Category Archives: soap box

Church and State

 

Some things just shouldn’t be mixed together.  Bleach and vinegar, toasters and tubs, anger and texting, diamond rings and half priced well drinks from five to eight. Religion and politics.

Along with debt avoidance and a search for new resources to exploit, the fleeing of religious persecution was a major motivator for many of those that first traveled across the Atlantic to land here in the New World. Upon arrival some of these settlers then proceeded to persecute anybody that didn’t conform with their puritanical views and the Salem Witch Trails were a pretty dark moment in American history, but the concept of The United States as a place of freedom of worship dates back to the very beginning.

Thomas Jefferson wrote that “legislature should make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” When the Bill of Rights was adapted in 1791 this concept became a central tenet of the First Amendment. Worship whatever deity you choose, but keep it out of government.

It’s important to note that I have no prejudices against organized religion. I understand that it is a very important part of many people’s lives, providing them with security, peace and comfort in a time when those things can be hard to come by. I was involved in my church youth group as a child, Amy Grant was the first concert I ever attended, and when the teenager was interested in exploring her faith we spent many Sunday mornings attending together. Her little sister loves to sing and when she is a bit older and I’m confident she can read the hymn lyrics instead of making up her own at full volume we may again try to find a congregation that we are comfortable with.

When we do, it will be a church that looks like this.

 

church and state

 

The problem with religion is that it is often tribal, the congregation of people who all share the same beliefs, both about what is right, but also about what is wrong. For those that live a life outside of these communal morals, there is often little mercy.

It has no place in the government of a nation that is supposed to pride itself in it’s diversity, it’s embracement of all.

I don’t want to hear Ted Cruz say that “any President who doesn’t begin every day on his knees isn’t fit to be commander in chief of this nation”, even if I’m just assuming he’s referring to prayer.

I don’t want to see our actual President tweeting out things like this:

 

 

In my America we worship freedom. The freedom to be who you are, to not have to conform to somebody else’s ideas and beliefs.

I expect those making decisions on my behalf to follow the rational, the analytical, not the ideological of theoretical. Federal, state and municipal governments have different responsibilities to myself and my family that I expect them to meet.

The eventual fate of our souls isn’t one of them.

 

 

There is a Difference Between A Culture and A Character’s Culture

 

It’s been unseasonably warm this week, but all the other signs of autumn have been in full effect here in New England. The foliage is changing color, pumpkins and skeletons are everywhere, people are arguing online about what does and does not constitute cultural appropriation.

This year the controversy is over last year’s big Disney hit Moana, an excellent movie centered on Pacific Island culture that had Disney praised for their continued efforts to promote more ethnic diversity among their Princesses and main characters. It’s next big release will be Coco, a movie about a young boy named Miguel that is based around the Mexican holiday of The Day of The Dead. It looks pretty good.

It looks pretty good but if your son is white you need to think twice about buying that costume next year. If you have a little white girl that is a last minute decider don’t let her be Moana this year.

Apparently it’s OK for Disney to make millions of dollars on movies based on other cultures but for a small child to pretend to be a character of that culture when they are not is racist and culturally insensitive. There have been many white Disney Princesses over the years, we should be sticking to those. If this seems to be suggesting to our children that they are only allowed to like those that share their ethnicity, it’s our job to correct them and use it as a teaching moment about their privilege.

I found this news to be deeply troubling. Not because it would force us to change Halloween plans, but because of the Elena of Avalor backpack that my six year old, white, daughter brings to school every day. Elena is latina. She also has a name very similar to my daughter Alaina’s, making her a favorite. The backpack is probably OK but I may have to make her switch back to last year’s Frozen one until I am 100% sure.

 

Elena backpack

 

Fortunately our Halloween costume was decided upon a month ago, no doubt in her mind, no changing costumes from event to event this year. Its been all Mal, all the time. She has been so obsessed with the character, the daughter of Maleficent in Disney’s The Descendants and Descendants 2 made for television movies that we have to have some article of clothing, even it’s just socks or a hair tie, that is the color purple every day.  She now carries a “spell book” everywhere she goes and our biggest challenge has been not wearing out her costume before Halloween actually gets here.

