Are you “friends” with a Russian bot? Taking a stand against idiocracy

September 13, 2018

So I have this friend…. he’s a real idiot. Here’s the problem. I’m concerned he might not be an actual person. He might be a Russian troll bot. Or if he’s a person, he’s a cyber operative of Russia’s Internet Research Agency (IRA). It’s either that or he’s an idiot.

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Let me tell you about my friend, “C.” (If he is just an idiot, we should take pity on him and not harass him. You can fix stupid.) C spends his days on Facebook. As a stay-at-home parent, I typically just keep my laptop open for the the occasional news binge or topical post, but every time I glance at it there is another 5 posts from C. Typically it’s some stupid meme about “socialism,” or Obama (still) or Hillary (still) or how Trump making America great again. He posts enough images about cute kittens and college football to look legit, but then it goes off the rails. Much of his posting is seriously bigoted towards Muslims and black people. Whining about black NFL players protesting racism takes up a large chunk of his time and when the Nike deal with Colin Kaepernick was announced, he went into full snowflake mode. I wanted to know what was going on in C’s life that he was so triggered by America’s long slow journey toward social justice and equality.

Then I realized I didn’t actually know C. He’s allegedly from my hometown, which is Stone Mountain, Georgia. Stone Mountain is the birthplace of the modern Ku Klux Klan in 1915 and sight of the first KKK cross burning, so it’s not uncommon for these mouth-breathing good ol’ boys to pop up in my social media network. But I never actually met C and an algorithm could have generated the connection, the same way I get endless friend requests from women in bikinis who live in “Portland, Oregon.” (Bikinis are about as common in Portland as baristas are at an NRA rally.) We have 37 friends in common, but they could have fallen for the fake profile as well.

C also claims to be a reservist in the Army which adds to his appeal of having in my friend circle. I’ve supported vets and my active service friends as long as I can remember. But now I see it a bogus attempt by foreign agents to create a profile that has credibility as a “real American.” I can’t believe any real American could be this stupid or bored. And here’s why I think that. C regularly posts things that are easily proven as false. Fake facts and fake news stories with photoshopped images. I’ve been guilty of posting something that sounds good and then someone will post a link to Snopes or FactCheck debunking it and I quickly delete it with a mea culpa. Not C. When I (fairly regularly) debunk his asinine posts, not only does he leave them up, he opens the door for his moronic troll army to attack. I know lots of people in the military, including family members. I have respect for them and know they are honorable people. Not C. He traffics in division. There’s no way he’s in the American armed services. He is fighting against America. He’s gotta be a Russian troll.

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I bring this up for two reasons. The first is there is more evidence that the Russians are weaponizing social media to spread discord among Americans before the 2018 mid-term elections to keep Trump’s power unchecked. C is a discord machine. His latest rash of stupid memes are dedicated to Democrats stealing hurricane relief funds and blaming Trump. He’s funneling images from Russian troll farms like “I hate hippies and their stupid light bulbs” and “Occupy Democrats Logic” like there was no tomorrow. C wants a divided states of America. There is never a call for national unity on his feed. It is corrosively anti-American.

The second reason is about how much time I have spent arguing with this non-person, pointing out his fake news and trying to convince him that there is a better way of thinking about politics. Why am I wasting my time? I like a good political debate, but this is an exercise in futility. I’m either going up against the Kremlin, or someone so damaged by repeated head blows in Afghanistan, I might as well be talking to a wall. Either way, I fear for the country. It feels like we are descending into Idiocracy and I’m complicit. Giving C one second of my time has advanced Russia’s goal to drive an even wider wedge between the red and the blue, when we are all only shades of purple.

So C, as of today I quit you. I won’t unfriend you, because I need to be able to see what Russia’s IRA trolls are up to, but I never respond to any of your posts about “Muslim slavery” or “Al Sharpton’s taxes” again. I can’t say it’s been fun. Удачи мой поддельный друг.

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She ain’t heavy, she’s my daughter: Trying to understand child abuse

August 31, 2018

I’ve told this story a thousand times. There was never a greater moment of clarity in my life than the moment I first heard my unborn daughter’s heartbeat. We were at Alma Midwifery and the whooshing sound came over the little speaker. It was as if the whooshing zoomed in to surround me and in that moment it was clear that it was no longer about me. My sole purpose in that life was to protect the heartbeat and the person that was growing around it. I was now primarily a vehicle for her success in the world. I don’t know if it was a moment of pure love or a genetic mandate to make sure my chromosomes made to the next generation intact, but it nearly knocked me off my feet.

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We were blessed to have a happy, healthy baby who is now a very smart and loving 4-year-old. I still find myself watching her sleep at night or spending time looking in the rearview mirror at her while she processes the world that passes outside the Prius window. The urge to protect her is even greater now that she has some independence. I worry that she will walk in front of a car backing out of a driveway, or get hurt at pre-school, or be grabbed off a playground in the moment that I look away. She’s about to spend a week in Mexico with my wife so you can imagine where my mind will go. I’m ready to step into full Liam Neeson mode at the drop of hat.

