Book Review: Middlesex

Although Jeffrey Eugenides’ Middlesex was published in 2002, the story carries more relevance today, given the recent “bathroom bill” controversy and other nationwide discussions pertaining to our understanding of gender identity.

md20527819112However, this story is more than about sexual orientation and non-binary genders. Middlesex incorporates a wide range of intertwined themes that encompasses the pursuit for identity which include an immigrant’s ‘rebirth’ in a new world, the clash between traditional and modernity, the battle between old-world superstitions and reason, teenage angst, sexual discovery, the bleakness of old age, the inevitability of death, and generational gaps.

Our protagonist, Calliope Stephenides is a Detroit-born, third-generation, Greek-American. During her teenage years, she discovers an unsavory revelation about her true sexual identity. This triggers an existential crisis, setting her on a journey to conceptualize her sense of self in relation to her biology. 

Calliope’s parents, Milton and Tessie, are first-cousins. If that isn’t scandalous enough for your sensibilities, you might want to brace yourself before you read this next sentence. In addition to being a product of a first-cousin marriage, Calliope’s paternal grandparents are siblings!

Yes, you read that correctly.

Calliope’s grandparents, Eleutherios (Lefty) and Desdemona, were orphans residing in Bithynios, near Smyrna (present-day Izmir) in Asia Minor (present-day Turkey) during the early 1920s. Their parents were killed in the on-going conflicts between the Greeks and the Turks so they only had each other to rely upon. Somehow, inexplicably, their intimate sibling bond mutated into carnal lust. I suppose the Westermarck Effect did not apply to them. When Lefty and Desdemona finally managed to escape the carnage in their beloved yet irredeemable homeland, they did what so many immigrants did upon arriving in America. They constructed a new identity for themselves.

In their native village, Lefty and Desdemona were brother and sister. However, in their new home in Detroit, Lefty and Desdemona became newlyweds. And other than their Americanized cousin, Soumelina, who harbored a sordid secret of her own, nobody knew otherwise.

It is heavily implied, throughout the novel, that Calliope’s unusual gender orientation is rooted in her grandparents’ decision to procreate.cara

Now, it should be pointed out that not all intersex people are the result of incestuous relationships. Many literary critics have lambasted Eugenides for implying that to be the case. However, I’m willing to give the author the benefit of the doubt. In my opinion, I think Eugenides just wanted to write a story that heavily touched on multiple taboo subjects, including incest and non-binary genders.

We are a society rooted in Abrahamic tradition. According to our holy texts, God created us as male and female. And you can’t argue with the sacred.

However, recent developments in psychology and medical science have concluded that gender is a lot more complicated than we had originally anticipated. Yes, 99% of us fall into the categories of male or female. However, that doesn’t mean that we should ignore the 1% who don’t. Those who are transgendered, or afflicted with medical conditions like Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome, Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia or 5-Alpha Reductase Deficiency (like Calliope) are just as human as the rest of us. It’s regrettably disheartening to see the genuine concerns of non-binary people be dismissed as “special snowflake saltiness” due to our puritanical proclivities.

Middlesex has been rightfully branded by the Metro Times as ” the Detroit Epic Novel”. The majority of this story occurs within the backdrop of a perpetually-changing Detroit. The beginning of the novel depicts our protagonist’s grandparents arriving in, what was then, a relatively small but bustling town. Throughout the novel, we witness the up-and-coming industrial hub gradually evolve into “the arsenal of democracy” during the Second World War before despairingly devolving into the “no tax-base, white-flight, murder-capital of the Coleman Young administration”. We receive an in-depth narrative of the infamous 1967 riots, leading numerous affluent White residents to abandon their homes and businesses in Detroit and embark on an exodus towards the suburban towns of Grosse Pointe (including Grosse Pointe Park and Grosse Pointe Farms), Sterling Heights, and Livonia (aka, my hometown).

In addition, Middlesex also invests pages into covering aspects of Detroit history that are usually glossed over by the textbooks. Most Americans aren’t aware that the Black-supremacist Nation of Islam was originally founded in Detroit. Nor do they comprehend the historical context in which the Nation of Islam was established. Jeffrey Eugenides succinctly highlights the motives of this unusual organization and its overall impact on the city.

Middlesex is written as a first-person narrative, so we’re able to further empathize with Calliope through her/his inner thoughts and conflicted feelings. I think Eugendies brilliantly conceptualized Calliope’s personality. Despite being a fictional character, the narration allows us to perceive Calliope as a real-life person.

What I find most intriguing is how Calliope refers to certain people in her life. Normally, our siblings are our first best friends (as opposed to being lovers in the case of Lefty and Desdemona!). The bond between siblings is impenetrable. However, Calliope always refers to her brother as “Chapter Eleven”. It’s not an affectionate nickname that most of us would refer to our brothers or sisters. The name “Chapter Eleven” references Calliope’s brother’s fault in leading their father’s business into bankruptcy. In fact, the term “Chapter Eleven” refers to bankruptcy laws. However, some literary critics have cleverly deduced that the “nickname” also refers to the emotional bankruptcy of that sibling relationship.

In a way, the novel depicts two polarizing extremes pertaining to siblings. Desdemona and Lefty occupy one extreme where the line between familial love and sexual desire is nonexistent. Calliope and her/his brother occupy the other extreme where the two, despite having grown up in the same home, regard each other as nothing more than strangers.

