Tuesday, October 13, 2015

A Moment of Silence

The Internet is merciless. In recent years, it has forced nearly every industry, every organization, to adapt or die. It is a digital natural selection, killing off whatever can’t keep up. (Remember Blockbuster?)

Yesterday, the Internet claimed another victim: Playboy.

The magazine will continue, but it will no longer feature nude photos. What had been one of the first stepping stones to manhood for so many boys over the past 62 years has admitted defeat and will soon officially cede that role to the Internet. (In reality, of course, that fight was lost long ago.)

This is sad news, but it’s not surprising.

I was born in 1987, and men of my age were probably the last who saw their first boob on a piece of paper. I remember mine fondly. I was about seven years old. In stereotypical fashion, my friend had managed to sneak away with a Playboy from his dad’s stash. To keep from getting busted, we climbed a tree. When he opened to the centerfold, I almost fell out of it.

A few years later, I managed to get a hold of my own. It featured the Barbi twins. That magazine held a special place in my heart and under my bed for a long time.

And then came the Internet. Suddenly, I and countless other prepubescent boys around the world had access to more porn than even the most deranged addict knew what to do with. It was the beginning of the end for print porn.

It was a good run, Playboy. The ink may fade, but those centerfolds will live on in our minds forever.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Why You Should Stop Crying About Your Student-Loan Debt

With student-loan debt being featured in the media so prominently lately, I know that you’ve all been dying to hear my perspective. So here it is: quit bitching.

And lest you assume that I’m some spoiled brat who had mommy and daddy pay for school, keep in mind that I finished college with over $110,000 in student-loan debt. That costs me $600 a month, and it would cost me more if I weren’t on the income-based repayment plan. One more thing before we go any further: none of this applies to victims of predatory lending practices.

So why aren’t I the poster child for the student-loan crisis? (And it is a crisis.) Because I took on that debt of my own free will. I wasn’t forced to go to a school that cost $40,000 a year, nor was I tricked into borrowing the money to pay for it. And while I didn’t know exactly what I was getting myself into regarding repayment, I was certainly capable of finding out.

Is college too expensive? Yes. But we’re free to go to a less expensive school or to forgo college entirely. Once I realized that I had made a mistake in choosing St. Joe’s, I transferred to a much less expensive school. A school I could have attended from the beginning but chose not to.

Is it hard to find a good job without a degree? Yes (depending on what you want to do), but you still had a choice: borrow money to earn a degree that qualifies you for a certain career, or settle for a different career. “But I don’t want to settle for a job I don’t love.” Life ain’t fair, my friend. As my man Ben Franklin said, the only guarantees in life are death and taxes; he didn’t say anything about finding a fulfilling career.

I’m not happy with the choice I made regarding college. But I can’t blame anyone else for that choice. I wanted to further my education, and that was the trade-off.

All that being said, I’ll be first in line for loan forgiveness as soon as I’m eligible. I’m not opposed to lightening the burden of student-loan debt, but I’m not going to cry about that burden when I willingly put it on my own shoulders.

Monday, July 6, 2015

If I Die Before I Wake, at Least in Heaven I Can Skate

Ten years ago today, one of my closest friends died. He was a few months shy of 17. I have a fair amount of vivid dreams, and I’ve had a lot about Pierce since then. But one dream has stuck with me more than any other.

In the dream, it had recently snowed, and the sun had set. I was excited to go out; I love the snow. So, as on countless other days, I stepped outside and walked up my street, a steep three-block hill lined with row houses. At the top was the school my friends and I hung out at. You’d see us there almost every day, some of us just sitting around, others skateboarding. In my dream, Pierce had passed away, as in real life. But there he was. Everyone was acting like nothing had happened. It’s hard to describe how I felt when I saw him. Confused, shocked, elated.

I asked a friend what was going on. He told me that Pierce had been allowed to come back for one day. I didn’t think to ask how or why. I didn’t ask Pierce what the afterlife was like.

I had one thought: I want to have just one more snowball fight with my friend.

With tears blurring my vision and a smile spread wide across my face, I scooped up a handful of snow, pressed it into a ball, and threw it at Pierce. Then I woke up.

