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Bob Shell: The 60’s

Bob Dylan circa 1960’s. Photo: Charles Gatewood, Copyright 2020

 

Text by Bob Shell, Copyright 2020

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The 60’s

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In the summer of 1966 I moved to Washington, DC, to take a job I’d been offered at the Smithsonian Institution as a biological illustrator. I’d been making detailed paintings and pen and ink drawings of insects, birds, and animals since grade school. I was getting published regularly in wildlife magazines around the country, starting while I was still in high school.

In college at Virginia Tech I had a job making drawings of insects for scientific papers written by one of the entomologists there, and was becoming well known in the small population of professional biological illustrators, while studying biology.

I’d become sort of a pen pal with Andre Pizzini, one of the Smithsonian artists, who became my mentor, and helped me get the job there.

So that’s when and why I moved to DC. This was in the American social catharsis that was 1960s, when the civil rights movement was going full bore, the protests against the Vietnam war were accelerating, music was transitioning from Elvis to The Beatles to acid rock, and all of American society was in foment.

The despised Lyndon B. Johnson was president, followed by the even more hated Richard Nixon.

We were asking ourselves why, in idealistic America, we had a two tiered society, with blacks as second-class citizens. “White Only” signs were on restrooms, restaurants, and in other places. We were drafting our young men and shipping them off to southeast Asia to be slaughtered. Country Joe was singing the “Feel Like I’m Fixin’ to Die Rag,” — “And you can be the first ones on your block to have your boy come home in a box.”. Many of my high school friends were drafted and some did come home in boxes. All for a stupid war the US should never have gotten itself mired up in.

I got caught up in the protest fever. I joined protests, picketed the White House, was teargassed on the lawn of the Pentagon, holding and calming a hysterical friend. Saw soldiers lined up in front of that imposing building to guard it from us, unarmed kids. Saw those same soldiers. break down in tears when girls put flowers in the barrels of their rifles. They were no older than us, didn’t want to be there, caught up in an idiotic confrontation.

The Smithsonian Institution was created by a gift to the United States from James Smithson, an Englishman who never set foot in America. He left us a fortune in his will to create, “in Washington,DC, an institution for the increase and dissemination of knowledge among men.”

Unfortunately, the Smithsonian depends on Congress for funding, Smithson’s money having run out long ago. Projects I was working on often lost their funding, and I bounced from job to job, working for a while at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Maryland, just outside DC, drawing mosquitoes for the Southeast Asia Mosquito Research Project, that I learned was a CIA front when the Washington Post outed it. So I actually worked for the CIA for a while, although I was never a “spook.”

Please remember that America in the 1960s was like an alien planet compared to today. Many years of inflation hadn’t yet made the dollar practically worthless like it is today. Gasoline was less than 25 cents a gallon, an expensive car was under four thousand dollars and you could get a hamburger for fifteen cents and a bottle of Coke for a dime. I paid fifty bucks for my first serious camera, a used Nikon F with lens and a separate handheld light meter. That was a significant investment for me, since the museum projects paid me sixty bucks a week, which also happened to be the monthly rent on my big, two-bedroom apartment in central DC.

The sex, drugs, and rock and roll movement was in full flower, and I leaped in with both feet, going through a succession of live-in girlfriends, popping psychedelics, which were still legal, and going to rock concerts.

Some people I knew had bought an old movie theater, the Ambassador Theater near Georgetown, and tore out the seats, leaving a bare concrete floor. They brought in west coast bands like Jefferson Airplane, Moby Grape, and many more, plus local bands like The Andorene, and had an elaborate light show projected behind the bands on the old movie screen. Since I knew the people, I never paid admission, and was there just about every weekend.

For live music, there was also the Merryweather Post Pavilion just outside DC, founded by the Post cereal fortune heirs, which was an outdoor theater, with seating and overflow onto a big lawn. I listened to Ravi Shankar there, and folk groups like Peter, Paul and Mary.

