Got Keys?

If you’re like most people, you own not one but several keys, a good number of which you prize so highly that you carry them around with you at all times.

But what is a key for? What does it represent?

A key represents two things. It represents (1) a border, and (2) the fear that this border may be crossed by anyone except yourself and perhaps a limited number of other designated copy holders of precisely that key.

In other words, show me an unapologetic key holder, and I’ll show you a xenophobe. For how can you be one without the other?

If you insist that you don’t have a xenophobic bone in your body, I suggest you walk your talk and unlock all your doors (front door, car door, garden gate, etc.) and then throw away all your keys.

After all, it’s enough to simply close your apartment door in order to protect yourself from that chilly draft wafting in from the hallway. No need to lock it.

Should you prefer to lock it anyhow, what exactly are you afraid of?

Would it be entirely unreasonable to assume that among your worries resides a fear of strangers with potentially less than noble designs trespassing into a territory that you have designated as your holy sanctum? Or even a fear of benevolent visitors, strangers or otherwise, just waltzing in unannounced at all hours, whether you’re in the mood to receive them or not?

See, there are all these well-intentioned do-gooders, who, as a matter of principle, rail against walls and fences, agitating for open borders and extending a virtually illimitable welcome to all comers, and yet these same people, somewhat out of step with their own highfalutin message of untrammeled inclusion, then turn around and reflexively bolt the portals to their personal premises as if doing so where the most natural and commonsensical safeguard in the world.

What’s that all about?

Black Lives Matter and the Intra-Racial Crime Rate Fallacy

One of the criticisms leveled at the Black Lives Matter movement is that its slogan says black lives matter instead of all lives matter.

Given the disproportionate plight of African-Americans versus whites in terms of general upward mobility and the potential for finding themselves at the receiving end of a deadly weapon, I personally don’t mind the movement’s exclusive focus on the value of black lives. My problem with it, as I’ve stated in several previous posts on the subject, lies in the highly selective application of its stated motto as if some black lives mattered more than others—a lot more.

My little white mind has difficulty wrapping itself around the concept that a movement that calls itself “Black Lives Matter” appears to aim its attention almost entirely at white-on-black and cop-on-black incidents while seeming utterly disinclined to address black-on-black violence at all, even though the latter claims the lion share of black homicide victims, whose lives, one would think, should matter no less than a black man’s choked to death by a white policeman. The value of a life ought not to be measured in terms of who it was that took it.

Of course, I understand that the anger of the black community—if I may generalize—is directed primarily at the so-called white establishment, not so much against blacks that cause carnage within their own ranks. These blacks, after all, may be viewed as victims of institutional white racism themselves, who merely abreact their despondency in unfortunate ways. Fifteen black people getting shot by black gang bangers over the course of a weekend simply don’t hit the collective black nerve the same way one black person getting shot by a white civilian or a uniformed enforcer of “white law” does.

But then again, if one were to regard black crime as largely fueled by desperation resulting from white oppression, it follows that, indirectly at least, black-on-black victims are de-facto white-on-black victims, which should rouse the Black Lives Matter folks from the woodworks, which it strangely does not.

But how can one blame inner city conditions on white neglect and oppression and then treat the goings-on within these communities as if the white man had no hand in them? Yet if the white man is indeed responsible for these conditions, where’s Black Lives Matter whenever, as a likely consequence of these conditions, a black kid is gunned down by another black kid?

And so—in my humble, white, and hence woefully ignorant opinion—it makes no sense for signs that say “Black Lives Matter” to remain hidden in the closet whenever black kills black, to be wielded only in the wake of those much rarer occasions when white or cop kills black. (It only makes sense if Black Lives Matter activists are worried, as I’ve theorized before, that by highlighting incidents of black-on-black violence with anywhere near as much fervor as they highlight white/cop-on-black ones, they’d inadvertently reinforce the stereotype of the black criminal, as it would prove rather difficult to hold nationwide rallies and candlelight vigils for a black-on-black victim without reminding the public that a black perpetrator was involved.)

At this point in the discussion—a lot sooner, probably—Black Lives Matter sympathizers tend to wax irritable to apoplectic, harping upon the, in their view, blatant irrelevance of black-on-black crime in this context, the reason being that most crime is intra-racial, among all racial groups, even among whites.

So what on earth, they ask, does the fact that the majority of blacks that are killed are killed by other blacks have to do with the concept that black lives matter? If a white person insists that the Black Lives Matter movement include black-on-black violence, then how come he or she doesn’t start a White Lives Matter movement to address white-on-white violence?

The idea that black-on-black violence and white-on-white violence are problems of roughly equal proportions derives from a stubbornly persistent misreading of intra-racial crime stats, an error eloquently illustrated in the following commentary by one Kesha on Facebook:

[P]eople tend to commit crimes within their own communities. The media does not portray these crimes equally because the media tends to perpetuate the stereotype that there is more black crime than white crime. That’s their agenda and has been so forever. There is only a 7% difference in numbers statistically speaking on average when comparing black crime and white crime in America (I’m a Google addict!). That’s not that big of a difference.”

Obviously, Kesha the Google addict has come across the standard figures, namely that black-on-black crime is 92% (i.e., that of all black victims of violence, 92% are harmed or killed by other blacks), and that white-on-white crime is 85% (i.e., that of all white victims of violence, 85% are harmed or killed by other whites), whereupon she merrily extrapolated from these numbers that black-on-black violent crime is only 7% worse than white-on-white violent crime.

The trouble with her conclusion, of course, is that the 92% and 85% figures fail to tell us the size of the victims pool in each group—they don’t tell us 92% or 85% of how many.

Let’s assume, as a hypothetical example, that ten members of Group X are murdered, nine of them by other members of Group X. This works out to an X-on-X murder rate of 90%.

Let us further assume that during that same time period, 100 members of Group Y are murdered, 91 of them by other members of Group Y, which works out to a Y-on-Y murder rate of 91%.

So you have 90% versus 91%, a mere one percent difference, which proves that the X-on-X and the Y-on-Y murder rates are pretty much the same, right?

Sure, unless you turn your attention to the minor detail that you have ten times more dead bodies piling up in one group than in the other, a disparity that becomes the more significant and troubling the smaller the total population of Group Y relative to Group X.

While the murder rates within my hypothetical groups X and Y do not accurately reflect white vs black intra-racial murder rates—I used simple numbers for demonstration purposes—the very statistics that Kesha the Google addict has cited also show that, in absolute numbers, more blacks are killed by other blacks than whites are killed by other whites—and that’s no mean feat, given that blacks make up 13% of the total U.S. population, whereas whites make up more than half.

In other words, black-on-black violence is through the roof relative to white-on-white, and it is a fallacy to advertise the disparity as a mere seven percent, just as it would be a fallacy to advertise the difference between my hypothetical X-on-X and Y-on-Y crime rates as a mere one percent without stacking up the actual number of victims in each group against the total size of each group.

So if “the media tends to perpetuate the stereotype that there’s more black crime than white crime,” it’s because, well, yeah, unfortunately there is, provided you actually bother to count victims instead of comparing meaningless percentages.

Thus, it strikes me as a gross omission by Black Lives Matter to refuse to address black-on-black crime on grounds that “people tend to commit crimes within their own communities,” wherefore intra-racial crime might as well be put down as a sad fact of life that affects all communities equally.

It doesn’t, and to pretend that it does helps no one, least of all those most at risk to wind up dead tomorrow.

Too Sexist for a Shirt?

Manchester United

Sherlock Holmes taught us that “when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.”

When it comes to sexism—and racism, for that matter—people split into two camps:

For one camp, the mere contingency that sexism (or racism) might lie at the root of a given state of affairs suffices to convince them that sexism (or racism) is to blame. Period. Case closed. If there exists even an outside chance that some observandum may have been shaped via the agency of one or both of these -isms, members of this camp won’t rush to explore alternative ways to explain it.

Inmates of the other camp, by contrast, more in keeping with the principle behind the master detective’s aforementioned postulate, will resort to floating the specters of sexism or racism only when they have eliminated all other plausible explanations.

In short, when searching for a why, some of us seem wired to home in on an -ism as the primary suspect whenever conceivable that it may constitute the driving force behind some occurrence or phenomenon; others won’t go there until all else has failed to yield a colorable causal theory.

Enter the new Manchester United replica t-shirt (see image above), which comes in a male and a female version and has been slammed for the latter’s “plunging” neckline relative to the men’s far less generously cleavaged one.

