Author Archives: Amy Robertson

Not Giving A Fuck: The Graph

Trigger warning:  Profanity.  A lot. Mostly the F word. Prepare yourself.

One of the most wonderful things about getting older is — each year — giving fewer and fewer fucks about things that don’t deserve them.  I’ve pondered this each year, relieved — as each birthday arrived — at all the many additional things I didn’t give a fuck about. Then my dear brother recommended an excellent and hilarious book that spoke directly to this phenomenon: “The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving a F*ck: How to Stop Spending Time You Don’t Have with People You Don’t Like Doing Things You Don’t Want to Do (A No F*cks Given Guide)” by Sarah Knight.

Knight correctly notes that there are three categories of people who don’t give any fucks: babies; assholes; and the enlightened (that is people who have bought and read her book). I would add, of course, old people. But she’s right and of course I have a graph to prove it.

Image: bar graph showing "give a fuck level" on the Y axis and "age" on the X axis, with the level of fucks given starting at zero, rising slowly, then faster up to 70 through high school and college, lower for 3 years in my 20s, high agian for law school, and then gradually decreasing to about 14 this year, age 57.

The author is right that babies don’t give a fuck at least about things that don’t deserve it. But think I didn’t give much of a fuck until junior high school when I and every other 13-year-old started to give a fuck about EVERY FUCKING THING. For me, starting college started the long process of giving less of a fuck.  It involved plenty of academic fuck-giving, but fundamentally I was surrounded by Nerds Like Me and there was a lot less to stress about in the other-people department.  I then spent three years traveling — mostly in Taiwan — and giving very few fucks because I was surrounded by people for whom my weirdness factor started around 95%, so I did not give a fuck if my marginal weirdness was marginally higher or lower on any given day.  Also the food was amazing.  Law school of course brought a major increase in fuck-giving, but I think it’s been on a gradual downward trend since then.

As with most self help books (or so I hear), Knight gives you self-improvement homework: to make lists of the things you give a fuck about, and then determine whether each one is deserving of the fucks you devote to it.  I’m working on that list, but also — therapeutically — created the list of Things I Have Already Succeeded In Not Giving A Fuck About:

  • Knowing about, drinking, or liking wine.
  • Knowing about or listening to classical music or opera.  The music genes were distributed very unevenly in our family, and appear to have skipped me completely.
  • Camping, hiking, swimming, exercising, or being outdoorsy.
  • Staying home on Friday or Saturday night — indeed, this is now at the top of my list of Things I Love To Do.
  • Most clothing choices — especially any pressure to achieve variety in my wardrobe.
  • Whether the forks, knives, and spoons are on the right or left because Emily Post says so possibly based on a configuration designed to discourage dinner guests from stabbing each other in the middle ages (and some modern family dinners). I can’t tell left from right, everyone gets the utensils they need, and I don’t give a fuck!
  • Eating dinner unfashionably early, say, at 5:00, and sometimes bracket-creeping that back to 4:00, 3:00, or even 2:00 at which point we just call it “second lunch” or just “lunch” since “second breakfast” happened around 10:00.
  • Having gray hair. The dyeing process requires you to sit still and make conversation with someone you barely know on topics you don’t care about for HOURS, and then a week later to start giving a fuck about — but not actually doing anything about — your roots.
  • Whether I have selected the fastest driving route from one place to another.  Try it:  you cannot imagine how liberating it is to choose a route and never think about whether the traffic might have been just a little faster on the alternate route.
  • What most of the world thinks of me, which of course does not stop me from giving over brainspace to the opinions of totally random and/or toxic people or perseverating about something I said several decades ago. Still working on that.

So to anyone stressing about a milestone birthday, I say:  it gets better — you give less and less of a fuck with each passing year, and it’s glorious.

“Toxic masculinity is killing us.”

Renée Graham wrote a thoughtful and terrifying piece in yesterday’s Boston Globe entitled “Toxic masculinity is killing us.”

