I May Not Know Art, but I also Don’t Know What I Like

I try to let a little time pass before writing about some things, largely because it allows for rational thought as opposed to guttural reaction. I make a special effort if it’s been a hot topic in the blogosphere. Here’s hoping…

On March 7 of this year, International Women’s Day, a statue called Fearless Girl was placed on Wall Street. It was commissioned as part of a marketing campaign for an index fund and promote awareness of the gender divide in the investment industry. The statue of a young girl standing defiantly was placed so that it appears to be standing in opposition to the Wall Street Bull, and its material and style make it clear that it’s a companion piece.

I had mixed feelings that still persist today.

The Wall Street Bull, properly titled Charging Bull was a piece of guerilla art installed around Christmas in 1989. The artist described it as a reaction to the stock market crash of 1987 and said that it was representative of the strength of the American people and financial market, playing on the term “bull market”. It’s aggressive, and some might say menacing, in appearance. It’s large and solid. The message seemed to be that the American market would move upward, but the ride would be bumpy and investors should always be careful. Shortly after being installed, it was actually impounded by the police and only found a permanent home after public outcry.

But, at some point in the 27+ years since its installation, people’s view of the Bull changed. Instead of being symbolic of the strength of the American spirit, it became a symbol of Wall Street itself and the excesses of the financial industry. What was intended to inspire became a source of revulsion. Intent no longer mattered as focus shifted and attitudes changed. It became the target of our ire. The Bull was now destruction and danger.

That new view of Charging Bull was what Defiant Girl was placed in response to. She would stand bravely in front of the beast of the financial market. This also highlighted the masculinity of the original piece. This could be read multiple ways, though. She’s standing up to a male dominated industry. She’s standing in the way of progress. She’s about to be crushed foolishly. She’s rebuking an uncontrolled beast. All of these are true. All of these are valid.

Of course the internet exploded. Arguments abounded throughout social media and the comment sections of innumerable blog pieces and news articles. Supporters claimed critics were misogynistic. Critics claimed the piece wasn’t “art” because it was commissioned by an investment firm (which is Bullshit to anyone who knows why most of the greatest works of the Renaissance were financed). The most popular interpretation was that it was a symbol of feminine strength opposing masculine domination. I can see it, understand it, and believe in that message. Yet, I found myself troubled.

The questions of ownership of art have been running through my mind. The artist of Charging Bull has been clear on his dislike of the new piece, feeling that it warps the intent of his own. Does that matter? Who gets to decide? The zeitgeist holds the Bull as the symbol of Wall Street, which it associates with greed and corruption. They don’t view it as strength and hope. To them, Defiant Girl is the bravery of women in the face of overwhelming odds. Can these two pieces exist as both of those things? What’s more, does an artist have the right to change another’s work?

Imagine if someone were to put a statue of a young altar boy in front of a statue of Pope John Paul II. He’d have an open mouth and a slightly frightened look in his eyes, facing the pontiff, slightly below, and very close. They title it The Church’s Hidden Victim and say that it symbolizes the victims of abuse by members of the clergy under John Paul’s watch. Just picture it. Here, have a visual aid.

Not hard to imagine. It’s almost like it’s what the sculptor had in mind. Credit to Paweł Kocik via Wikimedia Commons

Is that still representative of hope or piety? I’m thinking it’s not. And I’m still of two minds as to whether or not I’m ok with it.

For now, I’ll be looking at the Bull and the Girl the way I do those images that can be seen as a duck or a rabbit. From one angle it’s hope. From another it’s oppression. Over there it’s defiance. But from right there it’s obstruction.

Personally, I’d have crafted the statue so that she was putting a ring in the bull’s nose to take control of it. But, I’m no artist.

Blog Responsibly

8-simple-rules

I promise this list will not reference John Ritter. Or David Spade.

There are some rules one should follow if they want to throw their thoughts out there on the internet. Simple ones. I’ve been thinking of my personal list as I watch traffic from around the world come in to the post in which I broke mine. This has had Consequences, some that you might consider good and others you might consider bad. Yours might not match my own, but I think these are pretty universal.

