Thursday, April 26, 2007

And now, for something completely different

I'll just cut to the chase. If you are a woman under the age of 27, run, don't walk, to your favorite doctor, internist, gynocologist, whatever, and get the series of HPV shots. There are three of them. They hurt like hell (or maybe I'm just petrified of needles...), but colposcopies and cervical cancer hurt worse.

Why do I care? Well, two reasons. I'm at a high enough risk for enough other cancers, and I'd really like to keep cervical cancer off that list. In my efforts to take care of myself, I got the first of the three shots on Tuesday. My arm didn't fall off, so I'll go back in 2 months for the second shot. The good news - my health insurance covers them. The realistic news - even if my health insurance didn't cover them, I'd get them anyways. They're that important.

Reason number two? The one thing the Governor of Texas has ever done that I've wholeheartedly supported was shot down by the Texas Legislature out of a sense of foolish, dangerous pride. The Governor sidestepped the Legislature by issuing a mandate that female students in the State of Texas receive the shot in order to enroll in school from grade six and beyond. The Legislature got their feelings hurt and passed a bill instating a four year moratorium on any mandate requiring the shot as a prerequisite to school enrollment. Parents are in an uproar because they don't want to talk to younger children about the purpose of the shots for fear that it will start a premature conversation about sex. Well, guess what? Teens are becoming sexually active at younger ages, and if all we do is stick our heads in the sand, we'll end up with a bunch of disease ridden, confused teenagers. When it comes to sex, ignorance doesn't equal abstinence.

That being said, my readers are old enough to know where everything is and what it all does (or doesn't do... but that's another blog for another day). I don't really care if you're married or in a monogamous relationship. You still need the shots. HPV is a virus that can lie dormant in your body for years before becoming active, so even if you've been faithful to your favorite guy, that crazy frat boy from college might still come back to haunt you when you least expect it. Even scarier, it will eventually affect 80% of women at some point in their lives. It's a game of Russian Roulette if you're part of that 80%, because you might be unlucky enough to contract the strain that causes genital warts or worse, cancer. Get the shots, and take a friend so she'll get her shots, too. Make a day of it. There's just no real good reason not to.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

the collective wisdom of ignorance

Monday afternoon I passed within 2 feet of James Carville on the street while walking back to my office from a quick snack break. I'm still giggling about it. While some individuals mock my fascination with my DC people sightings, I feel nothing but childlike glee when I see people in my daily life who I'd ordinarily only catch glimpses of on Sunday morning talk TV. Between The Ragin' Cajun Sighting and my incredible tan, it's been a fabulous week. I love my life.

While my gut instinct is to introduce you all to my jackass landlord today, I think I'll save him for the month of May when I get closer to moving out and he actually does fray and break my very last nerve. After all, I'm sure he'll wander into our house unannounced and catch one of us in a towel at least one or two more times before our lease is up.

Rather, I think I'll discuss Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the inflamatory anti-Muslim feminist without a country. She lives under the constant eye of bodyguards who protect her from death threats just short of the fatwa imposed on Salman Rushdie, which she supported as a teen and young adult. She has defied her family and walked away from two husbands. She lives with the twisted emotion of survivor's guilt since the death of her friend and associate, Theo Van Gogh, who was murdered after producing the anti-Muslim screenplay she wrote. She has denounced her religion and had the intestinal fortitude to openly call Muhammed a pervert.

While I won't be so naiive as to take Ali's point of view as the Rosetta Stone for all modern Muslim women, I am intrigued by her life story and the events of her past that have led her to her present day opinions about religion and current affairs. Her recent autobiography Infidel not only discusses her life, but also brings perspective on Muslim society. She makes comparisons between the fundamentalist religion she found while living in Saudia Arabia, her lax religious upbringing in Somalia, and the present day rise of fanatical beliefs in Africa. If Ali's own experiences are not poignant enough, she also narrates the story of her younger sister Haweya. A graphic description of the female circumcision ritual performed on both women during their childhood paints a backdrop for the remainder of Haweya's conflicted and tragic existence, a life that almost provides a textbook prototype for the abused and manipulated Muslim woman.

