mokie: A doll with an open torso featuring a diorama (yay for girls)
May started with a terrible essay (broken down fabulously over at Captain Awkward and by Dr. Nerdlove), in which a man tried to shame his ex for refusing to maintain a relationship with him. Not the relationship, but any relationship. By his own account, she had moved on and found someone new, and she didn't want to hang out with him and rehash the drama of their now-defunct relationship over and over. She did not want to be in a relationship with him, and she did not want to be in that dysfunctional not-relationship with him, either, and so she called it quits - except he doesn't think she has the right to do that. He believes he has veto power over an ex-girlfriend's right to decide who she associates with, because he hasn't got closure (read: the change to debate-to-death her decision to end the relationship). His response to her cutting off contact was to ignore it, keep poking, keep popping up, even after being threatened with a restraining order.

And he painted her decision to cut contact with him as abusive. Yes, seriously. He suggested it was abusive of her to expect to decide for herself who she did or did not interact with. He also suggested that abusive men are abusive because they feel powerless, hint hint, ladies.

Y'know, in case you wondered why she threatened him with a restraining order.

Then, less than two weeks after that essay made the rounds, an asshole declared war on women, and a world that would give women to other men but not him. He killed his roommates, grabbed his guns, and set out for "the hottest sorority" on campus, because. Because girls never approached him, and would have rejected him had he ever bothered to approach them. Because girls pick jerks (who actually ask them out) instead of 'gentlemen' like him (who sit around waiting for ass to be handed to them, like Sleeping Booty, and never put themselves out there for outright rejection). Because when he attempted to assault some women months earlier (what a gentleman!), some nearby men had intervened and kicked his ass. Because he was a misogynistic shitstain driven to obtain riches and women, and frustrated with a life that did not magically hand him these things. Because he was an entitled, spoilt rotten adolescent piece of walking, talking crap who'd had everything handed to him, and his response to adulthood and the requirement that he grow up and work for things was magical thinking (use The Secret to win the lottery!) and an inevitable tantrum.

Because girls aren't psychic - but thank God for instinct and intuition.

And the apologists poured out. It wasn't misogyny because look, he killed more men! - despite the videos and the manifesto and forum posts in which he declared his hatred for women and that he was going to kill as many as possible, and the fact that he only failed because he was utterly incompetent even at being a super-villain. It wasn't misogyny, because look, he had Aspergers, and oh why did no one get him treatment! - despite the fact that autism isn't a mental illness, the mentally ill are more likely to be victims than perpetrators of violence, he was receiving help and his family did attempt to get him committed out of fear he was a threat to himself and others. It wasn't misogyny, because he was probably gay! - and what the fuck is in the water over at Fox News? Seriously now.

And worse, there were the creepy comments. "If even one girl had put out..." What? Pussy would have cured him? No. Or the NYPost's naming and shaming of a girl from grade school that didn't even remember the asshole, though her father did - specifically, he remembered him as a creepy little fuck.

May ended with women on Twitter sharing times they were harassed, intimidated or assaulted - and being harangued by men who were upset because this conversation about women being harassed, intimidated and assaulted was not taking place within the context of how it hurt men to be associated with this and discussed this way. They insisted that the conversation must begin with how feminists discuss men, and must include caveats that specifically let certain men (them) off the hook, because somehow, simply saying that a man raped you and the police didn't take it seriously is slandering all men, because this is really all about men's feelings, isn't it?

So let's start June off better, with Your Princess Is in Another Castle: Misogyny, Entitlement, and Nerds, in which a nerdy guy calls out the pop culture nerd narrative as insulting to and unhealthy for nerdy guys and women alike.
mokie: Man with an old computer monitor for a head drinks through a straw (media pop culture)
#1. Room 237
The structure of this documentary about the search for hidden meanings in Kubrick's The Shining seems to intentionally mirror the movie: creepy labyrinthine rambling, and then someone whips out the crazy.

Long before the documentary rolled up on Netflix, I'd seen an article (or three) mentioning some of the more plausible theories, and did some back reading on them. That's why it's so odd that the film does a relatively poor job presenting those theories: the documentary is a long series of rambling interviews with voices we never seen, played over clips from the movie edited together, looped around, rewound and replayed, while the soundtrack jogs along being inexplicably more creepy than it was in the actual film. It could easily have been trimmed not just for a tighter pace, but to better cover the theories. Instead, the detached voices ramble, and the more they ramble, the more obsessive they begin to sound, like the famous director himself.

