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Archive | July, 2016

Thoughts on the Republican National Convention

"Your Vote Counts" road sign illustration design over a white background - Republican National ConventionI watched the Republican National Convention last week. Not all of it. But I caught the high points for three of the four evenings and some of the daytime coverage on CNN. And I spent a lot of time trying to get down exactly what I wanted to say about it.

And then Jon Stewart came onto Late Night with Stephen Colbert last Thursday night and in less than 30 seconds he (pardon my language) fucking nailed it.

“The Republicans appear to have a very clear plan for America…they articulated it throughout the Convention:

  • One, Jail your political opponent.
  • Two, inject Rudy Guiliani with a speedball-Redbull enema.
  • Three, spend the rest of the time scaring the holy bejeezus out of everybody.”

And he went even further, and it was glorious, and you can see it here. But I want to talk about the Republican National Convention.

My Third Republican National Convention.

Why put myself through this ordeal when I can’t even vote in the US election?

That’s a good question, with ultimately a simple answer (as it has been other years, for the most part). I follow US elections from the outset. America, I am addicted to your politics, including your tortuously protracted election cycle. Sometimes staying engaged makes me as frustrated as all-get-out. Sometimes it makes me (again, pardon my language) fucking furious. And the odd time it’s made me absolutely inspired. But it’s never been anything less than thoroughly entertaining.

“It’s some of the best entertainment going,” I’ve told friends who ask me why I follow American politics so closely.

The stories like Elliot Spitzer in the elevator and Anthony Weiner all over Twitter? I didn’t *know* until I started following American politics that politicians did such stupid things.

And with this Republican National Convention, I was promised a show…Clint Eastwood and the empty chair times twenty said one media person the week before it all started. And I can’t say that I didn’t get it – a line-up of endorsers including Scott Baio and underwear model Antonio Sabato Junior, Rudy Giuliani screaming “All Lives Matter!” like his life depended on it, Melania cribbing part of her speech, Ted Cruz (starting his 2020 campaign early, apparently) using his invite to speak at the Convention to *not* endorse the guy who invited him…great material. It should have been fabulous.

But the most fabulous part of the Republican National Convention was watching Stephen Colbert skewer the day’s proceedings each night. The proceedings themselves? I’m not even going to apologize for swearing anymore. Fucking scary. Not entertaining. Not annoying. Not even infuriating. Just downright terrifying.

And I think to make my case for why, I need to talk about what I saw…so apologies to those of you who lived through it with me.

“One, Jail Your Political Opponent”

As I was tweeting while I was watching the first night  of the Republican National Convention(the theme of which was “Making America Safe Again”) someone posted on my timeline about how disgusting it was that Patricia Smith’s grief over the death of her son Sean in Benghazi was being used for totally political purposes by making her a speaker – she said that she blamed Hillary Clinton directly for her son’s death and called for her arrest, a commonly-held position within the GOP despite the fact that none of the party’s investigations into Benghazi have found Clinton indictable for what happened.

But Smith’s speech set the stage for the real theme of the entire Republican National Convention – what a crook Clinton is, how she needs to be stopped, and how she (or Obama, as the one who made her Secretary of State) can be directly blamed be a myriad of things, including the rise of ISIS. The tools that Trump used to forge party unity during the Republican National Convention (and he needed it; the GOP is still clearly divided on whether he’s an appropriate candidate, with party notables including the entire Bush family, Mitt Romney, John McCain and John Kasich electing to miss the Republican Party Convention rather than indicate even implicit support by showing up) are not just Clinton’s unsuitability for President, but her criminal culpability for acts for which she hasn’t been found guilty.  Both Lt. Gen Michael Flynn and Chris Christie encouraged the crowd to chant “Lock her up! Lock her up!” during their speeches.

That any candidate would sanction hatred (and I don’t believe that “hatred” is too strong a word) of another candidate as a way to “rally the troops” scares me.  It’s not Presidential. It’s not classy. It’s the perfect example of “divisive”.

You deserve better, America.