Beyond any emotion I felt while reading Ali's memoir, I was most moved by her selflessness in speaking out. I'm beginning to understand the personal and professional ramifications that can present themselves anytime a person decides to voice their opposition to an injustice, no matter how big or small. To do so on the far reaching scale that Ali has astounds me. She has given up a good measure of freedom in her personal life to raise awareness to the situation of oppressed Muslim women around the world. In return, she has been publicly scorned for her divisiveness, no more than by those she has sacrificed so much for.

It takes courage to acknowledge the things that matter. It is much easier to allow daily events to pass by unnoticed, or at least unmentioned. People's feelings don't get hurt, tough decisions don't have to be made, and everyone can stay in their own undisturbed comfort zone just a little longer. And things never change, because everyone is too busy pretending not to notice.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Frankly my dear, I just don't give a damn.

So I haven't been really good and offensive lately. I clearly have some catching up to do. I think I'll do that today.

First off, let me say how incredibly appalled I am by the state of our news coverage. There's a war going on. People around the world are dying in droves every day because of famine, civil war, disease, genocide, you name it. So what does CNN focus on? The death of a stripper, her illegitimate child's real father (we had 4 doors to choose from on this one) and a shock jock's really bad joke. Seriously? I have an entire theory on how television is an experiment on lowering the collective IQ of the masses, but that will have to be another blog for another day.

Today, I'm a little obsessed with what most will call my incredibly racist and bigoted opinion on what's wrong with the world, namely a good portion of American society. There's an amazingly misplaced sense of entitlement that people seem to have acquired, and I am convinced it's killing the basic soul and spirit of our country. Here's a thought: we are owed absolutely NOTHING we don't work for. The corollary to that thought is this: even when we do work for it, we have absolutely no right to assume that our compensation will be anywhere near what we expect it to be. That's life. It sucks and it isn't fair. Get over it.

I have a rant I can go on for days about how a large percentage of the 20-something generation and younger are suffering from this entitlement syndrome, but I don't think that will offend quite as many people. Instead, I'm going to focus on the roots of this entitlement syndrome afflicting sections of the American minority population and the situations that perpetuate them. As I am only speaking about sections of populations instead of groups as a whole, I will not offer qualifications for my opinions. I hope my readers are intelligent enough to handle that.

Case Study #1 - The Don Imus Factor

My sheer annoyance with this entire situation has left me without words, so I'll borrow Kansas City Star commentator Jason Whitlock's, since he can clearly read my mind.

"I don’t listen [to] or watch Imus’ show regularly. Has he at any point glorified selling crack cocaine to black women? Has he celebrated black men shooting each other randomly? Has he suggested in any way that it’s cool to be a baby-daddy rather than a husband and a parent? Does he tell his listeners that they’re suckers for pursuing education and that they’re selling out their race if they do?

When Imus does any of that, call me and I’ll get upset. Until then, he is what he is — a washed-up shock jock who is very easy to ignore when you’re not looking to be made a victim."

What Imus said was stupid, I won't dispute that for a second. I absolutely abhor the casual usage of the word "ho" and the misogynistic ideas it promotes. On top of that, I'm reasonably sure I can find at least 5 things said each day on Imus' show that will leave me offended and incensed for the vast majority of my morning. That's why I don't watch the asshole. Do I think he should have been suspended for a few days? Yes. People say stupid things every day and their right to do so is protected by the American Constitution, but having a public forum provided by a major broadcasting magnate and funded by private corporations is a privilege. Do I think he should have been fired? Twice? Of course not. He's a shock jock. He gets paid to be a prick.

Even past what Imus actually said, I am further scandalized by Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton's blatant and shameless exploitation of the situation. In the words of my dear friend Stefanie, "[J]ackson and [S]harpton need to get real fucking jobs already." They have wasted their credibility and their positions as de jour leaders of the African American community by picking battles that honestly don't matter. I have a suggestion for them. If they want to do some real good in the world, lobby for better education for everyone, be they black, white, brown, green, or blue. Half our problems in the world are a result of a lack of education. It's amazing what can be accomplished within a society that can read, write, and speak properly. The way to further a downtrodden group of people is not by fueling their sense of victimization and pandering to a need for sympathy and attention, it's through empowerment. To Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton I say this - Stop enabling the African American stereotype.