I’m not surprised that Middlesex won the Pulitzer Prize. I can’t imagine a novel like this not being lavishly celebrated with accolades. Jeffrey Eugenides’ prose is  vivid, witty, ironic and charming. He has the rare talent of eloquently describing a baby pissing on a priest during a baptism ceremony.

“From between my cherubic legs a stream of crystalline liquid shot into the air…propelled by a full bladder, it cleared the lip of the font and struck Father Mike right in the middle of the face!”

If you’re not planning to drive to your local library to check out this book, you’ll be missing out.

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Sabhayude Prathisandhi: A Tale of Sacrilegious Scandals 

A few days ago, a priest in Kerala, India was taken into police custody after attempting to board a flight to Canada. Fr. Mathew Vadakkumchery (popularly known as “Robin Achen”) was the parish priest of St. Sebastian Church in Kottiyoor, a village in the northern Kerala district of Kannur. He is currently being charged with the unpardonable crime of raping, and impregnanting, a sixteen year old girl. Vadakkumchery is also being accused of bribing the girl’s family with RS 10 lakhs to discreetly keep the matter from the public eye.

Vadakkumchery will pay for his transgressions through the justice system. The evidence is overwhelmingly stacked against him. Unfortunately, Vadakkumchery is only one of numerous sexual predators attempting to hide behind the sanctuary veil.

Within the Catholic community in Kerala, the past few years have been marked with numerous tell-all memoirs written by ex-nuns and ex-priests, elaborating on the deplorably depraved sexual abuse rampant in seminaries and convents in God’s Own Country. From Sister Jesme to Fr. Shibu Kalamparambil, a myriad of idealistic priests and nuns were forced to relinquish their childhood dreams of religious life upon discovering an unholy truth. Coinciding with the scandal in Kottiyoor, another former nun named Mary Chandy has recently had her tell-all memoir published, further attesting to the widespread hedonism ubiquitous behind closed doors. rape-victim-660_120213014528_121313094906

Most of us are inclined to blame the sexual abuse cases on the Catholic Church’s rigid requirements of clerical celibacy. Although I concur that celibacy is unrealistic and antithetical to our biological needs, we’re ignoring a bigger culprit: power.

Power corrupts. How many times have we’ve heard that adage? The Church’s sociopolitical influence in Kerala exemplifies that quote. Although the Catholic community comprise of ten percent of Kerala’s population, they are hailed as one of the most affluent communities in the state. In Kerala, the most renowned educational institutions  and top-rate health care facilities are operated by the Catholic Church. Catholic clerics are hailed as the most respected residents of their vicinity, particularly in south-central Kerala. Even Catholic bishops have been known to dabble in the Kerala political sphere.

In Kerala, it’s not uncommon for low-income Catholic families to pressure one of their sons to pursue the religious life. In the seminaries, young men receive a reputable education at virtually no cost. Their families take advantage of the extensive support provided by the church, mitigating their financial burdens. Once the young men receive the privilege of the white collar, their families get to bask in honor and respectability, a refreshing change-of-pace from previous years of treading the poverty line.

In the eye of zealously devout churchgoers, the ornately robed clerics are as immaculate as the Virgin Mary. They are immuned from the various temptations that burden mere mortals like us. In other words, an achen or pathiri can do no wrong.

Power corrupts. That phrase is more than an overused platitude.

The crimes of Vadakkumchery were initially concealed by those who were determined to protect the church’s reputation. Yesterday, eight people, including five nuns, were booked for conspiring a cover-up. The fact that eight people were willing to put their own lives on the line to protect a predator priest is a testimony to their blind loyalty.

Power corrupts. That phrase is more than just some overused platitude.

The cliched response to this ungodly story is to advocate for systemic reform and blah blah blah. Even Pope Francis had made it a priority to instill accountability to prevent clerical abuse.

However, promises and resolutions can only go so far. The catalyst behind the abuse of clerical privilege is the extreme reverence shown to priests and bishops by their God-fearing parishioners, who  continually treat them like the second coming of Christ.

Of course, we were told in our catechism classes that a Catholic priest acts in persona Christi. A priest assumes the role of Jesus when we confess our sins to him. As we see a priest standing in a dignified pose as he consecrates the Holy Eucharist during mass, we forget an undeniable truth. Behind the white collar and decorated attire is a mere mortal, enslaved to the same moral failings of which we are all enslaved.

As long as churchgoers exhibit undying reverence for priests, the Church will never be cleansed of her innumerable scandals.

 

Birth of a Savior

Today, tens of thousands of devout believers will be commemorating the birth of their Savior.

And I’m not referring to Jesus Christ.

This man is arguably the most elusive figure in American history. No one knows where he was born. No one knows where or when he passed away. His legacy is glossed over by high school history textbooks. Nevertheless, in a span of few years, this man managed to drastically impact the consciousness of American Blacks and forever change the course of American racial relations.

In 1930, there wWallace_Fard_Muhammadas a mysterious, beige-complexioned man walking through the streets and alleys of Depression-era Black Bottom in Detroit, selling silk cloths to Black residents who couldn’t even afford to dream of wearing such exquisite items. He introduced himself as Wallace Fard Muhammed. Handsome and charismatic, Fard was often invited into the meager dwellings of those residents, who were enticed by his stories on the origins of those silk cloths in their “homeland”.

Assuming the role of some type of religious preacher, Fard spoke of how his poverty-stricken hosts were descended of kings and warriors who were kidnapped from their “homeland” and stripped of their ancestral heritage. Fard implored his hosts to reconnect with their history by abandoning the religion of their former masters.

