Social Commentary

Essays concerning a wide range of societal issues, regarding topics such as the environment, racism, marriage equality, etc.

The Case For the Patriots As Greatest NFL Dynasty Ever

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There are several NFL teams considered dynasties, but which deserves to be called the best?
Over fifty years ago, the New York Yankees, Montreal Canadiens and Boston Celtics all won five or more championships in a row. Those days are long behind us, and we never see major professional sports leagues dominate their sports like they used to, particularly the NFL, where Free Agency has made it difficult for teams to keep players and maintain consistency and cohesion, and where we’ve never had a Super Bowl three-peat, and have now gone over a decade without a successful title defense. And yet, pro football does have its dominant teams, and a few can be considered elite.

What makes a team a dynasty?

This excerpt, from the article, Where Patriots dynasty ranks among NFL’s most dominant franchises, says this:

“This is, to a degree, subjective. You and I might not see eye-to-eye on the importance of regular-season success vs. playoff success or Super Bowl victories vs. Super Bowl appearances. Longevity could also be considered a point of contention here, both in terms of franchises that didn’t sustain their success for very long (the 1990s Cowboys, for instance) or those that spread their success over longer stretches (the 1980s/1990s 49ers come to mind).

That last part factors in the whole quality vs. quantity conundrum, which only further complicates the whole dynasty debate.

Some tenets we might be able to agree on:

• A dynasty needs to win multiple championships within one era.

• Within said era, most of the key figures have to remain the same. The Seahawks made the Super Bowl in 2005 and then again in 2013, but those teams shared zero players and had entirely different coaching staffs. For the same reason, it wouldn’t be fair to include New England’s 1996 Super Bowl appearance in that team’s current dynasty profile.

• A dynasty can’t simply be a team that wins back-to-back championships. In other words, a third championship should be required at some point in the same era.”

Using that criteria, the teams most commonly referred to as dynasties are the Pittsburgh Steelers, the San Francisco 49ers, the Dallas Cowboys, and the New England Patriots. Other teams often included are the Green Bay Packers and the Oakland Raiders, but because their personnel changed and there were many years in between titles, they don’t meet the definition above, and I will be leaving them off this list.

The team that seems to get the votes for best dynasty most often is the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Steelers are actually my second favorite team, and I can totally understand why people would consider them the best dynasty. There are three major reasons why the Steelers are often considered the best: 1) They are the only team to win four Super Bowls in only six years, 2) They have the most Lombardi Trophies (6), 3) They have sustained excellence for over the longest time — over 40 years, and 4.) The organization was founded by Art Rooney, and is still owned and run by the Rooney family.

These are all very legitimate arguments for Pittsburgh, and if you consider only championships, then sure, the Patriots fall two trophies short. However, I would argue that there are many other intangibles that make up a great football team, and many more factors that make for a football dynasty. And the best? That’s the argument I’d like to make now. Here are some reasons why I think the argument can be made for the New England Patriots being the best NFL dynasty ever:

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(Don’t bother making Deflategate jokes or calling the Pats cheaters, because it’s all been said before. You may hate New England, and detest them for cheating, but everyone knows they didn’t need to, and everything they earned, they earned with talent and having arguably the best coach-quarterback duo to ever play the game. If you honestly believe Tom Brady and the Patriots had 14 amazing winning record seasons, won multiple playoff games, appeared in six Super Bowls, and won four Lombardi Trophies by filming some low quality videos on opposing team’s sidelines and deflating a few footballs, then you are an idiot. If you can’t see how profoundly talented this team is, then you probably don’t know much about football, or are blinded by jealousy. You don’t have to like them, or what they might have done, but at least have the humility to accept that this hugely successful team deserves to at least be considered a dynasty.  I don’t like that they might have cheated either, and mostly because they never needed to. In this essay, I’m not looking to moralize and pick the team with the most pious character and spotless record. I’m looking to choose the team that won the most, dominated the most, had the most talented people, and did it all year in and year out. I ask that you have an open mind…)

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1. The Patriots made it to all six Super Bowls and won four times with the same head coach and quarterback. Pittsburgh can’t say that. The Cowboys can, and won three in four years. So did the Patriots. And then made it to three more, and won the last. As the players around him changed, Brady has always had Belichick as his head coach, and has been blessed to have had only three Offensive Coordinators in fourteen years — Charlie Weis, Josh McDaniels and Bill O’Brien. Other coaches have been there for years as well. It’s easy to see what a revolving door of coaches and coordinators can do to a quarterback. The Raiders have fired seven head coaches since 2000, and had a losing record nearly every year since. The other teams that are infamous for firing multiple head coaches and coordinators are the Browns, Redskins, Vikings, Lions, Dolphins, Rams, Buccaneers and Jaguars. All have had multiple losing seasons. There have been a number of very capable quarterbacks who have suffered and faltered due to losing their coaches, and often having to learn new systems and playbooks. Many thrived under certain coaches, and shriveled under others. Look at Colin Kaepernick’s pitiful regression in San Francisco. Brady has thrived under all three offensive coordinators, but it’s obvious that much of his success comes from having a consistent coaching staff, and talented people to trust and rely on.
2. Brady has had to win games with a revolving roster of talent, and apart from Moss and Gronk, has never been surrounded by superstar, big name players. However, even despite this deficit, Brady has been able to turn those players into superstars, by making the cast around him look great, and elevating his fellow players to greatness. Brady is so good, that he has made mediocre, average, or good players look MUCH better than they are. When it comes to his receivers, Brady has made stars out of players who might not play as well otherwise. In fact, over time, we have seen several of Tom Brady’s targets go elsewhere, and have less than stellar success. Deion Branch was never as good as he was in New England, and Wes Welker was all but a bust in Denver. Who knows how good Julian Edelman would be without Tom Brady throwing to him? Obviously, Rob Gronkowski is a star, on track to have a Hall of Fame career. Randy Moss will certainly be in Canton sometime soon. But most of the average wide receivers Brady has had to make do with, have not been naturally gifted and fabulous players. If anything, he has made them so, and done it year after year. Joe Montana had Jerry Rice. Terry Bradshaw had Lynn Swann. Peyton Manning had Reggie Wayne, Eli Manning has Odell Beckham Jr, Phillip Rivers has Antonio Gates, Ben Roethlisberger has Antonio Brown…and the list goes on and on. Plenty of Super Bowl winning QBs have had star receivers, but most of the time, Tom Brady has made do with what he had. And did it better than anyone, ever. As the leader and heart of that team, Tom Brady has welcomed and rallied a rotating team of misfits and malcontents, and made them look better every step of the way. He inspired them with his competitiveness, skill, and enthusiasm, and compelled them to be better and reach higher.
3. Even the years the Pats didn’t make it to the Super Bowl, they still made it far into the playoffs, and always had winning record seasons. That means that they didn’t win the Super Bowl one year, and then tank the next. Teams like San Francisco, the Ravens, and Seattle were all in the Super Bowl within the last three years, and all have struggled to win. The Patriots never have an off year. Even the year Brady got injured and missed the season, the backup QB and team went on to an impressive 11-5 record, and just narrowly missed the playoffs. In 2005, the Steelers won the Super Bowl, and the very next season, went 8-8. In 2002, they made it to the Divisional Playoffs, but the very next season, went 6-10. Last season, the Detroit Lions went 11-5 and made it to the playoffs, and this year, they are 1-7! The Patriots have been good, and competed EVERY season, and that’s something NO other team can say. They may have the occasional bad game, but never has Tom Brady and the Pats had a losing season and not had a chance at winning it all. In 2014, the Pats had a terrible game against the Kansas City Chiefs, and were massacred 41-14. The press went crazy, and everyone swore it was the end of an era, and Tom Brady’s career was over. Well, the Pats went on to finish with a 12-4 record, breeze through the playoffs, and beat dominant Seattle in the Super Bowl. The reason I bring this up is that the reason people were so quick to call for the Patriots demise, is that we just aren’t used to seeing the Patriots lose, and never by that much. It was so extreme and out of the ordinary, people naturally just assumed it meant Tom Brady could no longer play. But he can, and he is, and as long as he’s under center, this team will keep winning, season after season. Their winning percentage, and consistency at winning should make them an easy contender for top dynasty.
4. Tom Brady has won more playoff games than any other QB, and the Pats have won more playoff games this century than any other team. When it comes to the postseason, Brady is arguably the best quarterback to play the game. Nobody has been more clutch when it matters, and played so many big games, and been successful. The Patriots are a team built for the postseason, and snowy playoff games in New England have become a tradition.
5. The Patriots did it all in the era of Free Agency, which meant that they often couldn’t keep great players, and never could depend on the same reliable and cohesive team from year to year, like the Steelers and other teams could. The era of unrestricted free agency has all but dismantled dynasties in professional sports, and entered the NFL in 1992. That was right in the middle of the Buffalo Bills’ streak of four consecutive Super Bowl appearances, and four straight losses. It’s hard to imagine that any team could make it to the big game four times in a row today. There’s just too many moving parts. Last season, the Patriots had arguably the best cornerback in the league, in Darrell Revis. They won the Super Bowl, and then during free agency, he left and signed with the Jets. And he had already replaced arguably the second best corner in the league — Aqib Talib. In two years, we lost the two best CBs in the game, yet here we are, with a patchwork motley crew of players, and inexperienced corners, and we’re still 8-0. You think about a team that could have been a dynasty, like the Minnesota Vikings of the ’70s, who lost the Super Bowl four times in seven years, and they had one of the greatest defensive lines in the game — the Purple People Eaters. The Steelers had the Iron Curtain. These teams had the same dependable roster of players year in and year out, and could build a defense like the Steelers and Vikings had. Those guys knew each other intimately, and built solid cohesion and trust as a team. Montana and the Niners had the same consistency a decade later. Brady never has. There are zero players from the 2001 Patriots championship team but Tom Brady. He’s built all this with his hands tied behind his back, and no other quarterback or team on this list had to do quite so much, with quite so little.
6. Tom Brady may not have all the records Peyton Manning does, but he’s got as many rings as Bradshaw and Montana, and is arguably the best quarterback to play the game. Others will say Johnny Unitas, Otto Graham, or Montana, but Brady played in six Super Bowls, won more playoff games than any other, holds plenty of postseason records, and most importantly of all, knows how to win when it matters. Brady is more clutch than any QB to ever play the game. He not only wins, he wins big when it matters. He’ll never come close to reaching Payton Manning’s records, but Peyton has a nasty habit of losing in big games, while Brady has won more than lost. Sure, he lost two Super Bowls to the Giants, but they were close, and fluke circumstances ended up deciding both games. Other QBs may have stronger arms and throw tighter spirals, but Brady is one of the fastest releasers in the game and reads defenses masterfully. Some people argue Brady’s a system quarterback, but you needn’t look further than how lethally skillful he is at reading defense coverage, and making changes at the line of scrimmage. Only Peyton Manning is as good as Brady in this area. However, Brady is probably better at exploiting opposing team’s mistakes, and making them pay. His game has only gotten better with time, and has grown and evolved to adapt better to defenses and changes in the game. So sure, Peyton may have records, but he doesn’t have rings. Bradshaw may have rings, but he doesn’t have records. Brady has both, and may only be rivaled by Montana in this regard. But as I stated above, Tom Terrific did it in the era of free agency, and with fewer star targets at his disposal. Imagine what Brady could have done with a Jerry Rice, or even Randy Moss in his prime, and for a few more years. The thing is, unlike Montana and Bradshaw, Brady’s not even close to being done. It’s hard to see Peyton going beyond this year, but Tom could very well win for many years more. He says that he’d like to play until 48, and while that would be nearly impossible, the way he’s playing, there’s no reason he couldn’t play for another four years. He takes care of himself, and seems to be evolving and adapting his style so much, he only seems to be getting better with age. His release time is the best in the NFL, and as a result, he takes far fewer hits in the pocket. He also seems to be moving more, and willing to takes steps to clear defenders and getting better shots downfield. This athlete may be on the tail-end of his career, but he is by no means close to being done. As the face of the franchise, Brady has been the force of nature driving this team to greatness year after year, and why this Pats Dynasty is so consistently good, and arguably the best.
7. Bill Belichick is arguably the best head coach to ever lead an NFL team. Him and Brady are the winningest coach-qb combo in NFL history. He has an impressive 240-118 record, and has been to eight Super Bowls, winning four rings with New England and two with the Giants — more than any other coach. He has won Coach of the Year three times, and is often mentioned as one of the top three coaches, along with Don Shula and Bill Walsh. I think Belichick’s accomplishments in the era of Free Agency are stunning, considering he had a constantly shuffling cast of characters. What he did was nothing short of genius, constantly rearranging the pieces, and trying to make it all work. Belichick demonstrates great vision and has been so innovative as a coach, he has changed the game and inspired a lot of imitators. His dynamic approach includes using players in new and effective roles, not being sentimental and knowing when to cut aging and under-producing players (although often unpopular with fans!), designing complex offense with a large number of plays and clever tricks and maneuvers to fool defenses, and navigating and exploiting the draft to make smart trades and swap draft spots, and often drafting undervalued bargain players who often turn into great players. As the former Defensive Coordinator under Parcells at the Giants, Bill is a gifted defensive strategist, and has used the draft and solid training to always field a defense that competes and manages to get Brady back on the team. There are many more ways Belichick innovated the game, and continues to find new ways win, but perhaps it’s the special bond between him and Brady that makes the best case for why the Patriots could be the best dynasty ever.
8. The Patriots have been to seven Super Bowls, and all since owner Robert Craft bought the team. Just like the Steelers wouldn’t be the Steelers without the Rooney Family running the team, the Patriots would not be winners without Craft’s support. He has given Belichick more power than most coaches get, and hired good GMs and support staff to help Bill win championships. The Craft family are strong owners, and have fostered an atmosphere of winning.
9. New England actually ties Dallas and Pittsburgh for the most Super Bowl appearances with eight. Their record is 4-4. However, a team should rightfully be recognized for just getting to the Super Bowl, which is a victory in itself. These teams had great records, and played well all season and throughout the playoffs. The Minnesota Vikings and Buffalo Bills both went to the Super Bowl four times each, and with terrific teams, but lost each time. But we don’t call them dynasties because they never won when it counted. The Patriots have won though, and even when they lost, it was often very close. Under Brady, the Pats lost to the Giants first by 3 points and then by 4. In the Brady-Belichick era dynasty, we’ve rarely lost, and then, only barely lost.
10. The Patriots nearly matched Don Shula’s 1972 Miami Dolphin’s perfect season record in 2007, falling one short, to go 18-1. The 1972 Dolphins went 14–0 in the regular season and won all three post-season games, including Super Bowl VII against the Washington Redskins, to finish 17–0. However, the Pats’ season was two games longer than Miami’s, so the Pats hold the record for being the only team to win 16 regular season games, and the only team since Miami to win every game in the season. This was an incredible season, and a truly remarkable accomplishment. Naturally, Patriots fans are bitter about missing out on a perfect season, and losing such a close game, and one that they had dominated throughout. We’ll never get over that loss. But here we are, once again, at 8-0, on potentially on to another perfect season. I don’t necessarily think we’ll get there, but this is only the second time we’ve made it to 8-0, and you know when the last time was. The fact that we have such a great record, and always have one of the best records in the league, is further proof that this team deserves to be considered for number one.
11. Tom Brady and his revolving cast of characters over the last 14 years have an incredible record, and no team in the NFL has a winning record against Tom Brady. There are multiple teams that have never even beaten Brady. At home, the Patriots’ total home record, in all regular season and playoff games started by Brady, is an astonishing 108-18! Brady and company have simply dominated the league for over a decade and a half, and have run roughshod over every team in the league. There are dozens of teams that have been victimized by the Patriots, and suffered stinging losses of 20, 30, or 40 points. During the 2007 season, the Patriots were accused of showing off, because they kept scoring on their hapless opponents. Apparently, some people forget a game is 60 minutes, and we play to the end. If they had the ball, and were in a position to score, they did. No one cried foul — least of all, us — when the Chiefs put 41 points on us, but have no problem calling the Patriots out when they do it. No one likes to consistently lose to the same team, and that’s what the Pats have done to this league. Between that and accusations of cheating, it’s no wonder so many people hate the Patriots. They hated the Cowboys too. And the Raiders. If it’s not your team, everyone hates a winner. Simply put, no team has so expertly executed the field and dominated and devastated so many teams over such a long period as the New England Patriots. The Pats have been winners, and their record unmistakably reflects that.
12. It’s not over yet. As long as Tom and Bill are in New England, you can never rule out the possibility that the Pats may win more Super Bowls. I think we can all confidently say, if the Patriots were to win won more Lombardi with this duo, there could be no doubt who the greatest dynasty was. Of course, as you can see, I already think they are!