And then they get to the moon landing conspiracy theory, which sounds like it was added intentionally to make everyone involved sound crazy.

#2. Death Becomes Her
Death Becomes Her took the bones of Hollywood's classic monster movies and turned them into a Hollywood monster movie.

A disgraced surgeon working on corpses to give them the semblance of life? An inmate asylum who funnels their obsession into eating? A slinky and seductive foreigner offering eternal youth? Not one, but two brides? Even zombies get a nod near the end of the film.

The horror isn't shambling creatures rising from the grave in search of blood, but shambling stars emerging from the plastic surgeon in search of youth, part of an industry based entirely on the preservation of appearance, the rejection of reality and fear of the passage of time.

#3. Lilo & Stitch
Lilo & Stitch was the first Disney movie in which we see protagonists who are orphans and the implications of that.

The golden age princesses had their parents conveniently removed in favor of wicked stepmothers and fairy godmothers, and later animal protagonists lost their parents for drama points, but it never mattered: the princesses were content to sing and wait for their prince to come, the animals were too young to care or got a narrative cut-away to hit us with the death but spare us the grieving. (Damn you, Bambi.)

The Disney renaissance passed on stepmothers in favor of single/adoptive parents and wicked fairy godmonsters (hey, worked for Maleficent). Neptune's daughters appear to have no mother, but Ariel gets a little hand from Ursula, while Belle had only crazy old Maurice and a long-gone witch who thought it was appropriate to turn a castle's worth of people into furniture because someone was once rude to her. Jasmine's mother? Pocahontas's mother? Chief Powhatan's first on-screen act was to let us know she was dead. Hercules? Kidnapped, adopted by a nice couple, later reunited with his parents. Simba? Lost his father, adopted by a nice same-sex couple, later reunited with his mother. Tarzan? Orphaned (but too young to grieve), adopted by a nice couple (of apes), later reunited with his species.

Lilo? Orphaned, grieving, arguably acting out because of it.
Nani? Orphaned, grieving, trying to keep their tiny broken family together in spite of it.

Beside the fantastical half of the story, there's this small human story about loss and coping with it. No Prince Charming can come to their rescue, though David offers support; no evil monster is going to rip them apart, though a social worker threatens the family (out of concern rather than malice). The big scifi tale of an isolated special snowflake created in a lab (almost a shot at Disney's family-free princesses) gains its depth by smooshing it into this little human story.

#4. The Addams Family
The original comics, TV show and movies all show the Addamses as part of a community that accepts and even celebrates their weirdness. While the plot may be about the average Joe or Jane stumbling into weird Addams territory, the Addamses and their culture are always accepting and welcoming of these mundanes - more accepting and welcoming than the mundanes are, certainly.

Weird moment of synchronicity! I jotted that down several months ago intending to expand it into a whole ramble at some point. A day or two later, the_phredPhred shared a blog post arguing that the Addamses are the most well-adjusted family on television, because: Gomez and Morticia are clearly in love and enjoy spending time together while also giving each other space to pursue their own interests; Wednesday and Pugsley may play dangerous, but "seem to view one another as accomplices, rather than rivals"; it's an extended family, in which relatives and employees are clearly respected and cared for; and they didn't change who they were to please others, or demand that others change for them.

Another blogger expanded up on this with a brief comparison to the '60s other televised 'horror' family, the Munsters, and might have definitively explained why most people are either a Munsters fan or an Addams fan:
"On one level, the Munsters were a campy stereotype immigrant family, while the Addams' were strictly old-money. Two different spins on the American experience. On another level, the Munsters are 'externally validated' and live entirely for the approval of others. The Addams are 'internally validated' and totally comfortable with themselves as long as they live up to their own standards. The Munsters are ashamed of their unique qualities, while the Addams' celebrate and enjoy them. (Only Grandpa Munster is unabashed, and continually has to be reigned in). [...] In my experience, Business people, early risers, team sports players and dog owners all seem to like The Munsters while artists, night owls, individual sports players and cat fanciers see to prefer The Addams Family."
It makes me wish Mockingbird Lane, a very-Addams reboot of The Munsters, had been picked up. Ah well.

#5. Roseanne
In many ways, Roseanne is less about a working-class family than it is about the death of a small town.

