Archive for October 2010

Halloween   Leave a comment

So, I think this year I have had the greatest Halloween costume of my entire life.

In case you’re confused, I’m dressed as The Son of Man (French: Le fils de l’homme), a 1964 painting by the Belgian surrealist painter René Magritte.

I figured that if at least a couple people got it, it would be worth it. I was pleasantly surprised when at least two dozen people apparently recognized it and told me that I had the greatest costume ever.

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Star Wars, origami, and Parisian subway tickets   Leave a comment

Hubert de Lartigue is a French artist who, among other things, makes origami models of Star Wars space ships out of Parisian subway tickets. Awesome.


Posted October 27, 2010 by benjaminsapiens in art, cool, geeky

Hate and hope   2 comments

I don’t know if any of you have been following the news lately, but if you’ve been paying attention to what’s been going on you’ll have heard about the spate of gay teens who have committed suicide in the past week and a half. This is one of the most uncanny stories I’ve ever heard, and unfortunately also one of the saddest. Since last Thursday, five teenagers across America, all young men who were who were either openly gay or who were known or believed to be gay, have taken their own lives. If I was a more gullibly superstitious person, I’d swear there was a curse at work here. How is it that, all of a sudden, within the span of eight days, there are five of these stories? Why did they all decide to commit suicide in the same week? And what does it mean for the future?

Before I go on, I need to thank a certain beady-eyed, blonde-haired, chubby little pundit for alerting me to the dangers of contrived sentimentalism. This charming fellow is Mr. Glenn Beck, whose routine consists of a heady mix of patriotism, paranoia, conservatism, conspiracy theories, factoids, religiosity, irrationality and good old-fashioned batsh-t. Mr. Beck is also a man who isn’t afraid to shed some tears on national television.

Of course, unlike Glenn Beck, I’m not fear-mongering buffoon. But just the same, I want to emphasize that that what I’m talking about here isn’t any kind of a sob story – and above all I want to avoid what Beck did, turning the memory of a genuine tragedy into a farce of emotionalism.

This next video, unlike the previous one, is intended for an audience of people who have some decency and humanity. It features Ellen Degeneres, who puts the situation into words better than I think I could.

Tyler Clementi

Tyler Clementi, the young man she mentioned, was an 18-year-old freshman at Rutgers University, a talented violinist studying music there. Tyler’s roommate decided to hide a webcam in their room to try to catch Tyler in an imitate encounter and then broadcast it on the internet. The roommate and his girlfriend did just that, and were surprised to find that Tyler hadn’t brought back a girl, but a guy. The next time Tyler asked if he could have the room to himself for the evening, the roommate pulled the trick once again, this time advertising it online beforehand. That was September 21. Tyler hadn’t publicly come out as being gay. The next day Tyler reported the violation of privacy to his RA, but the next evening, he ended his life by leaping from the George Washington Bridge. Friends of the roommate say that he isn’t homophobic – just a guy who, apparently, doesn’t realize that secretly filming your roommate having sex and then putting it on the internet for the world to see isn’t an appropriate thing to do. On the one hand, this incident is an example of the dangers of internet pranks. It’s similar to many other cases which didn’t involve homosexuality, like the story of the 18-year-old girl from Cincinnati who hanged herself after her ex-boyfriend distributed photos of her naked through his phone. But Tyler’s story is also a stark reminder that even in 2010, homophobia is still a very dangerous problem. Tyler was apparently never bullied because of his sexual orientation, but simply being outed against his will was enough to make him want to end his life. “He was so incredibly talented — I could not believe how good he was for such a young boy,” said Diane Wade, a fellow violinist in the Symphony Orchestra of Tyler’s hometown of Ridgewood, New Jersey. “Such a nice kid all the way around.”

 