I mention all this because I am trying to understand the reality that parents routinely abuse their children; physically, sexually, psychologically and emotionally. It’s just the hardest thing for me to understand, because I feel like every single strand of DNA inside me is telling me to protect my child from harm. There is no question I would trade my life for hers. Not even a nano-second of hesitation. Cozy is needed in this world a lot more than I am. (But you’re gonna get both of us for a long time.) I’m not some perfect parent, devoid of ethical flaws. What makes me different from them? According to a 2015 report, over 7 million children are identified as abuse victims by Child Protective Services each year. Over a third (37%) of American children are reported to Child Protective Services by their 18th birthday.  37%! That’s insane and heartbreaking and completely unacceptable.

I don’t get it, but as a sociologist and criminologist it’s my job to get it. My work often involves me building some empathy for some pretty horrible characters, including school shooters, Neo-Nazis, and serial killers. It’s not always easy and some bad actors challenge the assumption that all people are redeemable. (This is not a piece about university administrators.) As a parent, it’s easier to explain away a sociopathic serial killer than it is someone who would sexually abuse their own child (especially knowing that many serial killers were sexually abused by their own parents). Fortunately, social scientists are doing this research in a heroic attempt to break the cycle.

And “cycle” is the key word. Many abusers are acting out their own experience of abuse on their children. Others where brought up in cultures and subcultures of violence where the belief was that if you spare the rod, you spoil the child. (“He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes.” – Proverbs 13:24) Some are alcoholic or drug addicted and take out their chaotic mental state on the nearest target. Some are misogynists and attack “their” women and children to prove their masculinity. Some suffer from accutmental illness while others simply can’t handle feelings of powerlessness in a complex world. Explanations can be very broad, including the lack of social support for the economically stressed trying to raise children in this downwardly mobile economy.

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All those give us insight to the abuser. But it’s just not enough. I’ve been pretty economically stressed these last three years, not working full time and not sure when I would be, but I never thought to take it out on my small child. I could get the drunkest I’ve ever been and I have to think hurting her would never arise as a possibility. I could be in the throes of deep depression and her protection would still be paramount. I had a good friend who killed herself because she believed, in her depressive state, that she was protecting her daughter. There’s just something deep inside both of Cozy’s parents that would just STOP anything before she was hurt. What is that thing? It can’t be biological if over a third of kids (that we know about) are being abused. I was whipped a few times as a kid (The Belt!), but I don’t feel mindlessly compelled to repeat that behavior. They can’t all be so mentally ill that they don’t know what they are doing. It’s gotta be more complicated than a screw loose. Then there is the whole wide spectrum of psychological abuse, and abuse by step-parents and mom’s boyfriends and on and on. It seems massive. Like the untold story of America is what we do to our children.

Maybe it is because I didn’t become a parent until I turned 50. By then I had a lot of time to both want a child and think about what kind of parent I wanted to be. There are plenty of “unwanted” children in the world and many are born to parents who are so damaged that they are completely unprepared for the awesome and life changing responsibility of ferrying a baby into adulthood. But why didn’t hearing that baby’s heartbeat help push them in the right direction? Am I being overly judgmental?

I don’t live a bubble. I see it all around me. Adults with stories of childhood abuse and a few parents who definitely should not be raising kids until they have worked their own shit out. Violence in our society is what we sociologists call normative. We use it to express ourselves and “solve problems.” We used to think children were just little adults so why not knock them around for talking back, right? But nobody believes that anymore, unless you live in an FDLS cult in Utah. Kids are supposed to get a pass from our culture of violence. What is it? This question perplexes me to no end. I feel like if we could figure it out, as a species, we could truly evolve.

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2017, the Year America Fell Into the Upside Down

December 29, 2017

How is it possible to sum up a year like the 2017, the first year of the unimaginable Trump presidency, when alternative facts became accepted reality and actual facts were branded “fake news”? It’s been hard to believe any of it has been real. Americans seem to either embrace this pathological liar as their perfect savior (quite literally, there is nothing this man could do to lose their support) or are just too tired to fact-check him anymore to care. It started to feel like America’s greatness was fading in the rearview mirror, replaced by a kleptocratic idiocracy, populated by a mindless flock who would make George Orwell slit his goddamn wrists. The war on the truth was gleefully embraced by his cult-like followers and it felt like the slippery slope to fascism just had truckload after truckload of lube dumped on it. Then a fellow sexual predator was (barely) defeated in, of all places, Alabama and it started to feel like 2018 might just make America great again.

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That the year started with the massive Women’s March protesting the accused sexual assaulter about to be sworn in to the high office and wrapped up with the #MeToo women as Time Magazine’s Person of the Year was the real story of 2017. It may have taken an alleged child rapist becoming to president (Listen to the witness testimony of the 2016 rape lawsuit against their dear leader) to awaken the sisterhood and their common stories of victimization. As more of these stories spread on social media, more powerful men fell, both friend and foe. Accept for the one. He stands as the teflon tower of patriarchy. But he will fall, too. His “silent majority” has become a sickening minority. America knows it is better than him. And that’s an awfully low bar.