Literally and figuratively, toxic masculinity is killing us: Mass shootings. Domestic violence. Fatal fraternity hazing. Rape culture. Workplaces and schools turned into cesspools of sexual harassment and assault. This is not consigned to one race, ethnicity, or socioeconomic level. Feral masculinity affirms itself every day through violence and domination.

It is a detriment to social and political progress, our mental health, and physical safety. The deleterious result is a nation under siege by those compelled to affirm their power by any means necessary.

I had been thinking about this, especially in light of several recent stories about fraternity or football hazing resulting in severe injuries or death. All involve bizarre, sadistic rituals and near-fatal and fatal levels of alcohol. And we only know about them because someone died or was horribly injured.  Two things struck me as I read these articles:
  • The non-fatal version of this must go on thousands of times a year, in precisely the institutions we’re counting on to turn adolescents into adults; and
  • When they’re not busy play-acting at sodomy or abusing and photographing the almost-corpse of their classmate — or engaging in other, violent but non-fatal rituals — these young men likely present as upstanding citizens-to-be.   

They’re the ones we praise on the field on Sunday and offer summer internships to, not the ones we kill for wearing a hoodie or having a busted tail light or failing to leave a movie theater between showings.

At Penn State, a pledge drinks too much, falls down a flight of stairs, is dragged to a sofa, and left to die of his injuries.  And there was a camera:

There was the seemingly callous handling of Tim Piazza’s body, as when a brother lifted Tim’s arm and it thudded back onto his chest, or when another brother poured liquid on his face, or when a brother slapped his face three times, or when a brother tackled someone onto him, or when Tim kept rolling off the couch but his body showed no reflex reactions, or when another brother struck his discolored abdomen with an open hand. Then there was the response to his condition: Beta brothers strapped a heavy book bag on Tim’s unconscious body to keep him from rolling onto his back and aspirating on his own vomit, a phenomenon with which they were sufficiently familiar to have a name for it: “backpacking.” There were intermittent signs of animation: Tim twitching, Tim vomiting, Tim bare-chested and moving his legs, the backpack affixed to his body. There was the brothers’ disconcerting failure to seek help. When brother Kordel Davis arrived, 28 minutes after Tim’s fall, he looked at Tim’s head and began pointing at it agitatedly and arguing to his fellow Betas, according to interviews conducted by police, that they needed to call 911. A brother was then seen on the video shoving Davis across the room.

After Beta’s brothers and pledges had headed off, Tim Piazza was seen alone in the video, at times on all fours and clutching his abdomen, at times managing to stand and stagger, only to fall again, repeatedly, sometimes face-first onto the hard floor or into sharp objects (a table corner, a banister finial). At 6:49 A.M., a pledge named Qobi Quainoo sat on a sofa opposite Tim and watched him groan, fall off the sofa, and get to his knees and bend forward, rocking and clutching his head. Quainoo began to record a video of this on his cell phone, according to the presentment, and left the house at 7:12 A.M. (Quainoo did not respond to a request for comment.)

Around 10 A.M., two brothers found Tim’s shoes and started looking for him. They found him in the basement, breathing heavily, bare-chested, his hands clenched, his skin cold, blood on his face, his eyes half open. They took him upstairs. For the next 42 minutes, a shifting assortment of brothers stood around, shaking Tim, attempting to put a shirt on him, trying to prop him up on the couch.

What follow then details the attempts to clean up and cover up the crimes.

A fraternity at Baruch College takes its pledges to a remote cabin and puts them through a physical gauntlet called “The Glass Ceiling.”

Deng was the last of his pledge class to go through the Glass Ceiling. He made it through the first two stages, but in the middle of the third he got up unsteadily after one tackle. Then, according to testimony later given by Li, the pledge assistant Kenny Kwan, starting 10 to 15 feet away, ran at full speed into Deng and slammed him to the ground. Deng did not get up.

