Sunday, December 26, 2010

To the Sound of Trumpets

Nine years. For nine years we have been fighting this supposed war on terror in Afghanistan and Iraq. For nine years we have been losing our soldiers, losing our money, losing face to the rest of the world. For nine years we have been terrorizing the innocent people of these countries trying to find a multitude of rats in bunkers, mountains, and deserts. And after nine years of killing what is estimated to be hundreds of thousands of civilians, sometimes mistakenly, sometimes intentionally, the army is finally realizing that our soldiers are not well.

Today, Peter Chiarelli, a top army official, argued that soldiers need more time at home in between deployments in order to recuperate before being shipped back to the front lines. They usually get a year off for a year's deployment, with a minor break in between lasting about two weeks, almost like a typical job we have here at home. Of course, we don't spend the year killing and trying not to be killed. And if a year off hardly seems sufficient to piece together their shattered nerves, it's not, which is being proven time and time again.

The toll of this war is turning our weather-beaten soldiers into cold-hearted psychotic killing machines, as first evidenced by a 2007 video leaked by Wikileaks showing trigger happy soldiers celebrating the accidental killings of four civilians. Carrying cellphones and cameras that were somehow mistaken for AK-47s and grenades (yeah, I don't get it either), the soldiers opened fire amidst cheers and trash talking like they were playing a Wii game on their living room couches. They laughed as one body was mangled by a tank that ran over it, and opened fire on another group of civilians trying to rescue a survivor, riddling their van with bullets and hitting two small girls inside. The sudden realization of the children's presence yielded the icy response, "that's what happens when you bring kids into a warzone". Another incident is a highly publicized criminal proceeding where a number of soldiers killed innocent civilians and kept body parts as souvenirs, and a more recent trial has come to light after a soldier admitted to raping a 14 year old Iraqi girl and killing her and her family because he "didn't think of Iraqis as humans".

The outrage that these attacks have elicited from the world and from me is almost immeasurable, and it's so easy to point fingers, to curse and spit and damn them to Hell, but are we pointing the fingers at the right people? Thrust into an establishment that has only recently encouraged soldiers to seek mental health services (despite existing threats of dishonorable discharges and labels of weakness), fighting for a government that worries more about how many soldiers are killing others than about soldiers who kill themselves when they return home, and having the Us versus Them mentality hammered into their heads every waking moment of every day, it's amazing these men and women last as long as they do.

In Lt. Col. Dave Grossman's book, On Killing, he discusses the multiple psychological casualties of war which, from the civil war to the present, haven't changed much despite developing technologies and the abandonment of guerrilla and trench warfare. Fighting fatigue, many soldiers fall into confusional states of dissociation where they depersonalize from their environment and can suffer from manic-depressive episodes. A prominent syndrome of the state is that of Ganzer, where the soldier will become silly and make jokes, trying to ward off the horrors of war, but in a delusional state that is overwhelmingly morbid. One such soldier fighting in the Korean war had retrieved the severed arm of a North Korean soldier, using it as a puppetry prop. He carried it around waving it in other soldiers' faces, calling it Herbert, and even pretending to pick his nose with one of the fingers. Sadly, this psychotic behavior did not land him safely in a mental ward, but on a double shift of guard duty, and today, only when this behavior becomes deadly such as in killing civilians and keeping "souvenirs" does it warrant attention. The dissociative properties of the confusional state also account for the dehumanization of victims that makes it easier for soldiers to kill, whether it be their targeted enemy, or innocent camera toting civilians and adolescents.

Given the prolonged time periods of service, multiple deployments, watching strangers die, watching friends die, and a war that has actually gotten worse, it's no wonder these people are losing their minds. Many war vets throughout history have come home to PTSD, drug and alcohol abuse, destroyed personal lives and obliterated mental health. Nowadays, they develop these issues before leaving their barracks. Swank and Marchand (1946) found that after 60 days of continuous combat, 98% of soldiers became psychiatric casualties. The other 2% escaped the fate only because they were found to already be unstable with "aggressive psychopathic personalities" (did I really just do an APA citation in my freakin' blog? What have you done to me grad school?!). So with our soldiers serving upwards of 90 days of continuous combat and no sign of our government slowing this fight, we will no doubt have many more horror stories of murder, torture, and mind-numbing stomach-churning morbidity to come.

But it is important to keep in mind, however, that these soldiers were not sick to begin with. These are not deranged antisocial personalities who come into the army with the perverse desire to kill. Romanced by promises of honor and the idea of serving their country and saving another, the harsh reality of war hits hard, and, disillusioned, their better judgment and morals dissipate in favor of basic survival needs and paranoid delusions about who their enemies are and how to deal with them. War makes people crazy, then we give them a small vacation and ask them to come back and do it again. And again. Then possibly once more. So no, Mr. Chiarelli, they don't need more time off, they need this war to be over. They need to come home. They need aftercare, they need therapy.

Voltaire once wrote "it is forbidden to kill, and therefore all murderers are punished unless they kill in large numbers and to the sound of trumpets". Likewise it seems appropriate to write that all psychotics are locked away to protect society, unless they're zipped into fatigues, then they're given guns and asked to serve their country.

Side note: I can't write a blog about the army without at least mentioning our small triumph of the repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell, but in spite of the success, I can only say to you now, dear gaybugs, stay home, not every right we're afforded needs to be exercised.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Moments Fleeting, Time Lost, Chances Missed

So we're smack-dab in the middle of the holiday season, amidst bustling Christmas shoppers, tree farms, and co-workers who bring in a hoard of sweets under the guise of being friendly when in fact they're snickering behind your back because they know that cheesecake is going on your thighs, not theirs (seriously guys, enough is enough). But as we hurry from point A to point B and zip through the weeks, sweeping aside various everyday tasks that seem menial in comparison to our ever-growing to-do list, how often do we really stop and think about the things we're missing? More specifically, the people in our lives?

Now I know that over the years this resounding message seems more like beating a dead horse than an inspirational note moving us to pick up the phone or write a letter, but stay with me on this. Tonight, in my last official class of my Master's Program, my professor shared with us a personal devastating story. Her neighbor, a war vet with PTSD who had a history of suicidal depression and alcoholism had taken his own life last week. Now my professor had gone the extra mile over the years, providing emotional support, checking in on him, sending him birthday and holiday baskets, food for Thanksgiving, whatever he needed, whatever she could give. However, last week, she wasn't well, in bed with a long-term migraine, feeling physically ill, and she took a moment for herself. It wasn't until she got out of bed one morning, head still aching, that she heard the ominous hum of an idling engine outside her house. Peeking through the kitchen curtain, she found a fire engine and four police squad cars lining her street, and her heart stopped. She knew, without having to ask, what had happened. Her mind flipped back through the past week or so, every moment that she thought to stop by and every time she said, "I'm just too busy to talk to him today." And that guilt, by my own observation, is taking it's toll on her.

First let me clarify, I do not slight this woman in the least. She has extended and over-extended herself for this individual and really had tried to save this broken soul by giving all the love and care she had. Life happens, we get busy sometimes, and unfortunately things get passed up. However, far too many times the rest of us brush people aside without having the track record this woman brought to the table. How many times have we said "tomorrow", or "maybe next week", or "I really need to call/write/email him", and never got around to it? How many times have we thought "I simply don't have the time"?

I have to own it, as my life has gotten more hectic with school, work, internship, and all the time I've invested in just going nuts, I have neglected some people: a cousin I used to speak with almost every week, my dad whom I really only speak to once a month or so, my grandparents whom I keep saying I'll take out to lunch, but have yet to get around to it, and friends that have faded into the background as my once idle and uneventful life takes wing. But it's no excuse, because everywhere we look, we see people, read articles, hear stories of sudden and unexpected loss and pass up the lessons unlearned until it happens to us. Moments that should've been are gone, hopes for memories that were never made have dissipated, and all we have is the "should have, could have, would have if only I had the time" that won't bring our loved ones back.

And, in these trying times when we can all use a shoulder to cry on, a sympathetic ear, or just a hug, we need to take time for one another; to prevent more tragedies, to stop someone from picking up a gun and turning it on themselves, or worse yet, turning it on everyone else, to heal some wounds or at the very least, alleviate some pain. Most importantly, to let people know that they are loved, that they're on your mind, and in your heart.

So get cracking. Make your To-Call list, and hit up some people who haven't heard from you in awhile, or call up some people you may have spoken to yesterday, but this time just to say hi rather than ask for a favor. Write a letter, write an email, hell, write a text message! Despite arguments of technology making social exchanges more superficial and impersonal, let's face it, a text message says so much more than a phone that doesn't ring or a letter that never comes. And while you're at it, give a friendly smile to a stranger at the mall, start a little conversation when you're waiting in those long lines at the cashier, connect to someone new. It might just change their whole day, and you'll feel better for it.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Standing Up for the Little Guy

Time and time again the majority has always ruled, and unfortunately, they've not always erred on the side of common sense. Whether it be stifling the human rights movement of numerous minorities throughout the years, voting in favor of multiple wars we had no business fighting, or collectively alienating a particular religious or cultural group for whatever ridiculous reasons, the hindsight afforded to us of past faults and folly is rarely applied to present day conundrums. However, despite reflections of public opinions in polls, on ballots, and in the media, it seems the tides are changing, and, if for a moment, the majority has found it's place: standing behind the little guy.