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It has been a transformative year for me. This dramatic swing to the alt-right, the rise of hate groups, and the hateful murders in Charlottesville and here in Portland, have put me in front of the media in more ways than I can count. CBS News, NPR, CNN several times, I can’t count how many interviews I’ve given in a desperate hope to put all this bad news into a useful context. This week I was asked to appear on Tucker Carlson’s show on Fox News in response to some comments I had made in an article on Newsweek. After much soul searching, I declined. I don’t need more face-time. I need platforms that will be able to reach people who are ready to break through the madness. I’m not skilled enough to tame the trolls of Fox News.

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While I watched the nation burn, figuratively and literally, I watched my beautiful family grow. The year began and ended with Cozy playing in the snow. But Cozy at 3 years and 4 months is a different creature from the 2 year and 4 month-old that started the year. In January we were just starting our conversations, often talking in our pretend language that she named “Cupa Sana.” Now she is telling jokes, relating things to lessons she learned in pre-school, and making up songs. The other day she heard a Christmas song with the word “manger” in it and said, “That’s where Jesus was born.” So I guess she has a religion. (My attempt to raise as a pagan has failed.) After her third birthday at Disneyland in August, she just seems to be exploding. It’s a bit freaky. She did addition today. And she always knows where lost things are. And Christmas morning she figured out right wen Santa snuck in.

 

 

One of my favorite things about her has been her love of music, surely an influence of her record spinning father. “Daddy, let’s rock out,” she’ll say, asking me to play something loud so she can thrash around the living room. U2’s “American Soul” is her current favorite. Or “Daddy, play some beautiful music,” which is a key to spin some jazz so she can do some ballet dancing. Yesterday she was making up dances to some Benny Goodman tunes but was in a hilarious aggro mood. One dance was called, “Behavior,” after she spilled a glass of water and was upset. The next dance was called “Bad Sugar Plum Fairy,” that had her spinning around the room like a Hurricane Maria. We started the year with a toddler and ended with a talented performer. How much do ballet lessons cost?

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So much was squeezed into 2017, it’s hard to believe I spent most of it as a stay-at-home dad. Lots of traveling, a new book deal, organizing community forums and anti-bias trainings. And growing almost as much as Cozy did. There were tough moments, like the passings of Tom Petty and Chuck Berry, but there was great music throughout the year, enjoyed with my ever amazing wife, Andrea. She supported me through all this media storm, occasionally luring me off the field for a night out on the town or a Roku binge. (Narcos, OzarkStranger Things, The Handmaid’s Tale, The Crown, what’s next?) While I waited for my novel, The Dream Police, to find a wider audience, she won an impressive literary award for her writing.

Through it all, I’ve tried to chronicle each week here on the blog: my life as a parent, husband, and citizen of this increasingly fractured nation, keeping my feminist lens in place. Launching the Recovering Asshole podcast has helped to expand the audience (even if iTunes temporarily kicked the show off because of the title). My blog post on sexuality and Chris Cornell was the most popular post of the year, followed by “Interviewing Neo-Nazis Taught Me How to Talk to Trump Supporters.” My piece, “Fascists Fall for Trump, Their Nazi Dream Date,” was published in CounterPunch. Of the 52 weekly posts, 7 were specifically about Donald Trump, but my favorites were about the joy of parenting, especially May 11th’s “A Dad Love Supreme.” The pieces on Charlottesville and #MeToo were probably the most important, but writing about being Cozy’s dad was just so much damn fun.

In 2018, we will have a conclusion to the FBI investigation of our media-hating/loving president, the most important mid-term election in our nation’s history, and I will have a 4-year-old (and maybe a full-time job). I hope you will continue to check in and watch the wheels with me.

Here’s the 2017 in hyperlink.

Preparing for the Great Leap Backwards: We call it “anomie” (Jan. 4)

Obama has been to the mountain top (and so have we) (Jan. 13)

I stand with the women who march: Anatomy of a backlash (Jan. 18)

Forsyth County, Georgia, January 24th, 1987: The day we marched for freedom and won (Jan. 24)

Donald Trump’s Uncivil War on American Values and Human Decency (Jan. 30)

Hey, hey, hey, it’s fat shaming! (Feb. 9)

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The Bebop of Love (Feb. 14)

Dad Love 10: We become gendered. (Feb. 17)

Coming of Age in the Watergate Era and Awaiting the Trump Impeachment (Feb. 24)

The Art Teacher Was a Lady (Mar. 2)

Interviewing Neo-Nazis has taught me how to talk to Trump supporters (Mar. 9)

(Re) Making the case for hate crime laws in Trump’s America (Mar. 15) 

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Chuck Berry told Jim Crow to roll over (Mar. 19)

That Pig is a She! Normality of normative maleness (Mar. 22)

An Interview with My Dad about Parenting and Gender (Apr. 5)

Jukebox Hero 1: Queens of Noise (Apr. 13)

Men Who Just Don’t Get It: Sexual harassment and my falafel with Bill O’Reilly (Apr. 20)

For the love of God, please eat your dinner (Apr. 27)

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An Anarchist and a Cop Walk Into a Bar (May 4)

A Dad Love Supreme (May 11)

Chris Cornell taught me something about sex. (May 18)

Should we care about Donald Trump’s marriage? (Or anybody else’s?) (May 25)

