room for me when I inevitably got a job (it’s still mostly packed, by the way).

I was confident that I’d land a job – I had met plenty of “important” people and connected with DC natives. Through a then-friendship, I had been able to score an incredibly low monthly rent rate. Everything was falling into place. I had worked hard to make sure it would all happen…and it was about to.

I should make it clear that I did accomplish a lot and have achieved most of what I wanted to during this year. And I really am close to landing a job in DC or LA – I’ve applied to several dozen different positions with a plethora of organizations and elected officials and met and connected with great people who have helped me along the way. But after living on my own in a completely different environment, coming right back to California afterwards, working side jobs here and there to keep some cash coming in, being (essentially) unemployed for half the year, and losing some friendships, I’m in a different place. Life threw me a bit of a curve ball. And that’s okay.

My perspective and understanding of who I am and who my friends and  are has changed. Aside from a sense of impatience (a result of job searching for several months) I feel more at peace with myself and life. I challenged myself by living on my own in DC. I improved my writing and research skills. I’ve learned more about the world around me and been exposed to different, vibrant experiences. Being without a full-time job has given me plenty of (if not too much) time to critique my priorities. I’ve realized that some people in my life were only passing attractions on my journey. Without the pain from being blown off, ignored, or rejected, I wouldn’t be who I am today. I know, now more than ever, that I am enough and that I have the talent and skill to make my future. Plus, I still have some incredible, amazing and lovely people in my life that are there for good. Their presence leaves me ever-grateful.

I feel stronger and more confident. Even my politics have changed, though just a little bit (yes, I’m still a “lefty”). I’m going out of my way to be challenged in my thinking and it’s made me a better citizen. I guess you could call me a center-left liberal who enjoys reading The American Prospect and Mother Jones…as well as The American Conservative and Reason magazine (I’ve also come to find the liberal websites Mic and Salon to be insufferable, pretentious messes – yeah, I said it). I don’t want to be a robot and I don’t want to worry about censoring myself within my own political camp or in other areas of my life.

The uncertainty of the future doesn’t terrify me like it did. After all, life is about learning, growing and making your own meaning, pursuing your own happiness. Will I be living in DC or LA by next month? Maybe…and maybe not. Am I rambling? Maybe. 😉 All I can do is keep living my life and loving who I am. There’s no other way to live as I make this journey.

 

 

Advertisements

The #Shirtstorm Sh*tstorm

If you weren’t too distracted with Kim Kardashian’s naked-ass publicity stunt last week, you’ll remember that the European Space Agency landed a probe on a comet. Like Kardashian’s backside, that’s huge! For the first time in human history, we landed a spacecraft on a comet. The Rosetta mission is another giant leap for mankind (even if the battery on the craft is dead).

But something else scandalous happened at the same time that practically overshadowed the monumental event. British physicist Matt Taylor gave a press interview at the ESA’s satellite control center while wearing an ugly Hawaiian shirt with scantily clad, gun-toting cartoon women. It was definitely in poor taste and the last thing someone should ever wear on the job.

The fact that one of the program scientists wore a tacky, unprofessional shirt was only part of what has become known as #shirtstorm. Some feminists took serious issue with Dr. Taylor’s shirt on the grounds that it was sexist. “I don’t care if you landed a spacecraft on a comet, your shirt is sexist and ostracizing,” was one of the headlines on The Verge. Rose Eveleth of The Atlantic tweeted, ““Thanks for ruining the cool comet landing for me asshole.”

Whoever cleared Dr. Taylor for an interview should be reprimanded if only for the fact that the shirt is just downright inappropriate for a press interview. But heterosexual men wearing shirts with half-naked women are sexist oppressors now? Celebrating the female body is considered sexist? I have no problem with men or women sharing what they find sexually appealing because human beings are sexual creatures.

Feminist scholar Camille Paglia has written about what she describes as “the puritanism and suffocating ideology of American feminism.” Her argument is still as valid now as it was in 1990: Why are women simultaneously told to celebrate and love themselves but not express their sexuality? Women should be free to live the lives they choose to and express themselves how they see fit. The last time I checked, that’s sort of what feminism is all about.