Case Study #2 - The Duke Factor

This case has upset me most of all because of the incredible amount of damage it has done to a section of our American legal system, the American sense of prosperity and success, and the rights of women, all at the same time.

Mike Nifong committed the worst offense imaginable against one of the most basic tenets of the American justice system: he took the blindfold off of justice and threw it headfirst into assumptions and stereotypes. For that he should be punished severely. In America, we are guaranteed fairness by the Constitution in that the courts will not consider race, gender, or economic situation when dealing with legal matters. Sadly, that's all that mattered from the very beginning in this case as the media helped Mike Nifong hang 3 wealthy college boys over an accusation by a less fortunate African American single mother.

I'm convinced the only reason those boys won't see the inside of a jail cell is because of their parents' ability to hire the best legal representation around. The one thing that saved them was what called their credibility into question from the beginning - their affluent background. Everyone has their own opinion about what the stereotypical rich college boy is like, and everyone pulled out every negative opinion they could think of when the media first broke the story. Like every stereotype, there had to have been someone who did something to give birth to the idea in the first place, but is it fair to immediately judge a person not because of their actions, but because of their place in a demographic poll? Prosperity and success are traits to be applauded, not attacked in the hopes of getting an apology for one's own inability to attain either.

The aspect of this case that angers me the most is the fact that this situation has set back the rights of women. While I won't be so presumptive as to say that a woman will suffer direct mistreatment or inaction because of the false charges brought forth by the accuser in this case, I am convinced that this will effectively chisel away at the already tenuous trust in women who bring forth rape charges and dissuade victims from seeking the justice they deserve. It's a disservice to women everywhere when one woman lies about something as serious as sexual assault. Lives are ruined, public dollars are wasted and justice is pulled a little farther from reach for many women who need it the most.

In closing, I am enraged at our society's passive support of the victim mindset. It destabilizes the very fabric of our culture and poisons our ambition to succeed on our own merit. Man up, America. Quit sniveling, because unless you're under the age of 17, I really don't care what happened to you as a child. As adults, you control your destiny, not The Man.

Monday, April 9, 2007

Former American Poet Laureate Billy Collins once said that all babies are born with a knowledge of poetry, because the lub-dub of the mother's heart is in iambic meter. Then, Collins said, life slowly starts to choke the poetry out of us...

By Collins' theory, somewhere between our oppressive bosses and miserable co-workers, dirty dishes, greed, Prozac, our mothers, bills, taxes, and other offensive inevitablities, a little something gets lost. The spring in our step, our optimism, our soul's need to find the brighter, happier side of everything gets worn down. And in a city it's even worse. It's just easier to see everything that makes life so difficult when it's staring us in the face and blocking the metro turnstile during morning rush hour traffic as we try and scoot around it and get on with our day before we miss the next train.

But do we perpetuate our self absorbed misery? Are we blinding ourselves to the small happinesses that cross our paths unnoticed every day?

Take, for example, a recent experiment performed by Joshua Bell and the Washington Post. Bell, a world renowned violinist and one time child prodigy, set up shop one weekday morning in one of the busiest metro stops in Washington, DC as a street musician dressed in average casual clothing with nothing to call attention to his current fame. The demographic of metro riders who pass through this stop is very diverse, but most are well-educated and possess a minimum of some cultural knowledge. For an hour, Bell played a repertoire that included some of the music world's most challenging and heart rending pieces. Tickets to Bell's concerts are rarely found for less than $100 and usually sell out quickly, but in that hour, only a handful of people actually stopped to appreciate what was happening right in front of them for free.

When I first read this article, it instantly occurred to me to complain about how self centered and unappreciative the average person is. And then I took a step back. It's easy to be outraged at indifference, but why? More than anything, I feel sorry for people who can't recognize something peaceful and beautiful when they see it. It seems easier to be jaded, but it takes more effort to actively ignore things that make you smile.