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Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Trump Boycotts Debate -- "I'll Take My Ball and Go Home"

I understand the premises. Politicians are largely partisan, and many are corrupt. The government is broken. But, the conclusion that follows -- there must be significant changes in the ruling class -- is not going to happen if Donald Trump is elected. He is not presidential material.

Trump supporters are conservatives and disaffected moderates who no longer strictly identify with either party. They are fed up with political correctness and policies that stifle economic growth. We all want a government that is more representative of the people -- all people. Donald Trump is not a leader who will serve that vision because he is a dealer, not a standup statesman.

In the game of politics, not only does Donald Trump want to control the ball, but also he wants to own it. If things don't go his way, he resorts to name calling, scapegoating, and denouncing whoever challenges his participation. As a last resort to appeasing his own selfish interests, he simply takes his ball and walks off out of the arena.

Trump's actions speak as loud as his reckless, abusive mouth ...

Trump has repeatedly suggested he might skip this week's GOP debate on Fox News unless he is confident Megyn Kelly would treat him fairly. I can hear some already mouthing "poor baby."

And now, the word is that Trump is going to boycott the debate, an event in which candidates have the opportunity to make their closing arguments before voting begins in Monday's Iowa caucuses. His campaign manager Corey Lewandowski said in a pair of television interviews Wednesday, January 27, that Trump, a billionaire businessman, "knows when to walk away from a bad deal."

"They think they can toy with Mr. Trump," Lewandowski said of Fox News on MSNBC's Morning Joe. "Mr. Trump doesn't play games." He said the decision shows Trump is a leader who "understands when a bad deal is in front of him and is ready to walk away from a bad deal, something that this country should be able to do."

Doesn't play games? Walk away from scrutiny as a presidential candidate? Bad deal? How outrageous. In a move that is so politically conceived and stinks of sour gamesmanship, Donald Trump betrays his own self-aggrandizing convictions. What kind of candidate walks away from situations that simply don't appeal to his liking? Call it what it is -- "the same good old boy tactics" -- but with Trump, add the adjectives egomaniacal and spoiled. He talks the talk but where is his presidential "walk"?

This boycott stems from a feud with Fox News host and scheduled debate moderator Megyn Kelly. In the first Republican primary debate, Kelly took Trump to task over derogatory statements he'd made in the past aimed at women. Acting in his usual offensive manner, Trump ridiculed the moderator and called her a "lightweight" and biased. Now, he has decided he simply won't subject himself to scrutiny unless reporters play on his terms.

After the first debate, Trump insinuated that Kelly treated him unfairly because she was menstruating. "She gets out and she starts asking me all sorts of ridiculous questions," Trump told CNN after the August debate. "You could see there was blood coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of her wherever." Of course, Trump predictably denied referring to menstruation.

This is not the first time Trump has threatened to skip debates. He has used this juvenile threat against the media in the past but has yet to follow through until now. In addition to his distaste for Kelly, Trump is apparently angry about statements from Fox saying the leaders of Iran and Russia "both intend to treat Donald Trump unfairly when they meet with him if he becomes president" and that "Trump has his own secret plan to replace the Cabinet with his Twitter followers to see if he should even go to those meetings."

(Jill Colvin. "Trump not backing down from Fox debate boycott."
Associated Press. January 27, 2016.)

And this man (and evidently legions of other supporters) wants to be the leader of the free world? What kind of president would act with so much self-centered, bad intent because of inquiry about things he has said and policies he has supported?

Acting this way about the debate may be a major political blunder for Donald Trump. He claims he can face down China, Iran and the Islamic State. Now, he can't "stand up" at a debate? How weak is this? Marc Thiessen, of The New York Times, says Trump often dishes out criticism of weakness in others. Thiessen explains ...

"In October, a few months after Black Lives Matter protesters took the microphone from Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) at a campaign rally, Trump mocked Sanders mercilessly and said it 'showed such weakness.' He even put up a Web ad that asked how Sanders could fight the Islamic State if he could not handle Black Lives Matter protesters."

(Marc A. Thiessen. "Skipping Fox debate is Trump’s first major misstep." 
The New York Times.

Thiessen says by handing the debate stage to Ted Cruz and essentially giving his opponent free airtime in which to attack Trump without opposition, Trump is assuming his boycott will not affect a winning outcome. This is a calculated, but admittedly questionable move. Although Trump’s staunch supporters will likely applaud his decision to skip the debate, undecided voters might not see it that way.

For a candidate so confident in his guts and his glory, Donald Trump is too easily intimidated by scrutiny. This is the statement in response to the boycott released by Fox News:

"As many of our viewers know, FOX News is hosting a sanctioned debate in Des Moines, Iowa on Thursday night, three days before the first votes of the 2016 election are cast in the Iowa Caucus. Donald Trump is refusing to debate seven of his fellow presidential candidates on stage that night, which is near unprecedented.

"We’re not sure how Iowans are going to feel about him walking away from them at the last minute, but it should be clear to the American public by now that this is rooted in one thing – Megyn Kelly, whom he has viciously attacked since August and has now spent four days demanding be removed from the debate stage. Capitulating to politicians’ ultimatums about a debate moderator violates all journalistic standards, as do threats, including the one leveled by Trump’s campaign manager Corey Lewandowski toward Megyn Kelly.

"In a call on Saturday with a FOX News executive, Lewandowski stated that Megyn had a ‘rough couple of days after that last debate’ and he ‘would hate to have her go through that again.’ Lewandowski was warned not to level any more threats, but he continued to do so. We can’t give in to terrorizations toward any of our employees.

"Trump is still welcome at Thursday night’s debate and will be treated fairly, just as he has been during his 132 appearances on FOX News & FOX Business, but he can’t dictate the moderators or the questions."

("Full statement on Trump declining to participate in Fox News/Google Debate."
Fox News. January 27, 2016.)

To close, the turncoat inclinations of Donald Trump are so very evident. In a 2011 interview about a debate Trump was trying to host with Newsmax, he criticized Republican candidates who refused to attend a forum he tried to put together. He said then ...

"We're not seeing a lot of courage."

Guess who was moderating? Yep, Megyn Kelly. And, in 2011, Trump praised her moderating skills. 

Kelly, at the time, asked him, “Do you really think you’re a better moderator than I am?”

Trump replied, “No. I could never beat you. That wouldn’t even be close. That would be no contest.”
He added, “You have done a great job, by the way. And I mean it.”

("Trump in 2011: Rips candidates skipping debate, praises Megyn Kelly.
Fox News. January 27, 2016.)

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

"You're Gonna Shoot Me Down, Put My Body in the River": The Body Electric


The Body Electric 

Said you're gonna shoot me down, put my body in the river
Shoot me down, put my body in the river
While the whole world sings, sing it like a song
The whole world sings like there's nothing going wrong

He shot her down, he put her body in the river
He covered her up, but I went to get her
And I said, "My girl, what happened to you now?"
I said, "My girl, we gotta stop it somehow"

Oh, and tell me, what's a man with a rifle in his hand
Gonna do for a world that's so sick and sad?
Tell me, what's a man with a rifle in his hand
Gonna do for a world that's so gone mad?

