March in D.C.

On March 24th of 2018 (over a week ago as I finish this post), I rode down in a bus to the Capitol with several other students to take part in the March for Our Lives.

IMG_1408
A random photo I took before my iPhone died (damn battery)

It was just last February that the Stoneman Douglas shooting in Parkland, Florida occurred, just one of many shootings to occur since the Massacre at Columbine shocked the nation. Every time we have had gun violence hit the media–be it at a school, a theater, or a church–there was strong request for change, for regulations on who can and who can’t use guns. The people in power have offered there sympathies to the bereaved, but time and time again have been either unable or unwilling to bring about strong reform.

After Columbine, Sandy Hook, Orlando, Vegas, and several other such tragedies, Parkland was basically the last straw; the Stoneman Douglas students got mobilized.

The crowd that day contained hundreds of thousands of people, loudly chanting for change and reparation. While otherwise a chilly day, the collective heat of the crowds was enough to make the air shimmer. Every now and again as we stood, some individuals would start a chant and it would rip like a tsunami right across the bulk of the gathered masses.

Between performances by various celebrities, survivors and advocates came up onstage and decried the violence they had been forced to endure, the NRA for stonewalling gun-control efforts, and the politicians who have allowed the violence to go on for this long.

Many relevant things were said during the main rally, most of which I can only barely recall through the haze of strong emotion (as well as due to getting a sunburn; it was very bright that day).

Stoneman Douglas survivors such as Emma Gonzales and David Hoggs gave us heartfelt and charged speeches regarding the trauma of surviving an event no student should ever have to endure, while emphasizing the need for change and the importance of our making ourselves heard. Gonzales’s speech in particular was powerful for the short silent break in it, roughly the same length of time as the six minutes in which the Parkland shooter killed its victims.

A portion of the crowd (either out of cluelessness or discomfort) attempted to fill the silence with chants. It was kind of disrespectful; I hope they weren’t too loud on the news coverage.

Naomi Wadler, a young african-american girl from Virginia, also spoke to remind us of the continued violence in minority communities that children like her have to endure, as did guest speakers Edna Chavez from Los Angeles and Trevon Bosley of Chicago, cities where people of color in poorer communities have come to live with everyday urban gun violence out on the street, where such violence has been a fact of life for a long while. Both Chavez and Bosley lost siblings to violence, and have seen it out and around in their neighborhood. Minority and impoverished communities are swarming in death and violence that goes unreported by the media, and I am glad to see that this rally included them as well.

My personal highlight for the event was when Yolanda King, the young granddaughter of Martin Luther King Jr., came up on the stage and said her peace. As her assassinated grandfather dreamed of freedom from inequality, so she too stated she dreams that we would no more experience tragedy administered by random acts of gun violence.

There was plenty more that was said, plenty more that was expressed. The survivors of other shootings and urban violence came up and expressed support and commitment, there were tells and shouts and much expression, and so much hope that we could finally get something of substance to be accomplished.


There are those who oppose the advocation for gun legislature, the members of the NRA being the most influential (and the ones who got the loudest boos).

Despite what the button on my lapel might have said, I do not consider myself literal “anti-gun”. As someone who hunts game in the fall, I don’t personally have a problem with owning and knowing how to properly use a firearm. However, I do not see any reason why we should not regulate the sale and ownership of guns, especially the almost military-grade “sports” rifle such as the AR-15 often favored by public shooters.

Seriously, why do civilians need automatic or semiautomatic weaponry (which can be modified to be fully automatic)? They are practically the same thing that active duty soldiers use, and they are required to be fully trained and disciplined before they can use those types of gun in combat. An automatic weapon is not typically designed to be a toy nor a hunting rifle; it is designed to kill or maim as many PEOPLE as possible. And anyone can buy one in more states than not without any sort of background check or mental health evaluation. I mean, if the person holding the weapon is the problem rather than the weapon itself, then should we not be okay with refusing to let the problem has access to weapons?

While the AR15 is not an assault rifle ( is referred to as a modern sports rifle by various entities in the business), it is legally an assault weapon and is a favorite choice for mass shootings.

An 18 year old kid can’t drink beer, and they need to pass a crap ton of tests and practice before they can have a license, yet they are perfectly able to walk into a store or to the back of a white van and pick up an assault weapon for just the right amount of CASH.