“Two, Inject Rudy Giuliani with a Speedball-Redbull Enema”

This one is kind of self-explanatory. You won’t need to watch the whole video if you’d rather not. It doesn’t take long to see why Jon Stewart made this observation.

“Three, Spend the Rest of the Time Scaring the Holy Bejeezus Out of Everybody.”

Where to begin with this one?

Let’s start with this observation (and I’m far from the only one saying this): If you were dropped into last week’s Republican National Convention with no prior knowledge of what American life is like, I’m quite confident that you’d have come away with a picture of a lawless, dystopian landscape, with its entire body of citizens under constant threat from people that were never their allies; people that once were their allies, but are no more; and countries who claim that they are American allies, but just aren’t pulling their weight. You’d think that America is in a war that permeates the lives of every one of its citizens at a visceral, everyday level, with an enemy that the current administration refuses to even acknowledge, let alone protect its citizens from. And you’d think that the only way to continue to protect American citizens as this war is fought is to get a bunch of folks out of the country and seal the borders off so tightly that they and and other dangerous folks like them will never, ever get back in.

The message was that protection of  American citizens is the primary goal – and that all lives matter in America, whether they are Black lives, White lives, Hispanic lives, Asian lives, Muslim lives, Male lives, Female lives, Gay lives, Straight lives…all lives matter because you, my American friends, are ALL AMERICANS, Giuliani said (loudly.) And Donald Trump said in his speech on Thursday night, where he accepted the nomination to be the Republican candidate for the Presidency, that he will be the one to protect all American lives from the people out in the rest of the world that want to take down America and that are inherently bad…the people that he’ll keep out with his wall and his strict policies on immigration and his focus on law and order.

You know…bad guys like Hispanics, Muslims, the Serbians that “my opponent” (not “Crooked Hillary” for once, but we’ll see how long that last) wants to bring into the US, and the people that shoot law enforcement officers in the street. That will stop the day that he becomes President, Trump assured Americans. Because you are all Americans, my American friends, and you need to be protected from bad guys…like you…lest you become one of the “victims of illegal immigrants” (those are the words used in the official Republican National Convention schedule of speakers) that spoke on the first night of the Convention. Because despite the fact that Republicans don’t like “victim mentality” or politicizing tragedy, they apparently won’t hesitate to take political advantage of people who’d experienced a crushing loss at the hands of people who, as a group, are no more or less likely to be violent than anyone else in society.

Donald Trump would likely dispute that, given the statistics on crime and immigration that he used in his speech. Fact-checkers disputed many of those statistics.

Read the full text of Donald Trump’s acceptance speech (last night of the Republican National Convention.)

Members of the CNN panel that convened immediately after Trump’s speech were divided about it, mostly along racial lines. White pundits thought that the speech was realistic and representative of what America is facing;  Trump apologist-to-the-end Geoffrey Lord was prepared to go out swinging about this. Van Jones and Ana Navarra were appalled at the speech’s dark tone, and at what a terrible speech it was for people of colour (as they both are.)

And rightly fucking so. This discussion really is interesting – it starts 4 minutes into the video.

And despite the fact that disabled people were only explicitly mentioned during the Republican National Convention once that I heard, in a promise made by Trump’s son Eric that Trump will increase support to to families with disabled children, I wouldn’t recommend that disabled people rest easy should Trump win the election (even white disabled people.) I’d be willing to bet money that the only reason that disabled people didn’t come up in Trump’s speech as a “subgroup” of America (Representative Peter King) with whom the rest America should regard with fear is that he’s given them so little thought as a group that he hasn’t considered the ways in which he could perceive them as as threat to either America’s national security or economic well-being. But that might not last:

Disabled people have nothing to gain from a Trump presidency, where the repeal of Obamacare is a campaign promise, and that may just be some of what they lose. So to my disabled American friends especially, you get out there and vote and make sure you get the right person in! #CripTheVote

Bottom Line

Hillary Clinton was not my first choice.

I’m impressed by Tim Kaine, but I’ve heard some stuff that gives me pause. I’d rather have seen Hillary choose Elizabeth Warren as running mate.