I was making Beardsley-esque pen and ink drawings of nudes for the Washington Free Press, an underground newspaper of the day, doing art on commission for anyone who’d pay me, and living well, but not extravagantly. When I was between grants I’d head up to New York City and hang out with people I knew, taking in the East Village scene, going to concerts by groups like The Velvet Underground, The Grateful Dead, The Mothers of Invention, The Fugs, Pearls Before Swine, Bob Dylan and many others. I was in my twenties and enjoying life to its fullest.

In 1968, for reasons I no longer remember, I moved to Richmond, Virginia, and lived in “the fan,” the area near Virginia Commonwealth University, where my cousin, the same age as me, was living. We’d grown up more like brothers than cousins, and many who knew us in school thought we were brothers. I lived with him and his wife until I found an apartment of my own and was happy in Richmond until early summer of 1969, when the apartment I shared with four others was raided by the Richmond police. One man, who was visiting from DC had one marijuana “joint” in his pocket, and they arrested all six of us for possession! Marijuana possession was a felony back then, and we could have been given up to thirty years, but we all got three years each, suspended. That meant being on probation for five years. That was my first brush with the American “justice system.”

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About The Author: Bob Shell is a professional photographer, author and former editor in chief of Shutterbug Magazine. He is currently serving a 35 year sentence for involuntary manslaughter for the death of Marion Franklin, one of his former models.  He is serving the 13th year of his sentence at Pocahontas State Correctional Facility, Virginia. To read Bob Shell’s, first essay on civil war, click here: https://tonywardstudio.com/blog/parole-denied/

Editor’s Note: If you like Bob Shell’s blog posts, you’re sure to like his new book, COSMIC DANCE by Bob Shell (ISBN: 9781799224747, $ 12.95 book, $ 5.99 eBook) available now on Amazon.com . The book, his 26th, is a collection of essays written over the last twelve years in prison, none published anywhere before. It is subtitled, “A biologist’s reflections on space, time, reality, evolution, and the nature of consciousness,” which describes it pretty well. You can read a sample section and reviews on Amazon.com.

Also posted in Art, Blog, commentary, Documentary, Film, Friends of TWS, History, lifestyle, Men, Music, Politics, Popular Culture, Portraiture

Katie Kerl: Thriving Through Anarchy

Artwork by Blur, Copyright 2020

 

Text by Katie Kerl, Copyright 2020

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Thriving Through Anarchy

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October 1st, 2020. I have been in Corona Virus lockdown since March 16th. Although, our government only shut down selected states as a deadly airborne virus plagued our nation. To this day with nothing changed only isolation ended, we are willingly or forcibly being exposed. Crippling small business and giving me a level of stress, I did not know existed. Currently Philadelphia has the tightest restriction in this pandemic. I have not seen the inside of my place since the end of August. This is the 199th day for me. Trump putting all the responsibility onto states that they were not equipped to handle world outbreak, was the move of a coward afraid to make decisions. In turn leaving him to say what a disgrace the way every state is handling it. He would rather murder people, sit back, and point fingers when it goes to shit. Rather than do his job as an AMERICAN PRESIDENT.

If that is not the current theme in the United States today, I am not sure what is. There is no empathy, guidance, relief, or form of substance deeper than bailing out large corporations so they can re-invest in the market to make it seem like our economy is recovering. Many of these large companies contributing to the decline of mental health in adults, but also in children. There are no regulations on fake news across social media platforms. So that click you just made is going to algorithm you into more and more misinformation. I will get to all of this in a later post. I have decided to break this up into pieces being there is so many working/devastating parts to all of this.

I am collecting unemployment for the first time in my adult life. Let me tell you what shitty feeling that is when you were gainfully employed, and happy right when this happened. I have been writing this whole time. I never know where to stop because the severity of this situation keeps getting worse, and this has changed our lives forever. I have about forty thousand words written though the process. For those that are new to reading my lifestyle pieces, thank you for taking the time to HEAR me.

Having a VOICE right now is especially important for a woman. Everyone that is having a hard time right now I hope you find what gives you clarity and new purpose. I have been personally attacked in public for wearing my masks to shield germs from not only me, but my immune compromised parents. We stopped believing in SCIENCE in the United States which totally baffles my mind. The Chinese cover their faces when sick for as long as I can remember. They do not do that for no reason folks.