Living with hate in Portland (Jun. 1)

How I Learned to Stop Fearing Teenage Girls and Started Loving Harry Styles (Jun. 8)

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It’s all a part of asshole recovery (Jun. 15)

The Need to Work (Jun. 22)

Jukebox Hero 2: I Will Follow (Jun. 29)

The Monsters Under the Bed (Jul. 7)

A Time to Refrain from Fighting (Jul. 14)

The World of Wonder in the Backyard (Jul. 20)

Feminisms

“Speaking for all feminists…” (Jul. 28)

Fascists Fall for Trump, their Nazi Dream Date (Aug. 4)

Charlottesville: America’s fork in the road (Aug. 16)

Cozy turns 3 in Fantasyland (Aug. 22)

We must now ask if the President of the United States is a psychopath (Aug. 31)

“You’re gonna need a shotgun” Raising a daughter in a rape culture (Sep. 7)

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It’s not the KKK in masks and hoods: Fighting hate without violence (Sep. 15)

And Jill came tumbling after. Why? Purging sexist kids’ stories. (Sep. 22)

Donald Trump as the Slave Master of the Black Athlete Plantation (Sep. 29)

How to talk rationally about gun control (Oct. 5)

The emotional fatigue of liberation work (Oct. 13)

The emotional fatigue of looking for work (Oct. 19)

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Me, too, Harvey Weinstein, me, too: Undoing the Normality of Rape Culture (Oct. 24)

Baby Brain 3.0: The cognitive space between baby and baccalaureate (Nov. 3)

It’s time to tax men: Shutting down gun violence (Nov. 7)

Rape Culture and the Complexity of Consent (Nov. 16)

Watching the Wheels Turns 3: Thanks and Resistance (Nov. 23)

Dad Love: The Wonder of Parenthood (Nov. 30)

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Are you helping or are you just acting like you’re helping? Performative allyship (Dec. 8)

Look out, I’m about to use the “N” word. Appropriately??? (Dec. 15)

Dad’s Top 20 Favorite New Spins of 2017 (Dec. 21)

2017: The Year America Fell into the Upside Down

 

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We must now ask if the President of the United States is a psychopath

August 31, 2017

As a criminologist of extreme acts of violence, I spend a lot of my time talking about psychopaths and sociopaths (essentially the same social types with different focuses on causes). I’ve lectured about psychopathic serial killers and sociopathic hate criminals. My 2000 book with Wayne S. Wooden, Teenage Renegades, Suburban Outlaws: From Youth Culture to Delinquency, included a large piece I wrote about the psychopathic tendencies of school shooters. Boys with guns and without impulse control in places like Springfield, Oregon and Littleton, Colorado.

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Now it’ time to talk our president and sociopathy. His visit to Texas on Tuesday in which he didn’t visit with a single victim of the devastating bomb blast of Hurricane Harvey raised a giant red flag. (Such visits are a typical response from the consolers in chief).  He didn’t even mention them. He did mention the crowd size that came to see Him and how big and expensive His disaster was. “What a turnout!” he said. Nothing for the millions of Americans suffering . To be fair, a day later in Springfield, Missouri, he did read a speech that someone prepared for him, after much hand-wringing over the president’s lack of empathy, mentioning the flood victims. “All America is grieving with you,” he read.

Donald Trump has shown this cold lack of empathy before. Refugees fleeing war in Syria, the children of undocumented immigrants, families that will lose health coverage if Obamacare is repealed, our men and women in the military who are transgender, females he was accused of groping; he could care less about their stories. Women who get cancer screenings at Planned Parenthood? Meh. People who live downstream from deregulated chemical plants? Screw ‘em. DACA kids in college? Criminals.

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Lack of empathy doesn’t make you a psychopath. It makes you an asshole. But the lack of empathy is one of the hallmarks of sociopathy. Psychopaths often have an early history with animal cruelty. Most of us see a puppy and think, “How cute! Snuggies!” A psychopath sees the same puppy and wonders what it would look like doused in gasoline. The clinical diagnosis is Antisocial Personality Disorder. The APA estimates that it impacts about 1% of the population (although in prison populations, it can be as high as 23%) and I’m guessing our president is one of them.

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The best way to explain sociopathy is with some Freudian imagery. Imagine a cartoon character with a devil on one shoulder and an angel on the other. The devil is the primitive id that acts on basic impulses and the angel is the social superego that restrains those impulses with society’s rules. That’s why Freud put so much emphasis on potty training. It’s the first real attempt to put the “If it feels good, do it” idea in social check. You can’t poop in your diapers forever. There are rules up in here.

Most of us have a nice balance, and we know when to listen to the angel and when it’s okay to listen to the devil. But psychopaths are dominated by their ids. They say and do whatever they want. They can say something and they say the exact opposite minutes later just because they want to. They can grab women by their genitals just because they think they’re entitled. They can threaten nuclear war just because it’s kinda fun. They never apologize because they never feel guilt. It’s everyone else’s problem. They’re the greatest person in history.

