Beyond the Mason-Dixon Line

I realize that I haven’t posted anything in a long time, so readers should know it would take something pressing for me to come out of my proverbial hole after so long. That is the case. I feel there are some things about this whole Confederate flag controversy that need to be said; I may as well be the one to say them.

I was born and raised in the Deep South, which means I also grew up seeing Confederate flags on a fairly regular basis. In fact, in giving me directions one day, my father casually mentioned the destination was near “where we had driven past a KKK rally about 15 years ago.” As I would have been a very young child, I did not recall the occasion, but was nonetheless horrified by the thought. Several years ago, I moved to the North, mainly because I felt I needed breathing room to expand my horizons. As such, I’ve been thinking about the Confederate flag issue for awhile—especially since all the “furor” (to borrow MSNBC’s word) over it has arisen. I feel like by having the background that I do, I’m able to see both sides of the coin, and there is some degree of misunderstanding on both sides.

For the Northerners who are baffled as to why Southerners would hold on to a symbol of racism, I’ll try to illuminate the matter. I would estimate that for at least half of those who fly/wear/etc. the Confederate flag, they do so without seeing it as a proclamation of racism. For that percentage, it is done as a symbol of remembrance—remembrance of the Southern heritage, remembrance of ancestors who fought and died in the Civil War, and remembrance of the South at the peak of its prominence (which I’ll come back to).

With that being said, there is a strong undercurrent of racism in the South—and unfortunately, whether or not someone flies a flag does not change that. It is the proverbial iceberg, where only a fraction of the behemoth can be seen from the surface. Years upon years of prejudice permeate generation after generation, to the point that many don’t even recognize it within themselves. I have heard racist things flow easily from the mouths of white people who don’t fly the Confederate flag and would not at all consider themselves racist. It is sad to say, but due to the racial history of the South, whites and blacks seem quick to assume the worst about each other, and that assumption plays out over and over—in how we interact, and in how we talk about each other. If trust exists, it seems very thin and fragile. Somehow that racist undercurrent will have to change for race relations in the South to truly change.

But, back to the Confederate flag and remembrance. One consideration that is easily overlooked is that just prior to the Civil War, the South was at the height of its prominence. Cotton was big business, and plantation owners were raking in plenty of money from it. In the Civil War, Southerners fought to maintain their standard of living by whatever means they felt necessary; it was the last time they were in a position of significant economic power. Reconstruction knocked the formerly-booming Southern economy flat on its back compared to before, and financially, I don’t think the South has ever fully recovered.

To put it another way, how do you choose your profile picture? Do you choose the most recent picture, where you’ve gained 30 pounds and are wearing mismatched, stained sweats? Or, do you choose the picture from 10 years ago, where you’re slimmer and better dressed? While some may argue for honesty over flattery, I think most people would be inclined to choose the older picture. Here’s my point: the Confederate flag is that old snapshot of the South, where on the surface, it looked most powerful, genteel, and well-to-do. The ugly side was always there, but not discussed.

Compare that to today’s image of Southern culture. The South as a region is regularly poked fun of by pros and amateurs alike. I would imagine Southerners are the most regularly stereotyped and mocked geographical group in the US. These jokes are so constant they have become part of the common national vernacular. Accurate or not, it is “common knowledge”—we marry our relatives, we’re missing some teeth, we’re uneducated, we don’t own shoes, etc. In short, we have no culture, no class, no education, and the rest of the country would be better off without us. Considering this, is it any wonder that some Southern people would cling to a symbol of that time when we weren’t the national running joke? (Hence, the whole “the South will rise again” mantra.) I am not saying that the South should be this untouchable thing that nobody ever jokes about; after all, the beauty of humour is that it is the great equalizer. Still, when the same predictable jokes keep churning constantly from generation to generation, it’s not fostering productive change. It’s reducing an entire culture to a generalized caricature. These generalizations have worn thin, and this is a great opportunity for all Americans to really stop and think about whether these generalizations are really accurate, or at least, worth perpetuating. In my view, the longer we tread these well-worn ruts, the more divided America will become as a country.

