Monday, August 31, 2020

Pic of the Day

Soulless Minions of Trump


In Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, there is one brief mention of a group that has always stuck in my head: the Soulless Minions of Orthodoxy. I don't know why it is, but the term Soulless Minions of Orthodoxy just gets stuck in my head. It's only mentioned once in all of Star Trek history and usually goes mostly unnoticed. If the group ever “existed” in the Star Trek universe, it is only mentioned once in the episode “In the Cards” by a mad scientist named Doctor Elias Giger. Giger blamed his colleague Dr. Bathkin's untimely death in a shuttlecraft on the "soulless minions of orthodoxy." While Giger never explained who the group is, some fans have theorized that the "minions of orthodoxy" are those within the Federation's scientific establishment who are unwilling to accept any challenge to their perceptions of what represents good science and bad science. 

In a way, we are fighting against our own political Soulless Minions of Orthodoxy composed of conservative politicians and the Republican Party's religious right. The definition of conservative is, in essence, orthodoxy. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines Orthodoxy as “of, relating to, or constituting any of various conservative religious or political groups.” The first established use of the term conservative in a political context originated in 1818 with François-René de Chateaubriand during the period of Bourbon Restoration that sought to roll back the policies of the French Revolution. Historically associated with right-wing politics, the term has since been used to describe a wide range of views. There is no single set of policies regarded as conservative because the meaning of conservatism depends on what is considered traditional in a given place and time. 

Conservatism in the United States has evolved to advocate American traditions (good or bad), Christian values (mostly those perverted by evangelicals and fundamentalists), pro-business policies, opposition to trade unions, strong national defense, free trade, anti-communism, pro-individualism, and American exceptionalism. In the last few decades, the Republican Party has engaged in battles championed by the religious right over abortion, euthanasia, contraception, pornography, gambling, obscenity, state-sanctioned prayer in public schools, textbook contents (concerning creationism), LGBTQ+ rights, and sexual education. Adding in their aversion to scientific evidence (such as climate change or public health), voting rights, and intelligence, you get the present-day Republican Party. When they chose Donald Trump as their leader, they became a party opposed to the truth and reason. Last week’s Republican National Convention was a tale of a resurgent economy, a deadly virus defeated, and a benevolent and wise President who was a champion of Black Americans, and women, and a guardian of constitutional values. Yet, none of it was true, but Trump supporters will believe it because Trump and Fox News tell them. 

Recently, Tim Alberta, the chief political correspondent for POLITICO, who is described as “the most skilled political reporters of his generation," wrote about the Republican Party's meltdown. Alberta wrote that:


Earlier this month, while speaking via Zoom to a promising group of politically inclined high school students, I was met with an abrupt line of inquiry. “I’m sorry, but I still don’t understand,” said one young man, his pitch a blend of curiosity and exasperation. “What do Republicans believe? What does it mean to be a Republican?”


However, there was a problem when Alberta tried to answer the question. He didn't know what today's Republicans believe. In recent years, the GOP core beliefs of limited government, free enterprise, moral integrity, fiscal restraint, and global leadership have gone from adaptable to disposable. The lack of vision became even more apparent when last week’s Republican National Convention, which not only nominates a presidential ticket but also writes the party's platform, chose not to write a platform this year. In good old Trump fashion, the RNC decided to copy and paste the one form 2016. Why was this the case? Simply, it's because the Republican Party, as we knew it, no longer exists. It has become a cult of personality, wholly centered on Donald Trump. It has become the Party of Trump. The whim of Trump now defines policies and beliefs. Republican leaders in Congress have turned into puppets whose strings are tightly controlled by Trump, who runs the government in a manner more akin to a mafia boss than a president.


Every four years, political parties hold presidential nominating conventions which give occasion to assess the party’s ideas, its principles, and its vision for governing. That is what the party platform is designed to do. Recent iterations of the Republican ideology have been easy to define. Ronald Reagan’s party wanted to end communism and destroy the bureaucratic red tape of big government. George W. Bush’s party aimed to project compassion and fortitude, educating poor Americans, and treating AIDS-stricken Africans, while simultaneously confronting the advance of Islamic terrorism. However flawed the policies, however unsuccessful their execution, a tone was set from the top-down. They stood for something clearly defined, even if the party members did not always practice the platform.

If you consider the Bill of Rights, the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, each is about ideas. Political parties were supposed to be about ideas. It can now be said that Donald Trump's party is the very definition of a cult of personality. It stands for no particular ideal; it possesses no organizing principle. It represents no detailed vision for governing. Instead, the lack of a platform is now characterized by a lazy, identity-based populism that draws from the lowest common denominator. The Republican Party of Trump is all about firing up his base. It is a political wave of anger. Just look at that crazy speech by Kimberly Guilfoyle last week at the RNC. It has also become a party that shrugs responsibility for its actions or lack of actions. In the words of Trump: “It is what it is” and “I don't take responsibility at all.”