Yes, times for the gays have not been great these past two years or so. With the passing of gay marriage in California, then the removal with Prop 8, and a following rebuttal lawsuit, we now hang in limbo for the US Supreme Court to hear the case. And it's anyone's fight at this point. However, with the voting to repeal the Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy of the US Army, and a guaranteed failed appeal, the majority is starting to tentatively lean in our favor. Following the tragic suicides of five GLBT college and grade school students who were ruthlessly bullied into taking their own lives, a massive outpouring of support has flooded the internet with the It Gets Better project. Hundreds of people, from everyday gays and friends of gays and big name celebrities to high profile politicians like Senator Clinton and President Obama have historically lent their voices to an anti-hate campaign that has fostered the creation of over 5,300 videos on YouTube. Even that queen chick I'm always bugging on had a few words to say about the bullying (the broader term of simple "bullying" was used, 'cause Lord knows an Arab queen could never publicly defend the gays without getting her ass handed to her by her more traditional countrymen, but we all knew what they were talking about).

And the movement of the majority doesn't stop there. As previously mentioned in an earlier blog, there was a massive movement in defense of the Muslim holy book, the Quran, when some crazy old dude tried to stage a book burning. The movement not only led to public outcry to protect the Quran, but protests, petitions, denouncements from more political figureheads (Clinton again...she rocks, doesn't she?), and a particularly memorable stand-in where people of all religions laid their hands over a barbecue grill so a Christian fundamentalist group couldn't light the coals to burn the revered pages and covers. Turmoil still stirs against Muslims as emotions rise over the recent debate over the placement of a Muslim-funded community center near the Ground Zero site. However, the power behind either side of the debate has balanced as an equal amount of people have come face to face with the opposition to support the decision. While there is still some bad blood over the attacks on 9/11, it seems the majority of America has finally developed the brains to discern between Muslim extremists and true Muslims of Islam.

Unfortunately, we didn't have the mental capacity for such 9 years ago when the war in Afghanistan began. A nation broken, hurt, and angered, made the emotionally fueled decision to support George W. Bush in his bid to go after Osama bin Laden and the Taliban in the middle eastern region. Now, many years later, after wising up to the shady dealings that underlined this so-called war on terrorism, many people have denounced the U.S.'s presence in Iraq and Afghanistan and have spoken out against the continuing failings of the government. But such frustrations have not spread to our soldiers, some of whom were beguiled into enlisting, thinking they were going to kill terrorists, some of whom were misled into believing they were going to liberate a nation oppressed by a horrific dictator. Many did not choose to serve under the truth of the matter, nor did they wish to continue once they found themselves in the very real circumstances of a fictional war. And we as a nation have not turned our backs on them. Well, the majority of us haven't.

Protesters were making headlines for some time, showing up to the funerals of soldiers KIA, shouting hate-filled chants, claiming the deaths of the soldiers was God's wrath being unfurled upon a nation that supported homosexuality. Bringing with them a black cloud to hang over an already darkened day for the soldier's family, they made their unwelcome presence known and tainted what should have been honorable memorials for soldiers who gave their lives doing our government's dirty work. But, a small town in Missouri was not about to let this happen for Corporal Jacob Carver. Upon hearing via word of mouth and Facebook that such a group planned to adorn his burial, not hundreds, but thousands of people from miles away arrived as early as before sunrise to secure their positions near the funeral site. Arriving in buses and caravans, nearly 3,000 people lined the roads with American flags waving to keep the protesters at bay. Most people had never met the young corporal who lost his life, many didn't know his family, but they gathered together to push out a tiny group of radical hate-mongers to protect his memory and his family in their time of need. The protesters were forced to set up nearly a third of a mile away from the funeral and despite attempts to shout across the town, their opponents out-shouted them and drowned out their message, forcing them to pack up and move out.

America was formed by the little guy, the ones whom, tired of being pushed around by a haughty king in a far-off land, sailed across the sea to escape the autocracy. But somewhere along the way we got too big, too strong, and slipped into the position of the oppressor, quickly forgetting what it felt like to fall beneath the ruling thumb of The Man. Laws that were created to protect us suddenly worked against us, and the power of the majority at times brought historic shame to our name. Granted, there were times when our government stepped up for the little guy amidst angered cries of the majority: a black girl may never have set foot in a white public school if a judge hadn't ignored the racist cries of a southern majority decades ago; blacks and whites would not have had the right to marry if the California Supreme Court hadn't ignored the cries of 92% of Californians who felt the races should not mix. And despite the efforts of 52% of Californians two years ago, a judge still had the cajones to stand up for the little guy and declare Proposition 8 unconstitutional. A group of a people with no personal affiliations to a religion risked burning themselves to protect it's holy book. A state of citizens with no personal connection to a soldier came from miles around to stand up for his right to have a peaceful burial.

They say never underestimate the power of stupid people in large groups. Well, you better watch out for the power of large groups with balls and even bigger hearts. We will prevail...we must if there's any hope for this land and what we should stand for.

Happy Thanksgiving to my American peeps...stand up for the little guy...DAMN THE MAN! (sorry, I had to say it)

Friday, November 5, 2010

Sometimes You Gotta Lose Till You Win

Hello to those who may have missed me! Though you can't see, my head is hanging in shame over my month long absence, as I was priding myself on a steady production of monthly blogs. However, recently life for me has been a speeding freight train carrying me away to some glorious horizon I never imagined I'd be chasing. In exchange, it has brought my expressive process to a screeching halt. I am an emotional writer, words flow through tears or flaring anger; happiness is my kryptonite, but I've been feeling the bog of creative constipation and racking my brain for some inspiration. Upon reviewing my previous posts, I've noted the repetitive theme of negativity, whether it be trashing misguided and delusional celebrities, misgivings of world issues, or wagging a scolding finger at royalty. I found this to be reflective not only of my point of view in this world but of my overall personal mood and frustrations, and since things have seemingly fallen into place for me, it appears it's time for a more cheery topic. Though I'm typically not given to outright self-disclosure on this blog, following my preceding post, it seems to be the trend of the moment, and I'm going with it.

Driving home the other day, I had some awesome tunes on the radio, my window down, the sun shining on my face (in case you hadn't noticed, it's blazing in Cali this November), and yes, I'll admit it, I was doing the hand windsurfer thing out of the car when the speed was right. Calmed, joyful from a good moment at work, and relaxed, a wave of peace washed over me and it was at this moment I realized, "I'm going to be okay."

Life for me has been unsure up until this point. The victim of child abuse (emotional, physical, and sexual), the survivor of rape at a very young age, the broken product of a destructive divorce and torn home, and a frequent target for bullying as I grew, I found myself in the clutches of a crippling depression that nearly killed me, twice. The darkness that enveloped me blinded me to any fragment of hope one might find in an eternal night, and I went to bed praying for death in my sleep. In the morning I woke, dismayed to find my wish unfulfilled, but pined for the coming night that would bring a new opportunity to try again. I dragged myself through each day, never expecting much from life, never anticipating surviving this long, just an empty shell wandering aimlessly through, trying to get to the end of this journey as quickly and quietly as possible.

Diagnosed when I was nine, the following ten years of depression yielded fruitless series of anti-depressant cocktails, unwanted therapy sessions (forced upon me by my parents), and frequent run-ins with razor blades and broken glass. After one early suicide attempt and a later meet and greet with the remnant pills in my medicine cabinet, I found myself wringing my hands on a psychiatrist's couch rattling off my symptoms and failed prescriptions. One more. One final slip of paper, written upon it some fancy names shielding the countless chemicals beneath them: Zoloft and Wellbutrin, and a recommendation to see a psychologist. Frequent headaches, dizziness, and nausea pushed me to take myself off the pills after just nine months, but coupled with therapy, it was just enough, and after a year and a half, I was finally balanced.

The road back was shaky and unsure, after spending nearly 12 years wanting to die, how could I learn how to live? Learn to smile, laugh, and love? It may be strange, dear reader, to try and understand how a smile could be a novel concept, but the first time I noticed myself doing it without obvious cause, it truly startled me. To laugh everyday was unknown, to plan for a future, unthinkable. But I went to college and took my first steps on whatever path I fell on. Is it any wonder my spinning wheel of fortune landed on Psychology? However, despite personal experience, I wasn't convinced this was my role. Plagued with doubts, I wondered what if I invested so much time and graduated to find I was a terrible psychologist? After graduation I found myself working with severely emotionally disturbed foster kids. A difficult job that had it's gratifying moments, but it more or less left me exhausted and on a downward spiral back to depression.

