Not Medieval history this time, but I think this video is quite fitting for this network. But do not go over to YouTube to read the comments.
These are my recollections of a life behind the iron curtain. I do not aim to give perfect and objective evaluation of anything, but to share my personal experiences and memories. It will explain why I just cannot get misty eyed over some ideas on the political left and why I loathe many ideas on the right.
I do not actually remember how much I was informed about these issues as a child before and after the fall of the Iron Curtain, but what I do remember is that my first encounter was not with an actual (known) homosexual person, but with a homophobic slur. The sad reality is, that Czechs were and to great extent still are very homophobic, or at least “I am not a homophobe, but…”, which is a distinction without difference.
However from legal standpoint Czechoslovak Socialist Republic was actually relatively progressive, or at least not less progressive than many western countries. Homosexuality was decriminalized in 1962, 5 years before the United Kingdom. And gender reassignment therapy and surgery, although with more than a few bureaucratic hurdles to jump through, were (and are) available and paid for from state health insurance.
Nevertheless, despite gay rights being on the left side of the political spectrum in current USA and most of western world, it was not so behind the Iron Curtain. As avid reader and a very curious child, I have read behind my parents’ back magazines for adults (as opposed to magazines for children), which even in the puritanical culture did contain some information about sex and sexuality. And on one such occasion I came across an article that mentioned a peculiar fact – whilst homosexual acts between consenting adults were decriminalized in ČSSR, this was not the case everywhere in the Eastern Bloc. In USSR, male homosexuality was still illegal and punishable by imprisonment. The rationale mentioned in the article was homophobic, patriarchal and misogynistic all at once, and I remember recognizing it as such even at the time, although of course I did not know those fancy words back then: “A woman’s weakness can be forgiven, but a soldier must control his urges.”
After the fall of the iron curtain this discrepancy between the two countries sadly progressed. Whilst Czech Republic slowly but steadily progresses towards more and more legal rights for LGBTQ people along with public opinion progressing as well, in Russian Federation the trend actually reversed after a brief period of attempted progress.
So to me this, together with before mentioned environmentalism, is another one of the issues that actually is not left or right and it is just a coincidence that it is considered so in current political climate in the west. But lets not forget that political left can be just as adept at finding rationalizations for the homophobia of their power base as political right currently is. Hate of the other can, unfortunately, be quite the unifying issue in all kinds of political context.
A teacher has told kids that Santa ain’t real and she got fired. And one of the parents bemoans on Facebook:
“Many of us parents have been doing damage control since the kids get home from school,” parent Lisa Simek posted to Facebook on Thursday.
I disrespectfully disagree with this nonsense and consider the parent to be a whiny fuckwit. The damage is not being done by the teacher, but by the parent. Anyway, lying to children about the existence of Santa gives you a guarantee that one day, one place, they will find out that you have lied to them. What has happened here is that it merely was perhaps a year early.
There are many, many things that I hate about this vapid holiday as it is currently celebrated – the incessant playing of absolutely awful music everywhere, the fact that for two months I cannot order anything over the internet without the delivery being delayed, the overcrowding, the religious garbage that is associated with it – but what I perhaps hate the most is how the holiday makes a virtue out of lying to children.
Some of my friends do this and I do not go out of my way to debunk Santa (or Jesus child, which is more traditional here) to their children, but I still disagree with them on this issue. I do not think it adds anything valuable to childhood being lied to. I know from personal experience that children can enjoy Christmas trees and presents immensely even when they do not believe in magic and/or religious mumbo-jumbo.
I really wish this nonsense went away. Nobody should be fired for telling children truth. Believing in known and obvious lies should never be encouraged and promulgated, ever.
There’s a growing movement to wrestle death care away from the needlessly expensive hands of the Funeral Industry and to return to simpler methods of care and burial of the dead. The Order of the Good Death is an international organization committed to helping people find safe, green, affordable and natural options for burial. The Order is young, but growing quickly in part as a response to the startling statistics about our modern burial practices.
“American funerals are responsible each year for the felling of 30 million board feet of casket wood (some of which comes from tropical hardwoods), 90,000 tons of steel, 1.6 million tons of concrete for burial vaults, and 800,000 gallons of embalming fluid. Even cremation is an environmental horror story, with the incineration process emitting many a noxious substance, including dioxin, hydrochloric acid, sulfur dioxide, and climate-changing carbon dioxide.” via Just How Bad is Traditional Burial?
