Can We Talk About Guns? Can We Talk About Anything?

It’s not time to talk about gun regulation when people use guns to kill for fun, politics or revenge. It’s not time to talk about human contributions to climate change when hurricanes sustain category five winds for 36 hours or dump five feet of rain in a few days. It’s not time to talk about health care when GOP politicians are rushing a vote on damaging legislation through secret meetings. It’s not time to talk about the antiquated electoral college despite two of the last five popular vote count winners losing the election. It’s not time to talk about Russia interfering with our election because Trump said there was no collusion. It’s not time to talk with North Korea because we’re not willing to offer anything. It’s not time to talk about obesity because few will listen to a Black first lady telling them to eat their vegetables. It’s not time to talk about certain infrastructure being years past prime and needing major renovations because ‘The Wall’ needs to get built to keep out those shifty Mexicans. It’s not time to talk about university tuition indebting generations, opioid epidemics started from profiteering pharma, police and minority relations continuing to strain communities, poisoned drinking water or the incessant pollution from fossil fuels.

It’s not time to talk about anything because no one is listening! If you are a Hillary voter, could someone convince you that Trump is a good leader because he’s saying honest things that no other politician is willing to say? If you are a Trump voter, could someone convince you that Hillary was going to be good for the country because she is a powerful woman with a moderate and progressive vision for America? If you agree with Kaepernick’s kneeling protest, could someone convince you that it is a foolish objection and that any Black person killed by police must have been guilty? If you think kneeling is an affront to our flag and nation, could someone convince you that Black political, personal, social and cultural suppression is real and present in 2017?

America is becoming separated into little enclaves of beliefs reinforced by segmented and divergent media. There are the extremes of alt-right tiki torchers and antifa black masks, the religious nuts and atheist extremists, also the disagreements of city mice and country folk, with the classic Republican and Democrat finding their own corresponding information. Locked away within our personal confirmation bias of who is wrong and why, there is little room for debate with someone’s opinion because to disagree with his/her opinion means to disagree with his/her reality.

Extreme right ideas: Obamacare needs to be repealed because it was from an illegitimate Kenyan president. DACA should not be allowed because immigrants are criminals. Guns are a 2nd Amendment right and regulation only punishes the innocent.

Extreme left ideas: Transgender bathroom use or military presence represent no problems to anyone. Immigration is good no matter the country of origin. Guns are a 2nd Amendment right and regulation might stop some killers from killing.

All the above are incomplete ideas and open for debate. There should not be a razor’s edge where no reasonable answer can balance. We need a decent mesa of acceptable ranges of solutions, a place to discuss and hear the other while sustaining an openness to find satisfactory resolutions.

The recent terror in Las Vegas will inevitably result in America’s biannual shitshow of arguments after a mass murder between guns are cool beans and guns are weak sauce. The fact that we have laws against murder didn’t stop this man, but the fact that we legally sell semi-automatic rifles with scopes that can be easily manipulated into automatic dispensers of death certainly helped that man. The answer could be metal detectors in every hotel, transit point, school, shopping mall, restaurant, movie theater, and public building. The answer could be to stop outdoor festivals or any massive gathering. The answer could be restricting, limiting or even outlawing some or all guns and accessories.

Guns should face more regulations and controls but laws cannot change in America (see Sandy Hook). If every gun was taken away, those dedicated to homicide could use a 3-D printer to make their own firearms, manufacture homemade bombs and set them off at a tailgate party, drive cars into pedestrians at a farmer’s market, stab people in a crowded subway, throw acid in strangers’ faces, drive a bus off a bridge or a plane into a mountain. We know that guns aren’t the only way to kill large groups of people.

But guns are the most impersonal. I heard a Radiolab podcast that dissected the runaway trolley question. (A trolley is out of control and headed on a track to kill five workers. You can pull a lever to switch tracks whereby the trolley only kills one worker. Do you pull the lever to save five but kill one?) 9 out of 10 people will pull the lever that saves more lives. But, when the situation is changed and you have no lever, and you must push a fat man standing next to you onto the track, now 9 out of 10 do not push the man. The situation is the same, five will die if you do nothing, but most people (True fact: aside from psychopaths and Buddhist monks who both would push the man) feel that pushing a man to his death feels different than pulling a lever.

Take the gun away, and the ease of which they kill may derail some murderous/suicidal plans. While true that guns don’t kill people without a human to pull the trigger, that is some chicken and egg logic there. Would there be over 30,000 gun fatalities (2/3 of which are suicides) every year if America were gunless? Is it our unique culture of violence or our unique culture of gun possession?

We must concede that 7.4 billion humans aren’t going to live together peacefully, at least not yet. There is so much trust involved in daily interactions, utilities, internet and simple rule following that is taken for granted. In a given day I trust the water to run and flush, the electric to turn on, cars to stop for a red light, weather predictions to be accurate, chefs to serve clean food and to not be murdered by a maniac. We expect things to work neatly in our neat little worlds, in our neat little neighborhoods, in our neat little houses.

The world humans created is not always neat and is approaching a cataclysm, a future beyond prediction, overpopulation, unbearable heat waves, fishless seas, ruthless droughts, recurrent floods, unabated migrations, lethal diseases, or any combination of frightful events, including mass killings. The effects of soaring human population with capitalistic winners and losers, factory farming, loss of species and habitat and climate change will certainly have negative repercussions. That is not pessimism, that is reality; however, my dark yin is accompanied by a bright yang. Humans are more than capable of solving problems.

We’ve made a nice little domain here on Earth. We’ve created comfort with entertainment, dispensed vaccines and eradicated diseases. We’ve decreased poverty and global hunger by half in the past thirty years. We’ve sent ships to spy on distant planets, submarines to the bottom of the ocean, investigated the deepest jungles. We’ve made human life an art form. Granted, millions still struggle every day, and until they are brought out of their misery, humanity will communally suffer, some literally and others through that painful knowledge. Violence is just one more problem we seek to solve as a united society. A few governments hold the key to total destruction with nuclear weapons and individuals have the existential power to end their own or another’s life at any given moment.

The fact that people made guns to erase life, but also concocted medical shots to prolong it displays the intriguing yin/yang of a human psyche.

America has too many gun deaths, India has too many untouchables, Yemen has too many starving, Syria has too many homeless, Japan has too many suicides, Congo has too many child soldiers, North Korea has too many prisoners, and Somalia has too many pirates. All forms of tragedies are played out daily around our world. Las Vegas was a tragedy and felt like a turning point for new legislation, but I don’t think it’s going to generate firearm restrictions. The entrenched sides have been dug. It’s sad to accept the unavoidable fact that humans have killed, kill and will kill again—ourselves, each other and millions of edible animals every day.