The small town of Lanford, Illinois, is almost a character in its own right. Outline the series, and you'll see not just the changeable fortunes of the Conners, but the decline of Lanford: the closing of its primary employer, a loss of quality jobs, a slip in the local economy affecting local businesses, the town quietly fading into a trucker's stop-over point. It's part of why the last season rang so wrong, but for the right reasons (or, at least, right on paper): it wasn't a big fantasy about her husband not dying, but about the main character having the money to save everyone, culminating in saving the town itself by restoring its primary employer, Wellman Plastics. It all centers on one line in the monologue: "When you're a blue-collar woman and your husband dies it takes away your whole sense of security."
mokie: A big red dinosaur says, "Make me a sandwich" (grumpy)
The Black Death wasn't spread by rat fleas, says a researcher...

...promoting a TV special.

...based on 25 bodies in one British plague pit and a modern account of pneumonic plague.

...ignoring contemporary reports of the Black Death's spread and symptoms, which acknowledge that respiratory infections (pneumonic plague) occurred, but that they were less common than the regular infection presumed to be spread by fleas, whose symptoms (buboes, or swollen lymph nodes) gave the Plague its other common name.

...based in part on genetic analysis of the Yersinia pestis bacteria from those bodies, which he found to be almost identical to modern bacteria in modern outbreaks and which he thus concludes couldn't have spread as fast in its bubonic form as the Black Death's scale would have required, which ignores that (a) modern folks are by and large less cozy with fleas than medieval Europe was, (b) medieval Europe had seen a series of massive famines in the years leading up to the Black Death, and malnutrition leaves populations vulnerable to disease and infection, and (c) European researchers have found previously unknown (and hopefully extinct) strains of the plague bacteria which could easily have been nastier than the modern version.

...apparently jumping into the "It wasn't rats!" debate without actually addressing any of the rat-related evidence.

I love the hemorrhagic plague theory - the idea that Europe was struck not by the rat-spread Yersinia pestis bacteria, but by an Ebola-like virus. Or better, both, sweeping through a weakened population at the same time! And according to some researchers, there are a few assumptive leaps when it comes to rats spreading the plague in Europe, because of where specific rat species lived or had been recorded during the period.

But at the same time, we know Yersinia pestis hit Europe because the DNA is there, and we've known rats and their fleas spread the plague for years, because regular outbreaks in outbreak-prone areas in Asia were preceded by massive rat die-offs. That's what led researchers to specifically study transmission via rats and fleas. We know how that mechanism works. Getting rats and fleas off the hook requires more than proving that 25 bodies in a single British plague pit died of pneumonic plague rather than bubonic, because for all we know that pit was reserved specifically for victims of the pneumonic plague, since it was so very contagious and deadly.

Of course, you could argue that the real problem is that I don't know for sure that this is what the researcher is saying: I'm responding to a flurry of articles proclaiming that the flea and rat are innocent of all charges, and for all I know, it's just a bunch of writers misinterpreting one researcher's findings, just like the regular articles proclaiming that a cure for AIDS has been found because one researcher or another has found a promising technique that still needs years and years and years of testing.
mokie: Cartoon Calvin sneezes and checks his tissue (lurgy)
I recently discovered that I'm allergic to coconut.

Scoffing scoffer: "Aw, did ums get a bellyache? Getting the shits after eating a bad slice of pie isn't an allergy."

No, I got puffy lips after a piece of coconut creme Easter candy, and put it off to some weird reaction to spring pollens. "Maybe I touched my face after checking the mailbox...?"

Then my lips swelled up like someone had just popped me one, the inside of my face swelled up like a sinus/ear infection, and I got a nice big can't-swallow lump in my throat after a bowl of homemade coconut milk-based ice cream. "Maybe it's the way it was processed? It can't be the coconut--I used to nibble shredded coconut out of the bag..."

Then I got the lip and face and throat swelling after having a piece of chocolate cake that had been touching a piece of cake with shredded coconut on it. "But...but...I had coconut curry soup and I was fine! And I use coconut oil in all my soaps!"

On the upside, it turns out the oil is [usually] safe, as the problematic protein is in the meat and milk and water.* You know, all the tasty parts. Also, I'd taken allergy medicine before eating the soup. Tricksy allergies!

Okay, fine, I don't eat coconut anymore.

Except no.

I peeled potatoes today, shedding the skin into a bowl that had previously covered the coconut cake. Lunch was fried potatoes, a cup of coffee, a reusable bottle of water, my 2x daily dose of penicillin (root canal, joy) and a swollen lip and throat and right hand.

What the...

Did I cross-contaminate the potatoes simply by peeling them into the ex-cake cover? Did I cross-contaminate the cup by handling it after the bowl, even though I didn't touch the inside of the bowl or the lip of the cup? Did I cross-contaminate the water bottle during the 'my cakes can't touch' issue, or after the coconut curry soup?

