Thinking Things

LEMONADE: Why We're Missing the Point

An avid member of the Beyhive since Dangerously in Love, I am just as excited about LEMONADE as the next Yoncé-obsessed fangirl. (Also, I should start with a disclaimer before I get too deep: I’m a white female.) But, as I was stitching my Rachel Roy voodoo doll this morning, I had a revelation: This is not what Queen B would want. 

All of our incessant investigating and ceaseless social media scrutiny has nothing—nothing—to do with the point of LEMONADE. I’ll say it again, I’m a white girl (a first-generation Italian-American, to be exact), so it’s quite possible that I don’t know shit about the point of LEMONADE, but I can say—with pretty serious confidence—what the point was not: The point was not for us to obsess over Becky with the Good Hair or any other side chick. 

It’s tempting—oh-so tempting—to want to piece everything together: the shit that went down on the elevator (and whether it was or was not related to the billion dollars that was on the elevator), the cryptic Instagram post from Rachel Roy about good hair and self truths, the past demise of Jay and Damon Dash. But how insulting it must be to Beyoncé that she dropped what was—in my opinion and the opinions of people far smarter and more well equipped than I am—the most profound thing to happen to music in decades, and all we can talk about is who has the good hair and whether that person is or is not the host of a cooking show (kidding—that’s Rachael Ray, who has gotten pulled into a shitstorm she didn’t even know existed while julienning some carrots). 

Beyoncé gifted us a beautiful, profound, inconceivable, uncomfortable film on Saturday night. One that spoke to the hardships African American women have faced and continue to face, one that spoke to complicated relationships with fathers and husbands, one that spoke to police brutality, accountability, the power of love over pride, feminism, forgiveness, and about thirty other ocean-deep themes. She plugged her menses with pages from the Holy Book, for God’s sake.

As far as I’m concerned, we are the recipients of a Van Gogh, and we’re focused on that one off brushstroke in the corner?

Instead of analyzing her marriage and attacking anyone we deem to be one of Jay’s side chicks, let’s write think pieces on female struggles and how Beyoncé continually proves that the Good Ol’ Boys Club is officially the least cool place on the planet to hang out. Let’s talk about the fact she has proven herself to be an insanely talented filmmaker. Let’s write about what a visual album like this means for the future of the music and film industries. Let’s talk about Warsan Shire and how terribly beautiful her words are. Let’s write think pieces on what it means to be an African American woman today in America  (I’ll leave that to all the non-white writers who have thoughts on that—I’m smart enough to know where my words become irrelevant.) 

But, let’s not—no matter how hard it may be—use LEMONADE as an excuse to indulge in tabloid tweets. Let’s trade our broken wings for hers and use them to fly far above the fray on this one, BeyHive. I know you have it in you.


 

 

Why a certain analogy grinds my gears

Gun regulations are nowhere near as stringent as the regulations we’ve placed on cars and drivers. That is the point of this post.

As a writer, I’m always looking for analogies and metaphors to better illustrate the story I’m trying to tell. But, the current analogy that’s going around comparing drunk driving and cars to mass shootings and guns is about as correct as me writing a sentence that states that the snow falling outside of my window is as white as the soot that sits in the bottom of my fireplace.

I'm in no way an expert on guns or gun control. So please don't take this post as me trying to be. Rather, I'm simply someone who sees a major flaw in an argument. I’m not anti-guns at all; I’m just pro-coherent conversations. So, if we’re going to argue about something as significant as gun control, let’s at least argue using proper facts and—if we’re feeling really crazy—relevant analogies.

The argument that I’ve seen way too often on Facebook, Twitter and even Instagram (the photos are charming, as you can imagine) these days goes something like this: ‎"#GunControl is like trying to reduce drunk driving by making it tougher for SOBER PEOPLE to own cars.”

I hate to sound like an asshole, but no. No, it’s not. At all.

For if someone could obtain a car with the same ease with which they can obtain a gun, the transaction would go something like this:

-You’d walk into a car dealership that does not keep inventory of its cars (as gun-shop owners are not legally required to keep inventory of their guns).