For the Southerners who have been saying, “Exactly! The problem is those ‘damn Yankees,’” it’s your turn. For those who would cling to the Confederate flag against all else, you are missing the huge factor in this: the Confederate flag symbolizes a time when the South prospered by directly stepping on other people. Historically, and I would hope individually, we have moved on. We aren’t those people anymore, and as such, the Confederate flag needs to be put away for good.

If the flag represents Southern heritage to you, that’s great. It will always mean that to you. But to an entire racial group who are still very much part of this country, it will always represent the time when treating people like property was considered okay. When the flag flies, it’s like a message: “It doesn’t matter what’s happened since the Civil War–we still feel the same way now as we did then.”

And here’s the thing: you can honor Southern heritage in so many ways apart from that flag. Southern culture is too vast to be contained in one dusty image from the past. Since then, the South has become known for so much more. It’s the birthplace of icons like Elvis and B.B. King. Tennessee is known for a vibrant music scene. Georgia is being utilized for movies and TV more and more. Though we still have a long way to go, we are moving in the right direction. If we keep holding a symbol of the past as a representation of our present, we will become stuck in a backwards cycle. We will be known as those who live in the past, and we will never be taken seriously.

The Civil War is part of Southern history. We had some excellent generals, and many brave soldiers. But they should be memorialized in a museum, just like those who served in other wars. Would it really be so bad for the stories and flag of the Confederacy to be preserved within a museum, like other significant wars such as the American Revolution, World War I, and World War II? Putting our past in the past doesn’t mean forgetting about it—on the contrary, we can learn a lot from it. At the same time, though, we need a healthy distance from it to gain that learning perspective. We can’t close a chapter we refuse to stop re-reading.

No matter what the Confederate flag means to you personally or culturally, it also had a historical meaning, too: it represented people at war. Owners subjugating slaves. Rebellion and disunity. And, certain people and groups are still using the flag in that context; Dylann Roof did. I think former skeptics of flag removal are advocating it now because they realize the facts of the Charleston shooting are indisputable. In the cases of recent violence between the police and the black community, people were divided over who triggered the events. Who really started it? There had to be an instigator, whether it was the arrester or the arrestee. In this case, though, there is nothing to even debate; the lines are clear. A Bible study group was meeting in their church. Dylann Roof came in. They welcomed him. He waited, and then he started shooting them. Afterwards, he explicitly stated that he was hoping to start a race war. There is no debate to be had; this is the clearest case yet of innocent people being gunned down solely for their skin color. This act was carried out by someone still clinging to the notion that the racism represented in the Confederate flag needed to live on. With such a clear connection between this crime and the flag, what excuse could flag-bearing states really have for perpetuating the symbol? If we know that the Confederate flag’s continued presence is causing continued pain to the black community, why would we knowingly continue to twist that knife?

The fact is, removing the Confederate flag is the right thing to do; that era has passed. It’s time to move beyond the Mason-Dixon Line; it’s time to be one nation again.

Review of Sony MDR-ZX750DC Headphones

I am not normally a review writer, and I realize this may seem a little piss poor after several months of radio silence. However, when I tried to find interviews on these, other than a single review on the Costco website, I found nothing. So, I’m going to put this out there, just so there is another source of information for a poor soul who is coming up empty.

In the interest of full disclosure, I found these on a display at Costco, and there was a sample available to try. It was impressive. Of course, the person before me had cranked the volume up, but even when I turned the volume down as low as it would go on the sample unit, I could not hear what my friend was saying. This peaked my interest, as I had been keeping an eye out for noise cancelling headphones–these being Bluetooth was a definite bonus, in my mind. They were more on-ear than over-ear, which was a tad disappointing, but not a dealbreaker for me (especially since my ears are on the small side). Costco cost was $169.99 USD–that’s the price in store and online. I went back and forth, and decided to do more investigating.

