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.

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.

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.

 

 

I Remember

Each Remembrance Day, I think of 3 things (usually in this order):

1. Mr. Miles. It’s easy to take memorial-type holidays for granted when you have no personal stake in it. Several years ago, I had a very personal stake in the welfare of deployed troops. What would have normally been one of the happiest times of my life was actually one of the loneliest and scariest. I had no idea what he was facing on the other side of the world. The chance to talk to him on the phone, even for 5 minutes, became more valuable than money. I would kick myself for days after if I missed one of those calls. Mr. Miles had a lot of close calls. At any of those points in time, I easily could have lost him. I am very fortunate; other families and spouses were not so fortunate.

2. Pte. Kevin McKay. I can never remember his name, but I can never forget how his story ended. I heard about Pte. McKay not long after Mr. Miles returned home. McKay was killed 2 days before he was scheduled to return home. Two days. Let that sink in a minute. His family probably felt confident that the worst was over. They were probably getting really excited. Maybe they were in final preparations for a “Welcome Home Kevin” party. They were probably relieved that their son would soon be out of the war-torn country and safe at home. And then he was taken. Even thinking about it brings tears to my eyes. I cannot imagine the level of grief they felt. It’s one thing to be on pins and needles for however many months hoping your relative is okay. It’s a whole other level to have held on for that long and to have your patience rewarded with death. Every Remembrance Day I think about Pte. McKay’s family and friends.

3. World War soldiers. The World War soldiers didn’t have most of the luxuries we have today. Communication took much longer. People didn’t talk about or prepare for PTSD. And there wasn’t a great survival rate. These soldiers were some of the bravest. They fought in spite of the hardships. I don’t know that they even expected to come back; and I think it’s safe to say they weren’t in it for the danger pay. They were fighting for the good of the people.

So, this Remembrance Day, please take a moment to think about and thank those who were lost, whether in body, mind, or spirit.

 

Chuvernment

I don’t want to be so bold as to assume that I’m the only one who has thought about this connection, but I will say I find it ironic that in the US, where church and government are separated (theoretically anyway), church and government are actually dealing with similar flaws at the moment.

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Pope Francis made an astute observation last month in an interview. He essentially commented that the Church has been “obsessed” with abortion, gay marriage, and contraception–to the point that we have lost our way. I tend to agree. I think part of the reason people have been leaving the church (Catholic or Protestant) in droves is that we’ve made a switch. Instead of Christ being the centre and the starting point for Christianity, we have given that spot to our “pet issues.” So, instead of being the crowd that preaches the love and forgiveness of Christ, we’ve become known as the crowd that is “anti-fill in the blank.”

We are so concerned with being good “sanitary saints” that having real compassion for others actually frightens us. We don’t want to take the challenge of compassion because it’s too messy and unpredictable. So, while maybe we could look at the “forest of the gospel” instead of our favourite “issue trees,” we choose the trees instead. We’d rather tell ourselves that the moral principles we hold dear will eventually effect people for the better than actually learn about the people to whom these principles will apply.

To me, the current US government shutdown just seems to be another version of this “ideals war.” Each side has a “pet tree” that they don’t want to lose sight of, so they are focusing on it and trying to drown out the rest of the forest–even though the purpose of the forest is so much bigger than just one tree. The government officials would rather have a record of being “the guardians of stopping Obamacare” or “the guardians of Obamacare” than the record of “the people you can count on to put self interest aside in favour of their constituents.” I think that might be the saddest part of all. In both church and government, their original purposes for existence are good, and both can help the general population greatly. But, when maintaining your pride and your ideals supersedes the people you are supposedly helping, the people lose.

Does this mean ideals need to be tossed out the window and never discussed? I would say no. However, I think it is important to keep them in perspective–to keep “the main thing” the main thing, and let the rest fall into place when the time is right. For the church, the main thing is loving God and loving people. For the government, the main thing is working together to create a just and orderly system where a nation’s people can thrive.

So, come on, US government. The Church is remembering the people now. It’s your turn.

But There Are Expectations…

In the last several months, I’ve noticed a rash of articles about twentysomethings. If I were to try to summarize them all into one tidy sentiment, it would be, “There’s no cause for panic if you don’t have life all figured out in your twenties; there is no schedule.”

There’s only one problem with this rationale: it’s unrealistic.

I like to think that I generally don’t obsess over what people think of me, but for this logic to work, everyone would essentially need to go through life with blinders on. 

I’m not saying it’s right; I’m saying it’s reality.

Life confusion is more forgivable in one’s early twenties because at that point, society sees the person as just starting the “adult journey” (and even then, anyone who’s spent decent time at a university can attest that the word “adult” here is often a figurative term). However, the later you get into your twenties, the more expectations you start to feel. Eventually, your eyes wander to the lanes on either side of you, and the inevitable comparison begins.

If you’re not married, you start noticing that most of your Facebook newsfeed has to do with engagements and/or weddings. People either try to push you out into the dating scene, or they leave you be–and you wonder what’s wrong with you. If you’re in a relationship, the question becomes, “When will you get married?”

If you’re already married, repeat the first sentence of the previous paragraph, but replace “engagements” and “weddings” with “babies.” Based on my experience and observation, most people will leave you alone for the first year, maybe two. But, definitely by year three, the baby question will start floating your way–sometimes from people you barely know! You want to treasure alone time with your spouse? Nope. You aren’t sure what your respective expectations on having children are yet? Nope. You can’t even financially afford a dog right now, much less a child? Nope. (Often) in the eyes of the questioners, these are not good reasons. You need to get on it right now–you’re not getting any younger, you know. As friends’ profile pictures morph into new infant faces, comparison is there.

Perhaps one of the hardest ones, in my opinion, is the career expectation. I’m not talking about the “Generation Me” twentysomethings fresh out of university that waltz into an interview at a multimillion dollar corporation demanding $100,000 per year salary. I’m talking about people who are willing to pay their dues and let their work speak for itself. Again, there is an unstated expectation that by age 30, you should have your crap together: at least a life plan (far as spouse and kids are concerned), a good stable job, and prospects for the future. You may even feel sure that you have those things, but again–the eyes start wandering. In the left lane, you see someone who’s younger than you and has already traveled the world. In the right lane, you see someone who’s younger than you and already has a “C” in front of their work title. And you really start to question where you are in life.

Now, I’m not saying the younger ones didn’t work hard. They probably worked very hard. What I am saying is that because the expectation exists that from age 20 to age 30 is your timeline to set yourself on a good path in life, it becomes incredibly difficult to remain objective when your perception is that you are being outgunned by a young gun. You start to wonder, “What did I do wrong?” or “What could I have done differently?” Being older, you should theoretically have more in your bag of tricks, but your bag’s running low.

Even social lives are not free from comparison. While you may not be envying the college student who comes to class hungover, it’s harder not to envy the friend who just went on a group vacation in Australia, or a coworker with amazing industry connections.

All this to say: while I am sure that those articles preaching “be your own person” and “follow your own path” are well-intentioned, in my opinion, they’re full of crap. If we all lived in isolation chambers? Absolutely. The rate at which you excel in your own life would not matter one bit. However, right or wrong, because we live in each other’s peripheral vision, eventually, we all succumb to comparison. Spouses, children, career, social life–these are all cultural milestones. In a way it’s almost like cultural gamification. There is always another level to achieve, but many of the hardest levels come fairly early in the game. And, I think, that’s part of why the expectation exists: if you can’t master those first challenges quickly enough, how long will you survive? 

As someone stepping out of the “proving ground” of the twenties, I hope that I can keep up with the rest of the world!