Kellyanne Conway was recently asked about the link between a 17-year-old charged with homicide after two people were killed and another seriously wounded by gunfire amid a night of rioting in Kenosha, WI, and a Trump rally in Des Moines, IA. Kyle Rittenhouse, the suspect in the shootings, has a social media presence filled with him posing pictures of himself with weapons, posting "Blue Lives Matter," and supporting Trump. Footage from the Des Moines rally on January 30 shows Rittenhouse feet away from the president, in the front row, to the left of the podium. He posted a TikTok video from the event. The ties to Trump's rhetoric are clear and even backed up by Trump acolyte Tucker Carlson who said on his show, "How shocked are we that 17-year-olds with rifles decided they had to maintain order when no one else would?" However, when Conway was asked about any link, she stated the White House is "not responsible for the private conduct of people who go to rallies."


The incident raises the question of the extent to which the inflammatory approach the president has taken towards racial tension and violence has influenced the actions of impressionable individuals at a volatile moment. While at one time even Republicans denounced white nationalist extremists and fringe right-wing militia groups, the president now praises them because they support him. One of Trump's most dangerous supporters might be the conspiracy theorists of QAnon. The group was once a fringe phenomenon that most people could safely ignore. But in recent months, it has gone mainstream. Twitter, Facebook, and other social networks have been flooded with QAnon-related false information about Covid-19, the Black Lives Matter protests, and the 2020 election. QAnon supporters have also been trying to attach themselves to other activist causes, such as the anti-vaccine and anti-child-trafficking movements, to expand their ranks. These people are frightening to me as they believe a set of internet conspiracy theories that allege, falsely, that the world is run by a cabal of Satan-worshiping pedophiles who are plotting against Donald Trump while operating a global child sex-trafficking ring. The beliefs only get scarier from there. See the New York Times article on "What is QAnon?" if you want to read some genuinely chilling stuff. During a White House news conference supposedly about the coronavirus, Trump recently said that he had “heard these are people that love our country.” He continued by saying, “So, I don’t know really anything about it other than they do supposedly like me,” which appears to be enough to validate the group’s beliefs in his eyes.

The most significant problem with most Trump supporters is either willful ignorance or a total disregard for the rule of law. Willful ignorance is nothing new and has afflicted humankind for centuries. We all prefer the familiar to the unfamiliar, and many crave conformity. Some of us strive for the differences that make us a diverse nation of E. Pluribus Unum. The problem that the Republican Party is currently facing is that it cannot fix a problem they refuse to acknowledge publicly. The Lincoln Project has been very outspoken and critical of the Trump administration and has vowed to hold accountable those who violate their oaths to the Constitution and put others before Americans. But is The Lincoln Project enough to halt the insanity of the Republican Party led by Trump?

We often surround ourselves with people who think like us and share our ideals and values, so most Trump supporters only watch Fox News and refuse to watch any other news source. They do not want to hear something contrary to what they want to believe and do not want to listen to evidence that challenges what they desire to be true. In this, I am a little hypocritical because I refuse to watch Fox News. I get so angry at the lies and propaganda they espouse, so I also refused to watch the RNC last week. However, I attempt to remain objective and occasionally see commentators on CNN or MSNBC that I think become a little too hyperbolic in their commentaries. Still, when they report on facts, they are facts, not lies, and that’s the difference.

Republicans, and Trump supporters, especially, want to protect their sheltered experiences, white bread relationships, and backward ideas, values, and beliefs. They found in Trump, an angry man who voiced their fears of change and allowed him to construct a world around them that makes his supporters feel safe and blinded them to valuable information, facts, and behaviors that should alarm any American. People in the Trump administration and Republicans in Congress have stayed silent when they should have spoken out or questioned Trump’s actions for fear of being criticized, rebuked, tweeted about derogatorily by Trump. Some like former chief of staff at Trump’s Department of Homeland Security, Miles Taylor, have spoken out against Trump's dangers. Still, there are too many who are either too afraid of the president or enjoy the privileges of being in the Trump administration. Trump's minions have overlooked threats and dangers to justice, health, and national security that should have otherwise been obvious. They have blocked out the uncomfortable realities of the profiteering and lawlessness within the Trump administration to save themselves from the hard evidence that contradicts their beliefs.

There will come a day of reckoning for the Republican Party. I hope that day will be November 3, 2020, when Democrats retake the White House and the Senate while retaining the House of Representatives. Then we can work to reclaim the judiciary. If this happens, there will be another day of reckoning in the future when historians look back on the Trump administration and the Senate under Mitch McConnell. They will be judged, and they will be found lacking. Let’s look at a few statistics that the Republican Party won’t admit are true. The United States makes up 4.25 percent of the world’s population, yet we have 24 percent of the world’s COVID-19 cases and 22 percent of COVID-19 deaths. Yet, to hear Republicans tell it, we are doing the best of any country in the world. It simply isn’t true. Cities are rioting all over the country over racial injustice, and all Trump can do is blame it on Democratic-controlled city governments, which is also untrue. Furthermore, in January 2017, when Trump took office, the unemployment rate was 4.7 percent. The latest unemployment rate statistics have it at 10.2 percent. In January 2017, the GDP was $19.49 trillion. Today, the GDP is $19.41 trillion. Yet, we have the best economy, according to Trump. Again, it simply isn’t true. 