The Goals vs. Gains of Political Correctness: Losing the War of Words & Making Enemies Where There Were None

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Today I came across a video of MSNBC host Melissa Harris-Perryas she took offense to a guest’s use of the term ‘hard worker’ Saturday, arguing that it diminished the experiences of slaves.“If there’s somebody who is a hard worker when he goes to Washington, it’s Paul Ryan,” argued conservative guest Alfonso Aguilar. Harris-Perry didn’t disagree but wasn’t a fan of his word choice. She went on to say, “I just want to pause on one thing, because I don’t disagree with you that I actually think Mr Ryan is a great choice for this role,” she said. “But I want us to be super careful when we use the language ‘hard worker.’ Because I actually keep an image of folks working in cotton fields on my office wall, because it is a reminder about what hard work looks like.”

As soon as I finished the video, I immediately began writing this furious blog entry. I have no tolerance for that kind of bullshit and cultural reappropriation, especially to a well-meaning and harmless guest’s totally innocuous off-hand comment. She took it out of context, transported it to a new setting, and then manipulated it by endowing it with a racial and oppressive dimension it didn’t have before. The man’s words were condemned for an offense he could have never foreseen or prevented, and he was baffled and embarrassed needlessly. This is a glaring example of political correctness gone awry and the self-righteous overreach of those who rigidly enforce PC doctrine. I find few things as vile as vigilant censorship and an attack on free speech, especially when done in the name of lofty goals like equality, social justice, tolerance, and egalitarianism.

I have to say that I am socially very liberal, while being perhaps a little more fiscally moderate, but I consider myself a progressive, egalitarian, and open-minded person who is committed to equality and social justice and accepting everyone for who they are. I’m a registered liberal Democrat, but I also envy much of what socialism provides for its citizens.

Having said all that, there is one issue that I absolutely HATE to acknowledge I find myself agreeing with conservatives about, and that is political correctness. I am much more progressive, sensitive, and tolerant of Political Correctness than most Republicans I’ve met or seen online. In looking for a picture for this article, I poured over dozens of mean-spirited, racist, and hateful memes, all taking aim at the hated and maligned PC movement. Whereas, I recognize its objectives are good and noble, and that it started as a way to give voice to the voiceless and promote multiculturalism and cultural plurality. Disenfranchised groups could choose how they wished to be called, and the spirit of the movement was to provide safe environments where we could use uncoded and respectful language we could all agree on. People could pick how they chose to define and describe themselves. It was a way of taking ownership back, and probably even more obviously, a shift in power to the previously marginalized and disenfranchised.

Yet now, I feel like it’s gotten out of control, and actually curbs and muzzles free speech, sanitizes it of its character and strips away the vernacular, and removes anything remotely controversial or contentious. That might sound good to you, but the kernel of our healing and reconciling as a nation lies in that uncomfortable gray area where language breaks down, and we must find new ways to communicate. When everyone is so ultra-sensitive and easily offended, we don’t have a discussion anymore, just a unilateral wall thrown up in the face of the offender, and a public shaming of them, perhaps as cruel as the embarrassment once felt by the victim at the hands of a merciless majority. You see? It’s a vicious cycle, and it’s not just the advocates of political correctness being victimized and crying foul, but now the majority, who like to cast themselves as the oppressed minority, and stripped of their First Amendment rights.The Right call the Left sissies and whiners, but that’s no better than the pot calling the kettle black. Or should I say African American? 😉 Either way, the burden is on the P.C. movement, because more often than not, the conversation terminates with them. It’s a conversation ender, and someone feels vindicated, and someone feels silenced, but neither one learned a damn thing!

I don’t advocate racist, sexist, homophobic, or any other language that doesn’t belong in a civil conversation. Everyone deserves to be respected, and should have the right to be addressed with dignity. I’m talking about the overreactions and demonization of certain phrases or words, or even symbols that some overly sensitive people find objectionable. Listen up: the moral of this story is this: IT ALL COMES DOWN TO CONTEXT AND INTENT. There, I made it easy for you, and now you know what to look for.

Let’s say a white linguistics teacher is teaching the powerful book, N–gger: The Strange Career of a Troublesome Word by Randall Kennedy, (You see? Even I’m afraid to write the full word in the title of the book, for fear I may invite anger or censure!) and the very purpose is to dissect and understand the history of the word, and why it is still a powder-keg loaded word today. Some in the PC Police might condemn this teacher’s actions, and claim he has no right to use that word and is unfit to teach black students. This even happens in high schools, when well-meaning teachers teach lesson units on works like Huckleberry Finn or To Kill a Mockingbird, both which contain frequent uses of the n-word. I’m not saying this should be casually thrown around either. But rather, it should be used as a teachable moment, where the word is a jumping off place for more serious and rigorous discussion. It’s all about context and a well-meaning teacher’s intent to educate his students about all the realities of the world, even the dark and shameful parts. That’s how kids learn.

I remember when I was in high school, I read Elie Wiesel’s biographical book, Night, about his experience with his father in the Nazi German concentration camps at Auschwitz and Buchenwald in 1944–45, at the height of the Holocaust toward the end of the Second World War. It was graphic and disturbing, and often hard to read, but it captured my attention, and taught me an invaluable lesson about man’s inhumanity to man and the strength of an indomitable spirit to overcome even the most hopeless and desperate situations. Years later, in Boston, I saw Wiesel speak, and got to meet him after the presentation. What I remember most is how firmly he locked eyes with me, and as he looked me straight in the eye, he gave me a surprisingly firm handshake for a man his age. He was so strong, even after seeing all that and losing that much. I instantly knew how a man like that could have survived. And after reading his thrilling book, I had to reflect on those few students in my class whose parents forbid them from reading the book, perhaps because it was too realistic and had things like nudity or sexuality, or some other inconvenient fact of life. If you’re sheltered from even finding life in a book, I’d hate to see how real life’s gonna treat you.

And that’s ultimately why I draw this line between political correctness, and editing, redacting, abridging, rewriting, forbidding, or banning a certain book for containing something controversial, indecent, profane, political, or rebellious. It’s when we coddle children from toddlers up through their teenage years and into young adulthood, and we send them off to college enabled, entitled, weak, dependent, helpless, and overly sensitive. And I speak as someone who was ostensibly no better, and just as connected to a psychic umbilical cord. I’m not going to start parroting some conservative meme I saw today, depicting tough cowboys fighting for their freedom of speech with weak, dainty, effeminate, delicate, and breakable ‘pansies’ or ‘whinny babies’ as they said. I’m no tough guy, and I could never tell another human to ‘man up.’ At least, not in so many words. I will say that children learn best from exploring, discovering stuff on their own, building things with their own two hands, playing with all kinds of different kids, being exposed to as many different ways of life as they can, and perhaps more important than anything else…failing. And failing often. Kids need to learn how to fail, and face challenging adversity. They need to break their arm, get lost and spend a night in the woods, build a campfire in the wind, fail an exam, not get cast in the school play or make it on to the baseball team. Kids need to have microcosms of our own adult lives, and gradually be given more and more responsibility, so that by the time they do go off to college, they’ll have failed so often, they’ll have taught themselves how to succeed.

The problem in some of the more extreme and militant corners of the politically correct movement, is many of these young college students have been raised much like the kids I described above, but the stakes are raised by the fact that they come from a diverse range of minorities: Hispanic, Arab, Jewish, Black, Trans, Lesbian, Gay, Overweight, Female, etc. They carry with them all the traits of the group above, but have an added dimension of their race, gender, orientation, religion, or cultural identity. Many of them will have been taught how to identify and represent themselves, and also learned the respect and courtesy they should expect of others. This is where the breakdown happens. Kids are still kids, and universities are more widely diverse than at any time in human history. That’s a lot of jostling cultures and conflicting belief systems to come up against each other, and try and get along. Just the sheer fact that they’re all mixing and mingling at all is a small miracle, and shows how far we’ve come as a nation. But that’s where our high expectations have to end, and we have to be realistic about the kind of results we’re going to see.

Those minority students are guaranteed by law the right to the same education as their white and homogenous counterparts. They have a right to be treated with respect and insist on a professor treating them fairly and protecting their best interests. The problem is, there are necessarily going to be times when things are said and feelings are hurt. Perhaps the professor didn’t word something right, or a fellow student said something offensive. Perhaps even racist. Unfortunately, these things happen, and we still live in a society not that far removed from slavery, indian genocide, sexist and subjugation of women, and just months out from gays earning the right to marry. This country’s just a handful more police shootings of unarmed black men and no justice served from turning into widespread race riots. They’re fed up in the streets, and white America only watch helplessly, knowing that someone should do something, but not quite realizing it’s us. These are fresh wounds, and classrooms now turn into battlefields, as Antietam, Gettysburg, and Fredericksburg are fought with words, as students try and understand what they’re learning, while trying to express themselves and not look stupid. But people always do. Because some people just weren’t raised the way you were. And the things you value might not mean anything to someone else. Should it? Sure, in an idea world, we would all demonstrate and exercise empathy, understanding, acceptance, respect, and value other people’s feelings. In that world, those minority students wouldn’t have to worry about being unfairly judged for not fault of their own, and just for being born. To those in the majority, they undoubtedly value stuff the others don’t, like the right own guns or their freedom of speech. If they’re from the south, these are cultural characteristics of many people from Dixie. There’s a rugged and rebellious streak that runs through many of those who identify from this region, and their individualism, intense love of freedom, patriotism, liberty, right to bear arms, and right to say what they please, are the values worth fighting and dying for.