He's gonna shoot me down, put my body in the river
Cover me up with the leaves of September
Like an old sad song, you heard it all before
Well, Delia's gone, but I'm settling the score

Oh, and tell me, what's a man with a rifle in his hand
Gonna do for a world that's just dying slow?
Tell me, what's a man with a rifle in his hand
Gonna do for his daughter when it's her turn to go?

Alynda Lee Segarra of Hurray for the Riff Raff, an American folk-blues band from New Orleans, wrote the song "The Body Electric" because she was horrified by rapes from India to America's college campuses. She became all too familiar with audiences that would accept songs containing gender-based violence as part of the ballad tradition. With her song, she hoped to help change that.

(Ann Powers. "The Political Folk Song Of The Year."
National Public Radio. December 11, 2014.)

Segarra explains ...

"I wanted to let out some of my rage and speak about my desire for the world to change. I had been reading the news a lot, about young girls in American high schools getting gang-raped by their school mates, about a medical student in New Delhi India who was killed and gang-raped on a public bus. I felt so distraught by the state of our world.

"Then, I go out to a bar and watch a honky tonk band and they're singing a murder ballad song they wrote, about shooting a woman down cause she did wrong. I couldn't laugh anymore; I was too emotionally connected. I wanted to write a song a woman could sing along to and feel empowered by.

"It was a feminist statement, but as time goes on I learn more about the song than I knew. It's become about the culture of violence we live in, that accepts the deaths of people of color, queer people and women as commonplace. We are not disposable — we are living our lives as targets and we are tired of that."

(Dan Reilly. "Hurray for the Riff Raff Follow Trayvon Martin Tribute
With Video to Aid Abused Mother." Rolling Stone. October 17, 2014.)

While the group has performed the song live on national television and at radio stations around the world, Segarra also commissioned notable Nashville filmmaker Joshua Shoemaker to craft a video of "The Body Electric" that is deeply thought-provoking. The video is a meditation on the acceptance of violence and discrimination against people of color, women and the LGBTQ community. In it, classic imagery is used to advance the narrative.

The song has drawn high praise from various music publications. "The Body Electric" drew Best Song kudos on many year-end lists, including the No. 1 spot in American Songwriter magazine.

See the video of "The Body Electric" by clicking here:

Another video featuring the song tells the story of Marissa Alexander, a Florida woman who was convicted of aggravated assault for firing a warning shot to get her abusive husband to stop attacking her, just 10 days after she gave birth to her third child. He was unhurt in the altercation. Despite using the Stand Your Ground defense, the one that exonerated Zimmerman in Martin's death, a jury took 12 minutes to find her guilty, then sentenced her to 20 years under the state's arcane guidelines.

 See the video of "The Body Electric" featuring Marissa Alexander by clicking here:

Segarra says ...

"It will hopefully continue to do its work by encouraging the listener to question the culture of violence we are living in.

"I am mostly familiar with how the song has taught me there is a true connection between gendered violence and racist violence. There is a weaponization of the body happening right now in America. Our bodies are being turned against us. Black and brown bodies are being portrayed as inherently dangerous. A Black person's size and stature are being used as reason for murder against them.

"This is ultimately a deranged fear of the power and capabilities of black people. It is the same evil idea that leads us to blame women for attacks by their abusers. Normalizing rape, domestic abuse and even murder of women of all races is an effort to take the humanity out of our female bodies. To objectify and to ridicule the female body is ultimately a symptom of fear of the power women hold."

(Ann Powers. "The Political Folk Song Of The Year."
National Public Radio. December 11, 2014.)

Through an Indiegogo campaign, Hurray for the Riff Raff also started the Body Electric Fund, which paid for the video premiere while also benefiting community organizations dedicated to working against violence such as Third Wave, a gender-justice activism group for youth, and The Trayvon Martin Foundation, which supports the families of victims of violent crimes while raising awareness about racial and gender profiling.

"The Body Electric" is on Small Town Heroes, the groups sixth album and the first on a major independent label. Alynda Lee Segarra is a Bronx native who immersed herself in the downtown punk scene and started a band. At 17, she ran away from home and spent her late teens hopping trains before settling in New Orleans, where busking became her means of musical self-education.

Of herself, Segarra notes ...

"A Puerto Rican from the Bronx who went to the South, who also feels queer, who also loves classic country and rock 'n' roll. What's interesting about all of those elements together is that it can attract a lot of different people, can relate to it. That's something I've learned over time: learning how to be comfortable with yourself as a complex person, and feeling like you don't need to throw away any part of yourself in order to become an artist, or feel connected to one particular group."

(Ann Powers. "Hurray For The Riff Raff's New Political Folk."
National Public Radio. January 23, 2014.)


Of course, the title of the song alludes to Walt Whitman's free verse poem “I Sing the Body Electric,” which appeared in the 1860 volume of poetry, Leaves of Grass. The poem is a celebration of the beauty of the human body, both male and female, that dwells on its physicality -- in many forms --  its sexuality, and its divinity.

In "Sing the Body Electric," Whitman likens the body to the soul. He makes the point that the body
and the soul are inextricably intertwined and therefore, devaluing or mistreating the body is also a
crime against the soul. He professes that the body does not corrupt the soul, as is a common
Christian belief.

Whitman emphasizes that the human body is sacred because it acts as the linkage between the soul
and the world. He does not pick the body or soul to be more important than one or the other but
suggests that both are "helpers of each other: that enable spirituality and poetry."

I Sing the Body Electric (Excerpt)

By Walt Whitman (1819–1892)
I sing the body electric,
The armies of those I love engirth me and I engirth them,
They will not let me off till I go with them, respond to them,
And discorrupt them, and charge them full with the charge of the soul.

Was it doubted that those who corrupt their own bodies conceal themselves?
And if those who defile the living are as bad as they who defile the dead?
And if the body does not do fully as much as the soul?
And if the body were not the soul, what is the soul?

The love of the body of man or woman balks account, the body itself balks account,
That of the male is perfect, and that of the female is perfect.

The expression of the face balks account,
But the expression of a well-made man appears not only in his face,
It is in his limbs and joints also, it is curiously in the joints of his hips and wrists,
It is in his walk, the carriage of his neck, the flex of his waist and knees, dress does not hide him,
The strong sweet quality he has strikes through the cotton and broadcloth,
To see him pass conveys as much as the best poem, perhaps more,
You linger to see his back, and the back of his neck and shoulder-side.

The sprawl and fulness of babes, the bosoms and heads of women, the folds of their dress, their style as we pass in the street, the contour of their shape downwards,
The swimmer naked in the swimming-bath, seen as he swims through the transparent green-shine, or lies with his face up and rolls silently to and fro in the heave of the water,
The bending forward and backward of rowers in row-boats, the horseman in his saddle,
Girls, mothers, house-keepers, in all their performances,
The group of laborers seated at noon-time with their open dinner-kettles, and their wives waiting,
The female soothing a child, the farmer’s daughter in the garden or cow-yard,
The young fellow hoeing corn, the sleigh-driver driving his six horses through the crowd,
The wrestle of wrestlers, two apprentice-boys, quite grown, lusty, good-natured, native-born, out on the vacant lot at sun-down after work,
The coats and caps thrown down, the embrace of love and resistance,
The upper-hold and under-hold, the hair rumpled over and blinding the eyes;
The march of firemen in their own costumes, the play of masculine muscle through clean-setting trowsers and waist-straps,
The slow return from the fire, the pause when the bell strikes suddenly again, and the listening on the alert,
The natural, perfect, varied attitudes, the bent head, the curv’d neck and the counting;
Such-like I love—I loosen myself, pass freely, am at the mother’s breast with the little child,
Swim with the swimmers, wrestle with wrestlers, march in line with the firemen, and pause, listen, count.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Anthropocene -- Man's Epoch Natural Destruction

Mexico City

"The now widespread accumulation of nuclear fallout, fly ash, plastic, concrete and aluminum in the ground is indicative of the beginning of the Anthropocene Epoch and can be traced back to the middle of the twentieth century. When combined with other persistent environmental changes brought about by man, such as higher greenhouse gas emissions, the scientists say that the 11,700-year Holocene Epoch – the geological era that began with the end of the last Ice Age – has now come to an end."