While the economic numbers are largely due to the pandemic, they clearly show how badly the Trump administration has handled the situation. The Democrat-controlled House of Representatives approved a $3 trillion relief package back in May. Senate Republicans and administration officials waited until the end of July to unveil a $1 trillion proposal that went nowhere because the Trump administration refused to negotiate. The administration dramatically stopped negations saying the House Democrats refused to negotiate when they had already made numerous concessions. This was done all so that Trump could magnanimously sign four executive orders and memorandums that accomplished very little. One would give a tax holiday for workers, but they would still be required to pay those taxes in April. Another allocated FEMA relief funds to pay an extra $300 in unemployment benefits, but only for those who listed their job loss as being caused by the pandemic. A third would set a moratorium on evections, but only on a few mortgages held by the federal government. The last one is probably the only one that will deliver the results. It will continue to pause loan payments and interest on federally held student loans through the end of 2020.

It is my hope that the Republican Party will lose so badly in the 2020 election that they reassess their priorities and disavow Trump for nearly destroying the Party. More likely, the Republicans will double down on their rhetoric and claim, without any evidence, because there won't be any, that there were massive election fraud and ballot tampering. At that point, their loyal followers, those soulless minions of Trump, will believe them. If that happens, we have to be careful, because just as the Freedom Caucus is worse than the Tea Party, the next Republican leader could be worse than Trump. Political parties seem to try to move to the extreme, not moderation when they need reform. We can only hope that if that happens, enough people will remember the horrors of the Trump years and finally begin to moderate the Party.

The ideology, whether you agreed with it or not, of the Republican Party, has been replaced with Trumpism, a cult of personality, and his followers have become soulless minions of orthodoxy believing that Trump will restore a time before liberals began to make America a better place to live and achieve the American Dream. I'm not sure if that means before 1933 when FDR became president and ushered in the New Deal or some fantasy of American conservatives analogous to the Confederacy and its Lost Cause. Regardless of political party affiliation, Americans need to wake up and realize that another four years of Trump leadership will mean the end of American democracy. Republicans need to wake up and realize that four more years of Donald Trump will be the Republican Party's demise. Republicans could turn on Donald Trump and reestablish some semblance of the Grand Old Party, but I only see that happening if Trump loses in November. Still, suppose they continue with Donald Trump's cult of personality. In that case, the party will implode and become Republican in name only and nothing more than a group of Soulless Minions of Trump. While the death of the Republican Party’s hate-filled ideology wouldn't bother me, the replacement with an ideology based on anger, lies, and hatred is not what America needs. If the Republican Party continues, it needs to moderate and become a party of compassion, not something I believe will happen. 

What might be the hardest for America is when the next generation asks their parents and grandparents why they supported Donald Trump. When that day comes, I suspect there will be a lot of Americans who will rewrite their own history and say they never supported Donald Trump. Some will claim it wasn't as bad as historians claim. There will be those who will still be Trump enthusiasts and revisionists. Still, I suspect the majority will deny they were ever a party to the destructive administration of Donald Trump.

Sunday, August 30, 2020

Pic of the Day


God Has a Plan

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

—Jeremiah 29:11


As we journey through a tumultuous 2020 and enter into an unknown of what the rest of 2020 will bring us, it is helpful to remember that God has a plan for our lives. Jeremiah 29:11 is just such a reminder.


Many Christians know and cling to this verse by itself. But when we understand its historical and literary context, most will find that it takes on a more profound, more relevant, and even more powerful meaning for their lives. Context is always important in understanding a passage of scripture. Often scripture is taken out of context and given a meaning entirely different from its intended purpose. 


For historical context, Jeremiah spoke these words to Jews. They were under the domination of the Egyptian and then Babylonian Empires. Under the Babylonians, the Jews were sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon. We can only imagine what it would be like to live under your enemies' domination and then to be forced by those enemies to leave your homeland and settle in a foreign country. 


For the literary context, the previous chapter tells us that Jeremiah has just denounced the false prophet Hananiah. God had commanded Jeremiah to wear a yoke as a sign of the impending captivity, humiliation, and servitude of the Jewish people by the Babylonians. Hananiah told the people that God would break Babylon's yoke, freeing the people to return home within two years. To make his point, Hananiah took the yoke from Jeremiah's neck and broke it as a token that the yoke, which had been imposed by Nebuchadnezzar on Israel, would also soon be broken.


Hananiah's prediction sounded reasonable at the time. This event occurred in about 594 B.C. when Nebuchadnezzar was occupied in a battle against Egypt and could pay little attention to his client-state Judah. Rumors spread that Babylon was weakening. So, Hananiah’s message undoubtedly sounded appealing to the people, but it was a lie. God commanded Jeremiah to tell Hananiah to replace the wooden yoke with an iron one. The yoke to be endured by the Israelites would be stronger than the former one had been. Jeremiah prophesized that Jewish people would live in Babylon for at least 70 years. He is warning them so that they would settle down, build houses, marry, and even pray for the city's peace and prosperity in which they now found themselves. 