-You could, in fact, walk into this dealership drunk (as the ATF currently can only suggest that gun-shop owners not sell a gun to someone who seems impaired, but can’t legally stop them from doing so—and could, legally, drive your newest purchase off the lot impaired. See Jon Stewart on the sneaky, sneaky way an amendment limiting regulation on the NRA--resulting in ridiculous things like people being allowed to buy guns whilst being schwasted--got passed. SPOILER ALERT: The NRA wrote it.)

-You may or may not have a credit check ran on you (as background checks for guns are legally required by commercial dealers with a federal license but not required in private transactions, i.e. at gun shows).

-You could potentially buy a military tank as a car if you wanted to (as everyday citizens can legally own military-style weapons, i.e. assault rifles).

-You also, depending on the state you live in, may or may not have to register the car (as many states don’t require gun registration), may or may not need a driver’s license (as gun-permit laws vary state-by-state) and would not be required to have insurance on the car. (*I further looked up gun insurance and one of the first links I came to was this one from the NRA offering two gun insurance options: one for accident coverage, another for property coverage. A paragraph describing the latter states: "Of course, no registration of your gun or serial numbers are required." The equivalent of that would be getting insurance on an unregistered car without having to give the insurance company your VIN number.)

The point is, we do not regulate guns as strictly as we regulate cars. At all. So, if we're going to use the "guns are like cars" analogy in the argument, then it should be used to support gun control, not oppose it. 

The argument that “we don’t blame cars for drunk driving” is a bit pointless. Of course we don’t blame cars for drunk driving. Just as we aren’t blaming guns for mass shootings. But we do regulate cars and drivers in order to help keep drunk driving and other crimes under control.

Think: The person who’s gotten one too many DUIs and now has a breathalyzer attached to their starter that they must blow into in order to prove sobriety and start the car.

Think: The stipulation that one must have a license in order to drive a car, must register their car and any driving offenses—from traffic tickets to DUIs—go on their driving record. (Currently, the ATF is not allowed to keep a registry of gun transactions.)

Think: The fact that while a driver—with a proper license, registration and insurance—is of course allowed to operate a car, they are not allowed to drive a tank down the road. Or a Nascar. (Yet, currently, everyday citizens are allowed to own military-style assault weapons.)

So, gun-lovers: I get it. I really do. You don’t want The Man telling you what you can and can’t do. I’m not a huge fan of The Man myself. But I do understand that the government exists for a purpose. That, ideally, the president’s job is to keep the country’s citizens safe. And, I have to say, I feel that’s exactly what President Obama is trying to do with his new proposals.

He’s asking that congress pass a law banning assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. The car-equivalent of this, as mentioned before, would be like the laws we already have in place telling us what cars are and aren’t street-legal, what cars a citizen can and can’t own—i.e. military tanks.

He’s also asking that background checks be required universally, just as credit checks are ran when purchasing a car. *He’s not even asking that the ATF create a federal registrar of gun transactions, which would be a highly effective measure. (The car-equivalent of this is the law we have in place that requires all vehicles to be registered. *Read about this in Don Perata's article, "State can register cars; why not gun?")

Of course new gun legislation isn't the end-all-be-all. We definitely need to look at other things as well—like mental health care in this country and our obsession with violence, perhaps in particular with violence in the media as it relates to young males (i.e. the pressure put on young males to act tough to prove their manhood). President Obama's plan, I will say, does include some initiatives in the mental-healthcare realm as well as regulations on firearms.  (Read a breakdown of the entire proposal here.) 

I do not falsely believe that gun laws alone (or any other laws, for that matter) will completely prevent any further tragedies. Just as I don’t falsely believe that making driving under the influence illegal prevents all DUIs. But it does help. In fact, after enacting tougher legislation aimed at reducing the amount of DUIs (ticketing bartenders who serve an already-impaired person, increasing the national drinking age to 21, etc), DUIs were reduced by two-thirds. (Thank you, Jon Stewart.) Laws aren’t fool-proof, of course, but they do indeed help.

And that’s all anyone is trying to do here: to help. To help regulate guns so that an average person can’t indeed own a military-style weapon that has no place in the hands of the everyday citizen. (You can’t hunt with assault rifles as they destroy your prey. So what, I ask, is the purpose of owning one?) To help make sure that a gunman can’t walk in a school and fire 60 or 100 rounds without having to reload by banning high-capacity magazines. (If you’re an average, everyday gun owner, why would you need a high-capacity magazine, anyways? What could you possibly need to shoot 60 times while not having the time to reload? Aside from the creator of that Gangnam Style song, of course.)