(Colin N. Waters, Jan Zalasiewicz, Colin Summerhayes, Anthony D. Barnosky,
Clément Poirier, Agnieszka Gałuszka, Alejandro Cearreta, Matt Edgeworth,
Erle C. Ellis, Michael Catherine Jeandel, Reinhold Leinfelder, J. R. McNeill,
Daniel deB. Richter, Will Steffen, James Syvitski, Davor Vidas, Michael Wagreich,
Mark Williams, An Zhisheng, Jacques Grinevald, Eric Odada, Naomi Oreskes,
Alexander P. Wolfe. "The Anthropocene is functionally and stratigraphically distinct
from the Holocene." Science, Volume 351, Issue 6269. January 08, 2016.)

Even though the International Union of Geological Sciences, the professional organization in charge of defining earth’s time scale, claims we are in the Holocene (“entirely recent”) epoch, which began 11,700 years ago after the last major ice age, many experts say now we are in the “Anthropocene” epoch (from anthropo, for “man,” and cene, for “new”) because human-kind has caused mass extinctions of plant and animal species, polluted the oceans and altered the atmosphere, among other lasting impacts.

The research shows that earth has now entered a distinct age from the Holocene epoch, which started 11,700 years ago as the ice age thawed. The Anthropocene is the newest epoch in our planet’s 4.5 billion year history.

According to these scientists, the influence humanity has had on the planet in regards to the geological record is undeniable. Plastics, concrete, and other man-made materials have all begun to leave their mark in the sediment record, and Jan Zalasiewicz, study co-author from the University of Leicester (cited above), stated in a press release that all this, plus other evidence collected by the research team such as the radionuclides accumulating in the soil from the numerous international atomic bomb tests from 1945 through the 1980s, provides “an underlying reality” to the concept that the Anthropocene epoch has not only begun but is in full swing.

Anthropocene has become an environmental buzzword ever since the atmospheric chemist and Nobel laureate Paul Crutzen popularized it in 2000. By 2013, it had appeared in nearly 200 peer-reviewed articles.

Will Steffen, who heads Australia National University’s Climate Change Institute recommends starting the epoch with the advent of the industrial revolution in the early 1800s or with the atomic age in the 1950s. Either way, he says, the new name sends a message:

“It will be another strong reminder to the general public that we are now having undeniable impacts on the environment at the scale of the planet as a whole, so much so that a new geological epoch has begun.”

(Joseph Stromberg. "What is the Anthropocene and Are We in It?"
Smithsonian. January 2013.)

Proof of a New Epoch

* "In the last century, fertilizers used in crop production doubled the amount of nitrogen and phosphorus in the soil. Signals of these chemicals found within lake strata are now at their highest levels in the past 100,000 years."

* "Pervasive since World War II, concrete is now the world’s primary building material. The amount produced in the last 20 years is enough to cover each square foot of the planet with three ounces of concrete."

* "The amount of plastic produced each year weighs roughly as much as all humans on Earth combined. Some is recycled, but most gets discarded to landfills or ends up in the ocean. Plastics, along with aluminum and concrete, decay very slowly and will leave behind identifiable fossils, called “technofossils,” in the geological record.

* "Humans have transformed more than half of Earth’s land surface with buildings, roads, mines, farms and landfills, among other uses."

(Nicholas St. Fleur. "Signs of the ‘Human Age.'" The New York Times. January 11, 2016.)

Dump of Cell Phones

Man's tenure on Earth is brief on the astronomical time scale. The age of the Earth is estimated to be 4.54 billion years. And, some scientists claim our ancestors have been around for about six million of those years. The modern form of humans evolved about 200,000 years ago. Civilization as we know it is only about 6,000 years old, and industrialization started in the earnest only in the 1800s.

National Geographic's article "Human Impact" states ...

"The evidence could not be more graphic. Aerial photography and satellites show in vivid detail the results of laying waste to vast areas of forest and the harm done by poisons that humans have been pumping into the water and air during the century and a half since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution.

"An alarmingly large hole in the Earth’s protective covering of atmospheric ozone appears over the Antarctic. Toxic hazes settle over major cities. Once fertile areas of the planet become desert, never to be green again within our lifetimes.

 "And yet, the abuse continues."

(Read the Nat Geo article by clicking here:

With seven billion people on Earth, the human damage done to the planet is totally unacceptable, but what of the near future? Stephen Emmott, professor of computational science at the University of Oxford and head of computational science at Microsoft, gives some dire warnings ...

"In fact, we are having a profound impact on it. Indeed, our cleverness, our inventiveness and our activities are now the drivers of every global problem we face. And every one of these problems is accelerating as we continue to grow towards a global population of 10 billion. In fact, I believe we can rightly call the situation we're in right now an emergency – an unprecedented planetary emergency...

"We currently have no known means of being able to feed 10 billion (Current estimates are 9 billion by 2050.) of us at our current rate of consumption and with our current agricultural system. Indeed, simply to feed ourselves in the next 40 years, we will need to produce more food than the entire agricultural output of the past 10,000 years combined...

"Little is yet known about the aspect of increasing water use: "hidden water". Hidden water is water used to produce things we consume but typically do not think of as containing water. Such things include chicken, beef, cotton, cars, chocolate and mobile phones. For example: it takes around 3,000 litres of water to produce a burger. In 2012 around five billion burgers were consumed in the UK alone. That's 15 trillion litres of water – on burgers. Just in the UK...

"Demand for land for food is going to double – at least – by 2050, and triple – at least – by the end of this century. This means that pressure to clear many of the world's remaining tropical rainforests for human use is going to intensify every decade, because this is predominantly the only available land that is left for expanding agriculture at scale...

"The only solution left to us is to change our behaviour, radically and globally, on every level. In short, we urgently need to consume less. A lot less. Radically less. And we need to conserve more. A lot more. To accomplish such a radical change in behaviour would also need radical government action. But as far as this kind of change is concerned, politicians are currently part of the problem, not part of the solution, because the decisions that need to be taken to implement significant behaviour change inevitably make politicians very unpopular – as they are all too aware."

(Stephen Emmott. "Humans: the real threat to life on Earth." The Guardian. June 29, 2013.)

Read Emmott's entire article by clicking here:

Humans tend to be indifferent and skeptical of predictions of impending doom; however, images of human devastation to the planet serve as powerful reasons to improve all major negative human impacts on the environment. Refusing to enact long-term solutions and believing that some new technology will save life in the 11th hour are irresponsible responses.