I returned to school to get my Master's Degree in Marriage and Family Therapy. With this newfound pursuit came new concerns: what if I'm not happy treating couples and families? What if I don't find a job in this tanking economy after graduation? How will I pay my student loans? What if I have to take some crappy cashier's job after all my hard work? Where am I going and will I get there? Depression and hopelessness began to set in again and it was all I could do to claw my way up from the bottom of that familiar pit.

Nearing the end of my program, I began my search for a Practicum site, a pre-graduation internship. Carrying my own personal preferences for specific populations, in my heart I knew I'd be lucky to get any site, given California's non-existent budget and non-profits closing left and right. But, following the helpful tip of a classmate, I landed in a place ironically called Hope. The population? Autistic children. Feeling apprehensive because I had never worked with autism before, I was welcomed with open arms by the staff, and almost immediately hit with wave after wave of positive feedback and praise. "A natural," they said. I'd never been a natural at anything. Loving my work, loving the kids, loving my co-workers, being good at what I do, and feeling a pull to continue working with autism. What more could I ask for? Oh yeah, I was offered a part-time job as an aide, and there's talk of a full-time job as a therapist after I finish school this March (Update: I am now employed as a therapist).

What truly was 17 years of despair, frustration, anxiety, and apprehension seemed completely resolved after a month and a half of discovering Hope. Now still bearing some of that residual pessimism, I've not deluded myself into believing this momentary perfection is forever. Things happen, life happens, and my plans may be derailed. But for the time being, I will bask in the glory of it, because I really do think this is my time to shine, in spite of the current state of the outside world. This is my little sliver of sunshine that finally found it's way to my heart. And I deserve it, don't I? It's my turn for happiness.

The day after my happy drive, I serendipitously stumbled across this fantastic song by Sugarland. Now I don't normally plug anything, products or celebs or their work (except my Renee), but what I love about Sugarland is that in the midst of their bubbly kick ass rock out songs, they plant these little seeds of heart-wrenching truths that apply to us all. Little Miss is that song of their album, The Incredible Machine: "Little Miss you'll go far/Little Miss hide your scars/Little Miss who you are is so much more than you like to talk about". The chorus is hymned with repeating I'm Okay's and It'll be alright again's, soothing us into lullabies of reassurance. The song closes with the optimistic "Little Miss brand new start/Little Miss do your part/Little Miss big ole heart beats wide open, she's ready now for love". Yes, yes she is.

*Photograph above was provided by my friend Helen M., though I never actually asked her permission, I'm sure she won't mind :)

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Hate: If You Give a Gay a Gun...

Signing online this morning, I was hit with not one but two blows on the GLBT front. Yesterday I read the story of a gay college student who was secretly filmed by his roommate while having a sexual encounter, then the roommate broadcast the video online. The roommate and an accomplice were charged with invasion of privacy for filming without consent and broadcasting the content. Today it was confirmed that as a result of this incident, the student, Tyler Clementi, committed suicide. As shocking and as horrifying as this story is, I was dismayed, but not thrown into despair. However, the second blow came when I signed onto Huffington Post and found that a 13 year old, Seth Walsh, had died nine days after hanging himself from a tree in what soon became a successful suicide attempt. He too killed himself due to being excessively taunted for his homosexuality. This was the moment the tears blurred my vision.

The pain of taunting and fears of being rejected is nothing new to me, and high school was one of the most difficult times of my life. I achieved a vague understanding of my sexuality when I was 14, but still believed I was attracted to men to some extent, either because I truly didn't know or because I was clinging to some semblance of normalcy. I even forced myself to hang posters of the latest teen heartthrobs on my walls because I knew it was the normal thing to do, whether I liked them or not. To this day I still don't see why JTT was so cute to everyone else.

In a house where homosexuality was not accepted, because "God hates gays" and I was "going to Hell", I thought I could be myself a little more at school. Though I wasn't a total dyke, I had pictures of attractive women on folders and maybe a few in bikinis inside, and those few classmates who were more intuitive figured it out, proceeding to make my life hell. A girl who came to the conclusion that I liked her constantly whispered and pointed me out to friends every time our paths crossed, an encounter always followed by disgusted looks and cruel laughter. A classmate once leaned across the aisle and whispered homophobic insults into my ear, forcing me to jump up from my desk and leave the classroom, running to a favorite teacher's room and I broke down crying on her desk. I even had a teacher who, having seen a bikini photo in my binder, informed my mother on Parent Teacher Conference night that I had inappropriate pictures of women in my folder that needed to be removed; a curve ball I had never seen coming, a complaint that was never brought to my attention beforehand. The evening concluded with an angry and embarrassed rant from my mother, driving me to tears, and souring our already bitter relationship even more.

My issues with my sexuality were just a few of many stemming from my childhood and current situation, but I know it was one of the issues in the front of my mind when I swallowed a bottle of sleeping pills one night at the age of 15. The despair of never feeling normal, never feeling right, and never being accepted tore through me. When so many other things set me apart from my peers, why did I have to be gay too? Luckily, I became ill and vomited most of the pills up, the rest just made me sleepy as I stumbled back into Hell the next morning for classes. But the taunting didn't stop, and it didn't stop at me.

I witnessed one of my friends, still very much in denial but obvious to everyone else, being repeatedly gay-bashed, beaten with hockey sticks in PE and called names. My heart broke when he was humiliated in front of the class as the same teacher who outed me to my mother on conference night told him to "stop dancing like a stupid little gay man" during one of his more cheerful moments. Others were smarter, more discreet. It wasn't until after high school, thanks to Facebook and MySpace, when you found out who was truly gay, because everyone else knew coming out in that environment could drive you to your death.

My senior year, I began the tentative process of coming out to friends and a few family members that I thought would be supportive. The reactions were mixed. Writing letters because I was fearful of facing the rejection head on, some were surprisingly supportive, even getting angry at my assumption that my sexuality would change anything between us. Others were hostile and refused to speak to me again. Many said they would pray for me, as though I had some horrible disease only divine intervention could resolve. Being that I was so close to leaving high school, I wasn't so concerned about losing some friends, but still hurt by the ones who left, wondering if I should have said anything at all, if I should have waited a few more years for maturity to set in (two weeks ago, I ran into the girl who had mocked me to her friends; she hugged me and chatted me up like an old friend).

But there's nothing that says coming out after high school is coming out safely. Obviously, as demonstrated by Tyler, college isn't safe either, nor is anything after that. Many I've known have lost jobs, lost friends, been asked to leave their churches, been asked to leave their personal lives out of the office, and worst of all, lost family over their sexuality. I still don't come out to people until I gauge their viewpoints on homosexuality (the Prop 8 issue makes this a lot easier). I still haven't come out to many family members for fear of rejection (though I'm aware of the risk of writing this online, I kind of want to just get it over with). And, in working at a therapeutic treatment facility with predominantly Christian people who don't hide their devotion to their faith, I live with the fear of being found out, not knowing what their reactions would be or if I would be asked to leave (this anxiety has especially increased since I accidentally sent a link of this blog to one of my co-workers, praying she didn't see it).

The anti-gay plague affecting today's youth is growing stronger. Despite my earlier blog that today's generation is more open-minded, there are still many who are tainted by their parents, tainted by their religions, who are raised to be hateful, teachings that they can't rise above, as evidenced by the four** GLBT suicides this month. Even in death, anti-gay comments have been left on Tyler's memorial pages. And our government is not helping issues. While some states have taken the positive steps to validate the existence of the GLBT community in legalizing marriage and gay adoption, many other states are fighting marriage, Congress can't agree on DADT and continue to fail with the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. What are we showing our kids? As my favorite lesbian blogger, Ms. Snarker tweeted, "when a government says it's OK to discriminate, youth thinks it's OK to hate".

These tragedies need to stop. This hate needs to stop. There's no reason for 13 yr olds to be hanging themselves, no reason for people to have to choose between living in fear or living a lie. To those hurting now, I can say from experience, it gets better. It's not perfect, but you can choose to live the life you're given and find the light through the darkness, or you can bury yourself in it. I was given a second chance and I'm grateful for it every single day. I still face rejection, I still face loss, but I still have enough love in my life to get me through. I hope you can find it too.

Much love and thanks to the family and friends who never left.

If you or someone you know is struggling with homosexuality, there is hope. Visit: It Gets Better on YouTube, or call 1-866-4-U-Trevor for a suicide hotline at The Trevor Project.

**UPDATE: The day after the publication of this blog, a fifth GLBT college student, Raymond Chase committed suicide...condolences, thoughts, prayers, love to the families of all the victims.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

When Morons Play with Matches

This past week, as we remembered the tragedy of 9/11, there was much more animosity toward the Islamic faith than in anniversaries past. Deep-seated emotions tied into the terrorist attacks of the World Trade Centers, Pentagon, and Flight 93 meshed with newfound apprehension and anger as the controversy of building an Islamic Community Center has taken center stage in recent news (no it is not a mosque, no it is not solely for Muslims, and no it is not directly on Ground Zero). However, despite the ongoing battle of that war, we won a small battle of our own last week when a Florida pastor of a small, insignificant Christian community declared that he would burn a collection of Qu'rans on the nine-year mark of the terrorist attacks on the US.