Dr. Taylor didn’t have a shirt with depictions of men controlling women on leashes. His shirt didn’t say, “Women aren’t smart enough for science.” No, the unforgivable sin here was wearing a sexually themed shirt as male heterosexual.

Cathy Young of Reason magazine,  a publication I normally disagree with for its libertarian views, summed up the whole situation perfectly:

Dr. Taylor’s shirt may not have been in great taste. But the outcry against it is the latest, most blatant example of feminism turning into its own caricature: a Sisterhood of the Perpetually Aggrieved, far more interested in shaming and bashing men for petty offenses than in celebrating female achievement.

I didn’t plan on blogging about this until I was called a sexist, privileged gay male in a series of Facebook comments. A Facebook friend posted a piece from an author who argued that Dr. Taylor’s shirt was offensive and sexist. After commenting that I respectfully disagreed and that there was nothing intrinsically wrong with depictions of pin-up girls, the Facebook user accused me of being clouded by my privilege as a gay male and that I didn’t know what I was talking about. “You have made it very clear that women’s feelings on inappropriate behavior matter less than yours and that anyone who gets upset about women being disrespected is overreacting.”

Right, because disagreement with an argument is the same thing as telling feminists who are offended to f*** off. You got me!

The exchange only reinforced a cultural observation I’ve made over the last couple of months: For every conservative, bigoted nut job in America, there’s a self-righteous, more-enlightened-than-thou liberal who reduces disagreements into mini culture wars (in much the same way social conservatives do). #Shirtstorm should have fizzled out before it even started. That doesn’t mean I think that those who disagree with me are “less than” or stupid. It means we disagree…and I shouldn’t have to clarify that.

classic pin up girl

 

Laieski vs. FDA

Caleb Laieski may be young, tall and lanky, but he’s a fighter.

At his Arizona high school, anti-gay bullying was so bad that he had to drop out and complete his education in a GED program. But the intense persecution he suffered had a sort of purifying effect – he channeled the bigotry against him into action. As he put it, he refused to “be another statistic.” In 2011 he advocated and lobbied for the Student Non-Discrimination Act in The Grand Canyon State and served as a diversity liaison in the Phoenix, Arizona mayor’s office. He also caught the attention of members of Congress and the White House and tried to take non-discrimination act to Capitol Hill.

Now he’s taking on the FDA. The 19-year-old LGBT activist, and good friend of mine, sued the FDA earlier this month for its “unnecessary” and “discriminatory” policy of banning MSM (men who have sex with men) blood donors from donating.

In 1985, the FDA began rejected blood donations from gay and bisexual men because they were at “increased risk for HIV, hepatitis B and certain other infections that can be transmitted by transfusion.” The AIDS epidemic was one of the defining tragedies of the 1980s. Thousands of healthy gay and bisexual men were suddenly becoming dangerously ill and dying from what some were calling the “gay cancer.” This new and terrifying virus was called AIDS and the FDA knew little about it, other than the fact that it was transmitted through the blood and sexual intercourse. Understandably, the administration banned MSM donors from donating to prevent accidental infections of blood transfusion patients.

Since then, our understanding medical science has exponentially increased. For one, the FDA scrutinizes and tests all blood donations it receives for viruses and cancers. Samples that don’t pass the tests are destroyed. People receiving blood transfusions are in very good and capable hands. But what has been one of the biggest breakthroughs in medicine has been the demotion of HIV/AIDS from a life-ravaging Grim Reaper to a treatable, chronic condition. The miraculous Truvada, for example, essentially prevents transmission.

And yet the blood ban is still on the books. Even though experts and the American Medical Association have denounced the lifetime ban as an unnecessary, bigoted policy, the FDA still turns away possibly millions of donors because of their sexual orientation. The American Red Cross has estimated that nearly two million more people could be saved if the ban were to be eliminated and that as many as three people can be helped from a single donation.

Laieski’s lawsuit uses the precedents set in famous historical cases, including Lawrence v. Texas (2003), Loving v. Virginia (1967), and United States v. Windsor (2013) to argue that turning away and singling out a group of people because of their sexual orientation is unconstitutional. Medical privacy is also cited; only homosexuals are asked to disclose if they’ve had multiple partners.