War, terrorism, pandemic viruses -- all of these things are global threats to life. But, mankind's self-inflicted destruction to the earth is perhaps the biggest concern of all. In the Anthropocene, people must understand that living better does not always involve convenience and happiness at any expense. Modern civilization is dependent upon nature for its very survival. This coexistence is much more fragile than most believe, and now is the time to take major steps to preserve life by leaving a much softer human footprint.

"He is richest who is content with the least,
for content is the wealth of nature."



Sunday, January 24, 2016

Common Sense and the Lack of It

"Common sense is neither common nor sense. There's not a whole lot of sound judgment going on these days (though whether it is worse than in the past, I can't be sure), so it's not common. If common sense was common, then most people wouldn't make the kinds of decisions they do every day. People wouldn't buy stuff they can't afford. They wouldn't smoke cigarettes or eat junk food. They wouldn't gamble. And if you want to get really specific and timely, politicians wouldn't be tweeting pictures of their private parts to strangers. In other words, people wouldn't do the multitude of things that are clearly not good for them."

(Jim Taylor, Ph.D. "Common Sense Is Neither Common nor Sense."
Psychology Today. June 12, 2011.)

Read the entire article by Jim Taylor by clicking here: .

Jim Taylor -- author, blogger, and adjunct professor at the University of San Francisco -- believes common sense is a contradiction in terms. He thinks real sense can rarely be derived from experience alone because most people's experiences are limited. Interesting? True?

I tend to think so. And, I do know one thing. Many people today believe there is a general lack of common sense in the populace. I sadly agree. Having been a high school teacher for almost 30 years, I frequently encountered students who lacked high academic ability but seemed to make up for that deficiency with a wealth of what I called "common sense." Indeed, that image of common sense evokes memories of earlier and simpler times in which industrious men and women were fairly reasonable, down to earth, reliable, and practical.

But that was then -- over fourteen years ago -- and this is now, a time when it seems (at least in my immediate environment) that the number of those with good common sense keeps dwindling. What has happened to basic awareness and the simple, seemingly natural, shared ability to make good decisions in everyday matters? It is a question that begs an answer.

Perhaps we should begin with a definition of the term. Common sense is defined by Merriam-Webster's Dictionary as "a basic ability to perceive, understand, and judge things, which is shared by ("common to") nearly all people and can reasonably be expected of nearly all people without any need for debate."

Sensus communis (literally "common sense" in Latin) is a philosophical term originally used to refer to the perceptual power of binding the inputs of the individual sense organs into a coherent and intelligible representation (the way we access external reality).

In a wider philosophical sense, German philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724–1804) applied the term sensus communis to the whole human race in his work Critique of Judgement:

"..we must [here] take sensus communis to mean the idea of a sense shared [by us all], i.e., a power to judge that in reflecting takes account (a priori), in our thought, of everyone else's way of presenting [something], in order as it were to compare our own judgement with human reason in general... Now we do this as follows: we compare our judgement not so much with the actual as rather with the merely possible judgements of others, and [thus] put ourselves in the position of everyone else..."

Common sense? Around and around we go with some connotative semantics. Yet, when we talk about common sense, we do mean understanding important concepts that allow us to exist in reality, a reality we share with others around us -- a specific commonality of education.

I like the description of common sense attributed to Albert Einstein, who states: "Common sense is the collection of prejudices acquired by age eighteen." This is echoed by renowned author C.S. Lewis (1898- 1963). He wrote common sense "often means the elementary mental outfit of the normal man."

Lewis said ...

"Quintilian (Roman rhetorician, 35-100 CE) says it is better to send a boy to school than to have a private tutor for him at home; for if he is kept away from the herd (congressus) how will he ever learn that sensus which we call communis? On the lowest level it means tact. In Horace (Roman lyric poet, 65 BCE-8 BCE) the man who talks to you when you obviously don't want to talk lacks communis sensus.

(C.S. Lewis. Studies In Words. 1960)

Common sense ideas tend to relate to events within human experience, and thus commensurate with the human scale -- the set of physical qualities, and quantities of information, characterizing the human body, its motor, sensory, or mental capabilities, and human social institutions. Thus, there is no commonsense intuition of, for example, the behavior of the universe at subatomic distances or speeds approaching that of light.

Taylor believes perhaps the biggest problem with common sense is that it falls prey to the clear limits of personal experience. Or, when people don't even have any actual experience in a matter, they rely simply on what they believe to be true or have been told is true -- what might be labeled as "faith-based sense" (in the broadest sense of the word faith). He asks us to answer a simple question about common sense ...

"When you're having a discussion (with another person) about just anything that requires taking a stand, for example, the weather, the economy, raising children, sports ... how often do you hear some variation of 'Well, it's been my experience that ____________ [fill in the blank].' And the person then draws a conclusion based on said experience? And how often is that conclusion wildly at odds with the facts? More often than not, (absent) in the person's experience (though, of course, his experience may be insufficient to draw a truly sound conclusion).

(Jim Taylor, Ph.D. "Common Sense Is Neither Common nor Sense."
Psychology Today. June 12, 2011.)

Taylor believes although we can't do an in-depth study of every issue for which we must draw a conclusion, we still need reliable "reasoned sense," that is, "sound judgment based on rigorous study of an issue (which also includes direct experience)."  He thinks courses in scientific thinking and methodology for everyday life should be requirements for all students. Therein is an assumption that this taught "reasoned sense" would raise the level of what we call sense that is "common."

Jim Taylor suggests a few ways we can engage in more "sensical" thinking, whether common or otherwise:

1.  We should begin an "inquiry" with an open mind -- not just believe what we want to be true and going with that.

2. We should not merely establish a hypothesis that we would like to see affirmed but also propose alternative hypotheses. Taylor amplifies this here:

"For hypotheses to be more than just foregone conclusions (e.g., the world is flat; oops!), it's important to also propose alternative hypotheses (e.g., maybe the world is round or square). Just considering that there might be answers other than the ones we want ensures that any 'experiment' we conduct isn't just an exercise in self-serving affirmation (e.g., drug trials done by pharmaceutical companies)."

3. Instead of asking a few friends their opinions on issues, we should collect a sizable sample of data that is more likely to representative of the population as a whole.

4. We should analyze the data as objectively as possible.

Taylor says, "If the facts don't fit the theory, throw out the facts." Also, we shouldn't forget the acronym "GIGO" (Garbage In, Garbage Out) which describes the "failures in human decision making due to faulty, incomplete, or imprecise data" (thanks Wikipedia).

My Two Cents

Whether we call this basic knowledge "common sense" or "reasoned sense," we know increasing our understanding by employing an open mind to investigate issues in depth leads to more reasonable, longer lasting solutions. It is logical to assume this mode of natural thinking is essential to the well being of the human race. Now, perhaps more than ever, we are in sore need of those who take time to do their own research and who avoid the pervasive nature to be easily influenced by special interest groups that court their material desires -- groups that contain biased individuals who relentlessly feed upon those vulnerable to making quick, rash judgments.

I believe common sense, for lack of a more concrete term to describe what we use to deal successfully with everyday reality, is an essential virtue that can be attained by almost all people.

Who contributes to what C.S. Lewis called the "the elementary mental outfit of the normal man"? Of course, parents, families, schools, peers, and other social influences (communis -- community) positively and negatively affect our acquisition of common sense. So, naturally, people with limited experience might lack sufficient common sense.