Pastor Terry Jones had planned a protest that involved the fiery desecration of the holy book of Islam, arguing that he was upset about the building of the "mosque" so close to the former site of the Twin Towers (about the same time last year he sported an "Islam is of the Devil" shirt long before such plans were revealed. Methinks I see a pattern). Despite the fact that his small church had no more than 35 regular parishioners, this tiny congregation garnered worldwide attention in what would later be called an "epic fail" on the media's part as he received the acknowledgment he so desperately sought. As news of his plans spread across the globe, protests ensued where demonstrations of pastoral effigies, pleas for Obama's death, and US flag burning flooded the streets of various Muslim countries.

Initially when I read of Jones' plans, I was appalled and angered. But, being the proponent for free speech that I am through the good and the bad, and truly believing this act could not be stopped, all I could do was implore my Muslim friends to ignore it so to not give this fool what he wanted: a reaction. However, seeing the protests and the fury he managed to elicit from the world, I realized simply ignoring him was not going to be an adequate solution. I watched as attitudes toward the US soured even more, and was deeply offended by the burning of my nation's banner. However, the one thing that disturbed me the most was a quote a young man from Kabul made during their protests, stating, "we know this is not just the decision of a church. It is the decision of the president and the entire United States."

Now hold on there, Scooter. Much like Muslims don't like to be overgeneralized with terrorists, Americans don't take kindly to being lopped in with hateful, bigoted Christian extremists either. Ironically, it took the threat of burning a holy book for us to prove it.

Many non-Muslims took a stand against this "Burn a Qu'ran Day", some of public persuasion (that nice Jolie woman), some of considerable power on their own (Sen. Clinton), and many of considerable power combined (the rest of us). Petitions were signed, Facebook pages were created and liked, and anti-burning protests took place all over the globe. Gradually, as dissent grew, one of two reasons pushed Jones to cancel the burning: either he realized how foolish he'd been and gathered together with the local mosque to hold hands and sing Kumbaya (it could happen, with faith and love...or some LSD and that damn Barney song), or after pressure from the government due to the possibility of endangering Americans abroad, he backed down. Whatever the reason, it was over, and he desperately tried to save face by claiming that he accomplished his goal by showing the radical side of Islam, but actually only demonstrated that thanks to today's media principles, any idiot can get on TV.

Naturally, as with any failed attempt to be a jackass, there are many more who leap at the opportunity to fulfill the prophecy. Another mock demonstration in Texas ended abruptly when a young skateboarder snatched a doomed copy of the Qu'ran, already soaked in lighter fluid, from a Christian fundamentalist group who had planned to burn it on a barbecue in a park. Protesters of all backgrounds, Christians, Muslims, Buddhists and Atheists gathered for a protest organized by a Unitarian church and even laid their hands over the grill of the barbecue to prevent the fundamentalist group from lighting it. The book was not retrieved and the burning was cancelled.

I've come to believe that there is nothing more powerful for a cause than having people who won't directly benefit from its success or suffer from its failure add their voices to it. When you fall into the median of any great dispute, it is your responsibility to facilitate a mutual understanding, a compromise, a peace treaty, or just simple tolerance of one another. We are the ones who must bridge the gap between those polarizing to either ends of the argument. I believe this was well demonstrated here and hopefully showed the world's Muslims that they were not the only ones hurt and angered, and they were not the only ones fighting the burning of this book.

Now I've spoken before on my feelings of holy items and the importance that religions place on inanimate objects, but for those who don't remember or didn't read it, I hardly care for it. I don't believe these physical possessions bring us closer to God, no matter what sentiment has been tied to them. I believe that our connection to God comes only from the strength of our souls and our hearts. Yes, these books act as guiding lights for those who follow them (I'm spiritual, not religious, and choose not to have a book), however it is not the book itself that is important, but the message that you find inside. The pages, the covers, the binding, are not God's, and so long as you carry that message in your heart, no one can ever truly burn it. As one person wrote: "the living Qu'ran, who are all those with pure hearts, is untouched". Because I believe that more people will try to mimick this event and accomplish it, I caution you all to keep this in mind, to rise above the madness and turn away from the ignorance. Then you will be untouchable.

Despite the anger, disbelief, and frustration this entire ordeal stirred up, I do believe that some good came from it, and will go so far as to say that this was necessary for us to find our mutually shared humanity. In what could be our flickering light of hope, when this evil ignorance reared its ugly head, suddenly we came crawling from beneath our rocks and gathered together to fight it, rather than sitting at home on the couch, watching the news and sadly shaking our heads. It called us to action and ultimately, good prevailed. Perhaps we humans have a chance after all.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Damn That Pretty Face

Since I composed my last blog, I’ve had a great deal of reflecting, rethinking, and reframing to do, which has driven me to write another post on the matter and readdress some issues with my newfound perspectives. The initial post on Queen Rania not only embodied my own emotional disruption, but elicited a strong response from many readers on various points of the spectrum, from defending her, to expressing anger and frustration about the state of their country, to blatant accusations of shady business deals and laying blame for maltreatment of children in far off countries to which she has no ties.

Rania vs. Queen Rania
Such is the problem for public personas and those of us who follow them, deciphering between the reality and the fantasy of who these people are, who they present themselves to be, and who others claim them to be. Accused of being the epitome of pretention, despite Rania’s claims that she uses the internet to allow people to get closer to her “real self”, it could very easily be argued that the “self” Rania portrays online is no more realistic than the self she portrays in every other public domain of her life. Some people even argue it’s not really her posting. However, in light of Occam’s razor, perhaps she really is just being herself and trying her hardest to prove it to a world of naysayers. So how do we know who’s who? God help me for alluding to Eminem but will the real Queen Rania please stand up?

Publicity vs. Philanthropy
Sadly, with all the doubt and suspicions, no one will ever truly know who the real Rania is. I don’t know her and I do not foresee myself bumping into her down at 7-11 while I’m snatching a Big Gulp to sustain a crippling Diet Coke addiction (I said Diet Coke…the soda…put away the 800 numbers). However, there can be no fantasy without some basis of reality, and Rania cannot portray herself to be a philanthropist without actually accomplishing some good. Whether it’s a nothing more than a photo op or a woman just doing her job with a photographer on her tail, there are always beneficiaries of her work. As one person told me, does it matter what her motives are so long as someone’s being helped? Ultimately, no. People don’t care if they’re being used for a front page spread to gain public favor when they’re starving or freezing, as long as they get the food they need and the clothing to keep them warm. And while it’s not the stuff role models are made of, if Rania is truly self-serving and self-indulgent in her work, so long as people are being taken care of, that will be an issue she will have to contend with when she meets whomever she answers to morally. In other words, not our problem.

Role Models vs. Models Playing Roles
A few people were surprised of the investment I’ve made in this woman in terms of admiration and expectation. As I briefly alluded to in the postscript of my previous blog, role models have always been in short supply in my world and I often needed to look to public figures for guidance. Some came and went, because let’s face it; 13 year olds are not great judges of character when it comes to picking personal influences. But even today, I feel I still need the positive influence and the guidance to help direct me down the right path in life, a set example to aspire towards, and though some may find it childish that a 26 year old looks to public figures for such, I don’t believe our need for that crucial example ever dies no matter how old we get, and what’s wrong with admiring someone who seems to embody the values you wish to have?

Now herein lies the problems with role models, especially the public kind we never get to meet. From a safe distance and filtered through TV screens and magazine pages, it becomes all too easy to forget that these people are, in fact, nothing more than human beings, regular people behind superfluous titles who are given to every day imperfections that make us human. Hence, we build these individuals up in our minds and are greatly disappointed when we find they are not who we hoped (who could forget that gut-wrenching moment when Julia Child called Julie’s blog “stupid”?), and Rania is no different. Of course if she ever calls my blog stupid there will be swift retribution of epic proportions…in other words I will grab a small bottle of tequila and spend the evening flipping off my computer screen…but I will do so swiftly! But I will be the first to say (actually I’m like the third after a few friends gave me a verbal knock upside the head) that I set impossible expectations of this woman and in turn set myself up for failure.

