The Year of Interesting Times

You may recall that I dubbed last year “April Fool’s Year“, given the series of bizarre global events that made me question the date once every couple of weeks. You may also recall that I suck at life, as this year life seems to be trying to catch me off my guard quite regularly. One commenter said it sounded like “interesting times” and yes, for me, this year is shaping up to be one of interesting times for me.

I have taken another prolonged absence from this blog. I seriously thought it was only a 10 day break, only to realize it was significantly longer than that. Suffice it to say that, in this time, I managed to get sick in 3 different yet contemporary ways, a feat that very nearly landed me in the hospital for the first time in my life. Well I managed to keep my record and stay out of the hospital, which means I also kept coming to work. For an average of 13 hours a day. And yet I am still so behind on my work that I’m starting to panic. I am also getting kicked out of my house, which is fun. This pretty much describes the way my year is going.

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I cannot promise that another break wont happen. I can promise that I wont give up. This blog is a drug for me. It’s an outlet, a way to interact with people and share my views and detach from my life. I can’t give it up.

And I Know It Worries You

The recent comments of a Polish politician on women’s rights has been spread far and wide on the internet today. My favorite format, however, is this video which includes a direct response from a Spanish MEP.

 

I like this video because her response is the thing that you have to keep in mind when confronting someone who is so brazenly, unabashedly misogynistic. It is very similar to those who are brazenly, unabashedly xenophobic. They are the ones that feel small, weak and inadequate. They are the ones that, deep down inside, know that they will not make the cut if they are subjected to fair and open competition with women or immigrants. People who are confident in their abilities and their strengths do not bother arguing against opening up the workplace and giving others opportunities to compete, because they do not fear being out-competed. But people, especially men, who deep down know that they don’t match up reject this feeling, lash out, and reassure themselves that at least the virtue of their body parts from birth puts them above other people, and that they will always be superior to someone.

I say especially men not because I think that men are more likely to be assholes, but because men are also victims of a patriarchal society in this case. There is a lot more pressure put on boys to be strong, to show no fear, to become breadwinners. It is for this reason that I think that men are more likely to lash out in the face of their inner feelings of inadequacy. Luckily fewer and fewer boys are being raised in this antiquated mentality, and hopefully people like this will become an old relic of the past. I simply bring it up because it needs to be repeated: men are hurt by patriarchal societies too, just in different ways. Let’s do away with it then, shall we? And those who bleat be damned.

Memes Corrected

While I have defended some specific memes in the past, the criticism that they are often facile and simplistic is perfectly valid. How much information can you possibly convey in a couple of short sentences and an image?

Given their inherent simplicity, they are one of the favorite vehicles for pseudo-profundities, as they are inherently simplistic and trivial pronouncements. One perfect example of the kind of meme I’m talking about it this one, which seems to be a favorite amongst my New Age-y sort of friends.

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What was the definition of pseudo-profundity according to Jesus and Mo again?

It’s something that sounds clever or wise, but is actually really trivial and obvious

That sounds about right.

But luckily the internet it filled with rational people, and as soon as I clicked on the meme in order to see the comments running alongside it, I saw a number of corrected versions. Including

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and

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Ahh, that’s better. They may not be as catchy as the original, but I still much prefer these corrected memes.

I will concede that it is important to remember that perspectives can be different. I have talked a lot about perspective here on this blog, and how it can relate to things like privilege. What I can’t stand, however, is when people use differences in perspective as an excuse to pretend that there is no such thing as facts.

The point is facts do not exist in a vacuum. If you come across a shape etched in a stone, which could look like a 6, a 9 or a lower case g, you don’t just declare everyone right and go home. If you actually care about the facts, you try to find other clues as to what the person’s intentions were when they made that carving. Do you have reason to believe that the person in question even uses a Latin alphabet? Is it an ancient carving, before the invention of our 0-10 numbering system?

It is important to remember that your perspective can influence your conclusions, and if you want to be a rational person you should try to take certain steps to counteract your inherent biases. However, that does not mean that everyone’s opinion is created equally. We shouldn’t all just give up on reasoned discussion because your perspective has lead you to believe that fairies are causing your belly to ache and I should just accept that as equally valid to my opinion that you should see a doctor.

Where’s the fun in life being that simplistic, anyway?

