What can a white, heterosexual, cisgender male do? Listen.

This past week has been loud.

Our entrance into the Gilded Phage erupted in protests, violence, and hate speech, while Twitter fights, Facebook rants, and, most vital, thoughtful blog posts remain at pre-Election levels. Voices are still reaching the cheap seats as dire warnings of an encroaching wave of racism and bigotry are met with caustic dismissals demanding people “Wait and see” and “Stop whining.” It’s a wall of sound that would make Phil Spector tumescent.

This election proved one thing: there are a lot of white, heterosexual, cisgender males in this country, and despite assertions that they are the new oppressed minority, they remain both the most powerful and vocal force in American politics. As a member of that demographic, I have never felt so dismayed to be so visible.

For the last year, ever since I completed 10 Cities, I’ve been largely silent. Up until last week, this website had gone dark and I had minimized my Facebook presence (I’ve remained somewhat active on Twitter; my apologies). I’ve been practicing a skill that doesn’t come naturally to me: Listening.


Listening to voices that aren’t white, heterosexual, cisgender, and/or male is critical for the continued growth of our society and for our growth as individuals. We only need look at last Tuesday to know what’s at stake when we don’t.

One of the ways I’ve been reminding myself to be a better listener is intentionally seeking out voices that wouldn’t naturally enter my sphere of interests. As a white, heterosexual, cisgender male, I’m striving to engage with the points of view of those who aren’t. I’ve not intentionally avoided or ignored those voices in the past, but by nature of our societal structure, I’ve done it all the same.

So far, this endeavor has had the greatest impact in my consumption of art, particularly music and literature. I’ve read assault narratives and about rape culture (Alice Sebold and Kate Harding), read fiction from people of color (Colson Whitehead and Zadie Smith; Zadie pisses me off because her first novel is just so damn good) as well as non-American authors (Arturo Perez-Reverte). I’ve read many other authors (including plenty of white males) this last year, but I hope to find even more diverse voices next year. 

Additionally, and to a much greater extent, I’ve been listening to a more varied slate of musical artists. My musical taste has always been eclectic, but my go-tos have generally been white, straight dudes. It seems like a trivial thing because it’s an easy thing; I love music and I love finding new artists. And yet, as easy as it is to do, it still had to be a conscious choice. Ultimately, that minimum effort to expand my palate has been deeply enriching.

To that end, I’m concluding this post with a by-no-means-exhaustive list of artists who are not white, or not male, or not straight, or not cisgender. The list could expand indefinitely, but these just happen to be some that I’ve come to really appreciate over the last year and who, importantly, offer a broader perspective.

And, finally, to my fellow white, heterosexual, cisgender males: There’s no prize for listening, no pat on the back; there’s just the pleasant reality that so many voices deserve our attention and we are invariably enriched by the simple experience of hearing a new perspective.

I hope you enjoy the music and that you’ll keep listening.

Gallant – Episode

Against Me! – Black Me Out

Tegan and Sara – Boyfriend

Lydia Loveless – Midwestern Guys

Solange – Don’t Touch My Hair

I’m leaving the country.

These are not the circumstances under which I thought I’d be announcing this.

It wasn’t just that I had studied the polls and aggregators daily, or that I had read a hundred thinkpieces and waded into the discussions that were overtaking every online article and comment thread, no matter how unrelated to politics. I believed there were secret pockets of this country whose voices were not being heard; I knew it. I just thought those voices were spread across the spectrum.

I didn’t think I would fall asleep on Tuesday feeling such raw anguish, and I certainly could not imagine I would wake up Wednesday with a gaping wound in my psyche. This fresh hell.

None of these possibilities seemed real when I decided I was moving to Spain.

I made this decision not out of a spirit of protest or anger, not out of disgust or dismay – feelings I cannot shake as I write this. It seems almost a cruel irony that I had made this decision because of quite the opposite: Feelings of inspiration and goodwill that had been reawakened by a recent trip to Spain, a two week excursion in which I met and got to know people from all over the world. It was a fresh reminder of all the things that had inspired the 10 Cities/10 Years project.