I was greatly disappointed when I learned of all the suffering that still goes on in Jordan, how many people are still hungry, still freezing through the winters, still struggling to survive. But then, as I was browsing the discussion board of Rania’s Facebook page, I began to see what could only be described as a digital wailing wall. With topics entitled “I Need Help”, “Only You Can Help This Woman!”, and “Why?”, posts range from begging for help with education, organizations for the disabled, calling for advocacy of Human Rights issues, even requests to help some find a wife, a job, or low airfare to Jordan. And I realized, how can this woman do so much? How is she supposed to solve every single problem for every single person in her country, and then some? No doubt she prioritizes and tackles the most pressing matters first. But the people of Jordan have every right to be upset, having to sit back and watch as her charity is bestowed upon someone else, just waiting and wondering “when will it be my turn? When will my suffering be enough to get someone’s attention?” And when you’re in pain, all you see is the one person who seems to have the power to help, and the fact that she doesn’t. They can’t see the burden of a country, the sack of troubles and worries she seems to carry on her back. And fake persona or not, no one can listen to those voices pleading for help and go home to a restful sleep at night. It will never be enough, she will never be enough. And I’m beginning to pity her plight right alongside the other Jordanians.

Dollars and Sense
Now I don’t want this to sound like I’m back-tracking my way up to oblivion again. While I’ve changed my perspective on Rania the person, Rania the queen still has some work to do. I still can’t defend the spending of the royal family, because excessive spending is not something I’m familiar with. I am a self-proclaimed anti-materialist and anti-conspicuous consumer, I shop for clothes at Wal-Mart and Target, I pass on accessories and the latest gadget, and I prefer to spend my birthdays in a quiet low-priced restaurant enjoying a turkey sandwich, topped off with a cupcake my mother buys for me (thanks Ma). It’s not because I’m broke, it’s not because I am technologically challenged, and it’s not because I’m the biggest bore in SoCal (course you won’t find me dancing on the pool tables at The Colorado either -ahem- Miss M). I just know there are better things I can be spending my money on. There’s no need to have the shiniest, fanciest car just so you can drive around and show off the fact that you can afford it. There’s no need to pay $80 for a shirt that cost a company $4 to make just because it has a well-known name sewn on the tag, a tag no one will see. And while 40 is a big birthday, I don’t know if I would celebrate it on a luxury yacht in France. Not when there are people in the world who don't even have safe drinking water. Now I’m not asking for a vow of poverty, but do people really need 20 pairs of Jimmy Choo shoes? In the scheme of things, the people who truly matter don’t give a damn about what’s on your feet anyways. I stand by my previous comments on the matter, something in Jordan has to change, and it can start by selling a Prada bag and feeding a few hundred families.

Internet Checks and Balances
Likewise, I won’t change my beef with the internet censorship. I had a vague recollection of an interview Rania gave bragging about free internet in Jordan and meant to post it in the last blog, but couldn’t locate it until now. Attending Le Web in Paris during December of last year, Rania denounced internet restrictions, claiming that such a system of censorship is “not sustainable, and will never last” and goes so far as to call it a violation of human rights. Remarkably, she echoes the comments I made (or rather I unintentionally echoed her) that efforts should be made to resolve situations creating criticism rather than in trying to silence that criticism. So what gives? Ironically, the bill was passed just a few weeks after Rania returned from France. Either Rania was bullshitting us, or there’s some serious discrepancies between the viewpoints of the queen and the Jordanian government, but either way, someone’s looking bad.**

Now there is hope at the end of this tale. In what could be called coincidental, or maybe the woman actually read this blog, in response to the birthday wishes she received on Twitter, Rania wrote “When ur [sic] in ur 20s u think these old 40yr olds must have it figured out…not true! Ur still a little confused! Questioning, exploring and seeking ways to make urself and everything around u better.” So she has acknowledged that she is not one of those omniscient leaders I was complaining about two blogs ago and that she, like all of us, is still learning and still growing, and sure enough, imperfect. And God help her, for one reason or another, she's trying. Whether or not this persona is the real Rania, until we meet at the soda fountain of a local convenience store, I can only take her at face value and hope that she is who she claims to be. If she is putting on a fa├žade, that’s on her head, if I wrongfully accuse her, then it’s on mine. Is it worse to believe a liar or condemn an honest person?

Author's Note: If all else fails, she's still pretty freakin' hot.

**UPDATE: It was brought to my attention by one of my readers that an article was published on the Canadian Reuters site 2 days prior to the composition of this blog addressing the Jordanian internet censorship. After heavy criticism from the public sector of Jordan and concerns of the image that would portray to the western world, the incredibly vague bill restricting freedom of speech on the internet was amended to include only criminal issues such as pornography and e-fraud. Yay for you Jordan! Guess Rania was right, it won't last.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Propaganda with a Pretty Face

Feeling like a disillusioned child who suddenly found out there's no Santa Claus (kids if you're reading this, I'm only kidding, there is a Santa), I'm starting to come to terms with the fact that my queen is not the angel she appears to be. Queen Rania of Jordan, the most recent object of my admiration and respect (contending only with my one true love, Renee Zellweger), has suddenly fallen from her pedestal; 'suddenly' only to me as I've refused to see the truth until now. And I have to admit, for me, it stings, though she probably never felt the fall, and was never aware of the precipice to begin with.

Queen Rania of Jordan has always been presented to the western people as nothing short of the Arab Princess Diana. She has spearheaded such initiatives in her country as creating socio-economic opportunities for women with the Jordan River Foundation, and she annually adopts schools in her country to drastically improve the buildings and provide much needed school supplies with her Madrasati movement. She not only grappled with culturally taboo topics such as female equality, child abuse, and honor killings in her region, but she also treks the world promoting causes such as education for all children, including girls, bridging the cultural gap between easterners and westerners, and calls attention to various issues women around the world are facing.

However, many have come to argue that, in spite of her work, the queen is more interested in publicity and awards than the well-being of her own country. The royal family enjoys a lucrative lifestyle, with private chefs, numerous staff and nannies, and plenty of vacations around the world to Italy, London, and the US. While the king travels in style on various models of the Airbus private planes (one he purchased in 2007 cost anywhere from $250-300 million, and he just received two more earlier this year), the queen makes various appearances at events around the world strutting about in designer outfits with matching pumps and purses (though she has previously claimed much of her wardrobe is donated).

Now many claim that such is the lifestyle for royalty and politicians and they live no higher on the hog (no pun intended for you anti-pork people) than any other royal family. However, Jordan is a poor country that is heavily dependent on foreign aid, especially from the US, who recently donated $150 million for Jordan's struggling budget, in addition to the $660 million we've already given this year. But, in spite of the $1.3 billion they've received in total, the majority of the people still live in poverty, struggling to feed their families, acquire safe drinking water, and survive the harsh winters. Many are angered by the monarchy in Jordan for various reasons, be it political or personal, but most notably complaining about overspending that could be put to better use for the people in the kingdom.

Unfortunately, complaints are rarely heard by the royals. Despite King Abdullah's bid to modernize Jordan and help it progress to a democracy, in the remaining autocracy it is still a crime to criticize the king or the government, punishable by 3 years in prison and hard labor. But that hasn't stopped some people, as the Washington Post reported yesterday. Rights activists were recently fired for demanding more pay for government workers, and 15 teachers were fired for organizing a peaceful protest regarding their low wages. And as the public dissent increases, the restrictions keep building. The Post announced that the monarchy intends to restrict freedom of speech on the internet, publicly claiming it's due to excessive pornography, privately allowing that they want "professional journalism" in place of the slander that continues to grow. But what is slander? The law doesn't seem to specify between spreading personal rumors such as marital discord between Rania and Abdullah or calling the king out on his poor choices that affect the entire nation.

But you would never know there is unrest or such extreme poverty in Jordan, partially due to the tight restrictions, and partially due to a fantastic PR team. The Royal Press Office releases several official photos and news stories to the public glorifying charity work and political progress. Television specials always show citizens shouting love and appreciation, but neglected the incident where a woman approached Rania and pulled her hair in frustrated betrayal. Interviews and magazines from abroad always manage to paint a pretty picture of the queen and life in Jordan. When appearing on the Oprah Winfrey Show in 2006, a segment was shown depicting a day in the life of three Jordanian women. It showed clips of working mothers, women who chose or did not choose to wear the veil, women going to exercise classes and even women who ordered Domino's Pizza. However, after this show aired, many who lived in Jordan or were familiar with the typical Jordanian lifestyle were outraged, claiming the show only provided a view into the lives of the higher social classes, the wealthier who can afford to live in Amman. One poster in a forum commented "they showed people who order out for pizza while the majority of Jordan can't even afford a loaf of bread to feed their children". It was as if someone had filmed life in Beverly Hills as an example of standard life in the US, despite the fact that the majority of us are closer to the Pomona lifestyle. And the propaganda continues on promotional tours. Interviews are scripted, questions are pre-approved; the 2010 Oprah appearance bore a striking resemblance to the previous, save a different outfit. An appearance on The View gave us a look into the show if it had been run by a fascist as the panel sat nervously and sputtered out superficial questions that seemed to be pre-assigned and numbered (Sherri Shepherd nearly soiled herself when she realized she accidentally interrupted the queen and Whoopi Goldberg practically begged the queen to answer a question, as if she wasn't there for that to begin with). And ironically, the conversation always steers directly into Rania's internet usage.