Laieski has a compelling case, to say the least. The FDA’s ban is discriminatory and not even needed to begin with. Asking gay and bisexual men how many people they’ve slept with may have been an uncomfortable precaution in the ’80s, but it’s 2014. HIV/AIDS doesn’t just effect millions of straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people – it’s a treatable condition that can be managed and prevented.

Is the FDA just nostalgic for the Reagan years or does it see all LGBT people as diseased and unworthy of blood donation? We will soon find out. With marriage equality sweeping the nation and renewed efforts to pass the Employment N0n-Discrmination Act (ENDA), I can’t think of a better time for the FDA to join the rest of the country in the 21st century than now.

Caleb Laieski

Caleb Laieski

 

I spy with my little eye…outrage!

Sarah Silverman is in hot water over a video she did to comically highlight the alarmingly high wage gap between men and women in this country. Some transgender activists found it insensitive and took it literally.

 

 

The video is almost four minutes long, but it can be summed up in the following few sentences:

“Every year the average woman loses around $11,000 to the wage gap. Over the course of the working years of her life, that’s almost $500,000. That’s a $500,000 vagina tax! That’s why I’m taking matters into my own hands…I’m becoming a dude.”

To nearly everyone (gay, straight, bisexual, transgender) who watched, the message was pretty self-explanatory: Hey, I’m a woman and I earn less than a man because of it…so I’ll just be a man instead! It was hilarious and to-the-point: Working women deserve the same pay as their male counterparts.

Trans issues have nothing to do with the video. They just don’t. She’s not literally saying that women who undergo gender reassignment surgery will then go on to get equal pay. But transgender activist Janet Mock – whom I love and find incredibly inspiring – took to her Twitter account to claim Silverman was making that exact point. “Sex reassignment doesn’t help one advance in workplace,” she tweeted. “Ask one of the most underemployed populations: trans people.”

So much for irony and humor.

Silverman also took to Twitter to clarify what her intentions were in making the video (something she should not have had to do):

If I literally got a sex change I would indeed find the work force far less friendly. The video wasn’t transphobic it was transignorant – never crossed my mind. But to my *unintentional* credit- people are talking about it & so begins awareness. Please don’t punish this cause because of my video. I certainly don’t only fight for causes that concern or benefit me and I expect the same of the vital trans community.

The whole “backlash” highlights a little problem on the left (and I’m saying this as a progressive Millennial who cares deeply about LGBT rights): It’s become trendy and even expected to feign outrage for the purpose of being seen as socially aware. Let me be clear: Social justice is vitally important and fighting for the rights of all people is a liberal value that should be nurtured and encouraged. Injustice, racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia…these ugly things exist and we must continually fight against and expose them where ever they are.

But there are too many progressives and liberals who take it to the next level. I can’t speak for everyone, but when one takes something that is not offensive to begin with (ie: the Silverman video), sprinkles it with accusations of bigotry or ignorance, and then condemns it publicly, it comes across as self-serving and self-righteous. It’s almost a way to say, “Look at how enlightened and socially conscious I am!” It serves no constructive purpose and only works to split hairs and as self-promotion.

Am I saying that Janet Mock is self-righteous? Not at all – she’s an incredible human being who has helped change the national conversation on what it means to be transgender. I love her work and I hope to meet her some day. But within activist and social justice circles, there’s a tendency to find problems and bigotry where none exists. Whether it’s accusing LGBT ally and liberal comedienne Sarah Silverman of being insensitive to trans issues in a comedic PSA or calling someone who critiques a religious doctrine “racist,” the theme is the same: Ego stroking disguised as awareness.

We need to move beyond this. There is too much injustice, bigotry and hate in the world that needs to be addressed and defeated.

still of Sarah Silverman from the video

still of Sarah Silverman from the video

 

The brown terrorists are coming for you, Barbara

Oh my god! ISIS is in North America! Did you hear that several ISIS militants were apprehended at the U.S.-Mexico border? Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA) said so and I saw it on Fox News! And Rep. Tom Cotton says ISIS is teaming up with drug cartels! Why hasn’t President Obama done anything?!