 

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My Top Ten Best Places to Swim in the World

Ocean creatures nibble on your feet as the wide expanse of seawater pulses with waves for bodysurfing. Nude night swimming as a teenager felt like breaking rules that weren’t meant to be followed anyway. Sunday night swims at the Y.M.C.A, when we were still a family of four, with vending machine ice cream followed by the classic show by the formerly virtuous, presently vilified Bill Cosby.

Swimming was always a part of my life. There are soundless, grainy videos of me as a chubby baby splashing and floating in Styrofoam tubes, later, flat chested, sun browned and endlessly chasing waves and catching rides, picking up horseshoe crabs to scare girls. We would spend every summer weekend and our big two-week vacation at the beach. I remember the crispy crust of seawater kissed skin, the smell of barbecuing meat and steaming corn as we ran around the yard. I remember barely being able to sleep out of excitement the night before we would go to the Wildwood, NJ water parks.

They were the days of pre-9/11 America. They were the days before any premature deaths had forced me to reckon with life’s brief candle. They were the days before girls were significant, when we all looked the same. They were the days of wonder and sleepover nights, before jobs and bills. They were the days of best friends, talking on the phone, riding bikes. This is a list of memories, a catalog of subjective experiences, a way to look back while wondering what is still to come.

I read a story in the New York Times by Loudon Wainwright III, an American troubadour, who has similar feelings for the water. He put down his top ten swimming places in the world. I thought it would be fun to do the same.

Here are my top ten most memorable water filled places:

10. Stuttgart Mineral Baths, Germany—I love a good sauna. When I first arrived in Korea, I’d spend hours slipping in and out of the hot and cold baths, hopping between the steam or the cool showers. But my love for saunas started here, in Germany’s Black Forest. I got naked in front of strange Germans, suntanned unabashedly and relished the nude joy of the healing waters. (I should include that Budapest and Sevilla also had amazing bathhouses, but as a bathing suit was required, it just felt more like a fancy pool with beautiful mosaic tiles.)

9. Lagos, Portugal—Although this was the most hungover I’ve ever been as the local bars offer 2 for 1 everything, the crisp seawater was a lifesaver in the morning. I found some crepes and a bucket of ice water and stared at the shimmering Atlantic Ocean. The massive cliffs beside the beaches make for a spectacular backdrop. I remember swimming out with some friends to a natural bridge in the rocks before remembering a scene from a nature documentary where hundreds of manta rays gathered in a place just like that.

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Courtesy: Western Australia Pinterest

8. Karijini National Park, Western Australia—Hidden among the baked red earth of Australia’s outback was a bright blue pool dotted with waterfalls and trees. There was a good hour hike down the rocks to the pool, heating you up for the cool down. There was a 20-meter cliff jump, shady spots to have a drink and some rock climbing inside the waterfalls. We camped in this remote park, and it remains the most stars I’ve ever seen.

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7. Gwangalli Beach, Busan, South Korea—It’s one of the most famous beaches of Korea and insanely crowded for 6 weeks in July and August. But in any season, you can get some Ramen noodles, beers, chips and shoot fireworks into the placid waters. There are no waves here, but the scenic Gwangan Bridge makes a glimmering seascape come alive at night. (Most of the Korea’s east coast has lovely blue water, white sands and nearby 7-11’s. Plus, the island of Jeju is full of amazing waterfalls, beaches and sex museums.)

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6. Mekong River, Laos—Although the Mekong runs from China to Vietnam, my favorite spot was in the Thousand Islands of Don Det. It’s not easy to get to, as you must ride a shaky diesel-powered longboat with a draft of a few inches to the water. Animals run wild, people are friendly and there is a small swimming spot at the end of the island. It was amazing to walk out a few feet and feel the current begin to take you downstream. A few more feet and you’d need to paddle hard to get back in. (In Kratie, Cambodia, I found a cool spot with thatched huts on pylons where the locals drank and cooled off.)

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5. Otres Beach, Cambodia—This is my ideal paradise beach. It’s quiet, chill, beautifully set on the Gulf of Thailand with a few beachside bars and pubs pumping quiet house music. There are French expats who’ve opened some decent restaurants complete with a boule lawn. Every day, the local women sold me fresh mango, watermelon and a back and foot rub for 10$. I also did a great scuba dive here. I was the only one who signed up, so I got to solo dive with the instructor. Sitting under a thatch umbrella, mangoes, cold beer, burgers and a Kindle. (There are Happy Pizza restaurants and tons of bars in nearby Sihanoukville, the backpacker party town.)

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4. Trieste, Italy—This little enclave of an Italian city with an Austrian heritage has a small sidewalk with access to the Adriatic Sea, called the Barcola. If you remember to bring a cushioned mat and towel, relaxing on the cement will be a breeze. The sea is beautiful here, flat and blue out to the horizon with tree covered mountains behind. (Nearby Croatian beaches are similarly wonderful.)

3. Barton Springs, Austin, Texas—A spring fed pool in South Austin, with lax clothing requirements, few personal restrictions, naturally cold water and a diving board. The only negative might be that it is set upon a grassy hill, which just isn’t as nice as sand. (If you catch the right day, McKinney Falls can be spectacular. But a real gem is down in Wimberley at the Blue Hole or chilling near the Blanco River.)

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2. Phuket, Thailand—It was near the end of a four-month journey in SE Asia, and our last day in Thailand. Jordyn and I wanted to swim. We could see heavy, dark clouds shooting lightning in the distance. The rain was falling, the waves were high and we jumped right in. Walking back, people were covered in rain gear, umbrellas and galoshes, we wore only bathing suits and sandals. (Phuket is nice, but the islands like Ko Lanta, or Ko Tao are much more stunning.)

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1. Avalon, NJ—It’s not the clearest, cleanest or nicest water. It’s not always the most peaceful environment. It’s not the most reliably wonderful weather. And although things are changing there, as it’s become a playground for elites with multi-million dollar houses, and there are sound ordinances where police will shut you down for singing after midnight, and extreme weather pushes the storm surges ever closer to the doorstep, and the restaurants are overpriced, and the bars full of college meatheads, khaki shorts and high heels…well, damn, maybe it’s just our little house there. The little cinderblock paradise on the bay, where so many memories were made, remains my favorite place to swim in the world.

