National Equality March

October 12, 2009 at 8:41 pm (Fun, News) (, , , , , )

Yesterday was the National Equality March here in DC. I went down to stay with a friend on Saturday night so I could avoid the morning metro crowds. Pictures courtesy of my friend who brought a camera. It was a beautiful day, no cloud in sight, with sunshine and wonderfully moderate temperatures.

7921_1143410665299_1228440130_30414611_6172207_nHangin’ out in McPherson square while the rally was just filling up.

7921_1143410865304_1228440130_30414616_6820699_nThe turnout was absolutely HUGE. By the time we started marching (at noon), the rally stretched back for several blocks. We didn’t stay for the whole thing, but apparently by the time the march reached the Capitol, there was still TEN BLOCKS worth of people.

7921_1143410985307_1228440130_30414619_3170459_nOne of the many funny signs we saw. We didn’t get a good picture of one sign a gal was holding that said, “IF YOU MET MY GIRLFRIEND, YOU’D WANT TO MARRY HER TOO.” We awww’ed a lot.

7921_1143410905305_1228440130_30414617_2077576_nSomeone gave me a sign. I was leaning on it at this point, waiting for the rally to start. Lots and lots of buses went past us and the tourists gaped.

7921_1143410945306_1228440130_30414618_7683048_nMore signs!

Later we went to Adams Morgan and had lunch there. We saw a whole bunch of people dressed in pink and it turned out there was a 60 mile Breast Cancer Walk going on. Among the many things we saw, there were tricked out motorcycles (one dude had put a lot of pink fuzzy stuff on his motorcycle and a pink lace bra), pink fauxhawks on motorcycles. And then there was this guy:

7921_1143411065309_1228440130_30414621_4384397_nHe was dancing to Will Smith’s Wild Wild West. It was bizarre and hilarious.

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Desert Flower

October 3, 2009 at 2:16 pm (News) (, , , , , , , )

0688172377.01.LZZZZZZZI recently picked up Desert Flower – The Extraordinary Journey of a Desert Nomad after finding out a German filmmaker had managed to snag the rights to it. I had heard of it before, but seeing as I only recently officially came into being a snot-nosed feminist, it hadn’t occurred to me to read it.

Waris Dirie’s story is at once heart-breaking and inspiring. One of twelve children, she was born into a Somalian pastoral nomad family and raised in the deserts among those goats and camels. With no ability to read, write or speak a language beside Somali, she didn’t seem to be destined for great things. In fact, she was rather average for a young Somalian female. She tended goats, played with her siblings, had no shoes or education. Like every girl she was expected to marry whoever her father wished in exchange for more camels.

And like every other girl, she was subjected to the awful, awful practice of female genital mutilation when she was only five years old.

Waris Dirie is now a renown supermodel and UN special ambassador for the elimination of FGM. While I read this book, it felt like a small part of me died when I came across her experiences with FGM. When she was five, her mother woke her in the early morning before anyone else was awake and taken out to the bushes where the “gypsy woman,” as she was referred to, waited for them. Dirie was given a root to bite down on and held down by her mother. The gypsy woman herself used a razor stained with the blood of countless other young, helpless girls that this woman cleaned with her saliva and nothing else.

By African standards, this is relatively cleanly, apparently. Anything can be used – razors, glass, sharp rocks and when nothing else is to be had, teeth. The severity of the mutilation ranges from the removal of the clitoral hood to the full on removal of the labia majora, minora and everything else, then the girls are sewn shut. Dirie experienced the latter form – thorns from a nearby bush were used to create punctures for the sewing. After this, Dirie’s legs were bound together in order to create a minimal, “tidy” scar and she was left in a specially built hut to heal for a whole month.

Many girls die from blood loss, tetanus, infection, gangrene and other horrific side-effects of the “operation,” which include pelvic infections, severe UTIs and more. One of Dirie’s sisters bled to death. Dirie herself suffered for many years because she was left with only a small hole through which urine and menstrual blood were supposed to be allowed to escape. She was able to get surgery later in life, but will never regain much of the feeling in that region of her body because the surgery was performed back in the 90s. Nowadays, with medical advances, there are doctors who specialize in reconstructive surgery in order to help women regain feeling and a sense of pride in their bodies again.