Rania first burst onto the internet scene when she created a YouTube Channel to address the increasing stereotypes against Muslims that had developed in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. Engaging both people from east and west, videos were made, discussions took place, and bonds were built during the 4-month long initiative. But the channel was not without its drama, and many posters from both sides came to mindlessly argue, to stir up emotions, or to just insult the queen, usually quite brutally, though most comments went unmoderated. The channel garnered worldwide attention for Rania not only for the topic itself but her willingness to use technology to accomplish an agenda. She also frequently stated that she used the internet to get closer to people and hear their true opinions and thoughts above and beyond the quiet, fearful reverie that comes with face to face exchanges with a queen. However, once the initiative was over, Rania moved on to greener pastures (Twitter), and despite promises of returning to "check in" at YouTube, hasn't looked back after leaving her devoted followers in the dust. She still banks on the success of the channel in interviews as recent as April, but hasn't addressed the group that worked so hard to make the channel a success in over two years, leaving us feeling abandoned and somewhat used.

So, in spite of using the free internet to accomplish various goals, be they activism or publicity, and requesting honest, open exchanges of opinions in a place "where titles mean little and everyone is free to say what they please", Rania's husband has taken a step away from freedom and democracy and edged closer to Iranian policies of internet blackouts when discourse arises. A Jordanian citizen posting under careful anonymity on a message board stated that since the publication of the Washington Post article, at least two Jordanian blogospheres have been shut down and access to several sites have been denied, though the government claims it's due to pornography issues. However, as a result of the publication, many people with internet access, much like the aforementioned poster, are finding ways to made their voices heard on the world wide web. The Post has ignited a small firestorm in which accusations, insults, and frustrated cries for help have flown freely as people contend with past and present behaviors of the royal family. In trying to regain control of a country fed up, how far will the king go before the rest of the world catches on?

My (three) readers know how I feel about freedom of speech rights, and while it's never fun to have lies about your personal life in the papers, it's part of the territory when being in the public eye. And while you may not like being told you're doing a terrible job, it is within the rights of the affected to call you out on it. Where would we be if we weren't able to call our former president a gump-faced blown up baboon ass bastard when he significantly contributed to the failure of our economy by giving billions of tax payers' money to millionaire bankers? Well, we'd still be in a recession but then we wouldn't be able to bitch about it. Rulers and politicians that legally restrict criticism are doing so because they already know they're not doing their job. If you were working purely with your country's best interest at heart, you wouldn't need to worry about people talking trash. And if they still did, you would at least know it's because they're bastards, not because of you.

Now where Rania fits into all this, I'm not even sure myself. She has obviously contributed to the propaganda that curtains the true state of her country, and her spending (since it can't all be donated) no doubt exacerbates the financial struggles of her subjects. However, the recent restrictions of the internet are more or less the fine work of her husband, and I would like to believe she has little power in this and other major political issues of her government. But if such is the case, then Rania needs to find the voice she tries so hard to give to other women and speak up for her people. Much of the criticism that does reach Rania is brushed aside as other people's insecurities and distrust; male insecurities of seeing a modern Muslim woman in power, citizens' distrust of a non-native Palestinian queen. To a certain extent, I can't argue with this, but only a very small portion of recent frustrations can be chalked up to such excuses. All is not well in Jordan, and whether the queen is blind to the suffering or completely aware and apathetic, she needs to stay home and start addressing the issues that plague the people she is immediately responsible for. Princess Diana didn't leave a legacy by leaving her country behind.

Author's Note: As many of you know, I have been a devoted follower of Queen Rania for over four years. I've admired much of her work, her accomplishments, and mostly, her heart. Since the publication of the Washington Post article and the resulting outcry of complaints about the reality of Jordan's situation, I have been painfully disenchanted, and I struggled greatly with the composition of this post. I fought the urge to defend her, and felt compelled to simply turn away, but couldn't. As I find it so difficult to discover people I can truly look up to, I grow weary of these wolves in sheep's clothing who continue to fool me. However, I will say that whatever the queen may be, the persona she has presented to me these past four years inspired me to be a better person and to make a difference in this world, so it wasn't all for naught.

With great apprehension, I will be sending a link of this blog to Rania through her Twitter account. Though I believe she never reads my writings, if perchance she discovers this one, I would like to encourage her to provide a response, one way or another, if anything, to help me understand.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Today's Youth: Fighting for a Voice to Save Tomorrow

Yes, as they say, children are the future. And as the younger generation slowly marches toward adulthood, the tides and traditions of the world are being reinvented. Attitudes and values are changing, and not always for the worse, as the Leave it to Beaver generation would have you believe. Yes, today's youth seem to be a little more disrespectful, a little more hedonistic, and seem to walk about with an air of entitlement. However, today's youth also seem to be less discriminatory, less judgmental, and less ignorant than our archaic predecessors. And, in those fleeting moments when they set down their cell phones and iPods, they have in their hands the fate of our world. It may prove to be a promising fate, but do they have the time to fulfill it?

We've all been there, shaking our heads in those frustrating daily moments when you've run into some hormone-driven youngster who's done something annoying or atrocious, attesting to what we believe is the downward spiral of society as we know it. They may shoot out in front of your car on their skateboards, or curse loudly in the store next to the elderly and young children, or you may see a girl too young to wear make-up with an 8-month old belly protruding from beneath her shirt. Whatever it is, we find ourselves wondering what the world will be like when they're old enough to vote, old enough to know better but perhaps never growing old enough to care.

But on the other hand, with the unprecedented exposure to information, opinions, and the outside world in general thanks to the internet, tomorrow's leaders have been groomed to be less capricious in their world views. Kids today seem to be more anti-extremism, whether it be political or religious. They shy away from far right or left wingers, they care not for the religions of last century that breed hatred or demand unquestioning unwaivering devotion. They seem wiser about war, and the reasons (or lack, thereof) for pursuing it and are more invested in the suffering of those in places far removed from themselves. They seem to be less hateful and more open-minded about their peers and people in general who are different.

The generational gap is expanding and people are polarizing. As the older generation seems to hold tighter to the wisdom of past generations and deeply rooted old-fashioned values, the younger generation seems to be rebelling by taking a more relaxed approach to significant issues today. While the older generation is burning holy books and protesting soldiers' funerals, the younger generation is joining in conversations about diversity and tolerance. While the older generation is still trying to justify this war, the younger generation knew it was a ruse all along. And while the older generation is trying to speak over them, the younger generation is finding their voices. But who's listening?

Despite the heavily utilized cliche of children being the future, far too many people ultimately ignore, brush aside, or shush the younger generation, rebuffing their opinions and thoughts as the nonsensical rantings of emotional naive children. Now granted I'm 26 years old, and depending on your personal opinion, caught in between the two groups; too old to be considered a "youth", too young to be considered wise enough to matter. However, in a recent heated debate with an "oldie", I was informed that I was young, inexperienced, and ignorant of the world and therefore my opinion was of virtually no consequence. So, I think it only fair that I categorize myself with the younger generation. And I can only imagine how many like me have had similar experiences.

But as we're being swatted aside like some gnat who's made a nuisance of itself, the oldies, self-proclaimed omniscient leaders of today are driving our world to ruin. Greedy, wayward politicians and fat cats have single-handedly sunk the world's economy. Hypocritical religious leaders incite moral contention upon so-called sinners and opposing faiths while protecting their own ravenous wolves. War mongers driven by anger, power, and blighted eyes kill innocent people without remorse. We see it all for what it is, we see the sorrowful state of things, and yet we are gagged by ageism and our hands are bound as we stand on the sidelines and watch our future go down in a fiery inferno.

The oldies refuse to listen. They refuse to acknowledge the overwhelming simplicity of our proposed solutions just because they're ours. And yet, they will, as people do, die one day, and all the decisions they made, the disjointed paths they followed will leave the world in such disarray, and we will inherit it. Like a sack of manure thrust into our hands, the mess will be ours, but we were never given the chance to prevent it. Why are we good enough to clean it up, but not good enough to stop it before it worsens?

So, though our generation and the ones after us have their faults, we have some fantastic strengths as well, and it seems promising that the gifts in our hearts will surpass the bad habits we've collected along the way. And just in case you were wondering, here's our answer: Enough is enough. You have enough money, you have enough land. You've had enough anger, you've had enough hatred. We need more compassion, we need more altruism, we need more understanding and more love. And above all, nothing, absolutely nothing, be it religion, emotions, values, or aspirations should supersede your sense of humanity. If this solution seems too simple, it's only because you are making the problem too complicated.

Are you listening yet?

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Online Friendships: Real Connections or Digital Farce?

For well over a decade now, the internet has provided many services. Starting as the largest database of every possible topic of inquiry imagined, the internet helped students research papers and professionals find answers to various questions. Now, the internet has evolved to completing daily tasks like shopping and paying bills, viewing and downloading media, and catching up on news all over the world. Nowadays, however, its purpose has superseded what may have been its original vision as the information super highway. It has become the largest source of interpersonal exchanges between friends, families, co-workers, business prospects, romantic prospects, and other random meetings throughout our daily internet activities. Surpassing the telephone and what is popularly coined now as Snail Mail, email, social networking sites, and messengers help to keep us connected.

