Rereading 1984

By David Michael Newstead.

Last summer, I unexpectedly found a first edition of George Orwell’s 1984 in a used bookstore in Washington D.C. The novel had been buried in a pile of miscellaneous paperbacks, hiding in plain sight. For how long? I’m not sure. So when I realized what it was, I immediately grabbed it and headed to the register. I guess I was surprised to even see something that rare. Then again, finding the book in 2016 might have been an omen of things to come. Eagerly, I bought it and re-read it. The story, of course, was the same: Big Brother, the Thought Police, and the rest. The difference was that the world around me had changed since the last time I’d read it. It’s a book that only becomes more relevant with each passing day. And in some countries, it isn’t far from reality as it is.

Besides the narrative though, the paperback itself started to intrigue me: the look, the feel, how the pages smell, how it fits in my hands, the original cover art, and the signs of wear and tear from over the years. This particular copy was slightly beat up, but still in good condition for something printed in the late 1940s. And that’s when I thought about it more. Here’s an object – almost 70 years old now – that’s an analog relic in an increasingly digital world. It is a lingering connection to and a warning from the distant past. When it was first printed, World War Two had just finished and the Cold War was in its earliest stages.

Plenty has happened since then and who knows where this book was for all those years before I got it. Regardless, today some Orwellian themes are just a description of disturbing norms across the planet: widespread government surveillance, propaganda, and political doublespeak. Maybe the methods have been updated overtime, but there’s a reason 1984 and other dystopian novels have had skyrocketing sales lately. George Orwell, for his part, fought against fascism and oppression and passionately believed in objective truth. Safe to say, that battle continues.

1984Pulp.jpg

Interview with a Feminist

By David Michael Newstead.

With women’s rights at the forefront of politics, I’ve been trying to reach out to different people I know: to ask questions, learn more, and to get their perspectives on gender issues in America. Recently, I had the chance to speak with my friend, Charity Sperringer, about the role feminism has played in her life. Charity is a committed feminist living in Washington, D.C. where she’s started a feminist book club to delve into many of these issues. Our conversation is below.

David Newstead: When and how did you first become a feminist?

Charity Sperringer: First of all, I am in no way an expert to all things pertaining to feminism. If you asked me prior to the book club’s humble beginnings in December 2014, I may have not considered myself a feminist. Now that I know what being a feminist entails (thanks to the diversity of texts and open discussions from the book club members!), I would say I’ve only recently been the feminist I want to be – the one who advocates for feminism beyond my own personal gains.

I have been entering traditionally male dominated spaces since I was young because I didn’t understand the typical female trajectory that society expects from women. Some examples include taking advanced level statistics among a class of males because I knew that having a woman question statistics was rare in panel discussions and of course playing video games and watching animes with my brothers while growing up. This is partial to having been raised with expectations similar to my older brother and partial to being told by society to be someone that I wanted/would like to challenge. That’s one way of looking at feminism, in a personal way.

In college I dated a man who was vocal that he was a feminist. I didn’t know what that meant for a man to do that. He wanted to fight for equality for all races, genders, and sexualities. He also worked for the ACLU and dated women before me who were passionate about acting for others. That’s another way to look at feminism and the way I aspire to be.

I can’t forget about entering the private sector and leaving the non-profit sector. That’s when I started the book club. That was a whammy for realizing work place inequality. The book club was a safe space to discuss whatever we wanted. I was immersed with mostly women previously at non-profits, then I jumped into an area dominated by men in leadership and unfortunately with ulterior motives. I still work in a mostly male dominated environment and am constantly presented with scenarios that are laughably about me being a female rather than my abilities or qualities.

David: Do you feel like that becoming a feminist has changed you as a person? If so, how? Are there any examples from your personal or professional life that you’d feel comfortable sharing?