 

mal for halloween

 

Her second choice would have been Thor, which I also assume would have been appropriate, an assault on the patriarchy as opposed to a statement on gender fluidity.

Or maybe it just would have been a little girl dressing up as a fictional character that she likes?

Cultural appropriation is real, and if it seems as if I’m mocking the problem, I’m not. My understanding, however, is that it’s an act of stereotyping someone’s culture, belittling it.  It can be a fine line, but I think a distinction needs to be made between dressing up as an ethnicity, as a cultural stereotype, and dressing up as a character of a different ethnicity.  A Dora the Explorer costume is much different than a “lost little Mexican girl” costume. Jasmine or Shimmer and Shine are OK, dressing your daughter up in a burqa is not.

Maybe I’m wrong. This post was inspired by somebody that felt I was, that felt I was “whitesplaining” and that I should use this opportunity to teach my white daughter that “not everybody, particularly those of color,  get to be whoever they want to be.”

Maybe I’m wrong, but I think there are other ways to teach that lesson. Instead I’ll choose to teach her that heroes and princesses come in many different colors and backgrounds. I’ll celebrate the fact that movies and television are recognizing that.  If we want to continue to promote that diversity, doesn’t segregation of costumes, telling our children who they can and cannot emulate based on their skin color counterproductive?

 

Reluctant Lessons for Darkened Sidewalks

 

I had no idea what to expect on my first visit to Las Vegas, a trip my pool team had earned as State Champions. I’d spent plenty of time in Atlantic City, the smaller, East Coast den of iniquity that I knew to be a wretched hive of scum and villainy.  Surely it’s big sister, nicknamed Sin City, would be much worse, bags of cocaine replacing bowls of mints in hotel lobbies, prostitutes lined up outside of every bar and casino.

It’s nothing like that of course, modern day Las Vegas desperately trying to court families and escape the more notorious aspects of it’s past. There are still Elvis impersonators on every corner, but if any of them were secretly pimps I was unaware.

Like any big city, however, it’s not a place where one should wander drunkenly by yourself in the early hours of the morning, a lesson I learned when my credit card, seemingly safely tucked into the front pocket of my jeans was lifted by what I can only assume was an evil little fairy. A fairy that bought $500.00 worth of CVS makeup in the twenty minutes that it took me to notice it’s absence.

The reason for my solo hike down the Strip wasn’t stupidity (this time) but chivalry. On our last stop of the night my group and a group of Polish women were the only patrons left dancing, a lobby bar somewhere small where a cover band was playing passable renditions of ’80s hair bands. When it was time for us to leave, probably past time for us to leave, we discovered that somehow one of the women had been left behind by her friends. We spent some time searching the area but it became apparent that she had been abandoned.

She was distraught, spoke little English, didn’t have a room key, and wasn’t even sure which hotel they were staying in. Her first night in Vegas was going very badly.

So I walked with her, a relatively short distance to where she was staying, a longer conversation to convince security to let her into her room and produce something inside with a name matching her ID, and I was on my way. Good karma that was rewarded with a few hours on the phone with my credit card company.

I tell this story, now over a decade old, because I was presented with a similar situation this past weekend in Fort Lauderdale.

My wife safely tucked into bed I wandered the half mile to the nearest late night liquor store to stock up on tailgating supplies for the Miami Dolphins football game we were attending the next day. A short walk but a dark one, all streetlights turned off for the month of October while turtles nested or some such business. A significant stretch of road without tacky beachfront souvenir shops or Jimmy Buffet and Bob Marley songs played on acoustic guitars for raised decks full of intoxicated party goers.

 

a darkened road

 

About halfway down I encountered another damsel, seemingly in distress. Arms raised I approached slowly, willing myself to look nonthreatening as I asked her if she was OK.

She blew a whistle and started running.

I wasn’t mad, wasn’t upset or defensive, offended that my maleness immediately labeled me as a potential predator.

