This week for the Throwback I’d like to send you deep tom catch this 2014 gem that I really enjoyed writing. This Derby is not only a remonstration against weaponizing perceived intelligence when such is a very slippery target, but how you should also undertake due diligence to identify who you are quoting. Because you shouldn’t quote Joseph Sobran without understanding who he was…
Now the person who shared this with me was a well meaning sort, hardly an arch conservative. So it is odd to me to see him sharing something that originated from someone like Joseph Sobran. Why odd? Because the late Michael Joseph Sobran (February 23, 1946 – September 30, 2010), or Joe Sobran to readers of his syndicated columns, was hardly an insignificant figure in the history of American ideas. Conservative pundit and walking Godwin’s Law infraction Pat Buchanan called Sobran “perhaps the finest columnist of our generation”. Ann Coulter called him “the worlds greatest writer, the G.K. Chesterton of our time.” A columnist at National Review magazine from 1972 until he was asked to leave under charges of anti-semitism, Sobran described himself as a “paleo-conservative”, although in 2002 he announced his shift to “Libertarianism”, in fact he was a fellow at the Ludwig Von Mises Institute. Also a pro-life, anti-war Catholic (he opposed the Iraq War), Sobran hardly fits neatly into any particular ideological box, and I’m sure a careful reading of his works would find even a died in the wool big government liberal like myself nodding along in agreement.
And the basic premise of the meme is still shitty, we have remedial classes in college because more and more people have access to higher education than when old Joe was a freshman…
100 years ago, an education past the elementary school level was almost exclusive privilege of the middle and upper class white males. And the type of education that Sobran is extolling, focusing on the classics and obviously college preparatory was even more exclusive (and still is in most of the USA). The vast majority of teenage Americans 100 years ago were already working, either on the farm or low skilled manufacturing work by the time they would have been learning Latin and Greek in Joe’s mythical Classics High. On the flip side of the meme, yes a large number of college freshmen are now taking remedial courses in English and Mathematics. And that certainly seems bad on its face. But remember, a post secondary degree of some sort is necessary for more and more jobs in our economy. Record numbers of high school graduates are enrolling every year. Is it wasteful for so many of our students to be in remedial classes, especially since many of them don’t even realize their deficiency until they are already enrolled? Of course it is, and there is plenty of room for healthy debate on how to best bring those numbers down, (hint: eliminating the Department of Education is probably not on the healthy debate menu.) But remedial classes will always fulfill a vital role in bridging the gap between unready and ready for college, especially considering how much educational achievement can be affected by factors outside the students control such poverty, an important consideration in a society suffering from vast income disparity.
Today’s Throwback is back to the long ago year 2014. And the anecdote it refers to is from 2011! It’s all about how being a Stay at Home Dad was made extra stressful by the insistence on treating caregiving Moms more respect than caregiving Dad’s. Just let me do my job people…
Let me set the stage. Each year the kindergartners through 3rd graders put on elaborate (for little kids) performances. With singing and dancing, the kids get a chance to really show off the “performing” part of their education. It is a scrumptiously cute production every year and only slightly painful to sit through. As the Schmoo’s first year of big kid school approached its end, she grew more and more excited. She practiced her one line over and over. She sang her little songs ad nauseum. She was adorable. When the fateful date arrived, we ran into one little hitch. The Girl had a work-related obligation (details are hazy as to whether she was busy at the office or on a business trip to India . . . it was 3 years ago), which meant I had to fly solo to the big shindig. No problem, said the utterly confident SAHD. Get the Grommet (still under factory warranty at this point) in the stroller. Bribe the Peanut with fruit snacks to settle down. Make sure the Schmoo is in the right clothes. Arrange to meet the Nana at the school. Get there early. Check, check, check and check! Everything appears to be going according