Charity: Yes, owning the label “feminist” has changed me. I have more open discussions about gender, race, equality, access, and history with coworkers, family members, my boyfriend (also a feminist) and friends. I’m referred to as the liberal or the feminist at work now and am completely comfortable with it – whereas before I was hesitant to accept it because I associated it with women who knew more about being a female than I did. Now that I’ve built this identity, I have former colleagues from school ask me questions about impacts on women of policies and I have coworkers who send me events and news articles they think would be of interest to me. It just so happens that it’s a great time to be a feminist! Making it ok to be labeled as a feminist is a bizarre step towards the goal that I’ll take. Letting people know that feminism entails equality in addition to WHY with examples of inequality to illustrate, and what the next steps are – this is more meaningful. As I said, I’m no expert in feminism and I hope other people don’t feel that they have to be to consider themselves as a feminist. If I have to be that person in the office to encourage dialogue, I’ll be that person. Every office should have that person.

David: What do you think are the best ways of addressing negative and toxic forms of masculinity?

Charity: Some great ways to address negative and toxic forms of masculinity are to address them head-on. This is something I admit need to do more so at the workplace when I’m confronted with scenarios of male colleague using language to belittle me because I’m a female (calling me “sexy”, referring to me as “little girl”, laughing at my female colleague for getting harassed on the street as a “china doll”, and more). I’m also trying to be more patient to the males in my office who defer to violence as the answer to understand why they approach difficult scenarios this way. I’ll let you know how this method works. Talking to your male partner, father, brother about negative and toxic forms of masculinity is also important so that they can carry these conversations back to their male buds and relatives. Lastly, accepting males when they aren’t traditionally masculine and letting them know you appreciate their qualities is important. Everyone just wants validation.

David: In closing, what’s the main challenge or challenges confronting feminism right now and how should they be addressed?

Charity: Can I have a less weighty question? Haha. I think it’s pretty basic and not even substantial to the critical principles of it – getting people on board that it means equality and not special privileges for women. And that you can be a Republican and also a feminist. Kind of like you can be a Democrat or a Republican and think that trafficking humans is wrong. Unfortunately “feminism” denotes “female” and starts fun, circular and ceaseless conversations about why feminism doesn’t mean equality among everyone. How to address this? Discussing inequality can be enough to get people on board with tackling it. And then you can say GOTCHA! You’re a feminist! But also, getting males into the conversation of feminism.

How Social Media Became Forbidden Planet

By David Michael Newstead.

What if a machine could manifest people’s thoughts? In the sci-fi classic Forbidden Planet (and the Crichton novel Sphere), scientists stumble onto a device like this. It’s of alien origins and it materializes thoughts into reality. Powerful and with limitless potential, the machine could make the world a better place. But instead of this device leading to a new and enlightened chapter in history, it just amplifies the worst parts of people’s psyche: fear, anger, paranoia. In the story, violence and chaos quickly ensue as the characters’ unconscious runs amok.

Unfortunately, the social media landscape is starting to look a lot like Forbidden Planet, more dangerous than it is enlightening. But when platforms like Twitter and Facebook first launched, the idea that they would one day be overrun with rabid misogynists, white supremacists, stalkers, personalized threats, and propaganda would have seemed far-fetched. We have this notion, after all, that technology always makes things better. In this case though, it’s like social media removed the polite veneer that masks everything under the surface of our culture: swallow materialism, intense insecurity, sexism, and racism. The problem didn’t start overnight, of course. No one joined Twitter thinking they were going to get doxed. But like a tidal wave, problems began moving from the comment section into the real world. And vice versa. Now, the carefree early days of social networking seem wildly naïve. And our optimistic vision of an interconnected world may be the biggest piece of science fiction of them all.

Forbiddenplanetposter(1).jpg

From ABC: Mustaches trending in Turkish ruling party

By Suzan Fraser.

The prime minister has one. So does the culture minister. Even the previously clean-shaven ministers of economy and foreign affairs recently began sporting theirs.

Neatly-trimmed mustaches, similar to that worn by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, have become increasingly popular among government ministers from his Islamic-rooted Justice and Development Party, or AKP, ahead of a crucial referendum Sunday on expanding the president’s powers.

Some analysts say that’s no fluke in a country where facial hair has a history of political significance, and where ministers’ loyalty to Erdogan is being closely scrutinized following a failed coup attempt last year.

“These days, when Turkey is fighting terror organizations — and in the aftermath of the coup — the mustaches provide a strong and stern image,” said Mesut Sen, professor of Turkish studies at Istanbul’s Marmara University.