Did I touch a bit of counter on which coconut cooties had previously wafted from mere proximity to the cake? Was the plate I used for the finished potatoes previously used for coconut cake, and if so, how goddamn, do I need to bleach everything in the cupboard just in case?

Is this not cross-contamination at all, but a sudden allergy to penicillin too? Or did I touch the pill bottle after touching the potatoes after touching--GAH!

Mold and pollen and pet fur I can handle: basic cleaning, an air filter during bad spells, take my pills and wash my hands, blah blah blah. An allergy that practically requires me to become OCD might be out of my league.

Update: WOO! I am not allergic to coconut! One of my run-of-the-mill pollen/tree-spooge allergies was having a weird oral reaction to coconut. Once the spring allergies gave way to summer allergies, the coconut reaction went away. VICTORY!


* An allergist's website says the oil is safe. A friend spoke up to say (a) oh hey, me too, and (b) no, the oil is not necessarily safe.
mokie: Man with an old computer monitor for a head drinks through a straw (media pop culture)
A month or so ago, for reasons I can't remember, I found myself reading about milestone episodes of South Park--which episode really gelled the show's dynamics, and which episode cemented Cartman not merely as a tiny Archie Bunker but a budding psychopath, etc. This kicked off a marathon review of the entire series for me. It's turned up a few surprising realizations, like that Stan and Kyle aren't as interchangeable or even alike as many fans claim (and complain about), and I can't explain that without going full nerd, so I'll just leave it there, because that's not the realization I want to write about.

I realized that some of the episodes are so damn far ahead of the moment that many of us don't seem to get them at the time of release.

The episode that brought this home is season 12's "Britney's New Look", about the media frenzy over Britney Spears and her long, slow public meltdown. In the episode, the boys learn people will pay insane cash for Britney photos and trick their way into her motel room by telling a guard they're her kids. For the distraught but otherwise normal Britney, this is too much: under the stress of the media onslaught that she knows will never let up, she blows her head off. Through some fluke she survives, and nobody treats her any differently except the boys. They feel guilty and try to help her escape, only to discover it's a massive conspiracy, and she's just a human sacrifice for a good harvest. (Yes, really.)

(Edited to add: I refuse to add spoiler tags for a TV show that aired two elections ago, especially as the spoileriffic element is the whole point of the episode.)

First, there are the reviewers who see only a parody of Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery" and describe it simply as that, even though I don't think that's technically accurate. The episode imitates the end of Jackson's story, the crowd surrounding the damned woman with cameras instead of stones, but it's using Jackson's story to satirize paparazzi culture, not satirizing her story itself. (Interesting aside: Jackson said about the original reaction to her story, "People at first were not so much concerned with what the story meant; what they wanted to know was where these lotteries were held, and whether they could go there and watch.")

Then there are the folks who missed the point. Spears fans protested that it was a heartless mockery of a low point in her life, and completely missed that she was being portrayed sympathetically, while everyone else (even the boys at first) were villains. Show fans whined that there weren't enough jokes, not enough Cartman, and the only laugh they got was hearing Clinton say "spearchucker" in debate with Obama, completely missing, well, probably anything in the series more intelligent than a fart joke.

And then there were the folks complaining that if they were going to do a Britney Spears episode, they should have done it properly, because there's so much to make fun of, missing both the point ('Holy fuck, there's celebrity poking, and then there's this, and this is not right--we as a society are killing this woman, let's back off and not do that anymore'), and the fact that they were in fact the very people the episode is actually satirizing. For example, and an egregiously creepy example it is, there's the review that crowed the episode "takes a stab at Britney Spears and her popularity" "[w]hen the Queen of Trailer Trash visits South Park," and "[o]nly the boys seem to notice her head is blown off in a great parody of her train-wreck life. We love how Matt and Trey treat her as a brain-dead machine propped up by the media. No head. No brain. Doesn’t matter. Look at the camel toe!"

That's driving right past the point and off the pier, into a lake of fire.
mokie: Thelma Harper glares at the viewer (stfu)
I'm medicated, because it turns out I'm allergic to coconut. (Ooops.) It also turns out that Benedryl makes me chatty--more so than liquor, surprisingly. And thus you get the benefit of my doofy wisdom!

#1. Vaguebooking is punishing everyone who reads because one person pissed you off. It's throwing a rock into a group because you're angry and you want someone to pay attention. It's an act of verbal aggression, and should be met with equal aggression--call that shit out when you see it.