I have had more middle aged racist white men try to tear me down because my words do carry to people. I do not say things without looking them up, speak straight with conviction, and know the level of integrity you display during this time. I most certainly am not letting any middle school dropout racist try to tear me down for being a woman in 2020!!!

How the hell did we end up here?

On this day in 2017, I wrote my first article with some revealing photos Tony had taken.

I said it last year and I will say it again.

Whoever told you taking your clothes off got you nowhere LIED to YOU.

That sparked a slew of other published pieces. My advice? Use what you were blessed with to get where you want to be. Hard work and studying also pay off, but have you ever met someone interesting that led a traditional life? I personally have not. Complacency is suicide, and we are currently watching that play out here as everyone is sitting around waiting for things to change. We collectively as a population put forth the effort to get results needed to live freely again. The gas was already poured here Trump just lit the match and danced around the blaze as we continue to burn. Until you start looking at yourself and how you can make a difference. We are still totally fucked. You can mandate anything as president, compliance is the issue here. Which he nor most of the general public seem to grasp.

What means the most to me in all of that; I can promote speaking up and fighting for the SEVEN MONTHS we have lost of our LIVES.

Let me tell you how many people think I am dumb until they start speaking to me. They will either immediately engage or be so put off by my sense of self; they try to silence my views.

The age old saying, “If you are the smartest in the room, you’re in the wrong room,” has never been truer as we are fighting for our lives. Do you really want to associate with people who do not help you progress in life and believe in you?

Is that vein to say? Absolutely, but it is one hundred percent true. Pretty, smart, and finds ways when there are none. Be an unstoppable force people will have to reckon with if they cross you. Let me be clear when I say reckon with, I do not mean in a scare tactic, or fear. I mean educating the ignorant there is a difference. Reconditioning is exactly what our nation needs now in recovery. Recovery from isolation, PTSD, lost homes, jobs, businesses, and 200,000 lost lives. To the people who lost loved ones, and did not get to say goodbye, I am so sorry. I experienced that myself in this as a dear family friend passed away.

Letting people know it is ok to feel however you do about this situation is the goal. No matter the route you choose dig yourself out of this black Trump hole; it is going to require 130% of your effort. Reason being? He gave up on his own country and led us here scrambling fighting for our lives.

Believe me, I have worked harder in isolation than I have in my life. We are in devastating times. You are not alone. If anyone wants to talk or share your experiences with me, please direct message my Instagram or E-mail provided below.

I am going to begin back peddling a bit. My last Piece was on my father’s recent cancer diagnosis. It took me seven months to be able to sit at my laptop and write something meaningful. I had the words, but my own brain fog was just too heavy. We were shut down March 16th. His biopsy was the next morning. Which I was terrified of him being in the hospital in a new global outbreak. The biopsy tests were so delayed. It took about 8 weeks to finally get him into treatment with stage 4 throat cancer. Throat cancer is also one of the most progressive cancers and his tumor was already huge. The doctors were not overly optimistic.

We were looking at possible voice box removal if they could shrink the tumor enough to proceed safely. Even then they guaranteed us nothing. I was convinced I was losing my dad in a global pandemic. Even with best insurance you are still just a number on a paper. Your cancer patient CAN NOT do this alone. They need advocates for their care, and someone in the home who can make sure they are getting the medicine, nutrition, and support they need. 

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David Kerl receiving cancer treatment at home

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I was in no way ready to face this I had just filed for unemployment and had my job halted, but you HAVE TO take care of the people that have given you everything. After the biopsy came teeth removal, hospital stay for a chemo port, two hospital stays for complications, then chemo and radiation. I have never been more scared in my entire life of losing my best friend. No heart break, or someone’s dusty son can compare to this trust me.

My heart is now unbreakable.

Speaking of crusty sons, when your ex pops up and tells you he still loves you in an outbreak. He is lying, he just does not want to be alone. If a grown man cannot tell you why they love you RUN. That was enough for me. Everything I fought so hard for in that time in my life was true. He made the giant mistake. While that man is in the same place as he was a year ago. Letting people walk all over him.