I remember being in an Ethics class and the topic of FGM coming up. I argued against it because I feel, as a woman, that it is a cruel, unnecessary and awful tradition to uphold that gives a whole continent a bad reputation. I was told my Western privilege was showing – that it was necessary to approach some traditions with respect and the dignity it deserves because – while it is not my own culture – it is someone else’s cultural practice.

I call bullshit on that. I agree that the Western way is not always the right way, but I see no reason to accept a practice that is so barbaric. Many of the cultures FGM is practiced in are Muslim; men argue that the Q’ran demands it. Nowhere in the Q’ran does it state that you are to maim and brutalize your women. FGM – I refuse to deign it with the term “female circumcision” because it undercuts the severity of what is done – was invented by men in order to oppress women and make them pliable through their pain. Those who argue that male circumcision is equally cruel – what on Earth are you thinking? We do not cut off young boys’ penises. We don’t divorce them from their sexual organs in order to oppress them. There is a vast difference between a small surgical procedure in which the foreskin is removed and the hacking off and permanent crippling of young defenseless girls.

It makes me sick to my stomach that around 2 MILLION girls a year are at risk of being victims of FGM. I hope that, through education and redirection of practices, it will be possible to decrease and maybe eliminate the practice entirely, though it will take a long time. Meanwhile, here is the trailer to Desert Flower where Dirie is played by Liya Kebede:

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Yom Kippur

September 27, 2009 at 10:59 pm (Life) (, , , , , , , )

I did manage to find a place to go for Yom Kippur. However, it’s not somewhere I see myself going back to after my obligation for Yom Kippur is over. The congregation is large, impersonal and conservative. The latter wouldn’t bother me too much, but it’s a little . . . restrictive, in a way. It’s the kind of place where you’ll see older people and young families and very little in between.

Not only that, but the rabbi started being a solicitor for various funds in the middle of services, which I thought was incredibly inappropriate. We’re RIGHT smackdab in the middle of Kol Nidre services. And you ask people to put money into Israel Bonds? REALLY? YOU THINK THAT WAS A GOOD IDEA? He also started harping on our need to support Israel and donate and blahblahblah.

I have no issue with charity. I do have an issue when a religious official uses his role to push political agendas; it’s not something I have ever seen a rabbi do and I hope I’ll never have to see it again. It’s not something I associate with Judaism, the begging for money and propagation of political things is more a Christian phenomenon. Or it was until now.

The whole thing just made me incredibly uncomfortable. A religious official is supposed to offer advice, not preach from the pulpit about how I as a Jew am obligated to support Israel in every possible way. That’s like someone telling C. that she has to support the Pope because she’s Catholic despite the fact that dude’s batshit crazy, not to mention assbackwards on basically every matter of social importance. I am in no way obligated to support a country simply because I am part of a religious entity. I will not publicly support a country and a government on the basis of this.

I appreciate Israel’s existence, but I do not agree with a lot of their policies. I believe displacing Palestinians is wrong. The way Israel was founded is very much akin to the Europeans marching into North American and displacing all the American Indians. I don’t believe military action is necessary all the damn time and I am absolutely horrified at the sense of entitlement that many European and American-born Jews have when they make aliyah, and how perfectly acceptable the racism towards Palestinians is within those Jewish communities in Israel.

So, no, Rabbi Whateveryournamemaybe, I am keeping my money out of Israel Bonds and in my damn pocket. This kind of conduct does not leave me feeling spiritually cleansed, forgiven by God or enlightened. It makes me think I ended up an awful place for a very emotional time, and that makes me sad.

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Day Terrors

June 10, 2009 at 10:30 pm (News) (, , , , , , )

I can shrug off many things, but the shooting at the National Holocaust Museum earlier today has left me shaken. Jezebel compiled a bunch of information on the shooter, James von Brunn. It turns out he is a white-supremacist, anti-Semite, pro-Aryan nutjob. The sole person he shot has died. His website includes gems such as:

The “American myth” (created by JEWS) alleging our Founding Fathers intended that all races, from pygmy to Ainu, be invited to our shores, is based on Thomas Jefferson’s words in the Declaration of Independence: “…all men are created equal.” The meaning of this much quoted statement has been distorted by the ILLUMINATI which subjectively is re-writing history and wielding the “HOLOCAUST” like a battle-ax at the heads of those proclaiming genetic certainties: Men and races are NOT created equal. Jefferson’s statement can be understood only in context of his Era. Our Founding Fathers were Aryans, men of good breeding who understood, empirically, the great differences existing between strains of horses; strains of live-stock; races of men; and between individuals: knowledge confirmed today by the natural sciences of Genetics, Eugenics, and Anthropology. Hitler, as American boobs are beginning to learn, was not all wrong.