I know that, as in the past, there will be things about the Democratic National Convention that I won’t like and that may even make me angry.

But the stakes are high for this election. I feel it here in Canada, right down to my bones. There’s not a thing about this election that’s entertaining for me this time around. It’s deadly serious, and I have loved ones in America for whom I’m very afraid.

And I have two beautiful nieces and a gorgeous nephew here in Canada, and I’ll be damned if they live up to eight years of their young lives in world where Donald Trump is leader of the free world without me doing whatever I can to stop it.

It really comes down to this for me now:

Tweet from @theonlyadult: "I don't give a fuck if you don't like Hillary Clinton. Hold your nose and vote. There's a Nazi at the gate." - Republican National Convention

#I’mWithHer. Won’t you join me?

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“Star Trek Beyond” Writers Make Sulu Gay Despite George Takei’s Objections

George Takei publicity shotSo there’s an interesting debate going on about the new Star Trek movie, “Star Trek Beyond”. The movie’s writers and series original George Takei are disagreeing about how the Hikaru Sulu character is portrayed, and fans are clearly divided on it. I wasn’t sure how I felt about it myself, at first.

But I know now what’s made me so uncomfortable and why.

About the Original “Star Trek”

The original “Star Trek” series only ran for three seasons, but it was remarkably progressive on several front. The Lieutentant  Nyota Uhara character, played by black actress Michelle Nichols, was not only the first black major character on a network series, but was part of the command crew on the Enterprise’s bridge – black, a woman, and fourth in command of the ship. When she was considering leaving the show, Dr. Martin Luther King told her that she had to stay, saying, “For the first time, we are being seen the world over as we should be seen.” The Uhura character was also part of the first interracial kiss on television, when she kissed Captain Kirk in the “Plato’s Bridge” episode.

So the show literally explored new frontiers. But sexual preference wasn’t one of them, and it was ultimately because “Plato’s Bridge” and the kiss were so poorly received; Roddenberry supported LGBTQ equality, but felt he had reached the line of what the American public was ready to accept from network television, as he discussed with George Takei (not openly gay until 2005) at the time.

The writers of “Star Trek Beyond”. in the name of diversity and as an homage to George Takei as “a sci-fi icon and beloved LGBT activist” have made Sulu’s character gay in this reboot of the original series. And George Takei’s reaction was unexpected:

“Except Takei wasn’t overjoyed. He had never asked for Sulu to be gay. In fact, he’d much prefer that he stay straight. “I’m delighted that there’s a gay character,” he tells The Hollywood Reporter. “Unfortunately, it’s a twisting of Gene’s creation, to which he put in so much thought. I think it’s really unfortunate.”

Takei explains that Roddenberry was exhaustive in conceiving his Star Trek characters. (The name Sulu, for example, was based on the Sulu Sea off the coast of the Philippines, so as to render his Asian nationality indeterminate.) And Roddenberry had always envisioned Sulu as heterosexual.”

Takei wondered why a new character that was gay wasn’t introduced, instead of making his character gay, and after a discussion with John Cho (who plays Sulu in “Star Trek Beyond”) and director Justin Lin, and an email from Simon Pegg (one of the wo-writers and the actor protraying Head Engineer Montgomery “Scotty” Scott) was under the impression that the creative team had decided to change course and take this route:

“‘I really tried to work with these people when at long last the issue of gay equality was going to be addressed,” Takei says. “I thought after that conversation with Justin that was going to happen. Months later, when I got that email from Simon Pegg, I was kind of confused. He thinks I’m a great guy? Wonderful. But what was the point of that letter? I interpreted that as my words having been heard.'”