Katie Kerl died and resurrected a whole new human. This is the time to change your life. What your body goes through doing these poison cancer treatments is one of the most heartbreaking to watch.

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Liquid nutrition during cancer treatment

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My fathers throat was so burnt from radiation he could not eat, or drink water for three months. They inserted a feeding tube, and we used formula boxes so he would get the nutrition to fight. Now if only Emily from the home care company did her job right, and sent us the supplies we requested from three different doctors, nurses, and receptionists we wouldn’t have had such a hard time with the food. I am not going to make light of cancer and what it does to people, or the lack or competency in some of the employees I have had to deal with.

There was a good month or more where I would get up at 2 am & 6 am to make sure he got meds in time to not get sick, and even down to sleeping on the floor of his room. When you cannot communicate verbally you need someone near you. Now, when I was a kid my dad used to lay on the floor at the foot of my bed when I could not sleep. That is exactly what I did for him in return. Being scared when you are sick and not knowing what the outcome will be while you are fighting for your life is so overwhelming. People that told me I was doing too much I have something to say to you.

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Prescriptions to treat cancer

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YOU ARE NOT DOING ENOUGH

Being sleepless is nothing to me, having gone through all kinds of trauma that I guess in turn prepared me for this. Did I have a ton of meltdowns?  Absolutely, and I am sure there will be more. Imagine going to pick up meds at the drug store and having the pharmacist give you a hard time for trying to pick up the lifesaving drugs to keep my dad out of pain and not to vomit. It is infuriating certain aspects of medical care is so disorganized and not patient first. They are $ MONEY $ first.

We are also lucky enough to have Dr. Nick & Dr. Rubin of Rittenhouse Oncology attacking this in a way I was not sure of at first. As time went on, I could not do it alone anymore. My mom was being heavily affected by the virus as well. She could not work being immune compromised either. So, we moved her in so we both could help my dad. For the first time since I was twelve years old, we are under the same roof. I’m not going to say that transition was an easy one, but we have found a way to make it work and save a life. 

That is right!!

SAVED A LIFE, and have a whole new skill set as a caretaker. Yesterday the doctors said my dad would be on his last chemo treatment, and then it is just maintenance after the feeding tube is taken out.

THE CANCER IS GONE

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David Kerl on the mend at home

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I am not so sure if you know the statistics on stage 4 throat cancer survival; let me tell you it was grim at best. My father’s brother died from it. The day they said the tumor was GONE it took a few days for all of us to really comprehend that all our hard work was not for nothing. No surgery and he will get to keep his voice box. If you know my dad, the Kerl gift of gab is not something we can have taken away from us and expected to carry on with life. His voice is slowly coming back, and he is gaining weight weekly. If I can protect him from infection, and the ignorant people who refuse to wear a mask in COVID I will do what I need to so to keep my family SAFE.

Having the largest overflowing plate of life issues was not something I could ignore either. On about my 50th meltdown at five in the morning, I was watching the news and saw all the biotech stocks for the COVID vaccines starting to be publicized. I helped my dad then I opened the Robinhood app that I had downloaded to give a friend credits who invested a stock years ago.

Never having gone back to it, I did that day.

Each morning I get up read all the business news, The Journal, NY times, Stocktwits, Market Watch, Barron’s, and Zacks. I research companies before I buy them and look at their earnings. I picked a few and dove in. That month was a catalyst to me realizing that; I in fact can make the most out of every bad situation. My biggest fear was to lose him in this. That everything I worked for personally would be gone. I started out with about $750 and turned it into about $6k now. That is even taking a loss, I am not lighting the world on fire, but for just starting out people were asking me what I was buying in the financial field. Which again I find amazing.

I thought about giving it up at one point after things tanked to be safe, but that is also the name of the game. I just recovered that money this week in September IPO’s. I was also in for the Apple split and got to see how that works in the stock market. I have to say; I get why people think it is exciting. You get the firsthand knowledge before it hits the censored news, and the money for just reading and being intuitive. Id say that is pretty rewarding being I am still at home, not seeing my friends, family, and waiting to hear about work. Play their game and stop buying useless shit with your unemployment!