And then there’s the slippery-slope argument: If the president is banning assault rifles today, then what’s to stop him from banning handguns tomorrow? Well, first of all, congress. Congress is what’s to stop him. And judging by the way they’ve treated the majority of his proposed legislation over the past four years and change, they’d have no problem doing so.

And second of all, did anyone ever present the slippery-slope argument when this nation was enacting laws to help reduce the number of DUIs? The car-equivalent of the slippery-slope argument would sound something like this: Well if we employ a law that says we can’t drive our cars while drunk then what’s to stop the government from employing a law that we can’t drive our cars after eating Mexican food? Or banning cars all together? Sounds a bit silly when you look at it that way, doesn’t it?

And silly is what all of this is indeed. It shouldn’t be about pro-guns verses anti-guns and pro-gun control versus anti-gun control. I, in fact, am pro-guns while also being pro-gun control. All the president is asking is that we regulate guns. It’s not an all-or-nothing argument (although Fox news may make it out to be). It’s the idea that citizens should be allowed to own guns—as many as they want—but should be stopped from obtaining guns that were solely meant for warfare and, also, should be regulated in the process of purchasing their guns. Just as someone is regulated in the process of purchasing a car.

The point is: The Man doesn’t want to take your guns anymore than he wants to take your Dually. And that Dually, by the way, is regulated far more strictly than your guns ever will be. 

WTF, Elmo?

Remember Tickle Me Elmo?

It may have been a bit past your time, as it was mine; it came out in 1996 when I was seven years old and, guaranteed, self-identifying as “way too cool” to play with any toy that required hugging it to incite a reaction.  I do, however, remember its popularity, as I’m sure anyone does.  Parents literally scrapping in stores.  Stuffed, red gigglers going for over a grand on Ebay.  Exciting stuff.

I hadn’t thought about Tickle Me Elmo in ages until recently when I saw a commercial for the newest version of the good ol’ furry friend. 

And it is called, I kid you not, “LOL Elmo.”

This bothered me for two reasons.  One: Accompanying the commercial for the social media-savvy Elmo is an insanely catchy tune—L-O-L, you make me laugh out loud!—that my brain can’t seem to shake regardless of my attempts to erase it from my memory by listening to other music (currently: “Hey Jude”). 

And Two: Why in the world are we naming children’s toys based on social media acronyms? 

The toy is targeted toward children 18 months to four years old.  My question, then, is why would any child in that age range be aware of the increasingly annoying and, even more increasingly, inaccurate and overused acronym?

Shouldn’t they be learning, oh I don’t know, complete phrases? Or, if that’s too much to ask, whole words at least? 

Now, I won’t ignore the obvious here.  I understand the idea that Hasbro is actually targeting the parents of these children (rather than the children themselves) as the adults are the ones with the purchasing power.  So, you may say, LOL is an acronym that resonates with Facebook-friendly parents.  I, however, may say that the child is still the one interacting with the toy. 

Parents can purchase LOL luggage and BTW briefcases and LMAO laptops all they want.  But why introduce a child, at such a young age, to a phrase that is absolutely meaningless in their world of sippy cups and soggy Cheerios?  A phrase tailored specifically for the digital domain? A phrase that has no place in actual, physical, face-to-face conversation?

That’s the thing: I’m not sure that I’m necessarily against this toy or angry with Hasbro for producing it.  It just doesn’t make much sense to me.  At all. 

A child has its entire life to learn about LMFAO! and BRB (although, to be fair, I’m pretty sure BRB died right alongside AOL’s instant messaging).  But seriously, they have eight awkward years of teenage life to conjure up just the right privacy settings to make themselves look innocent to their parents but really, really cool to their peers. 

They’ve got years and years worth of an undeveloped frontal lobe and the social media mistakes that consequently ensue including, but not limited to: posting underage drinking photos and/or posting illegal drug use photos and/or posting photos in outfits that would make their grandmother cry and their creepy uncle ask: When does she turn 18?

The point is: I just don’t see the point. I simply do not get introducing social media sayings to children who are still learning how to speak.

