Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Unholy Dalliance

“The sad truth about bigotry is that most bigots either don't realize that they are bigots, or they convince themselves that their bigotry is perfectly justified.”  ― Wayne Gerard Trotman

Wake up! In 21st century America you can still get fired for being gay in 29 of these united States. In the land of freedom, what is the source of such hostile bigotry? Who is responsible for sewing the seeds of ignorance and intolerance about homosexuality?

At the root of homophobia in America is the church, and by extension its unholy dalliance with the state. While the bible's view on homosexuality ranges from vague to brutal, Jesus himself never discussed the topic. However, some of his followers are adamant on the issue.
“What's unnatural is homophobia. Homo sapiens is the only species in all of nature that responds with hate to homosexuality.” 
The fact is that homosexuality is not limited to humans. The practice of same-gender sex has been identified in 1,500 animal species. Including the dwarf chimpanzee, one of our closest relatives, where the entire species is bisexual.  The effects of homophobia are glaring and just as horrific as slavery in some parts of the world. In America the effects are just as devastating, but on a smaller scale.
Today, bullying has caused a spike in teen suicide rates. 9 out of 10 LGBT teens have reported being bullied at school within the past year because of their sexual orientation, according to the most recent report on the issue. Schools can legally expel students for being gay. Homes and families are torn apart as a result of children and parents alike 'coming out' in uncertain circumstances.

In a recent Rolling Stone article, Alex Morris chronicles how students of a Christian school in Georgia meet in private, and cower in fear of being exposed 'because if authorities at their school learned they were gay, they would not just be punished, they would be expelled.' Is this the America that the founders envisioned? How can we stem the tide and stop hurting our children?


Thursday, October 24, 2013

Pirate's Plight: Playing the Muse

“When they face desperation... human beings become animals.” ― Dan BrownInferno

Paul Greengrass' new movie, Captain Phillips, features Tom Hanks as a captain and hero, Barkhad Abdi plays the lead pirate and villain. The movie is based on Captain Richard Phillips' 2009 survival after his ship was hijacked by a group of pirates. It is easy to root for the captain in this movie, a family man and hardworking American. But what if this movie were told from the perspective of the main villain? What causes someone to become a pirate off the coast of the horn of Africa?
Abduwali Abdukhadir Muse is the captain of one of two pirate boats chosen by a gang lord to hijack a solitary shipping vessel, the Maersk Alabama. Muse refuses to turn back like the second boat of pirates when Captain Phillips announces that his ship is armed and ready to return fire if they should attack. Muse was undaunted and moved steadily towards his prize. His boat was later dead in the water when the engine quit. The 17 year old however would not. He returned to Somalia even more determined to conquer the Maersk Alabama, a ship at least fifty times the size of his boat.

Captain Phillips is a cinematic masterpiece as well as an exploration into the human condition, even though it does not tell us much about the analysand's daily life in Somalia. We see only briefly the struggle Muse and his crew had to endure to be chosen pirates in a very competitive job market. For breakfast, lunch and dinner, they chew on khat to suppress their appetites.

After Muse successfully boards the ship, he professes his love for America and appeases the distressed Phillips, “Relax, Captain, relax." “No Al Qaeda, no Al Qaeda”. He then explained that this was “Business, just business”, after declaring himself the new captain. Muse's calm demeanor reveals more about his circumstances than we realize. For him, this was as much as about job survival as it was about surviving. His emaciated appearance is telling, that life had been brutal. His seventeen short years had not been kind to him.
Muse justifies his gun touting ways by explaining that he was basically forced into piracy. Illegal fishing by foreign vessels and ships that dumped their toxic waste in the Somalian waters had disrupted the ebb and flow of their livelihood as fishermen. His demand for millions makes it easy for him to turn down Captain Phillips' offer to leave the ship with $30, 000. Muse responds with "I've got bosses." He needed to prove his self worth and later elaborated on his dreams of living in America.
Throughout the film Muse makes an effort to comfort Captain Phillips, who he nicknamed 'Irish', by telling him, “Everything gonna be all right”. It turns out that this was his own way of reassuring himself as well. Later on, Captain Phillips reasons with him that, “There’s got to be something more than being a fisherman and kidnapping people.” Muse only replies, “Maybe in America.” He has endured more in his years than we could ever fathom. We must never underestimate the effect of our actions on others. Depression, destitution and desperation drove Muse and his cronies to the tides of the Arabian Sea. This is the making of a modern day pirate.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

What's Going On?