Where does an honest dialogue and difference of opinion cross  over and become a racist incident or hate crime? What if an offended student had accepted an apology, and opened the door for another heated conversation? It may sound funny, but there’s no telling where that relationship could have gone. But we’ll never know. Doesn’t it take two parties to fight and offend the other? If so, why does one get to shut down a dialogue and stop the free — and potentially healthy — exchange of ideas, while the other is cast as the aggressor, regardless of who said what? Modeling courtesy, treating people with the dignity they deserve, and respecting the wishes and boundaries of others you may not share views with is the cornerstone of mature discourse and healthy work and school environments. When taken to the extreme, political correctness is much more dangerous to our society, than free speech, and harms much more than it helps! We shouldn’t end up violating one group’s rights and freedom of speech, in order to take pains to protect the right of another group — NOT to not be offended or challenged. Obviously, if there’s legitimate harassment, intimidation, hate crimes, or other serious violations, than a minority, individual, or group must be protected and their dignity and rights championed. But a difference of opinion, however distasteful that opinion might be, is the foundation of interpersonal communication, and learning how to communicate with those you may not like.

To completely change gears, how about all the noise a few months back, when states were finally taking down Confederate flags from state capitol buildings. Personally, I believe no symbol of hate like that flag belongs on state or federal land, and especially a building that legislates laws for EVERY citizen, not just white racists or Civil War enthusiasts. It may be a part of the south’s heritage, but so was slavery and cross burning, but we don’t allow that anymore either. I wouldn’t allow a flag with a cross on it either, or a Star of David, or a Wiccan symbol. It’s a neutral place for everyone, so it’s only fair we clear it of stones bearing the Ten Commandments or flags that mean family to some, but hatred, racism, and forced servitude to others. Like it or not, the Confederate flag was born out of a legacy of slavery and rebellion against a nation trying to abolish the hateful practice. The first place I believe the Confederate flag belongs is in a museum (remember, it’s all about context, and a museum is a place to learn history and where such a controversial object fits into history). The second place, is wherever private citizens want to display it on their property. People have the right to free speech, and I’d never deny anyone that.

However, having said all that, political correctness played an ugly and sometimes necessary role in that whole national conversation. The country was certainly divided and mostly fell along party and regional lines. As you can see, I mostly supported removing the flag from public and advocating for the feelings and needs of those who were victimized under the Confederate flag. However, there was instance where the PC Police went too far, and totally missed the point. It wasn’t before long that people seized on the show Dukes of Hazard, and soon, certain parties were calling for the show to be pulled from the air, banned, digitally edited to erase the Confederate flag on the roof of the General Lee, and eventually, toy companies were scrambling to pull toys, edit websites, and all the rest of the mess. Here is another example of an overreaction and people blowing something way out of proportion, without taking context or intent into consideration. The Duke Boys weren’t racist, even if they did have a car named after the General of the Confederate forces and a Confederate flag painted on the roof. They were proud southern boys, ‘never meanin’ no harm’ — as the song says — and like many in the region, they showed off their legacy. Not once was there anything to even suggest that Luke and Bo were racist or had any ill will towards any group…other than Boss Hogg, the law, and authority figures, perhaps. The task of going through and digitally removing the flag from the General Lee in every episode is time intensive, and completely unwarranted. The car isn’t being used as a symbol of hate, and it’s not even prominently featured enough to draw attention to itself. Rather than attacking the show and car reflexively, perhaps they would have realized it was a sanitized set dressing, and completely neutralized within the context of the show. Furthermore, if parents were that concerned, it seems like the perfect teachable moment to discuss how the flag can have two meanings, and in this instance, it’s a source of regional and cultural pride, but take the time to tell them its more malevolent history, and why it’s still being debated today. Kids can handle it. Black Americans can handle it.

We can’t possibly scour history for every vestige of slavery or some other shameful period in our nation’s history, nor can we sanitize words or artifacts from a time we’d rather forget. We must engage with history, and put it in its proper cultural context, and see what we can learn about our ancestors, and ultimately ourselves. The Politically Correct movement has its heart in the right place, and its aims are lofty and noble. It truly is about inclusion, and giving voice to everyone, while advocating for respect and sensitivity. I just think it’s gone off the rails. It has been taken too far, and we need to use common sense, and most importantly, pay careful attention to context and intent. Each case has its own set of challenges and circumstances. I would simply urge caution, patience, and a little thicker skin. None of us use language as precisely as we’d like to.

Ben Carson’s Absurd Comments Are More Dangerous Than You Think

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As a candidate, Donald Trump may be brash, bigoted, sexist, narcissistic, unorthodox, and offensive, but his shockingly high poll numbers suggest the wilder his antics, the more his fans love him, even though his candidacy seems to defy all logic, common sense, and good taste. Despite all this, I contend it’s not The Donald we should fear, but the Doctor, who’s a much deeper and insidious threat to America. When Donald speaks, we know where he stands, and there’s no elegance, poetry, or rhetoric in his words. He speaks in blunt and overly simplistic hyperbolic phrases. Trump is unapologetic in his selfish and transparent grab for the crown. He may sound like a demagogue or passionate champion of Conservative xenophobia and jingoistic saber rattling, but make no mistake: Trump is not there to change lives or improve America. He is there for the same thing that has likely motivated him all his life. Hint: It’s not money. Or at least, not that alone. Money is only as good as the power it buys. The President of the United States is the most powerful position in the world. There’s no telling what Donald Trump would do with such power.

No, the one you want to watch is Ben Carson. Just yesterday, he soared past Trump in the Iowa polls, and New Hampshire is within reach. He has a large percent of the Tea Party and Evangelical vote wrapped up, and he’s become the darling of the middle, who might find Donald Trump’s opinions and courage to be refreshing, but know he’d never make it out of the Primaries, and stand a chance in the General election. His views and demeanor are too caustic, and he’s as far from Presidential a man can get.

On the other hand, Dr. Ben Carson seems like he strategically hid in Trump’s shadow all this time, yet benefited from Donald’s cult of personality and siphoned supporters who grew to find the soft spoken Dr. to be more approachable, nuanced, and most of all, Presidential. After all, Dr, Ben Carson is a celebrated brain surgeon, and a titan in his field, He is a gentle, soft-spoken, tender–yet strong, thoughtful, contemplative, and logical mind, as well as a deeply devout and committed Conservative. Perhaps most important of all, he’s a Washington outsider, and has never held any public office. He is a self made man, and for all intents and purposes, he is a rags to riches story, and proof the American Dream comes to those who work hard, not those who depend on the government to subsidize their life of crime and indolence. And did I mention he’s black? Carson is almost the anti-Obama, and makes the Republicans look hip and progressive, and goes far to capturing a much larger share of the black and Latino vote. He’s gentle and bookish demeanor, yet strong and decisive opinions have made him very popular amongst women. With each passing day, it’s becoming more clear that Ben Carson might be exactly the dynamic outsider candidate and charismatic leader the Republicans need to retake the White House. Lord knows, the establishment candidates with familiar names like Bush and Paul are failing to connect with voters, and in national polls, are shamefully stuck in the single digits, well behind Trump’s 32% and Carson’s 22%. With each new passing day, it seems more feasible that Carson could emerge a dark horse candidate, and overtake a Trump who’s looked surprisingly vulnerable lately, and betrayed his own liabilities. With Trump against the ropes, only a man who’s fought mostly in the billionaire’s shadow could know and exploit all the boxer’s moves.

And none of that would be as frightening as it truly is, if Dr. Ben Carson was actually a brilliant, curious, inquisitive, cerebral, contemplative, rational, open-minded, scientifically rigorous, well researched, and knowledgeable mind like he purports to be and is considered by his adoring fans. You’d think at the very least, the qualification they’d definitely ask of a brain surgeon is that he at least have his own brain. Dr. Carson proves that with hard work, sometimes a full heart is more important than an empty head. If you doubt how fundamentally stupid and misguided this odd man is, read this article and all of the laughingly fallacious arguments he makes. Prison makes you gay…’I Would Not Just Stand There and Let Him Shoot Me’….Obamacare is the worst thing since slavery…Jews couuld have prevented the Holocaust if they had had guns….Muslims shouldn’t be allowed to be President….and so much more!

I can’t help but laugh at how outrageous and ludicrous Ben Carson’s inflammatory comments are, but then I must take pause. There are thousands of his supporters who completely agree with his sentiments, and eat up his words enthusiastically. To them, he’s a kinder and gentler Trump, who still tells it like it is, and speaks truth boldly and unapologetically. He is the outsider, and not a career politician. In this election, it seems that at least on the Right, they want straight-shooters and not slick and polished politicians. Ben Carson’s voice rarely waivers or changes pitch and volume, and his delivery is rather slow, deliberate, staccato, modulated, articulate, authoritative, deceptively sound and credible, and above all else, calm, cool, and collected. If Ben Carson is the anti-Obama, he’s also the anti-Trump. Where the tycoon is loud, Carson is quiet, where Trump is cocky and defiant, Carson is humble and self-effacing, where Donald is caustic and confrontational, the good doctor is conciliatory and collaborative. Where the billionaire is hyperbolic and strident, Dr. Carson is gentle and nuanced. Dr. Ben Carson doesn’t tell any less truth (as he and his followers see it) than Donald Trump does, he just tells it in sweet and dulcet tones that’s easily more agreeable and less divisive to hear, and delivered in a manner only befitting a President.

Ben Carson is funny to listen to, but that doesn’t make him any less dangerous or lethal to our democracy. Despite his cultivated laid back scholarly and academic demeanor, this man is reckless with facts and figures, is not a rigorous scholar and student of the scientific method, and is arguably more of a demagogue than Trump, because Carson actually believes his fatuous lies and Conservative fallacies. Whereas Trump claims to be Presbyterian, it’s hard to imagine faith has guided any decision in his life, and the threat of a theocracy or zealous religious administration would be minimal. On the other hand, a Carson administration would be dictated by his deep and devout strict faith, inevitably guiding his hand in affairs like legislating Planned Parenthood and federal funding for abortions and women’s reproductive health, Supreme Court Justices he appoints — particularly in regard to Roe v. Wade, which he has declared he’s committed to overturning, Congressional bills he vetoes or signs into law, the scope and impact of any executive orders he issues, whether he commutes sentences and pardons reformed and deserving prisoners, the way he may disenfranchises or dismantles entitlement programs, and many more areas of governance. And this only covers his decisions regarding to domestic policy. His handling of foreign policy could mean the difference between extracting ourselves from Afghanistan and Iraq, not inserting ourselves into other conflicts and starting new wars, gently helping the UN and NATO police the world’s conflicts, but only intervening when absolutely necessary and using only minimal force, trying to disentangle our economic and commercial interests from war zones and areas that are historically hostile to the United States and its allies, using aid packages and money to help the poorest and most devastated nations, such as countries in Africa afflicted with famine, AIDS, civil war, etc. And there are countless other moral and far-sighted choices our next President will face outside our country. Finally, we deserve a President who fundamentally believes in science, which you’d think an accomplished brain surgeon would, but you’d be wrong. Again, his faith prevents him from investing in the proven truths and undeniable discoveries science has made in the last 2,000 years. As you might expect, Carson does not fully embrace climate change or the aims of environmental regulations. Dr. Ben Carson’s background as a neurosurgeon doesn’t necessarily translate to a decent understanding of climate science. Carson told an audience at the University of New Hampshire on Wednesday that “climate change” is what happens any time temperatures fluctuate.

“Of course there’s climate change,” Carson said. “Any point in time, temperatures are going up or temperatures are going down. Of course that’s happening. When that stops happening, that’s when we’re in big trouble.”

Carson has previously said that he has not seen any “overwhelming science” demonstrating climate change, which prompted California Gov. Jerry Brown to send him a flash drive containing the report from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Carson recently told Time magazine that he never received the flash drive. Carson told Time he is “very familiar with the various arguments” about climate change. But “it doesn’t matter about global warming or global cooling,” he said, because “at any point in time the earth is getting warmer or colder. That’s not the big factor.”
What matters, he said, is the “responsibility to take care of” the earth.

In recent remarks, Carson emphasized that humanity must take care of the planet for future generations. “What is important is that we recognize that we have an obligation to take care of our environment,” Carson said. “I don’t care whether you are a Democrat or a Republican, a liberal or a conservative, if you have any thread of decency in you, you want to take care of the environment because you know you have to pass it on to the next generation. There is no reason to make it into a political issue.”

So Carson suggests he has seen no proof climate change even exists, yet believes it’s our moral responsibility to take care of the earth we live on, so we can pass a healthy planet on to our children. Okay. So how does that happen? Apparently, not politically. Elves? Prayer? I’m sure the fluctuating temperatures will work themselves out. Glad to see the good doctor is well informed and ready to lead the second largest polluting nation in the world!