  • Don’t hit the publish button immediately — When you finish your masterpiece, whether it’s addressing a subject you’ve been planning to discuss for months or is a reaction piece to something you’ve just seen, heard, or read, wait. While it is best to have someone proofread it for you, if you don’t have anyone available, go back in a few hours and read it over. Odds are very good that you’ll find things to fix.
  • Think about your title — Your title is the first thing people will see if your blog gets linked on social media or someone finds it organically. It’s the big print. It’s what search engines weigh the most heavily when serving results. Don’t be clickbaity. You’re better than that. Even if you aren’t, don’t be clickbaity. Please. Only you can help make the internet a better place.
  • Know that someone will get angry — Be prepared for someone to tell you you’re an idiot. It may be that you framed an argument poorly. It may be that they didn’t read everything you wrote, misread something, or read it on the train and missed an entire paragraph. Your piece may have been framed perfectly and understood, but you’ve managed to attract trolls or otherwise intelligent people who are just wrong. They must be wrong if they disagree with you. The alternative is just crazy talk!
  • Someone will miss the point — The more people that read what you write, the greater the chance that someone is going to miss the point completely. Given enough time and enough content, this will happen. Murphy’s Law ensures that it will be the one you care most about making.
  • You will be horrified — If you publish anything that presents an opinion you will eventually wind up seeing someone disagree with you about something you think any rational human being believes. You could say that Hitler was a bad man. You could say that human beings are fallible. It doesn’t matter. What is worse is when you find someone agreeing with you for the wrong reasons. Somewhere on the internet your post about cute kittens will be getting Likes from neo-Nazis because it includes a picture of a cat with a Hitler mustache.
  • You will learn things you weren’t prepared for — When you’re putting your thoughts out there you’re telling people something about yourself. You may think you have prepared yourself for people to learn more than you intended. Maybe you did. But, the internet is interactive. Particularly if you link your blog via social media, you’re going to get some data you weren’t expecting. Who likes, loves, shares, pins, or reblogs what you’ve had to say will tell you a lot. Comments people make will surprise you. And not always in negative ways. Often it’ll be something inane, like search terms that attract people from Finland.
  • Sometimes you should hold off on a reply — You’ll be tempted to reply to every single comment people make. You’ll want to clarify a point or argue a premise. It can be a trap. If you actually believe in what you’ve said it can lead you into trouble. If you find that someone’s response to your work has made you angry, don’t immediately engage. Waiting a little while before making a response will help you avoid saying something you don’t mean and help you avoid fighting on the internet. No one wins a fight on the internet. It’ll also help you to recognize when you just shouldn’t reply at all. Sometimes it just isn’t worth the fight.
  • Stats can be a trap — Don’t just stare at your site analytics. You can get some interesting data, like the aforementioned interests of Finns, but it can be tempting to get lost in your site stats. A post about a video game got a few hundred hits, one about something in the news didn’t break one hundred, and the one with the clickbaity headline has… holy crap, it’s up to several thousand! I know I said not to use clickbait titles, but wow! I mean, that’s ad revenue traffic. Maybe just one more time.

White Privilege is Bullshit

Me, whenever anyone uses the phrase white privilege, male privilege, straight privilege, or any combination thereof.

Me, whenever anyone uses the phrase white privilege, male privilege, straight privilege, or any combination thereof.

 

Unpopular opinion time! It’s been thrown about a lot recently. The term white privilege, also white male privilege or male privilege, has been just about everywhere. Often, it’s heard as “check your privilege.” As a white male, I hate the phrase. Not because I’m being called out for something I have and am jealously guarding, or because I don’t think that women or individuals of some races experience prejudices I don’t, but because it’s attacking the issues the wrong way.

Words mean things.