Simon Pegg was so surprised by George Takei’s reaction to making Sulu gay in “Star Trek Beyond” that he felt moved to approach the media and express with his disagreement with Takei’s criticism. His points included:

  • Concerns about tokenism
  • Sulu’s sexual preference would be another aspect of a character of a that the audience already knows, not *the* defining aspect of a brand-new character
  • Concerns about timeline issues – “…the audience would infer that there has been an LGBT presence in the Trek Universe from the beginning (at least in the Kelvin timeline), that a gay hero isn’t something new or strange. It’s also important to note that at no point do we suggest that our Sulu was ever closeted, why would he need to be? It’s just hasn’t come up before.”
  • Since the Roddenberry’s decision not to explore sexual orientation in the original show was due to the time in history, and not an artistic one, it’s appropriate to do so now.
  • The decision shows that there are LGBTQ people everywhere – through time and across timelines, and it sends a positive message.

The thing is, from what I’ve read of the way that George Takei responded to the decision, I don’t think that he disagrees with most of this. All media accounts indicate that he’s was happy to include a gay character in the movie. He just didn’t want it to be his character, who he played as  heterosexual despite the fact that he’s a gay man, for a number of reasons besides the ones cited earlier:

  • He doesn’t believe that a gay man in the 23rd century would ever be “closeted”, the way he was in the original series. The Hollywood reporter notes that this creates some timeline issues, and I don’t understand the reasoning – it apparently touches on issues of the reboot’s timing in relation to the original story’s, and I didn’t realize that there was an issue here. I thought that the reboot was simply a re-imagining of the original series? Maybe someone can explain this to me.
  • He felt it would be better for the film’s gay character to have an acknowledged history of being gay.
  • This year is the 50th anniversary of “Star Trek” and Takei feels that this movie should honour Roddenberry’s original vision

This debate, in the large sense, sounds familiar to me, and I don’t like it.

Thoughts on George Takei, Sulu, Acting and Being Heard

I’m an actress. Not recently – it’s been quite some time since I’ve been on the stage. And I never played a part for as fraction as long a time as George Takei did Sulu, so I can only imagine how he must have felt about that character after all the development, the rehearsing, and the hours of shooting. I got attached to my characters after playing them for only very short runs on a stage in front of a small audience. Sulu was the character that launched and drove George Takei’s career, that made him an internationally-known name – he’s played Sulu for long periods off-and-on for 50 years.

And then some straight people (admittedly it’s an assumption that John Cho and Simon Pegg are straight, but they are both married to women and nothing in the media suggests that they are gay) come along and tell Takei that they’d like to change something major about the character.  As an homage, they say. They’d change an element of Sulu’s character that is very personal and life-defining for anyone, especially so for Takei given his personal life experience.

I would have said “I’d prefer that you didn’t,” as well.  And it’s not as if George Takei wasn’t open to the idea of a gay character in the movie and didn’t offer some thoughts on what he, as an original cast member and a gay man, would prefer to see.

But the writers, who weren’t even born when the original “Star Trek” aired, decided that they knew better than George Takei about:

  • The original “Star Trek” and Roddenberry’s vision
  • George Takei’s discussions with Roddenberry about addressing issues around sexual preference on the show
  • George Takei’s experience developing and playing the Sulu character
  • George Takei’s experiences as both a closeted and openly gay actor in Hollywood over decades

They decided that the input of George Takei,  who’s lived several types of experiences related to Sulu and his development and portrayal over 5 decades, wasn’t valuable given the narrative that they wanted to push (as straight people who weren’t involved with the original show at all) so they disregarded what Takei said.

And expected that he’d be honoured by it.

George Takei said himelf, “I interpreted that as my words having been heard,” but they obviously weren’t.

Members of the disability community, does any of this sound familiar?

And obviously George Takei might not feel these things about the whole business. These are just things that struck me, and made me think, “Well, all of that sounds very invalidating.” That’s through my filter – I don’t presume to know how George Takei feels, I can only speculate on how I’d feel in the situation, knowing that this sort of experience is a common one for disabled people – decisions about the things that are important to us get made without our input, and even when we’re asked we often end up feeling unheard.

Again, my filter – you might not see it this way, but if you’re not disabled then we’ve got some different life experiences, and I might not pick up on some things that you pick up on…

Bottom Line

I love the original “Star Trek”, I’ve enjoyed this movie reboot of the story, I’m all for diversity on the big screen and I’m thrilled to see the “Star Trek” franchise continue to push the limits.