Billy Lucas

Billy Lucas was a 15-year-old freshman at Greensburg High School in Greensburg, Indiana. On September 23, he went into his grandmother’s barn and hanged himself. Billy never said that he was gay, and as far as I can tell, no one has been able to confirm exactly was his sexual orientation was. But the fact remains that his classmates thought he was gay, and treated him as such. For years he’d suffered terrible vocal and physical harassment. The name-calling, intimidation, and occasionally even physical violence. Billy’s friend Jade said his tormentors would call him “gay and tell him to go kill himself.” His friend James says heard that someone pulled a chair out from underneath him and told him to hang himself. Another friend, Nick, said that “he was threatened to get beat up every day” and that he was constantly called names, mostly homophobic slurs. Billy mostly took this abuse without fighting back, says Nick. “He would try to but people would just try to break him down with words and stuff and just pick on him.” The day of his death, Billy was being harassed in class by a group of girls when he stood up and lashed back at them with a string of curses. For this he was suspended. Later that night, after spending time with his beloved horses and putting them back in the barn, he wrapped on the their leads around a rafter in the barn and hanged himself. His mother decided not to have a public funeral or obituary for her son to avoid letting Billy’s tormentors know what they’d done to him. But in the days following his passing, his story has become national news and has received outpouring of support from across the country and around the world. Billy was an outgoing kid who loved his animals. His Myspace page began, “Well, I guess my name is Billy!” and went on to say “I love my horses, I love by club lambs. They are the world to me.”

 

Asher Brown

Asher Brown was an eight-grader at Hamilton Middle School in Hamilton, Texas. On, Thursday, September 23, at his home in Cypress, he took out his stepfather’s 9 mm Beretta from one of the closet shelves and shot himself in the head. He was thirteen years old. According to some reports, Asher came out to his parents during the summer, and because of their support, decided to to come out publicly at school, where his peers were not so tolerant; according to others, he only came out to his stepfather the day of his suicide. Either way, it’s clear that he’d been a victim of bullying ever since he joined the school over a year ago. He was mocked because of his small size, his unfashionable clothing, and his sexual orientation. His classmates would often perform mock gay sex acts on him in gym class. The day before his suicide, he had been tripped while walking down the stairs. When he hit the stairway landing and went to pick his things back up, his books were scattered by another kick and he was knocked down the remaining flight of stairs. During his time at Hamilton stayed with a small group of other kids who were also bullied. School officials say they weren’t aware of Asher’s being bullied. His parents say that they tried to get the school to do something to stop what was happening, but school and school district officials deny that his parents had brought the problem to their attention. “That’s absolutely inaccurate — it’s completely false,” said his mother, Amy Truong. “I did not hallucinate phone calls to counselors and assistant principals. We have no reason to make this up. … It’s like they’re calling us liars.” A memorial service for Asher was held on Saturday. His parents expected a few dozen people to show up. They were touched when hundreds showed up to pay their respects to the boy. His parents, David and Amy Truong, thanked their son’s friends. “I want them to get a big round of applause, they stood up for Asher,” said his step-father David. “If anybody sees anybody being bullied please, say something. You’re going to be a hero.” Asher enjoyed playing outdoors and hanging out with his dad, and preferred reading to listening to an i-Pod. “He wasn’t interested in those things,” said his parents. “We could have bought it for him, we asked him if he wanted them and he said no, there are more important things.”

 

Seth Walsh

Seth Walsh was a thirteen-year-old boy from Tehachapi, California. He had previously been a student at Jacobsen Middle School, but had been put on independent study this year because the bullying he’d suffered at school made it impossible for him to continue his studies there. Even this wasn’t enough to stop the homophobic bullying, which still went on when he would venture into public. On Sunday, September 19, Seth hanged himself from a tree at his home. He spent the next nine days on life support, unconscious, surrounded by his family. On Monday, September 27, Seth died, saving his family from having to decide whether to remove support. Seth was openly gay and bisexual, and this fact made him a target for frequent and relentless harassment from his peers. Seth is survived by his grandmother, Judy Walsh, his mother Wendy Walsh, a younger and an older brother and an older sister. At his funeral, his 11-year-old brother Shawn said that Seth could be “a pain in the butt,” but that he was “the best big big brother in the world, no, the galaxy.” “He was different. He knew he was different,” his grandmother Judy said. “He was a very loving boy, very kind. He had a beautiful smile. He liked fashion, his friends, talking on the phone. He was artistic and very bright.”

Raymond Chase

Raymond Chase, nineteen years old, was a sophomore studying culinary arts at Johnson & Wales University in Providence, Rhode Island. He was also openly gay. On Wednesday, September 29, he hanged himself in his dorm. In Raymond’s case, there’s no proof that homophobia contributed to his suicide. Nonetheless, it seems impossible that the climate of anti-gay sentiment that still pervades much of our society didn’t have some effect on this young man’s decision to take his own life. Raymond came from Monticello, New York, a small town in the Catskills north of New York City. He was a fan of Harry Potter and the Nickelodeon classic Rugrats. On his Facebook bio he described himself simply: “I like to laugh, I like to have fun, and I’m gay.”