From the Oxford Dictionary:

Syllabification: priv·i·lege
Pronunciation: /ˈpriv(ə)lij/
Noun
A special right, advantage, or immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group of people

Beyond just a dictionary definition, though, are the colloquial implications that permeate a word. They don’t necessarily change a word’s meaning, but add connotations that aren’t always intended. In modern American parlance we recognize a difference between a privilege and a right. One is something that is granted conditionally and the other is applied to all. When someone refers to someone as being privileged, the implication is that they’re not only advantaged, but that their advantage is unearned, unfair, or both.

When a woman tells me “check your male privilege” because I don’t have to worry nearly as much about being sexually assaulted, or even just because I don’t have to put up with as many drunk assholes who don’t understand “I don’t want to talk to you”, at a bar, they’re wrong. I don’t have something special, and that’s the implication. That I’m being treated better than I should expect to be. That’s not the case. WOMEN HAVING TO DEAL WITH FEAR OF ASSAULT AND HARASSMENT IS WRONG! (All caps and an exclamation point? That’s some serious stuff right there.) I’m not subject to a privilege, they are being denied a RIGHT.

Police being more likely to use appropriate force against me if I’m arrested isn’t a privilege that I enjoy. It’s a RIGHT that too many black Americans are denied.

A male superior at work listening to my opinion in the workplace isn’t a privilege, but a courtesy that should be extended to everyone at my level. When women’s opinions are ignored because they come from women, that’s the problem.

Too often, what I’m told are privileges being applied to me are rights that others are being denied. The rules are being applied the way they’re supposed to be in one case, but not in another. We’re not competing with each other, so you having a disadvantage isn’t the same thing as me having an advantage. Unless you’re of the opinion that more white people should be shot, men should make less money, or straight individuals should be beaten in the street more often. If so, please get off my blog.

Language is important. I’m gonna’ set up an example here, and hope you’ll stick with me. There’s a foot race, and everyone lines up at the starting line. One person is rich given a head start, allowed to leave the line 5 seconds in front of the rest of the runners. He has an advantage. A privilege. All of the rest of the runners, save one, are told to run at the same time. They start from the same point at the same time. They are your baseline, all with an equal chance to succeed. That person who was held back is allowed to start running 5 seconds after everybody else. That person is suffering a disadvantage. They’re being forced to compete unevenly.

Gay ladies and gents, my ability to walk down a street at night reasonably secure in the knowledge that I won’t be attacked isn’t a privilege, it’s a right. That means that you should be able to do the same! Saying that it’s a privilege implies that I shouldn’t be able to walk down that street by myself. Saying that you’re denied the right to walk down that street implies that the people preventing you from doing so are wrong. Homophobic assholes who let me pass unmolested aren’t doing me a service. When they prey on gay people for their gender preference, THEY ARE THE ONES DOING WRONG. Anyone who disagrees is a shitty human being. Your disadvantage is not my advantage. We aren’t competing.

Here’s where it gets a bit sticky. Activism and rights movements (Rights! Yes! The correct word!). It’s not a fair world, unfortunately. Everybody in that foot race in my example above is just trying their hardest to get to the finish line as fast as they can. That group who started together? The baseline? They probably didn’t even realize that someone got held back and was forced to start later than they were. It isn’t that they’re callous, uncaring, or don’t want that person to have a fair shot. They’re just so wrapped up in their own run, looking at what’s in front of them and trying to keep from being overtaken, that they didn’t even notice when someone was cheated. The person given the head start ahead of them was given special advantage; a privilege. “You all had an advantage!” isn’t the same thing as “I was given a disadvantage!” Don’t demand that the mass of runners be held back to start with you. Demand that you be allowed to start with them. Loudly enough that everyone can hear.

Telling someone they have an advantage makes them want to hold onto it. Saying that someone else is at a disadvantage can make people want to remove it. Yell about it. Scream about it. In 1960 the Greensboro Four didn’t say “Why does that white man get to sit at the lunch counter?” They asked, “Why aren’t we allowed to sit next to him?” If you can’t spot the difference between those two questions, you’re not going to be very effective at bringing problems to peoples’ attention or changing their minds.

