The buzz this week on the internet regarding the nation of Iceland proposing to ban online pornography caught my attention. Apparently, pornography is already illegal in Iceland. Nevertheless, there are members of the Iceland government who feel that by banning internet porn they would be taking a huge step toward protecting children who may be exposed to harmful images via their browser. The proposal has started a debate over free speech, censorship, and promoting societal wellness.
I first experienced pornography by accident as kid. I must have been around ten years old when one day in the basement of my suburban, middle class home, while digging around with a remote control in the vast sinkhole of cable television, I struck erotic oil; scrambled porn was being broadcast on channel 99. Through the wavy discolored images jumbled up in a ubiquitous stream of signals, I could make out distinct body parts for seconds on hand; a woman’s bouncing breast, a man’s pulsating penis, gazing eyes, grasping hands, gasping mouths and dangling extremities. The orgasmic groaning, sometimes with or without musical accompaniment, helped to compensate for the distorted images on my television screen. Regardless of the fact that I could not see what was going on clearly made no difference to me. The simple fact was, from that day forward, I was officially hooked on pornography.
I cannot imagine what it must be like to be a child today and have the universe at your beckoning call with the simple tap of a finger. As addictive as scrambled porn was to me as a ten year old, how can something as outdated as a blocked Playboy channel compare to a Google search for porn. Such a search will return images and video of alluring women, commanding men, and bedroom rendezvous loaded with ecstasy. But they also may return sexually violent content that can ultimately shock, harm or endanger children incapable of properly processing such type of exhibition for years to come. And to think that parents can successfully safeguard their children from this type of danger with the type of technology at our disposal in the 21st century is nothing short of naive.
What to do? Although I am a proponent for free speech and do not like the idea of censorship, I wouldn’t mind seeing a ban on internet porn that is not provided by an authorized source. In other words, make everyone pay for the porn they watch online. By purchasing porn from authorized sources, you minimize the risk of acquiring viruses when you download it, as well as see the risk of inadvertently viewing content that is illegal, i.e. child pornography, diminish. If you regulate internet porn, you make progress in shutting down providers of illegal content who hide in the shadows of unregulated internet space, and also help to prevent the victimization of people who are forced to work in the sex industry against their will, whether they be immigrants or below the legal age limit. This is also why I believe prostitution should be legalized. Sex workers and businesses exist, so why pretend that they do not when you can regulate it, tax it, and prevent the inhumane abuses that go on everyday in the world when a pimp takes advantage of a woman or a child.
The simple fact is that sex has been around forever and it isn’t going away anytime soon. Neither porn, on or offline, nor prostitution, on or offline, are going out of business. I firmly believe that a society that embraces sex rather than shuns it is paced for ensuring its citizens live sexually healthy lives as opposed to degenerating into an existence of denial where abnormal sexual traits manifest in the most unlikely and unwanted places, like churches and schools. I’m sure there are many people who place pornography in a deviant status with regard to its role in society. I used to be one of them, due mainly to my strict religious upbringing. But no matter how many times I “prayed the porn away,” I always found myself enjoying it.
Frankly, I don’t find pornography offensive or obscene. I made the choice to start purchasing porn in addition to viewing it online, sparingly however, for the reasons I listed above (not to mention viewing internet porn can be as time consuming as a full time job, with less benefits and a sharp cut in pay). Buying my porn outright helps me to enjoy it in moderation, like everything should be enjoyed. I don’t pay by the hour, I pay by the unit. And why not pay for it. I watch it and get satisfaction from it, like the music I buy and the movies I pay a ticket to go see. Are porn-stars and adult film studios somehow less worthy of having their careers and businesses spared the ever-present threat of bootlegging?
What do you think?
It has been exactly one week since election night, when America reelected Barack Obama for a second term as President of the United States. After taking some time to watch all of the pundits on political television weigh in on the election, I now feel like adding my two cents. Actually, if it weren’t for Harry Reid, I probably wouldn’t be writing this article.
When the Senate Majority Leader appealed to Republicans for cooperation on looming challenges the government faces in the days ahead after the election, like the fiscal cliff, he used a fitting metaphor. He said, “It is better to dance than to fight.” And since I spent election night in a dance studio, watching voting results and my dancing partners’ feet, as to not step on them in my awkward attempt to master the art of Tango, I decided it would be appropriate to share my thoughts about this year’s election.