Li, 21 at the time, would later tell prosecutors that Deng was making ‘‘groaning sounds.’’ According to Li, Sheldon Wong, who was 21 and the pledge educator, picked Deng up and, with others’ help, carried him inside the rental house. Charles Lai, who was 23 and Deng’s Big, told detectives that Deng’s body felt ‘‘straight like a board.’’ Fraternity members stripped off his clothes, cold and wet with frost, and laid him down by the fireplace and covered him with a blanket. At 5:05 a.m., the police timeline indicates, one brother called his girlfriend, a nurse, to ask what she thought could be causing Deng to be so unresponsive. Eight minutes later, another brother Googled ‘‘conscious’’ and ‘‘unconscious.’’ At 5:55, a fraternity brother named Revel Deng texted a friend four times to ask about his grandfather’s fatal fall down the stairs. During this period, none of the three dozen brothers in the Poconos called 911. Nobody summoned an ambulance because, according to a statement given to detectives, someone had looked up how much it would cost and determined that the price would be too high.

Around 6 a.m., Wong, Lai and a third brother drove Michael Deng to the emergency room

Gruver died at a hospital on Sept. 14 after Phi Delta Theta members found him lying on a couch at the fraternity house. A witness told police that Gruver was “highly intoxicated” when fraternity members laid him on the couch and left the house sometime early that morning.

Around 11 a.m., members found Gruver still on the couch with a weak pulse and couldn’t tell if he was breathing, police said. Two people drove him to a hospital, where he died that day.

And two football hazings involving sodomy, one in high school,

Jordan Preavy had it all as a junior in high school after making the football team. But that dream quickly became a nightmare for the 16-year-old when he was sodomized during a hazing ritual.

Witnesses told police Preavy’s head “snapped back and he looked pained,” yelling “No!” and “Get off,” as he was assaulted through his clothes with a broomstick by at least two older teammates in 2011.

Nearly a year later, just weeks after his 17th birthday, Preavy killed himself.

was kidnapped last year from his dorm, had his arms and legs bound with duct tape, and was beaten, peppered with anti-Muslim slurs, stripped to his underwear, nearly penetrated by a foreign object, then left half-naked in a baseball field as temperatures dipped near freezing.
These are the perps:
Photo array of head shots of five white men with short hair in football jerseys. Caption reads "Five football stars at Illinois's Christian-focused Wheaton College are accused of kidnapping, beating, and attempting to sodomize a freshman."
Having recalled reading these various articles, I went to find them by googling “fraternity hazing deaths.” There’s a Wikipedia page that lists them — since the 1800s.
What does it mean for these boys’ treatment of women and gay men that sodomy is used as a symbol of dominance, ingrained into them to belong to a new family just after they’ve left their birth families.
I have no answers.  Perhaps if high schools and colleges were led by grown-ups who set positive examples and banned all hazing — and enforced the ban full time, not just ad hoc after death or injury?  But could colleges do this without endangering their endowment?  And thus it perpetuates itself.

Do you live in a bubble? Yeah, me too!

You’ve probably seen some version of the NPR bubble quiz.  It was published in March, 2016, but has been making the rounds on Facebook again.

It’s prefaced like this:

There exists a new upper class that’s completely disconnected from the average white American and American culture at large, argues Charles Murray, a libertarian political scientist and author.

Of course, if it’s based on Charles Murray’s work, it gets an automatic 5-star bullshit rating, but I took it for fun, and learned that I’m pretty bubblified:  my father was a lawyer; I’ve never owned a pickup truck; and I can’t identify military insignia.  I’m saved from total hermetically sealed oblivion by the fact that I have had friends who are evangelical Christians, have purchased Avon products,* and am pretty sure Tim would have gone fishing in the past five years if it weren’t so inaccessible.

Why is it, though, that we only think of educated middle-class liberals as living in a bubble?  And those in Murray’s white suburban Christian bubble as defining “American culture”?