For the love of God, we have limits on the First Amendment to prevent the use of free speech to harm (e.g. a person can be arrested if they shout “Fire!” into a crowded room for the sole purpose of causing panic), why not modify the Second Amendment to better work in the modern age? Sure, it won’t stop kids and crooks from being able to get guns illegally, but it will make it harder for disturbed individuals to access weapons in general (plus, any sort of background evaluation ought to raise red flags that would draw attention upon any suspicious character).

People talk about arming school teachers to better defend their students, and some schools have started perform lockdown drills with officers shooting blank rifles due to new safety regulations. There is nothing here about preventing the likelihood of a shooting occurring, just arming stressed-out and untrained civilians while teaching children that death and violence are things to which they should become accustomed.

Call me crazy, but I think a school should be a safe zone where we concentrate on learning and growing without wondering which of our classmates may one day decide to murder us (or which one of our students we might have to execute in the future).

The majority of Generation Z is has reached or is reaching voting age, and come this November those who have registered will have the power to vote out those who oppose change, whose indecision would allow the continued existence of policies and practices that allow such tragedies to continue.


On a related note, let us return to the topic of minority communities. To the day, black and hispanic people in this nation still often get the short end of the stick. Their schools are underfunded, their families often can’t make ends meet, and the people in charge are often either indifferent or hostile. The minority communities experience the largest amount of gun violence in the United States, yet they also receive the least amount of news coverage and reaction compared to predominately well-to-do white communities.

The #BlackLivesMatter movement started in 2014 in response in part to Michael Brown’s death (shot a total of 12 times by an allegedly  threatened Officer Darren Wilson, who was later cleared of charges), and has been continuing steadily. It has not been receiving the same amount of recognition and support as the #NeverAgain movement started by Emma Gonzales and the Parkland survivors. In fact, it has been classified as an extremist organization by the FBI (very same agency that was AT LEAST indirectly complicit to the assassination of Martin Luther King jr.) simply because they are protesting (peacefully, I might add) and unfair justice system. Apparently the FBI has pinned unrelated violent protests by individual black individuals as something everyone connected to the movement would sanction or commit. In the mean time, people of color still continue to leave in general poor, stressful, and unsafe conditions.

Because the Parkland shooting involved a rather well-to-do, predominantly white community, there was a lot more public outrage concerning the event. As a result, it was school shootings that got most of the coverage in debate over gun safety.

Incidentally, the Parkland Shooter (a 17 year old who definitely knew what he was doing) was often talked about as being a troubled child and bullying victim (the guy had a history of rage and brutality, and there were people at the school who tried to befriend him in spite of it) who is being kept safe in protective custody, whereas black boys get shot, beaten, and killed by dumbass officers who immediately assume they’re “threatening” them.

As I believe Edna Chavez described in her speech, the officers aren’t any help to the community because they are likely to profile and arrest the children of color rather than protect and aid them. I don’t care that not all officers are like that, it’s still a problem that there are at least a small crowd of them THAT ARE.

I live in a rural community, so this has always been a distant problem to me. None the less, I recognize the urban violence that occurs among the less well off and marginalized demographics is just as relevant a problem to the American people as the growing tendency we have towards experiencing school shootings. Circumstances like these should not be normal for anyone, people should not have to experience the trauma of live-or-death situations in their everyday lives, let alone live in neighborhoods that are practically war zones.

In the poor urban communities, people have no aid, no money, no jobs, and they often turn to crime and violence out of desperation and fear. They don’t use assault weapons (except for the bigger gangs) but the common pistol can just as easily kill you as any other projectile weapon. Here, the problem is definitely lack of care for those of us leaving poverty. When things happen to people of color in poverty (or really poor people in general), it tends to be seen as not a concern of the nation as a whole but just of that specific demographic.

There is a lot more about marginalized poor communities besides urban violence of which I am opinionated or infuriated, especially my inability to do shit about it, but that can be saved for later actions.

Anyway, the movement started by the Parkland crowd have an agenda I support and think others ought to as well, and people such as #BlackLivesMatter and other advocates for improving life in marginalized communities need the support too. I think it is important that those who can change things actually goddamn improve things. Granted, I can’t know everything about anything, and there will always be stuff of which I am incorrect, but I am damn well sure that a safer, kinder America is one I want to live in.

