There Goes the Ruddy Two-shoes

Archive for the ‘Society and Culture’ Category

Divirginizer Whopper

Posted by ruddytwoshoes on January 17, 2009

Whopper Virgin (AP Photo)

"Whopper Virgin" (AP Photo)

Jon Steinman of Deconstructing Dinner takes a good look at Burger King’s latest marketing scheme and American cultural imperialism:

Perhaps you’ve already heard the buzz. In late November, Burger King (BK) launched a marketing gimmick called Whopper Virgins. The campaign would be waged via the Internet as well as a series of television ads directing people to the Whopper Virgins web site.

Whopper Virgins is the product of American PR firm Crispin-Porter and Bogusky. The company employed a film-crew to travel the globe and introduce BK’s famous Whopper hamburger to people in some of the world’s most far-flung places. Inuit of Greenland, Transylvanian farmers, and the Hmong of Thailand were among those targeted for the experiment.

It was hoped that Americans would be fascinated to see the reactions of such ‘foreign’ people tasting the homogenous staple of American fast-food — the hamburger.

In some cases, participants were also engaged in a taste-test to compare McDonald’s Big Mac with the BK Whopper.

While it was likely not the intention of BK or its hired PR firm, the Whopper Virgins campaign has revealed the sheer ignorance of Western culture, and has managed to proudly celebrate the cultural imperialism that North Americans have become so famous for.

Located on the campaign’s web site is an approximately seven minute video that showcases the film-crew’s Whopper expedition.

In the early stages of the film, a member of the crew is recorded expressing his excitement at the de-virginizing of the Hmong people: “They’ve never seen such a foreign piece of food before,” he proclaims. “They didn’t know how to pick it up.”

Maybe I’m being picky here, but of course the Hmong of Thailand have not seen a ‘foreign’ piece of food before, that’s what makes it ‘foreign’!

I’d be curious to observe whether or not this member of the film crew would be as amazed with himself upon being presented with a bowl of salted crickets (insects being a staple of many cultures) only to then realize he doesn’t know how to use the chopsticks placed beside the bowl. Hmm, that could make a good film!

The Whopper Virgins film continues with an animated map of the world, and a diagram of where the film crew (and Whoppers) will be travelling to. The same person who was shocked to see people who had never seen a hamburger is heard narrating in naïve wonder: “You’re going to go all around the world and find people that are really off the grid, who perhaps don’t have televisions, who don’t have access to restaurants and what-not, who really live outside of things.”

‘Outside of things’?

And what would the Hmong, Inuit and Transylvanians think of these half-witted Americans trucking Whoppers around for the purpose of producing a marketing gimmick?

I seriously question just who of those represented in the film are ‘living outside

of things’.

Of course, the spreading of their brand around the world has long been the

objective of BK.

BK restaurants number 11,900 and are dispersed throughout 69 countries, with 34% of the outlets outside of the United States. So in the case of Whopper Virgins, BK is simply celebrating the global influence the company has exerted thus far.

However, I consider it a fair assumption that while North Americans may well be aware of the downsides to cultural imperialism, our continued support and participation in this long-standing phenomenon does not seem to be abating. Perhaps the widespread viewing of the Whopper Virgins film will succeed in showcasing exactly how our Western culture can so easily pollute and patronize other cultures.

As one case in point, when the film moves to the Inuit of Iceland, an older member of the community is seen unwrapping his first-ever Whopper. The wrapper is swiftly discarded in what was likely the first piece of non-reusable food waste that he’s ever been responsible for.

Many critics of Whopper Virgins have suggested that the gimmick was purposefully designed to create controversy.

I would disagree.

The orchestral music played throughout the duration of the film is suggestive that what the film crew and staff are doing is a noble cause and a sign of American superiority. The music is so epic in tone, that in many respects, the handing over of Whoppers to ‘foreigners’ evokes an image that introducing a Whopper to a Whopper Virgin is akin to a gift from God.

In the end, I propose that Whopper Virgins ranks as one of the greatest displays of unintelligence ever seen in the world of marketing, and not because of the content of the film, but because of the name of the campaign.

‘Virgin’ is often used to depict purity and something uncorrupted. By choosing the title ‘Whopper Virgins’, BK has indirectly admitted that the introduction of the Whopper to people who have never tried one, amounts to corrupting what was once pure.

I for one agree with Burger King.

Posted in Society and Culture, TV, Film, and Literature | 1 Comment »

Chewing the Cud with Some Positivity Juju

Posted by ruddytwoshoes on January 17, 2009

I am attempting to nurse a fragile infatuation with the concept of healthy living through nourishing my psyche with positive energies.  I began to hinge on my iPod for exquisite companionship during work hours – one that has so far seen many successes in fending off the negative forces that devour my already monstrous job environment.  I started to relieve my personal network of dark and superfluous connections, so I may focus on those that offer smiles, learning, and opportunities to grow.  I purchased lifetime access to unrestricted amounts of optimism and free-flowing mementoes of how fortunate I have been in this existence, and I am eager to utilize it in each waking millisecond.

 

The world embraces indefatigable hatred and unrest as its wealth, however, so I am prepared to meet my defeat. 

 

This infatuation really is brittle, as you may observe.

 

I am giving it my best shot, though, at least within the parameters – which happen to be rather fluid parameters – of my “private” life.

 

That said, cheers, and I wish you all a beautiful year ahead.

 

 

America will be inaugurating a new presidential era in three days, and it is creating a concoction of emotions inside me.  The Bush family’s departure from the White House, along with the fact that they are not going to be replaced by the McCains, must be a cause for celebration, but I am too much of a skeptic to be entertained by the idea that Barack Obama will bring about the promises of change that so well graced his campaign literature. 