 This raises the question of whether we can teach common sense in a time when many people prefer private learning to social contact. I think that depends upon the kind of exposure and experiences we structure to strengthen the skills of reasoning. Common sense learning requires more than simple, passive acquisition. It requires "walking and talking" in the real world -- not just browsing information at will, but actually practicing basic knowledge. We need to enrich our understandings outside of textbooks and virtual reality. Common sense tests its practicality during active participation in every conceivable social situation.

I truly believe a willing participant can improve his volume of common sense... if he so desires.

To me, strengthening common sense involves creating a positive self-image by building upon elementary education and essential social graces. A person who doesn't care whether others find his common knowledge acceptable is leaving himself open to criticism on the most basic levels of intellectual understanding. Like it or not, he who lacks common sense is prone to be stereotyped as "dim-witted" and "backward." As a matter of positive pride, he must take the initiative to develop a core of reasoning skills. That effort includes a commitment to lifelong learning.

I think we need a great resurrection of common sense in America. For too long we have glorified the mundane and the unreasonable behaviors of those who know better. This has caused a general neglect and even an uplifting of ignorance in America. As a nation, we once prided ourselves on the solid, valuable sense we shared. Some of us still understand that having the propensity to rely upon sound judgment is vital -- gaining sensus communis must once again become the willing obligation of each individual.


Monday, January 18, 2016

Learning the "Politics" of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

“I don’t think the Republican party is a party full of the almighty God nor is the Democratic party. They both have weaknesses … And I’m not inextricably bound to either party."

(Martin Luther King, Jr. quote from David A. Love. 
"Can any political party claim Martin Luther King?")

This Martin Luther King Jr. Day the partisan stance of lawmakers makes one wonder if our country has learned much of anything about human understanding as politicians stubbornly adhere to political prejudices that cripple the actions of government. What kind of politics did Dr. King, the strong activist and civil rights leader, practice as he became one of the greatest world figures ever known?

Of course, both parties stake claim to Martin Luther King Jr. as they often allude to his words and actions while bolstering support for their particular platforms. But, in reality, he most often did not identify with one particular political party during his life. Dr. King steadfastly focused on issues rather than on electoral politics.

Taylor Branch, whose Pulitzer Prize-winning work on the King years may be the most exhaustive research conducted on the civil rights leader, maintains King was nonpartisan. King himself never expressed an affiliation with, nor endorsed candidates for, any political party.

In his own words, King said ...

“Actually, the Negro has been betrayed by both the Republican and the Democratic party. The Democrats have betrayed him by capitulating to the whims and caprices of the Southern Dixiecrats. The Republicans have betrayed him by capitulating to the blatant hypocrisy of reactionary right wing northern Republicans. And this coalition of southern Dixiecrats and right wing reactionary northern Republicans defeats every bill and every move towards liberal legislation in the area of civil rights.”

(The Papers of Martin Luther King, Jr: Symbol of the Movement.
January 1957- December 1958.)

David A. Love, writer and human rights advocate, says King was a pragmatist. For example, he voted for President Kennedy while not publicly endorsing him. Yet, he often criticized both parties for using blacks as a “political football,” while keeping a watchful eye on candidates and their civil rights stances.

Again, in his own words, King explained ...

“I feel someone must remain in the position of non-alignment, so that he can look objectively at both parties and be the conscience of both -- not the servant or master of either."

(David A. Love. "Can any political party claim Martin Luther King?" August 27, 2013.)

Byron Williams, one of the leading public theologians in the nation, says "the closest King came to an endorsement was his lack of such for 1964 GOP presidential candidate Barry Goldwater. Goldwater, as a senator, failed to support the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Ironically, Lyndon Johnson, who unquestionably did more to aid the civil rights cause than anyone who occupied the White House, perhaps received some of King's harshest criticism in opposing the war in Vietnam."

(Byron Williams. "Martin Luther King Jr.'s Legacy Transcends Political Labels."
Huffington Post. September 28, 2006.)

The historical record is very clear that Dr. King did not want to be identified as a partisan of any political party. Instead, he was committed to challenging injustice, and this made him an independent activist who fought inequality in both parties. King was strongly driven by a moral conscience that was affirmed growing up in the historical black church and by his deeply held beliefs in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.

This year, in the midst of the vitriol politics of the Republicans and the Democrats, America must vote for candidates who, like Martin Luther King, will work toward nonpartisan compromise and toward finding effective solutions to our nation's problems. Most people are tired of bickering, backbiting, and gridlock.

In the face of violent injustice, Dr. King set forth a vision of justice and love that was radical for his day. He taught us that justice and love go together. We often think that these two concepts are opposed to one another. Yet, there is a tension between justice and love that must exist. And today, we still struggle with forging a unification that allows love and justice to coexist.

Adam Ericksen, Education Director for The Raven Foundation, says, "For him (King), God’s justice, true justice, didn’t mean punishing enemies. Rather, justice for him as he followed Jesus, was about reconciliation. Today we call it 'restorative justice.' It’s a justice that restores individuals to themselves and it restores our relationships with one another. King wanted the persecuted and the persecutor to find healing. When we live into this justice that seeks restoration, healing, and reconciliation, King said that we live into the 'Beloved Community.'"

 (Adam Ericksen. "Martin Luther King, Jr. – Justice, Love, and the New Jim Crow." January 18, 2016.)

I think the political process has turned into a partisan circus that opposes restorative justice, preferring instead to instill strong division that raises party allegiance above social imperatives. Without an honest reconciliation in the name of progress, we will continue to find rife injustice and inequality in Washington, D.C. America is begging government to stop the hatred and bond together to fight present-day inequalities.

Today, we honor the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and we give thanks to him for leading us into a new vision of unification. His lessons still reverberate ... perhaps some louder than ever.

"Like an unchecked cancer, hate corrodes the personality and eats away its vital unity. Hate destroys a man's sense of values and his objectivity. It causes him to describe the beautiful as ugly and the ugly as beautiful, and to confuse the true with the false and the false with the true."

--Martin Luther King Jr.

Friday, January 15, 2016

President Obama and Secretary Tom Vilsack Fight Rural Opioid Addiction

The White House announced that President Obama is appointing Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, his Cabinet’s longest-serving member, to lead a new interagency effort focused on addressing rural America’s struggle with heroin and opioid abuse as well as other pressing problems.

In an interview, White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough said the work Vilsack has done since 2011 chairing the White House Rural Council, a group focused on these areas, has given him “firsthand experience” seeing how substance abuse and poverty have continued to keep Americans in some parts of the country from making headway.

McDonough explained: "The whole point is to have the secretary of agriculture look across the [federal government] to see what unique capabilities agencies have to invest in blowing through these obstacles to opportunity in rural communities.”

The Rural Council encompasses 15 departments and multiple agencies, including Health and Human Services, Veterans Affairs and the Office of National Drug Policy, among others.

Vilsack will unveil the new initiative during a town hall discussion on January 15 at Ohio State University in Columbus, where he will be discussing the expansion of the administration’s rural-development efforts in 11 counties experiencing persistent poverty in the part of Appalachia that extends into southern Ohio.

(Juliet Eilperin. "Here’s how the White House plans to address rural America’s struggle with heroin." The Washington Post. January 15, 2016.)