Naturally, some folks look at these divergent necklines and instantly identify the disparity as yet another glaring example of our sexist male-dominated society attempting to control women’s fashion in a self-serving manner, which in certain patriarchal circles manifests as having the ladies walk around opaquely swathed from heel to vertex so as not to arouse the kind of prurient ideation that often attends female skin exposure, whereas other cultures, like ours, encourage the baring of female skin, stopping just short of freeing the nipple, so as to ensure and further the sexual objectification of women for mantertainment or other odious purposes.

From personal professional experience, I can second the irrefutable presence of a double standard as concerns cleavage etiquette:

When I waited tables in places (plural, as I got fired a lot) where the uniform was a button-down shirt but no tie, the question invariable arose how many of the top buttons to leave unbuttoned. Being more of an open-shirt kind of guy, whenever I have my druthers, I go three or four.

My acting upon these druthers, alas, would frequently impel a passing manager to cast me a stern look while pointing a forefinger to his or her ucipital mapilary (also known as the jugular notch by those that don’t speak Hitchcock) by way of signalling me to button the hell up.

Initially, this struck me as unfair and discriminatory against us dudes, because, shy of their boobs popping out, the waitresses appeared to have automatic license to traipse around the dining room as unbuttoned-on-top as they pleased. So what gave?

Two words: chest hair.

Whatever the reasons, the sight of male chest hair on display is frowned upon by many. Although I consider myself lucky in that I have very little of it, the association between a male chest and chest hair is so firmly ingrained in common perception that even if a guy had waxed his chest clean, in certain settings he’d still be asked to button up on account of chest hair being gross.

The female chest, on the other hand, by default viewed to be as smooth and hairless as an toddler’s tush, does not bear the potential to repel like the male, wherefore even in a dining establishment more of it can be shown without spoiling anyone’s appetite.

That and the fact that women, generally speaking, need—and want—more blank skin space around the neck so as to be able to properly showcase low-hanging neck bling.

So you see, since I gravitate toward the second of the two camps described earlier, I can easily explain, to my own satisfaction, “plunging” necklines in women’s clothing versus in men’s without feeling the need to play the sexism card quite yet.

If anything, I’m chagrined that it’s so hard to find men’s t-shirts with plunging necklines that I could wear underneath my v-neck sweaters without the t-shirts’ conservatively cut out v-necks peeping through.

The Cosby Raped Me Show (Pt. 2)

When asked whether Bill Cosby’s U.S. Medal of Freedom ought to be revoked in light of the funnyman’s latterly somewhat depreciated status as a national role model, President Obama replied that there existed no known mechanism for such a revoker, but added in general terms that “this country, any civilized country, should have no tolerance for rape.”

There are, of course, different types of rape, the surreptitious admixture of a soporific agent to a victim’s beverage for the express purpose of undermining her or his capacity for resistance to the subsequent come-hithers by the avocational apothecary being but one.

Another type would be statutory rape, such as having sexual relations with minors, regardless of whether or not the minors involved gave that which would be considered consent if they were of age.

A Florida teacher has just been sentenced to 22 years behind bars for having gotten it on, in her mid to late twenties at the time of these transgressions, with three 17-year-old male students. (Whatever happened to the constitutional prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment?)

So at age 17, you’re an innocent child that cannot yet give consent to hooking up. Then, at age 18—i.e., overnight—you’re suddenly deemed mature enough to consent to your heart’s (or whatever else’s) content and join the armed forces to boot. Makes sense?

While the definition of rape, obviously, poses some difficulties in terms of demarcating the crime thus denoted from lesser kinds of carnal improprieties, such as a youngish teacher taking the sex ed on more-or-less grown-up students one practical step too far, a man in his early thirties bedding a 14-year-old seems a much graver offense than a lady in her twenties doing 17-year-olds.

And yet Mr Chuck “Sweet Little Sixteen” Berry not only served many fewer than 22 years in the pokey for precisely that (granted, at a different time and in a different state) but was later afforded Kennedy Centers Honors in 2000, with the full knowledge by the nominating committee of the legendary rock’n’roller’s status as a convicted rapist.

Unlike the U.S. Medal of Freedom, Kennedy Center Honors are awarded, I suppose, solely for artistic achievements, not for personal probity and the leading of an exemplary life, as goes for sidewalk stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Some have called for Cosby’s star to be removed, a request that has been declined by the officials in charge of these asteroid inlays. Understandably so, for if a precedent were to be set of such star removal following revelations of private misconduct by a celebrity, a whole slew of stars would likely have to be ripped out eventually, as evolving standards of decency steadily narrow our margin of tolerance for a variety of formerly connived-at attitudes and behaviors.

So how do we—and to what extent should we—separate the artist from their work?

Imagine you owned an anonymous painting you loved that’s been hanging above the mantelpiece in your living room for years. Then one day you learn it was painted by Adolf Hitler. Oops. Now what? The painting is still the same, yet your most likely natural reaction will be to light a fire in the fireplace, don a pair of rubber gloves, take the now highly disagreeable item off your wall and transfer it from above to beneath the mantelpiece for its immediate incineration.

Folks like Hitler, of course, inhabit a category by themselves. But how about those guilty of lesser offenses than masterminding a holocaust?

Should we stop listening to Chuck Berry tunes because their creator knew (in the OT sense of “to know”) a 14-year-old Apache girl? What exactly does “no tolerance for rape” entail?

What if it were revealed that the relationship between Elvis and underage Priscilla hadn’t been quite as platonic as previously reported, which would render the king of rock a child rapist? (What’s with a grown man inviting a beautiful teenage girl to come live at his house anyway? He only liked her “as a person.” Sure. And I’m Elvis.)

And should we withhold our support or patronage from every outlet that continues to sell or air the Beatles version of “Long and Winding Road” because it was produced by Phil Spector, who is currently serving 19 to life for, of all things, murder?

Aside from the fact that we’re punishing not only Bill Cosby but every one of his innocent co-stars (including Geoffrey Owens, whose Shakespeare script analysis class I used to take at HB Studio in NYC—who knew that off-cam Elvin was a Shakespeare whiz?), not to mention all those that worked behind the scenes, by blacklisting The Cosby Show from here on out, the show itself hasn’t changed. The skeletons in the protagonist’s home closet may lend a more complex—you might say creepy—dimension to the product, but they cannot retroactively turn a good show into a bad show that deserves to be shunned indefinitely as if it were a painting by the Führer.

Look at it this way:

In the Christian spirit of redemption, the least Bill Cosby can do to make amends for his wrongdoing is to continue to make us laugh through his work.

Other than that, to the extent to which his unsavory antics can be proven, let the legal system rearrange the guy’s teeth in whatever manner the law provides.

Related Post: The Cosby Raped Me Show

Dressed to Choose

All people are born equal, but some are born more equal than others.

Most of us, for instance, are expected, indeed required, in situations where gender-segregation applies, to use whichever facilities (bathrooms, locker rooms, etc.) correspond to the sex we were endowed with by our Creator.

The equaler among us, however, get to choose.

In its Guide to Restroom Access for Transgender Workers, the Department of Labor’s (DOL) Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) lay’s down the following “core principle”:

All employees, including transgender employees, should have access to restrooms that correspond to their gender identity.”

The rationale for this is given as follows:

Gender identity is an intrinsic part of each person’s identity and everyday life. Accordingly, authorities on gender issues counsel that it is essential for employees to be able to work in a manner consistent with how they live the rest of their daily lives, based on their gender identity. Restricting employees to using only restrooms that are not consistent with their gender identity, or segregating them from other workers by requiring them to use gender-neutral or other specific restrooms, singles those employees out and may make them fear for their physical safety.”

Therefore, the governmental directive goes on to say,

a person who identifies as a man should be permitted to use men’s restrooms, and a person who identifies as a woman should be permitted to use women’s restrooms.”

Permitted to use, mind you, not obliged to use. So presumably, if you are—or can pull off—a credible trans, you get to pick your restroom the way an unalloyed cis does not get to pick his or hers.

Here comes the kicker:

The employee should determine the most appropriate and safest option for him- or herself.”

And lest the transployee feel singled out and picked on,

[u]nder these best practices, employees are not asked to provide any medical or legal documentation of their gender identity in order to have access to gender-appropriate facilities.”

Bottom line, if you say you’re a woman, you should be able to use the lady’s room, no questions asked.