#2. I don't mean privately. Those "Are you OK?" private messages and emails are what the poster wants, someone to come and coddle them so they can spread their misery around without actually asking for help or dealing with the person they're upset with. It just feeds that godawful behavior.

#3. I don't mean nicely, either. Vaguebooking is punishing everyone because you're mad at one person. That's not nice behavior and it doesn't deserve a nice response.

#4. At the same time, I know sometimes folks are just looking to vent. They're not trying to passively-aggressively lash out at someone, they're not asking for help, they just need to release a little steam before the auto-smacking starts. The problem really comes in when they fail to notice that all of their blog posts or status updates or tweets or [insert next big thing in social media] are this kind of venting, because they're never actually socialling in their media--they're just sticking anyone who reads in the position of having to be their ear for venting, without ever giving anything but venting.

#5. And who the fuck wants to read a non-stop negativity engine, just churning out nothing but misery and spite? Fuck, at least toss people a cat picture once in a while.

#6. Ironically, this looks very much like vaguebooking. I'm aware of that. Two minutes before I loaded Semagic, the free-form rant flowing through my wobbly grey bits was all about avocados, so at least this is moderately relevant to the medium.

Edited for clarification: I could have also mentioned in #6 that what sparked the vaguebooking rant was some Buzzfeed article in passing, but that would have made too much sense.
mokie: Red Dwarf's Rimmer does a very embarrassing dance (people are crazy)
Yes, seriously.

First, there's the very popular "Hitler took everybody's guns! If the Jews had guns, maybe the Holocaust wouldn't have happened!", which Salon answers nicely:
Proponents of the theory sometimes point to the 1943 Warsaw Ghetto Uprising as evidence that, as Fox News’ Judge Andrew Napolitano put it, “those able to hold onto their arms and their basic right to self-defense were much more successful in resisting the Nazi genocide.” But as the Tablet’s Michael Moynihan points out, Napolitano’s history (curiously based on a citation of work by French Holocaust denier Robert Faurisson) is a bit off. In reality, only about 20 Germans were killed, while some 13,000 Jews were massacred. The remaining 50,000 who survived were promptly sent off to concentration camps. (Alex Seitz-Wald, "The Hitler gun control lie", Salon 11 January 2013)
The same article also points out that Hitler did not come for everybody's guns, as the much-cited 1938 law actually deregulated gun ownership for most residents. It restricted gun ownership for Jews, but was just one of many restrictions on the Jews.

(Those wondering when Jews became non-white might as easily ask Google when Italians became white, or when the Irish became white, or ask why some Iranians get upset when referred to as non-white. Race isn't as simple as skin color--it has lots to do with social and historical context and power, us vs them dichotomies, and at times with who is and isn't considered fully 'people' at all. You can find books on it from the Jewish perspective, if you're curious. In the meantime, you can think of it as 'ethnically specific tragedies', if you find that easier.)

Then there's Gawker's story, with a title that speaks for itself: "Al Sharpton Rips Into ‘Gun Appreciation Day’ Chairman Who Thinks Slavery Might Not Have Happened If We Had Just Given Black People Guns"

Yes, seriously.

Of course, it was a different story when groups of black people actually were arming themselves, and the NRA helped to draft gun control measures instead of fighting against gun control. Meanwhile, remember when the neo-cons argued that slavery wasn't so bad, bred mutual respect between the races, and at least kept black families together in 2-parent households? Or when Quentin Tarantino decided he was an expert on history and declared "Roots" 'inauthentic'? Okay, that last one's unrelated...

Except that, for both "Inglourious Basterds" and "Django Unchained", Tarantino has been criticized as exploiting another race's past tragedy and rewriting it as a revenge fantasy, ignoring history and, some believe, implying that the oppressed could have taken care of themselves had they just grabbed those bootstraps and gotten a little more inventively violent.

Huh. Guess it does apply.

And this is just the headline-level racial fuckery emerging from the gun control debate. It's not touching on comment sections, where eyes are rolled, racial slurs are tossed out, and the threatening specter of the gangbanger is waved. It comes together as a disjointed vision of a Mad Max future, in which armed and melanistically-rich criminals roam free and run Bartertown, formerly known as the US of A, and by the way, their ancestors could have saved themselves from us pasty bastards in the first place if only they'd had guns.

Except nobody is enslaving us. Nobody is forcing us into concentration/re-education camps, or sending us off to Thunderdome.* There was a whole lot more going on in pre-Civil War America and the Third Reich than the oppressed parties not having guns, and much of that had to do with those parties being considered barely (or not even) human by the Powers That Be.