The budget agreement struck last month provided the administration with more than $400 million to address the epidemic, an increase of more than $100 million from the previous year. It also cut language barring the use of federal funds for needle-exchange programs, a move that many public health advocates had sought.

Mark Publicker, past president of the Northern New England Society of Addiction Medicine, said that while he was “utterly pessimistic” that a government task force could have a major impact on the problem, he had been encouraged by some of the efforts the administration had been taking to address the fact that the rural poor are “most stricken by the epidemic and have the least access to treatment.”
I have watched the Presidential Debates, and I believe they have featured far too little discussion on drug abuse and particularly on the heroin epidemic. Heroin and prescription opioid drug overdoses kill about 30,000 people a year. Heroin-related death rates increased 28 percent from 2013 to 2014 alone.

It is time for the federal government to address this domestic terror threat and provide more resources to fight opioid addiction while rethinking strategies about how best to treat addicts who often have trouble getting treatment. Unlike Mark Publicker, I am very optimistic about Tom Vilsack's Rural Council. In a time when it seems many criticize every step taken by President Obama, I want to thank him for focusing on the rural poor and opioid addiction.

Living in Appalachia, I understand the need and the desire for opportunity. Here, we tend to have a deep mistrust of the federal government that stems from a long history of neglect and lack of economic stimulus. Joblessness, poverty, inferior health care, poor education, and depression have all impacted the problem of drug abuse in Southern Ohio.

While struggling with what we Appalachian residents often view as insurmountable troubles, we have begged for federal assistance for so long. Addiction contributes to almost every obstacle to improvement. We desperately need to stop this drug epidemic to have a fighting chance of economic and social recovery.

Although some presidential candidates have expressed concern for rising opioid addiction, they all should prioritize this problem and express their specific plans to stop the epidemic. Both the actual carnage and threat of opioid addiction dwarf present ISIS terrorist concerns. It is unacceptable that so much talk about terror fails to include a committed focus on addiction. As the killing fields of overdoses swell, candidates must pledge more support to meet the challenge to end this health epidemic.


Shame For Ignorance and Lack of Action

Some of the twisted knowledge of opioid addiction is simply atrocious and indicative of the lack of real concern. Candidates often choose to blame the opposition for creating an environment that teems with drug abuse instead of facing the beast at hand. The epidemic has been in the making for decades. No one person or group is to blame unless they are titled "us."

For example, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie featured a campaign ad that begins with Christie, a former prosecutor, speaking directly into the camera: "Lawlessness in America and around the world under Barack Obama." Christie declares "drugs running rampant and destroying lives" as images of a hoodie-wearing addict shooting up and a close-up of what appears to be an addict overdosing appear on screen. 

This image and rhetoric are not representative of addicts or of conditions. During the Obama administration, a much-needed crackdown on pill mills helped spur a resurgence in heroin use. In a Huffington Post investigation, federal and state officials admitted that they knew such a crackdown would lead to a heroin problem. It was inevitable that prescription drug addicts would turn to heroin, the cheaper opiate that satisfied their cravings. 

Yet, Christie calls this President Obama's doing. In fact, in Christie's state of New Jersey, overdose deaths nearly tripled the overall U.S. rate. Blame? 

(Jason Cherkis. "Chris Christie Ties Heroin Epidemic To Obama." 
Huffington Post. August 24, 2015.)

Why haven't candidates given specifics about how to deal with drug abuse? One obvious reason is that treatment methods can be quite controversial, especially publicly-funded needle exchanges or more access to methadone and Suboxone, drugs used to help wean individuals off addiction.

Thank God that President Obama and Secretary Vilsack are taking a progressive step with more federal action. Opioid addiction is much more than a pressing political issue; it is a national health crisis that demands the immediate, full attention of the federal government. Soon, a new president will be faced with the problem. Choosing blame and bluster while campaigning instead of committing to a specific program based on clinical knowledge about this disease infuriates me.

The war on ISIS -- home and abroad -- is real and threatens the lives of all Americans. I understand that. I watch candidates rave and rage about how to solve this terrorist problem that they say is the number one concern of Americans. Yet, I believe the biggest terror threat to citizens -- youngsters, teens, the middle aged, and seniors -- is opioid addiction. Untold numbers of grieving mothers, fathers, and families provide evidence every day that drugs are the most dangerous threat to life and limb in America.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

What Women Want... Well, Kind Of... Maybe

“The great question that has never been answered and which I have not yet been able to answer, despite my 30 years of research into the feminine soul, is, What does a woman want?”

--Sigmund Freud

What do females really want from a man? It's still a conundrum under intense investigation. We have been schooled to believe they seek a monogamous relationship with someone possessing healthy, strong male genes. We have been told they want romantic love, security, emotional closeness, and lots of money. Research can support all of those things; however, some other recent studies claim female sexual desire is powerful, flexible, complex -- and even subversive.

Perhaps we must re-evaluate old notions of sexuality and desire.

1. Developmental psychologist Lisa Diamond of the University of Utah found that many women experience their sexual interests as fluid and open, encompassing at different times men or women, or both.

“In 1997, the actress Anne Heche began a widely publicized romantic relationship with the openly lesbian comedian Ellen DeGeneres after having had no prior same-sex attractions or relationships. The relationship with DeGeneres ended after two years, and Heche went on to marry a man.”

 --Lisa Diamond , from her book Sexual Fluidity: Understanding Women’s Love and Desire

Diamond's findings suggest that "there are, in fact, appreciable boundaries between the long-term developmental trajectories of lesbian, bisexual, and unlabeled women, but these boundaries are relatively fluid. Hence, the present study supports the notion of bisexuality as a third type of sexual orientation and also supports the notion of bisexuality as a capacity for context-specific flexibility in erotic response."

(Lisa M. Diamond. "Female Bisexuality From Adolescence to Adulthood: Results From a
10-Year Longitudinal Study." Developmental Psychology, Volume 44. 2008.)

Overall, the most commonly adopted identity found in the study was “unlabeled.” Bisexual/unlabeled women had stable overall distributions of same-sex/other-sex attractions but greater absolute fluctuations in attractions from assessment to assessment than lesbians. All women reported declines in their ratio of same-sex to other-sex behavior over time. These findings demonstrate that "the distinction between lesbianism and bisexuality is a matter of degree rather than kind."

Diamond's work supports the idea that female desire may be dictated -- even more than popular perception would have it -- by intimacy, by emotional connection. She doesn’t claim that women are without innate sexual orientations. But she sees significance in the fact that many of her subjects agreed with the statement “I’m the kind of person who becomes physically attracted to the person rather than their gender.”

What might redirect female erotic attraction? Diamond suggests, an answer may be found in oxytocin, a neurotransmitter unique to mammalian brains. The chemical’s release has been shown, in humans, to facilitate feelings of trust and well-being, and in female prairie voles, a monogamous species of rodent, to connect the act of sex to the formation of faithful attachments.  Judging by experiments in animals, and by the transmitter’s importance in human childbirth and breast feeding, the oxytocin system, which relies on estrogen, is much more extensive in the female brain.

What Do Women Want?" The New York Times. January 22, 2009.)

2. Richard Lippa of California State University has found that unlike men, whose sexual appetite narrows as it increases, sexually charged women display an increasingly open orientation. Women with higher libidos are more likely to feel desire toward members of both sexes. In plain words, the higher a woman’s sex drive, the more she desires both men and women.