First I would like to say, my pain has been alleviated now that it is all over. The constant negative political ads that aired on television like a bad reality show in syndication had me reaching for the remote, and depressing the mute button every ten minutes. When I wasn’t trying to silence the television, I was trying to manage the constant cacophony of telephone rings from pollsters, some with a pulse and some automated. Yet I answered every single survey with patriotic patience and sincerity, partly because for the first election in my lifetime, this year I chose to volunteer to register voters.
I know what it’s like to ask someone to participate in the electoral process and have them snub you like a debutante would a plebian. I suffered quarrels with unregistered voters in front of Walmart over the alleged corruptness of the Electoral College and the dubious worth of one’s vote. And despite the fact that it took Florida nearly a week to declare the state blue, I felt all gold inside, knowing I played a minuscule part in a winning election.
So let us dance. Now that the election is over, it’s time to choose your partner. And although Harry Reid was addressing members of the Senate and Congress, I would like to aim my comments at ordinary citizens; like the gentleman I saw driving a red pickup truck the other day on my way to work with a huge Confederate flag hoisted on his bed flapping in the wind. We are not all going to like each other. We are not going to agree on all of the issues all of the time. But we all have to live together and find a way to work through our differences. Maestro, strike up the band!
Politically speaking, I lean to the left. I vote Democrat. I support Affirmative Action, the DREAM act, gay marriage, the legalization of marijuana and I am pro choice. I believe in ending the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy and I support Wall Street regulation. That being said, it’s August; convention time! So I spent this week listening in on the Republican National Convention with the intention of getting to know my political polar opposites a little better; the Right. To be honest, I’ve never watched a full RNC before. I’ve protested at one (The 2004 RNC in New York), but I haven’t really given Republicans a fair shot with regard to understanding their ideology. So this time around, I challenged myself to listen to their keynote speakers and platform.
Not long into the first night of speeches, I began to have what might be called an allergic reaction. All of my liberal white blood cells within my body rushed to lobby against what they detected as a foreign invasion; an immune system sortie on the rhetoric that threatened to destroy me with distortions, comments taken out of context and extremism. Sadly to say, I found myself acting very juvenile in response; mocking my Republican officials with my own brand of political satire, taking shots at their bright red clothing and even sarcastically applauding with the audience and chanting along; “WE BUILT IT!” (I even created a Village People YMCA- like cheer involving my hands signaling MITT for Presidential Candidate Mitt Romney) Needless to say, I needed to step up my maturity if I was going to get anything meaningful out of this convention.
But perhaps my embarrassing antics were exacerbated by comments like “We are truly the best, last hope on Earth,” made by Saratoga Springs, UT Mayor Mia Love as she brought her speech to a close. I honestly believe America is a country that would oppose existential threats to life by totalitarian states or terrorist organizations on Earth regardless if a Republican or Democrat was elected president. I understand her intention was to make a rallying call to her party members, but portraying the GOP as the savior of the planet seems a little exaggerated.
And when New Jersey Governor Chris Christie took the podium and said, “We are the great grandchildren of men and women who broke their backs in the name of American ingenuity; the grandchildren of the Greatest Generation; the sons and daughters of immigrants…” I couldn’t help but think that he missed a great opportunity to prove the claims that some in the Republican Party have made about them being the party most suited to address the needs of the African-American community, by not recognizing the contribution that slaves made to this country, in addition to immigrants.
On the second night of the convention, I determined to act my age and listen attentively. I enjoyed listening to Arizona Senator John McCain and even though I disagreed with Attorney Generals Pam Bondi (FL) and Sam Olens’ (GA) view on Obamacare, I now feel as if I understand their objectives a little more clearly. But when former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice commented “…we need to give parents greater choice, particularly poor parents whose kids, very often minorities, are trapped in failing neighborhood schools. This is the civil rights issue of our day,” I felt she, like Governor Chris Christie, once again missed out on a great opportunity to show America that the GOP was the party best suited to meet the needs of the African-American Community (as well as other minority communities) by directly linking the struggle for those minority voters who now find themselves marginalized because of new voter ID laws across the country, with what she claims as the “civil rights issue of our day.”
To be honest, I think Mitt Romney would be a good president for the American economy. He knows business. He knows how to generate income. I think it would be a step backwards on many of the social issues that are important to me if Mitt Romney were elected, but a step forward for the economy, mainly because, he would not be facing a Congress that, quite frankly, would be as hostile to his proposed agenda, as it has been to President Obama. Put quite simply, I think the legislative process may run more smoothly with Mitt Romney at the helm because the obstacle of an African-American as president for a majority White Republican Congress that is obviously still dealing with the ever-present challenge of race in our society, will have been removed.