When understood in context, we discover that the words of Jeremiah 29:11 were spoken to people in the midst of hardship and suffering; people who were likely desiring a quick rescue like the one Hananiah tried to persuade them to believe. But God's response is not to provide an immediate escape from the problematic situation. Instead, God promises that He had a plan for the Jewish people to succeed in their current circumstances. 


When facing difficult situations today, we can take comfort in Jeremiah 29:11 knowing that it is not a promise to immediately rescue us from hardship or suffering, but rather a guarantee that God has a plan for our lives. Regardless of our current situation, He can work through it to help us thrive and give us hope for the future.


Furthermore, Christians can take comfort in knowing that God promises to be there for us in the most challenging situations. For in the verses immediately following Jeremiah 29:11, God proclaims through Jeremiah that when you "call on me and come and pray to me… I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart" (Jeremiah 19:12-13).

Saturday, August 29, 2020

Pic of the Day


Moment of Zen: My Readers and Your Kindness

I know I wrote in the comments of Wednesday's post about my voice how much I appreciated all of your kind words, but I really can’t say it enough. The comments everyone left were so moving and brought tears to my eyes. To read all of your kind words means more to me that I can ever truly express. I appreciate each and every one of you who read this blog. When you comment or email, you show me that I am accomplishing something with this blog, and maybe a little more kindness will seep out into the world.


William Penn, the founder of Pennsylvania, once said, “I expect to pass through life but once. If therefore, there be any kindness I can show, or any good thing I can do to any fellow being, let me do it now, and not defer or neglect it, as I shall not pass this way again.” I was looking up quotes about kindness, and I came across several more that I wanted to share:


“What wisdom can you find that is greater than kindness?” – Jean-Jacques Rousseau


“Carry out a random act of kindness, with no expectation of reward, safe in the knowledge that one day someone might do the same for you.” – Princess Diana


“Wherever there is a human being, there is an opportunity for a kindness.” – Lucius Annaeus Seneca


“Kindness is the language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see.” – Mark Twain


“I’ve been searching for ways to heal myself, and I’ve found that kindness is the best way.” – Lady Gaga


“Three things in human life are important. The first is to be kind. The second is to be kind. And the third is to be kind.” – Henry James


“Spread love everywhere you go. Let no one ever come to you without leaving happier.” —Mother Teresa


“My wish for you is that you continue. Continue to be who and how you are, to astonish a mean world with your acts of kindness. Continue to allow humor to lighten the burden of your tender heart.” —Maya Angelou


The next two are my favorites as they show how kindness can change the world:


“Kindness in words creates confidence. Kindness in thinking creates profoundness. Kindness in giving creates love.” – Lao Tzu


“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” —Margaret Mead


And finally, here is a quote that I hope we will all keep in mind. It’s by Ralph Waldo Emerson, my favorite transcendentalist philosopher:


“You cannot do kindness too soon, for you never know how soon it will be too late.”

Friday, August 28, 2020

Pic of the Day


Chris Evans

I’m sure most of you out there know who Chris Evans is. He's best known as Captain America, and he’s also one of the hottest of the guys named Chris in Hollywood. You know the ones I’m talking about. Chris Pine, Chris O'Donnell, Chris Hemsworth, and Chris Pratt are the most famous, but then there are the lesser-known guys named Chris: Chris Lowell, Chris Klein, Chris Carmack, and I’ll even throw in Chris Colfer, even though he’s not necessarily my type. Of these guys, Chris O'Donnell will always have a special place in my fantasies because he played Buddy Threadgoode in Fried Green Tomatoes:

However, Evans, Pine, and Hemsworth always make parts of me stir when I see them on the screen. Just look at this picture of Chris Pine from Wonder Woman:


Or Chris Hemsworth at the beach:


Evans is a staunch supporter of LGBTQ equality and the Democratic Party. In 2012, Evans affirmed his support for same-sex marriage, stating: "It's insane that civil rights are being denied people in this day and age. It's embarrassing, and it's heartbreaking. It goes without saying that I'm completely in support of gay marriage. In ten years, we'll be ashamed that this was an issue." In August 2016, Evans supported Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey's continued enforcement of the state's ban on assault weapons. Evans endorsed Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election and has been critical of President Donald Trump. After Alabama enacted the Human Life Protection Act in May 2019, which imposes a near-total ban on abortions in the state, Evans wrote on Twitter that the bill was "absolutely unbelievable" and continued by writing, "If you're not worried about Roe v. Wade, you're not paying attention." 


