Commentary, Politics, Uncategorized

How do we prioritize good deeds?

and not just good deeds, but ethics?

It seems like everyone has a cause, and I’ve been thinking about this a lot: not all causes are created equal.

Some people put a lot of money, blood, sweat, and tears, into a cause that amounts to a lot of nothing. And it isn’t just the thought that counts. Having good intentions is a good place to start, but it’s not enough. People want to feel good about themselves for doing good, and don’t necessarily wonder how running a half marathon actually affects Cancer. The idea that they’re doing a good thing and that other people see them doing a good thing, and their genuine desire to help is enough.

I’m skeptical of everything, I guess its just how I was raised. My parents gave to charity, but there was sometimes a discussion about where the money really went, and an acknowledgement that some charities are better than others. It’s very important to me that if I do give to charity or champion a cause that I can be sure it’s really doing something and that it isn’t just an empty gesture to make me feel good about myself. At least if you give money to a homeless person, you can be sure that he is getting the money, and not some CEO.

I tend to err on the side of not giving, which I guess is pretty shitty. I can’t stand the way that breast cancer has been commercialized into a trend, and I’m still not sure if the way that we aid foreign countries is really helping them.

I’ve written a little bit about this before, but I have been thinking about slavery and human trafficking recently. Last month, on Facebook, I was invited to the page “END IT: Shine a Light on Slavery,” an event taking place on February 27. As far as I could tell, participation consisted of drawing red X’s on your hands. On the website it states, “This February 27th, join us and other Freedom Fighters from around the world as we SHINE A LIGHT ON SLAVERY. Draw a RED X on your hand. Tell your world that slavery still exists and YOU WON’T STAND FOR IT. Just use your influence any way you can to help us carry the message of FREEDOM so even more people know. Let’s make this SHINE A LIGHT ON SLAVERY DAY even brighter than ever.” Unfortunately, that’s the end of it. They don’t actually tell you what steps you can take to end slavery. They just tell you how to spread the word that we should be ending slavery, to get more people to seemingly spread the word. It’s a good message, and a good way to spread it, but without any plan on how to actually do anything about it, once people are aware of it.

You see, most people don’t outwardly support slavery. Slavery is bad, and we supposedly have known this for like 150 years. Most of us thought that it was done with. Well, it’s not. Although the End It campaign fell short, it did get me thinking about slavery, which was a good thing. I thought about what I personally can do to stop it, that is buying products made by slaves. It seemed like a long shot, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized that it was something that I had to do. It’s something that anyone can do, really. It isn’t going to be easy to end slavery, when it’s something that already isn’t accepted. It isn’t out in the open. But we can stop supporting it. We can stop buying cheap products made through exploitation. It’s not going to be easy, and it’s something that a lot of people will need to do for it to make a difference. I never thought about the fact that most of the clothing that I purchase is made in sweatshops. Nice, fashionable clothing, is manufactured in dangerous conditions, by underpaid workers, at best. Sometimes the workers are trafficked in. Sometimes they are abused. Sometimes they are children. I feel disgusted with myself for ever contributing to another person’s misery in such a way.

I’ve been looking online to try and find good places to buy ethically made clothing. What I’ve found really interesting is that a lot of these websites bulk ethics together. Some of what they sell is fairtrade, sweatshop free, etc. Some of it is eco-friendly. Some of it is vegan. But a lot of it is not all of the above. Here is something about the hierarchy of ethics that baffles me–you can buy an animal-friendly Vegan handbag that is made in a sweatshop in China. Someone is actually feeling good about themselves for not killing a cow, essentially at the cost of another human being’s human rights. Where does that fall on the scale of ethical?

Here’s the thing: when it comes to picking causes, I’m always going to choose humans. Animals are helpless, and they do need champions, but so do people being forced to work 15 hours a day. It would be great if we could eliminate all cruelty, certainly. I guess what I’m saying though is that if it came to choosing one or the other, I’m picking humans.