He introduced the religious concept of Tawhid (oneness of God) and discouraged pork at their dinner tables. After adopting the dietary restrictions, those Black ghetto residents observed significant improvements in their health and concluded that there must be something to Fard’s teachings.

During his sales runs, Fard gradually evolved from a silk salesmen to a leader of a new religious movement.

Fard branded himself as a prophet and constructed a version of Islam unrecognizable to mainstream Muslims. The theological tenets of Fard’s religion involved a mad scientist named Yakub who created White people as Devils to reek havoc and destroy humanity. Therefore, the White man is innately evil and responsible for the burdens Black people are forced to endure.

To most of us today, Fard’s teachings sound nothing more than a racist crackpot theory promulgated by a dark-skinned version of L. Ron Hubbard. However, to poor Black residents of 1930s Detroit, Fard didn’t make less sense than church sermons revolving around a man who supposedly rose from the dead after three days.

It is also worth mentioning that the early 20th century was the heyday for racially-based eugenics. Today, eugenics is solely entertained by a small number of basement-dwelling shiteaters, as race is considered to be a meaningless concept by anthropologists and “biological determinism” has been discredited by the medical community. However, in the 1930s, eugenics was espoused by renowned academic journals, taught in public schools and was influential in US immigration policy. Madison Grant’s Passing of a Great Race (which profoundly influenced Adolf Hitler’s perspective on race) was on the best-sellers list.

Given those circumstances, you can see why Fard’s followers were so keen on accepting his bizarre theology.They were  consistently bombarded with “scientific” studies denigrating them as subhuman degenerates. They were mocked with the “curse of Ham” by White Christian preachers. Accepting Fard’s teachings was their way of turning the tables and asserting respectability for themselves.

Coinciding with the independence anniversary of the United States, Fard and his followers formed the Allah Temple of Islam on July 4th, 1930. The mission of this new organization was to “teach the downtrodden and defenseless Black people a thorough Knowledge of God and of themselves, and to put them on the road to Self-Independence with a superior culture and higher civilization than they had previously experienced”.

Fard was hailed by his followers as the Mahdi, replacing Jesus as their personal savior. Fard was adamant to instill Islamic practices in his followers. He admonished the consumption of pork, which, as you would know from dining at a Soul Food restaurant, is replete in American Black cuisine. He established Muslim schools as an alternative to the public school system. He authored a book entitled Secret Rituals of a Lost-Found Nation of Islam which elaborated on his religion’s tenets. As the year went by, the Nation of Islam became more organized. Fard has even handpicked a young man named Elijah Poole as his protege in 1931. He rechristened the young man Elijah Muhammed and appointed him as his successor.

In 1932, a Detroit resident named Robert Kharraim (born Robert Harris), a member of the ATI, performed a human sacrifice to “bring himself closer to Allah”. Kharraim had cited a passage from Fard’s book Secret Rituals of a Lost-Found Nation of Islam, which stated “The believer must be stabbed through the heart.”. This caught the attention of the Detroit Police Department. Driven by anti-Muslim hysteria and racism, the police sought to charge Fard with murder.

Kharraim was later found to be insane and was committed to a psychiatric institution. Fard was forced by the police to disband the ATI and leave Detroit. Fard complied, as he would have faced legal charges, and left for Chicago on December of 1932.

Although the ATI was ostensibly disbanded, the organization actually remained intact under a new name: The Nation of Islam.

The following month, Fard returned to Detroit. However, he was identified by the police and ordered to leave. Yet, in 1934, Fard was back in Detroit, but not for long.

Facing non-stop police harassment, Fard had Elijah Muhammed drive him to the airport. After bidding his protege adieu, Fard left to board his flight, never to be seen again.

To this day, no one knows where Fard went following his departure from Detroit. Upon leaving the organization he single-handedly built, Fard passed the mantle to Elijah Muhammed, who assumed leadership of the Nation of Islam for an eventful forty years.

Under Elijah Muhammed, the Nation of Islam garnered incredible recognition and respectability among Black Americans. The organization attracted the likes of Malcolm X and Muhammed Ali. It played an influential, though notoriously controversial, role during the Civil Right Movement.

However, certain aspects of Elijah Muhammed’s reputation caused many, including Malcolm X and Muhammed Ali, to leave the organization. To this day, there are rumors accusing Elijah Muhammed of orchestrating Malcolm X’s assassination as punishment for his departure from the Nation of Islam.

Following the death of Elijah Muhammed, his son, Warith Deen Muhammed assumed leadership of the Nation of Islam. Warith repudiated his father’s racist ideas and that bizarre tale of Yakub. Instead, he introduced Sunni Islamic practices to the organization, hoping to forge connections with mainstream Islamic group.

However, Warith’s reforms resulted a schism within the Nation of Islam. The oppositional faction was led by young firebrand named Louis Farrakhan, who aspired to reintroduce the teachings and theology of Wallace Fard Muhammed and Elijah Muhammed. Warith’s faction went on to adopt the name “American Society of Muslims” while Louis Farrakhan’s faction retained the name “Nation of Islam”.

Meanwhile, the whereabouts of Fard remain unsolved. Of course, numerous hypotheses have been proposed to unravel this evasive character.