Want to see if you are part of “American culture” as millions of people outside the exurbs of the south and midwest experience it?  Take the official ThoughtSnax Bubble Quiz!


Do you have any close friends or family members who rely on a wheelchair to get around (full time; not just at the airport)?**

Have you ever been unable to shop, dine out, or patronize an entertainment venue because of architectural barriers?

Have you ever been unable to enjoy a movie, play, concert, or sporting event because of communications barriers?

Do you consider people with significant disabilities who do ordinary things like work, shop, or dine out with friends to be “inspirational”?

Do you regularly interact professionally with professionals of other races or national origins?

Do you have any friends who are gay or lesbian?  Trans?  That you know of?

Do you know what “trans” means?

Have you ever been mis-gendered or dead-named?  Do you know what this means?

Have you ever read a book, article, or poem by any of the following?

  • Ta-Nehisi Coates
  • Dan Savage
  • Laura Hershey
  • Viet Thanh Nguyen
  • Stephen Kuusisto
  • N.K. Jemisin
  • Junot Diaz
  • Marjane Satrapi
  • Philip Pullman
  • Jhumpa Lahiri

Have you or anyone close to you ever feared for their life, health, or safety at the hands of the police?

Have you or anyone close to you ever feared for their life, health, or safety if pending Republican “health” “care” legislation were to pass?

Do you know any Jews?

Do you know any Jews as personal friends, not just colleagues or professionals?

Do you know who any of these people are?

  • Fred Korematsu
  • Maysoon Zayid
  • Stella Young
  • Audre Lorde
  • Justin Dart
  • Sarah McBride
  • Bill Lann Lee
  • I. King Jordan
  • Bree Newsome

Have you ever had anyone attempt to proselytize you or convert you to their religion?

Do you have an education that you’re proud of?

Have you ever experienced discrimination on the basis of your race, sexual orientation, gender/identity/expression, disability, or national origin?

Has anyone ever assumed you were:

  • the nanny?
  • the help?
  • the aide?
  • unable to speak for yourself?
  • not married to your actual spouse because you’re the same gender?
  • not married to your actual spouse because one of you has a disability?
  • a different religion, nationality, or gender because you don’t look like they assume people of your religion, nationality, or gender should look?

Have you ever been on the receiving end of a “bless your heart!”

Are you sick and tired of non-disabled, straight, cis, white, Christian conservatives acting all superior because you answered “yes” to many of these questions?

UPDATE (from my astute and perceptive sister-in-law, Terri Robertson):

Have you ever been subjected to harassment because of your gender?

Have you had your reproductive or sexual health choices questioned?

Do you dress based on fear?

Can you walk by yourself in a parking garage without fear? Can you walk anywhere by yourself without fear?

UPDATE II (from my astute and perceptive step-sister-in-law*** Annie McQuilken):

Have you ever had your parenting skills questioned in public because your kid didn’t look or behave “typically”?

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*The quiz did not require me to have used these products.

**You knew that would be first, right?

*** My parents did not supply me with any sisters, but luckily we have an extensive blended family that provided a few.

Never Forget

Every September 11, I remember the quiet scary days around that date in 2001.  I remember sitting in my office and hearing a street musician outside my window playing the the National Anthem on his saxophone and touching my soul.  I remember that, for a brief moment, people around the world said “Je suis Americain(e)” in many languages.

But if you want to talk memories — things I can’t forget — this brings back how quickly we squandered that good will on an unrelated war that led to far greater loss of life.  And, as I heard someone point out on the first or second anniversary of 9/11/2001, many of the people instructing us to Never Forget The Twin Towers would spend the other 364 days of the year deriding the coastal elites and striving immigrants who actually lost their lives in those buildings.