It’s been a few weeks since I decided to be a more conscientious shopper, and I haven’t bought a single item of clothing. I’ve made a wish list on pinterest, and when I really need a new items of clothes, I’ve found some great ethical manufacturers. At this point I have enough to keep me clothed.  I feel good about buying clothing with real value, stuff that’s well made, by people who aren’t being exploited. I won’t be able to buy as much clothing as I have in the past, but I think that the stuff I do buy will be better made and last longer. That’s the practical side of it. I also don’t have to feel bad about myself.

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Uncategorized

90 Days a Slave

As a part of his Oscar acceptance speech, Steve McQueen, the Director of 12 Years a Slave, dedicated the award to “all the people who have endured slavery. And the 21 million people who still suffer slavery today.”

I grew up learning about slavery, in relation to the way that Americans enslaved Africans, Abraham Lincoln, and the Civil War. When I was in Third Grade, going to a primarily black Elementary School, we went on a field trip to Baltimore, and made a stop at the Great Blacks in Wax Museum. This is wildly inappropriate for a bunch of 8-year-olds, and I imagine would still be unsettling to visit today. They showed us wax replicas of torture chambers employed on slave ships, in which they would trap rowdy slaves, to “set an example,” replete with wax blood.

In my head, I treat slavery like the Holocaust… it’s something that I know happened, but that I don’t want to think about very much or very often, because it’s really really grim and really depressing. I think of those things as something in the past, and it’s easy to forget that slavery still exists.

What can we do about it? How can we changes things, besides not owning slaves ourselves?

I find it interesting sometimes to think about the delicate balance of good and evil inside every person. When evil things are socially acceptable, who among us is strong enough to know the difference? Who among us is an opportunist who will take advantage whenever possible? Many of us tread a fine line, not to mention that as a society we en masse take advantage of countries that source us with products made by slaves.

There’s a movie, The Experiment, starring Adrien Brody, which is a remake of the German film, Das Experiment, which is based on the Stanford Prison Experiment of 1971. The idea is that any average person, if presented with the right conditions, can be unthinkably evil. There’s also an interesting National Geographic documentary, Science of Evil, that explores the same concept. It’s pretty terrible to think of, mainly because it challenges our perceptions of ourselves as good people. I like to think that people are intelligent beings, capable of rising above our surroundings.

Nevertheless, if slavery exists in the Western world, where it certainly is no longer socially acceptable, then evil is living among us. It’s a troubling thought–there are people in our communities who have slaves. The idea of it seems so wrong, outdated, and ridiculous. A lot of the stories fit a particular mould: someone immigrates from another country with the prospect of a job and a new life, and end up trapped in servitude. What kind of person can do that to another person? I’ll tell you.

I was working for a European company in America for two years.  Two of the senior employees came from the European office, and were married with two children. Living in the expensive DC suburbs, they managed to find a nanny who would work for them for free, in exchange for a free room. She worked a government job as well, and minded the children in her free time. That doesn’t seem so bad, right? However, when they moved back to Europe, they were used to having free help. Why pay for something when you can get it for free, right? The US office had closed down, and they found a girl, a friend of mine, who had a college degree and a lot of experience nannying. The deal was that she would move over for 3 months (that’s how long a tourist visa is), she would live with them, they would help her find a job, and she would watch the kids for a few hours, twice a week. These people were her friends. She was excited about the opportunity of spending more time in Europe. If things went well, she would go home and then come back for another three months on a new visa.

In principle, it didn’t seem like such a bad idea. In reality, they never helped her find another job, and in fact reminded her that she couldn’t really get one with only a tourist visa. The few hours twice a week turned into mom and dad going away for a week at a time, leaving her with the kids, and only €50 for expenses. Even when they were both home, they were happy to sleep in while their “nanny” drove the kids to school. Their “what’s mine is yours” attitude changed very quickly when she drank a €10 bottle of wine that turned out to be the last one in the house. They provided her with a room, and not much else. Even food was limited to what they provided for the kids, i.e., chicken fingers and spaghetti. When they went out for drinks with her, they split the tab. Still, they were shocked when she didn’t want to return after her visa was up. In fact, they had the gall to say that they felt as if she was taking advantage of them.