The dream saddened me, but there was something comforting about it, too. I’ve often said that dreams are almost like memories of real events. While you’re dreaming, it feels real. And in vivid dreams, you truly feel the emotions, the state of mind you’re in. So yes, the dream still makes me sad. It brings back the pain of losing him. Of seeing him lying in the hospital bed. Of serving as one of his pall bearers, lowering him into his final resting place while fighting back the tears, trying to stay strong like a pall bearer is supposed to. This pain isn’t as fresh, but it’s still deep.

But the dream also gave me this memory of getting the chance to throw just one more snowball at my best friend. A friend I’ll never get to see again.

Real or not, I’ll take it.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Transracial...Is that a Thing?

Spoiler alert: No.

I’m not writing about Dolezal; I want to discuss whether transracial is a legitimate concept.

(Disclaimer: I understand that transracial has long been used to describe children adopted by parents of another race. For simplicity’s sake, I’m going to use the term to refer to the idea of self-identifying with another race.)

This train of thought got started when I saw a Facebook post that said something like, “Ugh…transracial? Really?” My first reaction was to agree. But then I thought of two things. First was Caitlyn Jenner. She self-identifies as a woman; can't a white person self-identify as a black person? Second was a recent conversation I had about race as a purely social (as opposed to biological) construct.

Those thoughts led me to wonder whether I dismissed transracialism too quickly. I’m no sociologist, but I did take an introductory sociology course as a college freshman, so I’m pretty much a sociologist. As such, I understand the idea that neither race nor gender is based on genetics. Both are social constructs. Ethnicity and sex, however, are not purely social constructs.

Race and Gender—Social Constructs

As I understand it, African American is an ethnicity that refers to Americans of largely African descent. Some may narrow the definition to only those descended from slaves. “Black” refers broadly to a culture shared by African Americans who are fully assimilated into a particular subset of American culture.

Gender is a similar concept. At the risk of being accused of not giving gender its due, I’ll sum it up like this: gender refers to behaviors and attitudes that mainstream society associates with a particular sex. Boys play with trucks, girls play with dolls. Not because of genetics, but because parents buy trucks for their sons.

Simplistic (and probably flawed) definitions, but I hope that they work.

It’s a subtle distinction, but maybe this will help clear it up: I’m currently reading Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (great book, great author). She’s from Nigeria. If she’s granted US citizenship, she’s an African American. But she didn’t share in the experience of black Americans. The novel is about a woman who emigrates here from Nigeria and must “grapple with what it means to be black for the first time.” Her genetics didn’t change, but she wasn’t black until she got to America. It’s related to questions of Obama’s blackness. Some feel that because of his upbringing, he doesn’t truly know what it means to be black in America. He is undeniably an African American, but some question his blackness.

(Dolezal is clearly aware of the distinction. When asked by Matt Lauer whether she’s African American, she nodded her head yes and said, “I identify as black.”)

Oppression and Self-Identification

An integral part of the black experience is oppression, both historically and currently.So is it even possible for a nonblack person to truly share in, not just commiserate with, that experience?


It’s possible for a white person to get it (to an extent). But getting it is not the same as experiencing it. In America, white people simply don’t know what it’s like for society—not just individuals—to discriminate against you because of your skin color. And don't cry about affirmative action. All other things equal, you're better off in this country if you're white.

But wait. We elected Obama, so racism is dead, right? The ability to not think about race is one of the great perks of white privilege. White privilege doesn’t mean that white people get everything handed to them or that the KKK secretly controls America and keeps blacks down. But let me ask you this, white folk (courtesy of Americanah): How many times have you worried that your race would keep you from getting a loan? Have you ever worried that you’d get pulled over for being white? Do you expect to see mostly nonwhite people when you open a magazine? You can’t simply self-identify with that kind of experience. You have to, you know, experience it.

Of course, that raises the question of whether such experience is necessary for a male (sex) to self-identify as a woman (gender). Frankly, if I were a woman, I think I’d say that yes, it is. I fully support LGBT rights, but I wouldn’t hold it against a woman for believing that experiencing sexism is an essential part of womanhood. But why do we (myself included) accept the transgender concept so much more readily than that of transracial?

I think that at least part of the answer is culture. I would say that the difference in the experiences of a white man and a white woman is not as extreme as that of a black woman and a white woman.  The feminist would probably say that sexism just doesn’t get the attention it deserves, and the poor-white-people guy would say that black people just want to pull the race card, but I still think that it’s an important factor.

