Sunday, June 28, 2015

What I Learned While Driving 25 Geckos to Oklahoma




1) Transgender people can still be kicked out of the US military

Yep, I learned this while listening to NPR as we drove through rural Kansas. While my scaly travel companions clung to their artificial tree branches, I learned that don't ask don't tells repeal only made it ok for openly gay men and women to serve in the US military. Apparently, it's still fine to boot out openly transgender men and women.


2) There are people in Kansas who actually listen to NPR (well, three anyway) 


Yes, NPR exists in a conservative state like Kansas and people do listen to it...well at least three do. I listened to the station for about four hours during my trip and they played separate recordings of the same two people for their customer testimonials. Still, it's quality programing and I'm sure the Geckos appreciated getting a well rounded look at today's current events.


3) People in rural Kansas shoot off fireworks in corn fields


This probably isn't too surprising given how isolating life in some of the six home, one gas station mini-mart towns must be. While driving back from Oklahoma I passed through four separate towns where young people were shooting off fireworks in cornfields. Granted, it might be practicing for fourth of July celebrations next weekend.



4) Taco Bueno is better than Taco Bell but isn't Mexican food


For the uninitiated, Taco Bueno is a fast food Tex-Mex chain. It's best described as a better version of Taco Bell. The portions are larger the quality is slightly better and you don't feel like your digestive system has been ravaged once you've had your last bite. None of that makes it great Mexican food but after three hours in a car with no one to listen to your renditions of Pink but 25 confused lizards, it manages to hit the spot.


5) Bluegrass is perfect music for driving through an endless sea of corn and wheat


I'm not a country fan. However, I have a soft-spot for old school folk and bluegrass. Both types of music are awesome to turn on when driving through an area that has nothing but farm fields. The downside is it also contributes to graphic fantasies of hillbillies emerging with shotguns from the cornrows.



6) Kansas City's main mix station can't be lost easily


I don't have an MP3 player and I'm do lazy to burn CDs (You know, cause that's so time consuming). This means I usually listen to a local mix station 102.1 when driving around Kansas City. What I didn't know was that you can drive almost two hours south of the city and still pick up the station pretty clearly. This means I can listen to my favorite station play the exact same songs from about ten singers over, and over, and over, and over again...ah, American Pop Culture.


7) A ton of cars in Oklahoma have Cherokee Nation License Plates 


The Cherokee people were forcibly relocated to Oklahoma by the US government during a tragic event known as the Trail of Tears. Several thousand Cherokee died in the forced march from the Appalachian Mountains. Today, a large number of Cherokee live in the State and as such you see a number of cars with Cherokee nation license plates.



8) Oklahoma State troopers' cars need a new design 


Don't worry I wasn't pulled over. However, I did get a look at the cars of the Oklahoma Highway Patrol Cars. Let me tell you, they have the absolute worst paint scheme of any highway patrol cars I've ever seen and I've been in a number of States. The cars are all white (as are the troopers) and have a black outline of the state of Oklahoma on the side...that's it. I think these officers need to do some consulting with the fashion police.

Friday, June 19, 2015

American Shame- Race and Our Realities

Today, I am ashamed to be an American. I am ashamed of my pale skin and the privilege and legacy it contains. We are a nation plagued by a sickness- that sickness is racism and we have to treat it. 

Dylann Roof may have been a maniac, but his mania was nurtured and cultivated. It was encouraged and ratified by voices from our past and present. And now, nine innocent people in Charleston have paid the price.

For all the strides America has made since 1964 there is still so much work to do. This attack has been only the most recent example of how African Americans in this country are still second class citizens. 


I am sick of reading stories about black men and women being abused by police. I'm tired of seeing the difference in how whites and people of color are treated differently by the authorities in so many matters. 

My soul is cut every time I hear of yet another young black person being gunned down and the indifference or hostility that comes from White Americans who refuse to see that Jim Crow is not yet dead.

We need to address race in this country. Something has to change in our society so that we can continue to build off the legacy of the Civil Rights movement of the 60s. We need an America that is truly for all Americans, free of random acts of mass gun violence, with justice for all regardless of skin. We need this and we need to talk about how to do it.

Even getting to that stage, however, is difficult in our current environment.