Since these government-issued guidelines are likely intended as an enlightened general protocol—to be adopted beyond the workplace—for the treatment and accommodation of those that maintain nature erred in assigning them the wrong sex; and unless it is decreed with like authority that trans-individuals, besides having access to restrooms that reflect their gender identity, are explicitly barred from using those that do not (the same way conventional men and women are barred from using each other’s); the spirit of Equal Protection demands that everybody be allowed to select whichever restroom he or she deems “most appropriate and safest,” for it flies squarely in equality’s face to give some people an option that most people are not afforded.

(Equality aside, how exactly does one grant a minority an exclusive right to choose without committing the offense of singling them out as if they had special needs, as it were, that warranted such unique kind of consideration? This type of stigmatization, it seems, is precisely what the OSHA restroom guidelines are designed to combat, even going so far as to suggest that to provide separate trans’s rooms “singles those employees out” and “may make them fear for their physical safety”?)

To be fair, the guidelines in question state that choice of facility shall be granted solely based on gender identity, not on preference of association, i.e., the mere desire, for whatever reason, to hang with members of one particular sex, including or especially in more intimate settings that involve various states of undress.

Which returns us to the tricky problem, already touched upon here and here, not of how to tell whether a person’s gender identity corresponds to their sex, but of how to tell whether a person’s stated gender identity indeed agrees with their true gender identity?

Leaving out of account the quite non-remote possibility that one or the other natural-born female might fear for her physical safety if some dude in drag, no matter how sincerely the latter may deem him/herself a dame, suddenly waltzes into the lady’s room—which, under the OSHA guidelines, he/she is perfectly entitled to do so that he/she won’t have to fear for his/her physical safety in the men’s room—the question becomes, if we’re not supposed to ask for any kind of proof of gender (such as might be provided by some accredited professional trained in distinguishing genuine gender dysmorphics from pranksters, sexual predators, or the merely delusional), how do we know, for example, we’re dealing with a “true” female in everything except anatomy as opposed to an unequivocal male (in body and soul) that likes to ID himself as a female solely or primarily because he prefers to sauna, pee, and shower with the babes?

Trans sympathizers and activists will be quick to point to the rampant societal stigmatization that still attends sexual ambiguity and hence to the infinitesimal likelihood of a cissexual person mendaciously outing him- or herself as a trans for seemingly trivial reasons—for, unless driven by a truly compelling need, who would volunteer to sign up for that?

But first of all, what comes off as trivial to others (e.g., an open license to mingle with naked people of the opposite sex) may be less trivial to a given individual.

More importantly, once said societal stigmatization has been all but eliminated—as is, of course, the stated goal of trans-sympathy and activism—what will be the downside of claiming for oneself whichever gender happens to come with the perks one desires?

Since to have undergone medical procedures like sexual mutilation surgery or hormone treatments, and to be able to document those, is not considered a necessary condition for one’s “true gender” being different from one’s sex, besides self-reporting in the absence of medical or other documentation, what are the additional criteria, if any, for qualifying as one gender rather than the other?

If a woman spurns makeup, is she not a woman? If she favors slacks and sneakers over skirts and high heels, is she not a woman? If she sports a buzz cut, is she not a woman? If she body-builds and rocks washboard abs and deltoids like a Calvin Klein briefs model, is she not a woman? If she spends more time swinging a baseball bat than shopping for shoes, is she not a woman? Is she likes to present herself as the butchest tribade in town, is she not a woman?

Beyond anatomy—which is obviously no longer considered conclusive when it comes to identifying a person’s “true gender”—what externally recognizable trait(s), feature(s), or behavior(s) must be present in a person such that the absence of said trait(s), feature(s), or behavior(s) exposes that person as clearly not a woman (or, vice versa, a man)?

Is it implicitly assumed, for instance, that someone that evinces little or no inclination to dress and face-paint like a (stereo)typical female can’t be a she in spirit? And is it therefore expected of a male-to-female trans to showcase a traditionally associated-with-women set of external trimmings in order to be eligible for a choice of restroom at the workplace? Do you have to at least dress the part to be taken seriously, unlike a natural-born female that can goes-without-sayingly use the lady’s room, even without special dispensation from the government, no matter how tomboyishly she may caparison herself?

Hard to say. The OSHA guidelines call for restroom access that conforms not to a particular dress or makeup code but to “the manner consistent with how they live the rest of their daily lives, based on their gender identity.” Without wading into Stereotype City, how exactly does a woman live her life differently from how a man lives his in a sense that these differences unambiguously reveal a person’s gender? If you feel more comfortable changing a tire than sewing on a button, does that mean you’re a man?

So if an employee of yours announces that “I’m a man” or “I’m a woman,” and you sincerely believe he or she is pulling your leg in order to wangle a choice of restroom or whatnot, yet you’re explicitly enjoined from requesting that he or she “provide any medical or legal documentation of their gender identity in order to have access to gender-appropriate facilities,” what kind or rationale might you put forth in order to counter his or her claim without resorting to the intellectually unsatisfactory and gender-stereotypes-laden “I know it when I see it” line of argumentation?

You’ll have to define the terms “woman” and “man.”

Devilishly difficult, isn’t it?

Meanwhile Under the Rainbow

Do you, or does anyone, need a written constitution in order to be able to tell right from wrong?

Of course not. We all have our own moral compass built into us.

I, for one, know in my heart that setting puppies on fire is wrong. I don’t know how I know. I just know. I don’t go, “Hmm. I’m not sure. Let me grab my copy of the U.S. Constitution for guidance and see if it covers acts like dousing the neighbor’s lab with gasoline and flinging a burning match in its direction—if it does, I’ll know whether the incineration of living quadrupeds is either a) morally wrong, or b) a means toward attaining a more perfect Union.”

As much as I, personally, wish our constitution contained a ban on torturing animals, it is, sadly, silent on the issue, i.e., a mandate that all states outlaw the mistreatment of animals is nowhere to be found among the government’s enumerated powers. This, needless to say, does not imply that tormenting furry critters is OK. All it means is that at a meager 7,591 words, the Constitution does not, because it cannot, decree everything that is right and proscribe everything that is wrong in this world.

You are, no doubt, familiar with the following oath, or minor variations thereof, which, among others, all new members of Congress must take:

I, (name), do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States …

I myself was required to take it at my naturalization ceremony.

But why be asked to swear to support and defend the Constitution? Why not, instead, simply swear to support and defend what’s right? Wouldn’t that be the more noble thing to have elected officials and incipient citizens vow?

Why ask people to potentially constrain their personal judgment, or set it aside altogether, in favor of supporting and defending some dried ink on a page that, when interpreted honestly and without a prefab outcome in mind, may or may not echo their own conscience on all matters, in which latter case they be forced to jump through interpretive hoops in order to imbue the text with layers of enlightenment it lacks on its face?

You may, for instance, believe in your heart of hearts that the possession of firearms by private citizens ought to be outlawed. That pesky Second Amendment, however, which you’ve sworn to defend and support along with all other constitutional provisions, clearly states that “the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” This puts you in the awkward position of either having to support and defend something you don’t believe in lest you be guilty of reneging on your oath, or to engage in strenuous eisegetical contortions in order to devise some far-fetched rationale according to which restricting the availability of firearms in no way amounts to infringing people’s right to keep and bear arms. (You could argue that a rock, when thrown, effectively becomes a weapon, and that a nationwide gun ban would infringe no one’s right to hoard and bear as many rocks, i.e., arms, as desired; after all, had the drafters of the Second Amendment meant firearms, they’d have added fire.)

Likewise, you may believe in your heart of hearts that to allow same-sex couples to wed is the morally right thing to do, wherefore the Constitution, which you’ve sworn to support and defend, ought to codify a universal right to same-sex marriage that shall not be infringed by any state—but what if your honest reading of the text leads you to conclude that it doesn’t?

An unlikely conclusion, to be sure, as something in the the human psyche appears to preclude the acknowledgment of a potential discrepancy between our personal preferences and the meaning of a cherished text.

How many people have you met that oppose gay marriage on principle but nonetheless endorse on its merits Justice Kennedy’s reasoning in the majority opinion of Obergefell v. Hodges, which puts forth that there exists a constitutional right to same-sex marriage?

Or that concur with the rationale of the dissents in said case even though they sincerely believe same-sex couples should be granted marriage licenses by their respective states and wish that such a right were enshrined in the Constitution?

More often than not, no matter the issue, our personal views and our constitutional interpretation tend mysteriously to converge as if it were unfathomable that the hallowed charter, which many of us have sworn to support and defend, might fail to reflect the full range of our convictions; if not explicitly so, then in its plentiful “penumbras and emanations.”