Kids pick up on everything around them: As a two-year-old, my little sister watched the movie “The Rock” with us while my brothers and I babysat her.  For months after, she dropped the F-Bomb in her every response. Syd, what do you want for dinner? Fucking macaroni and cheese.

So, yes, they’ll pick up on LOL and begin to understand its meaning, or, if they’re smart, its lack thereof. (Thankfully, Hasbro held back and didn’t go with a LMFAO Elmo.) And the thought that children may begin to learn digital acronyms before actual words is FF (*fucking frightening). 

There is hope. And its name is Cariana.

I’ve noticed that current events and other topics I tend to want to blog about are usually a little—how can I put this?—depressing? Discouraging? Hopeless? 

It’s not that I personally am in love with the drab and dreary.  It’s just that the drab and dreary seems to have nestled itself, quite comfortably I’ll add, in every damn nook and cranny of every damn thing we hear about these days.  Tumors from tomatoes and melting mounds of ice and—God forbid, please say it’s not true—a bacon shortage. 

The world and all of its uber serious problems surround and sober us every day.  And I think everyone could use a little shot of worry-free whiskey every now and then if you know what I’m saying. Notice: The shot glass is half-full. 

Having said that, I wanted to find something that leans a little more toward the sunny side of the street to write about.  A story that isn’t tinged with the terrible, grayed with the grave, or hued with hopelessness.  

Behold: Cariana. 

Cariana is a neighborhood girl who stopped by my house the other night, which—full disclosure—I was not home for. (My boyfriend met her and later told me the story.)  Cariana was in middle school and wanting to raise money for a trip abroad.  My boyfriend started to explain to Cariana that he didn’t have any cash on him but if she came back later…

And then, there it was, the hidden gem of hope that makes Cariana my positive story for the week.

Cariana didn’t just want some cash.  She wasn’t going door-to-door simply asking for her neighbors’ money.  Rather, she was asking to earn it.  And not asking to earn it by offering some sort of convoluted coupon book or calorie-packed candy bar, which—full disclosure—I would have been content with. (Who doesn’t love a king-size Snicker’s bar for a dollar?)

But, rather, Cariana (in an awesome, deep, surfer-boyfriend voice): “busted out this friggin’ list of services.” Yes, that’s right.  Cariana had a typed list of "Fall Clean-up Services" she was passing out to neighbors.  The idea is, she leaves the list with you, and then, when you need something done, you call Cariana and she stops by your house and completes the task in order to earn cash for her trip abroad.  And the girl, I must say, is seriously underpriced. 

Raking leaves? Seven dollars.  Pulling weeds?  Ten dollars.  Pulling out dead plants? 15 dollars. 

And the total she needs to earn? Seven-thousand dollars. 

As in one-thousand rounds of raking.  Or seven-hundred weekends of weed-pulling.  Or four-hundred-sixty-six-point-six-repeated days of dead-plant removal, which—full disclosure—I totally used a calculator for. 

The bottom line is that this story is, in my opinion, representative of qualities that, unfortunately, have become rarities—not just in the youth of the nation—but in the nation in general: responsibility, honesty, hard work, and, most importantly, the ingenuity behind coming up with something to sell besides candy bars and coupon books. 

So, to Cariana’s parents, who are you and why are you not running for President?

What Greeting Cards and Diamonds have in Common

Earlier this month Hallmark announced plans to close a facility in Topeka, Kansas that produces around one-third of the company’s greeting cards. 

Hallmark’s kryptonite?

Social media salutations. (How much did that obvious answer not surprise you?)

We live in a world where tweets and emails and wall posts invite, congratulate, and confirm. “It’s a boy!”  And while it doesn’t at all surprise me that typo-peppered tweets and whimsical wall posts have taken the place of yet another valued commodity in this world—hand written messages—it does, indeed sadden me.

I grew up with a mom who made us write hand-written thank-you’s for every gift we ever opened and, sometimes even, for things like dinners or impromptu rides home from school. Birthday cards were chosen with more thought than the actual gift most times and, on more occasion than one, Mom gifted me personalized stationary for Christmas or my birthday (starting when I was around seven years old, mind you) instead of toys--a not-so-subtle hint that I would never, ever get out of writing letters and thank-you's.  