I found a pair on Ebay for a fair bit less. They weren’t dirt cheap, but they were reasonable enough for me to feel comfortable purchasing. The Costco reviewer had mentioned the ones from Costco came with extra cables that non-Costco headsets did not. I tried to ask the buyer about this multiple times, but never received a response, so I had to wait until the product arrived.

Here is a photo of what I got:

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There is one cable that is not pictured–the mini usb charging cable. It’s not pictured because I didn’t realize it was still in the black bag.

My assumption, based on what I received, is that the Costco product comes with an Iphone cable of some sort. To me, the standard product was perfectly fine, as I have an Android anyway.

A list of what was there:

  • Mini Usb Charger
  • A/C Adapter with fold-in plugs for Mini Usb Charger
  • Regular male/male audio cable (3.5 mm)
  • Phone male/male audio cable (with mic) (3.5 mm)
  • Headphones (obviously)
  • Hard Canvas-ish Case
  • Warranty info and 2 Guides: Quick and Full
  • Inner foldover cloth bag for the cables

The headphones have to be charged before they can be paired to anything. The guide recommends that you only use the mini USB provided by Sony, as other USBs may or may not work. Of course, with it being Sony, they also had little short cuts for pairing Sony products (via an app). I didn’t want to go that route because it seemed like just a Sony thing, and I’m perfectly fine with an old fashioned Bluetooth pairing.

I should probably note that it took a minute for the charge indicator light to come on once I had plugged the headphones into my computer to charge. To be accurate, it probably took a full 10 seconds–not extreme, but just enough to make me worried for a minute. So, if your light isn’t turning on, give it a bit, or try unplugging and replugging, and then still give it a bit.

The guide says charging can take up to 2.5 hours. For me, the initial charge only took about 45 minutes.

The pairing process was simple enough: hold the power button down until it flashes red/blue, and then scan for your headphones on whatever pairing device you want. I had no issues pairing. It might be worth mentioning, though, that these were detected by my paired devices as the BN version of the headphones, not the DC. So, it is possible that the DC could just be a slightly different version of the BN, like an LE sedan versus an LS sedan. So, if you’re looking for reviews of the DC, it might be worthwhile to also search for reviews of the BN. A quick search on my part revealed that the overall consensus is good, but the headphones get uncomfortable around 4 hours and more of wear, so that’s a point to consider (I haven’t worn them for that long yet).

Far as audio quality, I admit I am not an audiophile, but I tend to like Classical pre-configurations when listening to music. I find it gives the bass the right amount of punch without muddying everything else, and the melodies are richer. With that being said, I would say these headphones are not quite as good as others, but they’re close enough.

Now onto the noise cancelling. I was not in a noisy environment when I tested these, so I turned on an oscillating fan to give a bit of drone. These headphones supposedly have 3 levels of noise cancellation, and adjust accordingly to the ambient noise levels.

When I turned on the NC, I definitely heard a drop in sound from the fan, but it could still clearly be heard. I tried music on an extra low volume, and I could still hear the fan. I then realized that at the store, even turning the test pair all the way down still brought the volume only down to about mid-range. Once I bumped my volume up to mid-range, the fan noise was drowned out. But, at that point, I couldn’t really say if it was due to the noise cancellation or due to just being drowned out by something louder.

Mr. Miles has Bose headphones, so I have tried those before, and these are no match in NC. But, as with the audio, they are good enough, and all the extra cables and such that they come with make it a more versatile purchase, in my book. If Bose NC is 10/10, I’d give these a 7/10.

This is just my quick initial review; I have not put these through the paces as they should be (especially for noisy environments and for long periods of time). Again, I’d recommend checking reviews of the BN model, as that model is very similar and has a lot more feedback. My main goal was to give an overall picture of what you get and what to expect.

I don’t regret my purchase, but I am glad I didn’t pay full price for these.