Now and again, alas, if we dust off and put on our impartial thinking caps, we may feel compelled to resolve that the Constitution—or the Bible or the Qur’an or whichever holy canon we’ve pledged our allegiance to—leaves us hanging out to dry in our fight for what’s right by our lights.

And then what?

Related Post: Best When Toe-Tagged

The Holy Climatologist

Pope Francis has released his second encyclical, titled Laudato si’, subtitled On the Care of Our Common Home, in which he lowers the papal boom on mankind for its reckless stewardship of the planet, proclaiming that “a very solid scientific consensus indicates that we are presently witnessing a disturbing warming of the climatic system” and that, although “it is true that there are other factors” (like volcanic activity, the solar cycle, and variations in the earth’s orbit), “most global warming in recent decades is due to the great concentration of greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide, methane, nitrogen oxides and others) released mainly as a result of human activity.”

Predictably, this message doesn’t sit so well with faithful adherents to the conservative persuasion, which apparently teaches that what God has created, unborn human life excepted, man is not powerful enough to destroy.

Generally speaking, conservatives regard with messianic skepticism the possibility, indeed backed by a near-universal scientific consensus, that the climatological peculiarities we presently experience might be, to a non-trivial degree, anthropogenic—a kind of skepticism these very same people conspicuously failed to muster when it came to the near-universal consensus that Saddam Hussein possessed stockpiles of WMDs that supposedly posed an existential threat to the United States and its allies.

Could it be that the Iraq debacle has taught the right to be a trifle less gullible of what the majority of experts say?

More likely, owing to quirk of human nature, whether we throw in with the mainstream or with a dissenting minority on a given controversy—whether we choose to err or not to err on caution’s side—is governed less by a dispassionate quest for the truth than it is a function of which camp happens to reflect our personal biases.

Recall how back in 2002, it was those opposed to invading Iraq who, no matter how much WMD evidence was piling up, kept asking for more, prompting Letterman to joke that “the last time France asked for more proof, it came marching into Paris under a German flag”; whereas those who from the get-go couldn’t wait to topple Saddam branded it the epitome of pie-in-the-sky irresponsibility to demand 100% certainty before taking action toward diffusing a looming menace.

Yet on climate, it is precisely that latter group that demands 100% certainty in an effort to run out the clock, hoping to justify inaction on account of evidence collection not having completed yet, until the rubicon is crossed such that all potential efforts to combat climate change will be futile no matter what anyway, a state of affairs that will, once again, furnish the basis for justifiable inertia. That way, conservatives can seamlessly segue from one excuse to do nothing to the next.

Ergo, as one would expect, Pope Francis is being given hairy eyeballs aplenty for his climate stance from those who fail to see their biases reflected in it (just as he is garnering plaudits from those who do).

For instance, in his latest post, the often insightful Bernard Goldberg reminds us that “the Catholic Church has a spotty record when it comes to pronouncements on science. Can you say, Galileo?”

Goldberg goes on to declare that “I don’t need a pope, who is not a climate expert, throwing his substantial weight around trying to influence government policies”—wait, is he saying that if Pope Francis were a climate expert, throwing his weight thus around would be OK?

Of course not, because if the pope were an accredited climatologist (much like Angela Merkel is a physicist and Bashar al-Assad an ophthalmologist), Goldberg & Co would simply move to dismiss his views alongside those of all the other “doomsday scenario” climate experts and “true believers” that stray from conservative orthodoxy, which religiously puts forth that environmental concerns, although perhaps not entirely invalid on all fronts, have no place on the list of our Top 100 most serious threats to lose sleep over.

Goldberg explicitly endorses Jeb Bush’s statement that “I don’t get economic policy from my bishops or my cardinals or my pope. … I think religion ought to be about making us better as people and less about things that end up getting in the political realm.”

Sooner or later, alas, most moral issues end up in the political realm. Oddly enough, I’ve yet to hear a right winger harsh on the pope for taking a stand against abortion or against Islamic terrorism, matters than can hardly be seen as alien to the political realm. If the pontiff were to keep to his cassock on all matters that bear political-football potential, his next encyclical will be on candle-making. (Bad example, but you gather my meaning.)

Needless to say, nobody, Bush and Goldberg respectfully included, could care less whether the pope, or anyone else for that matter, is an expert on a topic he or she expands upon, or what realm that topic might end up in, provided that the substance of his or her message is appreciated.

Isn’t it funny how no ever bothers to point out a person’s lack of qualification to mouth off on an issue if what s/he is saying strikes a palatable chord? Except, of course, in order to extol the speaker’s intuitive understanding of the matter at hand, or his judicious selection of advisers, in spite of his non-expertise.

In other words, whether your quality of not being an expert works in your favor or against you hinges on whether and how much a given critic concurs with what you’re saying.

So if you don’t know what you’re talking about, shut the hell up—unless I happen to agree with you, in which case, by all means, keep talking, as the world needs common-sense voices like yours.

Another quirk of human nature.

Some Black Lives Matter, Most Don’t

By now, we all know the names, faces, and biographies of the nine black individuals shot to death by that 21-year-old white racist whackjob terrorist hate criminal in South Carolina.

But who can name any of the dozens of American blacks murdered in the weeks leading up to the Charleston massacre? How much wall-to-wall media coverage, how many international headlines, and how many “marches for black lives” did these deaths occasion?

Sadly, unless a black murder victim has the “privilege” of having being terminated by a white person or a law enforcement officer, his or her likeness is unlikely to wind up on the evening news, and no large-scale demonstrations will be held in his or her memory.

A somber Jon Stewart delivered a Daily Show without jokes in honor of the Charleston church victims. Until now, his humor has not been known to desert him no matter how many blacks had been murdered the previous day. During a performance in Delaware, Paul McCartney dedicated a song to the nine. A beautiful gesture, no doubt, but how often does he dedicate songs to black victims of senseless crimes?

One black lady, speaking on CNN, declared that she and the black community at large felt “terrorized” by whites, citing the Charleston shooting and several recent incidents of white-on-black police violence. But how come she failed to add that her community also—and to a proportionately greater degree—felt terrorized by that segment of society that habitually perpetrates 90-plus percent of violence against blacks, namely young black men?

Why feel terrorized primarily, or even exclusively, by those who commit a comparatively small amount of carnage within one’s ranks?

At this point, you may interject that most crime is intra-racial, and accuse me “mixing statistics” and confusing the issues. The scourge of white supremacy, you may say, which has resulted in the Charleston church tragedy, has nothing to do with blacks killing other blacks. Apples and alligators. Totally separate topics.

But are they?

Because either a) blacks are inherently, or culturally, more violent such that black-on-black killings naturally outstrip white-on-white killings by a jawdropping margin, or b) it is indeed the lingering shroud of white supremacy and institutional white racism that produce the conditions for widespread poverty and desperation in so many black precincts, which, in turn, lead to the level of bloodshed in America’s inner cities we witness on an all-too-regular basis.

Assuming b) proves correct, then then a sizable percentage of blacks murdered by other blacks are very much victims of white racism—obliquely perhaps, but no less so than are the nine Bible study group members that perished at the hands of a flaming white supremacist directly.

If this is so, then the aforementioned lady on CNN is perfectly justified in feeling terrorized by white people more than by young black men, as it is the former, by way of either apathy or the harboring of overtly racist attitudes, that drive the latter into the kind of despondency that makes them kill other blacks.

And yet those other blacks—like the ones felled on an average weekend in Chicago—receive scant airtime and spark few national protests or national debates. Their names and faces rarely, if ever, rise to anywhere near the posthumous national, even international, recognition of a Freddie Gray or the nine Charleston church victims.

So either, the people that routinely take to the streets wielding “Black Lives Matter” signs in the wake of a black-on-white killing do not themselves subscribe to the thesis that black-on-black violence may be caused or facilitated by white racism to any degree whatsoever, or they prefer to sit it out whenever black kills black in light of the manifest difficulty of drawing individual attention to a victim of black-on-black violence without also drawing attention to the fact that the perpetrator is black as well, which might reinforce in the eyes of the public the stereotype of the black criminal; wherefore, in tacit collusion with the media, a strategy is adopted to play up and dwell upon instances of white-on-black violence and, at the same time, downplay all instances where the immediate offender is black, regardless of the color of his victim(s).

Understandable as this strategy may be, the unfortunate impression it creates is that some black lives matter and most don’t.

