Category Archives: My (largely correct) political views

“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”?

******

*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.

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.

Patriotism as political correctness

New Orleans is finally doing the right thing and taking down statues of famous traitors.  The linked story relates that “opponents see this as suppressing or rewriting history in the name of political correctness.”*  Says one such opponent:

This is American history, whether you like it or not.

I find it curious that the only way these opponents can see to preserve history is through monumental statues of traitors and enemies of our country.  (Side question:  how many of the opponents have American flags on their cars or sweaters or lapels?)

On the opponents’ theory, the only way we can learn the history of World War II would be to erect a statue of Adolph Hitler; avoid suppressing or rewriting the history of the Cold War by installing a statue of Stalin (perhaps the Russians a few extra lying around); tell the true story of all of the brave boys of the revolution by putting up a statue of George III?

No one is preventing anyone from learning about the history of the civil war, individual sacrifice and brutality on both sides, or who these guys were who used to be displayed greater-than-life-size in the middle of traffic circles.  Books — and movies and TV specials, for those less inclined to read — abound for learning just about everything you’d like to know about those awful years.  Hell, even our ignorant president seems curious about what the heck could possibly have caused the Civil War.  But the people we honor through giant carved slabs of rock should not include those who tried to rip our country apart in the name of enslaving our fellow humans.

Preview of coming blog posts I may or may not ever get the energy to write:  Conservatives don’t understand hypocrisy because you have to (1) be capable of rational thought (“one of these things is not like the other”); and (2) give enough of a shit to engage in it.  And, I suppose, (3) not have your entire worldview and sense of self defined by the need to reject it.

*******

*I also deeply love this use of political correctness:  now simple loyalty to country is dismissed as “PC.”

Discipline before rule of law

As most of you know by now, Trump fired FBI Director James Comey last night.  He commissioned a rationale from the Department of Justice, which he presented to Comey with a cover letter from Attorney General Sessions.

Here is the first sentence of Sessions’s letter:

As Attorney General, I am committed to a high level of discipline, integrity, and the rule of law to the Department of Justice.

Discipline first; rule of law third.

This is inconsistent with the oath of a civil servant, whose first duty is to the rule of law:

I, ——–, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.

The attorney general takes that same oath.  (TW:  This links to the swearing in of Attorney General Loretta Lynch, which may cause fatal levels of nostalgia for the decency, fairness, and the rule of law.)

Hell, even the oath Sessions took to become an attorney in Alabama requires him to support the United States Constitution (albeit second to the Alabama Constitution — I suppose just in case they secede again) and nowhere speaks of “discipline.”

I, ————, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will demean myself as an attorney, according to the best of my learning and ability, and with all good fidelity, as well to the court as to the client; that I will use no falsehood or delay any person’s cause for lucre or malice, and that I will support the constitution of the State of Alabama and of the United States, so long as I continue a citizen thereof, so help me God.

I was interested to learn that Sessions has also sworn not to “delay any person’s cause for lucre or malice.”  Let’s see how that plays out in the Trump/Russia investigation.

Ultimately, Sessions is a mean, insecure, racist punk.  His need for discipline reveals a lifetime spent fearing independent or abstract thought, essential to support and defend principles instead of people.  He’s the one of those little shits who always surround the school bully, egging him on.  Vincent Crabbe or Gregory Goyle to Trump’s Draco Malfoy.

Image: four wizards from Harry Potter, middle school-age kids in black academic robes. All white. Second from left is Draco Malfoy, blond and sneering. To either side and slightly behind him are his sidekicks.

Prejudice leaks

I wonder about the term “micro-aggressions,” because they’re neither.  They seem to me to be prejudice leaks, neither aggressive nor — because they reveal an entire worldview — micro.*

We all have internal worldviews that are full of prejudices and assumptions.  Some true, some false; some examined, some unexamined; some praiseworthy, some benign, some offensive.  Then we encase the whole mess in the persona we are presenting to the world.  A thick exoskeleton of personality that is all most people ever see.

Image: Michelin Tire logo - human figure made of tires, with the effect of a puffy, tire-encased human.

Many people choose to encase themselves in an open-minded persona.  Maybe it helps them fit in to a liberal social circle or workplace.  Or maybe they genuinely believe they are open-minded.  It’s important to their self-image.  Or maybe it’s important to you to believe they’re open-minded.  They’re your friend, teacher, colleague, doctor, pastor.  You want to believe they see you as you are.

Then they say:

I’m so sorry your husband uses a wheelchair” ::furrowed eyebrows concerned face::  or

“are you the nanny?”  or

“where are you really from?” or

“you must be the first person in your family to go to college.”  or

“you’re so articulate!” or

is the father still in the picture?” or

“I know your kid has two moms, but who’s the real father?”

and a little fissure forms in the exoskeleton and the prejudice leaks out.**

Image: Michelin Tire logo - human figure made of tires -- with a small hole in his head and lines indicating a leak.

Suddenly you can see, in that small leak, the entire worldview that sits inside the protective exoskeleton.  That they view disability through a lens of pity.  That they have seen your skin color or facial features and constructed an entire narrative that has nothing to do with you.  That their views of LGBTQ families are stuck somewhere around 1950.

In many cases, it’s not aggressive,*** but it’s not micro.  It’s an inadvertent glimpse of an entire worldview you didn’t know existed, or didn’t want to know existed, or hoped against hope and experience did not exist, or perhaps they didn’t know existed or had been suppressing or had never stopped to think about or didn’t even have the framework to understand.

Prejudice leaks.

It doesn’t sound as cool as micro-aggression.  It sounds like something that requires padded undergarments.  But I honestly think it’s a more accurate description.

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

*I realize I’m wading into an arena that has been the subject of a good deal of academic thought, research, and writing, and that I have 0.00 qualifications to take on that analysis.  This is a strictly non-academic view, from someone who has witnessed many real-life prejudice leaks that seemed neither micro nor aggressive.

**Not bad for someone who can’t draw, eh?

***There are plenty of cases where comments like these are aggressive, but in that case I wouldn’t call them “micro-aggressions,” I’d call them “prejudice” and perhaps also “being an asshole.”

Bathroom segregation as it should be.

Image:  Two bathroom doors.  The one on the left has a stick figure of a human and below it, the words “People who don’t pee on seats or floors, don’t steal plumbing fixtures or toilet paper rolls, throw paper towels in trash cans, flush, and only write witty and  entertaining graffiti.”  The one on the right has a stick figure of a pig’s face and below it, the words “People who pee on seats and floors, steal plumbing fixtures and toilet paper rolls, throw paper towels on floor,  don’t flush, and write disgusting or boring graffiti.”