My Guilty Pleasures of Summer TV

With it being May, many of the regular fall TV fare is shutting down for the summer. So, I thought I would share some of what I watch during the summer months to keep myself entertained. Keep in mind, this is guilty pleasure TV, which I define as shows which are either not widely followed (and hence don’t come up much in conversations) or which I watch rather sheepishly and do not bring up in casual conversations. These are in no particular order:

Trollied

I stumbled upon this one a year or two ago. It’s a British show. The premise is pretty simple: the inner workings of the staff at a local grocery store. As this is UK TV we’re talking about, they can get away with more swearing, etc. than the average American or Canadian show, so depending on how you feel about that, this may not be one to watch with little ones in the room. However, the characters with all their quirks grow on you. Plus, they have some fairly well-known actors, as well as fresh faces. As another interesting tidbit, characters are always rotating in and out (much like an actual retail store), and the opening credits usually change according to who is currently on the show.

Mr. D

I know this one usually runs during the fall, but it’s never too late to start watching it. I’m kind of surprised I haven’t heard more people talking about this show. The premise here is a slacker teacher and his relationships with the other faculty, who are also quite a cast of characters. It’s a Canadian show, but if you can watch it elsewhere, I’d recommend it. The titular character is always up to something (usually not what he is supposed to be up to). The supporting cast bring their own hilarious quirks to the table, as well. Mark Forward, who plays high-strung librarian Mr. Leung, is one of my favourites to watch. He amazingly manages to deadpan some really awkward and hilarious lines.

Top Shot

Top Shot (2010) Poster

I don’t mind reality competition shows. But at the same time, I really don’t care if Kevin and Maria are at each other’s throats at the cast housing, or if David is super homesick right now. I just want to see what they do. If I’m going to watch a reality competition show, I also tend to gravitate towards the ones that have obvious, definite results. (I’m sorry America’s Next Top Model, posing this way instead of that way may be obvious to you, but it’s over my head.) I used to regularly watch Project Runway because it was interesting to see the work they put out. But even that show has grown more and more behind the scenes drama focused instead of design focused. Top Shot doesn’t really do that. The show is about expert marksmen (markspeople?) demonstrating how to accurately launch all different kinds of weapons. Some are more typical, and some are more tribal. Sometimes the marksmen are the ones learning. It’s no muss, no fuss, just watching people who are great at what they do, do it well. I mean, one of their famous challenges is shooting a gumball off a golf tee. It’s crazy. Oh, and explosions…usually, you’ll have a healthy dose of those sprinkled in, too.

Cooking Shows: Worst Cooks in America & Kitchen Nightmares Kitchen Nightmares (2007) Poster

I do not normally watch cooking shows; they tend to be more or less my last resort when it comes to searching for something to watch. I love to eat, but I am worthless in the kitchen. Which is why the short but sweet Worst Cooks in America is a show I always keep an eye out for: it makes me feel (slightly) better, and it’s free basic cooking knowledge–because, let’s face it, I’m not even sure I’m cutting the onions right, so please don’t try talking to me about flambe. So, if you’re a fellow useless cook, I’d recommend tracking down some old episodes. My main complaint with the show is that it’s so short. I think each season is over in like 2 months.

Recently, as my regular shows have been dropping off for the summer, I’ve started watching Kitchen Nightmares. Okay, actually binge-watching Kitchen Nightmares. Seriously, I had a dream the other night that Gordon Ramsay and I were friends and he was giving me life advice. But I’m still watching it. For those who don’t, it’s a show about poorly run, practically deserted restaurants being given “restaurant therapy” by Chef Ramsey. The problems do tend to fall into the same basic categories: food is not fresh (may be microwaved/frozen); food storage is not maintained (nasty stuff in the fridge that shouldn’t be); staff and owners don’t get along; if the owners are married, their marriage is in trouble; restaurant decor is ugly, etc. I realize this seems contradictory to my statement about not liking tons of drama in reality shows. However, in this case, the drama directly effects the outcome. It doesn’t feel as frivolous as with some shows. Anyway, Ramsay balances multiple roles of food critic, chef, inspector, decorator, and therapist quite well (the therapist part is surprising if you’ve ever watched Hell’s Kitchen…), and it shows in the results he brings out of these situations. Usually people stick with his suggestions, but you’ll have the occasional controlling owner or unforeseen circumstance that makes for a surprise in the update part at the end.