Ebony and Ivony

When I first auditioned her she was so awesome she blew me away. She had so much soul — the only thing white about her was her skin.” (Motown founder Berry Gordy reacts to the untimely death of singer Teena Marie in 2010)

On 7 June 1892, Homer Plessy, a man legally classified as black, boarded a “whites only” railroad car with the express intent of getting arrested for this transgression. The purpose of the exercise was to set a test case that would furnish the opportunity to challenge on appeal the underlying segregation law and have it invalidated by a Supreme Court.

Everything went according to plan, except that, alas, both the Supreme Court of Louisiana as well as the U.S. Supreme Court (Plessy v. Ferguson) proceeded to affirm rather than repeal the doctrine of “separate but equal” (a doctrine to be overturned, at long last, some 60 years later in Brown v. Board of Education).

As a curious side note, when Mr Plessy initially settled into the whites-only car, no one complained. Only after he had self-identified himself to the conductor as a black man did events unfold such that they resulted in his (desired) arrest.

That’s because Homer Pessy, an “octoroon”—a person one-eighth black, i.e., having one biracial grandparent—looked white. Thus, when mingling with whites, his physical appearance failed to distinguish him from his surroundings.

Arithmetically speaking, the notion that a minority-blood content of 50% or less—all the way down to one-eighth or as little as a single “drop,” as expressed in the even more obnoxious “one-drop rule” for assigning minority status—rendered an individual a full-fledged member of that minority, makes no sense whatsoever.

For, by that logic, why wouldn’t a like percentage of whiteness suffice to make a person a full-fledged Caucasian? How come it only works the other way around?

Why, instead of as the first black president, don’t we regard Barack Obama as the 44th white president (or 43rd, if we count Grover Cleveland as only one president for having been only one person), or, at the very least, alternate in referring to Mr Obama as either black or white, given his 50-50 lineage?

Even better, why not call him the first blite or whack president?

It would seem logical, to the degree to which an individual’s racial lineage is ascertainable, to pronounce that individual a primary member of whatever race he or she boasts by a factor of 51% or more, and in cases of an even 50-50 split, view them as both rather than one more than the other, let alone one to the de-facto exclusion of the other.

The reasons for our lopsided methodology in assigning race are, of course, rooted in history. A few centuries ago in, say, colonial Georgia, Barack Obama would have been slaving away on a cotton plantation along with the 100% blacks and the 10% blacks. Not half-time, in proportion to his black blood content, but full-time.

(I’m using “blood” as a metaphor for DNA markers indicative of how far back in time a person’s last African ancestor’s departure from Africa must have occurred—for the question is not whether all of us are of African descent but how long ago our various forebears departed the black continent, and based on that information we can then calculate the percentage of our physical blackness.)

So along comes this cap-à-pie Caucasian lady by name of Rachel Dolezal (pictured above), acquires a John-Boehner-style tan, frizzes up her tresses, introduces herself to everyone as a black woman (and perhaps sincerely identifies as such), claims to have been racially discriminated against on multiple occasions on account of being black (after suing Howard University for admission discrimination on account of being white), assumes the presidency of a local NAACP chapter—and apparently no one, including the more obviously black members of that organization, notices, let alone bats an eyelash, until her all-white parents blow the whistle on lil’ Rachel’s black snow job.

Given that physical appearance seems to be this poor an indicator of race, what exactly does it mean to say “I’m white” or “I’m black” or “I’m Asian”?

Is our color primarily—or entirely—a function of personal identification with a certain culture, of having a “black soul” or a “white soul,” such that one may legitimately transition from one to another by assuming a few hallmark physical characteristics of one’s “true” race (as has become so eminently laudable in the gender arena), as opposed to an inherent set-in-DNA trait that can be measured objectively?

Imagine a person’s parents were unknown, her physical features inconclusive, and she asked you whether she was black or white—how would you answer that?

Would you tell her she was whatever she felt she was? Would you send her to the lab? Or would you hand her a guitar and instruct her to play you the blues? (On this latter test, Eric Clapton would surely score blacker than black.)

In general, race is associated with biology, and ethnicity with culture. So if you’re biologically one color but culturally another, then what color are you? Does race trump ethnicity, or does ethnicity trump race?

According to an article in the Washington Post by one Osamudia James, the essence of being black derives from “exposure to a racially hostile world, or the mental work of cultivating dignity, fortitude and hope in the face of that hostility.”

As per this definition, any congenitally non-black person prolongedly mistaken, for whatever reason, for a black person by his white-privileged environs will sooner or later turn black as a result of suffering such hostility.

Max Frisch’s play Andorra comes to mind, in which a non-Jewish boy named Andri identifies as being Jewish because he’s never told he’s not Jewish. (Eventually, he is murdered for being Jewish.)

Yet, the notion that life experience, a sense of personal identity, and the internalization of a given culture are necessary ingredients for determining whether someone is white or black raises the hypothetical conundrum as to whether a person that grew up alone on a deserted island can be said to have a color at all. How could Tarzan have been “white,” given that he was raised by apes in the African jungle? Would Morgan Freeman be “black” if he had spent his entire life on a distant habitable planet all by his lonesome?

If a tree falls in the forest, does it make a sound?

Psychological factors aside, one peculiarity about human blackness that sets it apart from being white, Asian, Inuit, or Middle Eastern, is that the human race originated in East Africa. Therefore, if we set low enough the arbitrary minimum black DNA content that renders a person officially black by birth—as opposed to the kind of ethnic rather than racial blackness that results from discrimination trauma in conjunction with the adoption of black culture—everybody is black in a way that not everybody is white or Asian.

In other words, how can a person not be genetically black at all, not even a teeny-weeny bit? It seems impossible. You can have zero Asian DNA, or zero Native American, or zero Caucasian, but unless you’re the only person that has ever lived whose lineage fails to trace back to Africa, you cannot have zero African (=black) DNA in your system.

In fact, since human DNA emerged in Africa, and scientists tell us that to this day all humans share 99-and-then-some-% of that original DNA in common, the argument can be made that all people are 99-plus-% black, whether they like it or not, and that certainly includes Rachel Dolezal.

Returning to planet Earth and the more conventional criteria for racial taxonomy—although, in light of the fact that a white woman can this easily pass for black and the blacks that hang with her fail to detect anything unblack about her, I’m still a bit hazy as to what those might be exactly—in a piece titled LOL-Who’d Sign Up To Be Black?, talk-show host and commentator Tavis Smiley poses this question:

When God was passing out colors, who raised their hand for a life a social disenfranchisement, political marginalization, economic exploitation and cultural larceny?

Writes Fredrik Deboer in an L.A. Times op-ed in seeming response to Mr Smiley:

Human behaviors are the product of incentives. We repeat behaviors that are rewarded. And clearly, Dolezal believed she would find rewards in representing herself as a black woman.

Whatever their motivation, some people feel more comfortable living their lives as members of an ethnicity they weren’t, strictly speaking, born into in terms of their race. A white person may want to belong to a specific minority, for instance, because a more pronounced sense of community and group cohesion tends to obtain within groups with a history of discrimination. (In fact, the one aspect about the end of segregation that Sammy Davis Jr openly lamented was the palpable erosion of black community spirit that resulted from increased social intercourse with whites.)

The main criticism leveled at Ms Dolezal appears to be that she lied about her race. She did, alright—but what if she hadn’t?

Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that she, or some other unhappy-with-her-biological-race individual, had been perfectly upfront from the getgo about the disparity between her apparent race/ethnicity, i.e., the one determined by her personal pedigree, and her true race/ethnicity, i.e., the one she “knew” she was in her heart of hearts.

Surely, if nature can make a mistake and create a man trapped in a woman’s body (or vice versa), it stands to reason that, likewise, nature can inadvertently create a black person trapped in a white body (or vice versa). Why should only the former error, but not the latter, be liable to cause body dysmorphia and a veritable identity crisis in sensitive individuals?

Yet any such suggestion is immediately met with a flurry of indignant explanations of how race/ethnicity is a phenomenon entirely unlike sex/gender, wherefore one cannot transition from white to black in the same or similar way that one can transition from male to female.

Which strikes me as odd, for when it comes to gay marriage, the case of Loving v. Virginia is routinely run up the flagpole in order to make the point that being born black (or white) is, in essence, exactly the same as being born gay (or straight)—by that reasoning, why should having been born black or white be something fundamentally different from having been born male or female?

If anything, the biological differences between the sexes seem eminently more profound than those between the races, expanding beyond mere cosmetics into the realm physical functionality.