In the late 1950s, the FBI conjured a theory linking Wallace Fard Muhammed to Wali Dodd Ford, a New Zealand-born White restaurant owner who lived in California during the 1910s and 1920s. This theory was propagated in newspapers as a tactic to discredit the Nation of Islam through some crazed Rachel-Dolezalesque fashion.

South Asia had been pinpointed as the possible birthplace of Fard. After all, he had the generic features of a typical North Indian: silky black hair, beige complexion, sharp, chiseled facial features, and a caucasoid bone structure. The fact that he reportedly expressed contempt for Hinduism is also indicative of his South Asian origins.

Turkey, Palestine, and Saudi Arabia have also been proposed as his possible birthplace. In fact, he had once claimed to have served as a diplomat for the Kingdom of Hejaz (located in present-day Saudi Arabia).

You’re probably wondering why a man with no African roots would go as far as to establish a Black supremacist organization!

Perhaps, Fard was seeking an opportunity to propagate Islam (well his unconventional version of Islam) while he was selling silk cloths. Seeing neighborhoods of destitute, marginalized Blacks in need of a savior, he took his chances with them. The affirming doctrines preached by a man who presented himself as a “high-yellow” Black man from the East would have been receptive to early 20th century Black Americans.

We will possibly never know the true origins of Wallace Fard Muhammed. We will possibly never know his true ethnicity or even his real name. We will never know who he truly was.

Nevertheless, we cannot deny the profound impact he had on the cultural milieu of America. Despite possibly lack a drop of African blood, Fard instilled in Black Americans a sense of self-respect that motivated them to fight for equality.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not defending the ideology he propagated. Nor am I a supporter of the Nation of Islam. However, in studying Fard’s ideology and the Nation of Islam in relation to the mores of early 20th-century America, we can have a more comprehensive perspective on Black American history, which will give us insight into the state of modern-day race relations.

Perpetual Student of the Kwan

Calling myself a martial artist would be a gross exaggeration. I’m certainly no match for Ip Man! However, my obsession with anime aroused my fascination with oriental martial arts techniques. I had even dreamt of achieving super-saiyan level!

…To this day, I still cherish that dream

When I was eight years old, my parents enrolled me in a karate class after hearing about my brief encounter with a bully during recess. This particular course taught a Korean varient of Karate called Tang Soo Do.

hwangkeeIn 1937, a 23-year-old Hwang Kee returned to his native Korea after two years working at the Manchurian railroads in China. During his stay in China, Hwang Kee allegedly learned Kung Fu, complementing his training in Subak during his high school years. Upon returning to Korea, Hwang Kee had hoped to continue his martial arts education. Unfortunately, his aspirations were limited by the Japanese Occupation of Korea during World War II.

The carnage of a global battle didn’t prevent Hwang Kee from pursuing his life-long passion. During the early 1940s, Hwang Kee spent the majority of the time at the library, burying himself in books and articles about Okinawan Shotokan Karate.

In 1945, Hwang Kee opened his first kwan, which he christened Hwa Soo Do (flowering gmckickhand way) Muk Do Kwan. Five years later, he renamed his school Tang Soo Do (empty hand) Muk Do Kwan to emphasize the empty-handed techniques derived from Shotokan Karate.

Unlike most martial arts, the envied black belt does not exist in Tang Soo Do. In Korean culture, the color black symbolizes perfection. However, every Tang Soo Do practitioner is fully aware that perfection is unattainable. The highest rank a student can achieve is a humble 10th degree midnight blue belt. Although not as edgy as its black counterpart, the midnight blue reminds a practitioner that he will always be a student.

This is true in every field. Whether you’re a professor, a doctor, a CEO or even the president of the United States, you will always remain a student.

I was enrolled in Tang Soo Do for only two years, before the demands of middle school assignments and extracurriculars occupied the majority of my free time. However, my years in Tang Soo Do instilled in me the importance of humbleness. If we perceive ourselves as experts, we’ll lack the incentive to pursue knowledge. If we lack that incentive, we hinder our own personal growth.

Book Review: Revival

Stephen King is renowned for his epic horror novels. Since the publication of his debut book, Carrie, King has spent the last three decades reveling in fame and literary recognition. His prose is simple and meant to appeal to a middlebrow readership. Nevertheless, King is able to write in a way that captures the imagination and invites the reader into the depths of his world.

Revival was published in 2014. Similarly to most of King’s books, the story is set in his 51vNbL-8w0L._SX320_BO1,204,203,200_home state of Maine (at least during the first half of the novel). The novel chronicles the life of Jamie Morton, from age six to his late fifties, and highlights his encounters with a charming, yet eccentric preacher named Charles Daniel Jacobs.

Although the story is written from the first-person perspective of Jamie Morton, Jacobs could qualify as the lead protagonist as well. This tale is just as much about him as it is about Jamie.

Charles Daniel Jacobs is introduced as an young, enthusiastic Methodist preacher who arrives in tiny Maine town of Harrow with his wife and son for his first pastoral assignment.  In Harrow, Jacobs meets six-year-old Jamie and immediately takes a liking to him. Jacobs exposes Jamie to the bizarre, yet fascinating world of electricity, of which Jacobs exhibits an infatuated obsession.

One fateful day, Jacobs’ wife and son fall victim to a car accident. Unfortunately, they didn’t survive which tears Jacobs apart. On the following Sunday at the local Methodist church, Jacobs delivers a heart-wrenching diatribe, later termed by the parishioners and townspeople as “The Terrible Sermon”. Jacobs lashes at God and derides religion as nothing but an insurance fraud. Unsurprisingly, Jacobs leaves town. However, that wouldn’t be the last time Jamie sees him..

