A Travellerspoint blog

What's Wrong is Wrong... Right?

Common conservative opinion on social issues is remarkably inconsistent.

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You may have heard in the news recently that Ohio Senator Rob Portman made a public statement in favor of legalizing gay marriage. in the past, Senator Portman has voted to amend the Constitution to ban same-sex marriage, and to prohibit adoptions by gay couples in Washington, D.C., not surprising since that is the general Republican stance. What is surprising, though, is that last Friday, Portman publicly came out (no pun intended) in favor of gay marriage. His 'change of heart' sprung from his own son, Will Portman (21-year-old Yale student) coming out as homosexual in 2011. It clearly took some time, but now that Rob's own son is affected by laws governing the civil rights of LGBT Americans, Rob Portman sees things differently.

Naturally, Portman was praised by many on the Left, who see this not only as a turning point, the first of many changes of viewpoint among members of the Right. However, Portman was also sharply criticized by members of both parties. I'm very interested in one Right-wing critique in particular, and what it reveals about the conservative mentality. That critique was by Andrea Lafferty, president of the Traditional Values Coalition, and it's a perfect example that what liberals consider to be rigidity or stubbornness is actually complete consistency of belief. But, as we will see, that doesn't mean it's right.

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Lafferty's response to Portman can be read in its entirely here, but below is just a snippet:

"These past few days have been very painful ones for me.
Earlier this week one of my children came to me and told me something which was shocking.
He is a drunk driver and has been driving drunk regularly since college.
I have taken several days to reflect on this and I have decided to reverse my earlier opposition to drunk driving.
My child is a drunk driver and I love him. It is a part of his identity, who he is...
...Therefore, today I am reversing my opposition to drunk driving. My child has caused me to revisit a decision which, up until now, had been based simply on morality.
My child is a drunk driver. That has personalized the issue for me and taken me above the whole discussion of the morality of it. It is now personal with me..."

Liberals couldn't believe the lack of empathy from an individual within a tradition supposedly exhibiting compassion as modeled by Jesus Christ (not that the Bible records Jesus Christ ever coming into contact with a homosexual. I really wish he had so that conservatives wouldn't have to guess incorrectly about how he would have reacted). Other conservative commentators have used the example of beastiality in the place of drunk driving to prove the same point: If something is wrong, it is wrong when even your son does it. You son doing it doesn't make it right. If something is truly immoral, lots of people believing it doesn't make it right, either. This view is actually admirable, and liberals would do well to make an effort to understand it better. In fact, the satire by Lafferty was way too easy (Portman had it coming eventually) and the metaphor very effectively demonstrated her point.

The problem is that Lafferty's belief is wrong. I have no doubt that the current conservative opinion about homosexuality will one day be completely reconciled biblically among Christians, and not by saying that the Bible is wrong (that would be impossible), but that Christians' interpretation of scripture was wrong, the age-old excuse for changing beliefs while pretending you haven't at all. This has happened countless times in the past: the easiest and most recent examples are women's and blacks' rights. Let's try to remember that slavery was brought up way more in the Bible than homosexuality is, but we've managed to reconcile that one. Frankly, I only wish more conservative public figures would "stand for their beliefs" like Lafferty. This would further expose conservatives for how extreme they really are.

If you, reader, change your opinion about homosexuality (as I have done, by the way), don't do it because your brother/sister/friend/mother came out of the closet. Do it because every gay person in the world is somebody's brother/sister/friend/mother. This is not a crazy liberal concept or fad that will pass. This is the future. This is social progress. Christian "traditional values" have been wrong about countless social issues in the past, and they are wrong about this one.