It made me sad, more so because if it had been one of my girls walking that darkened pavement I’d want them to do the same. I want to teach them that there are good guys out there, guys that will walk a stranger home without expectation. Guys that they don’t have to run away from just because they are guys and nobody else is around.

I want to teach them that, but not as much as I want to teach them to be safe. I’ll teach them to avoid circumstances where they are drunk and alone in a strange place, a dark road. I’ll teach them never to abandon their friends, never to leave a drink unattended, not to let a seemingly nice guy into your Vegas hotel room to use the bathroom before he begins the long walk back to his friends.

I’ll teach them that and I’ll fucking hate it. I’ll fucking hate it because shouldn’t we instead be teaching our boys to keep their goddamn hands to themselves.

 

 

The Legacy of The Grandfather of Porn

 

On an impulse I pulled into a bar on the way home from work a few nights ago. The family was already in bed, it had been a long day at work, and unseasonably warm weather had me regretting an empty beer refrigerator in my garage.

The beer wasn’t as cold as I would have liked, the Red Sox were losing on TV and I didn’t know anybody there. Seeing no reason to stay I soon left, walking out behind a group of younger guys that had been playing pool and complaining about the lack of women that they’d found anyplace else that they had stopped that evening.

Frustrated with their failings at finding female companionship the guys decided that there was only one more place that they needed to go that night. It was time to head across the border to the nudie bar.

I smiled to myself, remembering a time when I would have done the same, frowned when I realized that this group might not have been born yet. There was a time when the closest bar to my apartment was an establishment of this type, a place where I was a frequent enough customer that when I was asked to cover the door for a month while the regular bouncer recovered from a broken hand, we didn’t have to do much more than switch seats.

I thought of those nights, countless others spent in other places of varying degrees of sleeziness, and realized that I couldn’t remember the last time I had ordered a drink and asked for my change in singles.

 

The King of Porn
pixabay.com

 

The fact that these places are able to operate and advertise so openly, the reason that I can make these admissions with only a small amount of shame, is largely due to the efforts of Playboy founder Hugh Hefner, dead this week of natural causes at the age of 91. Since it’s first issue in 1953, Hefner and his magazine’s celebration of the female body transformed the previously taboo subject of sexuality into a revolution against traditional puritanical attitudes.

He was also a gross old man, one who considered women disposable assets to be collected and used, replaced when necessary. He offered wealth and career boosting exposure that only a small percentage of his Playmates ever achieved, trading sex for fancy clothes and parties with celebrities. A serial exploiter of young women who became a millionaire and cultural icon by building a global brand based on their objectification.

 

The King of Porn
es.wikipedia.org

 

Much has been written by people much smarter than me about the societal costs that this proliferation of pornography have come with, now available to anyone at anytime, requiring only an Internet connection and a smart phone. About it’s contributions to rape culture, “locker room talk”, and a generation of Brock Turners. The subscription to Mature Kingdom magazine that I bought my father as a gag gift on his fiftieth birthday and the bag of DVDs still hidden away somewhere in my closet an invitation to charges of hypocrisy if I tried.

It’s been just as long since those movies have been watched, parodies of Batman, The Munsters and The Dukes of Hazzard among others, all collecting dust under old Halloween costumes and clothes that I might one day fit into again.

There are many different reasons why this is, but to be honest, I think it’s mostly about my girls, especially the oldest, now eighteen. Whether on a stage or a screen, I can’t watch and not wonder about their story, the choices made that brought them down this road. I can’t separate the person from the body in front of me and I don’t understand how easy that used to be, how effortlessly I was able to dismiss them as anything other than dolls, mannequins dressed or undressed for my viewing pleasure.

It’s easy to explain why I can’t help but look at these women, these girls in most cases, and see somebody’s daughter, to explain why that group of young men might not. It’s harder to explain why it so often seems so difficult to look at them and just see that they are somebody, not just some body, and why everyone seems so quick to want to make a hero of a man who lived his life like that.