There are no shackles, no whips, and no dark damp basements, but it sounds an awful lot like slavery. So who are the modern slave owners? People who feel entitled to have help because of their status in life. People who could afford to pay for help, if it didn’t cut into their budget for botox and holidays. People who will do whatever they can get away with. People who will take advantage of the naive and trusting. Well-respected members of society.

Although it helps if you treat your slave well, having someone do work for you for which they are not paid still amounts to slavery. It’s sickening to see what people will do to preserve their lifestyle–and to see how they can rationalize it. We do something similar every day when we buy items made by underpaid or unpaid workers in foreign countries. Why Italian luxury brands like Prada and Dolce & Gabbana can’t pay the people who make their clothes a decent wage is beyond me, they certainly have the profit margin. It’s a disgusting reality, that we are complicit in creating. Is it really necessary to exploit others to improve our quality of life? It’s so easy to turn a blind eye, especially when we really want a new dress. I found a great website (http://www.rankabrand.org/) with information about lots of brands and their policies towards employees and also the environment if you’re into that sort of thing. More transparency about where our clothes and other goods are coming from would be great. Boycotting companies that refuse to outline their employee’s work conditions will help too. I think we can do more than just not own slaves. We can make a point of not benefiting from slavery.

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Commentary, Uncategorized

I don’t like sarcasm.

I don’t, and I tell people that, and they think I’m being sarcastic. It’s my own personal hell.

I’m not earnest either, and I’m certainly not sincere. The problem with sarcasm though, is that its users are so self-aware.

And not just self-aware, but self-aggrandizing, smug, and giving themselves a firm pat on the back.

I’m truly not sure what is worse… the actual sarcasm or the fact that people are proud of themselves for being sarcastic.

I prefer irony, which people often confuse for sarcasm, which is why when I say I don’t like sarcasm, people give me a nod, like “I get it you’re being sarcastic!” *wink*

I used to be really sarcastic, but I was an angsty teenager, so it was to be expected. For what John Haiman calls, “the crudest and least interesting form of irony,” sarcasm has a lot of nerve being so mean spirited.

Those who consider themselves sarcastic often laud themselves for what is really an underdeveloped sense of humor. According to Oscar Wilde, “Sarcasm is the lowest form of wit.”

I guess that still makes it a form of wit, if you really want to get points for it, but it’s not that clever, and it isn’t nice. Sarcasm is pretty obvious, and if you’re still using it in 2014 you’re going to look like a chump.

Consider this: what you consider sarcasm may actually not be. Sarcasm is clear cut–cutting remarks stating the opposite of what you mean, with generally malicious intent.

Try Irony. Better yet, be a troll.

People often complain that when their sarcasm falls on deaf (or dumb) ears, the listener just thinks they’re stupid. If you’re trolling, your goal is to make people think you’re stupid. or just weird. It allows the user to be much more creative, and there is no victim. Importantly, it isn’t clear cut. With irony, you’re saying something that you don’t mean, but not necessarily the opposite of what you mean. There should be a lot of gray area when it comes to irony. Even you shouldn’t know whether you meant what you said or not, and you should never ever ever admit that you were being ironic. That being said, a truly special bond forms, when another person can detect your ironies.

Irony has allowed me to be a lot more open to things. I don’t have to dislike things that are popular simply because they’re popular, but I don’t have to love them either. I don’t need to be critical, because I can just like things ironically.  I relish the feeling of enjoying the simple delight of the Spin Doctors’ Two Princes, a truly magnificent song, that so many others are too cool to like. I can appreciate it for what it is: a time piece, an anthem, a huge ball of energy rolled into a song. Nothing is off limits–whether I like something ironically or otherwise, I like what I like. I can appreciate and enjoy the cultural contribution and significance of Miley Cyrus. And I think that’s what it really comes down to–a recognition of the impact that these things have on society. It took me a long time to enjoy things that I couldn’t expressly relate to. But that would have been a whole lot of culture that I would have had to completely write off. I felt that to like something, I needed to identify with it, and I was afraid to identify with anything.  Now I can even listen to country music.  Shedding sarcasm, I think, went hand in hand with ridding myself of that adolescent self-consciousness.

I enjoy the Madea movies in part because I find it funny that other people find them funny. And sometimes they’re just funny. And they’re full of life lessons.