Guns aren't what's keeping society from suddenly imploding on itself. Society isn't imploding because, despite all the gloom, doom, school shootings and terrible cable reality shows, it works pretty well for the most part. Rethinking our stance on guns to take military weaponry off the streets isn't going to change that, or leave us bare and defenseless against barbarians at the gate. It might, however, stop a mass-murdering fuckhead or two from donning body armor and walking into a school to make himself famous.

Meanwhile, as some folks are suggesting that the only thing those other folks needed to fix their problems was more guns, completely different folks are uncomfortably wondering exactly why killers who arm themselves and walk into schools almost always turn out to be young middle-class white men. Is it just statistics? A dramatic rise in mental illness, or a dramatic drop in effective treatment? A pathological reaction to stressful times, changing demographics and social norms, and/or loss of status?

This is progress of a sort, given that a decade ago, we were uncomfortably discussing whether these killers were monsters created by video games or monsters created by bullying. Now that bullying is an openly discussed issue, video games aren't just for easily-demonized geeks anymore, and more killers clearly fall outside the stereotype of the kid playing out his revenge fantasy in real life, we can stop asking why that person committed this one horrible crime and start asking what it is about our culture that's incubating this trend.


* I know there's a tangent on the American penal system in here waiting for someone, but I've only got the one rant in me today.
mokie: Man with an old computer monitor for a head drinks through a straw (eljay drama)
A new reader left an awkward comment a few months ago. Introductory comments are always awkward, so I blew it off. His journal featured a few short random entries packed around various event announcements. (I don't remember what for. They weren't my cuppa.) I figured maybe he was just dropping comments around like business cards, hoping to find eyeballs for his cause. I decided to follow-back anyway, because test-driving new journals is part of the fun of community journalling sites.

He left two perfectly normal conversational comments. Not in a row, no--two in his brief time following me. Two. The rest were uncomfortable, preachy diatribes often only tangentially related to what I'd posted. I quickly learned to cringe when an email arrived telling me he'd commented.

I let things slide at first, since I'm an expert at saying the wrong thing the wrong way, coming across like a know-it-all and generally putting my foot in my mouth. (New journal title! mokievision: making an ass of myself since 2000!) But when he got pissy at me over my Newtown post, I was done. Not because of the gun debate, but because I refuse to discuss issues with someone whose response to plain logic is to throw a fit and an insult.*

In going back through those months to tag them properly (because I <3 tags), I kept stumbling on his assorted comments, except without my benefit-of-the-doubt hat on they just look like a pattern of assholish behavior--behavior I allowed him to get away with because I was too polite to put a stop to it sooner.

So I broke one of my own rules and deleted him. All of his comments, everywhere I found them. I don't remember ever deleting comments before, except for the occasional spam clean-up, and I don't like doing it, because even angry comments usually add context to the discussions and entries. But dammit, the man derailed a freaking book review to humblebrag about how many languages he could read. That should count as canned meat of some kind.

Edited to add: dracunculusdracunculus pointed out the Five Geek Social Fallacies, which explores why geeks sometimes put up with bad behavior instead of drawing boundaries. It's so on-target that it almost hurts. The most relevant of the five: you can't toss a jerk out of your circle because ostracizing a jerk is worse than whatever behavior makes the jerk a jerk, and you can't criticize a jerk's behavior because friendship means never, ever calling someone on their bad behavior.


* By 'plain logic', I mean that I pointed out several of the things he was repeating were either unproven, such as anything involving the killer's medical history; had been disproved, such as that Israel arms its teachers; or were plain wrong, like his reference to Asperger's as a mental illness. I also asked him to offer a source for his gun statistics, since they didn't match other sources I was seeing, and suggested twice that we seemed to simply be at odds on the whole topic and should just agree to disagree.

His response was to pull 90° conversational turns any time he was corrected/questioned, pull some more numbers out of his ass, and seize upon "agree to disagree" as some demented proof that he was winning some debate that only he had agreed to have. I finally insisted on seeing some sources, at which point he metaphorically threw himself to the floor and whined that I was more in favor of gun control than I claimed (i.e. tried to tell me what my opinion really was), because I wouldn't respect his authoritah and let him just make shit up without calling him on it.
mokie: Earthrise seen from the moon (melancholy)
What can I say that hasn't already been said? News of the shooting was devastating. The national discussions it started on gun control, mental health access and the role of the media have been frustrating, but were overdue. The national discussions some people tried to start using the tragedy suggest that any mental health care reform needs to start with our politicians and celebrities. Please, won't someone think of Victoria Jackson?