What saddens, ex that, frightens, me even more than the actual news itself, though, is the public's reaction to it. Reactions of, not surprise, but rather, confirmation.  Reactions of the I-could-have-told-you-that nature.   Reactions that reinforce the idea that this was predicted, expected, anticipated. Well, of course Hallmark isn’t doing well; who sends cards anymore?

Donny Deutsch, an advertising guru, made an off-the-cuff comment during a Today’s Show segment reinforcing the idea that the slow suffocating of the greeting card industry is simply on par with all other universal trends, set in place by a growing online scene.

Okay, fine.  I’ll agree. I guess it really isn't a huge surprise that greeting cards can only hang on for their dear, sans-serif lives for so long. What really rattled me, though, was an even further assumption Deutsch made.  He said something along the lines of (and I’m paraphrasing here): I mean, face it.  Our kids are not going to write thank-you’s or send cards.

I imagine my mom in the room watching the segment with me, her hands, moisturizer-shiny and sun-freckled, reaching through my flat screen, breaking the glowing barrier and grabbing Donny Deutsch by his over-groomed neck, screaming Take it back, Take it back!

The point is, if Donny Deutsch and other adults in this world accept the social-media-salutations status quo and don’t teach their offspring the value of all things handwritten—be it thank-you’s, greeting cards or invitations—then they are indeed doing their children a great disservice. 

The thing I’ve noticed about writing thank-you’s or sending birthday cards is that, because of their increasing rarity, they have become a valued commodity and, ergo, their composer and sender, an even more valued commodity.  (Think about it--how exciting is it to get mail that isn't a bill or a flyer? And how much do you love the sender of that mail?)

As a kid, a thank-you to a grandma for 1997’s Christmas money was a sure guarantee you’d get a larger sum in ’98.  After all, all of the other ungrateful and thoughtless grandkids obviously didn’t appreciate the cash quite like you did—they didn’t send thank-you’s.

Or, take this example: Upon graduating college, I wrote my two favorite Journalism professors thoughtful thank-you notes that I left in either’s mailbox.  At our graduation reception, one of those professors—the one known for his strict and hard-to-please nature—gave a speech reading directly from my thank-you card. 

So, just like vinyl records have become popular lately because of their nod to nostalgia, handwritten greetings, I suspect, are increasing in value as their role in a social-media-saturated world decreases. 

And when you’re the writer behind these handwritten greetings, you become as valuable as water in the Sahara, in a world—I guarantee you—that’s only getting thirstier.

 

Killer Dinner

I'm a writer, so ingesting decent sustenance isn't really a luxury I get to regularly enjoy.  

But, when I do have a little extra cash in my pocket, I like to grocery shop, and I like to cook (I am Italian after all).  And as of late, I've been having some major grocery shopping issues.  

I used to be a regular at Trader Joe's.  Overall, the chain is inexpensive, seems to provide a quality product, and--as long as you've remembered your canvas bags--is quite welcoming. 

Then, an article came out in the Times last year that talked about here exactly Trader Joe's got its organic produce--specifically tomatoes--from.  

Turns out, the Mexican desert.  

A naive me was surprised to read that "organic" doesn't always mean local--or even domestic.  Oftentimes, products labeled "organic" in the states are coming from farms outside of the country that may not use pesticides or chemicals--adhering to the technical definition of "organic"--but that, oftentimes, are employing environmentally damaging practices (such as over-planting a single crop which damages the soil).  

There's also the concern of the emissions from the global transportation process and their effect on climate change.  Some of these tomatoes are making their way from the Mexican desert all the way to Dubai, which is great news for the tomatoes--after all, who doesn't like an extra stamp in their passport?--but not-so-great for practicality purposes.  

So, I stopped buying produce from Trader Joe's and stuck to things like their coconut milk, frozen crab cakes, and natural peanut butter.

Oh yeah, about that peanut butter.

Turns out, as we learned last month, it wasn't such a hot choice after all, wha with it being contaminated with salmonella and all. (How lonely has celery been since this news, by the way?)

 

Needless to say, I crossed Trader Joe's off of my list (though I will forever miss their Sunday samples), and considered joining our local food co-op, but realized I didn't own enough pairs of vegan shoes to walk in there without feeling judged. 