There is one caveat though:  I don’t think there’s any way to ironically like Two and a Half Men.

It’s difficult, deep in the spectrum of irony to not fall into the hipster trap, but just remember this rule: Don’t be a dick. That should cover it.

RELATED:
Think Sarcasm is Funny? Think Again.
You Can Kick the Sarcastic Habit
How to Live Without Irony

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Uncategorized

the truth about Neknomination

Neknomination might sound like the name of an anime convention, but it’s allegedly an up-and-coming fad in which drinking game and social media are finally intertwined. Unfortunately, it’s only gaining momentum now as a result of the media coverage of two deaths this weekend in Ireland.

I would like to express my deepest sympathies for the lost lives of Jonny Byrne and Ross Cummins. This never should have happened.

I can certainly appreciate that the families of these boys will point the finger at Neknomination as the culprit in this tragedy. I would probably do the same. However this trend as much greater societal implications–is the game really to blame?

I’m from America, where drinking games are the norm, especially amongst youths. I’ve tried to bring some old classics to Ireland before–beer pong, Kings, quarters–but they haven’t caught on, and not because they require too much drinking. The Irish have no patience for drinking games because they can generally drink more and faster without the nuisance of being told when they have to drink. Drinking games, when played correctly, can actually be a great aid in pacing oneself. If you only drink when you are required to, and not in between, you might actually stay too sober (this is what doesn’t mesh with the Irish). This generation of youths though, partly through the influence of social media, are perhaps more open to drinking games. However, a drinking game where the only challenge is drinking a lot, is no game at all.

I like board games, so it’s no wonder that I enjoy drinking games. Back in Richmond, my sister and I would often turn anything from Trivial Pursuit Junior to walking down the street into a drinking game. Yes, we made up a game to drink to while walking down the street. Things were that good. I hate to see the good name of drinking games get dragged through the mud. But drinking games are only the half of it.

The other component of this is the challenge. Although the single factor tying these Neknomination videos together might seem to be the appalling vertical camera orientation, there is supposedly more to them. Participants are being accused of cyber bullying and using peer pressure to influence the nominees to do make their videos more and more extreme. That being said, I’ve watched an assortment of the videos, and many are simply chugging brews or creating disgusting cocktails that they subsequently neck. Some of them might jump off things. But then I saw a guy in a thong crush a beer, take two vodka shots, eat a raw egg, snort a line of something, and drink what he said was piss, followed by chili sauce, then windex. I’m not sure if it was supposed to be satire, but if not, it could certainly work as such. There is certainly no conclusion, to a game in which the goal is for each to one up the last, other than death.

I would guess that the persons who nominated Jonny and Ross feel pretty terrible right now. Although there must be some peer pressuring involved, no friend wants to see you hurt yourself to complete a silly challenge. Right? The videos are supposed to be funny, but then again so is the Treadmill Fail Compilation on youtube. This is the fodder of America’s Funniest Home Videos and its modern day youtube fueled counterparts. There is also a movie called Jackass that has multiple sequels, so honestly, this is nothing new. It is worth noting that the participants are overwhelmingly male, and that men have a lot of trouble shying away from a pissing contest.

I don’t really enjoy watching videos of people doing stupid things, but I will defend to the death their right to do it. This game is stupid, but it’s not the problem. This is what our culture has become.

Here are some reminders for those who have been neknominated:
– turn your phone sideways, this way the video will take up the whole screen
– this is a video, so even though you’re supposed to be drinking alcohol, no one is going to know if it’s really just juice or water
– if you plan on drinking copious amounts of alcohol, make sure you have a buddy present (this is always a good idea)
– you don’t need to drink copious amounts of alcohol, one pint is all
– please think about the safety of the stunt before you attempt it. If you couldn’t pull it off sober, you definitely won’t be able to drunk
– don’t let anyone bully you into it, it’s not worth it
– you don’t have to do it, but if you don’t want to be called a pussy just remember this: you don’t have to make the best neknomination video ever, it just needs to be a tiny bit better than that of the person who nominated you.
– drinking so much that you have blood alcohol poisoning is not impressive, don’t make the challenge about that. Stick to 1 pint, of your drink of choice. Watching someone drink a lot doesn’t even make for a particularly interesting video
– safety first, always.