Also, the Kodak insider trading incident. The Trump Administration set up the loan to have them use their chemicals to make generic drugs after cutting ties with china. Now, I know some republicans in higher places that were privy to that info and profited in the millions the day before it was released. Damaging a family film company is disgusting.

Now what to invest in?  COVID vaccines are in human trials which I find very risky phase one and two were much more profitable for me. I also do not want to invest in human trials that could potentially make someone sick. Volunteered or not, these are rushed vaccines going against science. There will be consequences to that. Other sectors that I believe in now are the antibody tests, plasma companies, home learning tools, cloud computing, 5g, green technology, & alternative energies.

Overall, I get to see where the 2% are dumping their money in a volatile market. You can watch the fake news all you want. If you want real information, follow the money and play their own game.

I just remember crying in the middle of the night in my kitchen talking to every dead family member, and god to give me some sort of direction in this because I felt like I was literally losing my mind and my dad. If by accident,  or a prayer was answered I have new life meaning, my father gets to recover, and live the rest of his days however he wants to.

That was my mission in COVID. Your parents protect you and watch you grow into an adult they can respect. Respect does not come with a dollar sign. It comes with character, effort, and respect.

The next few pieces I will be touching on wellness in COVID , Trauma Survivors Hospital Hero’s Drive, Philadelphia Riots, beauty recommendations with mask irritation,  home renovations, reopening of Philadelphia, and real citizens experiences.

Including a second piece on Derek Bailey as he gets ready to open his Derek Automotive Lifestyle dealership in Florida. Look out for that soon.

Thank you everyone that called and prayed for my family. I now get to spend time with both of my parents in the same house and make new memories.

For that I am forever grateful and can guarantee am going to make the most of this time.

I hope everyone stays safe and healthy!!

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Katie and David Kerl

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Katie Kerl was raised in Drexel Hill, Pennsylvania. She is currently living  in Northern Liberties, Philadelphia. Katie has a background in Psychology from Drexel University. She is a manager in the commercial/residential design field . Katie can be reached  on Instagram @kerlupwithkate 

For collaboration e-mail: Kate.kerl32@gmail.com

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To access additional article by Katie Kerl, click herehttps://tonywardstudio.com/blog/odds/

 

Also posted in Art, Blog, commentary, Current Events, Documentary, Environment, Friends of TWS, Health Care, lifestyle, Media, News, Politics, Portraiture, Women

Bob Shell: Parole Denied

The Virginia Parole Board

 

Text by Bob Shell, Copyright 2020

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Parole Denied

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My legal efforts: Unfortunately, the Virginia Supreme Court declared a state of judicial emergency in March, shutting down all state courts except for emergency hearings and some clerical functions. I have several ongoing court actions, but all are on hold until the courts reopen, and there’s no way to know when that will be. I’d probably have been released by now if not for this damned pandemic. It’s been very frustrating to just sit in my cell spinning my wheels while time passes me by!
I do expect full exoneration once courts are back in action and hear my cases. I’m also 100% confident that ownership of my forest will be returned to me then, and the thieving bastards who got their filthy reeking hands on it illegally will be punished. They had better not have harmed so much as a single one of my precious trees! I WILL be free again, and I WILL build my home and studio there.

Since the start of the virus pandemic, we’ve been on modified lockdown. That means our library, law library, and all classes are closed, and we’re kept in our cells twenty or more hours a day, even eating all our meals in our cells. It’s certainly claustrophobic. Thankfully, I have a very good cellmate. I was tested for COVID-19 recently, and came up negative. Here at Pocahontas State Correctional Center, we’ve had two staff with it and no inmates with the virus. The only way we can get it is if staff bring it in from outside.

Once again this year, I was denied parole, my eighth turndown. The Virginia Parole Board says they consider me a “threat to the community.” The absurdity of that statement is obvious to anyone who knows me. I’ve never been a threat to anyone! I ran my photo business from the 1960s and in Radford, VA from 1980 until I was locked up in 2007, photographing literally hundreds of models. The prosecution sought to portray me as a serial molester of my models, yet in the four years between my arrest and trial, in spite of all their efforts, they could not find a single former model with anything bad to say against me. I kept scrupulous records from the 1960s on every model I photographed, and the police had access to those records.