The research on sociopathy is fascinating. Some of it explores the role a dysfunctional cerebral cortex plays in preventing psychopaths from seeing themselves in other’s shoes. Some of the research looks at the role of early childhood trauma, like sexual abuse. Research has demonstrated that the more comfortable a person is, the less empathy they show to others who are less comfortable. We also know that sociopaths tend be both narcissistic and compulsive liars. It’s all about them and what they can get away with. Sound like anybody we know?

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Not all sociopaths become serial killers or school shooters. It’s a continuum. Mild sociopathy might be rewarded on Wall Street or in the military, or anywhere where there’s a “take no prisoners” or “show no mercy” value set. Psychopaths are common in the world of hate as it rewards the ethic of cruelty without guilt. If you ever wondered about people who make Hitler their role model, like Trump fan James Fields, who drove his car into a crowd of anti-racist protests in Charlottesville, there’s a good chance they’re a psychopath. These “evil” people tend to show some red flags early in life, including what’s known as the Macdonald Triad. Kids who engage in animal cruelty, fire-starting, and bed-wetting are at a higher risk of later sociopathic behavior. Is Trump’s nanny still alive? I have a few questions.

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So sociopathy can range from a cruel boss who could care less about your sick kid to a serial killer who has sex with the heads he’s chopped off. The scariest part of sociopathy is how little we know about it and, therefore, how to treat it.  While I was working on my book on the subject, I read Jonathan Kellerman’s Savage Spawn: Reflections on Violent Children (1994). Kellerman, a psychologist, argues that until a reliable treatment for Antisocial Personality Disorder is found, the best course of action is to lock up psychopaths at the earliest opportunity, even if they are children, to protect society from their impulsive acts of terror.

My PhD is not in psychology, but I’ve been studying sociopaths long enough to know the red flags when I see them. Donald Trump’s trip to Texas, that served as a campaign stop instead of a sincere effort to understand the on-the-ground suffering, is one flag too many. He seemed more concerned with hawking his $40 USA hats than wading in the dirty water with Americans who have lost everything. I don’t know if Donald J. Trump is a psychopath and therefore unqualified to lead this great nation. I just think it’s a vitally important question to ask and answer as soon as possible.

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Postscript: There’s a pattern where Trump does or says something stupid (Remember his initial comments about Charlottesville earlier this month?), but then his handlers set him back on script. Trump is going to donate one million dollars OF HIS OWN MONEY to flood relief. But the True Trump always comes back to undercut Teleprompter Trump.

“Speaking for all feminists…”

July 28, 2017

I’ve never pretended to speak for all male feminists, let alone all feminists on earth. I don’t even speak for my own feminism from a year ago. Life, its lessons (and a few good articles in Gender & Society) have their impact. Just like a person can’t step in the same river twice, one’s understanding of the world is constantly evolving. Take a look at Donald Trump. A year ago he pledged to be the advocate of transexual Americans and now he’s throwing them under the bus to divert attention from his multiple dumpster fires. He’s (de) evolving!

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When I taught feminist theory at Portland State University, I would warn students about people who painted feminism with broad brushstrokes and feminists as simplistic caricatures. People like woman-hating personality Rush Limbaugh, who is fond of using the therm, “femi-nazi.” People who think being pro-woman means being anti-man. People who can’t even define feminism but spend their free time making the feminist-bashing memes that litter the internet.

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The reality is that feminism is a many splendored thing. It’s a huge umbrella under which there are multiple ideas about gender relations. I’ve spent some time on this blog discussing liberal feminism, Marxist feminism, radical feminism, and Riot Grrrl feminism. There’s first, second, and post-modern third-wave feminism. Eco-feminism has a voice but so does free-market feminism. There are Muslim feminists, Catholic feminists, and conservative feminists. Even Sarah Palin calls herself a feminist. There’s also a growing phalanx of male feminists who I hope will become the fourth wave, smashing male domination from inside the old boys club.

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There’s plenty of disagreement within these camps. Just read bell hook’s first book, Ain’t I a Woman: Black Women and Feminism (1981). In it she writes, “It is obvious that many women have appropriated feminism to serve their own ends, especially those white women who have been at the forefront of the movement.” There are plenty of people who call themselves feminists in the pop world and have no idea what intersectionality is (and I’m guessing that includes Ms. Palin).

So to say, “feminists think…” is hugely problematic. What is the feminist position on the Wonder Woman movie? I’ve read dozens of different positions, all rightfully feminist. The people that paint feminism with a broad strokes don’t truly understand what feminism is and is not. I got some chuckles when I presented a paper at a conference in the late 1990s making the case that the Spice Girls were an effective vehicle for teaching tweens about feminist principles. Nearly 20 years later there are a lot of millennial feminists making that exact same case.

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What feminists of every stripe have in common is a belief in patriarchy, a power dynamic that advantages men. Some see that as a individual level thing, like men’s use of violence against women, some see it as a macro-level systemic thing, including any religion that defines God as “He.” Even more see it as both. But after that, all bets are off. I often argue that all women understand the presence of patriarchy, whether it’s the glass ceiling at their job, or their rapey uncle, or the constant pressure to “look good” in the face of the tick tock of age. They might not have the intellectual vocabulary to “frame the present discourse,” but all women are feminists IMHO. Even anti-feminist women have a feminist brain.