Let me use another example. During the absolute chaos that surrounded the political election at the end of last year, Mitt Romney took the stance of what I consider to be the current, official Right-wing stance on abortion, which is that abortion is okay in cases of rape, but in every other case should not be allowed. Conservatives who believe that abortion is never okay are scrutinized, even by a majority of the Right and considered "extreme", right up there with conservatives who don't believe in contraception. However, I don't believe that Mitt Romney actually believes that abortion is okay in cases of rape. It is absolutely inconsistent with the conservative viewpoint, and here's why:

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The reason why Conservative Christians think abortion should be illegal is not just because it's wrong; it's deeper than that: why is it wrong? It's wrong because everything happens for a reason. It was the will of God for that child to be conceived, and it is God's choice and God's choice alone which babies get to be born, and which don't. I think up to this point, nearly every conservative Christian would agree with this. It logically follows, then, that if babies are conceived because it is God's will, then babies conceived because of even horrible events such as rape were meant to be born, and we shouldn't mess with God's plan. Think about it: if we are allowed to interfere with God in cases of rape, what other cases are we allowed to interfere with? What if a woman in a marital relationship uses birth control correctly, but it failed and she became pregnant? In this circumstance, like in the case of rape, the woman was doing nothing wrong by Christian standards (no premarital sex, no irresponsibility with contraception), and still got pregnant. Surely God didn't mean that one, either, did he? You see, we're either allowed to interfere with "God's plan", or we're not. Which is it?

That said, I do not believe everything happens for a reason. And I certainly don't believe that women who become pregnant as a result of rape are in "God's plan." I thought everyone already knew that science allows us to stop making up mystical stories about how anatomical events happen, but just in case: women get pregnant because they (whether by choice or by force) have unprotected sex while they are ovulating, so an eggs that has been released into the fallopian tube is available to be fertilized by the sperm. This is how women get pregnant. Not because God makes them pregnant like he supposedly did with the Virgin Mary. Rape doesn't happen for a reason. It happens for no reason, because there are sick people in the world that would do such a thing. Sometimes it's a better option for women to terminate that pregnancy. Of course, her reasons are no business of yours or mine, but the business only of the pregnant woman.

If you happen to believe that women do get pregnant because it is God's will, then you, too, should (and probably do, no matter what you tell people) believe that even raped women should not be allowed to have an abortion. The fact that Mitt Romney and others believe, or pretend to believe otherwise only 1) leads the public to believe that conservative Christians are less ruthless and extreme than they actually are, and 2) blinds conservative Christians from the absurdity of their own fundamental Biblical belief that governs this social issue.

Conservatives, and especially the ones who have the power to vote bills into laws that affect our rights, you need to take a close look at what you believe, because it's not compassion that you are preaching. Your "traditional values" affect real people, and your beliefs exposed in the proper light are evil and bigoted. Hindsight is 20/20. When the birth control pill was first invented, it was opposed by mainstream Christianity (as it still is in strict Catholicism and some sects of Christianity) as it allowed women to "play God" and choose when they wanted to have kids, instead of letting God choose. (It also allowed women to have pre-marital sex with none of the consequences "God intended", which Christians couldn't stand.) Today, most Christians concede that the Pill is a great and effective way to plan a family and limit unwanted pregnancies. Thousands of American Christians died believing that slavery of African peoples was the will of God (after all, the Bible says slavery is okay!), and that their belief would one day be vindicated. But was it? We now know that those people were using the Bible to support their bigotry. Please don't make the same mistake.

Posted by aewickham 11:26 Comments (0)

"Love the Way You Lie"

Domestic Abuse in Pop Culture

I can't say I had ever given much thought to domestic abuse before I heard the song "I Love the Way You Lie." If I was honest with myself, though, I really thought that it was all very simple: these women were with men who hurt them. Yes, the men were assholes. But in most cases, it was not altogether impossible for the women to get out of that relationship, and yet they chose to stay, sometimes even endangering children, the latter of whom have no choice in the matter. It was a terrible situation, but the choice seemed easy to me: don't date assholes, and if you do by accident, get out of that relationship as soon as you possibly can.