 

Trump Is a Fool, and Part of a Larger, Global Problem

2016 has been a good year to be cynical. We’ve seen breakdowns in American politics, policing, and public opinion. We’ve seen furious demands by some for xenophobic demagoguery or others for socialistic rearrangement. We’ve seen the impromptu videos of police brutality. We’ve seen gay and transgender activism topple the delicate social balance of liberal and conservative beliefs. We’ve seen a new wave of terrorism brought from the distant desert lands to the concrete jungles of Europe and America. We’ve seen political correctness become a rallying cry for freedom to be intolerant, disguised as first amendment rights or an all-encompassing battering ram for social justice but stained by self-righteousness. We’ve seen fear, distrust and a rise of “otherness”, placing us all in a state of anxiety while being forced to choose sides.

Maybe it’s always been like this. Maybe the media, with its 24-hour cycle, clickbait headlines of terror, and the relentless supply of bad news provides us with more than enough fodder for our daily dread. Maybe it’s human nature, a result of thousands of years of tribal warfare, to pick a side, a side that looks like you, talks like you and acts like you. Maybe our technology evolved faster than our dinosaur brains could handle. Maybe the freedoms of modernity moved faster than the regulations of religion. Maybe it’s just the beginning of true globalization and these are the growing pains, the revolution of respect for one another. Or, maybe, things really are different. That there is no chance of escaping the growing pains; that this version of Earth, the Anthropocene, is doomed to end in a worldwide suicide. That is the creeping cynicism that has been harder to explain away by cheer-up positivity or humanistic benevolence.

It was over a year ago. Donald Trump came down the escalator of doom waving his little hands and sneering his greasy smirk. I remember being embarrassed for the escalator. Trump slowly glided down the steel stairs in a faux gold haze, Melania behind, gleaming like a statue with eyeshadow. Doesn’t that memory haunt you? Don’t you remember thinking how silly it all seemed? Do you remember being happy that Jon Stewart had someone to jab for his last month? Well, it didn’t last one month. Little by little it dawned on those blue states by the water how much his disdain for decorum represented an ideology never given voice by a plethora of flyover country. Those living in Palin’s America were seething in their hatred of Obama, frustrated by the lack of representation from government and watching their parents’ America fade away in a sea of Mexican immigration, mosque construction, gay parades and non-gender pronouns.

The non-college, working class white man is losing his traditional role in America. He built the cars that drove us, he dug the coal that kept the lights on, he made the factories across America hum with production. That was the “great America” Trumpets want to “make again.” Things made sense in that fantastical whitewashed world that never really existed. The Victorian England illusion of collective happiness localized in American nostalgia. The postwar American culture was not some flawless moment of racial harmony, political prudence or familial coherence deserving of nostalgia. There were lynchings, assassinations, over-hyped red scares, wars, gender imbalance and of course, lots of advertising pushing the portrayal of the White American Dream in washing-machines, Marlboro cigarettes or crispy pie crusts. Jon Hodgman, the deranged millionaire, podcast host, and overall know-it-all put it wonderfully: “Nostalgia is at best, unproductive, and at worst, poisonous.”

There was never a time when America wasn’t great; there was never a time when America wasn’t sinning. It was and is a radical experiment, yet since day one, it’s been and continues to be wholly unbalanced in race, gender and class. However, the beauty of our country is that we move forward, embracing, albeit slowly and sometimes painfully, all who enter the wide, bounteous shores. It would be a shame to stop now.

Trump proposed a view of immigrants that was myopic and fearful. The soundbite of the campaign announcement was: “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best…they’re sending people that have lots of problems…They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.” It was the last part, the assumption that some might be good that surprised me. Like some of them are good enough, by implication, to mow a lawn or trim some hedges. Some of them are good enough to cook a burrito bowl or clean hotel lobbies. Some of them are good enough to pick fruit or act as low-wage caregivers. It seemed like a random thing to say, a weird tangent off into drunk uncle territory. Yes, some Mexicans, by simple law of numbers, must be drug dealers, criminals or rapists; in the same way that some German, Irish, Italian, Chinese et al. immigrants of the last century were criminals. It’s a non-starter sentence. It’s true of some, but not factual for all. Like saying pizza is the best food.

It was the first of so many gaffes, that in hindsight, were actually campaign platforms and Trumpistic platitudes to garner the support of the baser brained folk. I’ve watched with bemused amazement over the past year, digesting his anti-charm, listening to the pundits’ prognostications and shrugging my brain shoulders in awe. Here’s a man with a bizarre list of verbal diarrhea, running for president, gaining more Republican primary votes than anyone else in history, pushing imagined fallacies on the gullible, eager and most importantly—furious voters—of the “blame it them” camp. Not despite, but because of those times when he has insulted war heroes, the handicapped, women, immigrants, Muslims, journalists, politicians, and babies that he is the Republican nominee. His appeal is possible to understand when you look at current trends affecting his fans. There are many circles, some overlapping in a Venn diagram of foolishness: “new poor”, anti-government, pro-‘Murica, gun activists, pseudo racists, full-on racists, anyone but Hillary, and many more drifting among the hostile morass of his cult of personality. This Trump fantasy didn’t begin in a bubble.

Rates of suicide and preventable disease are up among poor whites, Muslims face daily prejudice, African-Americans struggle against discrimination in every area of their life, while distrust in government grows as incumbents continue to win 90% of their elections. Everybody is struggling. Trump and Sanders’ success laid in their proposing a change to more of the same. If Hillary is elected, the presidency appears driven by nepotism. Bush, Clinton, Bush, Obama, Clinton. America isn’t the only place affected by turmoil. There are multitudes of dispirited and outraged in the world right now. We’ve seen the problems of austerity in southern Europe, lifelong dictators destroying African populations, sweatshop labor proliferating in Asia, radicalism in the Middle East, financial turmoil and corruption in South America. Trump’s hard rhetoric unites those struggling and promises, with empty slogans and tough talk, to “Make America Great Again” and “Build a beautiful wall.”

The history of America, rooted in a deep, unspoken, but palpable class system where money is king has grown into an unsteady, wobbling beast of influence. The 1% is highly visible today. Their conspicuous consumption is sickening to the 50 million in poverty, frustratingly distant to the new poor of the “middle class” and basically unattainable for most despite ambition or hard work.

Trump has capitalized on those feelings. He’s trying to hold a mirror to the corruption, by showing his own reflection in the tainted pond of D.C politics. He’s banking on his tough guy image as someone who is SO cool, he could fire “celebrities!” He is so strong, he can tell the aristocrats of American pop culture, the pretty faces of the big screen, the sexy reality stars, the hunks and vixens of the glitterati to take a hike.

Fame is the cherished currency today. Trump has been famously infamous for decades. Trump has 33,000 tweets of varying indecency tweeted to 11 million followers. His pithy nicknames work well with Twitter savaged brains. His dim Hemingway terseness captivates the dictionary deprived. His “You’re fired” catchphrase was the power line for the powerless dreaming of making their own jerk bosses redundant. Unfortunately, this isn’t TV. It’s international politics, where a certain level of intelligence and sympathy is a job requirement instead of an impediment.