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There are plenty of aggro feminists who don’t think men can be a part of the dialogue, just as there are black activists that don’t think there is room at the table for white allies. I get it. As a white person, I can dip into the struggle for black liberation when I have time and pat myself on the back for being “woke.” My male privilege is the same thing. I can work to smash patriarchy, but I’m still benefitting from that patriarchy even when I’m in the middle of a woman’s march. “Look, it’s a man here to save us!” I’ve been tackling both the issue of male privilege and white privilege in my Recovering Asshole podcast and some of the conversations have been challenging for this “woke” white boy.

There is this emerging concept of “solidarity work” – showing up to the liberation work of groups you don’t belong to.  It’s all about being ready to take a backseat and asking how to help. That means men can be feminists but they have to know when to shut up and listen to their female compatriots. Since men have traditionally been the “voice of authority,” it can be a new experience for guys to STFU, especially when males have been taught to disregard female voices. Remember when Trump said he didn’t think Hillary Clinton had the stamina to be president? I guess by “president” he meant “playing golf every weekend.”

Without a doubt there are people who have hijacked feminism for their own purposes. This includes the “victim feminists” who see all women as inherent victims of men. This is not feminism. These fake feminists erase women’s agency, including to be sexual beings who want what they want and have every right to go after the shama-lama-ding-dong. Consenting adults, even the female ones, can get up to some freaky hanky skanky. (This is a theme in my recent book, The Dream Police.) No leading feminist, not Andrea Dworkin, not Catherine MacKinnon, has ever said “All sex is rape.” But the enemies of feminists repeat this fake feminist mantra, and it’s not just Rush Limbaugh doing it.

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There’s a whole world of feminism to explore, something for everyone, and none of it is set in stone. People’s perspectives evolve. Just ask a roomful of feminists whether or not transwomen are part of their struggle. You’ll get lots of answers. Then ask that same room six-months later. My own feminist path as been a jagged path with plenty of missteps. Becoming a father of daughter certainly has played a role in that. So beware of anyone who claims to speak for all feminists. You just can’t have that many brains in one head.

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(Re) Making the case for hate crime laws in Trump’s America

March 15, 2017

Earlier this week a neighborhood in Southeast Portland was covered in spray-painted swastikas. Swastikas on cars, fences, trees, and sidewalks. It’s been part of a rash of similar graffiti in the metro area this winter, including “Kill niggers” and other racist scrawlings at Lake Oswego High School and a swastika with a “Heil Trump” tag in men’s room at Portland State University. A report released today by the Center for the Study of Hate & Extremism-California State University, San Bernardino found a 22% increase in reported hate crimes in 2016 in ten large cities across the country (including Seattle). Is this the new normal in Trump’s America?

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I spent the morning testifying at the Oregon state capital in support of Senate Bill 356, that would refine the state’s hate crime law and add gender and ethnicity to the protected statuses. It was a chance to explain to our state’s lawmakers the “greater harm” of bias motivated criminality and why the nation started passing these laws in the 1980s. I began my testimony with the story of a woman named Loni Kai, who was born a male named Lorenzo Okaruru. Kai was brutally murdered in 2001. She was last seen hitchhiking on a main thoroughfare in Hillsboro, Oregon. Her body was found in a  nearby field the following day with her head caved in from a savage beating. At the time, the case could not be investigated and prosecuted as a hate crime because gender (and gender identity) were not included in the state’s hate crime statute. Almost 16 years later there still have been no arrests in the murder of Loni Kai.

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Since election day there has been a dramatic increase of hate crimes and hate incidents around the country. Hate incidents are acts that protected by the Constitution as free speech but are still hateful. After the election, there were numerous reports of high school boys telling Muslim and Latinx students that Trump was going to get them. It’s not uncommon to see cars and trucks in Oregon with swastika placards. Hate crimes are things that are already illegal (vandalism, assault, murder, etc.) that are committed because of a bias motive towards the victims perceived demographic membership. Yes, this includes kids who get beat up because they are white.

Hate Crimes as a form of terrorism

If I had the dollar for every time somebody asked me, “Isn’t every crime a hate crime?” I’d be a rich sociologist. Most crimes are motivated by financial gain, so I’d like to hear your argument that stealing a bike is a hate crime or burning down the business for insurance fraud is a hate crime. Hate crimes focus on the motive, a common thing in criminal prosecution. That’s why there is a difference between homicide and manslaughter. Did that guy break into your house to steal your gun or to just take a shower? Those are two different crimes.

Why don’t we consider the September 11, 2001 attacks 2,977 cases of homicide (or one case of homicide with 2,977 victims)? Because all of America was the target. And those who were around on that day can testify that every single person was affected. (I had an irrational anxiety about crossing large bridges for months – a real problem in Portland). The goal wasn’t to kill just the people on the planes, in the Pentagon, and in the World Trade Center. The intended victim was all Americans. Terrorism is a message crime targeted at entire populations. A swastika spray-painted on a Jewish family’s car is going to impact more than just that family. This is why these laws exist. Greater harm.