Your Music Sucked Too

run_the_world_vs_bohemian_rhapsody-109577

This comparison just doesn’t seem fair somehow.

These kids today, with their hair and their music. It’s all nonsense. Why, back in my day, we had pop music that meant something! Amirite? No deep meaning. Just trash!

No. That statement is wrong. The most popular comparison that I’ve seen pop up on social media has been a comparison of Beyonce’s Run the World and Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody in the form of an image macro, but it’s not the only one. The point of these memes seems to be that pop musicians created better music than those of today. Let’s take off our rosy glasses, shall we?

Freddie Mercury was one of the most incredibly talented artists of the last century and Bohemian Rhapsody is a freaking masterpiece. It was arguably his seminal work. But, let’s not pretend for a second that Queen didn’t release some disposable catchy pop. The man who wrote “Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy?” also wrote “I want to ride my bicycle. I want to ride my bike.” and “Fat bottomed girls you make the rockin’ world go round.”

Not even the holy cows of popular music managed to release nothing but deep meaningful tunes.

  • Paul McCartney wrote “Ob-la-di ob-la-da life goes on bra. La-la how the life goes on.”
  • Madonna had a few, but let’s go with Vogue as an example.
  • Beck’s Loser has been assigned all sorts of deep meaning. It’s mostly nonsense, and the man himself said that if he’d know it would catch on he would have put more work into it.
  • Bob “the-greatest-songwriter-of-the-century” Dylan wrote “Wiggle wiggle wiggle like a bowl of soup. Wiggle wiggle wiggle like a rolling hoop.”

I’m not saying that Ms. Knowles is making great art. I honestly don’t know, because I’m pretty damned unfamiliar with her work past what I hear on the radio in the supermarket or gets put on movie soundtracks. What I am saying is that we (old people) need to put crappy pop music in proper context. My parents panned what I listened to. I’m complaining about what’s popular now.

When I think back about music when I was a teen I remember the good stuff. What gets play on the classic rock station and the oldies station is not at all representative of what got played 20, 30, or 40 years ago. It’s the stuff that didn’t suck. While I was listening to Pearl Jam’s Dissident, Ace of Bass was topping the charts. And I’ll admit that I didn’t change the station when All That She Wants came on.

Let’s be honest, y’all. We listened to some crap. I’m gonna’ go hit play on some Milli Vanilli now.

The Thin White Peasant

That’s something I’ve thought of myself, when people have compared my appearance to that of David Bowie.

Over the past few days there’s been an absolutely huge amount of conversation about Mr. Bowie. I won’t engage in some sort of revisionist history saying that I was his biggest fan. I grew up with his hits playing on the radio, but didn’t really appreciate his deeper catalog until I was in my twenties. Even then, I wasn’t much more than a casual fan of his music. I was, however, a fan of the man himself.

People have been sharing his music and talking about what he meant to them. About how much his music meant, his incredible sense of style, and how much he changed the industries he touched. I’m going to say something a lot of people probably won’t appreciate. Unless you knew him personally, David Bowie had a greater effect on my life than he did yours.

Put down the pitchforks, torches, and rotten fruit. Please. I know people whose music was inspired by his. That’s amazing. I know people who identify as various flavors of queer who have said Bowie’s lack of concern for public opinion gave them the courage to come out of the closet. That’s touching and wonderful. I know people who can tell me there’s an album or song that gave them hope in a dark time, or that they associate with happy moments. That’s remarkable.

What could he have done to possibly compare to any of those things?

David Bowie got me laid.

I was a weird, skinny, androgynous, geeky blonde kid with bad teeth (who grew up to be a weird, skinny, androgynous, geeky blonde man with bad teeth). The Thin White Duke wasn’t just accepted for his talent like a lot of other artists. He was not Lyle Lovett who caught Julia Roberts for a minute or Billy Joel getting Christie Brinkley with poetry. Nor was he simply an object of desire for those who idolized fame. This man was a Sex God. A man who could, and by all reports pretty much did, fuck anyone he wanted to. He was an object of desire to men, women, and everything in between.