But more recently, the instruction to Never Forget strikes a sour note with me — largely because it brings into stark relief the things that many Never Forgetters are comfortable forgetting.  So herewith a (likely still incomplete) list, in approximate chronological order, of things I will Never Forget:

  • My Jewish ancestors who died in the Inquisition.
  • Native Americans who died following the arrival of my various ancestors to this land.
  • Enslaved African-Americans who died crossing the Atlantic or due to the lethal practices of our system of enslavement.
  • Workers who died in the Triangle Shirtwaist fire, the Ludlow Massacre and others.
  • African-Americans who were lynched during Jim Crow and after.
  • American soldiers who died fighting Nazis and fascists.
  • Jews killed by Nazis and fascists.
  • Japanese killed by atomic bombs.
  • Americans killed in the (ongoing) struggle for civil rights.
  • Americans killed on 9/11/2001.
  • Millions of Iraqis who died after we decided to declare war on a country that did not launch the 9/11 attacks and did not have WMDs.
  • Matthew Shepard and the countless LGBTQ individuals killed for who they are.
  • Marvin Booker, Philando Castile, Michael Brown, Sandra Bland, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Walter Scott, Freddie Gray, Ethan Saylor, Daniel Harris, Shawn Vigil, Jessica Hernandez, Michael Marshall, and other people of color and people with disabilities who have died at the hands of law enforcement.
  • The children who died at Sandy Hook, and other victims of mass shootings and gun violence.

Never. Forget.

Micro Aggressor Dramatic Overreaction Syndrome

Envard Munch’s “The Scream.” Description from the BBC: Beneath a boiling sky, aflame with yellow, orange and red, an androgynous figure stands upon a bridge. Wearing a sinuous blue coat, which appears to flow, surreally, into a torrent of aqua, indigo and ultramarine behind him, he holds up two elongated hands on either side of his hairless, skull-like head. His eyes wide with shock, he unleashes a bloodcurdling shriek. Despite distant vestiges of normality – two figures upon the bridge, a boat on the fjord – everything is suffused with a sense of primal, overwhelming horror.My first blog post* — presciently titled “In which I start my new blog by offending everyone” — discussed the fact that ostensibly right-thinking people, who have banished from their vocabulary epithets based on race, gender/identity, religion, national origin, and sexual orientation are still more than willing to toss around epithets based on disability.  And when you call these paradigms of liberal open-mindedness on this insulting inconsistency, you get a very consistent reaction:  that’s just one too many interest group’s feelings to keep track of.

This is such a consistent reaction it needs a name:  Micro Aggressor Dramatic Overreaction Syndrome.

Yesterday, I had this email exchange with a well-respected older, white, male, lefty plaintiff’s lawyer — let’s call him “Joe” because, I promise you, that’s not his name — starting with a post to a listserv about what one person might have known about another:**

Joe (to listserv):  I know that love is blind, but I don’t think it’s blind, deaf and dumb.  (Apologies for use of non-PC references to visual, auditory and speech disabilities.)

Me (in a private email to Joe):  C’mon Joe: “ I know that love is blind, but I don’t think it’s blind, deaf and dumb.  (Apologies for use of non-PC references to visual, auditory and speech disabilities.)”   You know we love you, but that’s really not OK.  I always try to do the protected-class switcheroo:   would you have said something demeaning about a person of color, LGBTQI person, etc, and then excused it as “non-PC”?  Thanks.

This, of course, would have been a good time for Joe to say “oops, I fucked up” or “sorry, I didn’t think about it that way.”  Instead, he doubled down and displayed a classic case of Micro Aggressor Dramatic Overreaction Syndrome:

I was trying to inject a note of levity, although that note might have been flat.

Of course, I did not mean that love is literally blind.  Obviously, the term “blind” is a metaphor.  So is the word “blind” in the saying, “There are none so blind as those who will not see.”  That refers to people who will not see, in a volitional sense, not to those who cannot see, who have a severe vision disability.

My use of “deaf” and “dumb” was also metaphorical, although in this case it might have been volitional as well.  [Did the witness choose not to know?]**

Maybe I’ll just swear off metaphors.  They can be treacherous.