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The research is clear. Hate hurts more. Nobody wants to be a victim of a crime. It straight up sucks. But hate crimes tend to be more violent, like baseball repeatedly bashing a skull violent. Like Osama bin Laden, hate criminals want to send a clear message to a larger population. Get out of my land. If hate crime victims survive, they are more likely to need reconstructive surgery and long term-therapy compared to other victims of violent crime. We know that hate crime victims have deeper psychological scars and suicide attempts. When someone beats you for your gender identity, it’s deeper than someone beating you because they want your debit card. Victims of hate tend to withdraw and then the cavalcade of problems continue; at their job, in their family, and with their community.

It doesn’t end there. The target community also suffers. Who is going to be the next victim? Is this attack a reflection of wider beliefs? If there is a gay bashing in Portland tonight, all members of the LGBTQ community in Portland will experience the wave of anxiety and impulse to withdraw. The 1988 murder of Mulugeta Seraw in Portland by racist skineads created a wave of fear in the city, and not just among the local Ethiopian community. Many people of color shut their doors and focused on their and their children’s safety. Like how Americans felt after 9/11, but just think of a 9/11 after 9/11 after 9/11.

Wait, there’s more! Researchers have found that whole communities suffer after a hate crime. People start wondering what side their neighbors are on. Vibrant networks are strained as distrust grows. Yusef Hawkins was a 16-year-old black boy who was murdered by a white mob in Bensonhurst, New York in 1989. In the aftermath, the community erupted into months of racial conflict and violence. To this day, you can’t hear the name “Bensonhurst” and not think of how bad we can be to each other.

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That leads to the last harm, the place itself. Like Bensonhurst, what do you think of when someone says Jasper, Texas or Laramie, Wyoming? There’s a good chance you recall the brutal 1998 murders of James Byrd, Jr. and Matthew Shepard. Places become stigmatized by the hate crimes that occur there. Many people across the world still think of the Seraw killing (29 years ago!) when someone says “Portland, Oregon.” I’ve had numerous people ask me, “Is Portland safe? I’ve heard about these skinheads.” And pity the poor state of Idaho. Nobody is looking at brochures from the Chamber of Commerce these days. They’re using Google and guess what they find when they look up Oak Creek, Wisconsin.

I am not your white person

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In the Academy Award-nominated documentary, I Am Not Your Negro, the late African-American author James Baldwin asks us to take a real look at the state of race in America. Not a Hollywood version, but a real hard look. And by “us,” he really means white people because everybody else pretty much knows what’s up. I’ve learned that most white people don’t like it when a person of color holds a mirror too close to their face. They’ll call them “racist” for trying to show them their own unstated racism. They’ll accuse them of “stirring up trouble” (as a white friend from Georgia said on my Facebook page today about Rev. Al Sharpton and Rep. John Lewis). Looking is uncomfortable. The airbrushed version of myself is so much prettier.

The ugly reflection is that hate crimes are on the increase in America. Bomb threats at Jewish Centers, Muslim-Americans being assaulted and told to leave the country, Latinos being beaten by self-styled vigilantes, gay and trans kids being bullied, and, yes, even some white folks getting beaten up just for being white. This is the civil war our current president has no interest in rectifying. In fact, he has only fanned the flames of hatred.

In Oregon, we are trying to take a stand against both the history of oppression and the current effort to take us back to “again,” when, for some people, America was “great.” Never again. I’m proud to be a part of that effort.

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The Art Teacher Was a Lady

March 2, 2017

Art Lady, you saved me.

It was big thrill when we got out of our usual elementary school routine to go to art class. It may have been for only one hour once a week, but it gave the kids a chance to use a different part of their brains. The teacher was usually a lady with crazy make-up and funky clothes (a big deal in 1970s Georgia), but we were happy to be unleashed. I seem to remember making a lot of crappy ashtrays for my parents who didn’t smoke. But whoever she was, Ms. Art Teacher always let us do our own thing. And I don’t ever remember any Mr. Art Teachers.

There was a coded message that art was feminine. Men taught math, even football coaches, and women “let you” do art. History (as the history of wars) was necessary, but art was extracurricular. When President Bush signed the No Child Left Behind Act into law in 2002, public schools saw a dramatic defunding of “non-essential” arts and music programs (as well as history and language classes) to shift resources to math and English. Once again the feminine was devalued. So the millennials got even less time with the Art Lady then we did. Gee, what could go wrong?

There are a truckload of studies that show the benefits of exposing kids to arts in school. Students that have arts, music, and dance in school score better in reading, writing, and math and have higher graduation rates. Kids with an art background become better citizens and add to community cohesion. Schools with art programs have fewer disciplinary problems. Students who take art classes even have healthier brains. And the findings go on and on. But why waste our time with artsy fartsy arts when we could be teaching our youth to find the value of x?

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I’ve been reflecting on my own arts education, or lack of it. The elementary school arts teacher didn’t follow us into high school. (There was no middle school in Georgia in the 1970s). There was a small arts club at our school but not much beyond that. (The Industrial Arts Club had more members.) Certainly if you showed any affinity for the arts you were called a “fag.” This was especially true for boys. I’ve written about my short tenure playing high school football as simply a performance of the narrow definition of high school masculinity. I was riding the bench when I would have rather been reading and listening to records. It wasn’t until the arrival of punk rock to rural Georgia that I found righteousness in being bullied. Iggy Pop saved me from a life as a half-assed jock.