So, because of its proximity to my house and decent natural foods section, I became a regular Raley's shopper.  Which I loathe.  Raley's isn't a bad place to shop.  It's just insanely expensive.  The box of Hemp Milk I buy from there, if not on sale, s around five dollars, but is gone with a few quick swigs from my thirsty boyfriend.  The bottle of carrot juice that has only four servings, that I finish every two days? Six dollars on sale.  A cart with a week's worth of food for two is never under one hundred dollars--which, if I'm being honest, has its perks: you get a coupon for 50 cents off of every gallon of gas at Raley's gas stations with every grocery-store purchase of over one-hundred dollars. Shop, baby, Shop and Drill, baby, Drill, I always say.  

And then, just as I was feeling broke but semi-at-peace with my choice to shop at Raley's, a little gem of information came on The Today Show that forced me into the swift and rightening realization that it doesn't matter where you shop: Our food is, for lack of a better term, fucked.

*(As a side note--can The Today Show please start covering topics that don't incite instant paranoia? Case-in-point: They once did a story on First-Time-Surfer Paralyzation which resulted in my mother calling me in near tears every time I went to California.)

Now, to get back to the frightening topic at hand, last year alone 3,000 people died after eating contaminated food.  But, while that number is shocking, it still felt distant.  At first.  And then I learned this little warm-fuzzy:  The FDA inspects only six percent--yes, six percent--of food facilities in the U.S.  The rest of the facilities--the 94 percent the FDA doesn't visit--are inspected by private companies hired by the food industry.  Private companies who, I'm sure, are looking out for our well being and making sure two-year-olds don't die from eating spinach, right?

Not so much.

Of particular note, is the fact that these companies repeatedly gave high safety marks to facilities that produced contaminated food that either sickened or, in some cases, killed unknowing consumers.   

A plant that produced contaminated ground turkey that sickened a en-month-old girl (who now may have respiratory problems in her adult life due to the contamination) received a 100-percent rating from a private company before and--this is the kicker--DURING their recall of the ground turkey. 

Oh, and about those killer cantaloupes.  The ones contaminated with listeria that were responsible for the deadliest food outbreak in 100 years? (In all seriousness, though, we shouldn't blame the cantaloupes; I just liked the alliteration in "killer cantaloupes.")  he plant that produced them, Jensen Farms, was given a superior rating of 96 percent.  

 

The best part of all? The inspection process these private companies employ involves no--as in zero--scientific testing.  I guess they're banking on being able to spot salmonella and listeria with an unaided eye.  (Okay, "unaided" may be a little harsh--they could be wearing glasses.)

Needless to say, I'm reconsidering my position on shopping at the food co-op. Which reminds me, I've got to get some vegan shoes. 

Obama did not choke: says naive, young girl.

I, like President Obama, was a bit unprepared for last week’s Presidential debate. 

I had no idea what to look for.  I went in blind.  And I came out, according to everyone else on the planet, blind as well.

I thought Obama did well.

Well.  That was my impression.  Not particularly great, not particularly awful—just well. 

I learned quickly after the debate, however—from the media, from my favorite television hosts, from my mom—that I was wrong.  And not just wrong. But, according to Chris Matthews, really, really, undoubtedly wrong. 

Word on the street was Obama choked.  Something everyone agreed on.  Nothing like a little unfiltered anger and disappointment to bring the parties together, I always say. 

Where was I?

What I saw as calm and collected and, yes, in a way, earnestly and understandably disinterested, others saw as weak and unprepared and…weak.

I learned quickly that what I forgot to account for was theatrics.  People want showmanship, not substance. They want two hungry maws maligning each other. They want Obama, The Defender versus Romney, The Challenger.  Weighing in at…

You get the point.

Maureen Dowd included a quote from Carter White House adviser Gerry Rafshoon in her recent op-ed that perhaps sums it up best: “people prefer a good liar to a bad performer.”

Got it.

So, tonight I’m doing the Vice Presidential debate right.  I know what to look for.  My boyfriend is out picking up pizza and wings as we speak (as I type).  And we’re going to sit back, scarf down, and hope the best performer wins.  True American style.  Because, after all, there’s nothing the country could use more right now than a great showman.