The novel effectistephen-kingvely touches on numerous themes that are all intertwined, including religion, tragedies, death and the esoteric potential of electricity. Although the story drags into numerous irrelevant subplots of Jamie’s life, it leads towards a bone-chilling, Lovecraftesque climax, and unveiling the mysteries of death and the afterlife.

Revival, in echoing Stephen King’s own perspective, exposes the covert manipulation of tent revivals. In one passage, Charles Jacobs cynically chides the enthusiastic attendees as “rubes” who only “want to be healed”.

I’m reminded of the numerous charismatic retreats I was dragged to as a child. Although the majority of the congregation were seemingly rejuvenated by the spirited ambiance, I was disturbed by the exaggerated displays of emotion and the complete surrender to blind faith.

A priest (or lay minister) would spew a series of half-baked Christian platitudes, ending every two sentences with “Praise the Lord”, and the congregation would cling to his every word. Yet numerous of my fellow parishioners flocked to these retreats, even if they regularly fail to attend Sunday mass. As Charles Jacobs said, people just want to be healed. And with life’s innumerable burdens and calamities, who could blame them?

This is where the esoteric secrets of electricity come in. As a young preacher, Jacobs devoted himself to studying electricity as a hobby and often used it as a teaching tool for the church youth group.

When Jamie’s brother, Connie, lost his voice, Jacobs riskfully harnessed the powers of electricity to heal Connie of his affliction. That was the first time Jacobs utilize electricity behind its typical application of lighting a bulb.

After the terrible sermon, Jacobs was driven into obsession over electricity. He would discover that the healing potential of electricity could ignite a new type of “revival”. However, in his old age, there was one mission that was left to be accomplished. And he would need the assistance of a fifty-something year old Jamie Morton.

Despite the handful of irrelevant subplot, this novel is worth reading. If you’re a lapsed Christian, this story will make you reflect on your own religious upbringing and give you further insight on the inner-workings of religion

“In Our Own Image”

Death is ironic. Through death, one can emerge as an immortal being, transcending the his/her human nature. Although he was never adorned with the title “Mahatma”, since his assassination, Martin Luther King has been elevated to the status of a demigod in the minds of the American populace. King’s legacy is so polished and immaculate that it would be social suicide for anyone to criticize him. 

Therefore, in order to lend credibility to their often ill-conceived ideologies, politicians and media pundits alike are inclined to project their ideas onto the persona of Martin Luther King. After all, if Martin Luther King himself supported their perspective on a certain sociopolitical issue, they’re instantly immuned from critique. 

Conservative pundits continuously claim that Martin Luther King was a Republican who staunchly opposed the insidiously subtle racism of the Democratic Party. If Martin Luther King was alive today, he would be appalled by the antics of the Black Lives Matter movement. If Martin Luther King was among us, he would bluntly admonish Barack Obama for his supposedly Marxist leanings. If Martin Luther King was still living, he would chide those shamelessly slothful welfare queens living off the teat of the government. Since his untimely passing, Martin Luther King has been resurrected as the token Black mascot for the American Right Wing.

When the leaders of historically-influential populist movements pass away,  we have this inexplicable proclivity to hoist a halo upon their legacies and present them as demigods in our national folklore. Similarly for gods, Saints, and biblical heroes, we carve statues of them in line with an image to our liking. For example, the medieval European Christians saw Jesus Christ as one of their own. So they painted him as a sexy White-skinned adonis. 

Martin Luther King was not the conservative folk hero heralded by Fox News. Nor was he the whitewashed character whom we read about in elementary school. It’s time we remove our rosy-tinted goggles and acquaint   ourselves with the real Martin Luther King. 

Martin Luther King was born to a Baptist pastor named Micheal King and his wife, Alberta. The child was named after his father, Micheal. Five years later, after attending the Fifth Baptist World Alliance Conference in Berlin, the reverend  decided to change both his and his son’s names to Martin Luther in honor of the Protestant Reformer. 

Martin Luther King was a precocious child. He skipped two grades on account of his high intelligence. At age 13, He became the youngest assistant manager of a newspaper delivery station. During his junior year of high school, he won an oratory contest which foreshadowed his future career. In addition, he went straight to Morehouse College after his junior year. 

Although he had profound doubts concerning the Christian doctrine during his adolescence, Martin Luther King, electrified by his faith, enrolled in Crozer Theological Seminary to fulfill his pastoral ambitions. He was deeply influenced by the Social Gospel movement, which proposed applying Christian principles towards alleviating social problems including poverty, crime, alcoholism, inadequate labor conditions and racial tensions. Although taboo during 1940s, King was involved in a relationship with a German immigrant who worked as a cook for the college cafeteria. Unfortunately due to pressure by his friends and parents, King was forced to call off the relationship.

King had to settle for a Black woman named Coretta Scott, whom he met through a mutual friend. King would find himself at odds with most feminists today. During the Civil Rights struggle, King expected his wife to stay out of the public eye, expecting her to be a stay-at-home mother to their four children. 

Martin Luther King received his doctoral degree in 1955 from Boston University with his dissertation entitled The Comparison of the Conception of God in the Thinking of Paul Tillach and Henry Nelson Wieman. Although he is universally praised for his impressive educational credentials, in 1991, it was revealed that portions of King’s dissertation was plagiarized. Although the academic inquiry at Boston University didn’t revoke King’s doctorate, stressing that the dissertation still made “an intelligent and original contribution to scholarship”, the inquiry concluded that numerous passages were included without appropriate citation of sources. Obviously, this unsavory truth of King’s academic career does not negate his leadership in the Civil Rights Struggle. But we need to understand that King was, at the end of the day, a human being burdened with his own flaws. 