 

However, it is ridiculous, I must say, that these wing nuts are expressing a lot of anxiety over Obama’s incipient presidency, throwing words like “Marxist” and “Antichrist” around with the false sense of assurance they gather from whoever far-right media personalities they elect as their news sources.  I have yet to hear a logical explanation for what makes him the Antichrist – that news story about 6-6-6 as a winning numerical combination in the Illinois lottery sometime in November just does not do it.  My many grievances against Christian teachings aside, this numerologically-based scaremongering is just laughable baloney.   And a Marxist?  Because he expresses his favoring stronger unionization, tax increases on the rich, and a form of universal healthcare (which is not getting anywhere near “universal” after appointing Tom Daschle as Secretary of Health and Human Services)?  More importantly, when did he ever declare an interest in wiping out the capitalist system?  He wants to regulate it, as opposed to eliminate it, which is admirable enough if you ask me.  Whether or not it is going to be sufficient, though, I am not certain, but from what I have seen to date, he is not striking me as an individual who is likely to stray from corporate lobbyist interests.  And, no, he is not in any way governing left.  Look at his appointees.  Even Pat Buchanan caught it.

 

He never was my first choice until he and McCain clinched their party nominations.  At that point, it became too easy to jump on the Obama bandwagon because the elections are dominated by regrettably only two parties, and voting against the bigger of the two evils quickly appeared to be the appropriate route to take.  Furthermore, putting a heptagenarian in office was just too precarious when he had for a vice president — who assumes the presidency if and when he kicks the bucket during his term — a hugely inexperienced Alaska governor who bragged about deriving her foreign policy experience from her state’s close proximity to Russia, and had no idea, prior to being coached by McCain’s aides, that Africa was a continent.  No kidding.

 

I listed Dennis Kucinich as my favorite presidential candidate after the Democratic Presidential Debate on November 11, 2007.  I fear that he is not leaving that position for a little while.  A rarity in American politics, he exudes an unpretentious regard for civil rights and the kind of mettle that does not droop when his viewpoints are faced with mainstream disapproval.  Listen to his answers during the November 11 debate:

 

 

If you want to measure him against the other participants of the said debate, watch the entire video. 

 

You can tell that, unlike the others, he was not trying to be safe with his replies whatsoever.  I can just picture Wolf Blitzer’s brain cells going ballistic over Kucinich’s responses, especially during that one invaluable moment where he publicly called for Bush’s impeachment – on national television.  Blitzer was not to let a “radical” like Kucinich challenge his patriotism in front of the American people.

 

So then came more propagandist tactics executed by the mainstream media to alienate voters from the Kucinich platform.  That he was being given very minimal speaking time during the debates was not enough – the mass media had to make sure he was portrayed greatly as a mad individual, completely out of touch with reality, and forced him to acknowledge his belief in UFO’s through a highly irrelevant question during one of the next debates in which he was allowed to participate.  He was banned from taking part in debates shortly after that – a blatant violation of the First Amendment that was shoved under the rug. 

 

“Change” has been a tremendously overused word during the past two years, but I feel that very few Americans are actually ready for it.  Many of us want to change the players but crave more of the same center-rightist policies.  I trust that a Kucinich administration has the ability to facilitate a huge and much needed change in this country, but I am not about to continue daydreaming about the possibilities.  The American population is too weighed down by McCarthyism to rationally ponder – even consider for a second – a Kucinich presidency.

 

I will closely watch what Obama does over the next four years – too short a time, perhaps, for any president to neaten the mess he is inheriting.  I am eager to know, however:  is his efficiency in solving the current economic crisis, the conflict in the Middle East, or the immigration problem going to match his impressive eloquence in speech?  What is he going to do for our poor?  How is he going to affect the worrisome situation in Gaza with a strong Jewish lobby behind him? 

 

 

Oscar Grant’s BART cop killer, Johannes Mehserle, was finally arrested on a murder charge.  If you have not been keeping tabs on the news, you must watch this spine-tingling footage of what transpired at the Fruitvale BART station on New Year’s Eve:

 

 

A white police officer shooting and killing an unarmed black man who showed no indication of aggression or intent to contest authority – all of it is sad, yet hardly surprising.  And the idea that phenomena like this are lacking in their elements of surprise doubles, triples, quadruples the horridness of the world we wake up to every morning, where racial discrimination is an inextinguishable plague that pounces on us day by day. 

 

This time, at least, the charge was appropriate, but the dramatis personae in this case would, over the next few months, do well to remember how the Los Angeles riots looked like.

 

Viva justicia.

 

 

On a much lighter note (I have to keep the positivity juju alive around here), I have given in to Comcast’s sports entertainment package, so I could stop missing my UCLA Bruins!  They are doing well this season, despite the absence of Kevin Love and Russell Westbrook, who both contributed an enormous deal to the triumphs of last year’s team.  We are presented with some of the depth that we had been missing in the previous seasons – thanks to the nation’s top recruiting class, Michael Roll’s much awaited comeback from the redshirt roster, the highly evident improvement of juniors Nikola Dragovich and James Keefe, and the splendid leadership of seniors Josh Shipp, Alfred Aboya, and the hands-down best pointguard in the country, Darren Collison.