to plan. Thirty minutes to showtime as I and the rest of the family wait in the hallway outside the dance classroom, checking the iPhone to make sure Nana isn’t lost, I hear a familiar crying. It’s not the Grommet (who is asleep) or the Peanut (who is running around in circles). It is definitely the Schmoo. Parent reflexes kicking in, I grab the Peanut, tell her to watch her little brother for a moment, and go to check on my big kid. And at the door I am rebuffed. A volunteer, not even a teacher, informs me that only mothers are allowed in the “dressing room.” “But I can hear my kid crying. She’s obviously scared, probably just stage fright,” I respond reasonably. “I’m sorry, but moms only in the dressing room” “It’s not even a dressing room, it’s the Dance Classroom, I’ve been in there before. . . . C’mon, she just needs a hug. It’ll take a minute.” “Tell me your child’s name and I’ll send her out.” At this point I was beginning to become a bit upset. I gave her the Schmoo’s name and waited at the door, craning my neck to see if I could catch the kid’s eye. I heard the crying get worse, not surprising me at all because if there’s anything that I can depend on, it is for the #1 kid to get incredibly anxious if she feels like she has done something wrong. And having a stranger talking to her at that point was the worst thing we could do. Finally, with the other two kids losing patience/gaining consciousness I was able to flag down her actual teacher, who while sympathetic to my plight once again insisted on the Moms Only rule. She was able to coax the upset five-year-old out into the hallway, where a hug and some reassurance from Dad was all she needed to brighten up. Crisis averted just as my mom arrived. We trundled into the auditorium, and the rest of the show went off without a hitch. All’s well that ends well, . . . right?
The other explanation is a bit more troubling. Sex crimes against children are nothing to take lightly. Child molester, child pornographer, these are amongst the worst crimes in our national imagination. We have a National Sex Offender registry at the FBI. And politicians eager to look tough on crime have no problem crafting draconian laws that make those on such a registry’s lives a living hell. I’ll go into this phenomenon in more depth at a later date, but for now I’d like to propose that in the frenzy to protect our kids from lurking predators, we have created a paranoid climate of mistrust. Combined with a zeal for zero tolerance, we put our schools and other child-oriented institutions in the position of being suspicious of all men. In just my own experience I have twice been approached by park staff and questioned as to why I was taking pictures of kids at the playground. My kids! Which I had to prove by showing the concerned park ranger all the pix I had taken of them at other playgrounds. (To be fair, this isn’t just on my iPhone; as a fairly serious enthusiast, I have a camera getup that can look a little intimidating.)
Check it out over at Grounded Parents, every click gets us closer to getting this dog an all expense paid trip to Amsterdam!
Besides vaccination, I don’t think there was a single issue we considered more settled than the question of corporal punishment. This was one of the first IMDD’s I did on the subject, and I’m pleased to report that the overwhelming majority of our readers were supportive of our ant-spanking stance. This is also where I reveal one of the inspirations for the Derby, the second most famous Happy Days episode ever…
I find it interesting that, in the USA at least, I can use the term “Demolition Derby” and be incredibly confident that my audience will know exactly what I’m talking about. And I can credit Garry Marshall, creator of Happy Days. Despite completely whitewashing anything remotely controversial about the ’50s and contributing to the slang lexicon the phrase “Jumping the Shark”, Happy Days was one of the most popular situation comedies of our childhoods. And thanks to the seminal 2 part episode “Fonzie Loves Pinkie” in which the Fonz and love interest Pinkie Tuscadero compete in the big demolition derby against the hated Malachi Brothers (I finally learned how to spell that), and their dreaded “Malachi Crunch” double team maneuver, most of us are familiar with the basic idea, even if we grew up far away from the flyover country fairgrounds where the sport is practiced.
Well this edition’s meme is the Malachi Brothers of the Internet Meme world. It is scary, violent and quite possibly after poor Pinky. It is literally all over the place, as some form of this meme has been popping up on my Facebook feed on a monthly basis.