Evans has gotten some negative media attention in the past several months for a picture taken of him, but I think it’s because people spoke before they knew the story, which is often a problem. As I said, Evans is an outspoken Democrat but has held back on some of his political criticisms, even of Donald Trump, since he began his political project A Starting Point in July 2020, which aims to “create a bipartisan channel of communication and connectivity between Americans and their elected officials with the goal of creating a more informed electorate.” In starting this organization, he’s been interacting with politicians on both sides of the aisle, which led to a photo with Republican Senator Ted Cruz and his daughter that had some on Twitter fuming back in February.


Celebrities always seem to get in trouble from either the left or the right for their political opinions. Some celebrities in the past I refuse to watch anymore because of their extreme right-wing views, but I am not going to do like Republicans often do and claim that they should just be celebrities and not have an opinion. Everyone has a right to their opinion, but stars have to weigh the option of whether or not they will lose fans because of their views. The fact that Evans, who is an outspoken liberal, had his picture taken with Cruz has garnered backlash is a tad ridiculous.


On "The Daily Show" on Tuesday, host Trevor Noah brought up the photo and the backlash, asking how Evans balances being Captain America for people even when he disagrees. Evans explained, “In that circumstance, it was a child. I’ll always take a picture with a kid.” He continued: “But in general, just even sitting down with certain politicians ― there are certain people on the extremes of both parties who, there’s no wiggle room for that. And again, what I would argue is, look, if this person wasn’t in power, if this person wasn’t writing bills that affected your life, fine, we can shun them. You know what I mean? We can scream louder than them. But we can’t pretend they don’t have some sort of say, some sort of impact.” Evans made the argument, "Because I think the other way just becomes cyclical, and everyone spirals and no one listens, and I don't think you move the ball down the field as effectively as you would if you say: OK, let's just, you know ... out-talk me," he said. Elsewhere in the segment, Evans explained he would still express his political beliefs when called to do so. Still, the framework of A Starting Point is all about presenting the issues and letting people form their own opinions.  


I have to agree with Evans. American politics has become so polarized that there is little dissension in the ranks Republicans or Democrats. Both parties are likely to get blasted by opponents for reaching across the aisle and trying to compromise. Look at the Senate right now. Very little coming out the House is even taken up in the Senate because it is controlled by the Democrats. We need civil discourse in politics, but many Republicans, especially Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell, have made that impossible. In his 1796 Farewell Address, George Washington warned against the dangers of political parties stating, " However combinations or associations of the above description may now and then answer popular ends, they are likely in the course of time and things, to become potent engines, by which cunning, ambitious and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people, and to usurp for themselves the reigns of government; destroying afterwards the very engines which have lifted them to unjust dominion." Nobody followed Washington’s advice. Washington also spoke of foreign policy warning, "It is our true policy to steer clear of permanent alliance with any portion of the foreign world." That warning has often been used by American politicians, often to the detriment of the world. 


And if you don’t know, Evans is the brother of openly gay actor, Scott Evans. Scott is best known for playing the role of police officer Oliver Fish on the ABC daytime soap opera One Life to Live. I became a fan when I was living with my parents and writing my dissertation. I would take an hour for lunch and watch Scott on One Life to Live because Oliver Fish became involved in a romantic relationship with another man named Kyle Lewis. I continued to watch until the storyline was dropped, and both Scott and the actor playing Kyle Lewis were let go in 2010. One day, the writers just stopped writing the characters into the script. ABC's only explanation was that the storyline "did not have the appeal we hoped it would." Upon Oliver's departure from the show on Monday, April 12, and Kyle's exit on Friday, April 16, One Life to Live hit new lows in total viewers, and two years later, the soap opera was canceled. 

Thursday, August 27, 2020

Pic of the Day

Why Are People So Driven by Hate?

 The post title is a rhetorical question, because I don’t have an answer for it, nor do I understand people so filled with hate. In Texas near the border with Mexico, Roma High School has put teacher Taylor Lifka on leave after a Republican politician posted a screenshot of her virtual classroom, including a rainbow and a "Black Lives Matter" sign. The school said Ms. Lifka was put on leave for displaying so-called political and divisive speech in her virtual classroom.

Marian Knowlton, a Republican running for the Texas House in District 3, wrote on Facebook last Friday. ““This is from a public school in one of the counties in House District 31! Our education system has been radicalizing our children for years, and it continues to do so, from elementary through higher education. This is not an isolated occurrence, it is a national pattern. A concerted effort to teach children what to think, not how to think. Leftist indoctrination. Parents, I urge you to take a look at your child’s classroom, virtual or onsite.” Knowlton said that one of the posters has “a photo of radical protesters (one of whom looks like an ANTIFA member).” Knowlton continued, “In addition, this teacher asks which pronoun they prefer!”

In the screenshot she posted, a poster says, "Diverse, Inclusive, Accepting, Welcoming Safe Space for Everyone" in rainbow colors. One sign simply says, "Black Lives Matter," which Knowlton said is a message supporting a "radical Marxist movement." Another says in Spanish, "Friend, your struggle is my struggle."

The screenshot also includes instructions from the teacher telling students to put their names and pronouns in the group chat.