Lippa said ...

“For most men, a higher sex drive simply intensifies their existing sexual orientation. The unexpected result is that women seem to be more intrinsically bisexual in their sexual attractions. Men tend to be either-or [heterosexual or gay], but women have more shades of gray... It seems that in most women, there is a latent bisexuality, and high sex drive energizes it.”

(Richard Lippa. "The Relation Between Sex Drive and Sexual Attraction to Men and Women: A Cross-National Study of Heterosexual, Bisexual, and Homosexual Men and Women." Archives of Sexual Behavior, Volume 36. April, 2007)

In addition, Vinita Mehta, Ph.D., Ed.M., says numerous studies have found that women's male mate preferences shift according to their menstrual cycle. Mehta says, "During peak levels of fertility, they prefer more masculine and socially dominant men. In the literature these men are known as 'cads.' Indeed, they tend to be sexy, with their narrow eyes and strong jaws — but they also tend to be flashy and exploitative of others. Even worse, these masculine men often embody the Dark Triad, a personality constellation that encompasses Machiavellianism, psychopathy, and narcissism." Typically, these men offer only short-term prospects.

(Vinita Mehta. "What Women Want in Men." Psychology Today. August 05, 2013.)

3. And, Marta Meana, a researcher at the University of Nevada, has argued that the organizing principle of female sexuality is the desire to be desired. In her view, the delicate, tentative guy who politely thinks about you and asks if this is okay or that is okay is a guy who may meet the expectations of your gender politics (treats me as an equal; is respectful of me; communicates with me) and your parents’ preferences, but he may also put you into a sexual coma -- not despite these qualities, but because of them.

Meana claims female desire is activated when a woman feels overwhelmingly desired, not rationally considered. Female erotic literature (Fifty Shades of Grey) is built on this fantasy. Desire seeks the path of desire, not the path of righteousness. It thrives not on social order but on its negation. This is one reason all religions and societies try to control, contain, limit and re-direct it. "(For women) being desired is the real orgasm," Meana says.

Meana argues that female sexuality is more self-centered than male’s. Noam Shpancer, clinical psychologist and professor of psychology at Otterbein University interprets Meana's findings:

"While male fantasies focus on giving satisfaction, not on receiving it (Men see themselves in their fantasies bringing the woman to orgasm, not themselves), women see the man, set aflame by uncontrollable lust for them, bringing them to ecstasy. Men want to excite women. Women want men to excite them. Being desired is the real female orgasm, Meena says, and her words resound as a kind of truth. After all, wouldn’t more women be jealous of the desired woman who cannot orgasm than of the orgasmic woman who is not desired?"

(Noam Shpancer. "What Do Women Really Want?" Psychology Today. August 22, 2013.)

Meana says. "What happens in relationships is we fall into these old patterns, and we start thinking we've figured everything out about each other, and we really haven't." She believes that female passion depends upon novelty, discovery, and desire. Women worry when passion seems to fizzle.
Happily married women often face a paradox when it comes to sex because the very thing that makes them happy -- closeness with their partner -- is what gets in the way of desire.

(Karen E. Sims and Marta Meana. "Why Did Passion Wane? A Qualitative Study of Married Women's Attributions for Declines in Sexual Desire." Journal of Sexual and Marital Therapy. June 2010.)

Some New Insight About What Women Desire

Let's summarize these understandings of feminine desire. Research supported the following:

* Women have sexual interests that are fluid and open.
* The higher a woman’s sex drive, the more she desires both men and women.
* Female desire is activated when a woman feels overwhelmingly desired, not rationally considered.

It seems that society’s repression of female sexuality has reshaped women’s desires and sex lives. In truth, recent work has found that women’s sexuality is not the rational, civilized and balancing force it’s so often made out to be: Instead, it is base and ravenous, much like lustful male sexuality. Daniel Bergner claims argues, “One of our most comforting assumptions, soothing perhaps above all to men but clung to by both sexes, that female eros is much better made for monogamy than the male libido, is scarcely more than a fairy tale.”

If women are, indeed, narcissistic in the sense of relentlessly seeking what they want, this realization may be most alarming to men. "If you look at how women behave and what we spend our time and energy and lots of money on, it's on desire-creating behaviors rather than on trying to get sex," Meana told Oprah.

Women are so damned complicated. That is evident. Just consider this 50 Shades allusion Meana explained to Oprah: "When women talk about domination, what they're trying to communicate is 'I was so wanted by someone I wanted.'" I mean, I kind of "get it," but also I don't really "get much" that I can intellectualize as a male that will translate to better practice. Does a lady want a man to dominate her only when she is the epitome of his every desire? To me, that sounds a little creepy unless role play is a constant part of a couple's mutual happiness.

I completely understand that women want to be desired, yet isn't this true of men also? Perhaps men don't seek as much recognition for their good looks and sexuality as women, but they desperately want women to acknowledge them for their basic masculinity. Even in a man's world turning more and more toward equality of the sexes, men are narcissistic, too.

To end this entry on womanly desire, I will cite a study from the University of Texas that argues that beautiful women (however the researchers decided to define beautifulwant it all when it comes to picking a mate. In fact, the more beautiful a woman is, the higher her standards. 

(David Buss. Evolutionary Psychology. Reported by Lee Dye. "Study: Beautiful Women
Want It All." ABC News. March 26, 2008.)

At one time it was believed women were more successful at reproduction if they picked various mates for different functions, such as marrying a guy with money but making out with a guy with great genes. David Buss, leader of the study said that is not understood as standard procedure now.

Here is what was found to be "wanting it all":

* The more attractive women rated sex appeal, physical attractiveness and physical fitness as the most important "good gene indicators."

* An older man, with a college education and good earning capacity, led the list of "good investment ability indicators."

* Desire for home and children was by far the most important "good parenting indicator," followed by emotional stability and maturity.

* And "being a loving partner" was most desired as a "good partner indicator."

The results showed that the most attractive women consistently had the highest standards, except for one peculiar exception.

When it came to evaluating intelligence as a "good gene indicator," being intelligent was at the very bottom of the list for both the beauties and the plain Janes.

Buss explained that although "intelligence is one of the most highly valued traits in a mate, attractive women do not desire it any more (or any less) than less attractive women."

So, evidently the hotties and the beautifully disadvantaged both find brainy guys equally unhunky. Looking at women's attraction to "bad boys" and all the baggage that goes with them, this exception doesn't surprise me. I would say both sexes struggle with logic when confronted with strong desire and other chemically fed emotions upon entering a prospective relationship. Women underrate intelligence when a handsome physical specimen appears. And, I believe, sadly, so do men.

What can we learn from all of this?  One thought reigns supreme -- women are a lot like men only different. This we know. And, it is with this knowledge, we will continue to desire each other's companionship. Ain't love strange?


Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Bikini Baristas Offering Hot Coffee and Skimpy Service


"In a short, sheer, baby-doll negligee and coordinated pink panties, Candice Law is dressed to work at a drive-through espresso stand in Tukwila, and she is working it.

"Customers pull their trucks up to the window, where Law greets each with an affectionate nickname, blows kisses, and vamps about as she steams milk for a mocha. 'You want whipped cream?' she asks, a sly smile playing on her pierced lip.

"The next customer rolls up, and Law throws a long leg onto the window sill, like an indie-rock ballerina at the barre.