“Poverty is not an accident. Like slavery and apartheid, it is man-made and can be removed by the actions of human beings.” – Nelson Mandela

 The cities of Zobeide and Moriana are reminiscent of any city in the United States today, where economic inequality has rendered the American dream a living nightmare. In Zobeide, Marco Polo reflects, "They tell this tale of its foundation: men of various nations had an identical dream". In reality, great cities usually have two distinct faces. In Moriana Marco Polo warns that, "You have only to walk a semi-circle and you will come into view of Moriana's hidden face, an expanse of rusting sheet metal, sackcloths, planks bristling with spikes, pipes black with soot, piles of tins, behind walls with fading signs, frames of staved-in straw chairs, ropes good only for hanging oneself from a rotten beam".
Political commentary like George Orwell's revolutionary 1945 book, Animal Farm highlights the disparity that can ensue from ideological extremes. The themes from Animal Farm remain relevant as greed is still the catalyst for cannibalistic capitalism. In our daily discourse the word 'socialist' is tantamount to profanity, and usually followed by 'propaganda' or 'agenda'. Our society is so far removed from the idea of empathy. We always put profits over people. Equality is empty rhetoric to the CEOs & policymakers of our land. Instead, industries like the pharmaceutical industry are modeled to keep sick people addicted instead of making them better.
According to the statistics in the video below the richest 1% of Americans own 40% of the wealth. How does a CEO make 380 times that of the average worker in their company? This is the new face of oppression. Working 80 hours per week doesn't even guarantee you a place in the middle class.
Our poorer classes are left in a cycle of perpetual debt to the advantage of Wall Street. This has become the norm rather than the exception. Education costs and student debt is skyrocketing and there is a growing distrust between the haves and the have nots.

Sadly, these are remnants of the plantocracy that have lingered on. Former Labor Secretary Robert Reich intones in his film Inequality for All, “Of all developed nations, the United States has the most unequal distribution of income." This kind of gross injustice must be condemned and eliminated with responsible humanity. We should take inspiration from Harriet Tubman, whose whisper became a groundswell because as Marx opined, the struggle between classes is inevitable until we establish a classless society.

Friday, October 11, 2013


“Happiness comes more from loving than being loved; and often when our affection seems wounded it is only our vanity bleeding. To love, and to be hurt often, and to love again -- this is the brave and happy life.” - J. E. Buckrose

As the past fades into the sunset
Hold your fear tightly, wrapped warm
Like there's hope left within you
Faltered, not faulty
You survived to try again
Look upon the night's horizon
Witness the glimmering in the distance
Surely, a mirage of hope
Faint enough to guide you home

Then, ever so slowly, layer by layer -
Amidst teardrops - 
The onion's skin is peeled
Doubt's shackles have fallen
Hold hands, like a neonate would walk if it could
Kiss awkwardly as penguins waddle around waves
Surrender your mind to the flow
Your body will instinctively follow
The soul will immolate itself

Pause to feel the truth pounding inside, inch by inch
Pangs of joy as you continue to be consumed by the triumphant entrance;
The perpetual dance

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Half The Sky

“Women hold up half the sky.” ― Mao Tse-tung

Why do some men find it difficult to identify women as their equal? Could it be that their insecurities have had them repeat myths? What does your religious text(s) have to say about women? Why is it that the 'leader of the free world' has never had a female president in its 237 year history? Are only men created equal?

In Eutropia, from Italo Calvino's Invisible Cities, a wife is equated with a new job, a view, and even gossip. This is no surprise since from the beginning of 'biblical' time, at least, women have been treated like possessions instead of persons. The bible suggests that 'Whoso findeth a wife findeth a good thing' and Paul reminded us in good old Corinthians “As in all the congregations of the saints, women should remain silent in the churches." What is stupefying is that we still cling to these antiquated ideals from the bronze age, and some women stoutly defend them!

The world's newest and youngest feminist hero is Malala Yousafzai, the 16-year old girl who dared to stand up to the cowardly Taliban. She defied the ban on education for girls in Pakistan and championed their cause even at the level of the UN. The Taliban responded with an assassination attempt on her life. Today, Malala, now a Nobel Peace Prize nominee, still faces death threats as sexism's ugly head still protrudes from the dark ages.

As exemplified in The Twilight Zone's “The Hitch-Hiker” women are left to the mercy of men. Women must be subservient and dependent on the kindness of men to get by. Men must speak on their behalf, as women are weak and unsure of what they want. Their thoughts and words do not carry the same weight as their male counterparts.

On the reverse side of sexism, men are also adversely affected. Boys are taught they must act masculine and uncaring, play sports and 'man up'. We are taught that to embrace our femininity is abnormal. Sexism, racism, ageism, classism, etc are all members of the same family. They branch from the parent idea that some of us are more equal than others. Those who fall short must be treated accordingly.

While I will be the second to admit that we have made much progress, real advancement will only win when women and men refuse to tolerate inequality. I propose that we all make an extra effort to understand each other and in the process bring equality to the sexes. Our infantile species depend on it!

Monday, October 7, 2013

The Mighty Fall

“Delicious autumn! My very soul is wedded to it, and if I were a bird I would fly about the earth seeking the successive autumns.” ― George Eliot

Undoubtedly fall is the most preeminent of the four seasons. Change is evident everywhere - in the air, the leaves, in the clothes we wear, even in our entertainment - and if only for a season we feel like everything is right in the world. Here are just a few reasons why this is true.