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I was one of the lucky ones. My parents were from Cleveland, not Stone Mountain. My mom played saxophone in a jazz band and got to hang out with Louis Armstrong. Her mother was a globe trotter and brought us musical instruments from all over the planet. (I used the balalaika to mime to Kiss songs.) My dad traveled for business and brought the outside world back with him. We had a baby grand piano in the house and regularly gathered around and sang the songs of old. I liked to act in school plays. (I was Mr. Grumpy in Mr. Grumpy’s Toy Shop, dammit!) My great love of literature was nurtured at home, so while my friends were off getting drunk in a field, I was reading George Orwell, Jim Carroll and barbarian stories by Robert E. Howard, while listening to Blue Oyster Cult albums. My cohort seemed to reject anything connected expression, by themselves or others. (Although there was a brief moment in 1980 when it seemed that half of Redan High School was reading Anne Rice’s Interview with a Vampire.) The mission, as it is in every high school, was to manage conformity. And anyone a few steps outside of normal had to be punished.

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By my senior year there was a small group of us punk kids and it was brutal. We’d get physically attacked by boys who demand that we stop listening to “fag rock” and “go buy some Nugent.” Gender conformity extended to even music. (I actually had Ted Nugent in my LP collection, between the New York Dolls and Gary Numan.) Thanks to rock magazines, like Creem and Circus, I got into the Australian band AC/DC long before they broke in the US. But I knew if I wore my AC/DC t-shirt to to RHS in the 70s, the reaction from the rednecks was like the drool of Pavlov’s dogs. “Hey, Gayzak! AC/DC? That means you’re a fucking faggot! Ha, ha!” Two years later they would worship this band, but they had to make it to the overground first. Anything from the underground was associated with “fairies.”

Of course, for me, the underground is where I wanted to be. I wanted to escape to the Lower East Side of NYC and hang out with Patti Smith and the Ramones. Or San Francisco and sip cappuccinos with the bastard children of Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg. Or the Sunset Strip in LA where I could have a funny haircut and hang out with actors. There was one store at Lennox Square Mall in Atlanta called Rain that sold “new wave clothes,” and once I got my drivers license I was a regular customer, fully knowing that identifying myself as “other” would lead to more beat downs from the boys. Saint Iggy, protect us.

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The world of art was my escape. I was never told by the people that mattered to me, including parents, teachers, and rock stars interviewed in the sacred pages of Rolling Stone, that I should not search for my own voice. When you’re a kid, it’s mostly consuming to find the idiom that most speaks to you. Am I a realist, surrealist, goth, or mod? And then you start, in bits and pieces, and five-line poems and napkin sketchings, to externalize your own internal chaos. For me it was discovering the teenage poetry of Liverpool writers, like Roger McGough and Adrian Henri, that got my #2 pencil moving. “In forgotten graveyards everywhere the dead will quietly bury the living and you will tell me you love me, tonight at noon.” They opened the door to bebop jazz and the world of bohemia. My mind was gone and my body soon followed. Out, out, out of Stone Mountain.

I’m reflecting on all this because the strange world of Facebook has given me a fascinating (and totally unscientific) longitudinal data set. It’s allowed me to reconnect with my high school peers and peek in on their trajectories over the last 30+ years. Those of us who hung out on the fringes of conformity, the formerly despised “art fags,” generally ended up in some pretty cool places and are still rooted in a cultural defiance that others never got to enjoy. The Nugent-crowd still has a vested interest in the status quo. (“Give Trump a chance. Get rid of those illegals. Religious freedom of cake bakers to discriminate!”) There are certainly exceptions to this, but the art-averse climate of my little Georgia Klan town is not that dissimilar to the defunded arts program world that gave us Trump and the “mandate” to not offer protection to transgender kids who need to use the goddam bathroom.

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At what point did we become truly human? One could argue that it was when Paleolithic people first began making art. Artifacts dating as far back as 50,000 years show our attempt to translate our experience for others. The 10,000 year-old cave paintings in France are vivid depictions of not only the real but the spiritual. What is life? There is a direct link from a cave dweller banging out a new rhythm on a hollow log to the latest Ed Sheeran song. (Well, I’m guessing cave drummer didn’t see the beat as “product,” but you get what I mean.) The arts tell us we are unique and have our own voice. You don’t need Ted Nugent to speak for you.

It’s funny how the arts are framed as feminine. All the most famous artists are male. Name one female painter other than Frida Kahlo. Meanwhile girls and women are creating amazing works because it is an innately human act. It’s like how cooking is a “feminine art,” but all the highest paid chefs are men. Casting the wide world of the arts, whether it’s playing a cello or writing a memoir, as a feminine world allows it to be marginalized. Artists are in touch with their feminine side and soldiers are in touch with their masculine side. And we wonder why ISIS blows up libraries and Donald Trump wants to defund the National Endowment for the Arts to help pay for record build up of the military.

Our future as humans depends on fostering the arts among our youth. I bet the Art Lady would agree.

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