As one prominent lawyer commented, surely if I’d abused women who modeled for me, some of them would have come forward. My case got international coverage in the photo press and on the internet, but no such person appeared. Why? Because no such person existed. Yet, every time I come up for parole, the prosecution repeats its lies to the Parole Board. Worse, while they’ve denied me, they’ve recently granted parole to murderers with very long sentences! Where are their brains? Their stated purpose is to release people back into society who can be productive citizens, giving them a second chance. Don’t I deserve such a chance?

Virginia recently passed a hair discrimination law. I don’t know how many times in the 1960s and 70s I was told, “We’ll give you the job if you cut your hair.” Now that’s illegal in Virginia. From the 1960s on, except when desperate enough for a job to cut it, I always wore my hair very long in a ponytail. Now that the Department of Corrections can no longer make us cut our hair, I’m working my way back to my old look. It feels great to be me again!

For anyone who wants to keep up with the dirty deeds of America’s prison-industrial complex, I recommended Prison Legal News (www.prisonlegalnews.org) and Criminal Legal News (www.criminallegalnews.org) magazines, published by the Human Rights Defense Center.

Until next time, be well my friends!
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Portrait of Bob Shell, May of 2020. Pocohantas State Prison

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About The Author: Bob Shell is a professional photographer, author and former editor in chief of Shutterbug Magazine. He is currently serving a 35 year sentence for involuntary manslaughter for the death of Marion Franklin, one of his former models.  He is serving the 13th year of his sentence at Pocahontas State Correctional Facility, Virginia. To read Bob Shell’s, first essay on civil war, click here: https://tonywardstudio.com/blog/bob-shell-jargon-overload/

Editor’s Note: If you like Bob Shell’s blog posts, you’re sure to like his new book, COSMIC DANCE by Bob Shell (ISBN: 9781799224747, $ 12.95 book, $ 5.99 eBook) available now on Amazon.com . The book, his 26th, is a collection of essays written over the last twelve years in prison, none published anywhere before. It is subtitled, “A biologist’s reflections on space, time, reality, evolution, and the nature of consciousness,” which describes it pretty well. You can read a sample section and reviews on Amazon.com.

Also posted in Blog, Current Events, Documentary, Environment, Friends of TWS, Men, News, Politics, Popular Culture

Bob Shell: Jargon Overload

Artwork: Milt Ward. The Alphabet Series, Copyright 2020

 

Text by Bob Shell, Copyright 2020

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Jargon Overload

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George Orwell wrote, “If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they don’t want to hear.”

To which I’ll add my own statement. ‘Nowhere in the US Constitution is there a right to not be offended.’

One of my favorite magazines is Poets & Writers, a wonderful resource for anyone who wants to be a wordsmith.

But the September/October issue made me feel let down. I read an essay titled ‘Return to the MFA’ by Namrata Poddor, MFA being, of course, the Master of Fine Arts degree that many consider essential for a successful writing career (I don’t believe that and don’t have one, but that’s another story).

As I was reading this otherwise thoughtful essay, I tripped over a linguistic hurdle. I consider myself pretty up to date on jargon, but it threw me when she talked of ‘LGBTQIA+,’ which I’d never heard of.

Back when I was first studying to be a writer, I was taught that the first time you introduce a term that might be unfamiliar to your readers, define it. I always tried to do that in my writing whenever I used technical terms, and I know my readers appreciated it.

I knew, of course, what ‘LGBTQ+’ stood for, but ‘IA’? I had no clue, so I asked a good friend on the outside who puts up with my questions. She didn’t know either, so she researched it for me. Turns out the ‘I’ stands for ‘intersex,’ for which she could find no definition. I have no clue, still, what that’s supposed to be.

The ‘A’ stands for ‘asexual,’ persons with no interest in sex. Personally, I doubt such creatures exist. For hundreds of years we were told that Catholic clergy were asexual, but we saw how that turned out!

Besides, wasn’t the ‘+’ in LGBTQ+ supposed to make it all-inclusive? Keep adding letters and symbols and pretty soon it will take a whole paragraph just for the abbreviation!