This man is the worst. What makes him so dangerous is that people take him for granted, underestimate him, and until only recently, didn’t see him as a threat to their campaign. Jeb Bush, Rand Paul, Chris Christie, and all the rest completely ignored Carson, and almost certainly wrote him off as not standing a chance. Jeb Bush has been the most unfortunate beneficiary of Ben Carson’s soaring popularity, being cast aside and left for dead in the unseemly single digits. His father and his brother were both Presidents!!! He was the heir apparent, and now he’s airing his dirty laundry and venting his anger at being attacked and humiliated by the upstart savage billionaire sitting comfortably at the top of the polls. Once upon a time, I actually resigned myself to the fact that if I had to live with a Republican elected to President, I would either want it to be Governor Kasich from Ohio or Jeb Bush. A BUSH! That’s inconceivable to me, but it’s true. Of all the candidates, Jeb’s actually one of the most moderate and sensible ones. As much as it pains me to say, I could live with another Bush White House. Having said that, it’s pretty bad when Jeb Bush is the most centrist and moderate candidate in a race of 17 candidates. This crop of Republicans makes Westboro Baptist Church look reasonable and open minded. They are ultra conservative, mostly deeply devout Evangelicals, committed to bringing down Hillary Clinton anyway that can, hoping to defraud Bernie Sanders as a socialist commie and enemy of capitalism, itching to defund Planned Parenthood, desperate to take down Donald Trump but completely helpless and ineffectual, proud of their NRA ratings and doing whatever it takes to prevent ANY gun control measures, promising to dismantle Obamacare, all vehemently against the Iran deal, and generally ready to attack Obama for two terms of gridlock, obstruction, and overreach. The Republicans seem to be on a mission from God to erase and reverse every one of Obama’s accomplishments and the eight years he ran this country into the ground.

Ben Carson is no different. In some ways, it seems like Ben Carson is harder on Obama than everyone else. It’s hard not to think it has something to do with him being a black man in another party. It’s perfectly understandable Carson wants to set himself apart, and firmly establish the narrative that even if he were to become only the second black man elected to President of the United States, he is nothing like the man that came before. In a country that still tends to see in binary, we forget that just because two people may share the same skin color, similar cultural legacies, and both rose quickly through the political ranks in pursuit of the highest job in the world, the similarities end there. We still assume all blacks are Democrats, and all doctors are white. We still live in that world. I despise his politics, lazy mind, and fallacies dressed as facts, but I do still admire Ben Carson for his contribution to medicine and his courage to stand with a party that doesn’t have a great track record with race, and embrace a party that wouldn’t all embrace him, and for fighting against the stereotype of the black liberal and being whoever he wanted to be. To do all that, and skyrocket through the hierarchy of rank and file Republicans, defy all low expectations of you, take the GOP by storm, leaving men with dynastic names like Bush in the dust, and to end up here, in nearly a statistical dead heat with the lead candidate! That’s impressive, and truly a fairy tale story.

Having said all that, just because I admire how far he’s come in such a short time, it doesn’t mean I wouldn’t do just about anything in my power to ensure he’s not elected (within reason and the boundaries of law). It’s that important that we protect America from a man like this. He has crazy and outlandish ideas, and dangerous solutions for making America great again. He may seem calm and collected, but Dr. Ben Carson is a loose canon, and we must not let him loose on America. Nobody in their right mind wants a bigoted blowhard like Donald Trump, but I guarantee, you wouldn’t want Ben Carson either. Both men would be terrible for this country, and could seriously damage America’s standing and safety in the world. Maybe instead of opening this country up with a scalpel and cutting away what he sees as disease (Planned Parenthood, Gay Marriage, ObamaCare, Gun Control), perhaps he should go back to operating on brains. If he’s lucky, he may even get to perform the first successful brain transplant…on himself!!!

Shakespeare vs. Mozart: Who Impacted Society More?

Jon Ferreira’s Answer to the Quroa Question: “I believe that Mozart gave humanity infinitely more than Shakespeare. Is Shakespeare’s fame an accurate reflection of his merits? He has many more Google results.”

Shakespeare & Language
I think that most of the other people who responded to this question did a good job demonstrating just how much Shakespeare has contributed to our society — primarily in the way of vocabulary and language. Shakespeare’s timing contributed a great deal to his legend, due to the fact that he was writing at a liminal period in the history of the English language, specifically in the malleable and fluid early years of Modern English. His invention of words, coining of phrases we still use today, clever use of dialogue and soliloquoy, extensive literary and Biblical allusions, masterful use of meter and verse, and brilliant employment of figurative language and metaphor, are just a few of the many ways Shakespeare innovated the English language, and passed down a legacy we have inherited and continue to use today. There can be no doubt that no other writer has shaped language as impactfully as William Shakespeare. His works have also inspired countless writers since. We still use his language and expressions today.

The Threads of Genius: Mozart vs. Shakespeare
As great as Mozart was, his genius is understandably more limited and less ubiquitous than Shakespeare. You could say that Mozart changed music, and influenced every composer after him, but finding the traces of Mozart in all the various genres of music today is more challenging, and certainly his influence on classical, baroque, etc. is easier to chart a trajectory. Finding remnants of Mozart in rap, for instance, might be a little harder to do. Mozart was a necessary stepping stone, which fundamentally changed music and furthered the art form, but it has splintered and evolved and changed so dramatically in the years since. He was unquestionably a musical genius, and unparalleled in the field, but his influence is necessarily less impactful and felt in our everyday lives, as Shakespeare’s demonstrably is. For example, Shakespeare phrases and words are still uttered by humans every day all across the world. The impact he had on language is unmistakable, and far easier to see the legacy. If anything, Shakespeare doesn’t get enough credit for all that he did. He truly does deserve the high praise and adoration he gets. Mozart may be unparalleled in music, but even though music is important to a lot of people today, we don’t need it to live and communicate. Mozart touched the arts, but Shakespeare has cast his shadow everywhere — through our language, science, art, psychology, and much more. His fingerprints are EVERYWHERE!

Literature Before Shakespeare
The Renaissance was a time when human enlightenment reached new heights not seen since the classical Greeks and Romans. In literature, England had seen Geoffrey Chaucer — often considered the father of English literature, and he had gone far to give voice to his characters and create colorful archetypal roles. The major works of the time are Edmund Spenser’s ‘Faerie Queene’ and Philip Sidney’s ‘Astrophil’. The real Renaissance was born in Italy though, and grew out of the productive and verdant period of the late Middle Ages. Before Shakespeare, Italy had its own literary genius in Dante Alighieri, author of the masterpiece, The Divine Comedy (1308-1320). In the late Middle Ages, the overwhelming majority of poetry was written in Latin, and therefore accessible only to affluent and educated audiences. However, Dante defended using the vernacular, and he himself would even write in the Tuscan dialect for works such as The New Life (1295) and the aforementioned Divine Comedy; this choice, although highly unorthodox, set a hugely important precedent that later Italian writers such as Petrarch and Boccaccio would follow. As a result, Dante played an instrumental role in establishing the national language of Italy. Dante’s significance also extends past his home country; his depictions of Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven have provided inspiration for a large body of Western art, and are cited as an influence on the works of John Milton, Geoffrey Chaucer, William Shakespeare, and Lord Alfred Tennyson, among many others. In addition, the first use of the interlocking three-line rhyme scheme, or the terza rima, is attributed to him. So Shakespeare was not the first person to revolutionize his country’s language and innovate freely, but he was unique in how he portrayed his characters. His characters were unusually human and frail, and preternaturally self-introspective. We take it for granted today, but many scholars argue that Shakespeare didn’t just capture the human condition better than any other writer, but that he actually shaped and crafted it. What we take for granted today, might actually have been the Bard’s invention.

Style & Substance: Writing a Character From the Inside Out
Although many people new or unfamiliar with Shakespeare might think his language fancy and unapproachable today, for its time, it was actually quite accessible. It was still elegant, lyrical, and ornate, but it was also muscular and digestible. Before Shakespeare, literature was very florid and characters were written from the outside. Often the poetry or the use of the third person made characters distant and stylized. They spoke very self-consciously, and it often came across as impersonal and obtuse. In the ancient Greek and Roman plays, the characters were much more expressive and emotive, but they were often tied to their own hubris and the will of the gods, that their introspection was minimal as well. Chaucer’s characters were colorful and well sketched, but they were never like real people that you could touch or feel. Their thoughts were prosaic, and did not reach to great depths.

Shakespeare changed all that.

How Shakespeare Shaped Our Psyche & Conscience
Shakespeare changed and shaped the modern psyche more than any other writer in history. His characters spoke eloquently, but also naturally. They asked questions all of us human beings ask, and contemplate mysteries and life’s riddles much in the same way we do. Shakespeare created introspective characters that contemplated their place in the universe, and struggled with their very existence. They were still animals, as we still are today, and caught up in carnal and primitive games of ambition, jealousy, anger, lust, love, etc. but also governed by insightful and rational brains, capable of great honor or deplorable acts of carnage and sin. The Renaissance was an age still ruled by the all powerful Church, superstitions about nature and necromancy, vested in the concept of fate and fortune, and wedded to unenlightened views of medicine, particularly the concept of the Humorism, a system of medicine detailing the makeup and workings of the human body, positing that an excess or deficiency of any of four distinct bodily fluids in a person—known as humors or humours—directly influences their temperament and health. The four humors of Hippocratic medicine are black bile, yellow bile, phlegm, and blood, and each corresponds to one of the traditional four temperaments. Conversely, as these rather primitive superstition, witchcraft and devout Christian belief intermingled, there was also the emergence of a new and rational thought. It was not quite the Age of Enlightenment yet, but humanity was beginning to reason more, and science was beginning to shape human behavior. Shakespeare captured all of this.

Shakespeare characters were not only one dimensional characters on a page or pretty poetry to read, but were three dimensional, and asked hard questions of themselves and each other. They contemplated their place in the universe, and were wracked with guilt and shame, as they were forced to see themselves as they truly were, and forced to face the consequences of their actions. The characters were all deeply virtuous and noble in their own small ways (even the “bad guys”) and they were all deeply flawed and petty in other ways (even the “good guys”). Perhaps for the first time in history, Shakespeare had created flawed and inconsistent characters who were capable of good and bad deeds, and who resembled us like never before.

Shakespeare’s characters were all capable of great insights and triumphs, no matter what their station in life. Often the lower class servants were the most wise and empathetic. Kings were allowed to fall, and peasants to rise. Shakespeare was concerned with the human condition, and was truly egalitarian in how he handed out brains, compassion, mercy, empathy, nobility, etc. The good and the bad, the smart and the dumb, the lazy and the ambitious, the comic and the tragic, could all be found spread out throughout his casts, in the high court and low valleys. Shakespeare also employed high brow humor and low brow humor to diversify his cast, and to appeal to a wide audience. That is why Shakespeare was unquestionably the most popular playwright not only today, but in his day….he was accessible to everyone. Shakespeare’s demographic was the breadth of humanity.

There’s a reason why Freud was inspired by Shakespeare to use themes and tropes as the basis for some of his psychoanalytical research. Shakespeare’s plays explore the full range of human emotion and practically every philosophical and Epistemological argument and question a human could ask in a lifetime. Nobody does it better than Shakespeare, and many scholars believe that he asked questions and raised points in ways never explored before. He gave his characters a voice, and subsequently, gave us a voice too. Hamlet became not only every troubled youth and goth/ intellectual kid out there, but a young man grieving a father, a confused boyfriend manipulating his girlfriend, a son angry and hurt by a thoughtless mother, a loyal friend to one and a deadly viper to others. Hamlet was us, and despite all his flaws, we cannot help but love him, and claim him as our own. Even his “evil” characters like Macbeth, Richard III, and Iago are infinitely charming and funny, and can’t help but ensnare us in their traps. Shakespeare wrote human beings, with all their flaws and foibles, strengths and triumphs, highs and lows, humor and stoicism, and every other trait that makes a man.

Shakespeare is more than deserving of his reputation. Not only did he practically invent and innovate a good portion of our language, he defined what it was to be human, and gave voice to our questions, thoughts, and emotions in a way that had never been done before. He helped shape our modern psyche.

Pointing Guns & Fingers: Who’s To Blame For America’s Epidemic of Gun Violence?

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Who’s to blame for this unyielding barrage of mass shootings that has gripped this country for the past two decades, if not longer? All I know is that my liberal friends and my conservative friends are sticking to the same predictable script, and it’s all just a lot of noise for a few days or a week, and then we’ll all quietly forget that we live in a country plagued by an epidemic of gun violence. Mass shootings are becoming almost a daily occurence. So far in 2015, we’ve had 355 shootings in 336 days and today’s shooting was the second today alone! Just days ago, President Obama pleaded for this to stop and for us to take action, and saying “we can’t let this become normal.” Today he said, “We have a pattern now of mass shootings in this country that has no parallel anywhere else in the world…This is not normal.” I’m afraid it has become normal. We’re ten mass shootings away from an average mass shooting every day of the year in 2015. This is the new normal.

Personally, I don’t care for guns, but I respect that possession of them is enshrined in our 2nd Ammendment, and that it is the law of the land. Just as I would hope conservatives could respect Roe v. Wade and marriage equality is the law, and must be enforced and upheld as such. I support sensible gun ownership, and although I don’t hunt, I respect those that do.

I’m not proposing we take anyone’s guns away, but perhaps take reasonable steps to control the flow of guns in this country, and the types of artillery we’re putting on the street. The average American isn’t allowed to possess a weapon of mass destruction like a dirty bomb or a ballistic warhead, yet some of the hardware out there could be considered weapons of mass destruction, and have no place in a civil society.