Don’t even get me started on how disrespectful this meme is to people whose actual and serious psychological conditions are mocked and minimized to form the punchline for your shitty joke. As one of those people, let me just add a personal “Fuck you and the horse you Rode in on,” to the creators and purveyors of this meme. Respect for others is a complicated thing to learn. Some of us still have a lot to learn, despite the fact that we are legally adults. And some of the people that we need to have more respect for are CHILDREN. The idea that we can “beat some sense” into kids has been thoroughly debunked. Try something else folks. Look on the internet, there’slotsofgoodadvice.
I finish by sharing a meme featuring a famous comedian who is now famous for whipping it out in front of co-workers. Click on over and read the rest, every click gets us closer to getting this dog personalized snow booties.
Today’s throwback was inspired by my emigo Callie Wright, veteran podcaster, activist and Star Trek fanatic. Callie just repackaged her podcast The Gaytheist Manifesto into Queersplaining. In the first episode “Why We Whisper,” Callie deftly weaves together interviews with Stephanie Svan and Ashley Miller, bloggers at The Orbit and Deb McTaggart into a story explaining why women and other marginalized groups often resort to “whisper networks,” when powerful men (it’s usually men,) use their position to impose sexually on the folks around them. In this case they are referring to the Atheist/Skeptic Movement, but their analysis could easily translate to any organization, social movement or community that shares the kind of informal relationships that characterize activist movements. Sadly, Deb unexpectedly died as Callie was editing the episode. I never got the chance to know her but from the outpouring of grief I’ve observed from friends who did it seems like we lost one of the good ones.
The episode remembered me to a piece I threw up on Medium last spring after that Buzzfeed article detailing Lawrence Krause’s history of sexual misbehavior landed. I was engaged in my favorite unhealthy activity, arguing with assholes on the internet and in trying to explain why whisper networks come to be I painted him a picture with a classic Tortured Sportsball Analogy, which I will reprint here in it’s entirety. Looking back on it after listening to Callie, Ashley, Stephanie and Deb tell their story I feel like I did a pretty good job. I don’t remember if the douchebag was convinced.
Full disclosure, the events in this example are fictional. I used the example of a local disc golf club because it was an organization I was familiar with. But all of the power dynamics I describe are accurate and it’s exactly the kind of informal setting that predators can exploit.
CN:Tortured Sportsball Analogy, also sexual harassment)
I recently had a long Facebook “discussion” with a particular “Adjective Atheist” who I will not name because his identity really isn’t important to this piece. He posted about the current deepening of the rifts on our community after the recent Buzzfeed article detailing Lawrence Krause’s history of sexual misbehavior.
The details of our differences aren’t important either. If you know me you know I believe Krause’s (and Shermer’s and others) accusers. At this point I find most attempts at “objectivity” in these cases more banal than anything. But a couple things from that discussion stood out for me and I thought I needed to tease them out.
AA stated at one point that the Buzzfeed article was the first he had heard of the accusations against Lawrence Krause. When I responded that it was fairly well known in our circles he complained that was the fault of the “whisper network,” that the women who had quietly warned each other behind the scenes that Krause was unsafe to be alone with were at fault. If they had made a bigger stink at the time he would find the news more credible I suppose.
At one point I proposed that if someone acted like Krause in our disc golf league we would kick them out, hoping perhaps that by providing an example of how an informal association might deal with the problem. His response was pointedly legalistic, expecting that we would take each case to the organizers who would take appropriate action. It was then I realized that AA had zero experience with the social dynamics at work.
So here’s the story I crafted to try to explain it to him.
Imagine you are a woman who likes disc golf. Maybe you played in school or picked it up from a parent or a sibling. You decide you want to learn more, you check the web for meet ups and you eventuality find the Local Flying Disc Club. They have a weekly league, they do monthly tournaments for all skill levels. It sounds great.
It’s a lot of fun. You meet a lot of new people, make friends, learn about the sport. There aren’t a lot of other ladies in the club, but that’s ok. Most of the guys are cool, although like a lot of places with lots of dudes there’s a lot of “locker room talk.” But you can hack it, you’re no snowflake.