This game doesn’t have to be so extreme. For every crazy video, there’s a video that’s pretty tame. Keep it light and keep it fun.

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Commentary, Uncategorized

Girls girls girls

I get along with guys; most of my friends are guys. It’s easier to trust men sometimes.
– Paris Hilton

I can’t stand hearing this phrase. Of course you get on well with boys, they’re nice to you because they want to sleep with you. And yet, girls proclaim this like a badge of honor, an achievement, when it really should be said out of resignation. There’s nothing wrong with having guy friends, a lot of us do, but it’s nothing of which to be proud. It is easier to be friends with guys. They aren’t going to feel competitive with you and they’ll put up with your shit because they’re hoping that eventually you will see them as a potential suitor. It sounds harsh and generalizing, but if you’re only able to make friends with people who also want to sleep with you, then your personality is probably defective.

It’s like betraying your own gender. I find it personally insulting, like what’s wrong with me, that you don’t want to be my friend? It’s never a necessary thing to say. So guys have a different sense of humor, are more laid back and easy to get along with, and have less drama. They don’t always want to get with you, but most of the time they do, and it’s nice to have girl friends who will never have that agenda.

And before someone says, “My best friend is a boy, he doesn’t want to sleep with me–” FALSE. I mean, maybe, but it’s rare. Still, I understand the frustration. I know how girls can be. Two-faced, duplicitous, bitches… But what is more two-faced than acting nicer to a girl than you would if she were a dude, because you want to sleep with her? The only reasonable thing to do, is to only make friends with guys who are out of your league, and therefore couldn’t possibly see you in that light.

I guess I’m just old-fashioned. I’m a girls’ girl. I don’t like it when girls pander to guys, feigning interest in sports, video games, farts, etc. If you really like that stuff, fine. I have no problem with that. But I know pandering. I act like I enjoy burps and Age of Empires so that my little brother will think I’m cool. Okay it’s like 50% I do like those things and 50% pandering. I’m not about to forsake my gender though.

Though certain interests might traditionally be associated with men, it’s the 21st century, girls can like whatever they want. I actually only recently started liking beer. I know that the only thing, now, that would make me more attractive to men would be drinking whiskey, neat. I’m not doing it to impress dudes, they’re just characteristically more used to drinking beer, although for most of them it’s usually like Heineken, Heineken, Jagerbomb. When it comes to common interests, sometimes you have to make friends with the opposite sex by default, at least until you can find the right girls. But when I need to tell my secrets, gossip, or be that dramatic catty bitch that is the reason girls are friends with guys… I’m going straight to my girlfriends.

That being said, I haven’t gotten used to Irish girls yet. Help.

RELATED:

Girls Who Say They Don’t Like Female Friends

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Commentary, Entertainment, Uncategorized

Behind every great man…

It all started with Rita. She was so mousy and annoying. Then there was Skyler… she filled me a disdain that I couldn’t even fathom. And finally Winona, who seemed incapable of saying anything without attitude. These leading ladies are the worst. They practically infringe upon my enjoyment of these programs (Dexter, Breaking Bad, Justified) because I have to spend so much time being annoyed by them.

After hating her on Dexter, I saw Rita (Julie Benz) play a perfectly palatable hot lesbian on Desperate Housewives. I had just thought that Julie was terrible, but apparently she wasn’t. She was just acting, which meant that they must have written the character of Rita to be that annoying. And it wasn’t just me, none of the fans liked Rita, and I think that’s probably why she had to die.

I don’t know what it was about Skyler. At first I thought it was her face. Yeah she was kinda bitchy. But the writers did that to her. And though she didn’t die, by the end of the series I hated Walt enough that I had to root for Skyler a little.

I haven’t finished Justified yet, but I’m nearing the end of the fourth season. After torturing us through Winona’s drama, she started showing up less and less on the show, appearing only in 43 of 61 episodes. They created a character so annoying that they had to cut down her role.