Cars kill people, yes, and no, we shouldn’t ban cars. Obesity kills people too, and no, we shouldn’t ban McDonalds. Americans should have autonomy, and be able to enjoy their rights and take responsibility for their poor decisions. But cars weren’t designed to be lethal, even if they are used that way sometimes. Airplanes weren’t meant to be used as missiles, but 9/11 taught us this was no longer true. Anything can be a weapon, in the right hands. But some objects were designed to be weapons. Guns were made for one purpose…to kill. To say that it’s unfair to blame an inanimate object is a disingenuous argument. No sensible person would propose we ban baseball bats because some angry fool used it to beat another man to death. It’s not the bat’s fault. But guns aren’t just any object, sold in a store, and passed around the dinner table. They aren’t used at your kids Little League Game or kept in the refrigerator at work. They are, ostensibly, weapons of mass destruction. Their purpose is to kill or maim. We don’t allow people to store ricin in their cabinet, enrich weapons grade plutonium in their kitchen, or store dirty bombs in their basements. A gun may not have the potential to cause that level of widespread carnage, but it still has the potential to kill a lot of people.
In this country, we issue licenses for fishing, selling homes, bonding plumbers, driving cars, practicing law, and operating on patients. We register our cars, pay taxes, get boating and pilot licenses, take background checks at work, submit to credit checks to hook up cable, and disclose our illnesses and medical conditions on physicals for life insurance. Yes, we live in a free society, and the Constitution ensures our civil liberties, but we are still held accountable to the society around us. Sadly, we seem to have more oversight and control over these other areas of our lives, than with gun ownership — a potentially very lethal hobby. Just because a right is protected and guaranteed in the Constitution doesn’t mean it is the wild west, and all rules are off. Voting is also ensured, but we have rules and regulations regarding our right to vote. Freedom of Speech is also guaranteed, but it is not a blank check, and with each of these freedoms, comes great responsibility.

I’m sure there are reactionary liberals out there who would like to ban guns outright, but I’m not suggesting anything like that. I respect that gun ownership in this country goes back to the early colonial days, and we have a proud tradition of gun possession, weaving its way through our history, from the Revolutionary War to the Civil War to the Wild West, and up through the 20th and 21st Century. With less than 5% of the world’s population, the United States is home to roughly 35–50 per cent of the world’s civilian-owned guns, heavily skewing the global geography of firearms and any relative comparison. The US has the highest gun ownership rate in the world – an average of 88 per 100 people. That puts it first in the world for gun ownership – and even the number two country, Yemen, has significantly fewer – 54.8 per 100 people.

Americans love their guns! I get that. And I have many friends who are proud and responsible gun owners. I don’t propose taking away their rights or confiscating their guns. I think many gun owners and NRA members are whipped into a defensive frenzy at the very suggestion of gun control, spreading the fear that it naturally must equate to the abolition and seizure of legally owned weapons and a tyrannical violation of their 2nd Amendment rights. Every time we have this discussion, both sides predictably divide, and become polarized in their language. Extremists on both side confuse and complicate the matter, and there can be no reasonable discourse.

What liberals refuse to understand or accept is that America has a long and proud tradition of gun ownership, and it was at least important enough to our Founding Fathers to enshrine the possession of guns in the Bill of Rights. Many on the Left argue this is a misreading of the document, and guns were only meant for a well regulated militia, in order to protect the fledgling nation from the tyranny of King George. But honestly, how are we to know? These were hunters and sportsman, and the average family owned at least one gun. It’s not unreasonable to assume that the Founding Fathers included it in the Constitution to ensure we had the means to feed ourselves, protect ourselves, and forcibly resist the bonds of tyranny. It was obviously important enough to be the SECOND of ten amendments! I grew up in Maine, and I was surrounded by hunters and outdoorsman, and gun ownership is very high in this state. Although I would never hunt, myself, I respect those who do. I would never suggest we take away guns from those who are legally entitled to own them.
Having said all that, a gun is not an innocent victim, and something that simply falls into the hands of either the sane and responsible or deranged and dangerous. We do have the ability to place some regulations and restrictions on who should own it, how and when one acquires one, and what kind of excessively lethal weaponry we’re sending out onto the street. Fully automatic weapons with high capacity cartridges/ magazines simply have no place in our society. No one is hunting deer or rationally playing target practice with a high velocity machine gun, designed to simply obliterate a target. These are military weapons, and belong only on a battlefield. They serve no useful function on our streets. We don’t allow civilians to ride tanks through the streets or place land mines in their front yard. Hand grenades are regulated under the National Firearms Act (“NFA”), a federal law first passed in 1934 and amended by the Crime Control Act of 1968. The 1968 amendments made it illegal to possess “destructive devices,” which includes grenades. (26 U.S.C. § 5801.) There’s no doubt that a live hand grenade designed for military combat fits within the law’s provisions—non-military people may not possess them. Bombs, grenades, rockets, missiles, and mines (and similar devices). How a defendant intends to use the device is irrelevant—mere possession is enough for a conviction. High power guns meant for battlefields should fall under the same provisions, and should be highly restrictive.
Perhaps the most infuriating thing to those of us who propose sensible gun control laws is the bitter resistance to background checks. It’s especially hypocritical, considering as a society, we all undergo background checks every day, from mortgages, credit checks, criminal background checks for employment, life insurance research into our medical histories, driver’s license checks, passport to fly, and much more. You may call yourself a Libertarian, and bristle at such intrusions on your civil liberties, but like it or not, we live in a Republic…or Representative Democracy, as the case may be, and we live in a society of laws and civic duty. There is no reasonable argument that can be made why someone purchasing a lethal weapon — capable of inflicting mass carnage and much loss of life — should NOT have to register their weapon and undergo a criminal and mental health background check. Why should we require such commonsense measures be taken to drive a car, teach children, practice medicine, or any other number of things, and not do the same when it comes to guns? GUNS. To objects designed to kill and maim, and even when handled safely and responsibly, are lethal dangerous weapons, always capable of taking a life.
Gun nuts would have us believe the government would keep a registry of guns and gun owners, for the sole purpose of invading them in the middle of the night, and seizing all their weapons. That would be the tyrannical government, bent on enslaving the populace and taking away all their rights. Firstly, that’s just crazy conspiracy theory crap that has sadly trickled down into the populace and urban-rural lore. Secondly, if the U.S. Government wanted your guns and was coming after you in the middle of the night, I’m sorry, I don’t care how many high profile military grade weapons you have, you and your separatist survivalist nutjobs don’t stand a chance. Have you seen what the U.S. Military is packing these days? One drone strike, and it doesn’t matter how many guns you have in your arsenal to fight the ‘Good Fight,” cause your dead. On the other hand, you could come out of your compound and actually participate in government, rather than fear and despise it, and play an active role in shaping how it works. That seems like a more reasonable and realistic way to hold onto your guns.

Waiting 24 hours, 48 hours, or even three days seems like a minor inconvenience, at best. I’m not sure I can believe anyone needs a gun so badly they can’t wait a day for it. Perhaps you should plan ahead better. People often have to wait for new cars, new merchandise, and the chance to move into a new house. After you file your taxes, you have to wait for the return to come several weeks later. When waiting at the deli counter, we take a number, and wait our turn. When we see a red light, we stop, and obey basic traffic laws. That’s what it means to be an adult. Patience. And the ability to delay instant gratification. That’s what it means to live in a civil society, where we aren’t only responsible for ourselves, but have a duty to others.

If waiting 48 hours to get your hands on a brand new gun even helps to save ONE innocent life, than it is absolutely worth any minor inconvenience your delay cost you. This is such an inconsequential and easy compromise to make, and shouldn’t the saving of lives be more important than your 2nd Amendment anyway? Again, we’re not proposing taking guns away here, just finding better ways to regulate them. We do it with every other industry and potentially dangerous thing — yes, even cars. And the FDA with food and medication. And the FAA with air travel. And on, and on… Why should guns be any more privileged and sacred than these other important areas of our lives?

Okay, now on to mental illness. As someone who suffers from mental health issues, and is a strong advocate for those afflicted, I completely recognize that something is seriously broken in this country when so many deranged and disturbed individuals are taking guns and shooting up innocent people. Many of these people suffer from diagnosed or undiagnosed conditions such as Bipolar Disorder, Schizophrenia, Borderline Personality Disorder, Schizo-Affective Disorder, and others. There is no doubt that this country needs to do a better job at early intervention, and not letting loner individuals slip through the cracks and become psychotic and homicidal.

We need an educational system which truly invests not only in the academic needs of its students, but its psychological as well. We need to practice holistic learning, where we treat the whole child, and find ways to reach them early and often. If we can diagnose children when they’re young, or when they begin to exhibit symptoms, we will be able to find effective medications, enroll them in therapy that is helpful, supportive, and not stigmatized in the way it is today. If we all were to understand that therapy and counseling is healthy for anyone, and that we could all stand to gain from talking to someone regularly, perhaps these loners wouldn’t feel the need to escape into the Internet, with its White Supremacist groups, Neo-Nazi organizations, anarchist groups, and sick and twisted grip it can have on fragile minds.

Psychotic mass shooters are often lonely and frightened, and many want to die, but don’t have the courage to take their own lives. Perhaps they’ve tried. Yet, they somehow are thrilled and stimulated by the idea of taking other people’s lives. There’s power in that. Some of these small people seek recognition, some seek fame, some seek infamy, others want to punish those they perceive wronged them, while others want to inflict carnage on the innocent. As we saw last week, many are driven by ideology like an extremist need to punish abortion providers and fight a righteous war for human life. I am not defending these monsters at all, and yet, I think it’s important we recognize that these are human beings, and they are profoundly disturbed and mentally unbalanced. They are sick. It’s easy as a society for us to simply label them sick and perverse monsters and cold blooded killers, but they each had families…they were once children…at one time, they had hopes and dreams of fitting in and belonging to something. Somehow, somewhere along the line, WE failed them. I’m not saying they aren’t responsible for their actions, but they’re sick all the same. We wouldn’t expect a patient with two broken legs to run a marathon, and in some ways, we can’t reasonably expect these profoundly sick individuals to maintain their sanity and fight the homicidal tendencies brewing inside them. It is a sickness. Some may be hearing voices telling them to commit the crime, while others may legitimately feel they will finally be recognized and liked once they commit such a heinous act. These people belong in hospitals and halfway houses, NOT in prisons, and not locked up in their rooms, on the Internet, stockpiling weapons, and planning a mass shooting. They need to be diagnosed early, because statistically, with proper medication and treatment, many of these individuals could have lived normal, non-violent, and nonviolent lives.

The problem is, we live in a complex society, where it’s not possible to point fingers at one thing in particular. I can’t, in good conscience, blame guns for all the mass shootings this country has seen over the last 10-20 years. They are inanimate objects, and it’s not wholly fair to scapegoat a legal weapon. However, those who would claim guns play no role in our disproportionately high gun mortality rates are fooling themselves. I just returned from Portugal, where last year they had less than 50 gun deaths in the whole country. They also have many regulations on gun ownership. Of all the developed superpowers, only America has staggeringly high gun homicide and suicide rates. No other civilized country within our standing has gun mortality rates anywhere close to ours. There aren’t regular mass shootings at schools and businesses in England, Ireland, France, Germany, Australia, Spain, Holland, Norway, China, Russia, etc. Sure, there have been the exceptions. Obviously, as we saw earlier this month, Paris fell victim to a terrorist attack. No one is truly safe these days.

And in regards to domestic terrorism, who could forget Anders Behring Breivik, the far Right terrorist and mass murderer in Norway? In 2011, he killed eight people by setting off a van bomb amid the Government quarter in Oslo, then shot dead 69 participants of a Workers’ Youth League (AUF) summer camp on the island of Utoya. Clearly, killing 77 people in one spree is prolific and rare, but it’s also memorable because these things simply don’t happen in much of the rest of the world — particularly Europe.

Not too long ago, Australia had very permissive gun laws, and then they had a mass tragedy. In 1995, a man named Martin John Bryant began a shooting rampage at a popular tourist resort in Tasmania, and killed 35 people in the process. Almost immediately, Australia was so shocked by the carnage, they decided to take drastic measures. As a response to the spree killing, Australian State and Territory governments placed certain restrictions on semi-automatic centre-fire rifles, repeating shotguns (holding more than 5 shots) and high-capacity rifle magazines. In addition to this, limitations were also put into place on low-capacity repeating shotguns and rim-fire semi-automatic rifles. The Tasmanian state government attempted to ignore this directive but was threatened with a number of penalties from the federal government. Though this resulted in stirring controversy, opposition to the new laws was overcome by media reporting of the massacre and mounting public opinion in the wake of the shootings. America has had had its fair share of shootings like this….the Virginia Tech shooting claimed 32 lives…in Sandy Hook, a disturbed young man killed 20 children and six adults in an elementary school. And yet, we haven’t had our watershed moment, where we decide as a nation that enough is enough. We haven’t reached the breaking point, where we decide that giving up a few minor conviences is nothing compared to the number of lives it could save. Even though This IS normal. This IS a daily occurrence.

