Tag Archives: controversial

Why Rihanna’s Selfie Brings Attention to Animal Smuggling (And the Adorable Slow Loris)

Mega celebrity Rihanna was recently vacationing in Thailand, when she snapped a photo of herself cuddling a slow loris and posted the pic to Instagram. Perhaps an innocent publicity stunt in the singer’s mind, the image nonetheless alerted authorities in Phuket who are trained to spot potential violations of animal smuggling laws. Sure enough, the two young men who provided the furry animal for the celeb’s photo were subsequently arrested and face up to four years in prison and 40,000 baht in fines. Here is the infamous photo:

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Animal lovers might be disturbed by this image for various reasons, not least of which is the absurd caption Rihanna posted with the photo: “Look who was talkin dirty to me!” But even apart from that, animal exploitation is a major issue around the globe, and particularly in Thailand where elephants, tigers, crocodiles, and other animals are regularly smuggled and abused.

As Phuket District Chief Weera Kerdsirimongkon commented, “It’s like a cat-and-mouse game. But this time it’s bigger because a celebrity like Rihanna posted the picture, and there were more than 200,000 ‘likes’ from around the world.” Such exposure is troubling because it shows how uninformed the public is about the associated issues of Rihanna’s photo. But it also allowed authorities to snag the smugglers. So apparently that was the silver lining.

The slow loris is in fact listed as “vulnerable” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), with the greatest threat lying in illegal trade and poaching. It’s unthinkable that anyone would ever want to hurt this amazing and adorable creature. Take a look:

Even this video is somewhat problematic because we don’t know how these people got a hold of a slow loris nor what conditions it is living in. But we can thank it at least for giving us a glimpse at this incredible animal.

What do you think of Rihanna’s infamous selfie? Tell us your thoughts in the comments section below!

Are You Ready to Stop Eating Real Food…Forever?

Lord, no, this is not about starving yourself.

This is the latest start-up by a 20-something genius, engineer Rob Rhinehart who has apparently invented a product that will free the world from the shackles of real food. It’s a vitamin and nutrient-rich drink, derived from plants but entirely lacking in taste or color, which Rhinehart is calling “Soylent” (somewhat ironically/controversially after the 1970s sci-fi film “Soylent Green.”) The founder claims to be subsisting, himself, almost entirely on the vitamin juice at this point – and with good results.

If this is all sounding a bit wacky, then you’re not alone. Many have raised doubts and concerns over such tampering with the human diet. We are, after all, made to eat real food, and such a reduction might sound dangerously similar to an eating disorder. But when asked about the “real food” concern by Vice magazine, Rhinehart responded:

Just because something is natural doesn’t mean it’s safe or healthy, and just because something is artificial doesn’t mean it’s unhealthy or dangerous. Look around you. Nothing we buy is natural. Everything useful is designed and manufactured, and food should be no different. People are afraid of sweeteners when it’s real sugar that’s killing us. They’re afraid of preservatives when food waste is rampant. McDonald’s is trying to engineer lower-calorie food that is more filling to fight obesity, but people are demanding natural-sounding ingredients. It’s frustrating to watch. The idea of “real food” is just snobbery. Everyone has the right to be healthy, even people who don’t like vegetables.

Still not convinced? Well we may need to get used to the idea of food replacements, says Rhinehart, who sees the growing global food crisis as one of the main imperatives for Soylent. And their company has actually seen considerable success in the short time they’ve been around. Their crowd-funding campaign has raised over one million dollars (much more than their initial goal of $100,000)! And apparently there are already people out there ordering Soylent packages online and enjoying the food-free life.

So, what do you think? Would you ever give up food in exchange for a tasteless juice of pure vitamins? Tell us your thoughts!

 

Thumbnail credit: Julio Miles / Soylent

Why Everyone is Talking About Miley Cyrus Today

Miley-Cyrus-2224429Did you watch the Video Music Awards last night? If so, did anything stand out to you?

In the company of acts like Lady Gaga, Justin Timberlake, and Kanye West, none caused as much of a stir as Miley Cyrus, the Disney-star-turned-sexpot-turned…cultural commentator?

That last descriptor might be overly generous, but it refers to the somewhat misplaced commentary on race, sexuality, and liberal politics Miley apparently seems to be dishing out with her latest performance and musical offerings.

Before we address her VMA performance, it’s first necessary to go back several months to the release of her music video for “We Can’t Stop.” A dance/party anthem reminiscent of her earlier “Party in the USA,” this video strips Miley of any semblance of sweetness or innocence and dresses her instead in a costume of unrestrained, “deviant” sexuality and, what many are calling, caricatured “cultural appropriation.”