 

 

Not to say that I had little faith in Ben Howland’s ability to develop this year’s team into something comparable to last year’s, but I was very concerned about losing Kevin Love in particular as a one-and-done Bruin to the NBA.  I know I have only been following UCLA basketball for a relatively short period of time, but I had not seen or heard about a big man performing that superbly for UCLA in the post-John Wooden era until he came onboard.  Love’s profound understanding of the game never failed to manifest itself – he just always knew where exactly he was on the court, which led to his being able to convert opportunities into points.  His aptitudes for ball handling, passing (check out that lob to Collison about 23 seconds into the video above), and scoring from anywhere (yes, even full court shots he makes happen) are addicting to watch, and I am not even going to talk about his marvelous defensive ability that made him such a perfect fit for a Howland-coached squad.  And he preserved his modesty through it all.  He was not your showman athlete with the fancy tricks; rather, he had an amazingly unselfish game that he carried out to obtain a W for the team, instead of individual statistics.  And, that, too, is a Howland team trademark.

 

Highlights of the day when he schooled thousands in Oregon and one of his greatest days in a UCLA jersey:

 

 

On the other hand, it was Westbrook’s energy that made watching UCLA an even more exhilarating experience, and there is no doubt that he was one of the more athletic players to come out of a Ben Howland program.  I will never forget that “Let’s go!” facial he did on Oregon’s LeKendric Longmire:

 

 

Anyway, I am awfully excited to see what this year’s team is capable of becoming.  UCLA is ranked 9th/7th in the nation with two losses so far (and to very good Texas and Michigan teams at that) and is currently undefeated in the PAC-10, which remains to be one of the best and strongest conferences in the NCAA.  No one ever expected this year’s big men to pull off feats similar to that of Kevin Love’s, but it is a certainty that J’Mison Morgan’s and Drew Gordon’s already obvious potential to explode will be nurtured and enhanced under the supervision of the best coach in college basketball today.  I am also anticipating Dragovich, Keefe, and Aboya to grow further during the season, both defensively and offensively.  As for the backcourt – Jrue Holiday, Collison, Shipp, and Roll – there are no big concerns at all, but I do expect to see more from Malcolm Lee and Jerime Anderson and hope to see them being given enough playing time to develop, as they will be needed greatly next year.  Plus, we want to avoid losing promising players like we did last summer when Chace Stanback left.

 

As the Wizard of Westwood has suggested, this group has the potential to be a very, very good team, so I will just sit back, relax, and watch my boys get better every single game as they make their way towards not just a probable fourth consecutive Final Four appearance, but perhaps another national championship banner for UCLA, too.

 

And 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8!

U…C…L…A!

UCLA fight, fight, fight!

 

 

 

Posted in Let's Get Distracted, Life, Medleys of Mental Activities, Politics, Society and Culture | Leave a Comment »

A Few Things

Posted by ruddytwoshoes on December 21, 2008

I thank the universe for the luck it has bestowed upon me. In a rather blue state such as Washington, I have the opportunity to spend forty hours of my week around staunch ultra-conservatives, who have posed good enough reason for a coworker, who leans center-right, to make the pronouncement that I have landed “in the wrong office.” I have, indeed, felt that way a number of times, but instead of harboring anxieties over our diametrically opposed socio-political viewpoints, I consider it sheer luck that I am in the company of individuals who further my personal growth via thought-provoking conversations. Such discussions have not only broadened my knowledge on various matters but also led me to delve deeper into my strongly held beliefs, dissect and improve my reasoning, enhance my analytical skills, and better my rhetorical abilities.

I do not remember exactly how they sprung, but several debates on gay marriage, all of which saw me as an ardent participant, silently broke out in the office in the past week. I was, not surprisingly in this case, one of, perhaps, only two people — the other one being a lesbian who has lived and parented adopted children with her partner for years — subscribing to the idea that the right to marry should be extended to same-sex couples.

Interestingly enough, the only relatively flamboyantly homosexual there, who also happens to be a devoted Republican and member of the Pentecostal Church — something that I find quite mind-boggling — is firm in his conviction that due to the purported sanctity of matrimony, gays, who he insists are all unfaithful to their partners, should not be allowed to marry. Others consistently voice their concern over the hypothetical effects of legalizing same-sex marriages on the traditional, biblically prescribed family unit — that which is created by two parents, one male and one female. Some, on the other hand, slightly go off on a tangent to maintain that homosexuality is a choice, and therefore, homosexuals have the power to choose to be heterosexuals. This gives me the impression that they do not deem same-sex marriages necessary because gays can straighten up to partake in the business of customary matrimony if they choose to do so.

To respond to the third argument, I say some people confuse sexuality and lifestyle. Lifestyle — how you express your homosexuality, what you wear, who you engage in sexual intercourse with, your manner of speaking — is a choice, no doubt. But can you name one homosexual — in a society that forces everyone to go under two and only two gender boxes — who ever said he or she wanted to be gay?

Then, to kill the first two arguments with one stone, I cite the sacredness of marriage and the gleaming, scripturally supportive family model that Britney Spears and Kevin Federline, both perfectly heterosexual, have championed.

And if that does not cut it, we can look at that super-holy matrimonial ceremony that also involved Britney Spears and a childhood friend in Las Vegas a few years ago. Oh, and what about Whitney Houston’s sanctimonious union with Bobby Brown? What about my mother’s short, unfortunate marriage with my biological father who was clearly unable to attend to his responsibilities as a husband, a parent, and a family member?

Furthermore, you are not taking marriage away from homosexuals who supposedly do not have the ability to keep marital relationships. You are taking it away from those homosexuals who are prepared to commit to, or have already committed themselves to, their partners. Besides, there is no question that heterosexuals have the tendencies to be extremely disloyal to their spouses as well. Are there really any grounds for upholding the exclusivity of marriage to heterosexuals?

And, finally, I just have to ask: What is it that really makes a marriage? Is it heterosexuality or the scientific potential to procreate? Or is it love — the magnificence of which unquestionably outshines color, geographical distance, religious denomination, and gender?