We cannot force our racist cousins, fearful grandparents, or indoctrinated Fox & Friends to think, read, listen, debate and then decide. Trump is the candidate of feelings, not facts. Anyone who’s said, “He tells it like it is—” you’re wrong. He tells it like you think it is. The problem is that half the country bought his sour, combed over, straight talkin’ Kool-aid. Who can blame them?

People were duped and lost their houses; the banks were bailed out. People work hard every day; the CEO’s get the bonuses. Kids go to university; they find jobs gone missing on graduation day and a letter of debt in the mailbox. Working class folks go broke when factories close down; then see immigrants driving bigger, better trucks. Most of us can’t understand the larger trends driving all these problems, but we sense the inequality. We don’t know the facts, but it feels pretty shitty.

In comes Hillary 2.0, a relic of the Democratic party, a shapeshifting, blindly motivated, suspiciously innocent, demonstrably intelligent, overtly capable candidate who wants us to make her dream come true, when much of America wakes up in a nightmare every day. Alternatively, we get The Donald, an awkward, impolite, uninformed, unenlightened B-side reality show star, tabloid quoting, self-tanned twit. Who are we to trust to save our country from the brink of unending debt, civil war, or financial collapse?

The truth used to be both parties were two arms of the same twisted, shady body. The Dems fought off the onslaught of Bernie Sanders’ socialist influenza and now the Republicans are trying desperately to distance themselves from the pancreatic cancer known as Trump.

Here we are, the two most despised candidates in history, third parties relegated to obscurity, and we get to vote for a leftover or a bigot.

It’s easy to think, “things will get better.” It’s easy to blame the other side. The brave choice is to understand that only by giving up all we know and understand, expanding on wisdom, rebuilding the system and establishing parity will we get a glimpse of the communal ideal. I doubt we could ever be brave enough or unified enough as a country to actually do that. I doubt that the wealthy elites would ever allow us close enough to the gates to tear them down.

The populace tried to send a message this year with the outpouring of support for “outsider” candidates. Unfortunately, politics in D.C. is crammed into a tiny clown car of collusion, with no room for “outsiders.” It doesn’t matter if they claim to “build a wall” or “break up the banks.” Nothing will happen unless the moneyed interests steering that clown car decide to do it. But that clown car is their ride to the bank.

That is the general cynicism I take away from this absurd election season: powerful money and the illusion of choice. Although this year we have an actual choice between bigotry and status quo, we’ve allowed money behind the scenes and force fed two choices for so long, regardless of our choice, it only results in the same stationary inactivity and partisan disputes that drove us to look to irrational outsiders incapable of fixing an intractable situation.

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USA Wins Big, Again!

The U.S. women have just won their third world championship fulfilling their self-described boast as “one of the best teams ever”. This is a huge accomplishment and something to brag about to your friends around the world. They will say it’s not the real World Cup, and they’re basically correct. (They’re correct the same way that you can say eating chocolate covered raisins isn’t candy because it’s dried grapes. It’s true, but wrong. I think the broken English phrase, “Same, same, but different” is slightly more fitting.) Although it does require the qualifier “Women’s” World Cup, the excitement and national pride exists just as passionately in this tournament. Carli Lloyd’s midfield shocker in the final, Abby Wambach’s flying kick against Nigeria or Kelley O’Hara’s game sealing goal against the talented German squad let us know that these ladies are magic. And yes, now that you asked, they are attractive. Their appeal comes from both thrilling athleticism and robust beauty.

There are haters. My dad told me a direct quote from one of his friends as, “If you’ve got time to watch women’s soccer, you’ve got too much time on your hands.” Well, if being the best team in the world isn’t reason enough to watch, then maybe you just don’t like soccer. (Either way, bugger off ya wankah.) The reason women’s soccer is as good as men’s is because it’s a finesse sport with just a hint of chaos. There is plenty of physicality, so these girls are tough, but the difference between a male or female cross into a header is negligible. Though I’m no connoisseur of fútbol, I think that’s a fair comparison. The American men’s team is making changes and looking more competitive but even their coach acknowledges they are far from winning a tournament. The American women are the best side in history! 3 of 4 Olympic titles and 3 of 7 World Cup titles have been won by USA. They dominate, and I’m happy to call myself a fan.

In 1999, I was living at the Jersey Shore, partying and preparing my stomach for the upcoming four years of outrageous university life. Those games were on in the background of many blurred memories, including the memorable Brandi Chastain Cup winning sports bra incident. In 2011, I was unemployed and watched every minute of every game of that tournament. I shaved my hair into a glorious mullet in an inexplicable gesture of solidarity and support for our girls. They came up short to the tsunami-ravaged nation of Japan who probably needed that win for the country’s collective sanity. But this year, this team, looked really different in the knockout stage. They were cool but fiery in attack, shrewd and swaggering in defense, a formidable foe for any team. Carli Lloyd played out of her head in the final three games scoring five goals and Hope Solo and the back line were able to avert most challenges.

In the years to come, U.S. soccer will continue to improve until both the men and women are perennial challengers for the Cup. One day, in my lifetime, the American men’s team will crush the machismo of South America, stifle the diving masses of Europe and sprint past the speed of Africa to their first World Cup title, thus ruining the sport for the world. Until then, the American girls are running it again. Let’s celebrate their accomplishment and be happy in the victory.

**(Also, let’s hope the U.S. Justice Department’s investigation ruts out the corruption in FIFA, so we can continue to enjoy these amazing tournaments without worry of systemic bureaucratic corruption.)

U.S.A. Women Win World Cup 2015

Can America Ever Recover From Its History?

Teaching Korean kindergarteners about Rosa Parks involves a lot of backstory. The story doesn’t begin on that bus in Alabama. Its roots are profoundly sad and incomprehensible. I found myself saying things like, “White people didn’t like black people,” and really struggling to find a simple answer to their, “Why?” It is an oversimplification for sure, but slavery and its legacy in America is both undeniably understood as a construct of capitalism yet difficult to comprehend in a moral context. I’ve been reading lots of articles in reaction to the Charleston shootings and the subsequently justified Confederate flag bashing. That flag, no matter what the Duke boys or Lindsey Graham may say, represents the former Confederate States of America, which implicitly represents the institution of American slavery.

Slavery’s history in the Americas is deep and deadly. In the 300+ years of the African slave trade, around 12 million Africans were shipped (10 million survived the passage) to the New World, of which only about half a million were sent to North America to work the sugar and cotton fields. (Brazil took the bulk with around five million.) The average life expectancy of black slaves was 21, half the average age of whites. Families were broken as children were sold away from parents, wives taken from husbands. The culture and traditions of their African life slowly faded away from memory. There are now over 40 million black people living in USA, many of whom are possible descendants of those initial slaves.