He married Iman, for God’s sake. Iman!

In a world where Brad Pitt was considered the sexiest man alive and the weird girls were fantasizing about Johnny Depp, Bowie was a shining star to a scrawny dork like me. Every time someone told me I looked like Bowie, and I suppose there’s a resemblance, I was shocked. Here was a sex symbol that looked like me. That absolutely blew me away.

And thanks to growing up in a time when an awful lot of the girls my age listed the Goblin King among their first crushes I had a real shot with them!

Thank you, David, for making a slight frame and prominent cheekbones traits that could actually be sexy. And thank you for your incredible variation in styles over the years. I put on eyeliner before the emo kids inspired the term guyliner, and I certainly wasn’t going for a Robert Smith look. Tight shirts and combat boots or a suit with brogues or something that went more than a bit further to the effeminate than the androgynous, any of them were fair game because you got there first.

Thank you for showing me that I could be a weirdo and be wanted. That I could check out that guy’s ass without being a twinky queen. I could ask that girl to dance. I could ask that guy to dance. I could ask both of them to dance and it didn’t matter if they were black, white, Asian, or other. I could tell people what I thought — challenge their ideas — without being combative about it. I could laugh at myself. I could simultaneously be the guy that banged Slash’s mom and starred in a beloved children’s movie. I could try new things and didn’t have to define myself by what I did yesterday. I could be someone new tomorrow. I didn’t have to define myself at all! And I could challenge anyone who tried.  You were David Jones, Tom Jones, David Bowie, Ziggy Stardust, Aladdin Sane, the Thin White Duke, the Man Who Fell to Earth, the glam rocker, the goblin king… You were all of those people, but not any single one of them. Someone who made a lot of mistakes who did some good things and some bad — a human being.

Thank you. You proved to me that a lanky blonde weirdo could have sex with Iman. You were a goddamned hero.  If not for that alone, then for influencing my wife’s tastes enough to give me a shot with her.

Echo-Echo-Echo-Echo-EchOHGOD!