Tattoo Nightmares

Tattoo Nightmares (2012) Poster

This is probably the guiltiest of my guilty pleasures. I have exactly one tattoo, which I chose and contemplated for at least a month, and then got while I was completely sober. Apparently, that story isn’t as common as I thought. These guys deal with some pretty messed up tattoos, and it’s fascinating to see how they manage to cover them up every time. What makes this better than other “terrible tattoo” shows? For one, the tattoos really are terrible. I watched the America’s Worst Tattoos show on TLC one time, and those tattoos were nothing compared the ones on Spike. Plus, on the Spike version, as Spike is known to do, actors re-enact the scenarios that brought about these terrible tattoos. Be warned, certain tattoos and scenarios would definitely not be appropriate for children to watch, but come on–this is Spike, so you should know that already. One thing that I’ve always wondered about this show is if each season is filmed in a day. Because every episode, the tattoo artists are wearing the same clothes. Weird thing to notice, I guess, but it makes me wonder.

I should also admit that I watch Ink Master, too. I guess I figured if I’m going to see what terrible tattoos look like, I may as well see what great ones are supposed to look like. The show’s okay. You can definitely tell it’s pros judging, because what looks fine to me is easily dissected and criticized by the judges. The show tends to dabble in frivolous drama more than I’d like, which is why I never watch the finale. The finale is basically a tattooed version of The Bachelor:*watch a clip* How did you feel when…? *watch a clip* Do you agree that…? *watch a clip* Who ended up being your biggest competition? Etc. Snore. I thought I was supposed to be watching the creation of great tattoos, not a study of Reality Show Politics and Infighting 101. So yeah, I’d say that show is “meh.” But it still can be interesting.

Whose Line Is It Anyway?

Whose Line Is It Anyway (2013) Poster

Can I just say that I miss the old Whose Line? Is that allowed? Because I do. I miss it because the old one had more audience interaction, more interaction between the host and the cast, and a wider variety of games per show. I do like that the new version draws from a wider net of comedians, as well as the original cast. And, the new version has also brought on some interesting new games. But, I miss seeing audience members in Props, for example. I miss seeing the host on stage doing improv with the rest of the gang (although I do not miss that being in the context of an insidious hoe down). I miss not knowing exactly what games would be played each night. Now, every episode, you’re pretty much guaranteed to see Props (with a guest), Hollywood Director, etc. Some of the spontaneity that made the show so fun to watch seems to have left with the 90’s. But it’s Whose Line, and enough of the classics (people and games) are still there that we still watch.

Hopefully these suggestions will provide some unexpected summer entertainment. Please let me know if you have any recommendations, or what you thought of mine.

College Dreams

A few months ago, an old friend of mine attempted to take me to task over my old college dreams. The statement went something along the lines of, “Back X years ago, you had dreams and plans, and I don’t see that in you now.”

Well, around 10 years ago, I was in college. During that time, the future I saw for myself included being a well-known writer/speaker, marrying a certain someone (who hadn’t shown the slightest bit of romantic interest in me), and being financially well-off and well-traveled.

Pretty much none of those things have happened. But I’m okay with it; in fact, I was a little baffled that it bothered her so much.

Here’s why:

At some point in life, you have to grow up and take responsibility for your own life. Dreams and otherworldly guidance are nice, but essentially going wherever the wind takes you can easily leave you confused. At some point, divine guidance has to meet up with common sense. If you are in an abusive relationship, but you thought God told you he was the one, at some point you have to make a choice: Do I stay here just for the sake of what I think I heard, or do I leave and understand that the lesson here may have been less about a soulmate and more about developing a backbone?If you dream of starting a company, do you not try to provide for yourself until that’s accomplished, or do you work hard and keep your eyes open for opportunities to pursue that dream?

I’m not saying that dreams are bad or should be tossed out the window with the onset of adulthood. However, I am saying that if we were all judged by the expectations we had for ourselves in college, most of us would be considered failures at life.