By the way, these claims are complete bullshit. Just ask both the Department of Homeland Security and the Mexican embassy. The sources these men are citing – far-right blogs and “unnamed” contacts – aren’t worthy of an introductory high-school English course, let alone a member of Congress. But that hasn’t stopped Rep. Hunter from promoting his unsubstantiated claims. In fact, he’s only doubled down on them.

A little context on the U.S.-Mexico border: We’ve militarized the border and are spending a record amount of money to keep it secure from dangerous hordes of women and children looking for better lives. We’ve also made it pretty much impossible for unskilled workers to legally immigrate here. The president has waited on Congress to act on immigration reform for well over a year now. Congress’ response: President Obama is acting like a dictator who doesn’t care about U.S. security. When immigration reform is debated, Congress and conservative super-PACs – pretty much the same thing – always talk about how “we need to secure the border first.” Once it is repeatedly pointed out that the border is more secure than it’s been in years, the discussion shifts to something about how “we should not be rewarding lawbreakers,” and that “they’ll take our jobs.” And the conversation decays into xenophobia.

Insulting tirades against Mexican and Central American immigrants are a staple of the modern Republican Party. When GOP congressmen and senators aren’t busy calling immigrants “wetbacks” and their children “anchor babies,” they’re claiming the border is so insecure that terrorists are invading America. “We have to throw even more billions of dollars at border security! Terrorists are being apprehended!” It’s become the modus operandi to fighting any and all immigration reform AND sticking it to the president.

I wonder why these self-assured men haven’t mentioned the U.S.-Canada border as a potential security risk. The border between our two countries is pretty massive and security isn’t nearly as concentrated as it is in the south. It’s always the lurking danger from Mexico that we’re warned about. “They’re coming for your jobs and way of life…and some are even terrorists!” Why haven’t we heard of any border invasions by dangerous Manitobans and British Colombians with thick Fargo accents? Why isn’t the FBI investigating Justin Bieber and Alanis Morissette?

Oh, yeah, Canada is rich and white.

ISIS hasn’t come to the United States and all credible intelligence sources say they haven’t and most likely won’t any time soon. Rep. Hunter’s claims are, as the DHS put it, “categorically false.” This kind of grandstanding is nothing but irresponsible and reckless. Duncan Hunter and his extremist colleagues should be ashamed of themselves. But in 2014, this idiotic behavior doesn’t get you censured or voted out of office. It only frays more nerves of a gullible public, poisons national dialogue, and excites the right-wing blogosphere. The Islamic State and so-called “illegals” are not coming for you. Stupid governance is.

still from the 1968 classic “Night of the Living Dead”

No, Sam Harris is not Islamophobic

Cue the liberal freak-out over the title of this post.

Frequently antagonistic comedian Bill Maher made news last week when he and Ben Affleck got into a Fox News style shouting match over Islam. Maher was joined by fellow atheist and famous neuroscientist Sam Harris. Both of them made the argument that while most Muslims are peaceful and moderate, the main problem with Islamic jihad is Islam itself.

Ben Affleck’s first response to the completely valid point was predictable: That’s racist!

“[It’s] the only religion that acts like the mafia that will fucking kill you if you say the wrong thing, draw the wrong picture or write the wrong book,” Maher said. “There’s a reason why Ayaan Hirsi Ali needs bodyguards 24/7.”

Harris’ response was more eloquent and – I’d argue – relevant…

“[Muslim cultures] often keep women and homosexuals immiserated…we have to empower the true reformers in the Muslim world to change it,” he told Affleck. “And lying about doctrine and this behavior is not going to do that.”

He’s absolutely right.

Islamophobia exists. I’m not debating that. Far-right leaders and talking heads proposing the abolition of First Amendment freedoms for Muslims is probably the best example. It is ludicrous to think that most Muslims are fanatical jihadists, too. The Muslim faith has a-billion-and-a-half adherents worldwide. Incredible and brilliant people are among its followers. Islam – like the world’s other large religions – is also full of different theological interpretations of the Qur’an. Liberal and moderate Muslims exist, despite most press coverage.