So why might race and sexual orientation be immutable in a way that sex is not?

They say you can’t simply adopt the “cool” parts of being black without signing up to its drawbacks as well, such as a “life of social disenfranchisement” and “economic exploitation.”

Fair enough, but then you also can’t simply adopt the perks of being female without signing up to making those storied 77 cents on the dollar from there on out.

Winnetou Dies Again

Winnetou

For the third time in a little over a century, the German-speaking part of the world mourns the passing of Winnetou, chief of the Apaches and anthropomorphic condensation symbol of all things good and noble mankind has to offer at its best.

First, in the late 1800s, his creator, German novelist Karl May, killed him off on the page. Just as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle had learned the hard way only a few years earlier, audiences ill appreciate having their favorite protagonists put to the sword (or the ravine or the bullet), and so Mr May, too, quickly opted to resurrect his fallen hero rather than face eternal obloquy by his readers.

Then, in 1965, Winnetou was fatally shot on film. Barely two shakes of his horse’s tail later, in order to stave off riots and boycotts by the German public, the Apache chief was back galloping across the silver screen as if his heart-rending quietus had never happened.

Finally, yesterday, less than 72 hours after I had glancingly mentioned Pierre Brice (say: BREECE) in my previous post, not having intended to discuss Apaches and colorblind casting in this forum again anytime soon, we woke up to the news that the charismatic thespian, whose name had long become as synonymous with one fictional character as Johnny Weissmuller will forever be Tarzan, had succumbed to pneumonia at the age of 86.

Many obituaries that followed Mr Brice’s passing are simply headlined “Winnetou ist tot” (Winnetou is dead).

Besides the personal sense of numinous unease we experience anytime we, perhaps irrationally so, feel as if part of our own youth has perished along with a childhood hero we had deemed physically immortal on account of what they represented to us in the most impressionable years of our lives, there is an aspect to this story that might be of interest even to Americans (the born-and-raised variety), to most of whom the name Winnetou means as much as Matt Lauer means to the average Moldavian, an aspect poignantly encapsulated in this tweet:

Winnetou

Indeed, people from German-speaking nations tend to have a pronounced soft spot for America’s indigenous population and their historical plight. As a New York Times article put it in 2007, “[t]o Germans Winnetou is like Paul Bunyan, Abe Lincoln and Elvis rolled into one … the quintessential German national hero, a paragon of virtue, a nature freak, a romantic, a pacifist at heart, but in a world at war he is the best warrior, alert, strong, sure.”

Even decades before Pierre Brice gave the honorable Apache chief his forever face, the Nazis, in their demented zeal to eradicate anything that might have been perceived to portray non-Arians in a less than unsavory light, wisely stopped short of banning Karl May in spite of his novels’ nettlesome near-deification of a swarthy savage. Hitler and his minions were savvy enough to know that messing with people’s heroes constituted bad politics, even if those heroes sported otherwise intolerable qualities like being ethnicity-challenged.

Perhaps if Jews and gypsies had had their own respective Winnetous, 20th-century German history would have taken a slightly less gruesome turn.

In any case, in the early 1960s Pierre Brice came along and gave Winnetou a face for the ages. An authentic Native-American face? Not exactly.

Although the producer of the Winnetou movie franchise had originally been presented with a Mexican actor that actually “looked like an [American] Indian,” he considered that actor’s mien “unsympathetic,” so he continued his search until, at a Berlin movie festival, he spotted a young French actor, who fit his vision of Winnetou to a T.

Two weeks later, the cameras began rolling, and the blue/green-eyed Caucasian Frenchman, now rocking a long black wig and full (albeit somewhat inauthentic in keeping with the rest of his inauthentic features, imposing as they were) Apache regalia, rode across the Croatian prairie to superstardom in Germany and surrounding nations, instilling into millions of youngsters the notion that the content of one’s character trumps the color of one’s skin.

Nowadays, of course, casting a white person to play a non-white part is, at best, frowned upon and, at worst, regarded as an act of outright racism, especially in the U.S. (Poor Cameron Crowe just got an earful for hiring Emma Stone to portray an Asian woman.)

But in 20th-century Europe, no one seemed confused, let alone disturbed, by a French guy ragged out as an Apache and dubbed in flawless German epitomizing Native Americans and their culture. Pierre Brice, the actor, was even appointed an honorary Native American by some tribe in Nebraska for his ambassadorship in helping draw attention to Native American causes.

In addition, his celebrity status in Germany helped patch up German-French relations after World War II.

So Winnetou was played by a white man. What of it?

To us, he was a redskin.

A redskin we all looked up to.

Some Like It Trans

Earlier this year, at a time when the nation’s attention was conveniently diverted by the various shenanigans of Brian Williams and Bill Cosby, a cabal of diabolical legislators in Florida, quietly and under the public radar, proposed “one of the most viciously sadistic, hypocritical bills the legislature has ever considered,” namely a law that would “forbid trans people from using the public bathroom that matches their true gender.” (You can read more about this iniquitous inequity here.)

No matter how deeply under your rock you may have been hiding for no matter how long, by now it has most likely been brought to your attention that there exists an intangible quality termed “true gender” that may or may not correspond to whichever biological sex you happened to have been born with.

(Actually, the Connecticut legislature has just approved a bill that would allow transgender people to amend the sex listed on their birth certificates even without proof of “gender reassignment surgery,” provided they have undergone some other “appropriate treatment” for “gender transition.” Somehow, any of these treatments would retroactively change your sex at birth so that, for all intents and purposes, you were already born the way those appropriate treatments for gender transition were designed to help you become later on. By this line of reasoning, of course, I should be eligible to run for president after all, for my having undergone and completed the process of naturalization as an adult would mean that I was indeed born a U.S. citizen. If this Connecticut bill is passed, I’ll have grounds to sue for being barred from entering the 2016 presidential race.)

In short, whether you are a man or a woman is nowadays determined less—in fact, not at all—by inherent physical characteristics commonly associated with one sex or the other, but it is merely a function of what you know yourself to be in spirit. (In fact, the only reason to undergo gender reassignment procedures in the first place is because you already know who you are, and therefore you are precisely that, treatment or no treatment.)

Obviously, in an enlightened society like ours, a society that prides itself of retiring old-fashioned stereotypes, it would be grossly retrogressive to demand that women act and dress like women (whatever exactly that may entail), and that men act and dress like men (whatever exactly that may entail), or else to strip them of said gender designation. Externalities are not what “true gender” is about. True gender is about that certain je-ne-sais-quoi that transcends physical manifestation, although the two may coincide.

The old adage that “if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it’s a duck” may still apply to our feathered friends, but to suggest that “if she talks like a woman and hoards shoes like a woman, she’s a woman” smacks of, well, stereotyping, and that’s a big no-no in this day and age. In an enlightened society it is neither sufficient nor necessary to conform to anyone’s expectations when it comes to who we really are.

Accordingly, of late we are inundated with pictorials displaying women made up as men and men made up as women, all designed to “shatter our preconceived notions of gender” or some such aspirational ideal.

Fine. Let’s emancipate ourselves of those preconceived notions.

And now, since our evolved state of enlightenment precludes us from expecting that men and women hew to their traditional roles in conduct and attire—must you watch ballgames, guzzle brew by the six-pack, and worship motorcycles in order to qualify as a man? how often must you don mascara and how many purses, if any, must you own in order to qualify as a woman?—based on what exactly might we legitimately question anyone’s stated gender identity, be it in conformity or at odds with that person’s biological sex? Recall that along with our preconceived notions of gender, there goes the argument that unless you dress the part, you’re an imposter.

The politically correct and enlightened answer, of course, is to never question anyone’s stated gender identity—we haven’t walked in that person’s shoes, so who are we to judge?

It follows that anyone, no matter how biologically male, ought to be allowed to use the ladies room if she insists on being female in spirit, and vice versa.

To this you may respond that I’m making a mockery of the issue, for it surely takes a heck of a lot more than merely claiming to be a particular gender in order for one’s claim to have validity.

But more what? Medical treatment? What if someone cannot afford medical treatment? Is an indigent woman trapped in a male body somehow less of a woman unless or until treated by a physician? Doesn’t such a requirement contradict the concept of “true gender” that manifests in spirit not body?

Or more conforming to external stereotypes, such as gait, dress, or demeanor? Doesn’t it seem oddly prejudicial and celebratory of unreconstructed pigeonholing if our willingness to buy into a given tale of gender transformation rises in proportion to the number of preconceived stereotypes that person fulfills that are widely associated with the gender s/he desires to project?