Yet, it is my hope that President Obama is reelected, as I do plan to vote for him. And should his supporters vote, not only for him but for the Democratic leadership in the Congress and Senate that is necessary to assist him with his agenda (As sadly, in my opinion, we did not do a good enough job of in 2010, which gave rise to many of the Tea Party members assuming seats in Congress, and subsequently, creating a force of opposition to the President), I believe the economy will grow, and more jobs will be created.
On an unrelated note, I have been reading Love, Life and Elephants: An African Love Story by Dame Daphne Sheldrick. The book is about her experiences running an orphanage for animals near Tsavo National Park in Kenya, and I decided to draw one of the elephants from the photos in the book for the illustration for this article. (I learned about Dame Daphne Sheldrick from one of Chelsea Clinton’s stories on NBC Nightly News) I may not agree with the GOP, but they have a great mascot!
“All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” – The United States Constitution, Amendment 14, Section 1.
We used to have something in this country called miscegenation laws, which would have made it illegal for a Black man and a White woman to be married. My grandfather was Black and my grandmother is White and they lived married through this unfortunate period in our country’s history. When riding in a car together, sometimes it was necessary for my grandmother to get down on the floor of the car while my grandfather drove, in order to be unseen by people who might object to their relationship on the grounds that they shared different racial backgrounds. In fact, they had to move north from Virginia to Ohio in order to escape those laws (See Loving v. Virginia 1967). People used to use the Bible to call marriage between different races “an abomination.” (Among other things people used the Bible to call abominations like women having the right to speak in church based on 1 Corinthians 14:34, and women wearing pants based on Deuteronomy 22:5.)
President Barack Obama’s comment in an interview with ABC news, in which he stated “I think same-sex couples should be able to get married,” has furthered the debate on the issue of same-sex marriage. The president’s comment was preceded by Vice President Joe Biden’s statement on NBC’s Meet the Press, in which he said he was “comfortable” with same-sex marriage, just days before North Carolina voters decided in favor of a constitutional amendment banning it. The president had sad in the past that his thinking on the issue had “evolved.” The elation on the faces of people in the LGBT community on television was plainly evident after the president made his unprecedented statement. And for good reason. After all, how do you tell someone who to love, or who not to love?
The comments of both President Obama and Vice President Biden are commendable. It’s a step in the right direction. But until there is either further federal legislation passed to prevent states from violating the rights and privileges of American citizens, or forthcoming Supreme Court rulings to overturn same-sex marriage restrictions, such affirmations may ultimately, unfortunately, prove to be mere political posturing. I applauded President Obama’s signing the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell: the policy of banning openly gay, lesbian or bisexual individuals from serving in the military. Now the time has come for Congress, the judiciary and the president to once again rise to the occasion, and ensure that here in the United States of America, everyone is treated equally.
The death of Trayvon Martin has started a renewed conversation about gun laws in America. At the heart of the debate is the controversial self-defense law in Florida called Stand Your Ground, and others like it either already in use, or pending in other states. Florida Senator Chris Smith, who initially opposed the law when it was first proposed, is now leading the official review of Stand Your Ground. In the time it will take for the law to be either abolished or revised, the prospect of new gun legislation and self-defense laws favored by groups like the National Riffle Association, could make guns even more prevalent in our society.
When I visit a bar, the most pressing concern on my mind is usually whether I’m going to order a Newcastle or Guinness draught. I may pick my pub based on what athletic contest or franchise they cater to with respect to what’s going to be aired on their tube. Maybe even the waitresses have something to do with my decision. After all, what guy doesn’t like the company of beautiful women when he drinks. But the last thing I want to have to factor in my decision on which waterhole to settle on, is the possibility of some half-assed cowboy accidentally shooting himself in my presence because he couldn’t hold his liquor. God forbid he accidentally shoots someone else. So when there’s talk of legislation that could make carrying a concealed weapon in places like bars, churches, and colleges (any one remember the Virginia Tech shootings?), I have to wonder how this can be good for our country.
That being said, I get the second amendment to the Constitution. We have the right to “bear arms.” I get self defense laws. If you’re in danger of bodily harm or death, you have the right to defend yourself. (And I’m not yet convinced that someone pursuing someone else can reasonably be assumed to be in danger of bodily harm and/or death). But where we bear arms can have a significant impact on the safety of our citizens. Outside of security officers at colleges and churches, I cannot really think of a logical reason why students or parishioners would need to carry a firearm.