Mike Huckabee appeared on The Daily Show two weeks ago. I loved the discussion this video shows, and Jon Stewart was golden that night.

Also, watch and hear Keith Olbermann’s gripping statement a few days after Proposition 8 triumphed in California:

In addition, check out Milk, a powerful Gus Van Sant film detailing the struggles of Harvey Milk, the first openly gay city supervisor of San Francisco, starring Sean Penn, Josh Brolin, Emile Hirsch, James Franco; For the Bible Tells Me So, a stirring documentary on how the Christian right wrongly exploits biblical passages to justify gender discrimination; and Nava and Dawidoff’s Created Equal: Why Gay Rights Matter to America. I am certain that there are heaps and heaps of films, videos, and literary works on gay marriage and gender equality out there, but these are what I have gotten my hands on over the last month or two.

The passing of Carol Chomsky, who contributed greatly to the study of language development, should not go without mention here tonight.

Here is the obituary that appeared on The Boston Globe yesterday.

I am deeply saddened by the news and sincerely hope that Noam, who reached his eightieth year on earth just a few days ago, does not run out of fuel to stay around a little longer. This world is going to keep needing him for a bit.

Posted in Life, Medleys of Mental Activities, Politics, Religion/Irreligion, Society and Culture, TV, Film, and Literature | Leave a Comment »

Good Read

Posted by ruddytwoshoes on November 15, 2008

I could very well be a Chris Hedges fan some days. This appeared on Truthdig.com on November 10 and is a great tie-in to my November 9 blog.

America the Illiterate

We live in two Americas. One America, now the minority, functions in a print-based, literate world. It can cope with complexity and has the intellectual tools to separate illusion from truth. The other America, which constitutes the majority, exists in a non-reality-based belief system. This America, dependent on skillfully manipulated images for information, has severed itself from the literate, print-based culture. It cannot differentiate between lies and truth. It is informed by simplistic, childish narratives and cliches. It is thrown into confusion by ambiguity, nuance and self-reflection. This divide, more than race, class or gender, more than rural or urban, believer or nonbeliever, red state or blue state, has split the country into radically distinct, unbridgeable and antagonistic entities.

There are over 42 million American adults, 20 percent of whom hold high school diplomas, who cannot read, as well as the 50 million who read at a fourth- or fifth-grade level. Nearly a third of the nation’s population is illiterate or barely literate. And their numbers are growing by an estimated 2 million a year. But even those who are supposedly literate retreat in huge numbers into this image-based existence. A third of high school graduates, along with 42 percent of college graduates, never read a book after they finish school. Eighty percent of the families in the United States last year did not buy a book.

The illiterate rarely vote, and when they do vote they do so without the ability to make decisions based on textual information. American political campaigns, which have learned to speak in the comforting epistemology of images, eschew real ideas and policy for cheap slogans and reassuring personal narratives. Political propaganda now masquerades as ideology. Political campaigns have become an experience. They do not require cognitive or self-critical skills. They are designed to ignite pseudo-religious feelings of euphoria, empowerment and collective salvation. Campaigns that succeed are carefully constructed psychological instruments that manipulate fickle public moods, emotions and impulses, many of which are subliminal. They create a public ecstasy that annuls individuality and fosters a state of mindlessness. They thrust us into an eternal present. They cater to a nation that now lives in a state of permanent amnesia. It is style and story, not content or history or reality, which inform our politics and our lives. We prefer happy illusions. And it works because so much of the American electorate, including those who should know better, blindly cast ballots for slogans, smiles, the cheerful family tableaux, narratives and the perceived sincerity and the attractiveness of candidates. We confuse how we feel with knowledge.

The illiterate and semi-literate, once the campaigns are over, remain powerless. They still cannot protect their children from dysfunctional public schools. They still cannot understand predatory loan deals, the intricacies of mortgage papers, credit card agreements and equity lines of credit that drive them into foreclosures and bankruptcies. They still struggle with the most basic chores of daily life from reading instructions on medicine bottles to filling out bank forms, car loan documents and unemployment benefit and insurance papers. They watch helplessly and without comprehension as hundreds of thousands of jobs are shed. They are hostages to brands. Brands come with images and slogans. Images and slogans are all they understand. Many eat at fast food restaurants not only because it is cheap but because they can order from pictures rather than menus. And those who serve them, also semi-literate or illiterate, punch in orders on cash registers whose keys are marked with symbols and pictures. This is our brave new world.

Political leaders in our post-literate society no longer need to be competent, sincere or honest. They only need to appear to have these qualities. Most of all they need a story, a narrative. The reality of the narrative is irrelevant. It can be completely at odds with the facts. The consistency and emotional appeal of the story are paramount. The most essential skill in political theater and the consumer culture is artifice. Those who are best at artifice succeed. Those who have not mastered the art of artifice fail. In an age of images and entertainment, in an age of instant emotional gratification, we do not seek or want honesty. We ask to be indulged and entertained by cliches, stereotypes and mythic narratives that tell us we can be whomever we want to be, that we live in the greatest country on Earth, that we are endowed with superior moral and physical qualities and that our glorious future is preordained, either because of our attributes as Americans or because we are blessed by God or both.

The ability to magnify these simple and childish lies, to repeat them and have surrogates repeat them in endless loops of news cycles, gives these lies the aura of an uncontested truth. We are repeatedly fed words or phrases like yes we can, maverick, change, pro-life, hope or war on terror. It feels good not to think. All we have to do is visualize what we want, believe in ourselves and summon those hidden inner resources, whether divine or national, that make the world conform to our desires. Reality is never an impediment to our advancement.