The master/slave relationship was conflicting at best and viciously cruel at the worst. White masters invoked sexual rights upon their female “property”, which created internal color discrimination and confusion within the modern black community. Jim Crow laws continued the debasement and mistreatment of the black population for a century after the end of the war. That knowledge of “otherness” must lay dormant or even actively stewing inside many subconsciouses. “What happens to a dream deferred?” How do we expect to move on together as a country with such gaping wounds festering beneath a Band-Aid of polite prejudices?

White supremacy still exists as exhibited by the recent shooting in Charleston. Black disenfranchisement and intangible exclusion still exists as evidenced by the events of Baltimore and Ferguson. That’s just the past year! Our history is riddled with racial tension boiling into murder from Emmett Till to Trayvon Martin. MLK murdered, Rodney King beaten before acquitting the responsible officers, prompting the L.A. riots. The scab is constantly being ripped away before any healing occurs. The Confederate flag is like lemon in those fresh wounds.

Southerners seem to have more geographical pride than those winter loving Northerners; and the de facto symbol for many is that same (hateful to some, heritage to others) battle flag of Northern Virginia. I’ve always wondered about their pride and where it originates. It may be in defiance of losing a war and holding on to any semblance of power from that loss. It may be the nostalgic memory of the genteel Southern gentleman a la “Gone With the Wind”. It may be the understandable, but misdirected pride for one’s home. I speculate, but it may just be more personal than general in nature. Nevertheless, that flag isn’t helping anything and shouldn’t and needn’t represent anyone or anything besides hate groups now. The rainbow flag has been coopted by the LGBT community and there’s no going back now. It’s theirs. The moment the KKK or now this terrorist douchebucket in Charleston used this flag as their symbol was the minute it no longer represented the feel good NASCAR days of Dixie.

The larger problem within this flag argument is America’s fascination with guns. An old amendment from an antiquated age of armed civilian safeguards ensured that American citizens would always be able to purposefully, hatefully or even accidentally kill each other or ourselves with firearms until the end of time. The powerful lobby of the NRA and the common idiocy of many Americans fearing a helpless country without guns will only strengthen our circle of violence to continue. We’re not getting rid of guns and we’re not getting rid of racism anytime soon. The best we can do is follow Gandhi and our dorky sophomore English teacher’s trite maxim to “be the change we want to see in the world.” For a “Christian” nation, you’d think not killing and loving our neighbor would be second nature, but apparently not if they look different than you.

The even larger picture presents something just as damning and disturbing as our intractable gun laws, deep-seated racism and symbols of hate masquerading as cultural heritage. Slavery still exists! Sexual slavery, wage slavery, bonded labor, abused migrant laborers, child workers, forced marriages, or sweatshops all feature some terrible and familiar horrors. We’ve heard the stories of Bangladeshi girls sewing shirts for 14 hours a day for 50$ a month, indentured servants of Indian brick kilns, or stolen girls sold into sexual depravity. The world can be an ugly place. “Man is the cruelest animal,” said Nietzsche. And we are. But we can and will change. Change takes time, change isn’t easy, and “change is the only constant of life,” said Heraclitus. The pessimist in me is aware of the possibility of pure chaos, pure human suffering, and the absolute terror we could unleash if the precarious balance of mutual comfort is disrupted. However, if we progress through personal evolution and eliminate our prejudiced Ego for our gregarious and collectively beneficial Super-ego, America may find harmony by association.

The following speech from Ethiopian emperor and inspiration of Bob Marley’s Rastaman chant, “Jah Live!” gives us an idea of the enormous mountain we still have to climb. Or have a listen here

“That until the philosophy which holds one race superior and another inferior is finally and permanently discredited and abandoned; That until there are no longer first-class and second-class citizens of any nation; That until the color of a man’s skin is of no more significance than the color of his eyes; That until the basic human rights are equally guaranteed to all without regard to race; That until that day, the dream of lasting peace and world citizenship and the rule of international morality will remain but a fleeting illusion, to be pursued but never attained; And until the ignoble and unhappy regimes that hold our brothers in Angola, in Mozambique and in South Africa in subhuman bondage have been toppled and destroyed; Until bigotry and prejudice and malicious and inhuman self-interest have been replaced by understanding and tolerance and good-will; Until all Africans stand and speak as free beings, equal in the eyes of all men, as they are in the eyes of Heaven; Until that day, the African continent will not know peace. We Africans will fight, if necessary, and we know that we shall win, as we are confident in the victory of good over evil.” 

– Haile Selassie I

The Lynching of Lige Daniels. 3 August 1920, Center, Texas. Without Santuary, plate 54

The Lynching of Lige Daniels. 3 August 1920, Center, Texas. Without Santuary, plate 54

What About Freeing the Nipple?

About a decade ago, I was traveling through Europe. Near the Black Forest of Southern Germany lies Stuttgart, an ultra modern town that was completely renovated after being blown apart during WWII, where I visited my first nude spa. I arrived eager to disrobe and let the proverbial sun shine where it usually don’t shine. The day was a lovely and refreshing respite before the debauchery of the impending Munich Oktoberfest. But the thing I remember most as I was lazing on a lounger, legs happily spread in an uninhibited taint exposing position, was sitting up to grab some water and seeing two wonderfully exquisite people showering together. Their bodies were tan, taut and stimulating in a gentle, benign sort of way. The sun’s line spewed rainbows off their backs in the dissipating shower droplets and I watched struggling to remember to unslacken my jaw. I didn’t look too long as decorum requires glances not gawking. The nudity wasn’t the attraction, but rather the absolute normalcy I felt at that moment. For those two dripping exemplars of the human shape were not all that was visible in my periphery. There were plenty of old people stretching in their wilting glory, hairy men emerging from slow laps in the pool or even my skinny ass prostrate on a sunbed. Nobody cared or was aroused in any visible sort of way by the comprehensive nudity.

Then, a few weeks later, at a large outdoor pool in Budapest, where bathing attire was compulsory, I saw a different tale of flesh meeting eyes. A beautiful woman with superficial splendors was prancing about in a shiny silver bikini along the edge of the pool, dipping toes, tying and re-tying her hair. I, as the other men, watched her saunter as though enchanted by the sylphs of some mystical island. Perhaps communal nudity promotes equality and amicable spirits of just letting others go about their business despite any type of libidinous feelings.