And while bars can attract the occasional low-life, creepy perp, justifying the need to be on guard; most of the time they are filled with happy drunks, peanut chomping sports fanatics, and ever-optimistic Dicks and Janes looking to get lucky. If we don’t want intoxicated people operating motor vehicles, I think it’s safe to assume the same could be said for automatic weapons. What do you think?
Over the past few years, I have tried to find new ways to celebrate MLK day. I’ve been to celebrations at city halls in various cities, variety shows showcasing drama, music, dance and other talents in honor of Dr. King. I’ve participated in marches to commemorate his legacy and watched television programs about his contribution to the Civil Rights Movement on this holiday. So this year, I decided to celebrate the memory of Dr. King by writing a blog article.
The first time I remember ever seeing a picture of Dr. King was in my home as a child when my dad was watching the Eyes on the Prize documentary, which was aired on PBS and, in rich detail, chronicles the Civil Rights Movement. I recall seeing segments of Dr. King giving speeches and sermons with his trademark ringing voice that aroused, at that time, an unexplainable surge of energy and emotion within me. I saw the footage of him leading protest marches, getting pelted with rocks, other protesters being attacked by police, dogs, and firemen with forceful blasts from water-hoses. Those images, along with other horrific photos such as African-Americans being lynched, hung from trees, and even having their bodies burned by racist mobs were, to say the least, eye opening. I was shocked to see such brutality; angered that people were treated so viciously because of the color of their skin, the same color as my skin. After watching that documentary as a child, I had many questions that I needed to be answered.
When I was in fifth grade, my elementary teacher passed out a book order form. These were forms from a particular company that our school partnered with in order to give students an opportunity to purchase books of their own choosing. It was exciting because it gave us the chance to select books on our own; books that interested us and not books that the teacher mandated we read. As I scanned through the lists of titles available for purchase, I came across one on the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I asked my parents for money to buy the book and when it was delivered to me at school I couldn’t wait to read every page. My education on the Civil Rights Movement had begun! A few years later my parents took me and my brother to visit the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, GA, where Dr. King gave many inspirational sermons in his career as a preacher. We were in Atlanta to attend one of the annual church conventions that my parents would take us to each summer (my father is a preacher as well) and we also got to visit the Martin Luther King Memorial there in Atlanta.
I’ve read so many impressive essays and speeches that Dr. King wrote over the years in which I’ve studied his life, including the collection found in The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr. I pulled a book off of my bookshelf yesterday titled Bridges And Boundaries: African Americans and American Jews (George Braziller in association with The Jewish Museum, New York) which contains a visual essay including photographs of The Civil Rights Movement. In it, I found a picture of Dr. King giving a speech in 1968 to the Collection Local 1199 Union, a drug, hospital and healthcare employees union. My book indicates that in his speech, Dr. King addressed the union members saying “‘You have provided concrete and visible proof that when black and white workers unite in a democratic organization…they can move mountains.'” That message contains a powerful truth, and if practiced, prescribes a remedy for the many problematic divisions we still find present in today’s society, and which still, unfortunately, threaten our progress as a nation.
One thing I always regretted about my past is that I never joined my high-school marching band. In the fifth grade I joined band as a percussionist. The truth of the matter is that I really wanted to play the violin, but because I had already taken up the drums at church and owned a snare drum, the most cost effective decision was to continue in the way of the drum. So be it. I stayed in band up until about eighth grade when I decided to concentrate on playing sports rather than try out for the marching band. But last week, while participating in the protest demonstrations affiliated with the Take Back the Capitol event held in Washington, D.C., I finally got to fulfill a long time wish.
I brought my snare drum along with me on the bus ride to D.C. from Florida, with the hopes of being able to contribute some spirited rhythms to the marches we had planned. I even went to Lowe’s and purchased some rope so I could make a harness for my drum. On Tuesday, when we marched to the house of Congress, it was raining and I could only play a few rhythms in between wiping off the moisture on my drum head. But on Thursday the precipitation had moved out of the city and the skies were all clear. I was a little bit late getting to where our group had lined up for the procession so, at the last minute, I found myself running full speed with my snare drum secured under my right arm and my drum sticks clasped in my left hand, darting in between protesters, heading up to the front of the march where I could hear the sounds of other drums.