The Princeton Review analyzed the transcripts of the Gore-Bush debates, the Clinton-Bush-Perot debates of 1992, the Kennedy-Nixon debates of 1960 and the Lincoln-Douglas debates of 1858. It reviewed these transcripts using a standard vocabulary test that indicates the minimum educational standard needed for a reader to grasp the text. During the 2000 debates George W. Bush spoke at a sixth-grade level (6.7) and Al Gore at a seventh-grade level (7.6). In the 1992 debates Bill Clinton spoke at a seventh-grade level (7.6), while George H.W. Bush spoke at a sixth-grade level (6.8), as did H. Ross Perot (6.3). In the debates between John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon the candidates spoke in language used by 10th-graders. In the debates of Abraham Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas the scores were respectively 11.2 and 12.0. In short, today’s political rhetoric is designed to be comprehensible to a 10-year-old child or an adult with a sixth-grade reading level. It is fitted to this level of comprehension because most Americans speak, think and are entertained at this level. This is why serious film and theater and other serious artistic expression, as well as newspapers and books, are being pushed to the margins of American society. Voltaire was the most famous man of the 18th century. Today the most famous “person” is Mickey Mouse.

In our post-literate world, because ideas are inaccessible, there is a need for constant stimulus. News, political debate, theater, art and books are judged not on the power of their ideas but on their ability to entertain. Cultural products that force us to examine ourselves and our society are condemned as elitist and impenetrable. Hannah Arendt warned that the marketization of culture leads to its degradation, that this marketization creates a new celebrity class of intellectuals who, although well read and informed themselves, see their role in society as persuading the masses that “Hamlet” can be as entertaining as “The Lion King” and perhaps as educational. “Culture,” she wrote, “is being destroyed in order to yield entertainment.”

“There are many great authors of the past who have survived centuries of oblivion and neglect,” Arendt wrote, “but it is still an open question whether they will be able to survive an entertaining version of what they have to say.”

The change from a print-based to an image-based society has transformed our nation. Huge segments of our population, especially those who live in the embrace of the Christian right and the consumer culture, are completely unmoored from reality. They lack the capacity to search for truth and cope rationally with our mounting social and economic ills. They seek clarity, entertainment and order. They are willing to use force to impose this clarity on others, especially those who do not speak as they speak and think as they think. All the traditional tools of democracies, including dispassionate scientific and historical truth, facts, news and rational debate, are useless instruments in a world that lacks the capacity to use them.

As we descend into a devastating economic crisis, one that Barack Obama cannot halt, there will be tens of millions of Americans who will be ruthlessly thrust aside. As their houses are foreclosed, as their jobs are lost, as they are forced to declare bankruptcy and watch their communities collapse, they will retreat even further into irrational fantasy. They will be led toward glittering and self-destructive illusions by our modern Pied Pipers–our corporate advertisers, our charlatan preachers, our television news celebrities, our self-help gurus, our entertainment industry and our political demagogues — who will offer increasingly absurd forms of escapism.

The core values of our open society, the ability to think for oneself, to draw independent conclusions, to express dissent when judgment and common sense indicate something is wrong, to be self-critical, to challenge authority, to understand historical facts, to separate truth from lies, to advocate for change and to acknowledge that there are other views, different ways of being, that are morally and socially acceptable, are dying. Obama used hundreds of millions of dollars in campaign funds to appeal to and manipulate this illiteracy and irrationalism to his advantage, but these forces will prove to be his most deadly nemesis once they collide with the awful reality that awaits us.

Posted in Society and Culture, TV, Film, and Literature | Leave a Comment »

I Answer Not in Silence

Posted by ruddytwoshoes on November 9, 2008

You can call this a serious riposte to the throng of heartbreakingly ill-informed human beings who have challenged not only my political orientation but also the stances I have taken on social issues and the statements I have dared express to this date. And, yes, if anyone wants to engage in a debate with me after reading this piece, I will be delighted to speak with you, on the condition that my time does not go wasted on listening to ridiculously uneducated opinions. I may not be so gracious when pushed to impatience.

I sail to the left, and I do not apologize. Call me “anti-American”, a nutjob, a heretic, a fetus-murderer, or any name that has been used to refer to somebody like, say, Dennis Kucinich or the new president-elect, Barack Obama, although I honestly do not see him so much as a leftist. With the exception of your labeling me “anti-American” – which I certainly, absolutely, definitely am not – I will answer you with the proudest smile I can muster. When I found the courage to step outside the doctrines they utilized to confine me in fear, I found liberation – and goshdarnit, I am not ashamed.

I stand behind irreligion, abortion, same-sex marriage, and guaranteeing undocumented immigrants a path to legalization, for they have come in an attempt to subsist since American corporations shat over their lands and stole their sources of decent income. And as if I am not scaring the golden wingnut enough, I like universal healthcare – one great concept for which I am willing to pay higher taxes. They take hundreds of dollars off my monthly salary to insure myself and my husband anyway, and only partially, for if one of us gets sick, we will have to go out of pocket for copays, deductibles, or other expenses the insurance carrier simply decides to not pay. I refer you to Michael Moore’s Sicko for more information.

The United States can very well afford to socialize healthcare. There is wealth in this country, albeit wrongly disseminated, and George W. Bush has chosen to prove that over and over by allocating trillions of dollars to the Pentagon and the unjust wars he made a unilateral decision to fight. It has been apparent that this man and his cronies believe the United States must have the money to bomb homes in the Middle East and none for the health of its people.

And not just the health of its people. In this country, we can observe the deterioration of the quality of education provided to our children, the growth of poverty rates, and the increasing severity of homelessness. Bush gave his warmongering a fat budget, while he left the needs of his fellow citizens unmet. Do you not find that bothersome? I do.