All too often we lack the ability to have good, honest respectful debate and discussion. We spend too much time in our own political, and social realities often defined by what we find online. And the more we listen exclusively to others like us, who repeat again and again that our world is the greatest and our problems are the worst, the more likely we are to ignore the pain of the others outside our reality and perhaps even hate them as Dylan Roof did.

Too many of us in White America are not capable of living with difference or with ambiguity. We are fearful. 

And I don't just mean on matters of race. We fear political difference, religious difference, philosophical difference.

Above all else we fear being challenged, we fear having our beliefs, our worldview altered by the reality of another. Rather than entertain the notion that what our views on taxes, social welfare or President Obama are not gospel we fail

No more is this clearer than the realm of social media, where all too often we share stories that reinforce our worldview and interact with others who believe the same things we do for the same reasons.

We come to love our home, our culture, our ideals, our front lawns, our sexuality, our cars, our sport's team. Not only do we fail to see the lives of other around us, we fail to value their reality. We fail to see that their path's struggles, different and at times more severe than our own, are just as real.

It's this failure at trying to understand the other (no matter who that other is) that is reinforced by and reflected in American media outlets like Fox and MSNBC.

Our race problems and so many other issues America is wrestling with stem from this. Our inability to look beyond our favorite news stations, our most trusted websites and Facebook groups and break from whichever parallel universe we inhabit even if just for a little bit.

When we lose the willingness to sit down with someone who's belief and background differs from ours and attempt to understand their perspective we are more likely to find ourselves incapable of respecting anyone who doesn't do as we do and think as we think.

We have to break this. We have to learn respect for whichever other we are not a part of. Until that happens, these types of attacks will continues and they will be our shame to bear as the rest of the world watches.

Monday, June 15, 2015

GOT- Why Season 5's Finale is the Most Depressing Episode Yet

Will he return?


Another season of Game of Thrones has come and gone...and damn did it go out with a bloody bang.

I've been a huge fan of the TV and book series for a few years. I've loved the dirty, uncompromising portrayal of Medievalist politics and war in a fantasy setting. I've been through it all: Ned's Stark beheading, Winterfell's burning, Khal Drogo's death, the Purple and Red Weddings.

Yet Season 5's finale, which aired yesterday, may have been the toughest episode I've ever had to sit through. That's saying a lot. Especially when in Season 3 an entire wedding party was massacred and unsavory acts were done involving decapitation and a wolf.  (Here comes the King in the North!)


There's a few reasons why this season's finale was as depressing as it was. First, practically all the story-arcs needed to be tied up in one episode. In past seasons, the pattern was to have a final battle or traumatic event in the ninth episode. The last episode of the season was then used as a climax or resolution in the aftermath of the previous week's event. This gave the viewer time to process and come to terms with what had happened. This season, however, broke the mold. Instead, not only did we have several important character deaths, other characters suffered new traumas or were left in precarious positions. Oh yeah, and on top of all this there was a massive battle at Winterfell. 

All of these events happened in rapid succession without any time to absorb the emotional impact of what we were seeing. And we saw a lot of heavy stuff.

Even for a book reader like me, who knew where each story was likely to end this year, it was difficult to watch so much horrible stuff happen in a fifty minute time period. It's one thing to read all of this in a book, it's quite another to see it happening in front of your eyes. Watching Cersei's walk of shame, Sansa's desperate leap from the wall and hardest of all, the possible death of Jon Snow was like getting hit by several different cars one after the other.


What made it harder was the fact that there was no silver lining. Usually in past finales at least one of the story lines ended on a positive or slightly uplifting note. In Season 1- Dany rose from the flames with her dragons. Season 2- Robb married Talisa and Dany recovered her dragons, Season 3- Astapor's slaves were liberated, Season 4- Arya sailed into the horizon after escaping the Hound. 

Season 5's finale had no such ray of sunshine in an otherwise overcast world. The closest we came was Tyrion reconnecting with Varys. Everyone else is either dead, likely dead, or in a far tougher spot than they were before the episode. 

Now, all of this is not to say I will stop watching the show. This isn't a 'I'm done' rant like the many I've seen on Twitter. Game of Thrones remains one of the best TV series ever created and I intend to keep watching until the series concludes.


This is only meant to say, damn I wish there could have been some ray of hope somewhere to help offset the trauma.