I’m just a little disappointed by how this particular issue played out. How about you?

 

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Gathering My Thoughts

Yesterday I was checking Twitter all day, keeping up with how the story around the shooting of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge was developing. And last night I was profoundly affected by the video of the shooting death of Philando Castile in front of his girlfriend and small child.

I know that as a white person, I will never truly understand how difficult these past two days have been for the black population of America, and I’m grappling with how to write how these events have affected me while being the most respectful and sensitive that I can to black people who are truly hurting.

It may take me some time to figure out how to do this…I may write about other things as I think about what I want to say…but know that I am trying to listen, and stay present, and learn, because I *am* privileged and sometimes I don’t know what I don’t know…

I am trying to work my way through some things that I need to, without making what happened about me.

I am really just trying to become the best person that I can in an ugly world where there aren’t many answers. I don’t always know how to do that, but I really do want to…let’s be patient with each other.

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Disabled Woman Beaten After Becoming Confused at TSA Checkpoint

 

A sign that says "Stop: Security Check" isolated over a white - Hannah Cohen

Image Description: A sign that says “Stop: Security Check” isolated over a white background

June 30th should have been a really great day for Hannah Cohen.

The 19-year-old woman was on her way home to Chattanooga, after having radiation treatments and surgery to remove a brain tumour at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis. According to the Associated Press, the treatment she received at St. Jude left her “limited in her ability to talk, walk, stand, see and hear”, but she was medically cleared to fly home with her mother.

While going through a security checkpoint at the Memphis International Airport, Hannah Cohen set off an alarm. The TSA agents and airport police manning the checkpoint wanted to do additional screening, but Hannah became confused and anxious. WREG Memphis reported:

“‘…she was reluctant — she didn’t understand what they were about to do,’ said her mother, Shirley Cohen.

Cohen said she tried to tell agents with the Transportation Security Administration that her 19-year-old daughter is partially deaf, blind in one eye, paralyzed and easily confused — but she said police kept her away from the security agents.

The confused and terrified young woman tried to run away, her mother said, ‘and agents violently took her to the ground…she’s trying to get away from them, but in the next instant, one of them had her down on the ground and hit her head on the floor,’ Cohen said. ‘There was blood everywhere.'”

Hannah Cohen and her family are suing the TSA, the Memphis Airport, and the Airport Police, alleging that she was discriminated against because of her disabilities and that there was a failure to provide proper accommodations for her during the screening.

TSA spokesperson Sari Koshetz said about the incident:

“Passengers can call ahead of time to learn more about the screening process for their particular needs or medical situation.”

Well, it’s good to know that they can call this line, not that they must. This is an important point, and it’s also important to remember that the TSA itself said “can” instead of “must”. It’s in line with information on the TSA website about the screening process for disabled passengers. The website explicitly says in the section devoted to each kind of disability that a TSA disability card or medical documentation can be presented to the TSA agent at the checkpoint and the disabled traveler can expect accommodation – nowhere does it say that prior arrangements have to be made.

That’s one important point. I think that there are three more to be made here:

Expectation of Accommodation

Forget that the TSA website lists what accommodations the agency can provide for a variety of disabilities without the requirement that disabled travelers call in advance of the travel date and discuss their needs – even if it didn’t, in a country that has had federal legislation in place for over 25 years requiring businesses (including government-funded services) to make the required accommodations so that disabled people can access their services, one would expect that TSA agents would be trained in how to deliver services in a fully accessible manner. As Kim Sauder said over at Crippled Scholar, disabled people should not be required to announce themselves in advance so that proper accommodation can be made available – it should just be available.