In the mean time, I need to get back to sorting out my thesis project (and probably go to bed at some point, it’s already past midnight where I am). Goodnight.

 

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February So Far

It is currently February Tenth, just four days before the post-Catholic Western World goes about celebrating love, infatuation, and all that crap. I recently looked up Saint Valentine just to see what he was all about. There’s not much reliable information, just that he was martyred and buried someplace near Rome, and that he’d allegedly been conducting illegal Christian marriages in the Empire. Also, there may have been some other saints with a name derived from “Valentinus” as well. Traditionally, the day of Saint Valentine was celebrated with a feast, as was that of other martyred saints with a designated day of remembrance.

I don’t plan on doing anything special for the holiday this year. Maybe next year.

February also happens to be Black History Month, a time when the often ignored stories, struggles, and historical perspectives get to be brought to the fore. Per usual, the student organizations have been providing some interesting show-casings to go with the month.

Just this last week we had the 2016 documentary I Am Not Your Negro showing in the art building auditorium. Based on an unfinished manuscript by writer and social critic James Baldwin, the film is a deep and powerful look back on the complexities and struggles surrounding the Civil Rights movement, as seen by someone who was there and experienced it. It is a very illuminating film, and Baldwins observations and understandings are still very applicable to (if not eerily predicative of) the current state of American society.

We’ve also had screenings of other films such as Black Girl, a 1966 french film about a young woman from Senegal who moves to France to work as maid for this wealthy upper-middle class family. She expects to experience the adventure and wonder of living in this new, exotic land, and is quickly disappointed with the reality of being some well-off family’s maid. While I won’t give away the ending exactly, I will caution that it isn’t a happy one.

Yet another film that stuck with me was a documentary called Broken On All Sides, a film that covers the problem of overcrowding in prisons such as those in the Philadelphia county jail system, as well as the broader problems in the criminal justice system that have resulted in such mass incarcerations. It covers the problems with discretion of law enforcers that lead to more arrests of nonwhite people, the use of crowded prisons to store people AWAITING trial alongside those already convicted, and the tendency of ex-cons to be legally discriminated against in a manner not-unlike that of the Jim Crow era.

There was also a pre-release showing of the horror film Get Out that I was unable to make due to studio work. I think I might try to catch it in the theater (once the actual theatrical release comes around), if I can find the time for it.

Speaking of the theater, BLACK PANTHER IS COMING OUT THIS THURSDAY!!! Don’t know what else might be happening that day, but I’m definitely looking forward to it.

Black Panther ink drawing
Black Panther fan art by yours truly

Reading the Kama Sutra

So last Valentine’s Day, I received an interesting gift in the mail from an exe; it was a dog-eared copy of an old translation of the Kama Sutra, with a troll-face sticker on the inside of the cover. I have no idea why she thought doing this was funny, but it turned out that I found the book rather interesting (if a bit of a long read).

As you probably know, the Kama Sutra is an old series of texts written in ancient India by a philosopher known as Vātsyāyana. The book’s title apparently translates as “the binding thread of desire” and the contents is around Kama Sastra, which translates as “the science of desire”. Point is, it’s a manual that concerns maintaining good romantic relations and a healthy sexuality.

Kama is basically one of three goals in life that one should seek to attain during their existence in order to make the most of it. The other two are Dharma (following the commands of Hindu holy writ) and Artha (the acquisition of property, art, wealth, friends, and the like). These three areas are to be engaged in at separate points in life so that they harmonized rather than conflict with each other. Apparently it is recommended by some that one practices Artha and Kama during the youth and middle ages while following the path of Dharma later in life in order to achieve Moksha (release from the cycle of rebirth, which seems to me to be connected with Nirvana in Buddhism).