I am, in all honesty, terrified. The kind of hate-speech he promotes seems to be directed at me. I am Jewish – but do I not look Aryan? What about those who do not have the protection of such genes?

I did nothing wrong. I have never participated in conspiracies against anyone. I believe in social justice. He does not know me or my family, nor does he know any other Jewish family. He does not know our friends. This, however, would mean he had to think and get treatment for his brand of crazy.

So why does he hate us so much?

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An Act of Kindness

June 10, 2009 at 12:13 am (Fun, Life) (, , , , )

My aunt is a devout Catholic. She is very involved in her church – she goes to mass every Sunday and sometimes even on Saturday, she teaches ESL classes there and cantors Tuesday Novina masses. She sings in both of the church’s choirs, teaches the children’s hand bell choir and the adult bell choir. I hardly see her in the evenings for all this.

So. The Novina mass. She and her accompanist usually are the last to leave the church, which means they need to lock up. Tonight, her accompanist had to leave because she had family in town. My aunt locked up the church.

On her way out, she found a stack of anti-same sex marriage propaganda flyers. She is a good woman. She took them and “put them where they belonged.”

Where that might be?

Our dumpster.

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An Open Letter

June 3, 2009 at 2:52 pm (News) (, , , , , , , , )

Dear Sir,

I realize you thought you were doing a good thing. Your thoughts were tainted by the grandeur of martyring yourself for the cause, ending a reign of terror, a genocide. You were stopping a godless murderer from ending the lives of defenseless children, those who had no voice. You and your friends, you were to speak for these innocents, you were going to protect them.

What you call ideology I call madness. What you call an innocent child I call a cluster of cells, a the half-formed beginnings of what – after birth – will be a human being, with no personality or viability. What you call murder I call choice. Those you condemn I support.

What you do not realize, sir, is that you have no right to make decisions for someone with little choice in the matter. For every woman who, in utmost emotional pain, fells the decision to have a “late-term” abortion does so with a heavy heart. It is a traumatic, invasive, terrible procedure. Those “children” are wanted. You have no concept of the terror and anger and sadness these women feel as they grasp their partners’ hands throughout the procedure. You have no idea of how these people have to pick the pieces of their shattered dreams and hopes they pinned on that pregnancy. Everything they’d wished for is dashed with one visit to prenatal care.

You may think you have the right to judge and shun these women and men, harass them and shame them. It is my duty to correct you, sir.

You are no hero. You are, in fact, an awful human being, as is every single one of your friends at Operation Rescue. How dare you take it into your own hands to pass judgement on someone else when you spend so much time arguing your belief in God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit. You are nothing but a useless worm. Do you think this is what your God wants?

How ever did you think it was right, even just to shoot another living, breathing human being? You are no martyr, sir, you are an asshole. You committed a heinous crime against another person, defying one of the Ten Commandments, if you feel inclined to placing worth on your own goddamn Bible. Does “thou shalt not kill” ring a bell? No? Then perhaps you are not as familiar with your own scriptures. You are a horrid person, sir. What you and your friends are doing is called domestic terrorism. You shot a man providing invaluable, important services to those who needed them the most. You shot a true humanitarian. Countless of Dr. Tiller’s patients are stepping forward to tell their stories. You are instilling fear in the hearts of innocent people, making them afraid to seek the help and make the choices they need to. Did you know all of them are anonymous because they are afraid of you, of the things you do in the name of a God who surely condemns what you did just as much as anyone with even an ounce of brain matter does?

I hope you rot in Hell.

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Memorial Day

May 25, 2009 at 1:30 pm (Life) (, , )

My mother is the first and only person in our family to serve in the military. She never emphasized a strong commitment to our country, serving it or pushing for the somewhat brainless devotion many people seem to have where the US military is concerned. Growing up, I was never off on US holidays because I was enrolled in the German school system and thus immersed in a very different tradition.