Granted, some people do have very specialized needs that require more accommodation than usual, and in those circumstances sometimes it is advisable to call a business ahead of time. However, that isn’t the issue here. Presumably, since Hannah Cohen has been making this trip to Memphis for treatment for 17 years, she and her mother presented either the TSA card or necessary documentation to explain the need for what must was likely already a checkpoint experience that required some level of accommodation; even if they didn’t, Hannah would have presented as someone with at least an obvious physical disability. It’s reasonable to expect that TSA agents have training in how to work with someone whose noncompliance is coming along with signs of confusion or overwhelm (particularly if there are signs of other disability or a caregiver with the person is telling them why) – the TSA website says that accommodation can be expected for (by name) Alzheimer’s, dementia, aphasia, brain injury, autism, and intellectual disability. Accommodations include, according to the website, not separating the person from traveling companion and opportunity to inform the TSA agent about the best way to approach and conduct the screening.

Once Hannah Cohen started to become anxious about additional screening, these accommodations were denied, escalating the situation and resulting in her assault, arrest, and a night in prison.

Nowhere on the website does it say, “The TSA may deny accommodation at its discretion.” Imagine the shitstorm if it did. It would be breaking the law.

What happened to Hannah Cohen was illegal as well as disgusting. Train your agents to do what you’re telling the public that you’ve trained them to do, TSA.

Accommodation, Exception, and Understanding

The TSA website is also careful to say that while it accommodates the needs of disabled people (this blogger disputes this), disabled people will still have to screened. Fair enough.

And Hannah Cohen did set off an alarm, so they wanted more information. Fair enough.

What’s *not* “fair enough”, and not even remotely productive from the TSA’s point of view, even if the agents haven’t been provided with the proper training, is their and airport police’s insistence on escalating a situation where a multiply disabled individual is obviously confused and agitated by the steps that need to happen next in the screening. Especially when there’s a caregiver there that the person trusts and that can assist with the process.

There’s no need for TSA agents to assume that every disabled person who goes through the checkpoint must be cognitively disabled because of the presence of the physical disabilities – long-time readers know that this is one of my pet peeves.

But in Hannah Cohen’s particular situation, there was also no need to assume, when her mother was there to verify, that her multiple disabilities didn’t mean that was perhaps also something that prevented her from understanding what was going on. It should be important to the TSA that passengers, disabled or non-disabled, understand the processes at checkpoints and why certain requests are made of them – not just to minimize anxiety for all passengers in transit (travel is stressful enough and *anyone* can lose their temper and become agitated when under enough stress), but because people have rights and responsibilities as airline travelers going through a checkpoint and need to understand them if the process is to move smoothly.

Even disabled people, TSA.

When I did rights training with intellectually disabled people, I used every tool that I could to help them to understand their rights and responsibilities. The TSA, trying to do their job by doing enhanced screening with Hannah Cohen, had a terrific tool at their disposal – not only could Hannah’s mother have acted as a calming influence in an unfamiliar situation, she could have been the person that helped to allay Hannah’s confusion about what was going on enough to get her to cooperate, give the agents what they wanted, and get the whole thing ended without incident.

But the airport police separated them, denying an accommodation that the TSA said it could provide and needlessly escalating an already stressful encounter. Congrats on a job well done, officers – look where it got you.

This Shouldn’t Have Happened to Hannah Cohen…or to Anyone

The media is outraged that this happened to a disabled teenager.

It should be outraged that this happened to anyone.

This “shoot first, ask questions later” mentality is sickening. Even if Hannah Cohen had been a non-disabled person, her only “crime” was that she refused to comply with a TSA request. They didn’t have proof that she was dangerous, or even had intention of doing anything illegal, but for that she was tackled and had her head bashed against the floor until her face was battered and bloodied. She was then arrested, dragged out of the airport, booked, and spent a night in prison.

The fact that Hannah Cohen is disabled adds another level of complexity to the story, but the ultimate message would be the same if she was non-disabled: This is not the way that *people* should be treated. Not disabled people. Not non-disabled people. Not anyone.

Shame on the TSA agents, the airport police, the Memphis police, and everyone involved in the events that put Hannah Cohen in jail on the night that she should have been celebrating the end of her cancer treatment.

Hannah Cohen is suing for $100 000. If I was her, I’d be asking for a hell of a lot more.

 

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