On the same day that a man shot 20 children and 7 adults in Connecticut, a man in China slashed at least 22 children with a knife, a man in Indiana was arrested after threatening to set his wife on fire and then shoot up a nearby elementary school, and a teen in Oklahoma was arrested after plotting to lure students and faculty into the school gym and open fire. In the week since, a man walked into an Alabama hospital and opened fire, a Maryland teen was put in psychiatric care after concerned students reported that he had detailed information on the school building and security, and a Utah elementary school student brought a gun to school and threatened his classmates, citing fear of being killed like the kids at Newtown.

Maybe the world is always this crazy, and we just spend so much of our time focused on our own little corners that it's usually easier to ignore.

Mental Health Reform
Yes, please.

Though speculation abounds about the attacker's mental health, his actions point to a larger societal problem, and if we can't see it objectively in our own backyards, we can observe it unfolding in China, where attacks on schools are on the rise. Some experts attribute these attacks to mental illness, while others talk about frustration with rapid social changes, unemployment and general disenfranchisement.

I don't think that's an either/or. Dismissing these attacks as mental illness fails to address seriously the debilitating stress that drives people to the point where exploding seems like a solution; talking about them only as frustrated men downplays the value of access to good mental health care in favor of talking up punishment and armed guards. We need a healthy middle ground, where a person doesn't need a diagnosis of mental illness to get serious help, and doesn't feel stigmatized for seeking out the help they need.

Gun Control
Social media has been rife with strife, hasn't it? In one corner, people waving photos of an armed Israeli teacher with her students as proof that we need guns in schools--nevermind that the photo is of a guard, not a teacher, and that under Israel's restrictive gun control policies, citizens wouldn't even have access to as much firepower as the attacker had that day. In the other corner, people pointing out that the 22 children involved in the Chinese knife attack will all survive, so eager to make the point that they gloss over the alarming larger reality that schools are increasingly seen as a viable target by the disgruntled.

To share my biases upfront: my grandfather was a hunter, my cousins still are, and I know people who work in dangerous vocations that have to be armed for their own protection, so I know that there is such a thing as a responsible gun owner. At the same time, I also believe there's no reason for your average everyday citizen to have an assault rifle in their home, and that the discussion about gun control in our country is muddled by an unhealthy combative mindset that has latched onto guns as symbols of power and agency.

Examples of that mindset? Start with politicians pushing to arm teachers, under the assumption that at least one teacher with a gun could easily take out a gunman and reduce the danger. In reality, all armed teachers would introduce to the situation is crossfire: statistics tell us that accuracy drops among trained police officers when shooting moves from target practice to real situations, and psychology tells us that humans are consciously unwilling and subconsciously sabotaged when firing on other humans. (Yes, that's a Cracked article. Their explanation is a more interesting read.)

This kind of thinking is dangerously related to the kind of thinking that says, "I'll get a gun and show them all that they messed with the wrong guy." This kind of thinking isn't the solution--it's the problem. It's the kind of thinking that got an unarmed teenager stalked and shot by an armed junior detective wannabe after the real police told him not to engage, and which had half the country arguing if the wannabe had the right to 'stand his ground' and fire on the unarmed kid that he was stalking through the kid's own neighborhood. It's the kind of thinking that led a grown man to fire into a minivan full of teenagers because their music was too loud.

Whether or not we manage to come to a consensus on the issue of accessibility to guns, we have to address the connection between anger and armament in our culture. We've gotten the idea that waving weapons around is a legitimate way to express our frustration, even to the point of bragging about it on cable news stations. Is it any wonder a segment of the population carries out that threat?

The Media, the Politicians, the Deities and the Wingnuts
By midweek, even the media was questioning its presence in Newtown, and the value of the story vs. the empathy of its actions.

Sadly, some of us have gotten so entrenched in the politics of empathy that we've started to lose hold of the real thing.

Politically and/or religiously-minded individuals tried to stick the tragedy to their favorite hobby-horses. On the right, Mike Huckabee blamed the 'removal' of God from schools (nevermind what that says about attacks in places of worship), Victoria Jackson tried to equate it with abortion, James Dobson blamed it (and everything else) on the gays, and Ted Nugent blamed 'political correctness and moral decline', if you're inclined to take a tongue-lashing about morality from a man who gained legal guardianship over a teenager so he could have sex with her. On the left, there were snark remarks about 'arming those evil union teachers' and a demand to talk gun control before the families even knew if their children were among the slain.