Clearly these other civilized countries have their fair share of mentally disabled and disturbed individuals. Clearly, they have people who have the potential to be homicidal. The difference is, most of these countries have socialized healthcare, and care for their citizens from the craddle to the grave. Secondly, they have varying rates of gun restrictions and control. Some of these countries have almost as much access to guns as we do, but there still isn’t that relationship that we have. They don’t sleep with their guns the way us Americans do. If you’re curious as to what other countries have the highest rates of gun homicides, don’t look to our neighbors to the East or members of the G8. The countries with the highest gun mortality rates include El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, Jamaica, South Africa, Brazil, and other poor countries. These are countries with high crime rates and often a low standard of living. And us. It’s like the Axis of Evil, and yet, we’re on the list.

And yet, you might say, Canada has almost as many gun rights as we do, and they have hardly had a single mass murder attack on their soil over all these years. This is a very strong argument for not blaming guns, and it almost works. However, again, Canada has national healthcare, and is much more comprehensive in treating its citizens. Secondly, and probably most importantly, Canadians have very different dispositions than we Americans. Wherever I travel in the world, I meet a lot of people whose opinions of Americans comes out of the lurid headlines, where all they hear about is school shootings and gang violence in Chicago. Interestingly, many of these people are afraid or uninterested in ever visiting America. Many think that it must still be like a Wild West show, and everyone is packing heat, and shooting each other dead in cold blood. They honestly think that about this country. And why shouldn’t they? Canada may be able to be permissive with their guns, because their population is more well adjusted and responsible with their weapons. They are not us, and we can’t hold them up as an example why we should have limited to no gun laws and restrictions. America has a troubling history of gun violence, and it seems to be embedded in our very DNA. What I do know is that most of our trade partners and allies do not suffer from the same kind of gun violence we do, and they have more restrictive laws than we do. And I’m not even suggesting we curtail Americans’ rights that much. I’m simply suggesting some reasonable gun legislation.

At the end of the day, I don’t know that this argument will ever be settled. Gun enthusiasts see guns as their God given right, and one protected by the Constitution. It is our cultural inheritance, and built into the fabric of this country. On the other hand, those on the Left believe that national security is at stake, and there are lives on the line. It only seems reasonable to allow some minor restrictions and regulations, if it saves lives. In every other aspect of our lives, we impose regulations, especially if it concerns public safety. But the two sides couldn’t be more apart. As a liberal myself, I recognize the sanctity of the 2nd Amendment, and respect law-abiding gun owners. At the same time, I think that the real compromise has to come from their side. Their stubbornness is unjustified, and can only harm lives and public safety. A minor inconvenience certainly seems worth it if it even could save one life.

Perhaps there is no one area we can point a finger at. Our society is complex, and there are a lot of culprits in making these cold blooded killers. There are many areas that likely failed these young men, such as a poor education, inadequate healthcare, mental health stigma, easy access to guns, access to high capacity rounds and lethal weapons, the Internet and social media, video games, poor home life, poverty, etc. Again, this crisis is not going to be solved by banning all guns….nor will it be cured by completely fixing the mental health care system. It’s not fair to completely let guns off the hook, and blame all this violence on mental illness. Ultimately, it will likely be a combination of all these things. No matter what, it’s not enough to point at mental health as a way to deflect from the responsibility of guns.

It’s not fair to only single out guns. The irony is that many of the gun supporters pointing at mental health are the very people that routinely underfund or defund mental health clinics and services in their states and cities. Furthermore, it is their actions and words which tend to fuel the stigmatization of mental health, and perpetuate the ignorance that leads to things like psychosis and alienation. Precisely the kind of things that incubate cruel thoughts and facilitate violent tendencies. We wonder where these monsters come from? We created them. We ostracized and ignored them. One very important step to removing the stigma on mental health is to fund it, and hold it in the same esteem as the regular medical field.

The best way to prevent such widespread gun violence is to regulate guns in a reasonable way, taking pains not to violate gun owners’ Constitutional rights, yet also striving to protect the safety of the public. There is no reason to have weapons of mass destruction out on the street. There is no need to have guns with high velocity bullets capable of piercing armor and bullet proof jackets, and with magazines of 20 – 60 bullets. Hunters don’t need those types of weapons, homeowners don’t need them, and they are simply weapons meant for a battlefield. Or for police officers. Civilians do not need those types of weapons. Combined with background checks, mandatory waiting periods, and other reasonable measures, we could reasonably expect a decline in gun violence. Even if such measures saved one life, it would be worth it. But we all know it would save significantly more lives than that. The very future of this country depends on such compromise.

Homeschooling & Religious Indoctrination

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I was recently contemplating the infamous Duggar family, known for their recently cancelled reality show, 19 Kids and Counting, all about the conservative Christian couple and their household of 19 children. All of the children were/are homeschooled, and the Duggars adhere to a Christian homeschooling program, complete with a healthy dose of Bible study and Christian lessons. This compelled me to finally write my personal objections to homeschooling, and why I not only think it’s bad for children, but bad for America. We need to do whatever we can to raise and educate young people who are cultured, socialized, tolerant, educated, and well-rounded. In my honest opinion, I believe the best way to truly produce those types of individuals is through the public and private school system, and not through the limited scope and reach of homeschooling. The more diverse people and broad range of ideas a child is exposed to, the greater potential for that individual to grow up to be a moral, fair, and just global citizen.

Forgive me if I’m skeptical the Duggar clan received stellar educations through homeschooling — a notoriously uneven method of teaching children from the comforts of home. Uneducated parents with no degrees, certifications, or familiarity with pedagogy are teaching out of books and online, and are often poor resources and arguably clueless instructors. Who’s asking the critical questions, if the parents are shaky on the concepts? How in depth can such superficial instruction be? The last time a traditionally schooled child is taught by one teacher — teaching all the subjects — is typically 3rd, 4th, or 5th grade. Why? Because the subject matter is rudimentary and simple enough for one person to master the various content areas. They likely studied ‘Elementary Education,’ rather than a content area like Physics or Creative Writing. As children grow, their brains crave more complex subject matter, and the classes divide up, and teachers focus on one or two specific subjects, which they are presumably experts in. So how can a parent be expected to teach advanced high school courses like Calculus, Physics, Music, English, and History with any degree of effectiveness? The answer is, they’re not. More often than not, homeschool kids don’t take courses that advanced, and invariably get less rigorous educations than their peers in traditional schools. Working out of a book or online is fine some of the time, but it’s missing a key component in education — class discussion and the socratic dialogue of a teacher and student. Good teachers ask a lot of questions of their students, and ask provocative questions designed to spur critical thinking and force a student to craft arguments and use data and evidence to back up their arguments. In short, homeschooling often neglects the socialization that every student needs to build confidence, find their voice, and articulate their thoughts. Homeschooled adolescents are often noticeably more shy, uncertain, and sheltered than their peers.

In the case of the Duggars, the curriculum is already planned and laid out by the Christian company that makes the materials. The courses are simpler and more intermediate than the courses offered at school. One striking deficit homeschooling has is not having access to the various fonts of knowledge each individual teacher has. There is a combined wisdom that homeschooled students miss, if all they have access to is a parent. Many of the homeschool houses are made up of devout Evangelical Christians, who see public education as evil and corrupting, with its lessons in global warming, environmentalism, Evolution, sex education and contraception. To many, public schools are a governmental trap, in which tax payers pay liberals to indoctrinate young people in the virtues of Socialism and marriage equality. I am not speaking of every homeschool family, nor every Christian family. I am targeting a very specific group of evangelical Christians, who shun perfectly acceptable school systems, in order to make sure their children are learning ONLY what their religion allows, and that they aren’t exposed to any other opinions. You see, diverse opinions are dangerous to those whose faith is so absolute and inflexible, they fear their children could be enticed by the easier path of the wicked. It’s no wonder so many of these people have trouble fitting into the real world, and playing nicely with those who may be different and hold opposing views. They were brought up in an insular echo chamber, where all they ever heard was their own beliefs and the sound of their own voices. Homeschooling tends to have that affect.

Despite its obvious drawbacks, homeschooling is conspicuously absent the incentives and initiatives that come in a classroom full of learners. When children engage in healthy competition, it helps them learn more effectively, and builds confidence and self-esteem. As if it’s not bad enough having one sole teacher, who is really more of a facilitator than a knowledgeable instructor, but that person is most often the parent of the student. Generally, it’s not fair or wise to have parents teaching their own children. There are two problems that can arise. Firstly, a parent teacher is naturally biased, and may show their child preferential treatment and be more permissive than a teacher who was unrelated, and naturally more objective. Secondly, the parent could be just the opposite, and be the scourge of the classroom, pushing their child hard and having rigid and inflexible standards, too high for any child to reach. This kind of parent may push their child excessively, and may invariably drive their child away from their education, and also engender bitter resentment and mistrust along the way.

As I alluded to earlier, one of the most dangerous and reckless consequences of homeschooling is not allowing children the natural and necessary chance to mingle and socialize, and learn from their peers. Many homeschoolers are shy, timid, insecure, uncertain, introverted, and socially awkward. They come across as sheltered, and are often uncomfortable around joking, sarcasm, sexual situations, competition, and other similar scenarios. By robbing a child the opportunity to interact with their peers or engage in the back and forth dialogue with a teacher, a student may not learn invaluable lessons in body language, signposting, verbal cues, non-verbal communication, politeness and etiquette, humor, and many more life lessons.

In the final analysis, I must simply argue that MOST (not all) homeschool students generally receive an inferior and subpar education, when compared to their peers in traditional schools. Having a single and untrained parent as an instructor is crippling, and frankly insufficient to properly advance through subjects and levels. It’s reasonable to assume that before long, the subject matter and level surpasses the education and knowledge of the parent, and that figure becomes obsolete and ostensibly unhelpful. The lack of socialization, critical thinking, social interactions, spirited debates, having to defend and support arguments, and answer the questions of teachers is a catastrophic loss and not reproducible in the child’s home. Not having access to a wide variety of instructors, with varying levels of education, knowledge, and teaching styles robs the student of the chance to build a diverse base of knowledge, upon which they can build and expand learning. Another drawback to homeschooling is the obvious lack of classes in the arts and extracurricular activities. Although many homeschooled students have the access to participate in after school activities at their local schools, many choose not to. It can be awkward to not know anybody or have to suffer the looks and judgements of those who don’t approve and/or would ridicule homeschooling. It can often not be a very welcoming environment. In most homes, parents aren’t talented or equipped to teach visual art, theatre, photography, dance, or any of the other myriad art classes, that are not only offered in most public schools, but required for most students. No matter what they may want to be when they grow up, a child should be introduced to a wide array of subjects and hobbies. After school activities like drama, a sport, or the debate team are great ways to further socialize, and excel at something they love. It is great to work as a team, and learn good sportsmanship and collaboration, and also learn something about conflict resolution, and overcoming adversity. Children should be allowed to succeed AND fail. Activities are great ways to learn those lessons. And yet, many homeschool children will never have these unique and invaluable experiences, because they are shut up in their homes, and isolated from the real world around them.

Although there are families from all walks of life who choose to homeschool their children, a large number of people come from conservative evangelical Christian households. Many of these people are fearful and disgusted with the state of public education, and view schools as being dens of iniquity, spreading a liberal agenda, and polluting good Christian minds. They object to the high degree of sexuality and kids having sex before marriage. They object to sex education classes and the teaching of contraception and female reproductive rights. They object to the way history is taught, and to the idea of multiculturalism. Some may not like how racially diverse schools are, and the presence of LGBT students and the tolerance and encouragement of groups on campus. Many conservative parents strenuously object to the way science is taught, especially teaching Evolution, global warming, the Big Bang Theory, and how old the Earth actually is. Many of these concepts directly contradict the teachings in the Bible, which is the absolute literal word of God, to these fundamentalists. Many are upset that most teachers are liberal and pro-union, and teach in a style that is permissive and promotes a liberal agenda, where homosexuality and gay marriage are considered acceptable, gun control is a priority, environmentalism is embraced, immigration and amnesty are encouraged, businesses are over-regulated, and all the other many beliefs most conservatives object to.

The problem with ultra-conservative Christians homeschooling their children is that often, they don’t do a very good job. Some look at the world and see nothing but sin and depravity, as they wait for the End of Days, and ensure their place in the rapture, all while shutting out the profligate world around them. They isolate their families in their homes and in their insular churches, where many of the flock are just like them, and hold all the same beliefs and values. These homeschooled children have very little contact with the outside world — just their homes and church — and are rendered helpless out in the real world. The problem is that these families are producing young adults who are sheltered, scared, wrathful, contemptuous of the sinful world around them, naive, inexperienced, inflexible, unable to see more than just black and white, bigoted, prejudiced, intolerant, self-righteous, pious, untraveled, uncultured, provincial, ignorant, anti-science, anti-intellectual, biased, unworldly, and generally short-sighted. Their educations are often not very rigorous because education and intellect are not high priorities. Their blind faith and the love and unquestioning devotion to the Bible is what drives these people, and quite honestly, Calculus and philosophy aren’t always high on their list. What’s more, over 80% of evangelical Christian homeschooled students do NOT go on to earn an advanced degree. College is simply not a priority, and holds little interest for them. For one thing, as bad as public K-12 schools are, American universities are viewed with even more scorn and contempt. They are notoriously liberal and atheist institutions, and most of these people wouldn’t be caught dead in such sinful places of learning. Many of the jobs they pursue are in the church itself, or in other trades that don’t require college degrees. A good number of them go on to study at Bible schools all across the country, earning certificates, but no formal degree.