As Dodai Stewart writes for Jezebel:

It’s important to understand that Miley is very privileged to be able to play dress up and adorn herself with the trappings of an oppressed/minority culture. She can play at blackness without being burdened by the reality of it.

Click here if you’d like to watch the music video and judge for yourself.

If the grills, the fake nails, and the gold chains aren’t enough to make you cringe at their blatant cultural essentializing of what Miley seems to view as “hip hop culture” and urban couture, then her VMA performance will probably do the trick. Miley struts across the stage in a leotard, with dancers all around her carrying gigantic stuff bears, and she proceeds to hump the air, stick a foam finger between her legs, and “twerk” up close and personal for Robin Thicke.

It’s hard to know exactly what the 20-year-old’s politics and values really are. If her “We Can’t Stop” video and VMA performance are trying to inspire some discourse on race and sexuality, then she seems to be going about it in a roundabout fashion. Does caricaturing minority culture actually encourage enfranchisement, or does it just perpetuate racism? Does trying on and playing with sexuality actually show respect to the LGBT community, or does it just over-sexualize homosexuality – lesbian relationships, in particular?

We’d love to hear your thoughts on this!

 

Photo credit: Reuters

Is Zurich’s New Drive-In Prostitution a Good Idea?

Even putting aside the moral and ethical arguments against prostitution, there are some sound concerns expressed over the practice. For one, we must take health and safety into consideration any time people will be coming into close contact with one another. And as a still largely underground industry (unlike the medical field, where bodies also come into close contact) there is very little precedent for regulation in prostitution.

What if governments decided to stop prosecuting prostitution and instead establish measures to ensure safety and fair-play? That is exactly what Switzerland, the small, beautiful, chocolate-rich country, has been doing since 1942 when it legalized prostitution. And now, in an effort to enforce safety regulations, the Swiss city of Zurich has instituted what are colloquially being called “sex boxes.” This is essentially a drive-in brothel where cars can enter a small park with sex workers lined up all around, and clients and prostitutes can negotiate with one another to determine an agreement. Once paired, they’ll enter small wooden garages to…conduct their business.

Though there won’t be surveillance, prostitutes will need permits in order to use the facilities and will have access to panic buttons and on-site social workers in case of emergency. There are also policies in place in the country to enforce health checks and screenings in order to reduce the risk of HIV and AIDs. And the “sex box” sites also offer showers, lockers, laundry, and other facilities. As reported by the National Post:

“We built the place to be secure for the sex workers. It also had to be discreet for the sex workers and the clientele,” said Michael Herzig of Zurich’s social welfare department. “But we thought if we build the place, we can also make it look good.”

Here’s a look at the facilities:

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You might be surprised to learn that Switzerland isn’t alone in such policies. Eight European countries currently have legal and regulated prostitution, and countless others in Europe and around the globe have legalized but unregulated prostitution. Here’s a map outlining prostitution in Europe:

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 Screen Shot 2013-08-26 at 9.58.49 AM

 

 

 

 

What do you think of Zurich’s “sex boxes”? Can you imagine a U.S. city instituting something along those lines? Tell us your thoughts in the comments section below!

 

Photo credit: AP Photo / John Heilprin

Photo credit: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP/Getty Images

Photo credit: Fabrice Coffrini / AFP / Getty Images

Map credit: Wikimedia Commons

 

Mos Def Undergoes Force Feeding in Protest of Guantanamo Prisoners’ Treatment

Some may criticize his actions as a publicity stunt, others may question his sanity. Still others may question the moral rightness of voluntarily undergoing what others experience as torture. Either way, actor and musician Yasiin Bey (formerly known as Mos Def) certainly made a bold move by teaming up with human rights group Reprieve to protest the use of force feeding at Guantanamo Bay.

In a video released by the organization as part of a larger campaign for human rights at Guantanamo Bay, the musician is seen strapped to a chair and fed using the nose-to-stomach procedure employed at the detention center. Warning: This video is somewhat disturbing and may be difficult to watch.

Over 100 Guantanamo Bay prisoners have been engaged in a hunger strike for much of this year, protesting the lack of respect shown toward them and their Qurans. Despite their legitimate concerns – especially considering that 86 of the 166 prisoners at Guantanamo have been cleared for release – the Obama administration condones force feeding as a measure against the strike.