One of the primary chemicals used in embalming fluid is formaldehyde, making all those gallons of embalming fluid highly toxic. Practitioners are required to wear full body and face protection and the chemicals aren’t always safely contained in our modern sealed caskets and concrete vaults. Flooding, earthquakes and even simply shifting ground can allow embalming fluids to leach into the soil and ground waters.
Cremation isn’t much better, releasing many dangerous pollutants into the air. There is, however, a new technology available called Aquamation which chemically breaks down a body using Alkaline Hydrolosis. The process is simple and transformative according to green funeral director Jeff Jorgenson
The AH process is that of heating a solution of water and sodium hydroxide (NaOH) or potassium hydroxide (KOH), which breaks down the complex molecules that make up the soft tissue of a body. In most human AH machines, this solution is pressurized and heated well above the boiling point of standard atmosphere. This high pressure/high temperature accelerates the breakdown of these complex molecules to a liquid. What remains are just the bones of the deceased, which is the same result you see with cremation. The process in human machines takes around three hours. Most animal AH machines however, this one included, do not use pressure for the process and thus, the temperatures used in the process are far lower, and that equals a longer processing time. This longer process means that you must perform multiple aquamations in one cycle to make it viable…
The water at the end of the cycle then gets discharged into the sanitary system like all other waste water. I would like to take a moment to explain that the liquid that is discharged is nutrient rich and safe enough to use in the garden for all of your vegetables. In cremation, all the tissues and liquid are vented up the chimney in the form of particulates and steam. In the both cremation and AH, what is returned to the family is simply bone and trace materials.
Aquamation is new technology and it may take some time before it becomes widely available and accepted. For those who want a more natural disposition of their dead there are green cemeteries popping up where bodies are simply buried in the soil with only a natural shroud or a biodegradable coffin. There are also now burial suits that turn bodies into clean compost. Decomposition is natural and safe. There is also a growing number of funeral directors who will assist you to be involved in the care of the body at your own level of comfort. That may be as simple as helping to wash and dress the dead or as complex as keeping the body at home and arranging for transport and burial. It is not a legal requirement that bodies be embalmed and it is perfectly safe to keep a body at home for several days with simply ice packs to slow down decomposition.
A home funeral is what used to be called”a funeral,” since all funerals took place in the family home. Nowadays it means choosing to keep a body at home after death, as opposed to having the body immediately picked up by a funeral home. It is a safe and legal choice for a family to make!
Now, an important caveat is that each US state (for instance) has different laws – some states require you to hire a funeral director to file a death certificate or to transport a body. This won’t effect the keeping the body at home part, but the funeral director will need to be involved in the process.
To find out what the home funeral requirements are where you live, you can find more detailed information here.
And if you’re interested in the requirements around embalming, burial, and cremation, read your consumer rights listed by state.
I encourage you to visit the Order of The Good Death. The site is full of resources and interesting articles about this growing trend in after death care. They also have information to help you begin conversations about planning for death and advanced directives. Death is a natural and inevitable part of life. There’s no need to fear talking about it.
I’d also like to thank Avalus for prompting me to write about this. His photographs of mushrooms in a natural burial cemetery peaked my curiosity. We’ll be sharing Avalus’ mushroom photos daily over the course of this week and I encourage you to check them out, too.
Unteilbar, adjective, German: inseparable.
Sometimes, there are good news, things that give you hope. Yesterday such a thing happened. In Berlin (and other cities), people protested against racism, xenophobia and attenpts to split society along ethnic, national and religious lines, against Nazis and in favour of rescuing refugees. It was a broad alliance of parties, churches, organisations, unions prominent people*. The organisers had hoped for and registered the demonstration for 40.000 people. Those 40.000 people came and brought 200.000 more along with them.
But today there’s a general election happening in Bavaria, the Texas of Germany. Let’s see what happens there.
*The conservative party explicitly did not support it because of “radical left wing organisations”, which they’ll keep complaining about until the moment they themselves will be prohibited as such.
As you may know by now I have recently started a new job as a special ed teacher without having actually trained as a special ed teacher. This is pretty challenging on top of the job being challenging anyway, and I’m trying to desperately read up on the concepts and theories of the discipline. In doing so I stumbled across a word that is one of the nastier ones flung around in English: retarded.
And I discovered that it is a good word. Or at least used to be.
See, special ed went through it’s development just like regular teaching. Concepts and ideas about children, learning and teaching have changed, change which is often (though not always) reflected in our schools. In its earlier stages, special ed saw children who were slow to learn as “defective”. Children who could more or less keep up with the classwork were “normal” and the other ones were broken, damaged goods, lacking. You see where this is going.