Further along, Ms Poddor says that ‘BIPOC’ is an “important revision’ of POC. Huh? Bisexual? I was lost in undefined jargon land again.

Turns out this means ‘Black Indigenous People of Color.’. Does POC not already include Black? I thought POC was just an updated version of ‘CP,’ as in NAACP. This latest revision does not strike me as ‘important.’ It strikes me as profoundly silly. Would my Cherokee ancestors want to be called BIPOC? I’m sure they would not.

Later, reading my latest issue of THE WEEK, my favorite news magazine, I came across a story reporting that ‘Generation X,’ those twenty to thirty year olds, feel that putting periods at the ends of sentences is “hostile.” I’m not joking, the article really says that!

One of the problems for those who venture to translate ancient languages is that they hadn’t invented punctuation yet. Readers just had to intuit where one sentence ended and the next one began. Punctuation was a major step forward in human communications. Do we really want to go back to the way things were before its invention?

The purpose of language is communication, the transfer of complex ideas from one mind to another. On this planet, only humans do it at the level we’ve achieved. Without language, we’d still be at the level of apes living in trees.

Until recently, the only thing BLM meant to me was Bureau of Land Management, that overblown federal agency that controls most of the empty land in the American Southwest, whose pistol-packing agents used to regularly hassle me when I was doing photography on ‘their’ land, even though I wasn’t breaking any laws or rules, and the land belongs to all Americans. (One officious idiot even argued that the ‘no shooting’ rule on sections of BLM land included ‘shooting’ photographs!)

So now it’s ‘Black Lives Matter.’ Well, of course Black lives matter! So do lives of every other color. ALL lives matter, and I’d venture to amend that to ‘ALL LIVES MATTER EQUALLY.’ Isn’t equality what everyone professes to want? Yet, I’ve read that wearing ‘ALL LIVES MATTER’ is racist. Huh? That’s racist how?

Like almost all Americans, I’m a ‘purebred mongrel,’ a mix of multiple lineages. The ancestry I know about includes Irish, Scot, German, and Cherokee, but I’m sure there are others. Should I have T-shirts printed saying ‘MONGREL LIVES MATTER?’ Maybe we should all just, regardless of ethnicity, wear T-shirts reading ‘MY LIFE MATTERS.’

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About The Author: Bob Shell is a professional photographer, author and former editor in chief of Shutterbug Magazine. He is currently serving a 35 year sentence for involuntary manslaughter for the death of Marion Franklin, one of his former models.  He is serving the 13th year of his sentence at Pocahontas State Correctional Facility, Virginia. To read Bob Shell’s, first essay on civil war, click here: https://tonywardstudio.com/blog/culture-war/

Editor’s Note: If you like Bob Shell’s blog posts, you’re sure to like his new book, COSMIC DANCE by Bob Shell (ISBN: 9781799224747, $ 12.95 book, $ 5.99 eBook) available now on Amazon.com . The book, his 26th, is a collection of essays written over the last twelve years in prison, none published anywhere before. It is subtitled, “A biologist’s reflections on space, time, reality, evolution, and the nature of consciousness,” which describes it pretty well. You can read a sample section and reviews on Amazon.com.

Also posted in Blog, commentary, Current Events, Documentary, Environment, Friends of TWS, History, lifestyle, Media, News, Politics, Popular Culture, Women

Bob Shell: Culture War?

Drag Queen, Amsterdam. Photo: Tony Ward. Copyright 2020

 

Text by Bob Shell, Copyright 2020
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Culture War?
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“A culture war is something only the other side fights. The side you are on is only talking sense.” — Robert Shrimsley

Are we really in the middle of a culture war in the USA, and much of the rest of the world, right now? The mass media certainly want us to think so.

In an open letter to Harper’s magazine, 153 prominent writers, academics, and artists spoke out against the rise of “a culture marked by intolerance of opposing views, a vogue for public shaming and ostracism, and the tendency to dissolve complex policy issues in a blinding moral certainty.” Among the signatories were Salman Rushdie, Gloria Steinem, Malcolm Gladwell, Margaret Atwood, J. K. Rowling, Wynton Marsalis, and numerous other people known for rationality. The letter decried “a stifling atmosphere of enforced conformity that metes out harsh punishment to anyone guilty of perceived transgressions, particularly on the topics of race, identity politics, privilege, and gender.”