The internet’s ability to connect people has further polarized our culture instead of knitting it together. People with different opinions become opponents to our views instead of opportunities to understand someone’s views. Anonymity eats empathy and leaves behind nothing but contempt.
Though I don’t blame those who do so, I don’t block the people in my social feeds who hold to views I disagree with, or even find offensive. If anything, I probably pay more attention. Not because I agree with them, or want to in any way, but because I want to understand. As tempting as it may be at times to call somebody who believes in abstinence education a fucking idiot, to verbally eviscerate someone who thinks that Muslims are all terrorists, or to just tear into the toolbag who thinks that people shouldn’t be allowed to use language that they find offensive, I try to understand where they’re coming from. I think about how I’d react if they were standing in front of me, instead of in front of a different screen connected by some wires and servers.
I’ve learned a lot. The abstinence-only proselytizer likely grew up in an environment where that was the only option and told that those with a differing viewpoint were evil, whether they knew it or not. The Anti-Muslim crusader most likely comes from a place where they don’t interact with any, or at least have never had a meaningful conversation with one, and have only seen them when they make the news. The language police have most often been the victims of some hateful shit and are trying to keep others from being hurt as they have been.
Are they right? I don’t think so. But, neither of us will grow if we don’t interact civilly, and it’s impossible to do that if we’re not willing to consider WHY someone holds their views and accept that they may be valid reactions BASED UPON THEIR PERSONAL EXPERIENCES. We’ll just keep yelling into our own echo chambers and hear variations of our own voices come back at us forever.
Daryl Davis is a personal hero. He’s a black man who owns a closetful of Ku Klux Klan robes that he’s been handed by former members. He was given them by men he sat down and talked to, who he listened to, and who he gave the opportunity to talk with him. Mister Davis isn’t Ghandi, but he didn’t react the way we’re all trained to, and I don’t think he could’ve done it communicating on the internet. He had to be able to look those men in the eye to remove that sense of Other so they could see him as a human being. What he’s repeatedly said was that the men he’d talked to had never sat down and actually spoken with a black man before.
You don’t have to agree with someone’s opposing viewpoint, or even respect it, but disrespecting the individual who holds it and cutting yourself off from them will only hurt you both. The racist becomes more racist when they’re greeted with hurled insults and bottles. When an atheist attacks a Christian’s faith instead of discussing it, you’re just reinforcing their view that you’re hateful. When a white man says #blacklivesmatter is racist, he’s not being petty, he’s being thoughtless. When a black woman says that #alllivesmatter is stupid, she’s being defensive, not dismissive.
Our viewpoints are informed by our experiences and how we relate to what we see and are told. For example, when Eric Garner’s death made the news nearly everyone I knew cried out that he was attacked as he was because of his race. The first time I saw it, I thought it was because of his size. Black Americans have experienced people looking at them askance and seen mistreatment of people like them. When I was a kid I was told that I’d always have to be careful around cops because I’d make them nervous. Though I’ve turned out to be a damned skinny dude, I’ve found it to be true that cops and bouncers watch me and if there’s trouble I’m the first one grabbed, whether I’m involved or not. But, I didn’t tell anyone who said Garner’s treatment was racially motivated that they were a fucking idiot because my personal experience said it wasn’t (though I was nearly crucified for suggesting it might not be). I listened and read and made attempts to understand the reasoning behind people’s beliefs.
Don’t engage in the craziness, but don’t cut yourself off from what you think are crazy beliefs. There are truly crazy and stupid people out there, but if you listen to most folks you’ll find they aren’t. John Doe who’s voting for Donald is an individual who has reasons he thinks are valid. He’s not a mindless construction of the Far Right, no matter how much you may feel he is. If you can keep yourself from belittling or insulting him for long enough you might figure out how he reached his conclusions. And if you can do that, you might — just might — be able to change his mind.
Who would be down for funding a cultural exchange program? We create groups of 2-4 individuals from disparate backgrounds; rich, poor, right, left, black, white, yellow, red, green-if-we-can-find-some, southern, yankee, midwestern, left coast, Muslim, Christian, Buddhist, Shinto, atheist… All of ’em. We then force them to sit down for 2 hours and drink coffee. We hook up electrical probes to them, and anyone who raises their voice to a yell gets shocked. If any one of those people goes home to their insular group and teaches them something, I think it’d be worth a pretty hefty sum.

How Much Do You Think About Sitting?

I mean, nobody really thinks about sitting down. It’s just a thing that we have to do. But, I probably put more thought into it than you do. Waaaaay back in my second post to this blog I promised I’d talk more about why it freaking sucks to be tall. So, here it is. This is the one. Hope you’re ready for it.

The venerable C. Montgomery Burns once said “From the lowliest peasant to the mightest pharoah, who does not enjoy a good sit?” Everybody loves to sit down. I mean, it’s the simplest thing in the world. Plant ass in chair. What’s there to think about?

When was the last time you went to the theatre? I’m talking Broadway here. For $100 (the cheap seats) I get to squeeze myself into a seat that is so close to the one in front of me I can’t put my feet on the floor. I wedge my knees against the next row’s seat, and just kind’ve let my feet dangle a few inches off the floor. By the time the intermission comes around I’ve pretty much lost feeling in my toes. If it’s a long show there’s a real possibility my feet will be asleep. While there are very few people who would say that theatre seats are comfortable most people won’t have their movement impeded for a short period after they stand up.

Cinema (ooh, cinema, I’m fancy) seating isn’t much better. Until recently, the stadium seating in most movie theaters was fantastic for me, and the rest of the very tall. You just made sure you got there in time to grab those front seats on the tiered section. You know the ones. Not at the front of the theater, but the bottom tier, with the bar in front that was divided from the floor seats by the walkway. Yeah, you know what I’m talking about.

