Sunday, March 28, 2010

Flamin' Freedom Fighters


Blogger Note: Yes I am aware this is the second blog in a row with such an ostentatious triple-F title, but as the terms brought a smile, I simply couldn't pass it up, so bear with me.

We all know I am never short on words, especially when the discussion takes a turn into equal rights and discriminating laws. Recently the fight to repeal the long-standing Don't Ask Don't Tell law in military service has revved up, and everyone is coming out of the woodworks to voice their opinion, from high ranking officials to dishonorably discharged soldiers, and arguments range from ridiculously twisted to inescapably infallible.

Now it wasn't long ago that DADT was considered "progress" for gays in the military. Previously being completely banned from serving, in 1993, homosexuals were then legally allowed to serve so long as they remained in that dusty closet cloaked in shame. However, had they been found out, the U.S. military was well within their right to discharge the so-called sexual deviants. Now, attempting to make good on his promise, President Obama is strong-arming law-makers to repeal the draconian standard and allow gays to serve openly. Naturally, he is not battling without opposition.

Several senators and military leaders are fervently speaking out against this motion. Former senator Rick Santorum claimed that those in the military supporting the change are simply bound by political correctness and, (pun intended?) "cannot see straight". He believes that somehow allowing gays to openly serve will diminish the effectiveness and readiness of the armed forces. Though such a concept seems clouded by flawed and bigoted rationale, General John Sheehan reiterated the thought when he testified in front of the committee at the DADT hearings last week. He alleged that when the Dutch allowed openly gay soldiers to serve in the military, it weakened the infrastructure of their forces and opened the door for the Srebrenica massacre of 1995, where the Dutch were overwhelmed by Bosnian serbs and 8,000 muslims were killed during an ethnic-cleansing genocide. (The Dutch government is vehemently denying the allegations).

Another statement came from MC-General James Conway, who announced that he would not force his soldiers to bunk with other gay servicemen. Currently soldiers' living quarters consist of double-bunks, though Conway insists that men should either be permitted to refuse a gay roommate or the government will have to provide single bunks for soldiers from now on. While I can appreciate the discomfort of living in close quarters, sleeping with, and essentially having to undress in front of an individual who may find you attractive (this is why women and men do not share bunks), the notion that gays will have to be segregated from heterosexuals simply because we assume they cannot control themselves is preposterous. Overly concerned with the personal comfort of their soldiers, what these people do not seem to understand is that the trend of homophobia is no different from discrimination against any other minority group. Some servicemen may come from the deep south where racism is disturbingly rampant and claim that they are not "comfortable" sharing quarters with an African American. However, undoubtedly, such a complaint would not only be overlooked, it would probably be reprimanded.

On the other hand, those protesting for the repeal are not in short supply either. After years of holding the policy in place, Colin Powell has finally lent his voice of support, claiming perspectives have changed and, contrary to Gen. Sheehan, he believes that other countries' open policies have shown that openly gay servicemen and women will not harm the armed forces. Defense Secretary Robert Gates recently passed a modification of the policy stating that hearsay, anonymous tips, confidence of military doctors and confessions to clergy cannot be used to initiate proceedings to discharge GLBT soldiers. Such factors have previously contributed to the 1,300 discharges conducted since the 1993 policy was enacted. Most importantly, it seems obvious Congress is falling into step behind Obama, and the repeal is not only promising, but practically guaranteed.

My own issue with this matter is not only the blatant denial of allowing men and women to serve, protect, and die for their country, in a time of war where enlistment is diminishing. My biggest beef is that these individuals are not fighting for their own freedoms. They have few compared to the general population of America. They can't marry in 45 states. Slightly fewer states ban gay adoption. In most, they can be fired from their jobs if found out, and the federal government has done nothing to provide equal rights or even anti-discrimination laws (gays are not specifically protected from hate crimes in federal laws). And yet, they still wish to fight for us, while we sleep under the security they have afforded us, while we sit at home and vote away their rights, and while we publicly scorn them with dishonorable discharges when their harmless secret slips out.

One can only hope that DADT will soon be a thing of the past, but don't be so sure we won't hear it again...Bibi Netanyahu of Israel is hijacking the phrase in what has been referred to as a paralleled shame, Israel's illegal occupation and continuing construction in Jerusalem. While the U.S. has demanded Israel cease all construction, Netanyahu has asked America to adopt yet another version of DADT, in other words, they won't stop building, but it will be a secret, and we will just look the other way until the rest of the world kicks us in the shin for hiding behind the guise of ignorance, yet again.