Historically, men in Turkey have worn mustaches not only to assert their manhood but express their political leanings. Traditionally, nationalists wear their mustaches long and downward-pointing — like the crescent moon on the Turkish flag — while leftists tend to grow theirs bushy and Stalin-esque.

Erdogan wears a bristly and tidily-trimmed moustache that is popular among conservative and religious Turks. Some religious men also grow beards.

A year ago, more than half of the Cabinet members were clean-shaven. Now only three of Turkey’s 27 ministers — including the only woman — don’t have facial hair.

The trend appears to have begun with a Cabinet reshuffle last year, triggering speculation that ministers were trying to please the powerful president by growing mustaches similar to his. Senior AKP officials continued to grow mustaches, sometimes coupled with beards, after the failed coup attempt in July.

One government minister, who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity, said some ministers grew facial hair because Erdogan urged them to. He declined to give further details.

The trend is not limited to the Cabinet. The chief of Turkey’s intelligence agency, who was the source of controversy over his alleged failure to warn Erdogan about the coup attempt, first grew a mustache and then a full beard. Erdogan’s closest bodyguard, who used to be clean shaven, now sports a mustache, too.

Read the Full Article

Good Night and Good Luck

By David Michael Newstead.

Good Night and Good Luck is about 1950s America and the famous clash between pioneering journalist Edward R. Murrow and Senator Joseph McCarthy. Made during the Bush administration, the movie was always political and highlights journalism’s role in confronting abuses of power especially in a climate of fear and intimidation. Now, twelve years after it was made, Good Night and Good Luck is worth re-watching for several reasons. For one, good journalism is more important than ever and confronting abuses of power sustains our democracy. Yet, there’s another reason to watch the movie. Surprising as it is to realize, there’s a direct link tying our political past to the present: the disreputable lawyer Roy Cohn. Cohn was McCarthy’s top aide during the dark days we now call McCarthyism. Also involved in the infamous Rosenberg execution, Cohn would later in his career represent and mentor Donald Trump before being disbarred for unethical conduct. Having more than a few historical parallels, the film should be required viewing in the Trump era. The only thing that remains to be seen is if someone of Edward R. Murrow’s stature could even exist in our now fractured media landscape.

Social Media Propaganda

By David Michael Newstead.

Aldous Huxley once said that technological progress has merely provided us with more efficient means for going backwards. With that in mind, it occurred to me that these satirical propaganda posters about social media from a few years ago are surprisingly (and disturbingly) realistic depictions of life in 2017. Take a look and judge for yourself.

Top Five Politicians with Facial Hair 2017

By David Michael Newstead.

Politicians with facial hair are few and far between, especially in Western democracies. While it’s normally associated with left-wing revolutionaries, here’s a look at the top five politicians with facial hair in 2017 from around the world and across the political spectrum.

5. Jeremy Corbyn – Head of the British Labour Party, Corbyn is a committed leftist and longtime member of Parliament who’s party leadership has often been challenged as Labour struggles to appeal to voters.

4. Beppe Grillo – Grillo is an Italian comedian and activist who founded the anti-establishment Five Star Movement in 2009. Since then, the Five Star Movement has had notable success, winning mayoral elections in Rome and Turin as well as helping to defeat Italy’s 2016 constitutional referendum.

3. Steve Bannon – A top advisor in the Trump administration, Bannon is formerly the head of Breitbart News. Synonymous with the Alt-Right movement, Bannon expounds a far-right and economic nationalist vision for the United States.

2. Jagmeet Singh – An up-and-coming politician in Canada’s New Democratic Party, Singh is popular on social media and a prominent member of the Sikh faith who was recently featured in GQ magazine for being so well-dressed. Read Here.

1. Tom Perez – Until recently Perez was Secretary of Labor in the Obama administration. Now the newly elected Chair of the Democratic National Committee, Perez is tasked with rebuilding the Democratic Party after their losses in 2016. It’s worth noting that his main opponent for DNC Chair was Representative Keith Ellison who also has facial hair, a rarity in American politics.

Tom.JPG