By Tuesday, the district said that the teacher in question was put on leave. “After reviewing the complaints, the District is working closely with the teacher to find a resolution that will ensure all parties involved reach an outcome that best benefits the expectations of our parents and needs of our students,” the statement said. Even though the school forced the teacher to be on leave, the Roma Independent School District claims that “The teacher is not being reprimanded in any way for her work or decisions.”

The South Texas Equality Project (STEP) has started a petition to get Lifka taken off leave, which currently has 17,500 signatures. “Please sign this petition to let the school district know that inclusivity and acceptance are not taboo ideas that deserve censorship; that high school students can and should be allowed to discuss the realities of the world instead of being sheltered inside a sanitized bubble; and that by reprimanding the teacher for trying to create a safe space for her students, the school is not being neutral, but is actively taking a stance that is antithetical to justice,” the petition says.

“In our current times, we are still in that struggle for that need for equality,” a representative of STEP told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, adding that Lifka did not ask them to create the petition. Knowlton’s Facebook page was made private after this story got media attention.

Lifka was a member of Teach For America's 2017 corps but is no longer with the organization. On her classroom’s homepage on the Roma High School website, Lifka wrote that she had fallen in love with Roma after her two years teaching there for TFA, prompting her to stay. “The beauty of Roma exists in the vibrant border culture and the tight-knit community that supports and honors one another through both the celebrations and the challenges of life,” she wrote.

Joseph Cloward, a former teacher at the district, said he worked with Lifka for a year and described her as committed and competent. Cloward says news of Lifka being put on paid leave prompted him to send a letter to Roma ISD Monday expressing concern. “I think what I was asking for is for the district to be really, really clear about whether or not it intends to be a safe and inclusive space for all students, particularly for Black students, for female students, for LGBT students,” he said. “I think all that’s come across right now is that teachers that are supportive of those students will be punished if they are outspoken in their support of those students, and I think that’s the wrong message for the district to be sending.” Cloward continued, “I don’t think that the messages in the pictures on social media are ones that have to be explicitly political in a partisan sense, they seem to be pretty typical ways to let students know that they are in a space where they will be welcomed and should feel safe regardless of their race or gender or sexual orientation.”

Knowlton said the content did represent a political position, noting that she had been accused of racism and homophobia for posting the screenshot. “If this is about inclusivity, why don’t we see anything about Judeao-Christian values on it, why don’t we see anything about the Bible on it, why don’t we see the other side?” she said Tuesday. “We only see one point of view on here, and I didn’t mention that at all, but that’s where the thread started to go.” Knowlton said she got the screenshot from a concerned educator and shared it to raise awareness on what’s happening in Texas classrooms. “I think that parents need to know what their children are looking at, what they’re hearing in the classroom,” she said. Knowlton said she didn’t realize what the consequences of her post would be, and it seems that she has no problems with Lifka’s removal.

AN UPDATE: Taylor Lifka has been reinstated to her job. 

A statement from the district said Lifka was put on paid administrative leave on Sunday after the district received concerns from community members and parents.
“It is the practice of Roma ISD to diligently review all parent concerns. In this case, the timing in which information was received by the District (over the weekend) made it necessary for the District to place Ms. Lifka on leave until we could fully and responsibly review this matter,” the statement read. “This action was not intended to reflect any form of punishment or admonishment towards Ms. Lifka but was purely driven by a need to review the circumstances and come to a sound resolution for all persons involved. Out of concern for Ms. Lifka, Roma ISD wishes to state again that she has not been reprimanded in any way concerning this matter. The District appreciates the importance of advancing sensitivity regarding equality and inclusivity.”
The statement repeatedly and emphatically pledged Roma ISD’s commitment to anti-discrimination and inclusivity, saying Lifka was taken off leave Tuesday and informed she would be allowed the choice to keep the graphic background for her virtual classroom as proposed so long as it “does not come to overly disrupt or detract from the educational process or the learning environment.”
“Roma ISD regrets that this matter has become a point of controversy. It was never the intention of the District to indicate anything less than full support for the concepts of equality and student safety,” Roma ISD Superintendent Carlos Guzman wrote in the statement. “As educators and community members, Roma ISD has an obligation to carefully listen to parent concerns and respond to them, taking into consideration the rights of employees and students. As a school district, we must create a safe environment for our teachers and students that fosters and respects everyone’s beliefs in a manner that does not discriminate or disrupt the learning environment. I want to affirm that our District is filled with caring and committed educators that give 100 percent of themselves every day to the education and development of our students.”

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Pic of the Day


My "Gay" Voice

I am neither effeminate nor hyper-masculine. If being effeminate was a 10 and being masculine was a 1, on a scale of 1-10, I’d guess I’m a 7. During my years in the closet, I tried to appear straight. But according to the bullies who tortured me at school, I did a really crappy job. When I was in school in the 80s and 90s, being smart was seen as gay and uncool, and in Alabama, if you were a guy and didn’t play football and every other sport, you were gay, a sissy. I remember I used to wish I’d been born a girl so I wouldn’t have the constant pressure to play sports. After I discovered the joys of having a penis, I rarely wished that anymore. A dick is a wonderful thing; it can bring so much joy to your life.