For ten years, I lived in a new US city every year, from the Northeast to the Southwest, from the Pacific Northwest to the deep South, and spots in between. For ten years, when people talked about “Real America” I rebuked the notion that any one region of the US was realer, that any region was more deserving of our nation’s reputation for exceptionalism. I grew up in a small Midwestern town and I currently live in the most populous city in this country, and many, many of the places in between. Even when I was dismayed by our country’s political choices or by pockets of the population, my informed opinion – because I had seen it with my own two eyes – was that this was a nation of extraordinary people.

I’m not sure I can argue that anymore.

For the Pro-Lifers who just voted to strip me and millions more like me of health insurance; for the Christian Right who bemoan their perceived persecution in America while denying the video evidence of racial, sexual, and non-Christian religious oppression; for the Americans who strive to make the world better for their children while ignoring the undeniable long-term consequences of Climate Change; well, I can’t defend you.

Nor would you have me. You will say, “Good, leave.” You will say you don’t need me. And on that point, we are in complete agreement.

My only response is that I wish I could say I’m leaving the country as a moral rejection of the United States that exists, but that isn’t true.

What is true is that I’m leaving America because, counter to what much of this nation believes, the world extends beyond these borders, and on the outside there is beauty and kindness and hope. Those things still exist in the United States – they always will – but right now they are overshadowed by thick, black clouds.

If I had my choice, I would not return to this country until someone else was the leader of the land – preferably a woman, or another minority, or someone from the LGBQT community – but I know, as America’s reputation diminishes in the rest of the world, that might not be an option.

I will leave the details of my plans for another time. For now, just know I look forward to a world in which our commonalities across borders mean more than our differences within them.

There will be those who say if I’m disappointed in what this nation is becoming, I should stay to help make it better. That isn’t my fight. I will always support and respect those who are in the trenches, but for my own fraying sanity, I need to move on. There are other causes in this world; America is neither a lost one, nor the only one that matters.

And to those who would say that I do not love the United States, that I am not a true American, I would challenge you to find a single person who has dedicated more time to intimately getting to know this nation’s stunning variety and awe-inspiring splendor. I have traveled her roads, lived in her many neighborhoods, and cherished her boisterous revelries.

It’s just time for me to move on.

That has never been more evident than today.

Fundamental Misunderstandings

“The good thing about science is that it’s true whether or not you believe in it.”

~ Neil deGrasse Tyson

One of the reasons that people come to disagree with the truth is that their understanding of the fundamental argument is so skewed. This could be because someone has deliberately misrepresented the opposing view, but just as often it can be because in an attempt to simplify a topic for easier consumption the original idea gets distorted by the very people trying to explain it.

Take the Big Bang Theory (not the show, dummy), for instance. The whole theory is very complex and encompasses many fields of study and many theories, but the name makes the whole thing sound pretty simplistic and childish. There’s a reason for that. The guy who coined the term was actually mocking the theory. Whereas the theory is well-supported and is the most widely-accepted theory for the origin of the universe, it’s almost impossible to say the name and not roll your eyes a little bit.

Other major scientific principles suffer from similar public relation problems, and it’s often these sorts of simple misunderstandings that lead people down the initial road to doubt.

Let’s look at 3 such fundamental misunderstandings and see if we can’t set them right.*

1. The Theory of Evolution by Natural Selection

I’m not under any grand delusion thinking that any post I write is going to change the minds of people who believe in Intelligent Design. For people who have already sided with that position, there are pages upon pages of well-written responses and rebuttals (that will likely never make a dent). No, I merely hope to reach the few people who generally have never given it much thought but might be susceptible to false information if the facts aren’t explained to them beforehand (like a kid who goes to a Young Republicans meeting for the economic conservatism, but ends up sucked into protesting gay marriage).

What is the fundamental misunderstanding about Darwin’s big theory? Well, it’s all in that famous picture above. From the time any of us hear about evolution, we are shown this (or a similar) picture. It concisely illustrates the notion that humans come from a long line of ancestors who were of a different species. The problem with this picture can be seen every time an evolution denier says something like, “If we evolved from monkeys, how come there are still monkeys.”