The Montgomery Bus Boycott launched Martin Luther King into the forefront of the Civil Rights Movement. In 1955, a young woman was arrested for refusing to sit at the back of the bus in compliance with Jim Crow regulations in Montgomery, Alabama. Her name was Claudette Colvin. She was a fifteen year old local schoolgirl. Meanwhile, the local chapter of the NAACP was waiting for an opportunity to launch a public protest in respond to the racially-discriminatory policies in the American South. Colvin’s case presented the perfect opportunity. Unfortunately, Claudette Colvin was a unmarried, pregnant teenager so it was imprudent to use her as the public face for a protest demonstration. 

A few months later, the NAACP decided to ochrastrate a confrontation, similar to Colvin’s. Rosa Parks, secretary of the local NAACP chapter sat in one of the front seats of a bus. When she refused to comply with orders to move to the back, Parks was immediately arrested. A public protest ensued for third hundred and eighty days, which was later christened “The Montgomery Bus Boycott of 1955”. 

Throughout the protest demonstration, Martin Luther King, as a dynamic speaker with an erudite mind, emerged as the muscles and brains of the movement. He gained nationwide fame, launching him as the public face of Civil Rights. 

A year after the Bus Boycott, Martin Luther King founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference with the collaboration of Ralph Abernathy, Fred Shuttlesworth, Joseph Lowery and Baynard Ruskin. The SCLC harnessed the organizational abilities and cultural influence of Black churches to conduct protests for civil rights reform. 

Baynard Ruskin is a long-forgotten figure in the Civil Rights Struggle. He was a veteran activist for Civil Rights, long before Martin Luther King came into the scene. He organized the first March on Washington with A.Philip Randolph in 1941 to demand equal employment opportunities for Blacks. He immersed himself in the anti-colonial struggles in Africa and Southern Asia. He led a protest demonstration against the internment of Japanese-Americans during WWII. And he was involved in the first Freedom Ride to challenge the Jim Crow regulations of the American South. 

Despite Ruskin’s open homosexuality Martin Luther King accepted him as a close aide and was influenced by his nonviolent strategies, which Ruskin, in turn, learned from his involvement in the Quit India Movement. However, due to pressure from other activists, Martin Luther King was forced to distance himself from Baynard Ruskin. 

Contrary to claims made by certain political pundits, King thought it was more prudent not to endorse a political party. In fact, he reasoned that a position of non-alignment would enable him to look at both major political parties with objectivity. King was equally scathing of both the Democratic and Republican Party on their poor civil rights record and disregard for the plight of Black Americans. 

Martin Luther King was a ardent proponent of Democratic Socialism. In fact, if he was alive today, King would have found himself to the left of Bernie Sanders on the political spectrum. King stated that capitalism had failed to provide the basic nescessities for working class people, particularly Blacks. However he was reluctant to be outspoken about his economic views due to the sheer anti-communist sentiments during the Cold War era. 

One viewpoint of King’s that would have ostracized him from the current political arena was his advocacy for reparations. King stated that Blacks should be compensated by the federal government for historical atrocities. In fact, he proposed a compensatory passage of $50 billion over ten years! 

In addition, King’s views on Planned Parenthood would have isolated him from conservative Christian circles. In 1966, he was awarded the Margerat Sanger Award and during his acceptance speech, he lauded the work of Planned Parenthood saying “Family Planning, to relate population to world resources, is practical and necessary”. 

In school, we never learn about King’s socioeconomic views. If we did, we would have quickly realized that Martin Luther King would not be accepted in today’s political arena. He would have been lambasted as a “Radical Marxist”, “a Reparation-seeking Opportunist”, an “Abortionist” etc. etc. So instead, we’re presented a sanitized version of Martin Luther King, palatable to our conservative sensibilities. 

As a representative of the SCLC, Martin Luther King was one of the “Big Six” instrumental in the March on Washington in 1963, along with Roy Wilkins of the NAACP, Whitney Young of the Young Urban League, A. Philip Randolph of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters(who also led the 1941 March), John Lewis of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Commitee and James Farmer of the Congress of Racial Equality. 

Martin Luther King delivered his iconic “I Have A Dream” speech (which he also delivered in Detroit six months previous). The positive reception of that speech echoed across the nation, leading to the implementation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Tt

After the March on Washington, King continued his fiery activism. In 1966, he and Ralph Abernathy moved into the slums of Chicago’s South Side to express solidarity with the economically marginalized. King and Abernathy relentlessly fought against redlining and other discriminatory housing practices. This led to the 1968 Fair Housing Act

It’s no secret that King was vehemently opposed to American involvement in Vietnam. However, he was also critical of certain elements within the Anti-War movement, most notably, the hippies. 

In April of 1968, King had joined Black sanitary workers in Memphis in their protest rally. He delivered his “I’ve been on the mountaintop” at the rally. The following day, on the eighth of April, King was murdered by James Earl Ray. 