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I guess I thought we’d moved beyond this. This is 2010, after all. We elected Barack Obama. Gay marriage in Maine was rejected by only six percent of the vote just last year. Even the aforementioned crackpot Glenn Beck said he doesn’t think that gay marriage is a threat to America, and Laura Bush and Dick Cheney have actually come out in support of it. Five years ago, my peers as a group seemed overwhelmingly homophobic. It was only a minority who thought it was cool to treat gays like fellow human beings. Then sometime between my Junior and Senior years, everything changed, almost overnight it seemed. Girls started coming out as bisexual or lesbian, and people seemed OK with it, and a few guys did, too, and they didn’t seem to get too much flack about it, and it became the consensus that gay people were Pretty Okay, and that hating on them was officially Lame. Even the cool kids stuck “No on 1” stickers on their cars and joined “I Support Gay Rights” groups on Facebook.

So what happened? I guess we haven’t come as far as I’d hoped. And the fact remains that human beings just naturally have enormous potential to be nasty to each other. And a lot of the time, people just don’t think about the consequences of their actions. After Tehachapi police questioned many of those who had bullied Seth Walsh, Chief Jeff Kermode said, “Several of the kids that we talked to broke down into tears. They had never expected an outcome such as this.”

Homosexuality, like heterosexuality, is a natural human behavior. It’s not unnatural, perverted or vile. This isn’t my opinion, this is a fact. This is America, of course, and everyone has the right to express their own opinion. And if you believe that homosexuality is sinful, than the Constitution guarantees you the legal right to express that opinion. But no amount of constitutional protection can ever make a lie true or make bigotry morally acceptable. Yes, the Bible says that it’s an abomination for a man to have sex with another man. Guess what? On that count, the Bible is wrong. That particular passage is just gravely mistaken, or mistranslated, or maybe simply misinterpreted. That’s all there is too it. I don’t want to get into a religious debate here, but that’s the way it is, and it needs to be said. And in case you doubt me here, consider this: the Bible also says that it’s OK for a man to sell his daughter into slavery (Exodus 21:7-11). It also says that any man whose testicles have been crushed or whose penis has been cut off, or who was born out of wedlock, is banned from joining the congregation of the Lord (Deuteronomy 23:1-2). It says that those with physical deformities may not enter the Lord’s sanctuaries (Leviticus 21:16-23). It forbids the consumption of pork, shellfish and hare, as well as the consumption of meat along with milk (Leviticus 11:3-12, Deuteronomy 14:21). It condemns planting a vinyard with more than one kind of seed, plowing a field with an ox and an ass together, wearing garments made with more than one kind of fiber, and wearing a garment with fringes (Deuteronomy 22:9-12). Those who use the Biblical proscription against a man lying with another man as he would with a woman (Leviticus 18:22) to condemn homosexuality have no concern about eating non-kosher foods (unless they happen to be Orthodox Jews) or wearing T-shirts that are 50% cotton/50% polyester, and they wouldn’t dream of doing something as despicable as trying to ban the handicapped from churches. Yet they’re unable to accept that the one sentence in the Old Testament that condemns gay relations might not necessarily be worth enforcing. And that’s to say nothing of the many Christian denominations which don’t consider homosexuality a sin, and the millions of gays who are practicing Christians.

I don’t know if this post I’ve written will make any difference at all, but I had to do something. I can’t just stand around and do nothing while hatred and bigotry swell up around us and kids are ending their lives because they’re denied basic human dignity in the so-called greatest country in the world. But despair never made anything better, so I’ll leave you with something better. It’s a quote from Harvey Milk, a gay rights pioneer and the first openly gay man to be elected to public office in California:

 

And the young gay people in the Altoona, Pennsylvanias and the Richmond, Minnesotas who are coming out and hear Anita Bryant in television and her story. The only thing they have to look forward to is hope. And you have to give them hope. Hope for a better world, hope for a better tomorrow, hope for a better place to come to if the pressures at home are too great. Hope that all will be all right. Without hope, not only gays, but the blacks, the seniors, the handicapped, the us’es, the us’es will give up. And if you help elect to the central committee and other offices, more gay people, that gives a green light to all who feel disenfranchised, a green light to move forward. It means hope to a nation that has given up, because if a gay person makes it, the doors are open to everyone.