I remember when this song, "Love the Way You Lie" came out the summer of 2010. I even remember when I first heard it on the radio, and it caught my attention immediately. The chorus was absolutely haunting: a woman singing about her own hopeless destruction, and how that destruction is the very thing upon which she thrives. Like a drug, she's addicted to the pain that she almost can't decipher from love:

"Just gonna stand there and watch me burn
But that's alright, because I liked the way it hurts...
I love the way you lie."

The verses of the song are from her partner's point of view. The thing I didn't expect was to see that, in a seriously twisted way, the two really loved each other:

"Have you ever loved somebody so much, you can barely breathe when you're with them?
You meet, and neither one of you even knows what hit 'em."

And, contrary to what I grew up believing (and as you can see in the video), it takes two to tango. Both people in the relationship thrive on the conflict and abuse. Both people are the abused, and both people abusers. Every time they hurt each other, they promise each other and themselves that it won't happen again, but it does.

"We fall back into the same pattern, same routine,
but your temper's just as bad as mine is, your'e the same as me
When it comes to love, you're just as blinded...
Maybe that's what happens when a tornado hits a volcano
All I know is I love you too much to walk away"

Women are often threatened, like near the end of the song, that trying to leave will result in worse abuse to the women or their children. Then comes the scarring damage to self-esteem, especially in women, who are ashamed of such a twisted relationship, ashamed that they have put themselves (and perhaps their children) through so much for staying with this person. At that point, she thinks, "I am damaged, and I am worthless. No one else would want me, anyway. He is the only one who can truly understand me."

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Throughout the video, the imagery of fire is used to represent the destruction caused by abuse in the relationship, but it also represents passion: an an all-consuming love/hate for one another. It starts as a small flame, and it's irresistible to each of them: they almost can't help themselves. But in the end, it destroys everything.

To me, this song is nothing short of a piece of art. Eminem is an incredible writer (come on, who else can successfully rhyme "nintendo game" with "window pane"?), and this 5-minute song singlehandedly changed the way I think about domestic abuse. All that time, I was judging women that I didn't even know, for being in a situation I know nothing about and had never been in myself. My only political belief about domestic abuse as a result is to do what I can to help these women, no questions asked.

In 2011, Rihanna came out with another song, "We Found Love." For some reason, this song, too, absolutely hypnotized me. I couldn't stop listening to it, and I couldn't get it off my mind. When you listen to the song, it sounds somewhat hopeful, a song about finding love in unlikely places. But when I saw the video, I was astounded.

WARNING: This video contains some disturbing images, including drug abuse.

The chorus is simply, "We found love in a hopeless place," and the video shows just what kind of a "hopeless place" the song is talking about. It isn't a pretty picture to say the least.

Like the couple in "Love the Way You Lie, the couple in this music video is disturbing: again we see a man and a woman in a tragic downward spiral, driven by self-destruction. they thrive on hurting themselves using alcohol, drugs, each other.

Fire imagery is also used in this video to symbolize self-inflicted pain. Catching things on fire provides a feeling of satisfaction, of power. think about it: with one little flame, how much can you potentially destroy? The "smoking joint" imagery in this video also represents how good it feels to the couple to hurt themselves: just like the burning joint, whatever you have to offer turns to ashes, to nothing. Whether it's drug abuse, a bad relationship, being an alcoholic, you know that what you're doing is bad for you, but you don't give a shit. Smoking cigarettes, emotional attachment to food that can lead to obesity and other health problems, or anorexia and bulimia. Whatever it is, it makes you feel like you're in control, and you can do whatever you want with your body. and it makes you feel good... until you aren't the one in control anymore.

All of this has new meaning this week when Rihanna is reported to have gotten back together with her abusive ex-boyfriend, famous singer Chris Brown. Leaked photos came out a couple of years ago of Rihanna's face beaten to a bloody pulp by Brown.

