Category Archives: Random opinion

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.

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.

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.”

 

 

We need all of us

My previous post was on the stages of grieving the recent election.  One of the things I noticed after my Dad died was that there are also different ways of grieving . . . and coping with loss and challenge.  I also noticed that the average number of dumb things I did and said (and, candidly, that other people said) went up radically during the grieving period.

In the past few days, since the election trainwreck, I’ve seen, heard, and read people grieving and coping in many different ways, some of which made me annoyed or even angry.  I’m trying to hold onto this bit of insight, though:  we need all of us.

We need people who are mad as hell and taking to the streets.

We need policy wonks who are willing to [drink a giant vodka and pepto cocktail and] try to make semi-rational policy with the incoming administration.

We need law nerds in offices with laptops suing the crap out of anyone who violates civil rights and civil liberties.  (I have to fit in somewhere, right?)

We need people who need to hear “it’s going to be OK” in order to get up in the morning and continue to do good work.

We need people who need to hear us acknowledge that it’s never ever going to be OK.

We need people to step up and step in when harassment happens.  Always.

We need people documenting every single act of harassment and vandalism.

We need both those who think this is the apocalypse and those who can pull us back from the emotional brink.

We even need [flying pigs and] liberal Republicans we can work with to limit the legislative and administrative damage to specific communities.

Most of all, I think, we need to be gentle with each other here on the left and the many and various ways we’re coping and processing.

We need all of us.

Taking Trump voters’ concerns seriously, or, conservative thundershirt.

A recent article in Vox,  Taking Trump voters’ concerns seriously means listening to what they’re actually saying, ends where we need to begin.  It makes a very strong case for the proposition that Trump voters are not — as a matter of demographic fact — poor whites pushed to the economic edge by globalization or immigration.   They tend to be more affluent than Democrats, and were approximately the same as Cruz voters.

Trump voters aren’t economically fragile; they are angry, insecure white people.  The article concludes:

What’s needed is an honest reckoning with what it means that a large segment of the US population, large enough to capture one of the two major political parties, is motivated primarily by white nationalism and an anxiety over the fast-changing demographics of the country.

Yes, exactly.  But how do we do that?  We are not going to civilize this part of our population by telling them that they are anxious, evil, wrong-thinking racists.  (OK, of course, that’s what I’m doing here.  But I’m assuming no one reads this blog, especially anxious racists.)

What we need is something like an anxious white-person Thundershirt (TM), which works very well to calm our dogs when they start barking wildly at nonexistent things that freak them out.

(Image: brown and white beagle wearing a tight grey vest around its torso.

If that doesn’t work — or if anxious white people refuse to strap themselves into a tight, gray, felt-and-Velcro contraption — we need some hard thinking about how to make them feel like they belong in the multi-racial, progressive society we are on track to becoming.  Obviously, pandering to fear and racism is not the answer.  Nor is it appropriate to demand that the targets of Trumpist hatred (blacks, Muslims, people with disabilities, immigrants, women, anyone with a shred of decency) take on the task of being teachers, hand-holders, reach-outters, or kum-ba-yah singers for precisely the folks who are currently treating them like crap.

What, then?  How to raise the dialog, create an inclusive environment, and bring the Trumpists along with us?  This will be especially necessary after the election should Clinton win.  They will be even angrier, barking at even more outlandish imagined conspiracies.

This is a very real question that desperately needs an answer.