I will talk about Iraq. In spite of its apparent demise in the agendas of the mainstream media, the Iraq war merits serious discussion. It always has and always will, and I am not saying that just because I am married to an Iraq war veteran, but more importantly, because (1) I was lied to by a president who wanted a reckless killing spree so he could bagsie some oil; (2) countless lives – Iraqis and Americans both – have been destroyed by this nonsensical bloodbath; and (3) as I have implied, the dollars frittered on obliterating a small country in the Middle East could and should have been put to much better use, such as healthcare for all.

I am not alone in my sentiments. If you constantly endeavor to keep your head out of the sand, you must have seen and/or heard about various demonstrations in protest against the current administration’s blatant terrorism. Yes, I did say terrorism.

Certain things I would rather not disclose at this time hinder me – or at least I feel that they do – from being as active in the sociopolitical arena as I would like to be. Most times, I have had to settle on being curled up in bed reading activist literature, or expending my energy in the blogosphere, rummaging through alternative media blogs and composing my own whenever I feel compelled to do so. However, from time to time, I have deemed it proper to manifest my concern for certain issues in louder, more obvious ways, including spirited yet intelligent discussions with persons who may have differed in their opinions and, more notably, joining activist groups like the Iraq Veterans Against the War, International Socialist Organization, and Bayan USA, to name a few, in exercising the freedom to demonstrate, both vocally and visually, and through peaceful means, opposition to Bush’s bellicose foreign policy and transparent unconcern for the good of his countrymen. The concoction of poignant banners, picket signs, slogan shirts, chants, and revolutionary music signifying the workings of true democracy – it is empowering, and I take great pride in being a part of it.

I care. I have a moral obligation to contribute to the alleviation of pain and suffering not only in the United States or the Philippines, my homeland, but the entire blue-green orb into which my mother brought me twenty-five years ago. Upon discovering the power I hold to change the world, I resolved to unstuck my keester from the couch in front of the television and collaborate with those who have made the same important discovery. I do intend to continue on this path and do much more, as soon as certain things, which, again, I would rather not disclose, are out of the picture.

Note that I am not saying that carrying anti-war posters while marching through Los Angeles by itself changes the world. One may have to go beyond that to effect change, but that does not make it at all trivial. Pages and pages of history books substantiate the weight of uprisings, no matter how small, all over the world. There was a time in American history when civil rights were a prerogative of white people, and Martin Luther King, Jr. was one to give that a huge fight. Following the apprehension of a black fifteen-year-old girl who refused to give up her bus seat for a white person, King headed the lengthy Montgomery Bus Boycott, which caused him to be arrested. His arrest then led to a court ruling that ended racial segregation in buses. He went on to pilot and influence numerous marches and rallies during the civil rights movement up to the day of his assassination.

It has been decades since King, along with masses of bold men and women who stood up against racial chauvinism, started fighting for change, and a lot of their efforts have come to fruition. For instance, school segregation was barred by the Supreme Court in 1957, and the banning of interracial marriages was ruled unconstitutional ten years later. A few days ago, America, for the very first time, bestowed the presidency upon a mulatto, born of a black father from Kenya, to show an intense thawing out of walls of racial bigotry in the “land of equal opportunity.” Foreign lands benefited from the civil rights movement as well, including South Africa, which saw the death of the apartheid system in 1991 –inspired by the civil rights movement in the United States. These are some of the finest moments in history, and they would not have been possible without the struggles of King and other civil rights activists who joined him in his revolt.

By belittling the power of protest, one belittles Martin Luther King, Jr. and other pioneers of the civil rights movement. By belittling the power of protest, one belittles Karl Marx, Mahatma Gandhi, Che Guevara, Henry David Thoreau, Mark Twain, Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn, Naomi Klein, Harvey Milk, Thich Nhat Hanh, John Lennon, the Vietnam Veterans Against the War, the Iraq Veterans Against the War, Subcomandante Marcos and the EZLN, Cesar Chavez, Dolores Huerta, Victor Jara, those who gathered in the streets of Seattle during the WTO convention in 1999 to show their dissent against vile globalization that pains the world’s poor, feminists around the world who fought for women’s suffrage, Filipinos who flocked to EDSA in 1986 and 2001 to exercise their democratic power to overthrow administrations that did not serve their needs, labor activists and unionists who struggle to protect workers’ rights all over the world, Californians who are currently rallying in opposition to the passing of a proposition prohibiting same-sex marriages, and all those who fought, all those who are fighting, to protect your, my, OUR civil liberties.

I hear this from time to time: “If you want to change the world, feed the poor.” I will respond to this by saying that as an individual of middle-class stature, and one who is likely to stay within the middle-class ranks for the rest of time, in the United States, I do not and never will have the right amount of funds to feed every single one of the billions of impoverished people in the world. And you know what? I am not the only one facing such obstruction. I can do as much as adopting a destitute who begs for alms at the foot of a Los Angeles freeway off-ramp, supporting him all throughout the period of time that he would need to be financially dependent on me, and assisting him in finding employment so that he can stand on his own feet. I commend anyone who has shown tremendous kindness and compassion in this way, and I have no doubt that something like this can well improve a life. However, how much change can this really effect? You adopt one indigent person, and how much more poverty remains all over the world?

Much, much more. In the large scheme of things, my adopting one underprivileged person may even go unnoticed. Poverty is attached to a rotten system that not only allows the dispossessing of its people but thrives at the expense of those who are enfeebled. You can try to feed two, five, ten, even twenty poor persons today to temporarily satiate their hunger, but the food you donate will not take them over the poverty line. Immediately afterwards, they will go back to the projects or wherever else they live, continue working their jobs that do not even pay living wages, and pass down their poverty to their children, who they cannot afford to send to school. They are imprisoned in a social structure that does not provide them with a real, solid foundation for advancement.