What if you encountered a tomboyish lesbian happily trapped in a male body? Would you not believe me and, God forbid, force me to use the men’s room? If so, shame on you!

Because in what ways, other than physical, am I not a woman in your who-never-walked-in-my-shoes estimation? And why does one have to suffer from and seek treatment for a disease (“gender identity disorder” or “gender dysmorphia”) in order to be deemed credible in one’s assertion that one’s true gender doesn’t match one’s body? Who says that such incongruity must necessarily cause pain for the patient? Some people like mismatching furniture. I certainly do, depending on the nature of the mismatch (some mismatches match and some don’t; an I’ll-know-it-when-I-see-it kind of situation).

Plus I hate beer, I couldn’t tell you more than three sports teams off the top of my head, I’m a lousy driver, I couldn’t change a tire to save my life, and I recently binge-watched all 78 episodes of Lifetime’s Drop Dead Diva, and every single one of them made me cry (yes, actual tears running down my cheeks), on average during several scenes per episode—how manly is that? (My only quibble with the show was the ending. When Grayson died, he should have returned as a woman. It would have added a nice gender-transformational touch if Jane/Deb had fallen in love with a female Grayson instead of with the dude on death row.)

Granted, I don’t dress like a woman, and I’m quite comfortable in my male body. But in terms of soul and spirit—and that, we are told, is where “true gender” is happening—I’ve always felt way more female than male. An ex-girlfriend once pointed out with puzzled bemusement that women had a curious tendency to share with me details about their menstrual cycles. That’s because, generally speaking, girl talk comes more naturally to me than guy talk. No guy ever discusses football or motorbikes with me, because after five seconds he’ll realize he’s talking to a card-carrying dunce in those areas.

So why, pray tell, should I have to use male locker rooms? My more-female-than-male spirit clearly doesn’t belong there. I cannot stand high-testosterone environments. Stag only? No thanks. I’d rather skip the sauna than spend time in a hot room with a bunch of sweaty naked men. Ugh. And because I cannot fathom why so many guys do not seem bothered by such environs, I figure I’m not a “true” guy. Ergo, I must be a “true” something else, and there’s only one other option.

Yet it seems that—even in the eyes of those who advocate that access to bathrooms, locker rooms, etc., ought to be granted on the basis of “true gender” rather than biological sex—I shall remain relegated to using male facilities primarily because I fail to exhibit enough stereotypically female external characteristics à la Caitlyn Jenner on the latest cover of Vanity Fair in order for me to be taken seriously when I say that my soul is at least 70% female and that, therefore, I feel I shouldn’t be forced to use restrooms that match the lesser part of my soul.

Notwithstanding the dilemma of attempting to phase out superficial gender stereotypes while at the same time applauding their existence by cheering trans-lebrities like the aforementioned Mr or Ms Jenner for going full monty on them (hair, makeup, couture—the whole shebang), when it comes to the thesis that soul/spirit transcends innate physical attributes, I see no reason why the right to self-identify—and the concomitant right to be accepted, socially and legally, as that which one self-identifies as—shouldn’t transcend gender itself and apply to other fields that reflect personal identity as well.

Rapper Chet Haze, the son of actor Tom Hanks, recently got into hot water over his habit of using the n-word, generally considered the proprietary prerogative of African-Americans for referring to one another without derogatory connotations. Mr Haze has defended his language by declaring that “hip-hop isn’t about race; it’s about the culture you identify with.” So because Mr Haze, in spite of his Caucasian features, self-identifies as African-American, he feels he has a right to say or write that word as often as he pleases.

Unless we doubt Mr Haze’s sincerity, and if we are perfectly down with referring to Bruce Jenner as “Caitlyn” and “she” from now on, whence our hangups about accepting the Hanks spawn’s trans-ness in the ethnicity department and giving him a heartfelt pass on saying “nigga”?

Director Cameron Crowe caught some major flak for casting Emma Stone as an Asian lady in his movie Aloha. Why didn’t he pick an Asian actress to play an Asian character, as would have been the ethnically and culturally sensitive thing to do?

Depends on how you define “Asian.”

I don’t know much about Emma Stone. I have no idea what ethnicity she self-identifies as. I’m guessing she views herself as Caucasian in accordance with her physical appearance, in which case the outrage over her being cast as an Asian woman seems justified on some level (at least provided we, once and for all, bury the concept of “colorblind casting” as an outdated affront to racial sensitivities—yet why do I have a hunch that the very folks that whinged the loudest about casting a non-Asian as an Asian are the ones that would most enthusiastically welcome a Middle Eastern Hamlet or a black James Bond?).

But what if Cameron Crowe had given the part to an actress that was biologically Caucasian but Asian in spirit, i.e., a “true” Asian, as it were? Why would such an actress be any less Asian than a biological Asian? If she were, then by the same logic Caitlyn (formerly known as Bruce) Jenner would be less of a woman than is, say, Emma Stone, a woman in biology as well as in spirit.

When I was a kid, like most urchins raised in German-speaking countries before the advent of satellite TV and the Internet fragmented the collective focus and greatly diversified the pool of available heroes, I worshiped Winnetou, chief of the Apaches, a fictional character created by the German adventure novelist Karl May and boosted in popularity by a series of German-made Western movies shot in Croatia in the 1960s.

I wanted to be Winnetou, to which end I owned a couple of Native American outfits, a wig, a tepee with bamboo poles my parents made for me, a wooden hobby horse, a tomahawk (with a rubber blade), bow & arrows, several toy rifles (Apaches did have firearms), and sundry other Indian accouterments that I would frequently don or play with.

By the time I graduated high school, though, I had sort of grown out of the trans-Apache thing and reluctantly accepted myself as but a lowly, run-of-the-mill paleface in keeping with my innate exterior.

But for the sake of argument, imagine that I had not grown out of it; that, on the contrary, my Native American identity had solidified with age—should I then fully qualify under the law as a Native American and be entitled to whatever benefits and entitlements may come with such heritage, such as preferred college or university admission so as to slip in under some “diversity on campus” provision or the like?

If I genuinely felt like an Apache (the Indian, although the principle would hold for the helicopter or the server software just the same) and, in order to satisfy potential doubters, wore my Apache spirit on my sleeve by rocking Apache garb and riding about on a New Mexican thoroughbred without a saddle, in whose place would it be to tell me I’m not an Apache? Wouldn’t it be transethnophobic to the max to question my true identity just because I was born in Austria to Caucasian parents and my facial features don’t exactly scream Native American? (Neither do Pierre Brice’s, incidentally, yet this blue-eyed Frenchman rose to become the world’s most famous Apache besides Geronimo—talk about a colorblind casting outrage!)

As I have indicated before, I solemnly swear that I am not an Apache. Not because I wasn’t born as one (that would only matter to transethnophobes), nor because I don’t dress like one (that would only matter to stereotypephiles), but because, frankly, I haven’t really felt much like an Apache ever since my early teens.

More than half of me, though, does feel like a woman—to wit, a lesbian that forgoes high heels and likes to rock pants—rather than a man.

The spiritual half, and that’s the dispositive one.

So tell me again—why can’t I shower with the girls?

Related Post: Why Can’t I Shower with the Girls?

It’s Enough to Say Dakota

Why is South Dakota called South Dakota and not simply Dakota?

There already is a North Dakota. Where else should the only other Dakota—we’re talking states, not actresses or buildings—be located but to its south?

South Carolina, same story. Waste of a word. Not to mention South Korea. But let’s keep it stateside.

Ever heard of a commonwealth called East Virginia? Of course not. There’s a West Virginia, so it follows logically that its sole sibling lies east. No need to say it. If Virginia lay south of West Virginia, then West Virginia would be called North Virginia.

It’s really not that difficult to divine the location of the other state of a pair when one is clearly marked by its cardinal direction.

No Dialogue on Dialogue

Kids say the darndest things. As do presidents.

Enter Heinz Fischer, the president of Austria, a small landlocked nation in Central Europe known for having supplied the scenic backdrop for The Sound of Music, not to be confused with a similarly christened oceanlocked continent located in the southern hemisphere.

In a recent interview on the status of the Iran nuke deal negotiations, Mr Fischer touted the willingness for dialogue as a cornerstone of international diplomacy and appended this curiously antinomical nugget:

Ich habe mich immer schon für den Dialog ausgesprochen und werde von dieser Ansicht auch nicht abweichen.”