We did not evolve from monkeys. Not from apes or orangutans, either. As flashy as that picture is, it gives the false impression that evolution is moving us forward, evolving species with a purpose, an end game. That simply isn’t true. We humans share a common ancestor with apes and orangutans, but that doesn’t mean we evolved from them. The reason there are ‘still monkeys’ is because they, as a species, were well adapted to their environment and survived, just as we did. In fact, the only reason the species we know as ‘humans’ still exists is because at various points in our ancestral history, one species was better adapted to survive than another species.

The better way to illustrate the path of evolution is through a tree illustration. Simple trees can look just like branches or family trees, but the more complex (and accurate) ones are often illustrated in this manner:

As I’ve already said, I know that this explanation will be meaningless to someone who has already dismissed the theory, but for those who are studying it and still trying to figure out where they fall in the debate, it’s important to avoid beginning with such a fundamental misunderstanding.

2. Climate Change

If you’re like me (I’m sorry), then you’re probably irked every time someone says during a massive blizzard, “So much for Global Warming!” Granted, I realize when people post that on Facebook or wherever, half the time they’re being sarcastic or just trolling. But it still bothers me because I know half the time people are serious, and the sentence alone probably gets some people thinking, “Hm, yeah, this doesn’t feel warmer.”

While Global Warming is, indeed, an accurate descriptor (unlike the evolution image above that misrepresents the theory), I prefer the term ‘Climate Change’ because as far as short, eye-catching nomenclature goes, it both accurately describes the phenomenon and doesn’t allow as much room for people too lazy to research the topic to get confused (or sidetracked). Yes, our environment is getting warmer, but no that doesn’t mean every day is going to be hotter.

Day to day temperatures are, of course, affected by the overall climate, but that’s just one of many factors that change as our atmosphere heats up. While Hurricane Sandy can’t definitively be blamed on Climate Change, the increasing severity and frequency of these storms can be. At this point, Climate Change is a fact (like evolution). Humans causing Climate Change is the theory (like the Theory of Natural Selection). As the years progress, we’re seeing an increasing number of Climate Change skeptics change their tune from, “Climate Change isn’t real” to “Climate Change is real, but we have nothing to do with it.”

As we see more and more destructive storms and debilitating droughts, though, the question of whether or not we cause Climate Change becomes academic. It doesn’t matter because if we can do something to counteract these changes no matter what the cause, we should.

3. Statistics

I’m talking about this one because, thanks to Nate Silver and his FiveThirtyEight blog, statistics are all the rage. Who would have thunk math could be so sexy?

As we saw in this election, anybody with a firm enough handle on statistics can look like a friggin’ psychic. Most of us who followed Silver’s blog throughout the election and read his explanations understood the facts that supported his predictions and weren’t at all surprised by the results (unlike some commentators who were apparently blindsided). Before the election, there were a whole lot of reasons being bandied about why Silver’s Forecast was wrong, things like bias and flawed polls. In the echo chamber of the Conservative media where like-minded individuals only heard from each other, it was impossible to align Silver’s predictions with the view they had.

But statistics are a very misunderstood field even when politics aren’t involved. Statistics are the reason I rarely gamble (and why I never play the lotto). Given time, the house always wins. This has to be the case, or casinos would be closing left and right, not giving out free drinks to their patrons.

If you look at the popular literature on statistics, you’ll see a lot of books focused on what is known in the field as “outliers,” those unexpected occurrences where an event happens outside the norm predicted by the stats. These events are called ‘outliers’ for a reason, because they cannot be counted on. But in true American, “I go it alone” fashion, the idea of the outlier has become intoxicating. “Sure,” we think, “most people fall inside the statistical curve, but I’m going to be the Outlier.” (The Outlier would make for a very interesting Superhero.)

Reality hits hard, though.

Contrary to how they are commonly portrayed, statistics don’t make predictions. Statistics, either in the way Nate Silver uses them, or casinos, or baseball general managers, merely determine the odds of a particular event. Statistically speaking, Obama was favored to win. If he had lost, Silver’s methods wouldn’t have been proven wrong, though that would certainly have been the headline (and math education would have taken a major hit). But Obama’s win doesn’t ‘prove’ Silver was right, either, because the math already did that.