I recount this story because the #freethenipple campaign is gaining momentum. My earliest encounter with America’s nipple hypocrisy was Janet Jackson. First in 1993, with her Rolling Stone cover—breasts being held by disembodied hands—and again in 2004 with her “wardrobe malfunction” at the Super Bowl. I remember thinking, “Why can we see her side boob, but not the nipple?” Now, I was born in the age of incipient sexual desensitization from MTV, Hollywood and Maxim. Nipples on women were only a big deal because I was a teenager and hormonally curious. I was always able to remove my shirt in most outdoor settings and even be photographed thusly without anxiety. My nipples aren’t very interesting. But, 80 years ago, men had to struggle for the right to remove their tops on beaches and at pools. Today, women are fighting to share that deserved right.

Some of the arguments I see in the #freethenipple argument are flawed. The women fighting want to de-sexualize the breast by making the nipple free to be flaunted at their discretion. That is completely legitimate and will probably happen in the next few years at the dismay of many conservatives. The flaw lies in thinking that breasts are not erotic. Girls Gone Wild, that bead heaping Spring Break beast, showed college-aged girls freeing their nipples years before this campaign began. Millions of men shelled out their $19.99 for a glimpse at what women now desire to give away free. Somebody must be interested in female nipples! As a heterosexual man, I can presumably assure every heterosexual woman that their male partner enjoys and is somewhere between marginally to massively aroused by her breasts, of which the nipple resides. From what I can glean from gay entertainment, lesbians are also quite fond of the breast and occupying nipple. My torso around my nipples can be called chest or pecs, prosaic and matter of fact. But, a woman’s area has many affectionate and creative nicknames, according to the love directed to that base of fatty tissue. Perhaps some men identify breasts as “objects” but I’d imagine just as many women classify certain men by their six-packs or biceps. The body is open to objectification. Why is it different to look at Kate Upton and exclaim her as “hot” as it is to say Ryan Gosling is “hot?”

Another argument is that breasts’ only function is to feed children. That cannot be disputed. But, if honest about sexuality, both male and female nipples can be erogenous zones, thereby making the red zone of the chest effectively sexual. This contention about “protecting the innocence of children” can be dodged when the opponents reference the suffering masses of kids “exposed” to exposed nipples. Anyone can explain to a young child what the object in question is meant to do without explaining the secondary uses of nipples as bedroom foreplay or titillation. “Yes, Timmy, that is where Mommy’s milk comes from to feed your little brother. You drank that milk too when you were young… I should also tell you that Daddy likes to squeeze and lick them when Mommy and Daddy are “wrestling” on Sunday mornings. But, I’ll tell you more about that when you’re older.”

Both naked bodies and sexual intercourse are natural parts of life. Yet, one section doesn’t need to be explained to the pre-pubescent punks we call kids.

Another argument I saw was that the women want to eradicate the “shame” people put on the nipple. The shame lies in the viewer, not the displayer. If a woman wants to reveal her beautiful, biologically gifted boobs and put a picture on the Internet, she should be allowed. Chelsea Handler put a great satirical picture on Instagram of her on horseback, imitating that belligerent coxcomb, Vladimir Putin, to prove she has a better body than him. It was quickly taken down and was a seminal moment in the #freethenipple movement for me. I saw that humor was being affected by this concealment of nipples, and that’s when I get angry. Humor is how we fight hypocrisy and idiocy. Censorship is too subjective to be effective.

I’m happy that women are moving in this direction of self-empowerment and demystifying the areola. Although we must admit that biologically and empirically women’s breasts are different than men’s, it’s still very natural and acceptable to be nude. Due to the shameless character of some men, it may take some time getting used to this new uncovered sensation. Nevertheless, it’s progressive, it’s empowering, it’s encouraging rationality and if it’s what women want, then they should have it. Who does it hurt?

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How to Fix Boxing in 3 Easy Steps

Floyd “Money for My Lawyers” Mayweather and Manny “No Birth Control” Pacquiao recently fought to a unanimously boring decision in Mayweather’s favor. A total of 229 punches were landed in the fight, which averages to six per minute or 19 per round (a small number compared to the real “fight of the century” Ward v. Gatti in 2002 when those punch-happy crowd-pleasers combined for a staggering average of 17 punches landed per minute and 51 per round). None of Mayweather’s or Pacquiao’s shots were able to induce a knockout, knockdown or even a stumble. People paid tens of thousands of dollars to see the fight live, or hundreds to stream it to their living room. They deserve to see more than jabs, sidesteps and clinches. If that is the best that boxing can provide, it’s safe to say the sport needs help. Yes, that was probably the payoff for the sendoff fight for both elderly pugilists, but can you name two other boxers fighting today that could legitimately provide a “fight of the century?” Boxing hasn’t been entertaining since Ali, it hasn’t been intriguing since the golden days of the 80’s, and it hasn’t been interesting since Tyson bit off Holyfield’s ear. Let’s take a look at a few quick fixes.

1) Make the Gloves Smaller:

Boxing gloves provide lots of additional power. Because of the added weight, they prove more devastating upon impact. Yet, they also provide a way to defend oneself. Let’s get some nice small gloves so that the hands can’t hide the face or body so easily from power punches. Viewers want to see punches land. We watch boxing for the knockouts or for the dazed fury of a comeback. Who wants to pay to watch someone who can dodge a punch? It’s not exciting, nor does it satisfy the bloodthirsty Roman in us to watch boxers “dance.” There’s plenty of crappy reality dance shows for that (Mayweather was on one in 2007). “Wow! Did you see him avoid getting hit?! That was awesome the way he didn’t get a swollen eye.” Nobody cares that you can move out of the way; we want to see how many punches you can give and take!

*Side note—if you dodge all the punches and then knock somebody out with a counter, all is forgiven; however, just avoiding hits for a half hour and then winning on points is not entertaining.

2) Enough with the Punching Already:

Let’s see some kicking and elbows and body slams! Yes, punches can hurt. You know what else hurts? A knee to the gut, an elbow to the nose, a shin to the thigh, a backfist to the temple. We want to see some action, like a real fight. (The unwritten rule in male street fights is nothing to the balls and no pulling hair. Street fights aren’t sweet science; they’re ugly and brutal and the reason why they’re filmed on cellphones and dispersed all over YouTube.) What if there was a sport like that? What if there was a sport where people could use all the beautiful defense of Karate, the marauding attacks of Muay Thai, the grappling techniques of wrestling and Jiu-jitsu, the takedowns of Judo and added them to the subtle ring knowledge and punches of boxing? Imagine Floyd tying up Pacquiao (in a typically boring, completely legal boxing procedure) to slow him down after a long barrage by clinching up, only to see Manny release a head grabbing uppercut or knee strike in retaliation! Imagine a fighter who can anticipate and move away from all the hand strikes, only to be felled by an unexpected, lethally quick front kick to the jaw. That sounds like something I’d like to watch.