Translation for those whose high-school German may have taken a hike over the years:

I’ve always advocated dialogue, and I won’t deviate from this position.”

Basically, Mr Fischer is saying that all the dialogue in the world won’t change his view on the merits of dialogue. Since there obviously is little point in dialoguing on matters flagged by one of the parties to the dialogue as non-negotiable right out of the gate, Mr Fischer, at the very least, implicitly admits to certain limits to his supposedly universal regard for the utility of dialogue.

Hence, the second half of his statement stands in awkward tension with the “always” in the first, for if you exempt one or more of your cherished core beliefs from being subject to negotiation, you clearly don’t “always” advocate dialogue—unless your notion of “dialogue” fails to extend beyond presenting your own irrefragable point of view and then waiting for the other side to cave and adopt it hook, line, and sinker.

Yet only on this latter and rather imperious definition of dialogue would Mr Fischer deign to debate the value of dialoguing with someone that professes at the outset his or her irrevocable devotion to violence over dialogue, since Mr Fischer has already nixed the possibility of himself letting up on his pro-dialogue stance.

Everyone, of course, is entitled to his or her principles. It is the essence of a principle that its holder won’t budge on it. Nonpliability is what makes a principle a principle, as opposed to a passing fancy.

So you can advocate dialogue all you want, but if the participants convene armed with clashing principles, preemptively declaring that they won’t deviate from their respective positions, all dialogue is doomed by definition.

Feel free to comment below—be forewarned, though, that this Austrian subject, like his president, won’t deviate from his position.

Why I Can’t Stand Black Opera Singers

Many regard Jessye Norman as one of the preëminent dramatic sopranos of our time.

Primarily, though, Ms Norman is a thief.

And a racist one at that, no matter how unwittingly so.

See, classical music originated in Europe and surely ranks among the whitest of all art forms. Then along comes some black lady and, by belting out Wagner, attempts to wrest it away from us white folk, its rightful proprietors—are we not human beings that deserve to be treated as such?

Or take this guy Lang Lang, the ivory-tickling whiz kid from China. What licenses him to play Mozart concertos on a Steinway? Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin, et al., were white composers of white music, and the piano hails from Italy, not the sinosphere. If Lang Lang wants to be a musician, he should confine himself to plucking guoyue tunes on a guzheng.

Noodles were invented in China. So if Lang Lang has pasta for lunch, no problem.

Now you probably think I’ve completely left the ranch.

Actually, I’m merely expanding upon a curious thesis advanced in a piece by one Randa Jarrar and published in Salon.com’s “feminists of color” series, titled Why I Can’t Stand White Belly Dancers.

Its author puts forth that

[w]hether they know it or not, white women who practice belly dance are engaging in appropriation.”

Specifically, Ms Jarrar objects to Caucasian females practicing—i.e., stealing—an originally Arabian art form because

[t]hese women are more interested in their investment in belly dancing than in questioning and examining how their appropriation of the art causes others harm. To them, I can only say, I’m sure there are people who have been unwittingly racist for 15 years. It’s not too late. Find another form of self-expression. Make sure you’re not appropriating someone else’s.”

There you have it.

It follows that if belly-dancing while white makes you racist, then so does Wagner-singing while black, or Mozart-playing while Asian.

And, of course, the most appropriate time and place for racist Eric Clapton to play the blacks’ blues would be at a KKK rally.

Ms Jarrar concludes:

Arab women are not vessels for white women to pour themselves and lose themselves in; we are not bangles or eyeliner or tiny bells on hips. We are human beings. This dance form is originally ours, and does not exist so that white women can have a better sense of community; can gain a deeper sense of sisterhood with each other; can reclaim their bodies; can celebrate their sexualities; can perform for the female gaze. […] Why does a white woman’s sisterhood, her self-reclamation, her celebration, have to happen on Arab women’s backs?”

Good point. And us whites are human beings, too, not vessels for non-whites to pour themselves into. We are not keys on a piano or notes in an aria. Keep that in mind, Jessye and Lang Lang, next time you’re out there garnering plaudits on our backs!

Although she doesn’t explicitly state so in her article, I suspect Mr Jarrar looks equally askance at whites appropriating Arabic numerals, for any white person that writes 2015 instead of MMXV is clearly being racist in purloining Middle-Eastern intellectual property.

Some people seem so distressed over the specter of white supremacy that they resort to advocating segregation as a means to combat racism.

One-way segregation at least.

Because, perhaps, Jessye Norman pretending to be Sieglinde is somehow different in kind from some bangled-up Swedish sylph flashing her midriff and pretending to be Morgiana from One Thousand and One Nights; just as a Native American sporting denims and cowboy boots raises far fewer eyebrows than would, say, a blue-eyed French guy dressed up as an Apache chief—imagine that!

So could it be that it is not the deed itself but the ethnicity of the perpetrator that renders the identical behavior an instance of reckless cultural appropriation as opposed to a laudable example of colorblind casting?

A tricky line to draw, to say the least.

(For the record, I am perfectly fine with black opera singers. Not too crazy about opera in general, though. I much prefer the blues. Ever since reading that Salon.com piece, however, I’m afraid to play, i.e., to appropriate it. Because blacks are human beings, not vessels for pouring my musical preferences into—do I have this right, Ms Jarrar? Native white Austrian that I am, I should just stick to crooning Schubert in the shower. That way, no wrongful appropriation takes place, nor will I ever torture an audience with my pitiful butchering of Die Winterreise. Everybody wins.)

[Update: In a recent Huffington Post article headlined It’s A Slap In The Face When White Women Wear Black Hairstyles, the author opines that there exists no such thing as reverse—i.e., black-of-white—appropriation, because black women that rock white hairstyles are not appropriating but are simply “assimilating” due to “a real necessity to conform and survive.”]

Why Can’t I Shower With the Girls?

The Eurovision Song Contest 2014 was won by a long-haired and bearded Austrian dude that wears makeup and dresses as a woman.

Somewhat confusingly, everyone keeps referring to him as “she.”

Granted, “she” goes better with his chosen stage name Conchita. But then again, no one refers to Alice Cooper as “she.” So what gives?

Apparently, unlike Mr Alice, Conchita self-identifies as a woman, and everyone respectfully plays along.

In the olden days, a person’s sex was defined as a particular constellation of chromosomes (X for females; X+Y for males), accompanied by certain physical characteristics, and could be altered after the fact only by way of a rather elaborate set of procedures involving surgery, hormone therapy, and whatnot. Merely to gussy up as, and claim to be, a member of the opposite sex didn’t quite cut it.

Of late, the criteria for qualifying for a particular sex seem to have loosened somewhat. These days, if you feel like a woman, you’re a woman. If you feel like a man, you’re a man. And anyone that dares question your self-reported gender identity—should it conflict with the traditional notion of who’s what—runs the risk of being viewed as transphobic, mired in outdated concepts, and generally unenlightened.

It follows, of course, that all of us ought to be allowed to use whichever bathroom or locker room happens to reflect not our physical traits but our sexual identity. Ergo, vagina or not, anyone that feels like a woman ought to be allowed to use the women’s locker room at the gym, and vice versa. (Remember, if you disagree, you’re transphobic.)

Trouble is, enlightened trans-friendly tolerance aside, from a legal standpoint, how does a person prove s/he’s, say, a woman trapped in a man’s body as opposed to some guy that just happens to prefer ladies’ rooms for reasons ranging from innocuous to potentially nefarious? Other than self-reporting, what diagnostic tests for trans-ism are there, if any? Should it suffice to ask the rhetorical question of why on earth anyone would bother to pose as the opposite sex unless they sincerely believed themselves to be, i.e., were that sex in every way except in body, and that’s that?

XY-chromosomed I, for one, who have never been too crazy about the sight and physical proximity of naked male bodies, unabashedly admit that I would feel much more comfortable using ladies’ locker rooms. Who says I’m not a lesbian trapped in a male body? So if I signed up for a gym membership and told the receptionist I was female except in body and therefore requested leave to sauna, change, and shower with the girls, on what basis could I be denied my druthers? Might it help bolster my case if I showed up in high heels, fake lashes, and a skirt? Or would I need to present a letter from a board-certified psychiatrist or hormonologist, attesting I had been diagnosed with gender identity disorder?

Society will have to address these questions.

For as long as we hesitate to grant self-reporting trans-whatevers unfettered access to whichever bathrooms and locker rooms happen to reflect their stated gender identities, we, as a society, are projecting skepticism and, indeed, intolerance, are we not?