Can statistics be wrong? Sure. If the facts are wrong or incomplete. Or if the math itself is done incorrectly. But when the input is correct and the analysis is done properly, the output will be accurate, no matter what. If something is predicted to happen with 75% assurance, but it doesn’t happen, that doesn’t mean the math was wrong. It means that the 25% chance panned out.

Because of that less-than-sexy reality, statistics can be quite frustrating. We want these statisticians to predict the future, but all they can really do is give the odds. This is why accusations of Silver being biased were so unfounded. As a statistician, Silver’s reputation rests on his accuracy, not on his political bent. He didn’t use magic or any crazy tricks to make predictions, he just used math.

And that’s damn sexy.

*This is by no means an attempt to give a thorough overview of these topics. Hopefully, if you’re interested, you’ll seek out reputable sources for further information.

5 Victories on Election Day

“The nation, as you know, is at a critical point. At a time like this, we can’t risk partisan bickering and political posturing. Our leaders have to reach across the aisle to do the people’s work. And we citizens also have to rise to the occasion.” ~ Mitt Romney’s Concession Speech

It is November 7th, the day after the election (as I type this, election day has been over for less than 2 hours).

We know the winner of the presidential election. We don’t have to wait until December to be certain. There will, of course, be people who  cry “conspiracy” and claim that Obama couldn’t possibly have won, but as Mitt Romney has so obviously conceded, Barack Obama has earned four more years as the President of the United States of America.

If I wasn’t an atheist, I’d say, “Thank God.” Instead, I’ll just say, thank you, the American voter who saw past the rhetoric to vote for a better tomorrow. But, no, I’m not talking exclusively about the re-election of President Obama. I’m talking about all the larger victories of November 6th, 2012.

The 5 Greatest Victories of 11/6/12

1. The easiest (and most obvious) one is the re-election of Barack Obama. No, he isn’t the Messiah, but because I’m a rational person who isn’t looking for my politicians to turn water into wine, I’m just happy that the president of the United States is a man who has dedicated himself to fighting for those whose average income isn’t $1 Million a month. I don’t need my politicians to be immaculate elections, I just want them to be on the right side of history.

I believe Obama is.

2. The American Consumer has an advocate in the Senate. Elizabeth Warren, the passionate, intelligent liberal firebrand beat out the Republican incumbent in Massachusetts to take the seat and add a powerful voice to the political debate. Liberals should be happy about this victory, but women in particular should be ecstatic to be represented (in a general sense) by such a strong, passionate woman.

People like Warren give people like me hope.

3. Recreational use of marijuana is legal in Colorado and Washington. Let me set something straight: I don’t smoke. Literally, tonight, I was offered a free toke and I passed. It’s just not my bag. And yet, I completely support the legalization of marijuana. Caffeine is a more dangerous drug than pot. Legalize it, tax it, and we as a nation will save millions from the “War On Drugs” while bringing in beaucoup cash. What will these victories mean for the nation as a whole? I’m not sure, but I suspect that the nation is on the slow march towards the national decriminalization of the herb.

 4. Rape won’t be defined by male Republicans. Both idiots, Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock, lost their races after making incomprehensible, completely ignorant statements about rape and the female bodies. It’s easy to grow cynical about the state of science, common sense and female rights in modern American politics, but today a couple of brain-dead neanderthals have lost their power. Since both candidates were leading at one point, I have to conclude that it was their idiotic statements that ultimately undid them.

Hopefully this will warn Republicans (and politicians of all stripes): Stop being stupid about women. They vote, and they don’t like idiots trying to control their bodies.

5. Maryland and Maine approved same-sex marriage by vote. By the end of the week, it’s very likely that Washington state will also have made the same historic leap. But for the sake of pithy, of-the-minute reactions, it only matters that as of November 6th, 2012, Maryland and Maine are the first states in these United States that approved same-sex marriage by a vote of the population. No longer can opponents claim that same-sex marriage has only been permitted by the activist decisions of liberal judges and legislators.