3) Rounds Need to Be Longer:

As soon as someone is getting tired and dropping their hands to be open for counter-attack, BELL Rings! Opponents need to be able to abuse that tiredness and weakness. What if instead of twelve 3-minute rounds, we made, say, five 5-minute rounds? It would be a similar amount of total fight time, but then, we could find out how deep the fury and fiery the heart of the fighter really is. How deep can they dig to pull out that final onslaught of ferociousness to finish the fight? Have you ever wrestled with a friend about stealing the last cold beer in the cooler? You’re probably winded after those 30-seconds that felt like an hour. Imagine that times ten!

I know this is wishful thinking, but I think it could help restore the appeal of boxing. Hopefully, someone in a position to fix things takes these ideas seriously and saves boxing before it’s too late and we all start watching something else to satisfy the cruel savages of our baser selves.

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Kanye West: Awards Aren’t the Only Measure of Art (OR Celebrity in the Age of Celebrities)

It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia’s, Dennis, had a hard time a few weeks ago when he found himself being rated (very low scores) by women on a group-dating site. Dennis is usually a charming sociopath; he is witty and charismatic before ultimately disappointing any possible paramours by avoiding contact or outrightly disrespecting them. But now, completely overcome by a desire for good ratings, he forgot how to be charming, and was solely focused on his one star rating. He finds himself very wounded by the low ratings and questions his previously offensive behavior regarding women. The episode was particularly rough because he kept screaming at women during dates, “I’m a 5 star man!” Eventually, he frivolously realizes that self worth comes from self-delusion. Here enters the 5 star man of delusional reality—Kanye “I feel like I’m too busy writing history to read it” West.

In 2009, he stormed the stage and seized the microphone mid-speech from a then 20-year-old Taylor Swift who had just won Best Video of the Year for “You Belong to Me” at the VMA’s to praise Beyoncé’s (admittedly great) black and white booty pumping “Single Ladies” as “one of the best videos of all time.” West stole Swift’s moment to offer an unnecessary and meaningless opinion. Many people voiced their baffled disapproval including 50 Cent, Pink and Barack Obama among others. His name was in the headlines, not for being an artist, but rather for being a “jackass.”

Now, 6 years later at the Grammy’s, Kanye “I think what Kanye West is going to mean is something similar to what Steve Jobs means” West is married to a babe, father to a healthy child, a successful producer, rapper and designer and he turns what could have been a cute, self-deprecating yet still unfunny stunt of pretending to take the stage into a rant about industry stealing or mistreating “artistry.” His post-show foolishness is needed to provide context: (quote)

“I just know that the Grammys, if they want real artists to keep coming back, they need to stop playing with us. We ain’t gonna play with them no more. “Flawless,” Beyoncé video. And Beck needs to respect artistry and he should have given his award to Beyoncé and at this point, we tired of it. Because what happens is when you keep on diminishing art and not respecting the craft and smacking people in the face after they deliver monumental feats of music, you’re disrespectful to inspiration. And we as musicians have to inspire people who go to work every day. And they listen to that Beyoncé album and they feel like it takes them to another place. Then they do this whole promotional event, that, you know, they’ll run the music over somebody’s speech, the artist, because they want a commercial advertising. Like no, we not playing with them no more. And by the way, I got my wife, I got my daughter, and I got my clothing line so I’m not going to do nothing to put my daughter at risk, but I am here to fight for creativity. That’s the reason why I didn’t say anything tonight. But y’all know what it meant when ‘Ye walked on the stage.”

Putting aside the horrible grammar, which was certainly not taught to him by his English professor mother, we find a personal stream of consciousness punctuated with subjective opinions and artistic delusions of grandeur. Why does he care so much about who wins a category where he wasn’t nominated? Beyoncé won Best R&B Song. And why does he consider Beck’s artistry so inferior that he should relinquish his Best Album to the Queen B? Beck made a chill album and the voters decided it was best. Why must we hear Kanye’s opinion? It’s because of his self-righteous self-delusion that has now become a force of society. His self-indulgent, selfish, self-centered, self-aggrandizing quotes are easy to find on the Internet, and somehow, millions of people love it! 11 million followers on Twitter, hundreds of thousands of FB likes, sold out T-shirts and sneakers. If the old saying of 50 million Elvis fans can’t be wrong, what is to be said of West’s narcissistic mess? Does interjecting opinions mean you can be relevant or influential? Yes, when you are a celebrity. (Ask Jenny McCarthy.) Right or wrong, celebrity is power. And Kanye “My greatest pain in life is that I won’t be able to see myself perform live” West is most certainly a celebrity. He and Jay-Z are tied with 21 Grammy’s apiece, he’s sold millions of albums worldwide, three of which were included in Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest, he was included in Time’s 100 Most Influential, West designed Nike’s sell for thousands on Ebay, a plain white T-shirt bearing his name sells for 120$ and he’s married into the family famous for fame. His fame delivers a vessel for his ego. His fame keeps him relevant. His fame makes him visible to me. And I am bored of it. I’ve got some opinions of my own Kanye “I am the number 1 most impactful artist of our generation” West. I think your music is mediocre, your shoes are ugly, your t-shirts are exorbitant and bland, you’re exploiting your young and/or poor fans with clothing at such ridiculous price points, your girlfriend is hot and dull, your face is creepy, your personality is forced antagonism, your rapping talent is specious, your behavior is ignorant and obnoxious, your attitude is contrived, your life is tedious self-promotion and you offer less to the world than you think. In fact, his charity disappeared after donating no money toward the foundation. His foundation, co-sponsored by his mother, was to help curb rampant teenage dropout rates in urban high schools, yet his first album was called “The College Dropout.” It’s a real twisted message you’re sending to the young kids Yeezus. I’m aware of my envy for his lifestyle and power of promotion. But it’s a disgusted envy, much different than my delighted envy for Jimmy Fallon.

What Kanye “I am a proud non-reader of books” West misses in his misguided torrent of twaddle after the Grammy’s is that losing or winning an award doesn’t provide or detract merit from the piece of art. Van Gogh never won an award for Best New Painter, Picasso has no Best Sculpture Statuette, Bob Marley and Led Zeppelin have never even been nominated for a Grammy and Snoop Dogg, Bjork and Mos Def have been nominated several times but never won. Does their deficiency of gold reduce their impact? Awards are just opinions of influential people; much like your inconsiderate words and insipid tweets.