There is this one guy. He’s one of the top players, a local pro. He represents the LFDC at tourneys around the world. He has sponsorships with Discraft, he’s been club president before and could be again. He’s friendly and always happy to help with advice on technique. And he pushes sexual boundaries.
You’ve noticed that the older women in the club give him a lot of space. Maybe over beers after a meet you are warned to keep an eye on his wandering hands. You assure them you can take care of yourself. Which you’ve always been able to do, right?
Then it happens to you. The specifics are immaterial. What do you do? Tell someone, tell the current club president, he’s a great guy, he’ll understand. And he says he does and he says he’ll talk to The Pro. But you get the feeling he doesn’t quite take it seriously.
The Pro is a popular guy. He buys beers at the pub after meets. He has lots of friends in the league. And now those friends are paying more attention to you. The locker room humor is more pointed and directed at you. It starts to feel like harassment and you complain about that to the president.
But now you look even worse. The president talked to his friend The Pro, and he said that it was just a misunderstanding. Mixed signals, he’s really sorry. But by coming forward about harassment on the course from Pro’s cronies, now YOU are the problem. You’re imagining things. You can’t take a joke. You’re just making trouble.
It starts to become obvious. Mr Pro is important to the club and you aren’t. He knows all the park commissioners and helped design the newest course. You’re just a hysterical woman.
And forget about going to the police. I think we can all see why that would be laughed off.
Maybe it becomes too much. It’s not fun anymore. You can’t even seem to get up the energy to throw a round by yourself. The next spring your bag of discs end up in a yard sale and this becomes a thing you “used to do”
Or maybe not? Maybe you’ve gotten pretty good at this game. You think maybe you should be getting some of that sponsorship money. That’s a different tragedy. That’s going to require even more from you. Mr Pro isn’t going anywhere. He could make your career in the sport miserable if he wants to, and you know that the club won’t do anything. So you swallow your pride. You learn to laugh at the jokes and not rock the boat.
And when you see another young woman join the club, maybe you drop some hints or whisper a name to watch out for.
It’s the best you can do.
That’s how and why whisper networks form. Blaming women for doing the best they can to keep themselves safe from unwanted sexual attention or even assault is rank hypocrisy. It’s not the women being silent, it’s US. It’s our cowardice at play here. We’re the ones in power, we’re the ones who maintain the environment that says a man’s reputation is more important than a woman’s body. We’re the ones who can stop this.
If we won’t take this seriously then there’s no reason at all for anyone on the sidelines to take our movement seriously.
In the run up to the 2016 elections, the Republican Party was flailing about for a culture war issue to drive their base voters to the polls. The Supreme Court had rendered the old reliable same sex marriage scaremongering obsolete with the previous summers Obergfell vs Hodges decision. Their bigoted gaze landed on an even more marginalized group than gay people who wanted to file taxes jointly, trans people who needed to pee. The Derby was ready to respond…
According to prominent experts, Everyone Poops. They also pee. Or need to adjust their makeup, or change a tampon or maxi pad, or wash their hands or change a diaper on a screaming baby while a toddler throws toilet paper everywhere. As a society we have traditionally understood that people don’t always have the luxury of doing the above things from the comfort of their own homes, thus is born the concept of the “public restroom”. Also according to prominent experts, Transgender persons exist. And since trans folk are definitely a subset of everyone, we can assume therefore that they too need to poop, etc. In a just and civil society one would assume that public accommodations would be used in the least inconvenient fashion possible, and therefore in places where public restrooms are segregated by gender everyone would be least inconvenienced by allowing persons to use the restroom that syncs with their gender identity. Ladies in the ladies room, Gents in the gentleman’s room, no need to check whats in your pants because that would be really creepy. The great state of North Carolina has decided to instead do this the hard way. This spring the Republican controlled legislature of North Carolina made history, becoming the first state to attempt to legally require persons to use the public restroom that matches the gender assigned at birth and thus on your birth certificate. Well actually the law in question does a hell of a lot more than that, it also overturns any existing anti-discrimination ordinances meant to protect LGBTQ citizens and bans any future such laws being enacted anywhere in the state. It also overturns any local minimum wage laws, because fuck poor people while we’re here I guess. Mississippi followed suit shortly thereafter, but fewer people cared because its Mississippi. There have been certain predictable reactions to this legislation. Prominent celebrities and entertainers, from Bruce Springsteen to Cirque du Soliel cancelled performances scheduled in the state. Great Britain issued a travel advisory, warning their LGBTQ citizens about the hazards of visiting US States with statutes of this kind. Target stores were quick to announce that their official company policy was to allow their customers and employees to use whichever restroom matched their gender identity. Conservative groups immediately called for a boycott of Target, at least until they need to pick up paper towels. Irrespective of this chaos, conservative legislatures across the country are considering similar bills. All of this leads us to today’s meme… Stop the Madness. Parked in front of a door marked “Women” is a muscular young white male identified person, with his arms crossed and a menacing scowl directed at the viewer.