Then came science and studied children and how they learn. They put many things educators had long known on a scientific basis and formulated scientific concepts. One of the still most influential people in this area is the Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget, who described the processes through which we learn and also formulated stages through which we develop.
All legitimate criticism aside (it relates mostly to how far you can take his models and where are limits of their application), his models are still important. As teachers we want and we need to challenge our students to help them in that development, which isn’t an automatism. We need to construct our input at the right level. Primary school teachers will endlessly use concrete things and pictures to teach their students. They need to literally take away five marbles to find out what 12-5 is.
What especially Piaget’s students found out was that not all children develop at roughly the same pace. Some children are much slower than the average, they stay behind, they are “retarded”. The concept as such was revolutionary. The children were no longer seen as defective, just slower. They were not inferior to their peers but would reach the same levels of cognitive development as their peers, just later. This had, and has, great importance for teaching children with special needs, as it means that we need to give them different input, teach them using a much more hands on approach than with their peers and most importantly, get them to the same place, just a little more slowly.
It’s sad to see how ableist ideas turned such a revolutionary concept into a nasty slur. It also shows that you need to change society, not just words. The slur does not mean what the word means in a professional context. It still means “broken and defective”.
In 1712, New York City witnessed a dramatic uprising when over 20 black slaves, fighting against their unjust conditions, set fire to several houses of white slaveowners and fatally shot nine. Known today as the New York Slave Revolt of 1712, the insurgence resulted in the conviction and public execution of 21 slaves, as well as more severe slave codes. While sources often state that these rebels were all men, the historian Dr. Rebecca Hall has identified four women who were captured during the clashing and were tried. Their names were Amba, Lilly, Sarah, and Abigail.
Erased from history books, their stories will now be told in vivid form by Hall, who has devoted much of her career to unearthing the roles of women in slave revolts. Hall is currently working on her first graphic novel, which will highlight female rebels in various 18th-century uprisings, from three in New York to those that broke out on slave ships. Titled Wake: The Hidden History of Women-Led Slave Revolts, the 150-page work emerges out of Hall’s 2004 dissertation on the same topic. She is now collaborating with independent comic artist Hugo Martinez to produce the storyboards and, through Friday, May 4, is raising $5,900 on Kickstarter to realize it for submission to publishers.
“The way the history of slave resistance has been written, this very gendered narrative developed about how manly and masculine enslaved men actually were, which served to elide the role that women played,” Hall told Hyperallergic. “I was going against everything being taught in women’s roles in slave resistance by insisting that, if I looked, I bet I would find these women.” She recalled how her dissertation advisor had told her that she wouldn’t find any sources to realize her chosen topic; how one archive claimed that it had no related material.
This is a fascinating, and I think, a necessary work. You can read and see much more at Hyperallergic, as well as on the kickstarter page, where there’s also a video. They are close to their goal, but could use a bit more help, so if you can’t donate, you can help to spread the word!
Robert Mueller may not have succeeded in bringing Donald Trump to justice yet, but for a fleeting few hours Friday night, the shadowy art collective Indecline did what millions of people in the US and beyond have dreamed of doing since November 2016: they put Trump behind bars.
It may not have been the actual maximum security prison of our collective dreams, but Indecline — most recently known for surreptitiously staging a graveyard at Trump’s Bedminister Golf Course, hanging a troupe of “Ku Klux Klowns,” and previously for planting naked Trump statues in multiple cities during the 2016 election — managed to stage a prison cell installation, dubbed “The People’s Prison,” in a suite on the third floor of the Trump International Hotel & Tower next to Columbus Circle. The work was installed in less than 24 hours, entirely undercover, and without the knowledge of hotel employees, who unwittingly helped carry all of the props and equipment to the room.
Surrounding the one-man prison cell were portraits rendered on American flags, burned and tattered at the edges, each illuminated with its own individual lamp. Indecline worked with 12 artists — including Molly Crabapple, Ann Lewis, LMNOPI, and the Panic Collective — to create the portraits of 12 artists and activists from across history, including Muhammad Ali, Leonard Peltier, Angela Davis, Hunter S. Thompson, Howard Zinn, Noam Chomsky, and even more contemporary figures like Erica Garner and Edward Snowden. Interviews with each of the portrait subjects played for the duration of the show over a background soundtrack of strangely relaxing ambient music.
All of the figures in the portraits, an Indecline spokesman told Hyperallergic, are “activists and fighters that we look up to. Activists that made a difference and made a good point. He has to sit here with the people who actually made a difference.” The spokesman continued: “Everyone on these walls fought to make this flag stand for something greater than it does currently under the Trump administration … they’re the ones who should be regarded as historical figures.”