It is a fact that the fall brings forth the best classes. This fall I have the privilege of exploring the world through writing with the chief explorer disguised as my professor. And I should note that my birthday falls smack in the middle of the season, but one of the best things falling in the fall are the leaves. Colorful, crisp, and radiant, cascading in shades of red, yellow, purple, and brown. Fall leaves inspire effortless style and fashion forward ensembles.
Another great example is that the weather is just right and the fashion is fitting. It's the perfect time to add an extra layer without adding too much weight. If fashion is not your thing you can always stay in style. The temperatures are just as suitable for a snuggle buddy. Talk about upward cuddling through the night! Fall is diverse and makes provision for everyone.

The ultimate example, is that all the best TV and internet series are saved to be premiered in the fall. With the exception of Breaking Bad (which ended in the fall) all the best TV and internet series have just resumed. In the past two weeks alone I've witnessed some of the most tantalizing episodes. Homeland, got off to a slow churning but solid third season. Masters of Sex, the new Showtime series based on Thomas Maier's biography Masters of Sex: The Life and Times of William Masters and Virginia Johnson, the Couple Who Taught America How to Love is a proactive and smart throwback. Other great fall shows are Revenge, also in its third season and the brand new Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

These are only a few reasons to fall in love with fall. Fall is nature's way of hitting the reboot switch. As leaves change and fall, so too should we shrug off the facade of the coming winter's chill and forget the heartbreaks of summer. Fall is renewal and can add meaning to the ordinary.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

City of Mirrors

"To be victorious you must find glory in the little things." - Janelle Monáe, Victory

Zermude is city of giant mirrors. Reflecting without judgement the mood of its inhabitants and its visitors. It reminds me of every city that I've ever been to - Kingston, Bridgetown, New York, Chicago, Atlanta, San Diego, Boston - because it is always up to me what my experience will be wherever I wander. In the same way that every reader brings his own perspective to a reading, so too does every traveller haul his or her experience to Zermude.
In New York the default facial expression is a frown, and so I often like to break the monotony and create a spark by flashing unsuspecting New Yorkers... with a smile. Amazingly, sometimes they smile back, and if they don't, I'm always amused at how seriously they take themselves on their serious little commutes. Frankly, I don't spend much time being despondent! I'm only sure of one life and I intend to smile my way through it.

On the other hand, it would be unfair to discount everyone's respective experiences. The pleasant must be weighed equally with the unpleasant. When you live in a big city, you never know what another person is enduring. We know how easy it is to fall victim to the routine like a hamster on a wheel 'following every day the same stretches of street and finding again each morning the ill-humor of the day before'.
In Zermude, most people ultimately succumb to the drudgery around them. They give in to their stress and worry, but it's not impossible to overcome these real issues with a positive outlook according to Marco Polo's account. As for me, I search for solace in the mundane. I find that which is sacred and profound among the lost and found, because it's up to me.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Gone to Gehenna

“If there's a hell below, we're all gonna go.” - Curtis Mayfield.

And in the twinkling of an eye I realized that I was being transported in a rickety, old school bus from an era before the yellow ones, mired in mud and moving at a snail's pace. The bus to hell was fitting. The metal, cushion-less seats seemed to pierce the skin. The driver reeked of liquor and clearly was in no hurry. If that wasn't enough, there was enough exhaust in here to kill us all, but of course we were now immortal.

The bus sluggishly meandered down the long and winding, unpaved road as I started to take note of the passengers around me. I could hear the pale-looking nun immediately behind me, a redhead, singing 'Glory Glory Hallelujah' in a lilting falsetto. The young fireman next to her, hair singed, was still silent from his shocking death. He had just saved a 9-month old infant from a blaze that he didn't survive. Directly in front of me sat a plump, dark-hued woman humming negro spirituals while she rocked and swayed.

Upon entering the wide open and surprisingly prevailing gates of hell, the heat and darkness from the flames of judgment permeated the crippled but persistent little school bus. The only light I could see was from the eternally lit neon orange and hot white flames. It seemed to reach to the infinite heavens to our upward gaze. In the midst of the fiery furnace sat Mr. Satan with clutched fork, eagerly smug atop a rusty brown throne and sitting on his head was a true-blood red diadem. His wingspan was the widest I had seen yet, a dirty off-white but well-groomed. He flashed a crooked smile, painted gold, and a nervous grin. 'What could he be nervous about?' I thought.

My eyes could hardly adjust to the juxtaposition of darkness and the ferociously burning light. My lips had become chapped and parched from the lack of water on our long ride down and the heat and still no water. I had given up on the thought of water so I beseeched with His Most Evilness and a few of his angels for a slice of the rich, crunchy and hot Devil's Food cake that had been prepared for the vilest of mankind. Regrettably, I didn't quite meet the mark, but the overwhelming aroma was already filling up my senses and I could taste it, sweet on the tip of my unholy tongue.
The worst part, except from the living, breathing inferno and the immortal worms, was the fact that babies who were young enough to still have need of their mother's breast were also experiencing this "shame and everlasting disgrace". Their sin was to have been born. The most unfortunate of fates. As I lifted up mine eyes from the unquenchable fire, I paused to reflect on the love of God that he would leave his creation in this black "smoke of torment that ascends forever and ever". In the meantime, he and his saints were having a Holy Ghost party. Yea, looks like I'm not missing much after all.