Martin Luther King left behind a wife and four children. Despite his laudable public image, King was not the ideal family man. Ralph Abernathy revealed in his autobiography that King had a “weakness for women”. His womanizing reputation was somewhat well-known, even among his enemies including J. Edger Hoover. Lyndon B Johnson often accused King of being a “hypocritical preacher” in light of those accusations. In fact, it is rumored that on the night before his assassination, King was having an affair in his hotel room!

It’s a classic preacher-in-a-brothel situation. We’ve all heard news stories of holier-than-thou clergymen getting their freak on with some loose broad. Many of them were even forced to remove the collar. However, I’m sure none of us would imagine one of our national heroes being in the same company as Ted Haggard, Jimmy Swaggart or Jim Bakker! 

Nevertheless, King’s moral failings in his personal life does not tarnish his public legacy. The only people burdened by King’s infidelity are his wife and children. In other words, it’s a personal family matter and we don’t have the right to judge. 

This is the real story of Martin Luther King, the man. He was an ordinary man with an extraordinary legacy. But he was a man nevertheless. We should acknowledge that if we truly want to pay him homage.

Stupid Christmas Traditions

I don’t completely hate Christmas. After all, I’m not the grinch. But here’s a list of everything about Christmas that irritates me to the core.

1) Santa Claus 

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Where all the hos at?!

Honestly, I have never understood the whole premise behind Santa Claus. Maybe because, unlike most households, leaving cookies and milk for Santa wasn’t a Christmas tradition in my home while I was growing up.

We tell children that if they’re “good” all year, they are entitled to toys manufactured in the North Pole(of which they’ll probably get bored and promptly discard within the following two months)

I’m sorry, but that’s not how the real world works.

A person’s moral compass should not be influenced by the possibility of an external reward. Expecting goodies for “being good” is no different than sucking up!

Children should be taught the value of inner principles. They should view themselves as morally accountable to other people in addition to themselves.

Children should also realize that life, unfortunately, isn’t always fair. In other words, even if they’re as compassionate, kind-hearted and thoughtful as Mr.Rogers, life could still fuck them in the ass! It’s better for them to acknowledge that inescapable fact at an early age. Otherwise, we’re just hindering their potential at personal growth.

2) Christmas Songs

I know most people love the Holiday classics, however, when they’re endlessly played at restaurants, department stores, elevators, waiting rooms, the supermarket, office parties  etc., I start to consider seasoning my meals with a vial of cyanide!

3) The “War on Christmas”

Every holiday season, there’s always some right-wing abrasive blowhard on the radio (most likely, Rush Limbaugh) or some pompous blowhard on television (most likely, Bill O’Reilly) lamenting over a traumatic incident in which their local cashier had the audacity to wish them “Happy Holidays” rather than a “Merry Christmas”!

Oh, and on the flipside, you also have liberal atheists, with too much time on their hands, decrying over a bloody nativity display in the town square.

download-17I thought the holidays (yea I said “Holidays”..so sue me) were supposed to be the one time of year where we could avoid politicized bullshit. In fact, during this Christmas, I don’t want to hear anything about the recent election, Black Lives Matter, the Alt-Right, Political Correctness, ISIS or Castro’s supposed legacy. I really don’t care at this point. All I want to do is gluttonously stuff my mouth with pumpkin pie, decorated gingerbread cookies and eggnog.

People Complaining about Commercialization

Let’s be real. Consumerism is the real reason for the season. I mean Baby Jesus is cute and everything, but seasonal economic stimulation is the real miracle!

And by the way, no one is forcing you to shop! Get off your high horse!! 

Christmas Movies

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World’s worst parent

Holiday-themed films aren’t entirely terrible. However, they’re extremely overhyped, especially when they’re constantly being screened on every fucking channel during the entire month of December! Most of those movies are dated and only serve to indulge our nostalgic inclinations. For example, Home Alone was an unremarkably-scripted movie starring a very annoying child artist (although its sequel has a very notable cameo by He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named). However, as children, we all watched Home Alone and now, the movie triggers fond memories of a simpler time. This illustrates how memberberries can have an outstandingly potent effect on us

New Years Resolutions 

Oh, you say you going to start eating healthier and exercise more? So….What are you doing  with that glass of eggnog and that piece of pie? january-gymers


Movie Review: American Sniper

Before I dive into my critique of Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper, I want to elaborate on why I do film reviews. First, it goes without saying that I am an ardent cinephile. I’ve been in love with the art of filmmaking for as long as I can remember. If it wasn’t for my aversion towards the celebrity lifestyle, I definitely would have pursued a career in Hollywood (or Bollywood).

Second, I’m not the only one who loves movies. Everybody loves watching  movies. Everyone can quote random dialogues from films released twenty years ago. Some of our most cherished memories have been shaped around the movie-watching experience.

Therefore, films are one of the best mediums for social commentary. For decades, Filmmakers have utilized their craft to convey an important lesson to their audiences. Born on the Fourth of July poignantly captured the anguish and pain endured by numerous Vietnam veterans. Mummy Dearest (despite the unintentionally laughable acting) exposed the prevalence of child abuse. Inside Out persuaded us to get in touch with our inner emotions. Therefore, cinema has an incredibly tremendous impact on our culture.

This brings us to American Sniper. Clint Eastwood has continuously proved himself to be a sage in filmmaking. American Sniper is no exception. It was, no doubt, a brilliantly-produced masterpiece. In addition, Bradley Cooper was exceptional in the biographical role of Chris Kyle. In terms of film quality, I have nothing negative to say.