Incidentally, apparently one most also study arts such as dancing, singing, tattooing, painting, riddles and enigmatic conversation, cooking, acting, and other creative endeavors alongside the science of desire in order to enhance ones ability to woo and maintain the affections of another. A pity that I don’t know any good jokes about sapiophilia, but I can definitely buy into this. There is also an elaboration on the various categories of women that one should not

Of course, this is all from the introductory first part. Part II is about Sexual Union, and its first chapter is titled “Kinds of Sexual Unions According to Dimensions, Force of Desire or Passion, Time Kind of Union”. Obviously, this is where things get more into the nitty-gritty of Kama. For dimensions, we have the three categories of penis length and corresponding vagina depth and the ways in which they should or should not be paired together. Following that is a listing of the various kinds of passionate people that exist and the various heterosexual pairings they may form, as well as the pairings that should not form as they would not be happy unions. The next few chapters respectively concern the various aspects and types of embrace (touching, holding, etc.), the types of and places for kissing, marking and scratching, when and with who it is or is not appropriate to bite, the various positions for good congress, and more technical stuff that you can more-or-less find in any book that claims to be based off of this one.

With Part III, we leave behind the methods of physical pleasure and dive into the art of finding a wife. Due to cultural and temporal dissonance, I doubt that much of these is applicable to world societies at large, which is probably why modern publications that reference to Kama Sutra do not seem to include such a section (of course, it is more likely that they are just marketing it to people only interested for the sex tips). Still, I like the fact that there are bodies of text dedicated to the proper courtship of a women and of building trust and confidence in one’s spouse-to-be. It is for these purposes that all of those aforementioned (and some unmentioned) creative arts should be put to good use by the suitor. The second chapter of this section further elaborates on the practices necessary for a man to attract a woman, while also providing insight for woman on how they should go about attracting a man. Incidentally, for some of the man’s endeavors the aid of a female friend may be required. The endeavors of the girl, meanwhile, seem to have been a point of contention among the author and other scholars (something about there being no dignity for a girl who actively pursues or something). The perspective presented here deems it alright to show affection so long as it’s done in a seemingly demur fashion (by the way, I’m significantly oversimplifying most of the content here).

The following chapter concerns the forms of marriage, and the whos, whats, and hows of making them work. After that, we got the first chapter of the fourth section, a chapter which concerns the manners in which a woman behaves in order to be considered virtuous, and how a proper wife should behave when her husband is away. Besides the obvious, this includes avoiding the company of female beggars, “loose” women, and witches, as well as proper conduct when in public or private company. There’s also some stuff on when are for what to she should shop.

After this, we get elaborations on the conduct of widows, the divorced, and those who are getting remarried. This doesn’t seem to have to much to do with desire at first, but considering how the science of desire is what this book establishes as a fundamental part of married life, it is appropriate to include the methods of handling the end and restarting of such unions. Meanwhile, I would say that the inclusion of the conduct and manners of a king’s harem members is a no brainer.

Further into the book, we have elaboration on the ways to acquaint oneself with a desired woman, as well as the proper behavior to engage in for each of the different ways she might react to the man’s advances (the latter of which is written about in a chapter titled Examination’s of a Woman’s Mind”, which to my approval explains stuff like how one must not continue with pursuit if various signs of reciprocation are not observed). Apparently a go-between may be involved in the pursuit, possibly a female friend of the man who manages to gain the confidence of the woman in order to function in a manner similar to a shill (not so much a wingman). I suppose that help from a third party is an old tradition among the courting, especially when said courting involves those not too familiar with each other.

There’s also information on how royals of both sexes may maintain a harem, what sort of consequences there are for sneaking into one’s harem, and how a man should keep his wife from having one (some kings hire sentinels to keep the royal wives from taking lovers, a fact that I find kind of ironic). It is from here that the Kama Sutra moves on to the subject of courtesans and how they maintain sexual pleasure while also using it to further their goals and such. Apparently there are set standards one needs to meet—both physically and intellectually—in order to either be a courtesan or worthy of associating with one. There’s like six chapters in the part concerning the nature and proper conduct of a good courtesan; the next few chapters concerning making oneself more desirable to the opposite sex, plus “medicinal” methods of increasing pleasure during intercourse (not sure if they work or not).

There is much information in this collection of texts that concerns the natures and manners of the relations between men and woman as viewed by the old Hindus. The values are culture specific in multiple spots, but the practical information and basic concepts seem like they could be of almost universal usefulness. Really, how many other sources do you know that include in depth writings on how to form and maintain stable romantic relations as well as tips for better sex? As someone who has failed at romantic endeavors quite a few times over, I think there is much here that from which a considerate individual can learn.