And it is this very system that I confront, whenever I express my disapproval of the war in Iraq through my literature, banners, and picket signs – the same exact social structure that I blame for poverty, homelessness, insufficient education, the crucial lack of an ethical and moral healthcare system, a defective penal system, and undocumented immigration. It is a system that prioritizes the wealthy and overlooks the poor, a system that capitalizes on the financial hardships of our young men and women – coerced to join the armed forces to help their families get by – their bodies, blood, and sweat are abused to secure global domination that nourishes only the upper class, while their medical treatment privileges are diminished so that they do not receive adequate care if they come home with limbs impaired and/or suicidal tendencies stemming from post-traumatic stress disorders. It is a system that needs uprooting for real, complete change to occur, and in this, the role of collective activism, no matter how small it appears, is indispensable.

The late, great Ralph Waldo Emerson speaks to those who, despite unequivocal human rights violations, choose to keep silent:

You think that your silence on certain topics, perhaps in the face of injustice, or unkindness, or mean-spiritedness, causes others to reserve judgement of you. Far otherwise; your silence utters very loud: you have no oracle to speak, no wisdom to offer, and your fellow men have learned that you cannot help them. Doth not wisdom cry, and understanding put forth her voice? We would be well to do likewise.

I did. I stood up, spoke out, and got counted – a colossal accomplishment compared to that of anyone who decided to linger in front of the television screen watching ESPN or some other source of mindless entertainment because he or she thought of such activism as futile.

Thank you for your time, and I look forward to reading your comments, especially those that should serve the purpose of expressing disagreement.

Posted in Life, Politics, Society and Culture | 5 Comments »

Rest in Peace, Del Martin

Posted by ruddytwoshoes on August 29, 2008

Del (in red) and partner Phyllis (picture taken from the KPIC website)

It was a life well spent that ended two days ago. Del Martin, who I also mentioned in this entry, passed away on Wednesday, August 27th — two months after wedding her partner of fifty-five years, Phyllis Lyon. She was 87.

Del has been a strong pioneer for women and gay rights, and her life will be remembered as one filled with passion, action, triumph . . . and meaning.

You, Del, are an inspiration to many. Thank you for everything.

Posted in Life, Society and Culture | Leave a Comment »

Goodnight, George

Posted by ruddytwoshoes on June 23, 2008

Before MSNBC went back to “Religion or Mind Control” after one of their commercial segments Sunday evening, they went to breaking news to announce the death of comedian George Carlin, who will be remembered as one who boldly cried of and ridiculed the turpitudes of various aspects of American life with unapologetic ribaldry in his zippy stand-up routines. He died of heart failure. He was 71.

Snagged from Youtube and one of my favorites:

Good night, George. Thank you for the laughs and the laughable truths.

Posted in Life, Society and Culture, TV, Film, and Literature | Leave a Comment »

Give It to Love

Posted by ruddytwoshoes on June 22, 2008

One boisterous Saturday night in a Silverlake bar, I stumbled upon a tete-a-tete with a man who, I then recognized, had many a story to tell past the inanity that drives nights such as that which I happened to be living at that moment. With conversation as invigorating as a bottle of organic kombucha glugged down after a three-mile jog under the wrath of the California sun during the summertime, he tendered me a bizarrely mind-fulfilling weekend, far from the stretches of mountainous desires to guzzle into the proverbial inebriation that used to snatch me from the enveloping realities and transport me into emptiness so fugaciously blissful. That night, he cracked an opening on the door that lead into my being, and I merrily capitulated.

That was the beginning of the companionship that has every single day illumined the reasons for life being worth living.

Seventeen months later, much to the surprise of everyone outside the rock-solid circle we had drawn around us, we brazenly exchanged our vows and stamped them with a “forever” seal on a Hawaiian island, and then put the last touches on papers needed to make our union lawful in the books of the government of the United States of America.

People have various grounds for getting hitched: money, benefits, citizenship, accidental pregnancies, religious dogma, and whatever it is that sparks jarringly ephemeral Hollywood marriages… In the quotidian world, however, the one element thought to be the numero uno prerequisite for marriages is something we call LOVE, and you may call me naïve, but I myself submit to the ideology that this is what makes a marriage. I do not believe this has gotten debunked.

I find the greatest pleasures in loving and being loved by the man I just know I will spend the rest of my life with. Why, love shared is just a wonderful, wonderful phenomenon. And though it, conceivably, may not be as important as what occurs within the boundaries of my marriage, I find huge pleasures in the public recognition being rendered to the brand of love I am able to give and receive with exclusivity, and I deem it my right to be acknowledged as the woman my husband swore his commitment to, till death do us part, at any time, in all corners of the globe. These delights have made my marriage nothing short of perfect, and I sincerely, fervently wish that everyone — and I mean everyone — in the world is presented with the opportunity to find themselves in the same boat because there is nothing as happiness-inducing, life-changing, and earth-moving.

There is also nothing as category-fucking. It transcends the margins between colors, geographical distances, economic statuses, and evidently enough, sexes and genders.

Sexes and genders, sure. Here’s proof (photos from SFgate.com):

Phyllis Lyon (83, in blue) and Del Martin (87, in brown) have been together for fifty-five years. Fifty-five! They joyously got married in San Francisco on Monday, June 16th, and were the first to get a same-sex marriage license after the California Supreme Court, in a non-unanimous decision, overturned the same-sex marriage ban last month, finally giving same-sex couples the same privilege bestowed upon heterosexuals. Phyllis and Del actually first wedded in 2004, but the marriage was later voided by the state Supreme Court.