Natalie Zea (Winona) was a little annoying on The Following, but much less so, although that could be because her role was quite limited in that as well. Still, I don’t like the pattern that is emerging.

I’m not sure what’s worse: if they meant for these women to be annoying, or if they just can’t come up with any other way to characterize them.

And let me clarify, in case you haven’t seen these shows–these aren’t the characters you love to hate, they’re just annoying.

The men are strong, dynamic, and complex. They’re the center of their TV universe.

Did the writers just get lazy and use the go-to annoying-wife stock character? And why is that even a thing? Would it detract from multi-faceted male protagonist to have a wife that wasn’t just annoying 24/7? Sure, there’s a male sitcom cliche for a bumbling, sports loving, overweight male, but that’s lighthearted and also super realistic.

Why is it like this? Maybe it’s because these men aren’t supposed to be happy. They can’t have a strong marriage and good home life and still get into the shit that they do. I know it’s not that kind of show. Is this the only way? Could they have an unstable domestic situation with a less annoying/more relatable wife? It would be nice to see, because as it is, after watching my fave shows I end up feeling a bit misogynistic and a bit self loathing.

It is important to note that while there are worthy female characters on these shows as well, but it is the wife/girlfriend who we must despise. She just can’t be cool. She gets stuck being the nagging, shrewy, voice of reason. And the cool characters always murder people, too.

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The Golden Age of Television: Boys Only
‘Breaking Bad’ Creator Vince Gilligan Calls Skyler White haters Misogynists, ‘Plain and Simple’

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my worst fear, realized.

When I was a kid, I wanted to be so many things. A chump wasn’t one of them.

I wanted to be a model, a lawyer, the president, a fashion designer. My parents were always telling me how pretty and smart I was, and hey, it went to my head. I went through an awkward phase or something in High School and in College, and a few years after… and not getting much attention from boys, I wasn’t sure where I fell on the pretty spectrum. That hurt, but it wasn’t my worst fear. I still thought that I was pretty, it had been ingrained in me from an early age, and anyway I was afraid of boys. A few years ago, I wanted to have a go at being pretty again, with some renewed confidence courtesy of the opposite sex. I went to what I figured was the most reputable modeling agency in Richmond, Modelogic-Wilhemina. It is attached to a big name, and Richmond is a very small market. I was so nervous going to it, I mean, what could be more pressure than having someone else judge you on your looks? Was I pretty enough to be a model? That was the question.

As it turned out, that wasn’t really the question. I was being judged on something else entirely.

I brought in some casual headshots, and talked to the agent a bit, giving her my background. I told her that I was a flight attendant, and I found out that I worked with one of her friends. This was a nice connection, but it wouldn’t make me pretty.

They told me they would email me in a few days.

I nervously opened the email. They wanted me to come in again! She said “We feel you have something to offer this market.”

Here I did a bit more digging. I guess I shouldn’t have been skeptical, but I wanted to be prepared.

About a week later, I went back to the agency for a second meeting. At this point it became a sales pitch for modeling classes and comp cards, with a thousand dollar price tag.  And then I realized–this was my worst fear. Being someone considered vain enough to spend thousands on glamour shots, just with the possibility of getting my face out there. They thought that I was a chump.

Of course, they said I could get my pictures done elsewhere, but from what I read online, they were unlikely to accept them. Even those who did pay for their vanity package didn’t necessarily get work. I’m not saying it’s a scam, but just really savvy, fairly ruthless business ploy. They invest no risk in paying for the shots, and in fact make money selling them. And if you do get work from them, they get their commission. Their books are filled with girls who are pretty, but who may never get work, and who the agency doesn’t believe in enough to invest in photos.

I might sound bitter, but I’m only a little.  While being viewed as a chump is pretty horrifying, I didn’t go for it, so at least I have that little shred of self respect.

Although there is certainly a standard of beauty in our society, beauty is still subjective. I’m not really worried about being unattractive, although getting society’s seal of approval via acceptance to a modeling agency would have been nice. Still, besides little tweaks, you can’t really change how you look, bar surgery. But if you’re a vain chump, that’s something of your own creation, and something I will have to battle with for the rest of my life.

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