It wasn’t just reactionary dickweeds screwing up on this issue either, which is why a Part 2, the NOT HELPING edition was necessary. This actually involved addressing two memes ostensibly on the side of the angels that unfortunately missed the mark a bit…
Then proceeds to show us eight people who look one sex but are actually the other! The implication being that laws like the one in North Carolina would seem to require that the dudely looking dudes in the top row go to the ladies room whilst the lovely ladies on the bottom row would have to use the gentlemen’s lavoratory, all because of what naughty bits they had when they burst purple and squealing out of their mommies tummies. The guy in the cowboy hat (first on the top left,) Michael Hughes, and the lady with the lipstick, Brae Carnes (bottom row #3) were among the first trans activists to post selfies like these on the internet, on Twitter at #WeJustNeedToPee, and spreading across the internet like wildfire. They make a very good point at first, but the more I saw them the more certain elements of this campaign felt a little hinky. Look at that lineup again. Notice anything? Here, see if this helps, look at each image and think “would I suspect this individual of being trans if I didn’t already know? I know that’s a kind of gross way to think, we aren’t supposed to care about that over here in Social Justice Adventuring Party land. But put yourself in head of your average bigot, would any of those people really raise an eyebrow if they went into the restroom at Target, went into a stall to do their business and walk out? Would any of our potential bathroom vigilantes really bother any of these conventionally attractive people as they went to make a deposit in the porcelain bank?
We go on to examine how the focus on trans folks who so obviously “pass” aren’t really the best example of the problem. Not only because it leaves lots of trans folks who don’t fulfill cisgendered preconceptions of gender presentation out of the discussion, it also leaves a lot of gender nonconforming and nonbinary folks high and dry. For instance the story of this woman who was harassed at a Walmart bathroom because acute guardians of the precious female flesh assumed she was trans.
So as you can see, Ms Coulter is not one of our favorite people. In fact I’m fairly certain that under normal circumstances I would receive the news that Ann Coulter had been arrested with a certain amount of glee. But this isn’t real news and it isn’t a very good joke. In fact it is an incredibly harmful joke. It is intentionally misgendering someone because we don’t like them and that is exactly the kind of shit we excoriate sexist, misogynist and ant-trans trolls for all the time. And this isn’t a new thing, Googleing “Ann Coulter is a Man” finds dozens of similar memes claiming that Ms. Coulter has an obvious Adam’s Apple, that she has “transvestite mascara” or other such nonsense. First of all that is all bullshit. Ms. Coulter has been a public figure since the early 90’s. There is zero evidence of any kind that she is anything but what she appears to be, a conventionally attractive cisgendered Caucasian woman of middle years with horrid taste in political heroes. And as we pointed out in the previous segment, people are terrible at this. Trust me you didn’t uncover a decades long conspiracy to conceal Ann Coulter’s secret underpants scandal by staring too long at a screencap fron CNN. The fact of the matter is that this kind of misogynist insult is far to often given a pass when the subject is someone we don’t like. Recently deceased professional wrestler Joanie Laurer, who performed as Chyna, the 9th Wonder of the World, often had this slur thrown at her by (surprise) uncouth wrestling fans. I hated it then and I hate it now. And attacking successful and powerful women for being mannish is something the assholes have been doing for time immemorial. There’s no excuse for it. So for the record, if you are intentionally misgendering Ann Coulter to make your shitty joke you are not helping trans people. You are part of the problem. Stop it.