These are men who, for the most part, had zero involvement in Al Qaeda and the 9/11 bombings, have spent the last 11 years in a detention facility where they have been subjected to torture, at worst, and extreme alienation, at best, and even after being cleared for release see no end in sight to their misery.

Their situation may be extraordinary, but their engagement in hunger strike as a form of rebellion is not unprecedented. Most famous among hunger strikes in unquestionably Mahatma Gandhi’s protest against the British rule of India. But a case that holds even greater relevance in regards to Guantanamo is that of British and American suffragettes in the early 20th century. Protesting their lack of rights and voting privileges, many women were imprisoned, and many of these brave souls engaged in hunger strike to draw further attention and sympathy to their cause. The nose-to-stomach force feeding that ensued drew criticism across the board, and it seems we are witnessing a similar concern for human rights today.

The comparison may not be entirely fair or accurate, granted. But if public opinion responded negatively to a method of prisoner treatment back in the 1910s, then we in 2013 clearly haven’t learned our lesson. A hunger strike is a dramatic way for prisoners to protest conditions at Guantanamo Bay – and they wouldn’t take such bold action for nothing.

What are your thoughts on this controversial issue? Let us know in the comments section below!

I’m Not Your B****, Yo. (And Neither is Beyonce. Or Any Woman Ever)

beyonce-breastplate-nipple-costume-1This article references a previous blog I wrote, entitled: An Open Letter to Michelle Obama: Beyonce is Not a Role Model

Two months, an estimated 300,000+ readers, and over 30,000 actual Facebook likes after I wrote the Beyonce piece, I’ve gotten a piece – a piece of everyone and the world’s mind.

(As  precursor here I should say that in this article I am not singling out any one person who sent me messages in ‘conversation’ no matter how strong their position because I don’t think that’s fair. But, for those writers who published reply articles (that I know about) and who actually wanted readers, I am citing those here with links attached for people to visit and read.)

Through that lovely vehicle of social media, the #Beyhive came out, appropriately in droves: warm, fuzzy and stinging. They told me I should ‘watch my back’, that my ‘very life was in danger’, that I was ‘a ho’, that I had a ‘double chin’, and rather directly that I needed ‘more dick’ in my life. Aah. I see – #girlsruntheworld.

Others were less clever, if more labored in noting their contempt: In a departure from its title, a website called The Moderate Voice wrote a reply article with the clearly immoderate title ‘The Dumbest Thing I’ve Read This Week‘. Elsewhere someone studying for an MPhil in Linguistics at Oxford penned an essay in reply on ‘The Complexity of Beyonce“. One person in total commented on this essay, saying that they ‘think Beyonce and Jay-Z are poor role models based on their sick infatuation with wearing the murdered bodies of innocent animals as coats, garish shoes and other gruesome garments’. When I read this, I couldn’t help thinking that often times for many of us, it’s just not a very complex world at all.

Some people thought Beyonce’s costume was a celebration of the primal goddesses of ancient cultures. It was an emancipated return of the divine feminine rising, they wrote to me: ‘Can’t you see? You with your spirituality blog. Ha!’ I asked myself how could I have been blind to this? Where was my awareness of the divine feminine when it showed up and shimmied in my face? Inspired, I looked into it and found out the dress designers who produced the piece said their inspiration for the costume was to create ‘one of  the most glamorous and provocative looks she’s ever worn…(to) give the illusion of being covered in crystalized honey…’

Oh. Sweet.

They also said the costume was a collaboration between Beyonce and her mom. Such a nice mom and daughter project – perhaps all the women who wrote and said they had just had baby girls and would love to see their daughter grow into a Beyonce will want to try this for a first grade Halloween. Why wait till she’s a multi-million $ earner who has no material need to ‘earn’ her money like this. Ladies, you already know that I ‘just don’t get it.’ You’ve written to tell me so. But you know what – if it works for you – go ahead, make it happen: Objectify Her Now. Perhaps if you mobilize the power of the #Beyhive in support of this, Beyonce will issue a home-costume-design-kit for this one.

I’ll still be scratching my head at the hashtag, that’s all:

#honeygirlsruntheworldbysingingsongslookingliketheyarenakedcoveredinhoney

Elsewhere, others were impassioned to write that my feminism was not theirs (I agree completely) although they mistakenly decided I have zero education in the practices, and circumstances that lead to sex trafficking (especially urban USA), and also decided I conflated voluntary sex work with trafficking. They also confused an essay about the dangers of presenting the notion of feminine success as being dependent on sexualizing the self to very young girls, with the idea that I as its author wanted grown women to suppress their sexuality because it was shameful. They wrote about the rights of women to choose sex work, they wanted to ‘call me out’ for my own lack of liberation.