Anyway, those seats were freaking sweet for giants. You could stretch your legs out without kicking anybody and thanks to the people behind also being above there was no self-consciousness about blocking somebody’s view! Unfortunately, it seems that layout is going away. What it’s being replaced with is a traditional incline floor plan with recliners.

Let’s talk about recliners for a sec here. Recliners are the king of comfy chairs. For normal people. For long people, they’re just another disappointment and reminder of our freakish proportions. Two things interfere with our full appreciation. The first is the height of the chair back. When the average person reclines their head rests near the top of the chair’s back. When someone above a certain height, usually around 6’3″, lays back, their head is too far back and they find themselves looking at the back of the theater. Upside down. It’s not comfortable. We can’t just scoot down, though. That’s because of the second barrier between us and maximum comfy. The leg rests are meant to be pushed down, so they can bear the weight of an average set of legs. Regardless of actual weight, though, physics and leverage can interfere with the intended function. You see, the further past the end of the footrest one’s legs hang, the greater the effective weight on the footrest. I’m a very skinny guy, but if I stretch my legs out on most reclining chairs the footrest immediately sinks. The further I scoot down so that my head isn’t hanging off the chair the more my legs do which drops the footrest and raises my head. I have a choice between lying on my side and half-curling up or leaving myself in a position between upright and reclined that offers the comforts of neither.

That’s sitting we pay for. But what about the sitting we get paid for? Do you think that’s better? No. No, it is not. Office chairs are notoriously uncomfortable. It’s a simple fact of life. But, some of us are lucky enough to work for a company that cares about its employees to make an effort toward seeing that they don’t suffer serious spinal injuries. These angelic employers will purchase more expensive chairs with a magical feature: lumbar support. Fuck lumbar support chairs. Fuck them so hard.

These chairs are designed to fit the contours of a person’s back. Another unfortunate side effect of being tall is that the curve of one’s back doesn’t usually start where most people’s would. It’s a bit higher. So, instead of a comforting support in the curve of our lower backs we get a mound pressing into that spot where your hips meet your back, pushing our pelvises forward while we sit. The only way to get comfortable is to, again, scoot down in the chair, but that is not really a good position to maintain for an 8-hour workday. You’ll find a lot of tall folk will opt for a straight-backed chair when working at a desk.

And oh boy, that desk. The first thing we do when sitting down to get to work is raise the chair to its maximum height so that we can get as close as possible to the standard 90 bend in our knees while we’re sitting. You’ll find a lot of people over 6’5 or so will have a shallower angle because the chairs don’t go that high, but close enough. Now, we can’t fit our legs under your desk. If we can, it’s by the barest margin. And the bottoms of  most desks aren’t empty planes, especially on the cubicle-farm type. They have support struts. Upon taking a new desk it usually requires about 3-4 good slams of a kneecap against a metal bar to imprint exactly where they’re located on this particular desk.

This doesn’t even touch on the height of the actual work surface. Taller folk are usually hunched over their desks when writing and their computer monitors are raised up using whatever’s at hand. If you walk through an empty office and see a cubicle with a monitor perched precariously on an old pizza box and 2 phone books from 1998 you’ve located the office giant’s lair. Tread softly.

I’ve limited today’s entry to a few pertinent examples. I haven’t covered transportation or the toilet yet, so look forward to that!

The Myth of the Citizen-Statesman Pt 1

One of the things I was taught starting in elementary school was that the founding fathers of the United States broke from England seeking freedom and a desire to see the Americas ruled democratically, with the people represented by a vote. Anyone would be able to run for office and could be chosen to represent their peers. As I got older, of course I learned about the inherent prejudices and injustices of the time.