On CNN.com, commentator Jeff Yang said that the letter’s signers no doubt thought they were “taking a courageous moral stand, but attacking political correctness by people with “enormous public platforms” feels like an affirmation of elitism and privilege.”.

Billy Bragg, a writer forThe Guardian newspaper, called the letter “a howl of anguish from a group that has suddenly found its views no longer treated with reverence.” He said these “long-standing cultural arbiters are not happy to be challenged…on social media by a new generation of activists demanding accountability. The letter was their demand for a safe space.” Hogwash! Anyone who has lived through more than a few years on Earth knows well that there is no such thing as a “safe space.”

According to The Wall Street Journal, the letter accurately depicts “the ferocious campaign of coerced conformity sweeping America’s liberal institutions. And the extreme overreaction just shows why the letter was necessary.”

Yes, the letter’s signers are protected by fame and institutional power, said Phoebe Maltz Bovy, one of the signers, in The Washington Post. But their protected status enables them to speak out about the dangers of cancel culture, which is dangerous for less established writers, thinkers, and performers who are one misstep away from the loss of their livelihood. “The letter is an attempt by the powerful to look out for the powerless.”

Thankfully, I don’t have to worry about this. What are they gonna do, throw me in prison?!

J. K. Rowling has been vilified for her stand on sex as binary. She’s right, of course, in the context of which she speaks.

We must distinguish between biological sex and personal sexual identity. As Rowling points out, biological sex is determined genetically. If you have two X chromosomes, you’re biologically female. If you have one X and one Y, then you’re biologically male. Nothing can change that, at least at our current level of genetic engineering technology. To transgenders and others I say, get over it! Nature made you male or female, just as nature determined your skin and eye color. Arguing otherwise is ignorant and stupid.

But, and it’s a big, bad ‘but’, genetic sex does not determine personal sexual identity, which is very complex, with very few of us being 100% male or female inside our minds. I have no problem with anyone who feels they were assigned the wrong biological sex. I recognize the female in me as well as the predominate male. If I chose to transition to female in my manner, dress, or body, that’s my right and no one has any right to tell me otherwise.

I learned a couple of years ago that one of my oldest friends has transitioned to female. I even have before and after photos. I was surprised, yes, but not offended. But my friend will always be biologically male, barring some breakthrough in genetics.

I applaud J. K. Rowling for sticking to her guns. She has every right to her opinions. She feels strongly enough about the issue that she returned the award she received last year from the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights organization when Kerry Kennedy the group’s president, criticized her opinions on transgender people, saying her opinion that sex is biologically determined “diminished the identity of trans and nonbinary people.”

Bullshit! As Rowling said, no award is worth giving up “the right to follow the dictates of my own conscience.”

Indeed, the criticism of Rowling smacks of the very intolerance her critics accuse her of.

I’m a biologist by training. My thoughts on sex may not currently be politically correct, but they are scientifically/biologically correct, and I think that’s more important.

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About The Author: Bob Shell is a professional photographer, author and former editor in chief of Shutterbug Magazine. He is currently serving a 35 year sentence for involuntary manslaughter for the death of Marion Franklin, one of his former models.  He is serving the 13th year of his sentence at Pocahontas State Correctional Facility, Virginia. To read Bob Shell’s, first essay on civil war, click here: https://tonywardstudio.com/blog/civil-war-2/

Editor’s Note: If you like Bob Shell’s blog posts, you’re sure to like his new book, COSMIC DANCE by Bob Shell (ISBN: 9781799224747, $ 12.95 book, $ 5.99 eBook) available now on Amazon.com . The book, his 26th, is a collection of essays written over the last twelve years in prison, none published anywhere before. It is subtitled, “A biologist’s reflections on space, time, reality, evolution, and the nature of consciousness,” which describes it pretty well. You can read a sample section and reviews on Amazon.com.

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