More photos of some of the thousands of same-sex couples in love who were granted marriage licenses this month (from the LA Times):




Now, the presence of a referendum in the November ballot can possibly again outlaw these marriages in California. There remains a high preponderance of people who choose to remain rigid in their conviction that the actuality of love can only occur where heterosexuals are romantically involved, joined by the huge percentage of the state population who classify even the most minor attraction to the same sex as “abnormal,” notwithstanding the elimination of homosexuality from the DSM-IV. And then there are, of course, those who claim to be ardent saviors of the purity of sexual morality on earth as the bible has it and wish retribution, Matthew-Shepard-murder-style, upon those who disobey “holy” doctrines including “If a man lies with a man as one lies with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They must be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads,” stated in Leviticus, the same brain who — horrifically — preached to readers that “Your male and female slaves are to come from the nations around you; from them you may buy slaves. You may also buy some of the temporary residents living among you and members of their clans born in your country, and they will become your property.” Like I said — moral. Really. Anyway, count those who question the ability of same-sex parents to raise kids, too, even though it would be an enormous logical fallacy to conclude that one‘s sexual orientation alone affects his or her child-rearing ability. In any case, the anti-gay-marriage populace are going to be excitedly jumping on the opportunity to again sweep some gay rights under the rug come November.

To those of you who might be on the fence, however, I hope you take as much time as needed to think about the persons around you, who, in spite of their sexual orientation not falling on the same boxes you have always been taught to see, belong to the very same country whose people the powers that be describe as “equal,” and mull over the rights you are robbing if you make this ban happen again. And while you’re at it, think about love. Think about the way it, in point of fact, works.

I really hope you can give it to love this time. Yes, give it to love. Don’t bring the ban back.

Posted in Life, Politics, Religion/Irreligion, Society and Culture | 3 Comments »

“Anti-Americanism” Gets You Fired

Posted by ruddytwoshoes on June 21, 2008

Good Saturday afternoon, world.

Boy, that sleep was refreshing.  I am ready to jet for a solid Saturday workout at the gym, but first…

I was browsing through important news and blogs and found this on Feministe. It appears that Karen Salazar, a high school teacher in Los Angeles, was fired a few days ago:

I am being fired because I am trying to ensure that my curriculum is relevant to my students’ daily lived experiences, and in the process, create a space for them to be critical of Eurocentric society and curricula that only serve to reinforce their dehumanization, subjugation, and oppression …

I have been observed in the classroom and evaluated by administration over a dozen times (almost twice a month) this school year, whereas in comparison, most teachers are observed and evaluated 1-3 times per school year. The evaluations claim that I am creating “militancy” within students, promoting my personal political beliefs, and presenting a biased view of the curriculum. It has also been implied that I have been teaching students “how to protest.”

Three weeks ago, things began escalating when I was again observed, and in his evaluation, the administrator accused me of “brainwashing” my students and “forcing extremist views” on them. The class had been reading a 3-page excerpt of the Autobiography of Malcolm X (an LAUSD-approved text, of which we have several class sets in our school bookroom), in which Malcolm describes the first time he conked his hair…My contract is being terminated because according to the principal, I am “indoctrinating students with anti-Semitism and Afrocentrism.” The anti-Semitism accusation comes solely from the fact that I have an Intifada poster hanging in my classroom (a symbol of support for a free Palestine), and the Afrocentrism accusation comes from the fact my culturally-relevant curriculum reflects the demographics of my students, though I am surprised I am not being accused of Raza-centrism as well.

Not a one-and-only case, too. Per Democracy Now!, Jay Bennish, a high school teacher in Colorado, was penalized for being “anti-American” (of course, we all know what the term means nowadays) in one of his lectures in 2006, and Deborah Mayer, who teaches in Indiana, was fired for saying “I honk for peace” in 2003, right before the Iraq war commenced.

For a country that claims to be so overly protective of “free” speech, this is baffling. But then again, do we not everyday get acquainted with the idea that speech is “free” only if it complements the hoopla emanating from those on top of the food chain?

This is tragic.

Posted in Politics, Society and Culture | 1 Comment »

Humanizing Iraq

Posted by ruddytwoshoes on June 19, 2008

In an attempt to keep my loyalty to my calorie-burning cause on my stationary bike Monday night, I grabbed the May 2008 issue of The American Prospect that was sitting on the coffee table and started reading to take my mind off both my pedaling and the clock that was staring at me from the other end of the living room. An article by Ann Friedman (whose brilliance and major contributions to the progressive community I am just getting myself acquainted to) called “Listening to Iraq” immediately caught my attention.

We know, of course, from reading and listening to sources outside of the mainstream media that we do not get sufficient coverage in America of how life really is, in the midst of the war, for the Iraqi people living in Iraq today, which, as Friedman argues, makes it difficult for people in America to have a vision of how the war is actually affecting human lives: “We don’t see what it’s like for Iraqis to walk home from the scene of violence, then make dinner, then put their kids to bed. We lack the humanizing power of detail.”

Friedman, sharing this bit of info she actually gathered from novelist and prisoner during the Saddam Hussein era, Haifa Zangana, mentions A Star from Mosul, one of the now fewer blogs providing real day-to-day accounts of life in the war-stricken country. The blogger calls herself “Namja” and is a twenty-year-old college student living in Mosul. I read several of her entries today, and she definitely gives the war a human face — a genuine human face struggling in needless coexistence with a war being waged against her country — that many of us do not visualize beyond the common suicide bombing reports and bringing-democracy-to-Iraq canto they run in the news.

Click here to read about Namja’s everyday life and see what our MSM friends are missing.

Posted in Life, Politics, Society and Culture | Leave a Comment »