“'Do you like my leg warmers?' she asks. 'Aren’t they hot?'”

(Amy Roe. "Some coffee stands get steamier." The Seattle Times. January 22, 2007.)

Stupid me. It was not until I read this week about a barista from Everett, Washington, who died from injuries suffered in a freak explosion while a serving up coffee to customers in her bikini that I even realized bikini baristas existed. Not to belittle or downplay this tragic accident, but the hot coffee and hot lady connection made me scratch my old head.

I had no idea bikini baristas have been grinding more than coffee beans at sexpresso establishments across the country. These places have evidently found a strategy to "reach out" to customers who’ve never set foot in a Starbucks. Coffee historians claim the "Natte Latte" chain's first location was opened in November 1999 in Kitsap Country, Washington, and its employees began sporting pink leather hotpants in 2001.

(Chris Henry. "Baristas Aim to Up Coffee Sales by Stripping Down."
Kitsap Sun. February 15. 2008.)

Then, in 2003, "Cowgirls Espresso" opened its first location in Tukwila, Washington. A few months after opening as the summer heat came to town, owner Lori Bowden adopted employee suggestions that they start a "Bikini Wednesday" promotion. Sales took off, and other scantily-clad theme days soon followed. The concept of "bikini baristas" spread quickly featuring attractive young women dressed in attire such as bikinis, lingerie, stockings, and heels.

(Gene Johnson. "Seattle-Area Coffee Shops Show Some Skin."
The Washington Post. January 29, 2007).

With names the like "Peek A-Brew, "Grab n' Go," "Smokin' Hot Espresso," "Knotty Bodies Espresso," "Sweet Spot," and "Java Jigglers," the provocative coffee shops have proven to be novel, popular places -- especially in the State of Washington, which is rather ironic considering Portland and Seattle were recently awarded the title of cloudiest cities in the United States.

But, some people have claimed they violate erotic entertainment ordinances and should be off limits.

For example, county officials responded to complaints about Espresso Gone Wild in Belfair, Washington. In 2008, the establishment was prohibited from allowing employees to wear pasties and their baristas now wear bikinis.

Arrests were made in Snohomish County, Washington, in 2013 following raids on seven coffee shops accused of selling more than coffee. (It was priced at $7 a cup, but “a show” was allegedly offered, for example, when a $20 bill was presented by an undercover officer.)

(Martha Neil. "Do coffee baristas serve up too much while wearing too little? Cities enact new laws, conduct raids." American Bar Association Journal. January 28, 2014.)

Residents in another community have surveilled a local stand and called for boycotts of companies whose employees patronize the establishments. Many municipalities in Washington have been asked to determine "how hot is too hot" as people complain about scantily clad bikini baristas.

Despite resistance, the Washington craze has rapidly gained popularity. Now, you can find bikini baristas in North Carolina, Colorado, Oregon, Ohio, Florida, Maryland, Georgia, Nevada, Missouri and Texas.

One chain, Bottoms Up Espresso ("Making Coffee Sexy"), has become a favorite among social media users with their baristas featured regularly on the website The Chive and other popular sites.

The concept of Breastaurants as popularized by Hooters has been commonly accepted in the United States. Why not perky coffee? After all, sales are booming for titillating eateries.Another of the most popular chains, the Celtic-themed Tilted Kilt, features gorgeous young women in knee-high socks, short plaid kilts, and skimpy bra tops serving food like shepherd's pie and Irish stew to hungry folks. Tilted Kilt saw sales grow 18% to $196 million in 2013 compared to the previous year, according to Technomic. The company currently has 94 locations, up from 14 in 2008.

And, rival Twin Peaks billed as the "ultimate sports lodge" offers "everything you crave and more: hearty made-from-scratch comfort food, draft beer served at a teeth-chattering 29 degrees and all the best sports on TV shown on high-definition flat screens." The fare is served by "friendly and attentive Twin Peaks Girls," offering their signature "Girl Next Door charisma and playful personalities to ensure that your adventure happens at the Peaks." Their sales grew 68% to $165 million over the same time period, as the chain nearly doubled its locations.

By comparison, the entire restaurant industry's sales grew 4% in 2013, according to the National Restaurant Association.

(Hayley Peterson. "'Bikini Barista' Coffee Shops Are Exploding In The Northwest." Business Insider. September 02, 2014.)

Of course, businesses that break the law such as the establishment where baristas allegedly performed sex acts in return for tips are nothing other than undercover sex shops. Consider what Java Juggs was caught doing. Coffee drinks there started at $6. But for another $14, baristas would allegedly flash their breasts or genitals to customers, according to charging documents reviewed by the Associated Press.

A customer described the system in a Yelp review, saying, "[The barista] conversed while making my coffee and then said for $20.00 she would show me everything and get naked." The customer wrote. "I told her that was an expensive cup of coffee and asked what she'd show me for $5.00. She showed me plenty."

(Hayley Peterson. "'Bikini Barista' Coffee Shops Are Exploding In The Northwest." Business Insider. September 02, 2014.)

But, before you scream about sexism, consider that former male stripper Chris Mullins decided to open an all-male version in February in Spokane, Washington. At Hot Cup of Joe, shirtless men serve coffee instead of women in bikinis. I guess turnabout is fair play.

So, all in all, expensive coffee with legs and a little seductive boobie action has become part of American culture. Perhaps the biggest question is "Why?"

The existence of bikini baristas draws ire from Lindy West, Seattle-based writer, editor, and performer. She says ...

"I don't have any moral objection to women making coffee in their underwear (or sex work in general, for that matter, and some of these scandals certainly qualify as such). As long as they're compensated fairly and they're not coerced and their consent can be safeguarded somehow and there's at least a space heater in there or something. Obviously I wish we lived in a world where the objectification of women wasn't so ubiquitous and profitable, but I don't think taking away women's livelihoods in the short-term is a good solution on that front."

 West continues ...

"How can they (people) stand to drink coffee without any idea of what their barista's vulva looks like? How can they live without the joy of eating a scone that was recently stored near the razor-burned pubis of a sullen 19-year-old?!? What kind of a life is that?

"So, keep on bikini-ing, I guess, bikini baristas! And I'll keep on driving the extra 10 minutes down Aurora to get to a Starbucks or something because all the hometown pride in the world isn't going to get me to drink crotch-coffee."

(Lindy West. "Washington's Weird Bikini Barista Culture." Jezebel. February 05, 2014.)

Then, there's a letter to the editor by Laura Hyatt. Hyatt claims ...

"I am a 35-year-old mother of a 10-year-old son, and I have absolutely no problem with these baristas. They could be naked for all I care, as long as they make a good cup of coffee. Those who complain about the way the girls are dressed need to loosen up. They are too uptight about the human form."You don’t want a girl in a bikini serving you drinks? Then you can choose to go somewhere else for your coffee. There are over 10 other espresso places in Auburn alone to choose from. We all have a right to choose what we want for ourselves – whether it’s a bikini barista or provocative mermaids on our coffee cups.

"Life’s too short to worry how other people dress. The outfit doesn’t make the mocha, the barista does."

(Laura A. Hyatt. "Baristas should wear what they want — so long as the coffee's good."Auburn Reporter. June 03, 2008.)

And, so it goes. Food, drink, anatomy -- drive and desire create some strange bedfellows. Would you agree?