I watched this movie a year and a half ago in theaters with a couple of my friends. I remember the theatre room was packed, unsurprisingly. Upon the film’s conclusion, with the credits rolling through the depiction of Chris Kyle’s real life funeral, the theatre room fell into an eerie silence. As the screen went pitch-black, the silence continued. After a few moments, as my friends and I gathered our belongings, a spontaneous applause erupted. Some of the audience members had tears running down their cheeks.
The reason I’m telling this is to illustrate the depth of emotions this film evoked from the American public. In post-9/11 America, this movie had a cathartic impact on its viewers. Because of this film’s monumental significance, I’m even more disappointed by its distorted depictions of the events following 9/11.

The movie implies that 9/11 was the primary motive behind the US invasion of Iraq. That botched episode, which basically annihilated George W Bush’s credibility as president, was glorified in the film as a noble cause.

Ironically, Clint Eastwood is known for being firmly anti-war. He has vocally disapproved of American military engagements in Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq. Furthermore, Eastwood insisted that American Sniper was written to be an anti-war film!

Although most have doubt his assertion, I actually believe him. Eastwood aspired to depict the disastrous effects war has on one’s mental health. He never intended to produce a historical documentary. Eastwood primarily wanted to illustrate how PTSD not only affects soldiers, but their families, especially their spouses who are pressured to pick up the pieces.

In order to accurately depict the impact of PTSD, Clint Eastwood did a character sketch of Chris Kyle and portray the battlefield through his eyes. Unfortunately, Chris Kyle’s subjective perspective completely obfuscated the historically-factual account of the Iraq War. Therefore, future generations watching this movie will have an inaccurate picture of the Iraq War.

American Sniper attempts to humanize a person famed for his 150 kills. Chris Kyle is depicted as being helplessly trapped in the shadows of moral ambiguity that envelopes over the reality of the battlefield. However, Chris Kyle’s autobiography confirms that he is a self -aggrandizing liar and a sadistic psychopath who takes pleasure in shooting defenseless Iraqi children! Kyle represents the worst of the US armed forces and does not deserve to be lionized in an cinematic production!

Nativity Display Controversy

A Christmas-themed controversy is currently brewing in Menominee, an town located in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. In numerous small towns across America, it’s customary to set up a nativity scene in the town square or in city hall during the holiday season. However, for this humble yooper settlement of eight thousand residents, this year will be different.

download-16The Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF), an atheist activist organization “dedicated to persevering the separation of church and state”, filed a complaint, on behalf of an anonymous Menominee resident, urging the town to discontinue their annual Christmas tradition. According to the FFRF, a nativity display on public property is a constitutional violation, contradicting the establishment clause of the First Amendment to the US Constitution. Since the launching of that complaint, residents of Menominee are now relying on a local parish to set up the nativity display.

Menominee is one of a myriad of towns and cities to be threatened by a lawsuit regarding the display of a nativity scene. For the last decade, organizations including the Freedom from Religion Foundation and American Atheists have become increasingly aggressive and emboldened in asserting the “separation of church and state”. Their public relations representatives have appeared on national television and defended their actions by claiming to fight for all religious minorities against what they perceive to be Christian domination of the holiday season. captu

Honestly, these types of news stories really distress me. They’re just examples of self-victimization and manufactured fake outrage in 21st century America.

I’m not religious. In fact, I’m actually critical of certain aspects of Christian theology. However,  I don’t feel threatened or marginalized by the slight of a nativity scene. In India, roadside shrines on public roads are ubiquitous and I’m not offended whenever I come across them while travelling from one village to another to visit relatives. I don’t feel compelled to convert to any religion. Religious displays simply have no impact on me, whatsoever.

Now, proponents for the removal of these nativity scenes point to the Constitution, specifically to the establishment clause which prohibits the establishment of a state-sponsored religion. To which I say “who cares?”. I’m not a legal scholar however, I don’t understand how a cheap, plastic exhibition of the nativity is an endorsement of any religion. No resident is being pressured to join a church or profess a belief in a deity. Nativity scenes are just nothing more than a fun annual tradition for numerous small towns and shouldn’t be discontinued over a complaint from one disgruntled resident.

It’s not often that I find myself siding with a religious cause. This is probably the only instance in which conservative Christians can rely on me as an ally. However, for me, this has very little to do with religious expression. My solidarity with the Religious Right (strictly on this matter) is a counterstrike against the hyper-legalistic culture overtaking America that promotes frivolous lawsuits and PC policing.

Creating a Holiday Safe Space 

The Christmas season (oh I’m sorry, I meant “The Holidays”) are upon us. So, in anticipation of the festivities, here’s a list of Christmas songs we should dutifully avoid to prevent microaggressions 

O Christmas Tree: Appropriation of German culture

Rudolph the Rednose Reindeer: Blatantly Ableist 

White Christmas: A aggressive assertion of White Privilege

Hark The Herald Angels: Male Privilege ( “glory to the newborn King”)

Away in a Manger: Classist

Feliz Navidad: Appropriating the Spanish language

Baby It’s Cold Outside: Promotion of Rape Culture

Twelve Days of Christmas: Too capitalistic

We wish you a merry Christmas: Male privilege ( for you and your king)

Deck the Halls: Too consumer-driven

Jingle Bells: Exploitation of horses (“in a one-horse open sleigh)

Little Donkey: Appropriation of Mexican culture

Silent Night: Slut-Shaming (“round yon virgin”)

Mary, Did You Know: Classist (“Did you know that your baby boy will one day rule all nations”)