All I knew about Memorial Day was that it was a three-day-weekend. I would get to see my mother more often, she would be home when I got back from school and that made me happy. I never thought to ask why she became very quiet and reserved and continues to do so. It is only over the last few years that I have become more aware of some of the US holidays.

I am lucky. I do not personally know anyone who has been critically injured or died somewhere in deserts and swamps while bearing arms in combat.  My mother and most of her acquaintances are high-ranking enough that they do not serve directly in the field. I have met several younger soldiers still scarred by their experience out in Iraq, though. I did cry when a young servicewoman allowed for the transport of her deployed, now deceased, husband’s body to Ramstein be filmed and broadcasted after Obama lifted the ban on this. I sat with my mother as we watched an airplane crash into the Pentagon with the feeling of sickness in my stomach; at the time, no one was aware of the fact the destroyed section had been empty. All we knew was that members of the military my mother knew worked in that building.

I remember hearing Bush announce a “crusade” on terror and realizing for the very first time that people were going to die in a futile effort, people my mother worked with, parents of children I had played with. In Germany, I live near a base with a high rotation of deployment. When I briefly attended the DoD high school, it was common for a classmate or more to miss school for a day because a parent was to be deployed for the second or third time. Looking back at my mother’s period of deployment to Kuwait, I never realized how dangerous her situation really was. She never spoke of certain things, like the fact she was usually in full combat armor and carried a weapon wherever she went.

I gather Memorial Day is often misconstrued as just another day off. In the thrall of a rare three day weekend, people forget why exactly this day has been given off, why schools are closed and why many flags hang at half-mast. The people I know don’t forget, but it is never wrong to point it out again.

Here’s to our servicemen and servicewomen who bravely laid down their lives for our country. Here’s to the men and women in the sweltering deserts cleaning up messes they never intended to make. Here is to parents, husbands, wives, children, aunts and uncles who leave their families behind to heed the call of duty. I cannot find the passage our Jewish military community would recite every Shabbat service in honor of those soldiers who had fallen and still fall, but one part in particular plays as a loop in my head.

Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore. Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.

I hope there will – one day – come a time when Memorial Day will only commemorate those who have fallen, when war is a thing of the past. While I know this is unrealistic, I cannot help but hope that it shall come to pass.

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The Idiot Pandemic

May 9, 2009 at 12:26 pm (Life) (, , , , , )

I truly believe that is what we are fighting these days. Not swine flu, not cancer. The idiot pandemic. Idiocy spans the globe and is somehow distilled down to its essence by the time it reaches the internet, making for one gigantic influx of stupid that kills your brain cells by simply looking at it.

A recent development in my Facebook news feed has left me with the distinct feeling of wanting to smack my forehead against a wall. Preferably solid brick wall. The stupid is just insurmountable. Somehow, a lot of my German friends have taken to calling each other “homo.” A lot. Every other status update, its comment section or wall post includes the word “homo” as an insult or greeting.

Now, in theory, it should not bother me. The root of the word is in Latin. Simply, it means “human.” However, I will not accredit them with that much intelligence. What they mean is “homosexual.” Their goal is to insult each other.

I fume at the misuse of said word, turning a simple description of someone’s perfectly acceptable sexual orientation into something bad. This is exactly why we’re having such trouble. So many people are latently homosexophobic and because many homosexuals are afraid of being outed, no one tells them these people are being assholes. The fact people seem to think it’s okay to use this word as an insult or form of greeting is horrid. I know that at least one of these people has an openly homosexual friend. That is what ticks me off most – you have a friend who has entrusted you with the knowledge of them being different from about 97% of the population. And yet you see it fit to use their sexual orientation to throw around carelessly?

I do not like the implications of this ignorance. I have made a point to point it out in my own status update, but I still feel that all of the offenders deserve this:

middle-finger

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Endless Love

May 7, 2009 at 12:40 pm (Fun, News) (, , , , )

michellesesame

Can I just say how fucking awesome Michelle is? I adore her. A lot. I wish she’d adopt me or at least let me babysit her children. I must find out when this will be broadcast because I need to see that shit.

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Edumacation

April 21, 2009 at 6:49 pm (Life, School) (, , , , )

A certain quiz has been popping up on my Facebook news feed a lot lately. All my German friends have been taking it. As is the nature of all these quizzes, it is arbitrary and stupid; however, this one also takes on a whole different level of offensive.