 

 

 

I Stand, But I Support Those That Take A Knee

 

I was going to keep quiet, I swear I was. I spent all day scrolling past Facebook posts from those vowing to boycott the NFL, ranting about the disrespect that these players are showing the Greatest Country In The World and all those that have fought and died for it.

I was going to, but I can’t. Maybe it’s the bourbon talking, but I can’t.

I stand for the National Anthem. My daughter stands for the National Anthem, even if it’s in our living room. She stands and I do too, because if I’m going to stand at the ball park, at the stadium, I should be standing at home also. Everything that the song stands for, that the flag stand for, it’s just as important here as it is anywhere else.

It’s what that flag, what that song stands for, that seems to have people divided. For some it’s irrevocably connected to the military, to the brave men and women who fight to protect it. To them, kneeling is a slap in the face to those soldiers. I don’t see it that way, but I get it, I understand why you’re upset.

 

What I don’t understand is the inability to recognize that not everybody makes that same correlation. The National Anthem doesn’t make me think of our military. I know it’s a military song, written after an American victory at the Battle of Baltimore during the war of 1812, but I’d like to think it’s a little bit more than that. Regardless of it’s origins, of it’s lyrics, to me the Star Spangled Banner, the flag itself, mean freedom, freedoms that we have here that others don’t.

One of those freedoms is to display displeasure with our country, with our leaders, with public policy without threat of repercussion. To be able to say “I don’t agree with this” and in theory for our elected officials to listen to those words and take them into consideration.

It doesn’t always work that way, those elected instead following whatever their political party decides instead of what their constituents want, but that is what is supposed to happen. That is what is supposed to happen and that is the foundation that democracy is built on. This is what we as Americans should be the most upset about, that the people we elect to represent us don’t do that, don’t listen to what we are saying, don’t care what we have to say.

Colin Kaepernick had something to say. Whether or not you agree with what he had to say or how he choose to say it, he had something to say and other professional athletes followed his lead. They decided that there were things happening that they didn’t think should be happening in our country and decided to say so.

This is what that song they sat through is to me. Their right to do so. In a lot of other places they wouldn’t be allowed to do that, and that is what makes us better, makes us America.

Today a lot of NFL players kneeled when The National Anthem was played. Some of them would have kneeled anyway, a peaceful protest of what they see as injustice in our country. Many more of them kneeled because they were told that they shouldn’t, our President tweeting that these “sons of bitches” should be fired, later doubling down and saying that they should be suspended, that the NFL needs to do something to stop this.

I disagree but feel strongly that it is his right to voice this opinion. Just as I feel strongly that he doesn’t get to tell them that they can’t.

I feel that way because that is what this country is supposed to be. A place where we are allowed to disagree. If the NFL wants to negotiate a rule where players are required to stand and the Player’s Union agrees to this rule, than yes, they need to stand. Personal liberty sometimes is negated by the rules of your employment.

That presently isn’t the case.

I have friends, people that I consider brothers to me, in the military. I would not take disrespect to them lightly. Every professional football game that I have attended has included a tribute to our veterans, returned heroes honored and applauded. Nobody claps louder than I do. I’ve lost friends who were defending our country overseas. I don’t think of them when I hear The Star Spangled Banner, I think of them when I hear Taps. I think of them and I cry. I cry and I thank them for the sacrifice they made so that we can continue to be a country where we are allowed to make our opinions known.

This world is a dark place, bad things happening all over.  Nobody can be outraged by it all, we choose the issues that matter to us and we try and do what we can to change that. I’m a white, middle classed male in Connecticut, my issues are going to be different from those of the athletes that I will continue to watch every Sunday and I realize that.

I realize that but in the America that I stand up and recognize every time that anthem plays I don’t get to tell anybody else what is important to them. I don’t get to pretend to understand their point of view, to tell them what they should be doing to try and change the things they want to change.

I stand up for that song because it means that they are allowed to kneel and to me that is what makes our country great. If you want to boycott the NFL, to not watch the games because these players are exorcising their rights to peaceful protest, that’s your right too. I won’t judge you.

I won’t judge you because that is what that song means to me.