Now for one who admittedly rarely gets out, a perpetual homebody, the internet has become my extension to much of the outside world. As local, real-life friendships from school and old jobs run dry, despite promises of gatherings and phone calls, I find myself making more friends online, friends who, oddly, seem more reliable than those I see face to face. Which brings me to this question: Can real friendships and relationships be forged through the electrical fog of the internet?

However, to answer this question, one must define friendship. Unfortunately such a term is subjective to each and every one of us. To some, friendship is the person who knows everything about you, the one you can tell anything to, someone you see nearly every day and keep in constant contact with. To others, friendship is simply knowing that the parties of the relationship are there when you need them, despite limited exchanges and minimal contact. They may not know everything about you and you may only speak a few times a year, but you know that when you need to talk, they'll pick up the phone. And for some, like my nephew, friendship simply means any individual who is not an enemy: 'if you're not cruel and give me no reason to dislike you, then we're friends'.

For me, to varying degrees all of these apply, and all of them are manifested in my internet connections, save one important detail: most of us have never met face to face. I have friends I've met on message boards of mutual interests, friends I've met through QR's YouTube project, and friends I've met through social networking sites. Some I've known for nearly 8 years, some I would call my best friends, without hesitation, one even flew from Spain and stayed at my house with me while on vacation. But when I tell people my friends are on the internet, most scoff or give a politely awkward "oh, that's cool". The common sentiment of the internet is that it's not real, and most people treat it as such.

It's duly noted that people do not act on the internet as they do in real life. Some are ruder, more outspoken, more flirtatious, more of whatever they're not in their daily lives. Some people create an entirely new persona online, believing there are no actual consequences, like the internet is some far-removed fantasy land where you can be whatever you want and at the end of the day, shut it down and delete any trace of your existence if you wish to. In maintaining such a mentality, more people feel less connected to the individuals on the other side of the wire, forgetting there are real people sitting in front of the other computer, and social niceties are no longer required. People make superficial friendships and following the smallest infarction, at the click of the mouse can remove that individual from their lives. And, given a few days to refresh, will re-add that friend back into their lives until the next minor faux pas.

Had we a button to delete every annoying individual from our real daily lives, I imagine hardly any effort would be made at all to construct relationships or friendships, to learn tolerance and patience with one another, to learn to coexist as we must on this rock. So why do we engage in the simplicity of deleting real individuals in a virtual world like we're killing off one of our Sims characters? Perhaps this attitude of the internet is why some people refuse to emotionally invest in online friendships and relationships with each other. Perhaps they're concerned about making connections with a fantasy land of characters where no one is what they seem, or in a land where nothing seems tangible because these "friends" live half a world away where you'll never see them face to face.

I invest. I care about the people I connect with online, albeit sometimes too easily, sometimes the relationships mean more to me than to the other person, and they walk away without much consideration for anything else, but isn't that life? I mean granted I do believe most people give up on internet relations a lot faster than real-life ones because as I said, all it takes is turning off your computer, rather than shutting out a neighbor or a co-worker you face every day. However, there are people in our real lives who never return phone calls, who never reply to letters, who make plans and break them, or give hollowed promises and let them collapse. So why can't we care and connect from behind our keyboards?

I can't vouch for every negative experience anyone else has had with one idiotic ruse or another, I can only vouch for the valuable friends I've made, in spite of the callous cowardly posters that pop up everywhere else. I can vouch for the friends who send me gifts and cards, or the friends that saw me through the hardest time of my life; the friends that listen to me bitch and complain about whatever drama is going down, the friends that support and encourage me in whatever I'm doing; the friends who never judged me for what I am, or what I've been. I vouch for the friend who was willing to send me money when times were tough, even though she hadn't enough for herself, and I vouch for the friends that I know will continue to be there for me, even though none of us, save one, have ever met, and even though most of us never will. Some of us talk every day, even if they're small messages on Facebook or message boards. Some of us only talk once a month or less. But we're still friends. From Kentucky to Florida, from New England to the old one, from Ireland to Spain, from Morocco to Jordan, I'm quite fortunate in my international bounty of friends.

Thanks guys.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

The Ultimate Solution?

So I think I've found the answer to part, if not all of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict. Lying in bed awake far later than I ever imagined I could be at this stage, the one fail-safe solution dropped on my head like an anvil. Now for my more religious friends, this could be a less than favorable end so I caution you about the upcoming offense. To end the fight, one must simply remove the problem: blow up the holy land. Now, not being much of a religion buff, I am vaguely aware of the significance of this land to either side of the argument, and somewhat understand why some, in reading my suggestion, might be angered. I do know it holds great importance to both the Jews and the Muslims, as well as the Christians. However, much like a frustrated mother who rips a toy from her bickering children, one must remove the problem in order to restore peace, if only for the sake of the mother's aching head.

But, while I was tossing these thoughts and revelations around in my head, it occurred to me just why this land is so crucial to the parties involved. It is not simply about the religiously historic events that took place there, but what that land represents to people. For years religions have claimed this place, that item, this book as holy, as revered, as the word of God and a map for a better life. These relics offer the physical, tangible evidence that one needs in order to provide to them a deeper connection to their roots, to solidify the origins of their religions, and to reinforce their faith in their beliefs. Few people if any can go on pure blind faith alone, they need something to see, something to touch, something to tell them that what their hearts feel actually exists, that what their minds tell them actually happened.

Now, whether or not such events occurred, the ultimate question is are these land masses worth dying for? Are they worth killing for? Is one's need for that concrete evidence so dire that it is justifiable to wipe out an entire nation of people to have unmitigated access to your holy site? Is it worth giving your own life in a suicide bombing attack to prove just how dedicated you are to obtaining rights over that site? I would imagine that God, not only weary of being called down on both sides of the argument, is greatly pained by the death and destruction that has followed what may have been to him insignificant events. A child was born, as we all are, a man ascended to heaven, as I believe most of us will, and suddenly a decades-long war of devastating proportions ensued with no foreseeable end in sight. Ironic, what some have regarded as holy have blatantly disregarded religious teachings of peace and have spilled innocent blood and soiled whatever reverie the land once held. Given the opportunity, God might reach down and simply smear the land off the face of the earth, if only to end this madness and save us from ourselves.

Religion is a belief in a higher being, a higher power, something left unexplained by any other means. It provides people more resilience in dark times, it increases the healing capabilities of the ill, it offers peace of mind to those fearing the afterlife and it motivates one to strive for goodness. It fosters a connection to something greater than oneself, through devotion, through prayer, through faith. However, that connection is not achieved through inanimate objects like metal, wood, veils, water, fossils, or papers. It's not achieved through geography; countries, buildings, sites. It's achieved through the strength of your own soul and your devotion to whatever belief system you follow. It doesn't matter where you pray, or what places you visit. It doesn't matter if you're in a church, a mosque, or in the middle of a swamp. It doesn't matter if you're where Jesus was born and where Mohammad ascended to Heaven or if you're standing in the middle of a Metallica concert. If you need God, he is there. If you need to talk to him, he'll listen no matter where you are, if you want to prove your loyalty, you prove it in everyday life with people who need you, not on an expensive and time-consuming trip to Jerusalem just to say, "Look Lord, here I am".

Places hijacked by a people so desperate to be closer to God, so incapable of reaching him on their own have poisoned humanity against each other. They have laid unprecedented importance on a chunk of dirt, they have killed for it, they have died for it, and all the while, I imagine, God looks down, saying "that is not what I meant at all, that is not it, at all".

Depression and Graduating in a Recession

The state of the economy is a forlorn one, and it's only expected to sink lower before we manage to kick hard enough to breach the surface of this pounding flood. We're falling and, being the very heart of the international circulatory system, we're pulling the rest of the world down with us. Businesses are closing, Space For Lease signs and empty lots in shopping centers have become as commonplace as food courts and directory maps. Houses are foreclosing, people are moving back in with their parents, parents are moving in with their kids. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, unemployment is at an average of 9.5%, but they don't figure in the people that are no longer receiving unemployment benefits, and job openings that would have received tens of applicants 3 years ago are now getting several hundred, in some cases over 1,000. In the midst of this crisis, rates of depression and suicidality have significantly increased, and with obviously good reason.

In addition to the sea of people out of work, a steady stream of job seekers are flowing in and the levees can barely hold. This is my generation, most fresh out of college, with expectations set impossibly high and promises burned into our minds that never allowed for a recession. Many of us recall those echoing voices of parents and mentors lamenting the benefits of college degrees: the doors that will open, the opportunities laid out before you, and "oh the places you'll go" as Dr. Seuss so eloquently wrote. But such is not our reality. We left the gates of our educational institutions and met a great brick wall. Only a select few make it through, over, or around.