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In response to critics saying that Rihanna is a terrible role model for going back to her abusive boyfriend, Rihanna came out with her latest hit, called "Nobody's Business", featuring none other than Chris Brown. You can imagine, I'm sure:

"I sing it to the world...
It ain't nobody's business,
just mine and my baby's"

In Sweden, an unidentified activist group has expressed their disapproval recently of Brown by posting the picture of battered Rihanna over pictures of Brown on posters around the city of Stockholm advertising Chris Brown's upcoming concert.

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All this has put domestic abuse in the public conversation more than it has ever been before. It's clear that Rihanna is the woman in "I Love the Way You Lie." She is the woman in "We Found Love." I'm grieved by Rihanna's decision, not because she's famous or because I'm a fan, but because every woman deserves better. I'm sorry that she, like thousands of other women, have chosen to be with a man who doesn't respect her, but hurts her and perpetuates her cycle of self-inflicted pain.

In "Love the Way You Lie", Eminem uses some vivid metaphors to describe how someone in an abusive relationship might feel:

"[It's like] there's a steel knife in my windpipe,
I can't breathe but I still fight...
as long as the wrong feels right, it's like I'm in flight
High off of love, drunk on my hate,
it's like I'm huffing paint and I love it the more I suffer, I suffocate,
But right before I'm about to drown she resuscitates me..."

Even if it's in a very small way, we can all relate to the urge to do things that are not good for our bodies and minds and spirits. Fire is an incredibly powerful thing: If you look for it, you can see the ashes of others all around you. Do whatever you have to do to resist that urge in yourself and, lovingly, to help those around you do the same.

Posted by aewickham 10:08 Comments (0)

Radio Nostalgia

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I've always had a kind of unnatural love for the Top 40. When I was really young, I got my very own radio for Christmas, and thus began my love affair. This was long before CDs, and one of the first things I fell in love with about radio was the feeling I got when my favorite song of the moment came on the radio. Like most people at that time (in the dark ages - ie- the early 90s), it wasn't likely that I had the song on a tape, and there was no YouTube, so when it came on the radio, that was my chance to hear it. I would hate it when I turned on the radio and it was at the very end of a song I liked, but on those days when I turned on the radio and my favorite song came on directly afterward, it felt like the world was on my side. I'd sometimes hear a song that I like several times before I knew the name of it or what artist performed it, and for a couple of weeks, it would just be a mystery: "I don't know what it's called, but I've got to hear that amazing song again."

When I was a little older, I got a CD player. My very first CD was Mariah Carey's album, Music Box. I liked this CD because my best friend's older sister always listened to it, and I looked up to her. Me and my best friend, Cami, would have singing contests to the song "Hero". That album taught me how to sing. I must have been 7 or 8. I later sang "Hero" at my elementary school talent show. To this day, I still have every word, every note, every nuance of that entire album memorized. For awhile it was the only CD I owned, and I listened to it and sang along at the top of my lungs until the CD barely worked anymore.

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Back then, the reason I bought CDs was because I was absolutely obsessed with one song. A lot of those songs were the theme songs from movies. Among my first CDs were the soundtracks to the movies "That Thing You Do!" and "The Preacher's Wife" and "Grease", the movie. But with no iTunes, if you wanted a song, you bought the whole album and learned to like the rest of the songs on it. I bought the soundtrack to "The Prince Of Egypt" because of the Mariah Carey/Whitney Houston duet, "When You Believe" that I was obsessed with. Before I got the CD, I had to listen to the same 30-second clip over and over again that I had found on the nascent internet. If I got a new CD, and the lyrics weren't printed in the CD sleeve, I would spend hours listening to the track little by little and write down the words on a pad of paper so I could memorize them and sing along. Over several years, I developed quite a CD collection as well as a special connection with each song on every album I owned.

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But I still loved radio. When I turned 16, I didn't have a CD or cassette player in my car for a year, just a radio. The songs that were popular on the radio that year I will know intimately for the rest of my life. I remember the first time I heard the song "This Love" by Maroon 5: I'd never heard anything like it, and it mesmerized me. I bought the CD and couldn't get enough of it for months. To this day, I still find that song incredibly catchy and original. I had the same feeling the first time I heard "Maps" by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and "100 Years" by Five For Fighting. I associate all these songs with the year I was 16: the year I got my first car and gained so much freedom, the year I first fell in love. I remember listening to all these songs in my car while I raced home with the windows down to make curfew. I felt like I owned the city.