The title of this quiz is “Which Gymnasium in Stuttgart should you have gone to?” A Gymnasium, in Germany, is one of the three branches of schools you are sorted into after grade four. Gymnasium means you most likely will be pursuing college once you graduate. It is a college-track system with a diploma, the Abitur, that will allow you to actually go to university. A Realschulabschluss or a Hauptschulabschluss do not do the same.

My point is not to discuss the extremely faulty German education system, at least not at this time. Many of my friends have been getting the following result: “$$$ Money makes the world go around $$$ – Abitur hat eben seinen Preis $$ Auf der M. kostet es eben etwas jedoch hat dann auch jeder eine Chance.” (Roughly translated: An Abitur has a pricetag. It may cost a little at the M., but at least everyone has a chance.)

Yes, I attended a private school. Yes, there was an inordinate amount of idiots at my school who should not have been let anywhere near the Abitur, but that is beside the point. The point is that I have never met or heard of anyone who had to do anything less than work for their Abitur. Getting your Abitur is a grueling task; this diploma spans two years, in which all your grades count towards your general GPA. You have five four-hour classes a week along with at least another four or five that are two hours. You take two exams – all essay and analysis questions – in the four hour courses per semester, and one exam per semester in the two hour classes. Again: ALL these grades count towards your GPA.

In semester four, you take a standardized exam – again, essay questions and analysis – in four of your five four-hour courses. German is mandatory (for this, you have to read certain books over the span of those two years and hand in a blank copy you can use during this exam), as is Math. An exam in a foreign language is also required. The fourth is one of your choosing; it can be a science (profile courses) or anything else (chosen). If you take PE, Music or Art, you are required to do a practical examination in which you complete certain hands-on tasks of your field. The Abitur is compiled by calling in state-wide teachers’ conferences a few years before a final is assigned. There, questions and topics and themes are brought together and it is left up to a very exclusive committee to write them. The day before the exam is given, a courier brings the double-sealed exams to the school where they are placed within a safe and not touched until the date they are to be taken. If it leaks, the entire state of BaWü is assigned a whole new exam.

I will not claim I did not have any free time when I worked towards my Abitur, that would be a lie. I usually had an easy time with academics. However, nobody did anything less than challenge us on a daily basis. I did less work than I should have, excelling in subjects that required little effort and almost flunking those that were hard for me. This is why I graduated with only an average GPA. My friend L. graduated with the best GPA, and that took a lot of effort.

A few years ago, a parent who had some beef and minor influence with one of the local newspapers pulled some strings so a reporter and a photographer ended up coming to school to write a profile on us. This article, as it turned out, held no praise for us – instead, it tore down every student who was interviewed, twisting words FauxNews-style and essentially blaming our school for all the evil in the world.

We were accused of being nothing more than a bunch of people whose main job was being heirs; who paid for their diplomas. One student in particular was interviewed, and his words were used as ammunition. See, at our school, we happened to have teachers who actually gave a shit about us. Our exams happened to be the week after Easter vacation, which meant our classes would not meet for two weeks before our Abitur finals. If we had any questions at a different school, we were hosed.

This student had been honest when asked whether or not attending this school made a difference. He said that, yes, it did. Our teachers cared. A lot of them invited us into their homes so we could do extra study sessions and voice any concerns we had. My German teacher, for instance, sacrificed an entire week of his holiday to go over the three books we’d had to read. He asked the church where he played the organ if he could have the classrooms in the mornings. My biology teacher made sure that those of us taking the Bio final had his mobile number so we could call him at any time. Germany does not have a private school email system for its high schools, so we received private email addresses. The religion majors’ teacher organized private study sessions.

All of this, mind, was unpaid. These teachers did it from the goodness of their hearts, and all they receive for doing so is scorn from a newspaper and the public. The year I graduated, the teachers weren’t even supposed to do any of what they had done for the classes before precisely because of the public perception of their work. They did it anyway.

My parents did not pay tuition so that I was guaranteed an Abitur. My parents paid tuition for smaller classes and higher quality of education, for teachers who actually worked with their students instead of just talking at them. I find the quiz on FB, to come full circle, incredibly insulting to the people at M. who do good, dedicated work, and to anyone who graduated at all. It took work. Money had nothing to do with it. I also wish my friends weren’t even taking that quiz because all they’re doing is perpetuating the stereotype of our school.

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