At the very least, it provides a new way of looking at something that I feel is familiar to the point of being taken for granted in western culture these days.

By the way, anyone interested can purchase a similar translation to the one I own here

Left, Right, Ambidexterious

So, I recently got into a short “discussion” on Facebook concerning politics in general. The other individual was someone who had voted for Trump and frequently writes post criticizing the opposition. One thing that I found interesting is that he distinguished between being a liberal and being part of the left. The former was generically defined as being a supporter of free speech and tolerance, while being a “lefty” meant to him being an anti american, anti free speech, pro islam, identity politics loving individual.

I have seen the term “rabid left” used in a few other media posts by this individual (and members of his family). To summarize what has popped up in my newsfeed, he and his immediate relations are of the opinion that news sources like CNN are propagators of false information, that Trump’s presidency is in the nation’s best interests, and the majority of those aligned with the democratic party are prone to violent outbursts, attacking free speech, overusing the victim card, and a couple of other things that remind me of what Milo Yiannopoulos used to write in the Brietbart (before that video came went viral and he upset near everyone across the political spectrum). Heck, considering that at least two of them are into creative writing (as well as charming and visually attractive), perhaps one of them could become the next Yiannopoulos.

Anyway, due to the current presidential administration being run by such a polarizing figure who was the center of many controversial topics in recent history, it is not surprising that quite a number of people are being very vocal in their opinions on the matter. Of course, what I would like to know is where they are getting the information they use to back up their opinions.

So, what is the current situation with the left and the right? What does it mean to be “left” or “right” for that matter?

There is a rather long and interesting history of the terms left-wing and right-wing that can be traced back to the French Revolution (apparently they originally referred to literal “wings” of the governing building), but let’s focus on the contemporary definitions in relation to politics and public perception in the US.

For the most part, the left-wing has generally characterized as being composed of those parties that support progressiveness, internationalism, equality in the form of a level playing field, limited governing, and similar values. The right can be generally be characterized by tradition, nationalism, equality in the form of everyone has opportunity to advance, authority, and other mostly conservative values. Whether or not this simplistic, dichotomous explanation can actually be applied to the current political sphere is something I don’t really know (although I think it is obvious that the real situation is much more complex and nuanced; after all, socialism is considered a left-wing value yet historical socialist states have apparently required authoritarian governments to function).

In the contemporary US, there are two main political parties that have the most influence, The Democratic Party and the Republican Party, with the former generally supporting liberal values and the right conservative ones (however, there are plenty of individuals in both parties who do support values that are associated more with the other side).

During the 2016 presidential election, it seemed to me we had a lesser of two evils type of deal. On the one hand, we had Clinton, who was apparently seen as a tool of the establishment and too flexible in her political stance (ironically, she was disliked during the 1990s for being too naive and ideologically rigid). On the other hand, we had Donald Trump, who is famously nationalistic, anti-immigrant, prone to making false statements while accusing the media of making false statements, and rather rude.

Apparently, a lot of people were genuinely shocked by his winning of the election. I know that quite a few friends of mine were in a bad emotional place that Wednesday. It has also apparently instigated violence and irrationality among those viewed as members of the left, if pro-Trump media sources are anything to go by (meanwhile, other media sources–quiet a few of them probably biased in the other direction–will go into great detail about what repercussions Trump’s decisions are generating and how they will screw up the country).

There definitely were quite a few protests after the election, and I expect there to be more in the days to come. There will also continue to be people who strongly condemn or support the actions/goals of those protesting, and there will be a lot of selectiveness in which facts get cited to support predefined opinions (assuming they aren’t skewed in the first place).

I do not think the left has gone rabid. A think that a few fringe groups are definitely engaging in irrational behavior, but for the most part I suspect that people actively critical the current administration are being played up by media more focused on entertainment and pundits who just want to sway your opinion. Also, it seems to me that those of american conservative mindset (and this is just speculation based on only a few observations and second hand accounts) are defined by maintaining some sort of “traditional” set of values, and they view the left as being to cozy with those that would threaten those values, such as members of the LGBT community and immigrants from very different cultures. They are also more likely to trust in an authoritarian government if said government seems like it will protect the nations “fundamental” values. Of course, this is a general observation that does not include liberals who voted for Trump and conservatives who didn’t.