I graduated in 2008 and found a job almost immediately. It wasn't a great paying job, but it was what I was groomed to expect with a Bachelor's Degree in Psychology, so I hadn't been aware of the sinking economy. By the time I left my job in early 2009, I began to feel the crunch. Sensing my opportunity, as many have by now, I decided to continue my education and obtain my Master's Degree. A few classes from graduating, I hear nothing but stories of people who can't find jobs once that nifty little piece of paper is in their hands, and I wonder where I will be. It's almost as if we are walking off our commencement stage and into a ravine. With student loans building up and no guarantee of a job or economic improvement looming in the future, I am petrified of what will come, and depressed by the options left.

Though employment is slim, there are jobs out there to be had, if one strikes HR the right way. But what has become a painful reality for the recently graduated is that ultimately, we are expected to take jobs below our education, our abilities, and more importantly, our desires. A far stretch from our parents' generation of taking "any job that pays the bills" and heavily-laden with a sense of entitlement, we long for mental stimulation worthy of that required in a university classroom, we want for that instant gratification of the hard work we invested at school, and we seek a job that makes us feel happy, useful, fulfilled. Nothing quite knocks you down to reality like not only applying for but fighting and praying to get a job that pays minimum wage with a Master's Degree nestled in your filing cabinet back home.

Does this make us spoiled? A bit, of course. Sometimes, you just have to do what you have to do, the bills need to be paid, the kids need to be fed, whatever your obligations may be. Sometimes you have to suck it up and play whatever crappy hand you're dealt. But are we necessarily to blame for our expectations? For a generation that was pounded with nothing but mind-numbing aphorisms attesting to the benefits of higher education and for children constantly prodded to follow their hearts and dreams, what did our predecessors think we would become when we were suddenly told "your degree is worthless", and "sorry, you dreamed too big". Spoiled, they call us. Though we were raised to want for more, a spoiled child sits back and expects the world to be handed to them, whereas a college student knows well enough their degree comes with blood, sweat, and many tears, so much that less than half the people who enter college finish. After four years of poring over books and ripping your hair out over exams, is it unrealistic to want for the luxury of a comfortable pleasant job?

What now seems like wasted time and wasted efforts throws one's ego down the pipes. It's a difficult blow, especially when the guy at Starbucks with little more than a GED is pulling in $15 an hour, and you were pulling in $11, and only because you went to college (otherwise it was $9). What we're now faced with is a lowly reality that can quickly pull you down, and you only fall farther because you were set up so high to begin with. After four hard years you thought you'd found the golden ticket, only to realize it was just a piece of stained foil. And it hurts. And it's terrifying.

However, perhaps the benefit that lies here in this recession, if we survive it, is that we will come out stronger on the other end. We will know what it is like to toil and struggle in the work force, to beat ourselves senseless with double shifts and multiple jobs. We will quickly learn the importance of a strong work ethic so to not lose that precious job, and we will find relentless determination in our long bouts of pavement pounding. We will learn patience, and we will learn personal strength. Granted, we have not yet reached the devastation of the epic Great Depression, but for a generation that had so much handed to it, this recession is still a tragic blow to the routine of the easy lives we once knew. We may find ourselves struggling with depression, with senses of failure, with letdowns and delayed dreams. But all we can hope for is that someday our investments will pay off sometime in the future, that the little slip of university paper will gain some value, and that we may not have sunk so low that we cannot be revived. Until then, it may be back to retail, fast food, babysitting, name tags and pimple faced supervisors, but manage a smile with the knowledge that you're working.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Private Policies with Public Benefits

In honor of San Francisco's 40th Gay Pride celebration that took place this past weekend, we've been awarded a fabulous gift: extra-curricular college club equality and a reality check for Christian organizations throughout the US. Happy Pride!

It all started when University of California Hastings Law School refused to provide state funding for a Christian college club, the Christian Legal Society, who openly discriminated against gays by disallowing homosexuals to hold officer positions. Though they claimed homosexuals were allowed to attend their meetings, they maintained that their lifestyle is misaligned with Christian beliefs and sinful, and required members of the organization to sign a Statement of Faith, acknowledging and upholding that belief. Hastings argued that it was against university policy to recognize and support organizations that discriminated against any group of minorities and they were not legally obligated to fund the religious club. The CLS fought the decision, taking it to the Supreme Court and arguing that their First Amendment Rights had been trampled. Now, many chapters of the group have fought similar battles with colleges and won, however, the US Supreme Court was about to throw a curve ball. In a narrow 5-4 ruling revealed today, they decided that the University was not required to financially support the group or acknowledge its existence on campus.

Many have lashed out at the decision, even one Supreme Court Justice, Samuel Alito, who wrote that the finding was a "serious setback for the freedom of expression in this country". However, as the ruling ripples through the US, no doubt the details will blur and fade, and this will become a misunderstood decision of religion on campus. So let's set the record straight here. No one is arguing that Christians cannot convene on campus. No one is banning the formation of Christian organizations at college universities, and no one is telling these organizations that they cannot be anti-gay. This decision, at it's base, simply states that an anti-gay Christian organization cannot receive financing from a state-funded educational institution. As another Justice wrote, "while the Constitution protects CLS's discriminatory practices off-campus, it does not require a public university to validate or support them".

It's not only policy on a state level, but a federal level, that any organization that engages in discrimination or exclusion of members cannot receive tax-payer money for funding. However, despite this landmark court decision, it is not glitter and rainbows for equal rights advocates all over the country. Just last week a federal jury determined that a chapter of the Boy Scouts of America in Philadelphia could remain rent-free in a city owned building after the city demanded payment on the basis of their anti-gay practices. The city of Philadelphia had allowed the Boy Scouts to use this building without charge based on a 1928 city agreement that declared nonprofit organizations can use public property for free. However, they recently argued that due to the discriminatory policies of BSA, they felt it inappropriate for the group to remain in the building for nothing. They argued the organization should have to pay an annual rent or be evicted. The jury sided with the BSA, claiming the city cannot infringe upon their First Amendment Rights as a private organization to disallow any group of people they choose and the city can neither charge nor evict them for the reason given.

For you regular readers (the few and far in between), you know my policies on First Amendment Rights. While I do not agree with these ignorant, idiotic, hate-filled religious nut-jobs and their un-American principles, private organizations have the right to single out whomever they choose, to hate whomever they want, and exclude people they don't like from their special clubs (and I don't mean special as in "unique"). However, when the private sector crosses over into publicly funded buildings and institutions or when they receive public financing, they cannot operate as a private organization. In some places, the BSA pays only $1 a month (yes that's one dollar, un dolar, one hundred pennies) for public buildings to hold their meetings. And, much to the disdain of the Christian Legal Society, the BSA also holds many meetings at public elementary and high school buildings as well. Perhaps they should have aimed for the local high school instead. In addition, the BSA receives close to 30% of their funding from the US government, and holds their Boy Scout Jamborees every four years on the federal property of a Virginia military base, at the expense of tax-payers. How much do they pay to rent a military base for a week and a half? Yep, one dollar. Four whole shiny quarters. How much does it cost the government? Five million. Over the nearly 30 years they've been holding these events, that's a total of $37.5 million. And guess what kids? They have another jamboree coming up in July. Feel Uncle Sam sifting around in your wallet? That's you supporting anti-gay organizations without any say in the matter whatsoever.

While few significant lawsuits have popped up over the matters of discrimination, one involving a gay Boy Scouts Leader being banned, another because an Atheist child was not allowed to join (yeah, they don't like those people either), no one has won because the US courts refuse to acknowledge that the Boy Scouts of America are a publicly funded organization. They are registered as a private club, so whatever other funds they receive are irrelevant to court justices. However, based on recent exposes, they are steadily losing funding and support from private donors and public advocates of the group.

I could go on, god knows I would love to tear the BSA up for their ridiculous policies of traditional families, extreme interjected religious beliefs, and attempts to avoid those rampant pedo-gays (which obviously didn't work since they just lost a massive suit for child sex abuse in the organization, perpetuated by non-gay Scout Masters). I would love to check these God Fearing, Hate Mongering Bible Thumpers who are slowly losing ground in the Human Rights Movement across the nation, but I'll refrain, since this blog is purely about private organizations that need to remain such in every sense of the word. You want to exclude, you want to hate, you want to be narrow-minded bastardly cowards hiding behind "morals and values", you go right ahead. This is America. But, you pay for it, you support it, you keep it away from the rest of us. We're sure as hell not going to shell out any more money in the name of hate and have no desire to join your shady clubs.

Side Note: As a former Girl Scout and an advocate for youth activity programs, I would like to say the Girl Scouts are in no way tied to the Boy Scout organization and do not maintain any discriminatory policies against gays, atheists, or any other group. For the boys, send 'em to Indian Guides! They teach the same values of team work, respect, and self-reliance along with father-son bonding and a deep-seated respect for the Native Americans of this country. Plus, they're funded by the YMCA, so you know it's gay-safe...all together now! "Y-M-C-A! It's fun to stay at the...."