“Oh poor me!  Instead of thinking about people with disabilities as human beings instead of metaphors for failure, I’ll just swear off metaphors!”  Micro Aggressor Dramatic Overreaction Syndrome.  And of course, it’s the metaphoricalness (metaphorocity?) that’s the problem:  he invokes disability as a negative quality of someone who apparently refuses to recognize a bad fact about someone else.

I responded:

You don’t have to swear off metaphors; only those based on negative associations with protected classes.  I’m guessing you wouldn’t metaphorically call someone an “Indian giver,” or use the term “Jew him down,” or “n****r in the woodpile.”  All of these are metaphors that we have long ago left behind – with good reason.  Disability metaphors are some of the last to go, but I think it’s time to leave them behind too.

Thanks for thinking this through.

No response, which I suppose is as it should be:  we’d each said our piece.  I said this two years ago and I’ll say it again:

I’m done. I’m done being polite.***  I’m done shutting up about good liberals who seem to get every sort of civil rights and civil liberties except the equality of rights, respect, and dignity of our brothers and sisters with disabilities.  I’m done with disability rights as a “when we get around to it” right.  I’m done with people who are willing to use respectful terminology except — *big sigh* — avoiding using the word “retard” is just one step too far toward thought control.  And I’m done with “civil rights” law firms in inaccessible offices and “civil rights” lawyers who don’t hire interpreters.  I’m done.

Still done.  Even more done.

***************

*Not actually THE first blog post — which was, of course, “Hello, World!” — but next after that one.

**Eliding any information that might actually relate to the case in question.

***Yes, I know, there is clear and convincing evidence that I was done with politeness, as a general matter, a long time ago.

Wanted: foreign affairs journalist to cover events in Ferguson, Minneapolis, and Cleveland.

Sometimes I think journalists don’t even read their own articles — or internalize their own hot air.  In this Sunday’s New York Times, Ellen Barry writes about a murder case in India in which caste affiliation gets in the way of justice.  Early in the piece, she grills the local constable, gets pushback, and examines her navel a bit:

Over the past decade, in Russia and then India, I have been asked versions of this question hundreds of times: Who are you to come here and tell us what is wrong with our system? And it’s true, the whole enterprise of foreign correspondence has a whiff of colonialism. During the years I have worked abroad, Americans’ interest in promoting their values in the world has receded, slowly and then precipitously. I doubted the regional hegemons filling the vacuum would do better, but still, I wasn’t sure it was such a bad thing.

(Emphasis, as the law nerds say, added.)  So, cool, I think, she’s just a little bit self-aware about her privileged position and first-world filter.  But after reporting that the local justice system refused to recognize a murder as a murder — based on caste loyalty — she sheds her self-awareness like a gossamer scarf:*

Sometimes it seemed that the European legal system, with its liberal emphasis on individual rights, had settled only lightly on a country fixated on the rights of groups. Political leaders have driven this deeper into the culture: Equality, in India, is equality among groups. Justice is group justice.

Perhaps her next colonial assignment should be Ferguson.  Or Minneapolis.  Or Baltimore.  Or Cleveland.  Or New York.  I’d be interested in the promotion of American values in those far flung locales.

********

*I’m picturing a blonde woman — perhaps in a perfume ad — running in slow mo as the scarf of self awareness floats gracefully up and away from her.**

**Note the latest in accessible images:  the image-free image description.

You’ll Never Be as Radical as This 18th-Century Quaker Dwarf – NYTimes.com

Slowly, over a quarter-century, his relentless agitation changed hearts and minds. … He died a year later, an outsider to the Quaker community he loved, but a moral giant of a man.

Source: You’ll Never Be as Radical as This 18th-Century Quaker Dwarf – NYTimes.com

Seriously? Seriously??? You write about a radical Little Person who presciently opposed slavery, point out that part of why history has ignored him is his disability, and conclude with words equating moral superiority with physical size or typicality.

And we wonder why no one ever gets disability rights.