For the first time, the entire populace of a state went to the ballots and decided that bigotry is pretty crappy.

An amendment to the Constitution that would ban same-sex marriage is almost certainly a pipe dream. By the time Obama is winding down his eight years (!) as president, I’d bet 50% of the states will have legalized ‘same-sex marriage’ by some method or another. Good for them. Good for us. We are on the right side of history, and we’re only marching further into the world of true equality.

This is the America I believe in.

*

I don’t know what the next four years will bring about, but today is pregnant with potential and optimism. Who knows what 2016 will hold, but for now, we have the chance to take a giant leap forward. Let’s hope we don’t waste it.

5 Songs For Election Day

It’s election day tomorrow, which means that the nation will finally all come together and breathe a sigh of relief that the campaigning is over. I enjoy my politics-fix as much as the next junky, but let’s get this bitch done.

Whoever wins, some people will be elated, and some will be heartbroken (and most will just be relieved). Treat your fellow citizens with respect, no matter what side of the line they fall on.

In honor of the momentous day, I’ve crafted a short playlist of election-themed songs. No, there’s no “God Bless America” or “Born in the U.S.A.” on here. These songs are all about what the election is really about: Lies and broken promises. Enjoy.

The National – “Mr. November”

A song written about Bush Jr., really aren’t we all just hoping for a president who “won’t fuck us over?”

Death Cab For Cutie – “President of What?”

Not really sure this song has anything to do with elections, but it’s got ‘President’ in the title, and like most of Death Cab’s early stuff, the subject is just ambiguous enough to be about almost anything. And besides, the refrain “Something’s got to break you down,” could very well be the exclamation of an exasperated candidate at an undecided voter. I mean, seriously, it’s election day, and the ads still haven’t convinced you?

The Decemberists – 16 Military Wives

Another song about Bush (he wasn’t a popular president in the indie music-verse), this song is not only about a president’s abuse of power and warmongering, but its Rushmore-aping video is all about elections (though, school ones). The catchiest song about a meaningless war you’ll hear all week.

Radiohead – “Electioneering”

No modern band has a more cynical outlook of politicians then Radiohead, and this straight rocker from their masterpiece, OK Computer, is them at their most acerbic. While they’ve criticized specific politicians both in and out of their music, this song is more broadly critical of the whole rigamarole. “When I go forwards, you go backwards,” indeed.

Geto Boys – Damn It Feels Good To Be A Gangsta

What else needs to be said?

Fireworks exploding in the sky

Vote

I voted for Obama in 2008. I lived in San Francisco and when the election results came through, the city erupted in a celebration that I  must imagine was only rivaled by the rapturous joy in Chicago.

On November 6th, 2012, we as a nation vote again, but no matter the winner, it seems unlikely the excitement will be as palpable as it was 4 years ago. For one, ‘Re-Electing the first black president’ doesn’t quite have the ring of ‘Electing the first black president.’ And while Romney would be the first Mormon president, who outside of Utah cares?

Also, despite the challenger’s rhetoric, our nation’s position isn’t as perilous as it was in 2008. 4 years ago, the recession was ongoing and the worst days were still ahead of us. Now, the recession is over and recovery is marching ahead, albeit not quite at warp speed. We aren’t selecting a president to pull us out of the path of a hurricane (though, if we were, Obama has proven his chops for that job). We are essentially stating that either Obama deserves 4 more years to continue the job or that his efforts are too little, too late.

Romney Vs. Obama

Frankly, despite some strong campaign moments late in the game, Romney has never effectively made this election a battle between him and Obama. It has always been Obama versus not-Obama. Some Romney supporters would obviously disagree, but we have to ask ourselves why, if Obama is the failure he’s painted as among the Conservative media, he is still by all mathematical accounts the heavy favorite to win.

The answer is simple: Romney has founded his campaign on voter dissatisfaction. Not voter enthusiasm or even voter anger (though, naturally, there are some angry voters out there). At his most honest (which is a rare sight), the best Romney can do is say “Obama, meh.” Just look at the final presidential debate where he basically agreed with Obama on every stance before saying, “But I’d be better.”