Personally I don't think gays should even serve in the military, my viewpoint is the heteros started the wars, let 'em finish them. I can't say with full conviction that I would die for a country that denied me my basic freedoms. But if they want to serve, who are we to question those who have the guts to do what so many of us won't? All I can say is God Bless those Flamin' Freedom Fighters.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Farewell Founding Father


America. Land of the free, home of the brave. The world's melting pot. One of the wealthiest countries in the world. We came, we conquered, we thrived through the years, but not always without violence and rarely without blood. Our country has risen up through slavery, discrimination, and the fight for equal rights. Granted our rap sheet isn't a blank page, but people have been working tirelessly to wash it clean and rewrite a more favorable tale in its place. But how hard are they scrubbing and why?

For years in the U.S., while liberals have been fighting for the future in the White House and Congress, right wing conservatives have been fighting to clean up the past, namely in our children's classrooms. Several popular books have been banned due to what has been deemed inappropriate, though historically correct references, language, and actions. Classics such as The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Color Purple, and To Kill a Mocking Bird have been banned because they contain the word "nigger". Other books were banned for various offenses: The Scarlet Letter, banned for depicting an affair out of wedlock and an illegitimate pregnancy; and I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, banned because Dr. Maya Angelou's description of her rape as a young child was deemed sexually explicit.

While I can appreciate the seriousness of these subjects and the concern of exposing young children to such topics too soon, these books are accurate depictions of historic moments and events that cannot be erased simply because one removes the books that tell their stories. The use of the word "nigger", while crude and inappropriate, is an unfortunate term of the time, describing a group of individuals that were once viewed inferior and enslaved by the white ancestors of this nation. Is it not a backhanded slap to the face of African Americans everywhere to cleanse their history by refusing to acknowledge the foul use of the name? Its as if we're saying, "sorry for that whole slave thing, but let's just pretend it never happened, okay?" Likewise, sex out of wedlock and child sexual abuse has been going on for centuries, who are we to turn a blind eye to it and wipe it away?

Unfortunately, conservatives have generally won these wars, many of these optional reading titles can no longer be found in school libraries, and now they've turned their eyes to new horizons: textbooks. Recently, Texas right wingers have managed to pass a measure that could be the biggest massacre of American history to date. White-washing our past by eliminating what they deemed irrelevant or inconsistent with their viewpoints of our country, they have hand-selected the topics, events, and people they wish to be taught. The changes?

Remember that guy that wrote our country's Declaration of Independence? One of the Founding Fathers? The third President of the United States? Soon, many children won't. Thomas Jefferson has been removed from the required curriculum, namely because they want to eliminate the Enlightenment period of which he was so avidly a part. The Age of Enlightenment focused on science, philosophy, and culture, which at times questioned religious values. It may be speculative, but Jefferson was also a deist and adulterer who had an illicit affair with a slave, producing a handful of illegitimate offspring, which, for Texas, makes for a less than prominent role model, despite his numerous contributions to the nation.

Separation of church and state? Not even a theory, according to Texas. Though I truly believe the separation of church and state is theoretical and very few laws are passed without religious influence, Texas has decided they won't even discuss the idea of such segregation. They will focus only on the influence of Judeo-Christian influences upon the founding of this country. They also refuse to teach the Constitutional amendment of religious equality or that the U.S. government is forbidden from promoting one religion over another.

Other changes include: teaching Republican President Ronald Reagan while leaving out Democrat Senator Ted Kennedy and the first Hispanic of the U.S. Supreme Court, Sonia Sotomayor; omitting details of Hispanic heroes dying at the infamous Battle of the Alamo in Texas; refusing to acknowledge Hip Hop as a cultural movement; teaching the origins of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, (with undoubtedly a definite bias of favor toward the Israelis); celebrating the resurgence of conservatism with prominent organizations such as the National Rifle Association; and changing the name of our country's system of government from "Democracy" to "Conservative Republic".

While the teachings in a single state can be a cause for concern, the biggest issue is how far will the conservative influence reach? Texas is a major buyer of textbooks, and it is unknown if textbook publishers will cater to the large Southern state's specifications and print all their books as such or tailor books solely for Texas' use.

Now who's responsible for this uproar? One would think such critical decisions regarding an entire state's educational curriculum would be based on the experience and knowledge of history, government, and sociology specialists, or might at least include their advice. However, the fate of children's understanding of this country's foundation rested in the hands of elected lawyers, a dentist, and a writer for a local newspaper. Granted the right-wingers are pulling the strings of a spectacular puppet show, but its a sad day when common sense has flown so far out the window that one finds it appropriate to toss out a Founding Father with the crystal clear bathwater of Enlightenment. Maybe these gun-toting, bible-thumping, George W. Bush electing, racist rednecks should have read up a bit on that age before taking it upon themselves to cleanse our country of those ethnic and liberal demons that have come to represent what this great land is all about.

Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it...those who try to rewrite it are just plain doomed.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Oscars: Winner vs Worthy


So past Oscar nights have definitely had their ups and downs, their tight races, those wondrous dark horse runners, and those obvious wins and upsets. And it's no secret that politics and current events play a role on the academy's votes. But what about those slightly obscure points that factor into the voter's bids? The actor's overall likability, tallying up the past nominations, and even pity for losses that should have been wins?

Now, the Oscars are annual awards that focus on the previous year in film-making, and they recognize and reward spectacular achievements in that year's films alone. In other words, these awards are not meant to mark lifetime achievements, overall career successes, or impressive resumes that have been built up over decades. It doesn't matter how great you were in a film made 5 years ago, or that you were great in the last 20 movies you've made. You can still lose. It doesn't even matter that it may be the first film you've ever made, or that your career up until then was blown to bits by box office bombs. If you have one moment in one picture where you were undeniably fantastic, you are eligible to be nominated and even win. At least, that's the way it should be.

No one can fully eliminate the human margin of error in voting. Many of us even make the awards' season mistake of casting our own personal votes for actors we favor, either because we loved all their other films or just because they seem nice. We've also thrown out votes for those actors who irritated us once in that film they made 20 years ago or because they've simply gotten in trouble in their personal lives and have lost our respect. Sometimes we think people should win simply because they've been nominated so many times in the past, we scream "will someone PLEASE just give them one??" We rarely can watch a film objectively and freely hand out accolades for those who truly deserve it. So can we, in all seriousness, expect the academy to be able to vote with 100% objectivity, every year?

The discussion circulating the WWW this year was whether or not Sandra Bullock deserved to win, despite her being the front-runner fave. Now I haven't seen the Blind Side personally, but I will say I've been rooting for Sandra simply because I do love her, she's got that awesome personality that makes you feel like you could be BFFs if you only had the chance to hang out. She's made some great films in the past, and made some flops, for which she won a Razzie and showed up in person to humbly accept her award; which by the way, makes us love her more. But is her performance Oscar-worthy? Meryl is her main competition, whom, having actually seen Julie and Julia, I feel she is, as usual, O-W. Not to mention the fabulous underdog, Gabby from Precious who has virtually been buried and forgotten this year as Sandra and Meryl ping-pong award honors back and forth betwixt themselves. So with the Oscars literally just moments away as I write this, will the favorite or the worthy take home the golden naked man this time?

Favorites who don't necessarily deserve to win take it home all the time. The 2002 Oscars began a minor-chain reaction when Halle Berry won for best actress for Monster's Ball over Nicole Kidman in Moulin Rouge. Despite the obvious favor of drama over musical, at the risk of sounding racist, it was no coincidence that Berry won as the first African American woman alongside Denzel Washington for best actor, during an evening which included an honorary Oscar for Sidney Poitier. However, though many felt Kidman was snubbed, no one was willing to badmouth the first best actress award for a black woman, or mention that Whoopi Goldberg should have been the vessel for that moment years ago in The Color Purple. Since Kidman lost, she got what I like to call the Pity Oscar for her role in The Hours the following year (Goldberg received her Pity Oscar for Ghost). Don't get me wrong, Kidman was fantastic in the film, but Oscar worthy? Technically she didn't even qualify for Best Actress, given she had less on-screen time than her co-stars Streep and Julianne Moore, who were both shoved into the Supporting Actress category. Of course, Kidman's pity win pushed Renee Zellweger out of her deserving win for Chicago. So naturally Renee received her Pity Oscar the following year for Cold Mountain. Again she was fantastic in the film, I love Renee and I loved the movie, but some thought Shohreh Aghdashloo should've won for The House of Sand and Fog. Unfortunately she didn't have a high profile film the following year to receive her Pity Oscar and thus lopped off the chain of Oscar compensation.

Others have obviously won due to those lovely politics or agendas: An Inconvenient Truth thanks to global warming crises, Sean Penn in Milk, thanks to the recent Gay Human Rights Movement, pretty much any movie involving the Holocaust (yes Kate Winslet won partly because it was a Holocaust movie, partly because she has been nominated 6 times in the past, and partly because she was awesome).

Will we ever get to a point where we can vote for those sole performances, despite politics, current events, personal feelings, and providing compensation for screwing actors out of rightful awards because of these issues? I'll be rooting for Sandra tonight, but I will own the fact that I am totally biased, and part of me wants her to lose so I can simply be proven wrong that Oscar is in fact, just and fair. Time will tell.