Another great thing about radio music is that it was so universal. You don't have to pay a monthly fee or subscribe, radio just lived in the air. Anybody could access it, and everybody did. Everyone knew the Top 40 hits. And those songs were about being in love, being brokenhearted; having fun with your friends, being free, or growing up. Things to which everyone could relate, no matter what your background. It brought people together.

But over the last several years, I've noticed the passion I once had for popular music has waned: I noticed that I rarely loved any song the way that I used to love so many. I don't get excited about songs much anymore, because on YouTube and Spotify, I can listen to anything on demand. I don't have to hunt down the CD at the store, and listen to songs little by little for hours, writing down all the words and letting that recording become a part of me. I don't have to wonder what that song is called or who sings it; I just type it into google and the mystery is solved. I used to go through music so slowly. but now I shuffle through music so quickly that I barely pay it any attention before I move onto something else. I haven't "worn out a CD", figuratively speaking, in ages.

Neither do people all listen to the same thing anymore. With satellite radio and mp3s, traditional radio is nearly obsolete. You don't have to listen to the same 40 songs as everyone else. You can listen to your niche music, whatever small portion of the spectrum suits you best. But as a result, the so-called "mainstream" is shrinking. There's no longer a small body of music that everyone listens to, that we all have in common.

I know that things have gotten better and easier, and now we can keep our whole music library with us in our pockets and listen to music we want to listen to, and that many people's tastes weren't paid attention by mainstream radio. And even simple things we used to do, like scour the city for the CD we're looking for, seem laborious now. But these days, I still love pop music, and I still listen to the radio most of the time in my car even though I could listen to virtually anything I want. The radio makes me feel connected to other people who are listening to the same thing as me at the exact same time. and it makes me feel connected to my past.

I know that things will never be the same, and that's ok: I guess music is becoming more and more accessible. Somehow I hope to learn to fall in love with songs that way again. but until then, I sometimes close my eyes and imagine that I'm back there again having singing contests with my best friend or discovering a beautiful song in a movie or on the radio and not being able to get it off my mind until I found it and it became a part of me.

Posted by aewickham 13:17 Comments (1)

A New Chapter. Again.

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You may know that I'm finally back from South America. but you may not know my latest: this fall, I will be starting my masters degree in Musicology at the University of Arizona. In fact, I write today Tucson, my new home! I'm really looking forward to staying put in the country for awhile, getting back to school, and getting to know a new city where it's sunny and warm year round!

Since I won't be traveling much for awhile, I doubt if I'll be updating this blog as regularly as I have been for the last couple of years. but who knows? Remember, "The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes."

Posted by aewickham 19:29 Comments (0)

America, America.

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Since returning about a month ago from my trip around South America, I have kind of a love/hate relationship with the US of A. As I've written about previously, I try to defend my home country and government when people who don't understand it very well criticize it. But what about people from my own country?

I recently read an article, called 10 Things Most Americans Don't Know About America. At first I thought the article was going to be a list of fun facts about America. Like, "Did you know? Our country's real independence day was July 3rd!" and stuff like that. I was taken aback, then, when I read on and realized that the author who, like me, has lived in and traveled to several continents, took it upon himself to "tell it like it is" and let Americans know that their country isn't as awesome as they think it is, and if that wasn't bad enough, to highlight some of our most unflattering cultural and social tendencies.

When just a few years ago, I would have read this and said, "right on!", I found myself saying aloud, "who does this guy think he is?"

But before I explain why much of the article isn't true, there were a few things that he's got right.

Well, America's not perfect...