When I got to the front of the march, I saw the company of djembe players providing the celebratory rhythms I had heard from the rear. Not long ago I had purchased my own djembe and begun to study the West African rhythms that are traditionally played on the drum like Kuku, Djole, Madan and Suku. Because I wasn’t officially invited to play with the company of drum players, I was careful to blend in with the beats they were playing, basically helping to create the foundation over which the master drummer would routinely solo. Little by little I joined in and even found pockets within the rhythms to do my own soloing. And because I was the only drummer using a snare drum, the rudiments I had learned way back in fifth grade band and was now executing, fit quite nicely with the over all scheme of the playing; adding an interesting contrast of high and low tones, celebratory (djembe) and cadence (snare) all blending together rhythmically.
At one point I turned and looked behind me, and to my delight I saw people in the march following us; dancing and chanting their way up to the Capitol building where our destination lied. I asked one of the marshals to take a picture of us so that I could have a memento to last throughout the years. It was a special moment for me, and I’m sure for everyone else who had traveled thousands of miles across the country to be an active participant in our great democracy. With drums and signs in our hands, we took yet another step forward toward more fully realizing the freedom we are all promised in the Declaration of Independence; to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
On Tuesday, December 6, 2011, I paid a visit to Representative Allen West’s office in Washington, D.C., along with a group of fellow activists. Allen West represents the 22nd district of Florida. When we arrived at his office, we requested to speak with him, as was our right as constituents and residents of his congressional district. There were about 15-20 of us and we were told that he was not in his office and that we could wait outside in the hallway until he returned. Instead, we chose to enter his office and wait for him patiently. We waited for nearly two hours and finally he made an appearance. After he met with designated members of our group, he gave an interview with Fox News and made some statements that were not entirely reflective of what I witnessed. So, with all due deference Mr. Congressman, I’d like a word with you!
Firstly, when the video of your interview begins to play, Fox News posts a bulletin that reads “Occupy Protests Get Violent” in the segment which features statements you gave regarding your experience with the Occupy Palm Beach group; the group I am a member of. I would like to ask you; when did our meeting with you become “violent?” Was it the part when we were sitting in your office peacefully and your aide slammed the door loudly for us all to hear because he was frustrated that he was unsuccessful in getting us to wait in the hallway for two hours for you to arrive? I will concede that an unfortunate event did occur when a woman in our group lost her temper (as did your aide when he slammed his door) when she was rudely ignored by your administrative assistant when she asked her “how do you like working for Representative Allen West?” Our group member reacted to being ignored by your administrative assistant by turning to the rest of us and loudly saying, “She just ignored me…what a bitch!” I did not appreciate her calling your assistant that derogatory name, as our intention was to reflect a tone of mutual respect. However, your administrative assistant neglected to exhibit that same amount of respect, and I didn’t think it very proper or business-like for her to ignore one of our group members when she was asked a simple question. And at no time did the police, present in your office, find it necessary to arrest anyone in our group. So we must agree that no violence occurred, and that Fox News’ bulletin was misleading.
Secondly, I applaud you for taking the time to meet with some of us and for making the comment that “you never kick over someone’s tent” in an attempt to show our movement the proper respect when Fox News attacked our legitimacy. However, you then went on to state “when we confronted them with facts and the truth they kind of went away with their tail in between their legs…” Actually Mr. West, after our meeting with you we proceeded in an orderly fashion downstairs to Representative Vern Buchanan’s office (13th district of Florida) to also meet with him. Unfortunately, similarly when we arrived at your office sir, he also was not available and his administrative assistant, though much more welcoming than your own, could not tell us when he would return.
Far from leaving with our tail in between our legs, we actually participated in two more major demonstrations in our nation’s capitol over the course of the next two days; one in the financial district of Washington, D.C., and the other in front of the Capitol building where police guards watched from atop the stairs with automatic weapons. (See picture below)
So Mr. Congressman, let us be fair when we speak via media outlets about our dealings with one another. I admire the courage it takes to work as a congressional representative for the Unites States of America. You and our other representatives and senators put your life on the line every day when you go to work. You work hard with the sincere intentions to make sure our nation is moving in a direction consistent with how your constituents vote. We appreciate your service. But please, do not refer to Occupy Wall Street as “an empty movement” as you did in your interview. Because sir, I assure you our movement is not “empty.” Conversely, it is full with equally hard working, courageous, sacrificing people who are spread across the nation, including the 22nd district of Florida, which you represent.