Many gay men are self-conscious about "sounding gay," and I am one of them. Allow me to explain this whole "sounding gay" thing. "Sounding gay" continues to be a trigger for mockery, bullying, and violence. LGBT kids are far more likely to commit suicide or drop out of school because they feel unsafe. I was always made fun of for my "gay voice," and sometimes I still am. It has always, even to this day, raised my hackles. Hard to believe, but few, if any, studies have explored the phenomenon of "sounding gay." Voice and sexuality—two fundamental features of human existence, and yet most people don't have a clue how they are related. Instead, we have stupid stereotypes. A lot of people think it's okay to be gay as long as you don't act—or sound—that way. The daily pressure to cover, hide, or "pass" affects many sexual minorities. 


I remember two incidents very clearly. One was when I was a four-year-old in kindergarten. I always preferred to play with the girls; they were my friends. I didn’t count any boys among my friends. I guess this worried my kindergarten teacher. One day she handed me a truck and told me to go play with the boys. That was the last thing I wanted to do, but I didn’t feel I had a choice. It’s like she thought she could change me by making me play with a toy dump truck. People need to let children express their sexuality any way they desire. It would make growing up gay much easier. We would be able to explore our feminine or masculine traits more freely and without fear of ridicule.


A few years later, probably around the fifth grade, the boys at recess always played flag football. I preferred to play on the swings with the girls. One day my dad came to pick me up from school. Recess was at the end of the day. He noticed all the boys playing football, but I was playing with the girls. He was furious. From then on, if Daddy was coming to pick me up (thankfully, a rare occurrence), I had to steel myself to play flag football. I HATED it with a passion. I love to watch college football, but I never wanted to play it. While I wasn’t bad at it, I couldn’t catch a ball to save my life. But, if they handed me the football, I could usually outrun anyone chasing me.


There was only one sport I ever really wanted to play; that was baseball. There’s just something about baseball players with bats and balls that appealed to me. However, I’ve never had good eyesight (another thing that put me in the “gay” category: wearing glasses—eventually I got contacts). Without good eyesight, I couldn’t hit the ball; I just couldn’t see it well enough, and quite honestly, I am just not very coordinated. When my parents forced me to play a sport during my middle and high school years, I played basketball (normally I warmed the bench). I also ran track for a couple of years, and in my senior year, I played golf. I wanted to learn golf so when I became a lawyer, I’d know how and could take clients to play golf. These days, I rarely play golf. I haven’t played in years, and I never became a lawyer.


So, those are the underlying impressions of me when I was in school. I've always been self-conscious about "sounding gay." I got mocked constantly for it. It's one of the main things people have told me "gives me away" as gay. Add in the Southern accent, and I’m just slightly more butch sounding than actor Leslie Jordan. Some people tell me they don’t notice it; others find it very noticeable. I think because of my accent, it’s more apparent to Southerners than those outside the South. 


The worst is when I’m on the phone. I have always been called ma’am over the phone, and because if this, I usually dread phone calls with someone I don’t know. I remember once calling my bank. The operator actually argued with me that I was not who I said I was. She said I must be my mother. I had to recite my date of birth, my social security number, bank account number, and all those other ridiculous security questions, and I don’t think she was ever truly convinced I was a man. Because it happens so frequently, I usually just laugh it off when the person is apologetic, but because this operator was so rude, insistent, and unapologetic, I was rude back and complained to her supervisor. In the South, I always got called ma’am in a drive thru. At first it annoyed me, but then I realized how funny it was to see their faces when they realized they’d taken an order from a man. Sometimes, they’d apologize, but mostly it was just a shocked look on their face after which they’d pretend it hadn’t happened.


When I first began to talk, I had a terrible speech impediment. Only a few people could understand me. One was my sister; she used to translate what I had said. I never had speech therapy, so I learned on my own to speak more clearly. Also, I had what they called tongue-tie (ankyloglossia), a congenital oral anomaly that decreases the mobility of the tongue tip and is caused by an unusually short, thick lingual frenulum, a membrane connecting the underside of the tongue to the floor of the mouth. To fix this, my pediatrician “clipped my tongue,” also known as a frenotomy, a procedure where they cut the lingual frenulum to allow the tongue to move more freely. By the way, children undergoing a frenotomy had to be restrained during the procedure; very little, if any, anesthesia was used back in those days. Luckily, like circumcision, I do not remember the procedure, but my mother said I bled like a stuck pig and screamed bloody murder. I was probably two or three at the time. The procedure left me with a slight lisp at times and the inability to say certain words, especially those with “sm” or “th” sounds in them.