I’ll be talking about our actual constitution itself here and its context at the time, as opposed to what we’ve come to think of it. A mythology has sprung up around it, with its writers being granted near-divinity. While it is a wonderfully written one, it remains simply a document put on parchment and its framers were only human. They were not infallible, they were not necessarily altruistic, and in some cases were self-serving.

We are not, in any way, living in the nation that the founding fathers envisioned. In some ways this is good and in others bad, but the simple idea that we should make their intentions our primary concern when deciding law or policy is foolish.

The Right to Vote

There isn’t even any mention of an individual’s voting rights in the Constitution until the addition of the fourteenth amendment in 1868. Previous to that point, the only mention of how voting would take place was in reference to the electoral college in the twelfth. Everything else was left up to the individual states.

Some voting laws can be understood. Age restrictions were put in place to help ensure that people choosing their leaders were mature enough to weigh the decision. A literacy requirement, in historical context, was meant to keep the process accessible to those who could be informed of the issues in a time before radio and television (this is a “benefit of the doubt” view, as the laws were terribly misused later). A requirement that a voter be a citizen made, and still makes, sense. Then, there are the other laws.

Black men weren’t guaranteed the right to vote by federal law for nearly a century after the ratification of the Bill of Rights, though some states did provide the right on their own. Women did not receive federal protections for their voting rights until 1920, though again there were already some states and territories that recognized women’s votes. Asians, Mexicans, and native Americans didn’t get the right to vote until years later, with Japanese immigrants being the last to be specifically provided the rights of citizenship in 1952 and all naturalized immigrants from Mexico getting to vote in 1975.

I learned about all of those things during my schooling, even if some were only presented as a footnote. Do you know what I didn’t learn until I did my own research? Citizenship and voting rights were tied to property ownership. It took 44 years for the ownership of land to be removed at the federal level as a requirement for the vote. However, the requirement was not barred at the local level.

It’s barely been 50 years since poll taxes were forbidden in the Constitution, and fewer since a federal law was put in place that banned literacy tests. Though neither expressly forbids the requirement of property ownership as a pass to vote, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 effectively barred it by assumption.

Why Does This Matter?

Americans are raised being told that at the root of our system of government is our inalienable right to vote. “No taxation without representation!” was the rallying cry of the American Revolution and every citizen deserved to be heard. We’re told that our system of government was designed of the people, for the people, and by the people.

I submit the above as evidence that that has never, ever been true. It began with only the wealthy being enfranchised. In today’s terms, that means approximately 30% of Americans could not cast a vote based on property ownership. No one you know who is a renter would be heard.

The Continental Congress was made up of old rich white men and they framed a system of government that they could control through voting rights.

  1. Old – one had to be at least 21 years of age to vote. At the time the life expectancy was not yet 40 years. I feel it is important to note that the minimum age for impressment or conscription at the time was sixteen.
  2. Rich – only the owners of property could cast a vote.
  3. White – only white people could vote. Asians, native Americans, and free blacks received no protection of that right under federal law.
  4. Men – if you didn’t have a penis you did not choose your representation.

These truths are self evident. While it had been written that all men were afforded the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, only the wealthy ones were allowed to vote on what those things meant. Instead of nobility, our new nation was ruled by a wealthy elite. The argument that the Congress did not wish to infringe on states’ rights to govern themselves rings hollow when one considers that the first amendment provides the right of all citizens to “petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” So, the poor were allowed to ask, but the rich were allowed to tell.

I’d like to say that there are innumerable individuals with more knowledge than I on this subject. I claim no expertise on state or federal law or precedent, and this is based entirely on my interpretation of the little I am familiar with.
*http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/charters/constitution_transcript.html The Constitution of the United States. I nearly didn’t link this, because it can be found so easily. Personally, I have it on my phone.
*http://archive.fairvote.org/righttovote/timeline.htm my primary source for changes to voters’ rights, outside of those in the US Constitution.
*I was unable to locate a solid source confirming the age of conscription/impressment during the Revolutionary War. I found a few references to fifteen-year-olds fighting and being eligible to join the Continental Army, but most stated sixteen.