I never wrote it in my piece because it was so unrelated, but for what it’s worth let me say it here: women who are adults engaged in consensual, safe, sex or erotic work that you enjoy, and find personally fulfilling and that you do by your own independent choice: more power to you. What you do as adult women is your business. Literally. The question in the original piece was never about an adult woman’s freedom to make her own choices in an adult environment. The question was about the packaging to very young girls a message that ultimate feminine success for them comes with the necessity to sexualize themselves.

Lastly, sometimes I saw some things about some people talking – shouting mostly, actually – about ‘slut shaming’. I read my piece again when I got these comments just to check if I’d lost my mind and written something irresponsible but I hadn’t: I did NOT write a piece that supported the idea that women or young girls are ever responsible for the prejudices imposed on them by society. I did write a piece that said that women who present themselves as recording artists targeting young girls as their audience, who then present themselves to those young audiences in overtly sexualized terms – are not role models for our young girls.

Once that was set aside, the feelings of being unwilling to engage in a conversation about ‘slut shaming’ set in and here, after some reflection, I can finally articulate why:

When I was little, the part of the world where I come from, they called me a Paki. But you know what – I don’t care how ubiquitous the term, I never was and never will be anyone’s Paki. No British Asian ever was or ever will be anyone’s Paki. We are individuals of separate and sometimes collective origins: human beings commanding the same human right to live in peace, freedom, and dignity as anyone else on earth.

Re-appropriating an offensive slur is not a route I am prepared to go down in order to claim my empowerment – or to stand for the the empowerment of anyone else. I may not stand with popular culture in saying this, but I say no.

Beyonce – just like every woman on this planet – can never be called a ‘slut’.

Just like I am never going to be anyone’s – not Jay-Z’s nor even #QueenBey’s – ‘bitch’.

Just like Jay-Z – like every other black man on earth – can never be called anyone’s ‘nigga’.

The brutality of the language we choose in addressing the other is deliberate.

If we want to address issues about the inequality suffered by some of us because of social values that judge us, then – no matter what the mood, or how strong the sway of popular culture – let’s exercise some awareness in the words we use. Let’s not start the conversation by framing those whose interests we stand for in a language that is inherently demeaning. Let’s begin the conversation instead with a language that acknowledges each person’s innate right to equality, respect, and dignity. Let’s not close off our hearts in an effort to make a point.

All points made with a closed heart are lost. Let’s keep our hearts open and meet one another, differences and all – especially differences and all – with respect, dignity, with Love.

And speaking of Love: someone tell me, where is it in the just released: ‘Turnt’ by The Dream featuring Beyonce and 2 Chainz?

Far more than the views I received above, tens of thousands of people weighed in on this subject with support for what I wrote. They’ve also messaged me, and I think in essence they’re asking the same questions I did in my piece.

For anyone still wondering why it’s time to move beyond rampant music industry misogyny that recruits female superstars as proponents of a toxic ideology, take a look at the video for this track featuring Beyonce’s vocals. Let me know if this is kind of partnership one should expect of our complex, feminist heroes of the twenty first century.

For my part, when I saw this video I stopped to think about what makes a person successful. And I came back to saying that the Buddha said:

The way is not in the sky. The way is in the heart.
Originally published on my website, The Modern Girl’s Guide to Spirituality

Radical Responsibility

radical-responsibility

 

“Why would God allow this to happen?”

I heard this questions, in many forms, in many variations many, many times. At last I responded. This time it was about a five-year old girl who was raped with an iron rod and died. Why would God allow this to happen?

“Maybe because God considers humans to be responsible adults who don’t need supervision, but can make their own choices, design their own lives and create their own reality” I responded “maybe because God acknowledges their freedom to do so. Humans are free to choose, some choose pain, others don’t — all create their experience of life with their choices.”

And the inevitable response came:

“But the 5 year old little girl didn’t choose all of this for herself. What does God have to say about that?”

 And … and it gave me pause. It gave me pause not because I didn’t have an answer to that – I have an answer and it is a good one — but because I was not sure my answer would be an acceptable one. I was not sure it would be a hand-able one.

I said:

“God might say: you choose your own faith, you create your destiny and your life in ways you don’t yet understand. You chose where and how you will be born and you choose how, and when, you die. Your life is called ‘your life’ not ‘God’s life’ for a reason. That you are not aware of choosing and creating doesn’t mean you don’t choose and create.”