Cultural Differences: Carnival Celebrations

Yesterday was the last day of Carnival, and so Christians around the world are getting over their celebrations and starting their fast for Ash Wednesday. I have lived in 3 different Christian-majority countries in my life, and one thing I noticed is how very differently Carnival is celebrated across the world.

Generally speaking, the purpose of Carnival is twofold: First it’s to get the partying and gluttony out of your system before embarking on the restrictive and pious period of Lent, and the second is to have a period of time in which societal norms are challenged and broken, if only for a short period of time. However, the way that different cultures do this varies dramatically.

In Italy, Carnival is mostly a children’s holiday. Kids dress up, throw colored paper confetti all over the place, and their parents accompany them though they hardly ever dress up themselves. There is also the saying a Carnevale ogni scherzo vale, which means at Carnival any joke goes, making Carnival a time for childish pranks similar to Halloween in the States. Carnival is so much a kid’s holiday that if you are an adult, dressed up and unaccompanied by children, people will look at you like the weird childless man lurking around the jungle gym.

The exception to this is Venice, where Carnival is very much an adult holiday. Originally, Carnival was the day that social stations were voided, as people were not recognized as a person but as a mask. They would address each other as Mister or Lady Mask, and once this suspension of societal norms was acknowledged by the other by responding in the same way, they could proceed to speak to each other in whichever direct or lewd way that they pleased. These days, on the Tuesday before Lent you will see some truly spectacular masks and breathtakingly elegant costumes, though the real parties are the ones that go on behind closed doors. While I have never been invited to a private Venetian Carnival party, the rumors of what goes on in one abound. Rules of prim societal conduct are suspended, children are not around, and everything from bawdy jokes to excessive drinking to cheating on spouses is supposedly tolerated and expected.

In Brazil, Carnival is also an openly sexual holiday. The skimpy Carnival costumes are famous across the world, but many people don’t know that it is also very common for complete strangers to kiss each other in the street. If you walk around Salvador during Carnival, for example, be prepared for people to come up to you and plant a nice smack on the lips. This is not considered cheating or an invitation to come to bed (though many might still take you up on it if you propose it), but rather an open celebration of joy. The sexual connotations of Carnival are also mirrored in Louisiana for Mardi Gras, which is famous for young people getting quite drunk and quite naked.

In Ireland there is no such thing as Carnival, but rather they refer to Mardi Gras as “Pancake Tuesday”, where everyone eats a whole lot of pancakes. The idea is that you use up all of the sweet things in your house by using them as pancake fillers, thus removing temptation from you home during Lent. This was by far the tamest kind of Carnival celebration that I have ever experienced.

In Germany, the situation is different still. While not all areas of Germany really celebrate Carnival, it is certainly a very big deal in Nordrhein Westfalen, and most famously in Cologne. Here, both adults and children dress up and celebrate Carnival, and adults will often even show up to their office jobs dressed as everything and anything, from giant pink bunnies and Disney characters to dictators. I was surprised to find that, when in Cologne for the Carnival Monday, the parade threw candy into the almost exclusively adult crowd, which fought ferociously over the candy scattered amongst them. I discovered that, if you want to keep a single piece of that candy for yourself, be prepared to use your elbows.

The breaking down of societal norms in this part of Germany has much less to do with open sexuality, and far more to do with political commentary. If you are a man in Cologne on the Thursday of Carnival, make sure that you are not wearing a tie, unless you appreciate groups of angry German women brandishing scissors to chase you down and cut it off. Thursday is the Women’s day, as a rebellion against a male-dominated society. On this Thursday many women will take the day off work, hold women-only parades, storm and take over offices of the city hall and yes, cut off men’s ties as a symbol of rebelling against male oppression.

The political tone of German Carnival celebrations is also evident in the floats that are used during the parades. Two such floats in Düsseldorf made headlines around the world, as it was quite a harsh take on the current American political climate.

I would say NSFW… but then again it was shown on the news. Let’s say, NSFW in the States, perhaps.

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I Can Relate

I now live in a country with much shorter summers and generally colder weather than where I grew up. Because of this, when we do have the occasional unseasonably warm day, I am happy in a tentative way. Actually, this comic perfectly summarizes my reaction on these days.