In the course of this essay, I’ve cast a wide net, and as you might expect, a whole lot of people got caught up in it. There are a lot of groups who choose to homeschool their children, and I believe people should have the right to choose. In this essay, I undoubtedly had a bit of an axe to grind, and unmistakably took direct aim at some evangelical Christians who almost all exclusively homeschool their children. I maintain that my generalizations are based on anecdotal evidence and common knowledge, but to be clear, in no way is it meant to represent all evangelical Christians. As with any group, these people are relatively diverse. I was targeting a very specific group of evangelicals I especially take issue with. I don’t mean to suggest that ALL homeschooled kids are receiving poor educations, or that the parents who teach them are all unqualified and ineffective. There are undoubtedly many homeschooled students who are receiving exceptional educations, and perhaps, even more rigorous and ambitious than the average traditionally educated student. I know there are parents who insist their children participate in at least one after school activity, and enroll them in an art class to expose them to culture. They also may take trips to art museums and visit the ballet from time to time. These parents are the good ones, and have taken it upon themselves to fully educate their child, and offer the most substantive and diverse education they can. At the same time, I still stand firm in all the many drawbacks and deficits I believe homeschooling has. In general, I always believe the more diverse people and opinions a child can be exposed to, the better and more well adjusted person they will become. They will likely grow up to be tolerant, cultural, curious, responsible, moral, and more. They will be good neighbors and compassionate global citizens. They will know about the world outside the walls of their home or church. This is why I generally don’t believe in homeschooling, and advocate all children should learn amongst their peers and be exposed to as many new ideas and different teachers as possible.

Why #BlackLivesMatter AND #LionLivesMatter

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Lot of memes out there today bitterly denouncing all the outrage over Cecil’s murder, while ignoring the countless black Americans who have recently died tragic deaths all throughout the nation. While I understand being angry at the hypocrisy of white America seemingly valuing the life of a lion over the lives of human beings killed by gun violence and racist police brutality, it’s not right to throw innocent lions under the bus for black lives, just because you feel that’s what was done to you by a cruel and uncaring white America. Blacks should be outraged about being disrespected and ignored by a country unconcerned with their suffering, and caring more about a lion in a far away country. But caring for both blacks AND innocent lions aren’t mutually exclusive, and we should be able to have enough love in our hearts for black suffering AND the barbaric murder of innocent lions in the wild.

You can’t have it both ways, and ask that we value black lives, and not allow us to be outraged over the death of a lion. Yes, human lives are understandably more valuable than animal deaths, and more deserving of our attention, but does that mean we’re wrong to also be angry at the unprovoked massacre of animals and must devote ALL our attention to the scourge of racism, brutality, and violent death in the black community?

Maybe.

Maybe I’m wrong, and we should ONLY be focusing on race relations and police brutality. Maybe that singular attention is exactly what this country needs. Lord knows we’ve ignored race for too long, and just hoped if we swept it under the rug, it would just go away. Nope. It’s gonna take some soul searching and for white America to truly commit to changing not only the laws on paper, but the racism that may still linger in our hearts. Yes, even those of us who believe we are progressive and support equality for all. It’s often us liberals who inadvertently perpetuate racism the most. Institutional Racism pervades all language, institutions, law, business, houses of worship, education, and seemingly every corner of our society. It truly is up to the white majority to aggressively weed out this widespread injustice, and take bold steps to deliver and ensure equal treatment under the law. Our hearts and minds will follow in time, but the ball really is in our court.

Having said all that, does it really mean we must push aside every other cause and injustice in the world and devote all our attention on racism and delivering long overdue equality? Must we be forced to choose so abruptly? I can’t believe that attending to one group only, and fixing one societal ill at the expense of others will be helpful to us in the longterm. We must care for the wellbeing of each other, and black America should demand the attention of the majority, but not at the expense of other needy causes and concerns.

Of course we need to solve our issues at home first and foremost, and of course blacks deserve for us to be angrier and more motivated by the deaths of black Americans over exotic and faraway animals, but that doesn’t mean Cecil and other innocent creatures deserve to be ignored too. We should care and do MORE to end racism and ensure the safety of the African Americans we share this nation with AND perhaps care and do LESS about avenging Cecil and punishing his killer, while still looking out for the lives of the precious animals we share this planet with.We can do BOTH, but not when one throws the other under the bus on purpose and out of bitter spite. Blacks are justifiably angry their lives are so meaningless in the eyes of white America, while those same people loudly condemn and grieve the death of an African lion. Clearly it’s better to be an African Lion than an African American in this country. We all need to remember that all boats will rise when we are committed to the success and well being of all our allies, not competing with them as foes. #BlackLivesMatter AND #LionLivesMatter, and one day, we will all be equal and thriving as one, and then we can confidently say that #AllLivesMatter.

Too Much Toupée: What Trump Costs the GOP

donald-trump31The Hair
For the good of the party, we must consider this: whomever Trump’s hair stylist is doesn’t deserve our scorn for being bad at their job, but rather our praise for making ours easier. Trump’s stylist has done more for our party than a hundred Bernie Sanders or Michelle Bachman speeches. Trump’s stylist has sent one of the richest and powerful men out into the world wearing a floral arrangement on his head so ugly, only a blind man could have put it together, and boasting the rare and exotic plumage of birds now extinct by the Donald’s own hand, but more than happy to fill out Trump’s hair-over-combover. Rounding out the carpet upstairs are rare pelts of Arctic animals displaced by melting glaciers — a phenomenon Trump would say is “NOT caused by man and definitely not proof of some paranoid Communist theory used by scientists to scare the public and attack big business!” Gotta love that guy…

Trump’s hair is a well we can return to time and again, to remind us to give thanks that a man so rich could have hair so poor. Any stylist who committed a heinous crime like that on Donald’s head would have surely gotten themselves executed by men like Stalin, Pol Pot, or Pinochet. But just as Hitler listened to his misguided and well meaning barber to wear a mustache no bigger than a postage stamp, Trump too placed his trust in hair dressers who could only be working for us. If his outrageous statements and buffoonish hot air tirades weren’t enough to deliver the White House to our party, Trump’s hair does the rest of the work. What person in their right mind could possibly elect a President with hair like a disheveled bird’s nest?

A True Grasp of History & Science
We must all thank our lucky stars that the Donald doesn’t possess the same acumen in the hair and style department as he does in the cutthroat world of real estate, As Trump says about his hair: “Immigrants are rapists and murderers, and always to blame.” Oh wait, sorry. Next clip: “…and that’s why we deport them. Remember folks, the world’s been around for at least six thousand years now, and there’s nothing mankind could do to change that. What are we going to do, drink up all the water in the ocean? Or maybe we’ll run out of oil and all the other unlimited fossil fuels out there? Perhaps if we’re not careful, we might run out of air, as it escapes through that “hole” your “theories” say is in the sky. I’m sorry, but I don’t see a hole….do you folks? No, I didn’t think so. So give me a break! I’m a rich guy. And powerful. So who else are you gonna believe? Trust me: There’s nothing any of us did or could do to ever hurt the earth, and I predict humans will happily live here for at least another six thousand years! No one here goes extinct on my watch! (except those I had to kill. ‘You’re Fired!'”

Whipping Up the Base…But Which One? Dems Play Trump Card
I could listen to him speak all day. It’s like music to my ears. And then you look at the cruel joke on top of his head, and can’t help but sing, ‘Red Rover, Red Rover, Send Trump Another Combover!” It’s like he’s stumping for the Libs and dyed in the wool socialists. Trump’s raising more cash for the Dems than Bernie Sanders at this point! Of course we know there’s no way in hell he’ll ever get the Republican nomination, but at least he’s hogging the spotlight from more centrist Republicans, who lean just slightly left enough to often poach moderates and Independents (the coveted “swing voters) from the liberals. These are men like Jeb Bush — the presumptive nominee, and best shot, IMHO. But as long as Trump’s yammering on, the less these others get to talk, and the more the party looks like an angry mob of torch carrying Monster-hating, xenophobic, homophobic, sexist, intolerant bigots, storming the castle, and looking to torch and harass anyone who doesn’t belong here! After all, their great-grandparents didn’t travel 3,000 miles across the Atlantic ocean over a hundred years ago, in search of a new home and a chance at the American dream, just to share it with a bunch of dirty immigrants crossing the border and looking for another handout. Trump just might drive moderate voters towards the middle, and deliver them right into the hands of…Bernie Sanders….Hillary….Candidate X. Keep talking, Trump.

And yet, it could get even better…

If Trump continues to feel disgruntled and rejected by the party, he could leave it behind, and run as a third party candidate. This is not far-fetched at all, considering Trump’s past shows he jumps between parties more often than Lindsay Lohan and has more positions than a Kim Kardashian sex tape! Trump continues to make enemies, not across the aisle, as one might expect, but in his very own party, as he insults the top brass, including a recent swipe at John McCain and rejecting him as no war hero. If Trump were to run as an Independent, he could split the GOP vote, just as Nader did to Gore in 2000, and the victory could go to the Dems again! It’s a long shot, but it’s worth considering.

Stay in the Race: A Trump in the Hand, Is Worth Two Bachmans and a Bush

We’re counting on you Donald Trump, to whip all those torch-carrying, gun toting, border guarding, intolerant ass holes into a crazy frenzy, and bring them right up to the verge of a nervous breakdown, as you dominate the headlines, and suck all the air right out of the Republican Party. We’re fifteen months away from the election, and I know you’re no blushing flower when it comes to being a publicity whore. Keep fighting the good fight, and pitting the Right against each other and setting up straw men to be knocked down, and being the most vocal demagogue out there. Anyone who can make Cruz, Ben Carson, Scott Walker and Rand Paul look centrist, tolerant, and openminded must be good for the party! Or at least good for ours!
If nothing else, he’s always good for a laugh! That hair! For real. He actually looks in the mirror and likes what he sees. I wonder what that is exactly. It can’t be that rat’s nest. He probably sees Robert Redford or George Clooney looking back. Yeah, baby…look at that hair! I’m rich, bitch!

The Mirror Up to Nature: Sex & Nudity On Stage & Screen

As a director of both film and stage, I have directed several scenes involving nudity and simulated sex scenes. I find them completely justified, and would argue that they play a vital role in the art we produce and consume.

As Hamlet says:

“…the purpose of playing, whose end, both at the
first and now, was and is, to hold, as ’twere, the
mirror up to nature; to show virtue her own feature,
scorn her own image, and the very age and body of
the time his form and pressure.

In other words, one of the primary purposes of art forms like television, film, and theatre, is to reflect nature as we artists see it, and as it really is. Some people — perhaps you — want their art as pure entertainment, and only require it to distract and entertain. These people want relatively mindless entertainment that doesn’t ask much of them, and is escapist enough that it doesn’t bear any resemblance to their own lives — or even any real lives on earth. This kind of entertainment is often considered wholesome and family friendly. Yet, some of this work transcends the mundane and blithe entertainment some families love, and actually educates and enlightens its audience. This brand of wholesomeness can be found in the work done by Pixar. It obviously has no nudity or swearing, and yet, it is smart and thought-provoking. Movies like Wall-E ask its audience to think about the earth, and how we treat it, and mildly condemn our sedentary consumerist lifestyle. What’s more, it does all of this without the use of very many words. Like the later Pixar film, Up, Wall-E allows the viewer to watch action unfold and tells its story wordlessly, trusting in the intelligence of the audience, and in its own ability to educate AND entertain. Movies like this don’t need to be encumbered by sex or violence to keep our attention, but still appeal to the unique feelings and emotions that make us human.

Those films are special, and although ostensibly being “children’s movies,” they have mass appeal to many adults. This is mostly because they can present kid friendly characters and scenarios in a way that is very adult, and can be fun and entertaining, while still be thoughtful and satisfying to older people.

However, sometimes it’s necessary for the subject matter to get more adult and portray mature themes only appropriate for people of a certain age. If the purpose of playing is to hold a mirror up to nature, that means that sometimes we must be unwavering in our depiction of humanity, and show our lives as they are, not as some Disney movie paints it. The reality is, sex and violence are two of the most enduring facets of human life. It seems that as long as humans roam the earth, they will inflict violence on one another, and they will have sex with one another. The very future of humanity depends upon the latter. As we know, money is the driving force behind the actions of many people, but sex has proven to be an even greater and more compelling motivator. It’s human nature, after all. We are all hardwired to procreate, and this is, and perhaps always will be, a determining factor in the choices we make in life. How could an art form pretend to portray real life, and hold a mirror up to nature, if it didn’t attempt to portray sex on screen or on stage?

When I direct a play, and it has nudity and a sex scene, I am extra vigilant about how I portray those moments on stage. If you consider how uncomfortable sex scenes on screen may make you feel, imagine live theatre, where two naked people could be simulating sex just a few feet away from you. In such a case, it is even more imperative that a director pay careful attention to how they are depicting such intimacy. Personally, I make sure that the nudity is never gratuitous, but is not afraid to show the actor fully and unflinchingly. When directing a sex scene, I pay careful attention to the power dynamic in the relationship. That doesn’t mean one character doesn’t dominate the other, but I try to get at why that is, and how that looks. I direct the scenes to be very realistic, while also artistic and with a slightly lyrical quality. The audience should be pulled into the action, but at the same time, have a vague awareness that they are watching art unfold. That they are watching a glorious illusion, and that these are artists making art in front of them. As a director, I enjoy that duality. It makes the experience meta, and the art can exist as a sort of reality AND like a painting in an art museum. You can be sucked into the painting, but will never totally forget that you’re in a gallery, and there are other paintings on the wall, all around you.