But the Qur’an, like the Christian Bible, is also an incredibly violent book with troubling morality. Calling for the death of blasphemers or stoning women and homosexuals can be found in both. Genocide, sexism, homophobia, racism….these are all central themes of the Old Testament and the Qur’an. Pointing this out is not Islamophobic or anti-Christian – it’s a fact. It also has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that most Muslims have darker skin than Europeans and Americans.

Even though I’m not religious, I have immense respect for religious leaders who recognize Bronze Age religious texts for what they are – too-frequently barbaric. Just like Harris, I believe that these brave men and women should continue to be empowered to fight fanaticism and savagery within their cultures. Progressive Muslim Akmal Ahmed Safwat of the Democratic Muslims of Denmark says it best for religious reformers: “The Qur’an’s divine instructions were interpreted and explained by fallible and mortal men who were the product of their time and culture.”

If secular liberals and progressives are to continue to fight the spread of fundamentalist Christianity (as we should definitely continue to do), we have to be intellectually honest and continue to denounce radical and fundamentalist Islam as well. That’s not racist, bigoted, or neoconservative. It’s vital to maintaining a pluralistic society.

Sam Harris

 

Congress Plays with Political Fire…Again

It’s hard out there for a wimp. The 113th U.S. Congress doesn’t waste time proving how inept and ineffective it is and no enemy, foreign or domestic, has changed that.

As President Obama has used executive authority to strike at the heart of ISIS in Syria and Iraq, both House Democrats and Republicans have raised serious and valid concerns over executive power to essentially declare war without declarations from Congress. The founders of the constitution spin in their graves over things like these – they were pretty specific over war declarations. But whether you agree or disagree with the current course of action toward ISIS (personally, I’ve found myself leaning toward the “wipe the bastards out” side), the real issue is – as usual – Congress’ sadly hilarious incompetence.

For a while now, the looming question of U.S. involvement has hung over Mideastern dialogue. Iraq asked us for help in fighting back the spread of ISIS within its own borders. Muslim clerics all over the world – even Saudi freaking Arabia – have harshly denounced ISIS. The world recoiled in collective horror when the Islamic State slaughtered Kurish Yazidis and Iraqi Christians and beheaded journalists on camera.

President Obama joined other leaders in condemning ISIS for what it is: barbaric and bloodthirsty. He was clear about U.S. involvement, too – he wouldn’t act unilaterally until U.S. interests were directly threatened, a cautious approach that is rather refreshing after the Bush Administration. At that moment, House and Senate Democrats got a significant portion of their colleagues to come out in support of congressional debate on the course of action they would authorize the President to take.

And then they convened for recess…for two months.

With the threat of a third Iraq war and more military involvement in Middle Eastern affairs, Congress chose now to go on vacation. I wonder why the public rates them lower than kitchen mold in approval?

With Congress literally out of the picture, President Obama has authorized missile strikes against ISIS. House Republicans’ response: We never got a bill on military action from the White House. Seriously. I’m no expert, but I think it’s the purview of Congress to write bills. Apparently Republicans never watched that one Schoolhouse Rock! video about “the bill on Capitol Hill.”

Congress has become really good at tying the president’s hands. From holding up appointments to passing the least amount of bills in U.S. history, Republican leadership has made it its sole mission to give President Obama headache after headache. They create government crises and then blame the president for government crises. As MSNBC’s Steve Benen pointed out, “congressional Republicans have been almost hysterical about presidential overreach, condemning the White House for alleged abuses that leave Congress out of the policymaking process.” He continues, “In nearly every instance, their evidence has fallen somewhere between baseless and ridiculous.”

It all comes down to politics. Congresspersons and Senators are terrified of being the ones who vote for or against wars (hello, Iraq War 2.0). If you vote for war, it can make you look tough and it pleases neoconservatives and interventionists…but it can also tag your name to a possible boondoggle. If you vote against war, it can make you look like a bleeding heart and please pacifists and isolationists…but it can also make you look weak.

Representative Jack Kingston (R-GA) captured the GOP zeitgeist by openly admitting to the New York Times, “We like the path we’re on now. We can denounce it if it goes bad, and praise it if it goes well and ask what took [Obama] so long.” In case any of you have forgotten, there’s a midterm election coming up in November.