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The “I Don’t Judge” Cop Out

For those of you who are not up to date with Christian traditions, today is the last day of Carnival, and tomorrow is Ash Wednesday, i.e. the first day of Lent. Different Christian sects do Lent in different ways. The Orthodox, for example, go vegan for Lent, while the Catholics are supposed to not eat meat on Fridays and give up something else, usually sweets and fatty foods, until Easter arrives.

I mention this because this is how I came to discover the existence of “Father Mike”. An old friend of mine seems to have gone Catholic, as she posted a video by this Father Mike character on her Facebook page talking about what Lent is and what you are supposed to do as a Catholic.

Seeing a handsome man in a collar, I clicked on it hoping that it was going to be an ironic parody of some sort. But no, he is apparently a real priest, chosen to make online videos because of his 1980s-style good looks and friendly manner, who also happens to talk like he’s on speed, and the whole thing was rather boring. What caught my attention, however, were the other videos by Father Mike that popped up as soon as I had clicked play, one being entitled “Father Mike and Transgenderism”.

Oh dear. Oh boy. This seems to be the running theme of the Catholic Church these days, doesn’t it? Don’t change the message, don’t be more accepting, but just keep saying awful things about “the other” with a handsome toothy smile, assuring everyone that it’s not judgement, just love!

Maybe I’m being unfair. I clicked on the video, and forced myself to watch the whole thing this time.

Content note: get ready for some serious transphobia, willful ignorance, all served up smothered to death in condescension.

 

That. Was. Torture.

I knew my suspicions were going to be proven correct from the very first line, when he introduced the video with an anecdote about his nephew pretending to be a puppy, even though some part of me was shocked that he would be so blatant in his putting down of transgendered individuals. No, I thought, he wont, he wont go there….

But he did. He actually equated being transgendered to being a child playing and pretending to be a puppy. He then decided to get a little more “scientific”, and equated being transgendered to being anorexic and having Body Integrity Identity Disorder, which is when healthy people are convinced that they are disabled.

I can’t believe I actually managed to watch the entire thing without barfing, though I came very close indeed. If there is one thing in this world that can really get under my skin, it is condescension. I hated it as a child when people talked down to me, and I care for it no more as an adult. I can handle the scientific ignorance, and the blatant disregard for human decency stemming from that ignorance, because ignorance is something that can be dissipated with education. But this guy is either a smarmy patronizing asshole by default, and therefore cannot help coming off as one when talking about a topic of which he is completely ignorant, or he is pushing his staggering ignorance on his fans knowing full well that he is doing so.

This video is so childishly ridiculous that I don’t want to do it justice by going through it point by point and explaining why being transgendered is not like pretending to be a puppy, or not liking how your genitals look, if anything such an explanation will wind up being condescending in itself. If you want a better understanding of gender identity, how transgenderism is not a mental disease, and the complexity of what the transition entails, there are a number of transgendered bloggers, many of whom are on this network, who discuss the topic in detail and far better than I ever could.

What I am going to say is that this is exactly the kind of thing that I was talking about when I claimed that I want Ratzinger back. This phoney liberal facade is driving me up the wall. That cranky ex-Nazi SOB was honest in his discrimination, and he put the ugly face on hate that hate so justly deserves. The world is changing and society is progressing, and more and more people are recoiling in the face of vehemence and violent, unadulterated hatred. So, of course, hate has to adapt, or risk being lost altogether, and what will an institution like the Vatican be if it can’t other people anymore?

So, everybody! Do you want to still discriminate against people without looking like a tool? Just smile, and say things like love the sinner, hate the sin! Remind everyone that you’re not judging them, you’re just smothering them in your love for them while telling them they are diseased! Talk down to them, and no one will notice, because we all know that SJWs have the intellectual capacity of a toddler. Let’s not ensure the survival of our religion by actually progressing with society, but rather by changing the way we spew our disgusting ideas.

I am so sick of it. If you’re going to be an intolerant douchebag, just be upfront about it. That way, I can at least give you 1 point for honesty, which will bring your entire score to 1, I suppose. Still, there is integrity in honesty, and everyone can see your message for what it is, and dismiss it. Or, at least, Catholics will know exactly what it is they’re signing up for.

Healthy Sunday Cooking With Crys: Brazilian Bean Salad

Beans, beans, good for the heart

The more you eat them the more you fart

The more you fart the better you feel

So eat your beans for every meal!

Perhaps that was a touch childish, even for me, but that schoolyard rhyme is actually quite accurate. Apart from the fact that beans make you fart, which is a given, they actually are quite good for your heart as well, though indirectly.