Oh, and that whole blackface thing always makes it pretty awkward when white people pretend to be black…

Friday, June 5, 2015

Beauty Is in the Eye of the Beholder

This is my first post in nearly two years. I fell off for a variety of reasons. The two most significant are probably laziness and the feeling that, given the sheer number of opinions out there, I can't come up with anything that hasn't already been said. The latter may be true, but I've decided to (try to) not care. And shout out to Keith for helping convince me to dust off my keyboard.

So. A lot's happened over the last two years. What's bothered me enough to get off my ass and complain about it? Glad you asked. Yesterday, I was asked, "Did you see the pictures of Caitlyn Jenner? She's beautiful, isn't she?" I said no. I was then asked, "Are you anti-transgender people?"

So because I, a 27-year-old,  don't find a 65-year-old transgender woman attractive, I'm prejudiced? I was pretty insulted. And frankly, I think that women and transgender people should be too. To paraphrase some article I saw, it's funny how Bruce Jenner was praised for his Olympic achievements, but Caitlyn Jenner is praised only for her looks.

Yes, a lot of people are calling her courageous, but most of the comments I've seen are related to her appearance. And though I recognize the impact on the LGBT community, I question how much courage it takes for a millionaire celebrity to do this. It takes infinitely more courage for some nobody from Alabama to make such a decision. This praise for Jenner might even be harmful. It's similar to the belief that because Obama was elected, racism and oppression no longer exist.

I was similarly bothered by all the hubbub over the "courage" Angelina Jolie showed when she decided to have her breasts removed because she was at an increased risk for breast cancer. When you can afford to have the surgery (and to have a world-class plastic surgeon give you implants), it seems like a no-brainer to me.

But I digress. I think that every human has the right to do just about whatever they want to their body, but I want to talk about the leap from my saying that Jenner's not good-looking to the assumption that I'm prejudiced against transgender people. Such logic is born of two phenomena.

The first is the crippling fear so many Americans have of being politically incorrect. (For the record, I am not one of those political-correctness-is-killing-society people.) I think that a lot of people have a subconscious fear of being labeled a bigot if they don't let everyone know how beautiful they think Jenner is. I'm reminded of a chapter from Adichie's Americanah that describes some rich Main Line woman who always refers to African women as beautiful or stunning, even when the main character, a Nigerian woman, the women simply are not attractive. Or the "big is beautiful" idea. If you're happy with the way you look, I'm happy for you. But I'm not attracted to overweight woman. (Nor am I especially attracted to super-skinny women. Thigh gaps are kinda weird.) You can't choose your sexual orientation, so why am I expected to alter my opinion on what constitutes beauty?

The second phenomenon is the fact that it makes a lot of people feel warm and fuzzy inside when they write a Facebook post about it. "See how progressive and accepting I am!" These are probably the same people who changed their profile pictures to an equal sign in support of gay marriage but couldn't be bothered to let their elected representatives (i.e., the people in a position to actually change the marriage laws) know how they feel.

I know that beauty is subjective. If you really think Jenner is beautiful, that's fine. She's just not my cup of tea. That doesn't make me a bigot.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Is the Pope Catholic?

Shout out to Donnie for getting me off my lazy cyber ass.

Believe it or not, I am not always an unbiased observer. But I'm pretty sure I've come up with a fairly objective way to criticize Pope Francis' recent "support" of gay priests.

Let's start with this: even before Francis' revolutionary statements, the official Church position was that being gay is not a sin (though any homosexual activity is). A gay man can still fully adhere to the tenets of Catholicism; there's no reason to prevent them donning the frock in the first place. So what is so praiseworthy about what the pope said? He essentially just reiterated Church teaching. I seem to remember John Paul II being put up on a pedestal for a similarly pointless statement, saying Jews are not guilty of deicide. Of course, this magnanimity came decades after the Church had already graciously withdrew that charge. (Yes, it took almost 2,000 years for the Catholic Church to officially declare that they no longer held Jews responsible for executing Jesus.) Francis' supporters may bring up the fact that Benedict had barred gay men from becoming priests, but he was a dick. All Francis has done so far is be less of a dick.