The harsh truth is that Kanye “Michelle Obama cannot Instagram a bikini pic like my girl Instagrammed the other day” West might have a point. Yes, Beyonce could also have won. Beyonce’s “Flawless” song isn’t the best beat, but the words are inspirational. A poem about gender struggles by a Nigerian woman is incorporated to fantastic results within Beyonce’s call to women that they are all beautiful, although she confuses me by telling other bitches to bow down to her. I might have missed that point.

So, Beck deserves any artistic credit he gets, as does anyone who endeavors an artistic undertaking. Unfortunately, that goes for you too Kanye “You should only believe 90% of what I say” West. Just because I dislike you, your music and your brashness doesn’t mean you aren’t an artist that others can enjoy. But I still only give you one star.

Kanye West

Tucson to Flagstaff on a Greyhound

Electric wires escape into the dusty distance, mountains obscured by misty heat, roadside eateries offering lard laden beans and rice, shrub land of Arizona, expansive skies, dull land, dry land, cacti waiting for rain in a pose of “Don’t shoot!” Diverse people on the bus, baseball hats pulled low, ear-buds pumping personal jams, driver yelled at the thugs in the front for cursing. Sharing space with strangers.
24 hour tires. Massive trucks pass containing commerce. Tiny lizards and birds hide in bushes waiting for sunset. Waffle House. Lazy communities set in the shadows of random hills. Fast food and petrol stations. Little green signs pass offering a route to little towns with Spanish names. The southwest desert, adult shops, crappy hotels, truck stops, miles in every direction, Saguaros keeping guard over their little patch of dirt, brown stucco houses.
Phoenix arrives like a concrete bomb, the desert is replaced by billboards and landscaped roadways. IMAX, water parks, skyscrapers, office complexes, and a little rain begins to fall as we have caught up to the dark clouds. Those billboards advertising help for victims of domestic violence and diet coke, heat advisory warnings and triple cheeseburgers at McDonald’s. The small one story houses with dirty yards and spotless pickup trucks within view of the glimmering downtown showing financial segregation is alive and well. Whataburger makes its first appearance to my eyes since I last saw it in Austin almost 4 years ago, proclaiming its bottom flavored burgers as top notch. Palm trees. SUVs. Tattoo parlors. Tiny frontage road businesses await some action.
Now the cacti glazed hills have been replaced by the rocky cliffs dotted with pine and white oaks. The soft brown dirt is getting darker as we move into the red rocks approaching that monument of antiquity, the Grand Canyon. Rough terrain, straggly creeks, and the poorly named city of Montezuma Well. I’m not interested in how that water tastes. The fluffy white clouds seem to all resemble bunny heads and float by at low altitude, pockmarking that infinite blue sky.
The girl next to me, traveling three generations deep, grandma just a cute little shriveled raisin of age, mom wearing all pink with wiry hands-veins, tendons and muscles all visible under the mocha skin. This young girl next to me, with tanned leather skin that hasn’t taken on the rougher edges of her older generation relatives, looks like 14 but probably 24, she’s been holding a 4-6 item Burger King bag on her lap carefully with two folded hands since we left. She’s skinny and short and her feet barely touch the floor. The smell of her food bag has created a palpable urge to eat at BK, but I will resist. Her skin is mysteriously dark and deep brown. Her fingers have the clean manicured lines of Latina pride with an eternal dirt underneath where flesh meets nail from a lifetime of work in her young life.
Almost like crossing a finish line, suddenly there is snow on the ground and tall lean pine trees that understand winter weather well. Their bark is mottled brown and charcoal black. It looks like ski country now. Flurries fall as I exit the bus.

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Americans and America

1) “Where are you from?”

2) “America.”

1) “Really, me too!”

2) “What state?”

1) “Argentina.”

Now, I’m in an argument. This idea of “America” being more than the USA was something that I didn’t think was a dispute until I started traveling. And that is precisely the point of many of the people with whom I argued. They said that USAmericans usurp the name that could technically belong to almost 1 billion people. When I thought about it, we both are correct. One use is nominal; one use is conventional.

The United States of America resides in North America. Brazil resides in South America. Or so I was taught. Others are taught that North and South America are one continent–America. They see maps like this or this. It would be the largest continent if that were true. But even the Olympics do it (5 rings=5 continents)! Adding north and south together, ignoring the codifiers of hemisphere, basically creates this argument of American identity. When we have North and South America, we have useful delineations of place.

Besides the educational discrepancies, we can use plate tectonics, whereby we find a Caribbean plate, a North and South American plate and a Eurasian plate among others to really complicate the continent issue. We can say that United Mexican States are shortened to Mexico. We can mention that nobody refers to himself or herself by continent first. People want to know in which country, not continent you live. But, we should acknowledge one thing. Everyone, from Canada’s frozen north to Patagonia’s frozen south, are all from The Americas, making them “Americans” but in a larger, more ambiguous sense.

To answer this tricky semantic question, I find answers in letters. (If you don’t think one letter matters—look at ship and shit.) People from USA are American from North America, which is part of The Americas. People from Colombia are Colombian from South America, which is part of The Americas. It’s a question of who gets to use the “n” in American. I contest that people who live in the United States of America should be called American, in much the same way that denizens of Venezuela should be called Venezuelan.

Some have called me, and others who feel this way, arrogant or nationalistic. I don’t think it’s arrogant to identify your nationality by its name (which just coincidentally has the same name as the continent). I am proud to be American, but never boastful of my birth land. It’s a wonderful, if flawed land with questionable foreign policy and expanding poverty, but it also has great beauty and great people. The country is called the United States OF America. The acknowledgment of the continent on which it’s perched is in the name. The only other continent/country name sharing is Australia (or is it Oceania?). Although, if China was called the People’s Republic of Asia, and called themselves Asians, I bet we could have similar problem. But history didn’t write that chapter.

The name of America comes from the explorer Amerigo Vespucci, who wrote about his travels to the New World. A German mapmaker in the 16th century labeled the new world thusly, and then before the American Revolution (as we call it) or The American War of Independence (as the British call it) the Declaration of Independence was signed before any other countries from the New World were established and so USA took the name of the region for itself.

I don’t doubt it’s hard to be from anywhere south of the Rio Grande River and feel as though you aren’t considered American. Of course you’re “American”, but that just isn’t the way the word is used anymore. When someone asks you where you are from, do you respond: “Asia, Europe or Africa?” No, people use their country. Also, most Canadians I know would not refer to themselves as Americans despite the fact that their country is the biggest one in North America.

United States of America is the name of the country and history/convention has abbreviated it to refer to the people within as Americans. We can be more accurate and refer to North, Central and South America as ALL part of the larger mass known as The Americas. We can refer to the Spanish/Portuguese speaking countries as part of Latin America. And finally, we can refer to the 317 million diverse people, living in USA, without discrediting our various “American” neighbors and without discomfiture, as Americans.

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