Beans are full of dietary fiber, and eating plenty of it is associated with lower body weight and less cardiovascular disease, as it can lower blood cholesterol levels, hence being indirectly “good for the heart”. Beans also contain complex carbs and protein, and taken together these things help feeling fuller for longer. As to why beans also make you fart, I’ll leave that fun fact at the end, which will also include the reason why adding fiber to your diet by buying those powdery products to dissolve in your water is not really the best thing for you.

So, for this week’s healthy recipe, I’ll be making a very easy recipe that I learned when visiting my father in Bahia, a fresh and delicious salad made with black-eyed peas.

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Sunday Cooking With Crys: Italian Apple Crumble

I found myself with some leftover apples in my house. For my taste they were too soft to eat, but they were still in excellent condition and I thought it was a pity to throw them out. So, I decided to leaf through my books, notes and fridge to see what else I had lying around that could be thrown together with the apples to bake something. After all, soft apples are perfectly fine for cooking.

Some rummaging in my fridge yielded some extra sour cream that I had bought for another recipe and didn’t use. In that case, I’m going to make myself the Italian version of apple crumble.

If you already like apple crumble the way it is, you will find this version to be the poor man’s crumble so best save yourself the trouble. If, on the other hand, you sort of like apple crumble but find it to be too sweet and/or too buttery for your taste, then this is the recipe for you. It’s lower in fat, it’s not sweet, but it’s still very nice warmed with some whipped cream or ice cream next to it.

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Cultural Differences: Beware Friday the 17th!

“Um… Crys… I think you mean Friday the 13th” I can already hear many of you whispering under your breath. Funnily enough no, I don’t mean Friday the 13th. I am aware that in the vast majority of Western countries 13 is the unlucky number, and Friday the 13th is an “unlucky” day. In a bizarre twist on the usual superstition, however, Italians believe that 17 is an unlucky number, and therefore Friday the 17th is the day to watch out for. It is also the 17th row that is missing from old Alitalia planes, the number 17 that no one will have on their jerseys, and the number 17 that was retired from Formula 1 after Jules Bianchi crashed his number 17 car and died on… Friday the 17th of July 2015.

Last Friday was a Friday the 17th, and the various Italians I work with mentioned it in some passing, humorous way. This made me think about why, exactly, 17 is “unlucky” in Italian culture. Why 13 is supposedly unlucky is relatively easy, as it stems from Christian mythology. The story goes that there were 13 people at the last supper, and the “13th” person was Judas, who went on to betray Christ. It is also supposed that Jesus died on a Friday, and so Friday the 13th is an especially unlucky day.

Given the origin of this superstition you would think that Italy, a deeply Catholic country and home of the Vatican, would also hold to a superstition of Christian origin. So, I asked myself, is it a Mediterranean thing that predates Christianity? A few questions to my Greek and Spanish colleagues revealed that their cultures too have 13 as the unlucky number. As far as I can tell, Italy is the only country in which 17 takes this special position. So, why is that?

Google here I come.

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A Pleasant Reminder

After recent global political events, it is easy to lose heart at the direction the world is going in. Sometimes, it is important to remember that, while we do experience temporary setbacks, the overall trend of our global society is a positive one. This video summarizes this sentiment.

 

There is one slight mistake in the video. Unfortunately measles, thanks to the dangerous anti-vaxx movement, has actually made a comeback in the United States. This is discouraging and needs to be fought tooth and nail, but it still does not negate the entirety of the video’s message.

I often think of society’s upward progressive trend as one of those graphs that plot global surface temperatures over the decades. It is not a straight line up, but rather a jagged one with many small, localized peaks and valleys, as other factors play a role in global temperatures on a small scale. If you focus in on any one of those, you might think that the trend is spiking downward, but it is important to pull back and view the graph as a whole in order to understand the real trend.

It is quite ironic that I use a climate change graph as an analogy, as the upward trend of global temperatures is deeply troubling, while the upward trend of social progress is very encouraging, and climate change is perhaps the only major reason why 2017 is a worse year to live in than previous ones. I will however take a few moments to appreciate the positive message of this video before refocusing on the things we need to fix, change and fight for.

Being encouraged by our society’s successes is not a bad thing to keep in mind when you’re preparing for your next fight, after all.