So what's the big deal? Is simply treating human beings as such really that admirable? Shouldn't one have to do just a little bit more than the bare minimum in order to earn our adoration? And speaking of the bare minimum, why is everyone so impressed by his apparent humility? One of the best-known passages in the Bible is Matthew 5:5: "Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the Earth." Sure, it might be a big deal for an average person to come close to living up to Jesus' philosophy, but shouldn't that simply be expected of the pope? It's like giving the president a Nobel Peace Prize for nothing. (See what I did there?) Can't we take it for granted that the pope will do what his god told him to? (Well, except for those things that his god apparently changed his mind about, like eating kosher and stoning adulterers.)

A leader ought to be exceptional, and his followers should expect nothing less. On the bright side, at least America isn't the only country settling for mediocrity.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

German Bishops to Congregation: "Pay Up or Go to Hell"

I have to be careful with this one; I'm afraid I'm going to have an aneurysm before I finish.

The German Catholic Church is essentially excommunicating members of the Church who don't pay a church tax.

Apparently, several European countries have already been levying church taxes, ranging from  about 4%-9% of one's income tax, on registered members of certain faiths and giving that revenue to their respective religious institution (after being paid a service charge for collecting the tax, of course). Some smaller religious communities collect the tax themselves. The obvious way around this is to tell the government that you're no longer a member of that faith and then practice it anyway, which is what many people have been doing.

Most of the religious institutions that benefit from this tax have not pursued those who practice their faith without paying the tax. But the Catholic Church in Germany will not stand for tax evasion! Render unto Caesar, damnit!

Last week, German bishops officially declared that "those who lack solidarity bid farewell to the community of believers" and will be forbidden from receiving sacraments. The Church hasn't outright said that those who don't pay the tax will be excommunicated, but I don't see much of a difference. Those who have been excommunicated are also barred from receiving sacraments, which the Church holds are necessary for salvation. The Church has to officially lift the excommunication in order for one to be accepted back into the flock; I don't know if such a formal recognition is required to lift the ban that results from not paying the tax.
Incidentally, it should be noted that the Church's rhetoric is (ironically) reminiscent of Pope John Paul II's  call for solidarity with the poor; it seems the Church is trying to implicitly use the memory of the popular John Paul II to legitimize this decision.

Now, aside from being a dick move, I think this is literally sinful. There is an act called simony, which the Catholic Encyclopedia defines as "'a deliberate intention of buying or selling for a temporal price such things as are spiritual of [sic] annexed unto spirituals'. While this definition only speaks of purchase and sale, any exchange of spiritual for temporal things is simoniacal." It goes on to say that "The various temporal advantages which may be offered for a spiritual favour [include] the munus a manu (material advantage), which comprises money...The spiritual object includes whatever is conducive to the eternal welfare of the soul, i.e. all supernatural things: sanctifying grace, the sacraments, sacramentals, etc." The Catholic Church generally considers this an extremely serious offense.

Now, the majority of Church income comes from this tax. So some will argue that any organization needs money to survive. But are magnificent cathedrals, innumerable acres of property, and billions of dollars in cash really necessary for the Church to perform its spiritual duty? As far as I can recall, the Christian god doesn't demand a payment in exchange for his grace. And there has almost always been a grassroots version of Catholicism that advocates a return to the simpler ways of early Christianity. I suspect their ranks in Germany may begin to increase.

So how the hell do they expect to get away with this? Well, the Church has convinced believers that its own interpretation of scripture alone is legitimate. When you convince people that you hold the keys to Heaven, you can get away with just about anything. This is probably why the Church resisted translations of the Bible into vernacular languages for so long; who can argue with the Church's interpretation of scripture when the common believer can't even read it?

Granted, it is true that a clergyman who is extremely knowledgeable in ancient Hebrew, Latin, Greek, etc. will have a better understanding of what the ancient scriptures really meant, but does that mean the Church alone is capable of correctly understanding the Word of God? The Church has utilized its authority to such an extent that people are too scared to think for themselves. As one German Catholic said, "I don't like paying [the tax], but I do because I fear the step of quitting the Church." He, and countless others, equates disagreeing with the church to eternal damnation. Are they really the same thing?

I didn't think the Catholic Church was still capable of surprising me. I thought this kind of blatant avarice and abuse of power was given up in the Middle Ages (as opposed to the subtle avarice and abuse seen today). Perhaps it's fitting, then, that this is occurring in the same country that gave birth to the Protestant Reformation.

It's no wonder Martin Luther consider the pope to be the Antichrist.