With rural conservatives in particular (I’m from a rural area, as are most of my conservative peers), the main fear seems to be that the interests of the perceived focus of the “left agenda” is centered on the social and economic developments of cities and urban environments with emphasis on social justice for minorities, and that the white-middle class worker has no place in this. If memory serves correct, these people are definitely worried about losing their jobs to corporations and immigrants (although why a billionaire businessman would help with that is beyond me). There were also a few people I am aware of (there are probably much more) who voted for the current president basically because he would shake up things, bringing about any sort change and new developments (for good or ill) that could not be expected from the opposition.

I recently learned about something called Terror Management Theory, which I think kind of explains a lot about human behavior. Basically, humans have the same instincts and drives to survive and avoid that which could kill them, while also having the cognitive ability to recognize that death is inevitable and that there is nothing they can do to change that. Pretty much every belief system ever functions to prevent the sort of mental breakdown that would otherwise result from this contradiction, and is reinforced when faced with reminders of death. Studies were done that show that subliminal exposure to reminders of death cause one to more strongly support their beliefs, while the possibility of ones beliefs being proven wrong results in greater contemplation of mortality. More information has been included in the links below.

The reason that I mentioned this theory is that I think that Trump managed to win in part by feeding into the unconscious desire for immortality that characterizes most belief systems. Any rhetoric of those who seek to destroy our nation is going to eventually tie into the fear of death, while his promise of making the nation “great again” is directly connected to the main ideals of the nationalist’s belief system. Also, the majority of people who voted for Trump were apparently Baby Boomers, people who are either at or past the halfway point of their expected life spans, and the closer one gets to death the more likely it is that they will have strong belief systems to manage their terror (that certainly explains colonoscopies).

Frankly, I think any sort of political victory can be tied to propaganda that takes advantage of the TMT (and I am pretty that anyone else with a brain has already concluded that).

Before 2016, I did not have any particular political views, except that I sympathized more with liberal ideals than conservative (as well as slightly more libertarian than authoritarian). I did not have much more than a passive interest in what was going on with the governing bodies in my country, although I did try to make informed decisions whenever I had to vote for something. These days, I find it difficult to do any sort of research without getting pissed off or assuming that which makes sense to me is actually accurate. I also find it emotionally difficult to get into any sort of discussion without wanting to back out after five minutes. It is also frustrating how biased information can be, as well as how easily I can be swayed about something by that which plays into my own biases and prejudices.

It is natural for people to have differing views of the world, and to align with those that share similar views while classifying the less similar as opposition. Every irrational, emotional tendency can be explained easily as instincts that allowed our ancestors to survive. However, in a world where first impressions are generated based on skewed secondhand reports and sensationalist media, one must strive to keep calm and dig out the facts from the hyperbolic mud. Of course, what one must often differs greatly from what one actually does.

 

Links

http://digital.library.pitt.edu/a/americanleft/about.html

http://www.informationisbeautiful.net/visualizations/left-vs-right-us/

http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/cover_story/2016/07/the_people_who_hate_hillary_clinton_the_most.html

https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2014/06/the-left-right-political-spectrum-is-bogus/373139/

http://nymag.com/scienceofus/2017/02/are-conservatives-more-scared-of-stuff-than-liberals.html

https://www.uni-ulm.de/fileadmin/website_uni_ulm/iui.inst.160/Psychologie/Sozialpsychologie/19_Greenberg_Arndt_Terror_Management_Theory.pdf

Purpose

Call me Dan. I am a random human male who dwells on the continent of North America.

Like most people, what I don’t know about the world at large figuratively dwarfs what I do know, and a lot of what I know is generally biased or incomplete to some degree.

Seven days prior to this posting, I came to the conclusion that a lot humans of my generation and region are neither strongly motivated to overcome their ignorance, nor are they particularly active members of society. Unfortunately, I can’t say that this conclusion doesn’t apply to me.

This blog will be an infrequently updated documentation of myself trying to improve upon myself in these two areas, as well as others. For the most part, posts will consist of somewhat informal essays and reports of things learned and questions in need of answering. Hopefully, my distaste for leaving projects unfinished will keep me motivated to not abandon this one.

Due to my status as a post-secondary student, blog updates will probably not be that frequent (not in the long run, anyway).