To celebrate the internet tradition of Throwback Thursday, I am going to use this space to link back to a piece of writing I’m especially proud of. Today I’d like to take us back to the winter of 2013 as I fumbled for a framing device to use when writing about the toxic stew of bad parenting advice and practice that burbled in the fever swamps of social media. Something about gratuitous but playful smashing done for as much the spectacle as the lesson learned. Something uniquely American, somehow wholesome and at the same time kinda bonkers.
Back in Ye’ Olden Days of the Internet the email listserv was the preferred method of disseminating crackpot conspiracy theories, junk science, apocalyptic prophecies and nonsensical grandmotherly “advice”. But listservs were clumsy devices, with slow response times and undependable circulation. Plus your intended audience needed to actually click on the email, a dicey proposition if the recipient doesn’t know you well. You could be a Nigerian Prince for all Aunt Sally knows!
Today, because we live in the FUTURE we have left behind such primitive tools. Thanks to Blogs, Twitter, Google+ and especially Facebook, we now have the ability to share our most offensive, sloppily formed, bigoted, insensitive notions with EVERYONE who is still talking to us. Crazy Uncle Liberty downloads some pearls of wisdom from Glenn Beck University? Share it with EVERYBODY! Do kids these days need to seriously pull up their pants, stand up straight, go to church and get off everyone’s lawns? You can tell EVERYBODY! Have parenting advice for all of those people out their doing everything wrong and thus assuring the downfall of our once great society? YOU HAVE A VOICE! We have taken the time honored art of standing on a street corner and shouting at strangers and plugged it in to the Information Superhighway!
Of course there’s a downside… once you set your Internet Meme free, be it inflammatory blog post, snarky hashtag, or pithy Facebook image, it’s no longer under your control. Your traitorous liberal nephew, your feminist ex-roomate or your free spirited gay cousin might find it, carefully analyze it, then smash into a smoking pile of wreckage in Internet Meme Demolition Derby!!!
I’ve fiddled back and forth with the format since then, depending on the meme in question, whether it is heavily image or text dependent etcetera. But in general it looks like this…
So I think we can all agree that we have a serious contender here for “Father of the Year”. There are, of course so many things wrong with this picture. There’s the antiquated patriarchal notion that a father must ward off his daughters suitors, perhaps whilst in shining armor. There’s the fairly icky habit of referring to any young woman who is old enough to go on a date as “my princess”. There’s the paranoia of someone who would treat his daughter’s dates as if they are all potential members of Al-Quaida.
And last but not least the threat of violence implicit throughout, as if ones position as “paterfamilias” grants one the right to dish out vigilante justice. And the worst part is that he probably does think of himself as Father of the Year material. Big parts of the USA are still filled to the brim with folks who think like this about their daughters.
Your kids aren’t your property, folks. They are your responsibility. Certainly part of that responsibility comes in the guise of protector. And I understand the impulse to protect your kids from harm, both physical and emotional. Heck, no one is even asking you to approve of all of your dating age children’s romantic interests. If you have a bad feeling about Kenny The Boy Who Hangs Out Behind The Record Store, you should probably share that with Definitely Not Your Princess. But if you are interested in raising your kids up into functioning adults then you have to allow them to grow. And part of growth is making mistakes. Part of growth is getting your heart broken, picking the exactly wrong guy/girl, making poor choices and learning from them. And part of finding Mr. Right… or at least Mr. Right Now, is having the freedom to make those choices on your own. To know that when your kid does find someone they like that their parents will treat that someone with dignity and respect.
And if you respect their decisions they are much more likely to respect your opinion when you feel you need to talk about whether dating a meth dealer is a smart life decision.