For me, none of that tops Charlotte Allen's error-ridden misogynistic New Review essay in which she blames the "feminized setting" of the school, stating that "women and small children are sitting ducks for mass-murderers," lamenting that there were no men on staff to leap into action, that "even some of the huskier 12-year-old boys" might have taken the attacker out had they not been pushed to hide like scared little girls. It's a batshit revisionist view of events that ignores two brave women who rushed to try to stop him, insults the custodian who saved lives not by flinging a pail at an armed man but by running through the building warning teachers and students to take cover, and denigrates teachers who saved lives by concentrating on getting kids out of the line of fire rather than throwing themselves into it.

And, on the other side, those pointing out that the heroes of Newtown were all women (sorry, custodian!), and waxing philosophical about the differences between the genders, as if male teachers would not have given their lives for their students in the same situation.

But can we say that they're at least learning? Between Anderson Cooper's refusal to use the attacker's name on the air, and the media's greater focus on the victims rather than the gunman, the media seems to have figured out that they don't have to feed that morbid curiosity or give the attacker a posthumous platform. If this holds up, it's already a great step forward.
mokie: A vintage image of a girl and kitten smiling (pets)
Back near the end of July, during that fun 3-month heat wave/drought combo platter, I got a call from Zaphod, my nephew, asking if I would take in a stray kitten he found. It had been hiding under some bushes near his house, panicking at the passing cars and panting in the heat, and it had been out there for a while.

But you know young animal lovers. A baby bird on the ground must be in dire danger, a bunny out of its burrow must need rescuing from any potential threats, and a kitten under a bush must be lost and in need of saving. I gave reluctant and conditional permission: I'd bring the kitten in, check it out, and let it get some water and cool off, but in all likelihood it was simply an outdoor cat trying to dodge him.

A few minutes later, my sister came up the street with the boy and a couple of neighborhood kids, and I realized it wasn't just Zaphod being oversensitive. The kitten wasn't starved, but it did seem a little bony and dehydrated, and it was petrified by every sound, from random dog barks a block away to squealing tires a few streets over.

That's how Maynard came to us.

The fact that he was so affectionate, and so willing to be lugged around and snuggled by Zaphod, told us that Maynard was most definitely not a feral cat, but he did like to dodge out the door--and then freeze on the porch, as if asking himself what he'd just done. We were banking on Maynard being a local kitten who'd darted out one day and not been able to get back in, so we checked grocery store bulletin boards, looked for Lost Cat posters, posted notices online, and the nephew said he even put up a Found Cat notice near his apartment building.

Nothing. Poor thing. I'd only saddled him with the name 'Maynard' because I thought he'd just be here a day or two.

As the month creeped by, the other possibility started to look more like a probability. Maynard was (I would guess) eight or nine months old, at that gangly stage where cats stop being cute and start knocking things over in earnest, and we live in a neighborhood dominated by apartment buildings, with a lot of turnover in the summer months. It was all too possible that someone simply decided they didn't want a kitten anymore, or was moving and didn't want to lug him along.

Due to a human medical emergency earlier this year, Ming and Murphy's visit to the vet to be fixed ended up being pushed back, but with a second intact male in the house, procrastination was no longer an option. Last week I called the vet to ask if they check for microchips as a last ditch effort to find Maynard's previous owners, and made an appointment for all three cats to be vaccinated. (It's required at least two weeks before spaying/neutering, even for indoor cats.)

I didn't even need to fully explain to the vet. I started with, "There are a lot of apartments..." and she knew where it was going. How's that for depressing?

Ming's check-up included an ultrasound to be sure there were no surprises. While the vet saw some fluid in her uterus, there were no signs of kittendom, so she was vaccinated and yowled all the way home about it. Kitty PMS!

Maynard's check-up revealed no chip and no health problems. He's now vaccinated and officially a member of the family. He took it so well, the vet's assistant dubbed him 'loverboy'.

Murphy's check-up took place in the office sink, since he felt a little less exposed there. He's about as social as I am--we both hide when new people come into the apartment--so I was surprised he was willing to come out of the carrier at all. The exam revealed a blocked eye duct and problematic tooth, possibly allergy/sinus related since the weepy eye seemed to act up most often when the people-allergies flared up. The vet warned that vaccinations and antibiotics together could make him feel sick, but I figured a little sick was better than stressing him out with a string of vet visits. Two minutes after we got home, he felt so sick that he bounded up the cat tower, flung himself at Maynard, dodged a swipe from Ming and rolled across the rug chasing absolutely nothing.

And everyone was happy to be home.

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