First, he's right that not everyone hates us. As I've said time and again in my blog, I meet tons of people when traveling that are not repulsed by my nationality, as many people think happens when Americans meet people of other nationalities abroad. Secondly, I must agree that Americans in general really should start learning more about the rest of the world. It's not that I think every country can and should learn about every other country in the world. It's that our government has its hand in the governments of many different countries, and we Americans have the opportunity to vote on many of the decisions our powerful country makes. This makes it not only beneficial, but our responsibility to know the issues, and learn where Iraq is on a map.

In addition, like this author, I have experienced the ease and joy of socialized healthcare. In Ecuador, Drew and I visited the emergency room FOR FREE. In other countries, I have visited the doctor for only 3 or 4 dollars, and without utilizing any type of medical insurance. Since I was working in South Korea, I had government healthcare, which was amazing. I could walk in at the doctor without an appointment, and pay a bill of about $3. I paid about $5 for my prescription drugs. (you can refresh your memory of South Korean healthcare here!) Many Americans don't even realize how poor our healthcare is by comparison to other countries. But that's another blog for another time.

...but neither is anywhere else.

But, as my recent trip has brought my attention to, there were a few things I think that I believe the author overlooked about his country and others.

My biggest criticism is that America does have something valuable that most other countries don't have: acceptance. In most of Asia, including South Korea, as well as many countries in Latin America, it is not socially acceptable to be openly homosexual. millions of people around the world, as I write this, hide who they really are from even their closest family and friends because their society chooses not to acknowledge that homosexuality even exists. Also, the right for women to decide how to proceed with an unplanned pregnancy does not exist in most of Latin America or Asia. Abortion is illegal in many countries worldwide, and as a result, women who were raped or in an otherwise desperate situation risk their lives by attempting to terminate a pregnancy themselves. At least in America, women have the right to choose. In South Korea, women are just now gaining the full social status that men have enjoyed there for centuries. For the most part, I can trust American police officers not to stand me up to look like I have committed a crime when I haven't, or not to take bribes, which is more than can be said for police in Colombia. There are countless other ways that America allows its citizens to enjoy freedom, including allowing people (and especially women) to dress how they want, but I'll let the reader come up with those.

The author spends a lot of time bashing some American cultural behaviors, such as a lack of affection, and an obsession with comfort and plenty (of food, mostly). But he forgets one little thing: you think the poor people I met in Peru don't want to have plenty to eat? to have their choice of eating anything under the sun that they want? of course they do. In the countries where they can't get their fill of rich roods, they would if they could. In countries where they can, you better believe they do. I used to be like this guy, believing that all Americans were unhealthy, saying, "what does a girl have to do to get a decent vegetable around here?" But when I visited other countries, I was amazed at what they were eating. In South Korea, people make meals out of only red meat. No fresh vegetables, no "sides", and no carbs. Just tons and tons of red meat. In Latin America in general, I was amazed at the carb and Coca-Cola consumption I saw. The average meal consists of a serving of white rice, a serving of french fries or potatoes in some form, a piece of fatty meat, deep fried plantains, a fried egg, and some sugary beverage, usually Coca-Cola. In Colombia, most locals eat fried bread or cornmeal for breakfast. I eat healthier in the US than I have anywhere else in the world.

And as far our other social behaviors, yeah. Some of the common American behavioral nuances can be kind of annoying. But other countries have annoying habits too. Argentina, and especially Buenos Aires, believes they are too good for Latin America and belong in Europe. South Korea believes that one day the whole world will be speaking Korean. Australians are famous for the "Tall Poppy Syndrome"- i.e., believing that anyone who thinks highly of himself should be subject to being "cut down to size" by others. The French believe-- well, I don't even need to go into how the French behave.

Unlike the author, my travels abroad have made me see that no country has it all figured out, but that there are tons of things I have to worry about in other countries that I don't have to worry about in America. But wherever you find yourself, you're better off appreciating people for who they are and the good that they are trying to do, rather than criticizing the things that make them unique.

Posted by aewickham 13:59 Comments (1)

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