Several years ago, there was a documentary called Do I Sound Gay? which examined the gay voice. The film explored the existence and accuracy of stereotypes about the speech patterns of gay men, and the ways in which one's degree of conformity to the stereotype contribute to internalized homophobia in some gay men. The documentary claims the gay voice is generally depicted as having five characteristics:


1.     Gay men tend to pronounce their vowels more clearly.

2.     We tend to draw out our vowels longer.

3.     Our Ss are longer often giving us the stereotypical lisp.

4.     We pronounce our Ls longer.

5.     We over articulate Ps, Ts, and Ks.


One thing many gay men who are considered to have a gay voice had when they were young is a speech impediment. Some had speech therapy, others like me did not. Having a lisp or speech impediment caused many gay men to be more precise in their speech. More masculine speech tends to be less articulate. Of course, the deepness of someone's voice also plays a factor. Upper class voices are considered gayer which is a stereotype from the dandies in old movies. My voice has never been deep. David Thorpe, the filmmaker of Do I Sound Gay? came to the realization that sounding educated, cosmopolitan, and refined equals the gay voice. 


So, why is the gay voice derided by both gay and straight people? One reason is it’s seen as more feminine. Gay men say they want a "man." If they wanted a woman, they'd be straight. Also, “dandies” in old movies were either depicted as villains or comic relief. They were not characters to be admired. Then you have what Disney did for the gay voice. Disney used the "gay voice" for its male villains. Think of the voices of Captain Hook (Peter Pan), Jafar (Aladdin), Prince John (Robin Hood), Professor Ratigan (The Great Mouse Detective), and Scar (The Lion King).  Each of these characters is portrayed with what we would consider an exaggerated stereotypical gay voice. No wonder we hate our own voices.


Thorpe is a fellow Southerner from Columbia, South Carolina. When he went to a speech therapist, one of the things she tried to do is to remove the last vestiges of his Southern accent. Often, gay Southerners have it worse because we do draw out our words, we do over articulate, and we are more precise in our language. And if you think of any Southern gentleman in a comedic role, he usually has the gay voice. I do not want to lose my Southern accent, and besides, my accent is more noticeable than my "gay voice" up here in Vermont. It’s also seen as charming, and of course, I am charming when I want to be.


Gay stereotypes exist. You cannot deny men are judged because of stereotypes. All people, no matter their gender, face stereotypes. I suspect stereotypes will always exist. Maybe one day, we can overcome them, but I suspect that will not be in my lifetime. As long as there are hateful people out there, we will be judged by stereotypes. Most everyone judges people by their first impressions, but the better person keeps an open mind and doesn’t judge until getting to know the person. 

Since we are talking about my voice, I thought you might be curious so I recorded it for anyone who would care to listen. I’ll let you judge if I sound gay. You may listen to this and realize you hate the sound of my voice; you wouldn’t be the first, nor do I expect you will be the last. I’ll be brutally honest, when I first wrote this post and recorded my voice for it, I thought it would enrich what I had to say and be something extra my readers might enjoy. However, with my voice insecurities, I agonized over whether to actually post it. What if one or more of you are so disappointed by what you hear you decide you don’t want to read my blog anymore? What if one or more of you leave a nasty comment? Ultimately, I decided if I am judged by the sound of my voice and found lacking, that just proves my point about negative perceptions and stereotypes based on the sound of someone’s voice. So, here it is to listen to or not; it’s up to you: 

In a post on his blog, New Homo Blogo, Jeremy Ryan suggested the TEDx Georgetown talk “Why am I ‘so gay?’” by Thomas Lloyd, a graduate of Georgetown University. I watched the video, and it fits perfectly with some of what I talk about here. Lloyd speaks about being in middle school and becoming aware of being different. Here is an excerpt:


It was around this time that, even though I didn't necessarily feel all that different from my peers, other people did. And what had started as, "Oh, you're so gay!" became whispers, became rumors, became slurs. This is when we, as a community, human beings, have a sort of tendency that, when we detect difference, when we detect something we don't understand, even if we can't name it yet - and we were all too young at this age to name what was different, or to act on what was different - we try to correct it through less than honorable means. And so, people would make fun of the way that I walked…. So, I would suddenly think about every single step that I took. It became deliberate. And people started to make fun of the way that I moved my hands when I talked….And then people would make fun of my voice, even though none of our voices had changed yet….So, you can imagine how difficult, as a New Yorker, it was to walk and talk, and have a conversation while I'm motivating every single motion of my voice and my speech. The things that we take for granted, the ways that we navigate the world in normal ways were critical things that I had to think about every second of the day. I had to expend all of my creative energy on covering what it was that made me different.


I identify with what he says. My voice may have been part of what made me seem gay, but I was told I walked like a sissy, and people made fun of that too. I tried to walk more “butch,” but I honestly didn’t know how to walk any other way. It was the same with my voice. I once tried to deepen it when I talked, but not only was that exhausting, it hurt my throat. I also used to talk with my hands. As I got older, and had to be in front of the class, I would clutch the podium so I couldn’t move my hands. When you are in the closet, or even before you understand you are gay, you begin to change things about yourself so people won’t bully you for how you talk or how you walk or that you move your hands when you talk. You even dress differently than you want, because you don’t want to go through another day of people making fun of everything you do. To hear Lloyd talk about how hard it was as a New Yorker; it could not have compared to how hard it was in the South.