Life happens. And that’s okay; it’s supposed to. As we get older, (hopefully) we get smarter and better equipped to handle those dreams, should they come true. But there is nothing wrong with going along with the twists and turns in life’s road. Of course, in the midst of particularly beleaguering detours, it can be hard to feel at peace with the current situation. Still, though, many times detours provide different scenery, unexplored places, new adventures, and a stronger character.

No, I have not achieved all my college dreams. But that’s okay, because I’m not in college anymore. I’d like to think my dreams are maturing with me.

Victory for the Queens of Fail

Did anyone else see this???

I’m guessing a lot of people did. If you’re a Big Bang Theory fan, you realize just how epic it is.

I’ve found myself watching this a lot in the past 48 hours (seriously, a lot), but I couldn’t put my finger on why I was watching it so much until now:

I can relate to Amy.

In fact, if I were to choose characters from various TV shows that reminded me of me in some way, Amy would definitely make the list. Nothing goes right for Amy. Her past has been a mishmash of awkwardness; she’s never been at the top of anyone’s list (as we learn when she’s offered the maid of honor position for Bernadette’s wedding). When these things do start falling into place, she genuinely appreciates them because she’s never had them before.

And of course there’s Sheldon. Although Amy feels she’s hit the proverbial jackpot of boyfriends, she still faces a long uphill battle: patience versus intimacy. Sometimes she’s good at being patient with Sheldon. More often, though, her desire for something deeper with him is only thinly veiled.

I think that’s why I love this scene so much. So often, I am the Queen of Fail. I have good intentions, and I’m hoping for a positive outcome, but things just blow up in my face. And that’s where Amy is here. Once again, she’s trying to nudge Sheldon into something more, only to have it blow up in her face. And then there’s the added insult of Sheldon mocking her romantic aspirations, which he seems to feel are shallow. However, at the last minute, it becomes clear that something powerfully deep has been there all along, and it’s suddenly very visible. The trip–and the relationship–are changed for the better.

So, for what it’s worth, I want to say “kudos” to The Big Bang Theory, for reminding the Queens of Fail like me that sometimes the best things can come from even the worst mistakes.

Love and Loss

The last couple of months have been…interesting, I suppose (depending on one’s definition of interesting).

I finally changed from my maiden name on all my documentation for the other side of the border.

On New Year’s Eve, my best friend and I got into a big fight over e-mail (which I’m not sure we’ve moved on from).

Then it was my birthday; I am not only another year older, but also in a brand new decade.

A job offer I had been considering fell through. 

And I am now starting on another step of immigration paperwork for this side of the border.

So far, I can’t say 2014 is my favourite year; the proverbial “bag” isn’t quite as mixed as I would’ve liked. But technically, I’m not even a full month in, so it’s probably too early to judge. Somewhere in the middle of all the kerfuffle, though, I did manage to make a list. I got the idea from my hubby. He made one several years ago. It’s not exactly a New Year’s Resolution list. It’s more of a “things I’m hoping for/things I’d like to do if the opportunity arises” list. There’s no deadline on it. It’s just a list to keep in mind as you’re going about your life.

Here are a few things on mine:

  • Go to a comedy club
  • See a band I really like in concert
  • Travel more/go on more outings
  • Attend a TEDx event
  • Do more volunteering

If you like the idea of having New Year’s aspirations but don’t like the idea of those aspirations turning into sinister guilt-mongers later, I would highly recommend this method.

 

 

Cheesy Gold

Mr. Miles and I have been loading up on cheesy movies over the holiday season. Mostly classic Hallmark fare, and admittedly for the sole purpose of laughing at them.

However, we managed to stumble upon a piece of cheesy gold in the form of Big Ass Spider. I’m not usually a huge sci-fi nerd, but the intro was one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen. There’s also a gem in the end credits, but I’ll leave that for your discovery.

WARNING: If the movie title hasn’t given it away, if you are arachnophobic, you probably would not enjoy this, so do yourself a favor and don’t click the link…

Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and you’re welcome, Internet. You’re welcome.