Being the masochist that I am, I frequently read the comments sections of online articles. It tends to be the same annoying back and forth between Liberals and Conservatives (let’s make a deal: Libs will stop writing ‘Rmoney’ if Cons will stop writing ‘Obummer’. Neither one is all that clever and it undermines any point you’re trying to make). But in the last couple weeks, it seems like the Conservative commentators have all decided the Benghazi attack is Obama’s greatest Achilles’ Heel (bringing it up even on completely unrelated articles). This is interesting for a couple of reasons.

One, it indicates that they apparently realize a lot of their other attacks on Obama, especially on the economy, are pretty toothless in the face of good job numbers and other signs that the economy is rebounding.

Two, it begs the question: If the Benghazi attacks hadn’t happened (a mere two months ago), what would they be complaining about? Some conservative nutters have implied that Hurricane Sandy was good luck for Obama, but if that’s the case, the Benghazi attacks seem to have been good luck for Romney. Without it, the last two months of his campaign would have had nothing but bald dissatisfaction to hang its hat on.*

Considering all that, I don’t suspect this election night to be as electric as it was in 2008 (New Orleans doesn’t seem all that engaged in this election, at least compared to 2008 San Fran).

Regardless of the ‘enthusiasm gap’, though, it’s still important to vote. It’s important whether you’re voting for Obama, Romney or one of those other people that apparently exist (I kid because I care). Yes, in most states, the winner is pretty much predetermined. Yes, even of the many swing states, Ohio seems to be the single key to the whole shebang. Yes, a president could win the Electoral College and lose the popular vote (e.g. Bush v. Gore).

So why, if your name isn’t Bob Undecided-Voter from Cleveland (it’s German), should you vote?

Why Vote?

First, no matter where you live, when they total the popular vote, yours counts. Why does that matter? Well, if you are, for instance, an Obama supporter, you want him to win both the Electoral College and the popular vote (this is true, of course, if you support Romney, but the likelihood of him winning the EC but losing the popular is considerably smaller). Nothing would give the opposition greater pleasure than to say, “Yeah, you won, but not with the support of the majority of the nation. We’ll gladly continue or obstructionist ways, claiming the ‘mandate.'”

Or as one political strategist put it: “It’s going to encourage more hyperpartisanship.”

No matter where you fall on the political spectrum, that’s not a good thing.

The other reason to vote is because your vote isn’t just for the president, it’s against the nakedly un-Democratic actions of states legislators across this country that have tried to restrict the vote in the name of protecting against ‘voter fraud’, fraud that simply doesn’t exist. And don’t think these sorts of restrictions were only popping up in the swing states. In the past two years, the vast majority of states have passed voting restrictions.

As partisan as I admittedly am (I’m not a Democrat, just a hyper-liberal), I do attempt to be fair when both parties are being stupid. But in this case, there is no question, the voting restrictions have been enacted predominantly by Republicans with a clear interest in disenfranchising voters who historically vote Democrat. Luckily, time after time, there have been people fighting these sickening efforts. But that hasn’t stopped some last minute efforts to suppress the vote.

We need to vote, no matter what state we live in, no matter who we’re voting for, because that’s the best way to undermine these cynical efforts to impede the rights of U.S. citizens. Ideally, the electorate would kick these legislators out of office the first chance they get, but that’s not likely to happen, at least not this election.

I don’t care if you like Barack Obama, Mitt Romney, Jill Stein or Ross Perot (remember that guy?), any attempt to suppress the voting rights of your fellow citizens should bother you. Yes, your guy might have a better chance of winning, but is that really the democracy you want? Is that what our soldiers fight for and what our forefathers risked their lives to create? We know it isn’t.

So, if you haven’t voted already, get to your polling place on Tuesday, and encourage your friends and family to vote as well. It’s a half hour of your day, at most.

Maybe your one vote won’t chance the outcome of the election, but it could change the course of the nation all the same.

And on election night 2012, that’s the win we can all celebrate, no matter who wins the presidency.

*Whether the Benghazi attacks are really all that big of a liability for Obama has yet to be truly seen. My guess: Not really.