Some directors don’t want any fourth wall. They actually seek to demolish the device, and strive to create art that is so hyper-realistic, you actually think you are in the room, experiencing exactly what the characters are experiencing. The film directors Lars von Trier and Abbas Kiarostami are unflinching in what they show on screen. They believe that a film should be as close to real life as possible, and often eschew the trappings and tricks of filmmaking. Their films are truly examples of Cinéma vérité, a sort of documentary style cinema, where directors attempt to capture the darkness and grittiness of real life. In France, the spirit of the French New Wave, in the 1950s, ’60s, and ’70s was a revolt against the traditional old school Hollywood style that had come before. The classic Hollywood film was the embodiment of wholesome, symmetry, clean, neat, and orderly, and the stories weren’t messy and always ended happily and conveniently. These movies never had any nudity, of course, and the love and violence were G-rated. The French New Wave was an avant garde revolt against all things pleasant and orderly. The films were often hand held, and they were lovingly chaotic, messy, graphic, non-linear, and violent. These directors sought to rip down the fourth wall, and sucked the viewer right into the action. Not surprisingly, the films often contained graphic nudity and depicted simulated sex scenes. These directors wanted to show the vagaries of life, and refused to settle for some syrupy sweet and contrived story that bears little resemblance to actual life.

The primary reason why many writers and directors include nudity and sex in films, play, and tv shows is that it’s a part of real life. Why should we show fist fights, but shy away from murder and death? Why should we show love and attraction, but abstain from showing where those urges lead? Human beings have sex. A LOT of it, and most of it is not for the purpose of procreation. Why would we not depict something that consumes most of our minds, most of the time, and has driven men to murder, started wars, and ultimately led to each of us, from the lowliest born to the most royal King? Sex is what got us here, and it’s apparently what’s getting us through.

Finally, many people feel more invested in a story which they can relate to, and one which depicts a sort of avatar of themselves. Usually, we either see two people we want to be, OR we see two people who could be stand-ins for us. When people see nudity on screen, there are many different reactions. No offense, but some more prudish people have a reaction like you do, and are disgusted and repelled by what they see. They see such depictions of flesh as gratuitous, and can’t find any justification for why it would be included in any form of entertainment. Some are religious, some are moralistic, and some just aesthetically object to the practice. Many feel that sex scenes are off-story and tangential, and pollute an otherwise good story. When done poorly, I completely agree with this sentiment. All sex scenes — like violence — should be motivated by the character, and serve the overall story arc of the plot. Sex should never be gratuitous or salacious, just for the sake of shock value. It should have purpose. Realistically, the type of person likely to be offended is becoming more and more infrequent in society, as more of us have become desensitized to such cinematic and stage devices. Currently, many people demand such verisimilitude in their shows and films.

Without a doubt, for some, the inclusion of prurient material is sexually stimulating, and a draw to the work. These people seek out certain productions for the purpose of seeing sex and nudity. It may come as a surprise, but this group of people is small in number, and doesn’t adequately represent the average viewer.

For many of us, it’s rather something in between. I’m not interested in going to see some movie and being forced to endure some gratuitous sex scene with non-simulated penetration and graphic displays of flesh. To me, that’s not artistic. That’s porn. If I want to watch porn, I’ll simply go on the Internet. However, for the majority of people, the inclusion of nudity and sex adds to the art and reality of the experience. It makes the moment more realistic, and allows for the audience to be sucked in even more to the story. When we see two actors naked, they are vulnerable and reveal much more of themselves than we see when they are clothed. There is something unique and special about those moments, and it endears a character to us in a way unlike any other. When we see two actors engage in sex, we somehow buy into their characters more, and we feel more compelled to believe what we are seeing. People like to see people, flaws and all, and this moment of intimacy reveals a lot about people. Just like we often enjoy seeing actors improvise, or the camera to be placed in jarring documentary-style positions, we also enjoy seeing the story and actors laid bare. There is nothing more “behind-the-scenes” than human nudity and actors engaged in simulated sex.

Graphic sex and violence have no place in your children’s entertainment, and if you find it there, than something is seriously wrong. Children shouldn’t be treated as adults, not should they be treated as mindless drones. We should be mindful of their ages, and what is appropriate for them to see. Family entertainment is all a bit bland and mindless to me, but I see its worth. Personally, I prefer stuff like Pixar, which is family friendly AND thought provoking. It is entertainment that is both socially conscious and responsible. It manages to get my mind moving, and do so without the use of graphic sex and gratuitous violence. And that’s great. BUT there is a time and a place for more mature elements in modern entertainment. A show like Game of Thrones is excessively violent and depicts graphic nudity and sex. AND IT SHOULD. That is the kind of art it is. For us to buy into this world of Westeros, we need to see something we can relate to. Additionally, since it is an analog for the middle ages, it is necessarily as violent and filled with sex as that lurid time in our history. We shouldn’t have to watch some Disneyfied version of George R.R. Martin’s instant classic, and be subjected to G-rated tales of ribaldry and action. The show depends upon its graphic depictions of sex and violence. Earlier this season, many fans of the show were turned off to a scene which ended in one of the beloved characters being raped by a monster of a character. In this particular case, the door closed, and we didn’t actually see the encounter, but briefly hearing it was enough. Many people were outraged at the sexual brutality a male character inflicted on a weaker and powerless female character. Meanwhile, for years these same people had watched people naked, dismembered, burnt, tortured, and massacred, but this was apparently the straw that broke the camel’s back. None of this would have been possible had it not been for the graphic and unflinching nature of the show. Was it the right decision or not? Had the show gone too far? IT DOESN’T MATTER. It went there, and it generated a lot of discussion, and invariably raised awareness about rape and sexual assault. Like all good art, it generated a discussion, and that’s something a lot of other films and shows can’t do. And that was all about something we DIDN’T see. Seeing all the graphic stuff before made THAT moment even more traumatic. It wouldn’t have been half as impactful had we not seen such graphic sexual acts prior.

Nudity and sex have their place in society’s modern art. It is our right to see life depicted as it really is, not through some Disney lens or some antiquated story about a Prince saving some damsel in distress. We are born into this world naked, and we spend a good deal of time in such a state. We spend hours of our lives having sex, and the very idea consumes many of us, for much of our lives. There is absolutely no reason why we shouldn’t be seeing sex depicted on screen or on stage. Does it belong in your daughter’s saturday morning cartoon lineup? No, of course not. But that is family friendly programming meant for THEM, and all the other graphic sex and violence is meant for US. If you are somehow getting them confused, I would suggest you look into the monitors and control settings on your computers and television. Nowadays, there is plenty of software to filter out inappropriate content for children. Sex and nudity are inescapable parts of human life, and if we see it in the morning every morning, we certainly have the right to see it on screen and on stage every night. The mirror up to nature, indeed.

Having said all that, I think there is probably too much sex and nudity in film, television, and theatre today. And I say that because I recognize that a lot of the time, the sex is not justified, and is included solely for the purpose of titillating and attracting an audience. More recently, I have felt like Game of Thrones injects too much gratuitous sex, and does so in order to entice in an unmotivated and prurient way. This betrays self-indulgence, lack of restraint, and appeals to the lowest common denominator in its audience. As I said earlier, sex and nudity should be like lines of dialogue, and serve the overall arc of the story. They should ALWAYS feel absolutely justified, and motivated by the action in the script. Characters are not mere play things to get naked at will, but should do so for viable and demonstrable reasons that make sense to them. An actor should always be able to justify why they are taking off their clothes.

Near the end of the original Terminator film, we see a sex scene between Kyle Reese and Sarah Connor, and I would argue that it is one of the most justified and motivated sex scenes ever included in a movie. We are seeing the culmination of love that had been building between these two characters, and it is the very embodiment of humanity, with all its organic hopes and dreams, in the face of this soulless machine that was pursuing them. It was so tender and loving, and it necessarily contrasted the mechanical menace that was hunting them, and the uncertain fate that awaited them. Sure, it was a rather cheesy ’80s sex scene montage with tasteful nudity and a synthesized score underneath, but it was also a much needed glimpse of humanity and vulnerability in a relentlessly violent and merciless story. Furthermore, it is the moment in which the imperative character John Connor is conceived, making it epic and vitally important for the future of the human race, and integral to the Terminator story arc. In many ways, it is rather an “Immaculate Conception.” In a movie full of termination, this is the very opposite…that of conception and rebirth. This is the perfect example of a film where the nudity and sex are completely motivated by the script, and help tell a more meaningful story. There are countless examples of television shows, plays, and movies that have similar moments of sex and nudity. It’s a part of life, and therefore, a part of art. That being said, we need to demand more from our artists, and keep them honest. Using sex and nudity recklessly demeans the art form, and reflects poorly on those of us who are trying to use it artfully.

The biggest complaint besides its excessive and gratuitous inclusion, is the way it is depicted. Since first appearing in film and on stage, sex and nudity has been predominantly represented by women, who have had to bear the weight of the act for far too long. The completely disproportionate number of women who get naked, versus men, is a direct result of the patriarchal nature of the movie business and our society, and sadly reflects how much men still control the production and consumption of entertainment. Women have been objectified for far too long, and as responsible artists, it is up to us to stand up for what is right, and bring more parity to the industry. If we expect our women to bare their bodies, we should have no compunctions about asking men to do the same thing. Next to its over-representation in art, sex and nudity need to be far more equal among the sexes. But to condemn it all as obscene and unnecessary is throwing the baby out with the bathwater. It more than has a place in the art of today. We just need to be more responsible in how and when we use it.

How Liberal White America May Be the Most Complicit in Perpetuating Racism & Deflecting Its Own Ugly Role

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“This is the country we live in. Millions of Black lives are valued less than a single White person’s hurt feelings.”

When I was teaching my first year in the inner city, I was like the only white teacher, and in fact, one of only a handful of white employees of this school for at-risk kids, where all the students were black. One week, we were told we’d all be receiving racial sensitivity training — presumably directed at us white teachers, who needed to learn how to navigate a very different culture than the one we knew. I was very receptive, and welcomed any help I could get. It was a very rigorous two days, and very emotional, and it was the first time I had ever heard the words ‘Institutional Racism’ or ‘White privilege’ before. It was all so overwhelming, and a bit disorienting. Everything I thought I knew about how the world worked had been upended quite shockingly. After all, I was a proud liberal Yankee, and felt very strongly about racism and equality for all Americans. I deplored racism, and couldn’t possibly see that I had any role in its existence. Near the end of day two, we were all so exhausted and frazzled, and were asked to pair up. I got matched with this grumpy and miserable black secretary, whom I had always tried to be nice to, but just never got anywhere. In an epic and climactic finish, we all sort of extemporaneously aired our dirty laundry, and by this time, I was crying and fragile, and I just came out and admitted that I too, was a racist, and as much a part of the problem as I was the solution. I had broken down, and confessed this horrifying secret, and rather than compassion or understanding, this woman shook her head in disgust, and muttered epithets under her breath. I felt betrayed, and she made me feel like the worst person on the planet for doing something I thought was rather brave and honest.

What did I want a medal for most valuable white guy hurt feelings?

In the days that followed, and the years that have since passed, I recognize how valuable that lesson was for me. Although it was painful and humiliating to put myself out there like that, and get so harshly rebuked, I think we all need to break a few eggs before we can make an omelet we all can enjoy. I don’t hate all black people because that ONE misanthropic black woman showed me no mercy when I needed it the most, just as I would hope I don’t represent the whole of my race.

I don’t have to have personally owned slaves or trafficked in the contemptible institution, but I do benefit from it. Over 150 years later, and I still operate freely in a world built for ME! The laws we abide by, the narrative we choose to spin, the iconography of black (evil) and white (good) that permeates our story, the very way our city blocks are laid out, public transportation is organized, the schools teach to a white learner, and perhaps the most insidious of all….the very language that we use in everyday parlance. ALL of it is skewed towards white privilege. Institutional racism is not the evil confederate flag waving, cross-burning hillbillies from Dixie. We know about them. They’ve never been shy to express their vitriol. It”s ironically the very kindness of friends which often hurts the most. These are the nice and respectable husband and wife academics from Westchester, who annually donate to the NAACP and the United Negro College Fund, while holding onto their college days at Berkley, and their many Civil Rights marches. It’s the most well-intentioned of us, who often don’t even realize our own culpability in perpetuating the system.

That’s not meant to demonize white males or give a free pass to all unguided black youth. It’s just to recognize that there is an unseen system at work, reliably stacking the deck for the hegemony, while covertly or overtly suppressing the hopes and aspirations of the people of color in this country. It doesn’t mean that the good old ‘American Dream’ can’t work for people of their stature, it just means that we’re not all taking off from the same starting line. White males have already made three full laps, and minorities are just warming up. Have no illusions: this race was rigged for just ONE race.