Is that too much? Is it too much to say? Is it too much to expect from a five year old, from a fifteen year old, from a fifty year old?

But, you see, God just might see humans differently than humans do. God just might know the unlimited power humans wield and with which they create their reality, their world, their life. God might know that there is no limit to what humans can do, to what they can be. God might know that the human world looks and works like it does because humans say so, believe so, relate so.

God might know, at last, that it is nothing more than an outward projection of humans themselves. A name, a concept to which humans assign that which they, themselves, truly are — the ultimate, unlimited creators.

All humans, even those who are five years old.

Is this too much?

5 Questionable Quotes on Sex, Weight and Beauty from Abercrombie & Fitch CEO Mike Jeffries

abercrombie-fitch1Ask your grandparents if they’ve heard of a company called “Abercrombie & Fitch” and they are bound to say something about a hunting and fishing retailer. Pull away the current steamy, semi-pornographic ads and teeny bopper vibe, and you’ll find that A&F was actually once the “Greatest Sporting Store in the World,” according to the company logo. Their Madison Avenue building contained not only retail areas but also a shooting range and golf school, which might suggest that an over-the-top commitment to both fitness and excess were always present in the company’s culture. Abercrombie shifted its focus to apparel in the late 1980’s and has since been the source of much controversy.

A&F’s CEO Mike Jeffries has taken things to a whole new level, though, by publicly coming out against those he believes “don’t belong [in our clothes]” – essentially anyone without a “washboard stomach.” Who does belong in Abercrombie clothing, according to Jeffries? Apparently, an “attractive all-American kid with a great attitude and a lot of friends.”

Here are 5 highly questionable statements from the second highest paid fashion CEO:

  1. “We hire good-looking people in our stores. Because good-looking people attract other good-looking people, and we want to market to cool, good-looking people. We don’t market to anyone other than that.”
  2. “People said we were cynical, that we were sexualizing little girls. But you know what? I still think those are cute underwear for little girls. And I think anybody who gets on a bandwagon about thongs for little girls is crazy. Just crazy! There’s so much craziness about sex in this country. It’s nuts! I can see getting upset about letting your girl hang out with a bunch of old pervs, but why would you let your girl hang out with a bunch of old pervs?”
  3. “Are we exclusionary? Absolutely. Those companies that are in trouble are trying to target everybody: young, old, fat, skinny. But then you become totally vanilla. You don’t alienate anybody, but you don’t excite anybody, either.”
  4. “I don’t think we were in any sense guilty of racism, but I think we just didn’t work hard enough as a company to create more balance and diversity. And we have, and I think that’s made us a better company. We have minority recruiters. And if you go into our stores you see great-looking kids of all races.”
  5. “Listen, do we go too far sometimes? Absolutely. But we push the envelope, and we try to be funny, and we try to stay authentic and relevant to our target customer. I really don’t care what anyone other than our target customer thinks.”

In the full interview, you’ll also find Jeffries’ thoughts on looking “butch,” why pants should sit as low on the hip as possible, how big a male mannequin’s “package” should be, and why to avoid “looking like an old guy.” Judge for yourself…

 

Photo credit: Abercrombie & Fitch

Silicon Valley Sex Workers Cater to “Geek” Audience

Retro Night Dorky Glasses GirlThe United States largely has Northern California’s Silicon Valley to thank for satisfying and propelling our appetite for technology. With the job rate increasing at nearly dot com levels, Silicon Valley is becoming a highly sought after region, especially for talented young adults eager to enter the tech world. You might expect from all of this a flourishing of cultural niches, a boom in real estate, a swell in diversity. Well it turns out there’s another industry capitalizing on the tech world’s success.

CNN recently reported on the effect Silicon Valley’s tech growth has had on the sex work industry. Some sex workers in the area are able to charge up to $500/hour, and now many take payments by credit cards using the “Square”. Several of the women interviewed also discussed marketing their brands specifically to a “geek” audience, donning t-shirts that say “Geeks Make Better Lovers,” or hosting podcasts. Take a look at the full report:

Technology and social media are nothing new in the sex work industry. A growing number of sex workers have developed online presences, proudly harnessing the entrepreneurial nature of the Internet as any other independent businessperson might. The difference, of course, is that prostitution is illegal in most of the United States, and sex workers take a big risk by marketing their services online (where, it seems, nothing is private.)

What do you think? Should sex workers take advantage of social media and Silicon Valley’s tech boom to promote the industry?

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