Wednesday, November 29, 2017

An Open Love Letter to Men

Dear Men,

Recently, a female acquaintance commented that I seem to bowl better in my Thursday night mixed league than in my other three women-only leagues. I told her that year to year, I have the highest average (not to mention the most fun) when I bowl with men. She seemed perplexed, perhaps naturally, so I hastily blurted, "Well, I just enjoy the company of men more, present company accepted, of course!"

Truth is, I bowl better with you guys. I like the no-nonsense approach you have. I like the way you incessantly analyze the ball trajectory against where you stand against the current oil pattern. I like how you exercise your minds until the world makes sense. I like how you keep the cattiness down and gossip to a minimum - it might interest you, but not for two hours like it does the women.  I like the way, when I throw a gutter ball, you look me in the eye and say, "What the hell was that?"  Without smiling. I don't want to be coddled; I want to be expected to get my shit together by the next turn.

The world does make better sense around you men. When it's ugly, you know exactly why. Sometimes, you're the cause of the ugliness, but if you don't own up, you do manage to make each other pay in the end. I like the way you confront each other. Women smile to your face while plotting your future pain just because they don't like the color you wore yesterday. But a man? He'll make you miserable right on the spot, without apology (at least not immediately - that would be pointless), and he'll have a damn good reason to do it. A reason that is, well, reasonable.

Men are rarely intellectually lazy. They can't afford to be, because they have to earn a complete living. The least educated knows his way around an engine, crop fertilizers, a meth lab. Men take real joy out of verbal sparring - some annoyingly have never learned to combine that urge with self-control. But all that jousting forces them to use their brains, constantly. They don't give each other an inch, or a break. Just a good hard contest.

Men value things like integrity and honor and courage. Check out some novels written by women - they also present some higher ideas - often love, sacrifice - but it will be those written by men who contain sweeping and profound truths about the human condition.  Men ponder these things - with regularity. Men tend to contemplate and comprehend patterns of the universe, realities of war, subtleties of affection, hope, loss . . .

Men spend a lot of effort and time shielding their loved ones from difficulty. I see this a lot - and it often goes unnoticed. Their female companions take it for granted. Women whose fathers, boyfriends, brothers, husbands all protected them, rarely note the ways in which they are shielded from too much hardship. Those of us who have had little such care or protection in our own lives, though, notice it all the time, everywhere, with so many men.

Women often have some shield to hide behind, some safety net to catch them. Most men don't. So you have to be brave - there isn't another choice. And you are brave, so often, and often in quiet ways. Every once in a while, one of you will do something spectacularly and idiotically cowardly - being men, you always go big - but when that happens, your fellow men call you out on it loudly. You don't get to pretend it didn't matter. It will always matter if you behave as a coward, when you're a man. For that reason, you must be terrified when fear comes. Women fear other things, men fear themselves most. That's what I would guess.

Men don't pussyfoot around. They insult you, they tell you off, they acquire disgusting habits. With men, you get exactly what you see in front of you. There isn't a lot of secrecy, manipulation, backbiting. It's all laid out on the table. When I was 30 years old, I informed a doctor that I liked to be given the respect of being told the truth up front. So he looked me in the face and told me, two days before emergency surgery, that I would be wise to "put your affairs in order this weekend", because my life as I knew it might be over. Or simply over, actually.  I trusted him from that moment. Here was a person who put sentiment aside and prepared me for reality to hit. My mom on the other hand told me, "I know everything will be all right, honey."  I wanted to scream, "NO YOU DON'T."  I did not trust her advice, believe me. Even today, when a female friend coos, "It'll be all right."  I feel little but rising disgust at her disingenuousness - but I know that's a learned trait in females.

I like the way you smell. I love your cologne, and your skin. I love the stubble on your chin. I love the ease with which you swing an ax - and the joy you have in doing it.  I love the way you set a fencepost straight and then pound it in. I love the way you hold fast to the rope and squint up at the rearing horse above you, knowing your brain will keep you from being trampled. I love the way you love that suicide bike you refuse to sell. I like the way you snap the briefcase closed and swing it off the desk. I love the way you smile at your daughter across the table. I love the way you throw a baseball. I love the way you smooth your hair back and turn your face up into the shower after an exhausting day. I love the way you plan surprises, and how you worry about whether your wife, or kids, or grandkids will have to pay too much tax on your holdings when you die before them.

Oh, I know some of you cheat, many lie, too many of you walk around thinking your dick is bigger than it actually is - both figuratively and literally. I know some of you are inexplicably and unforgivably selfish to the core. I married one of you once, and that twenty years was enough to last a lifetime.

In today's world, too many of you are being maligned. You're blamed for that which isn't your doing. You're shamed for carrying testosterone. Your natural instincts are treated as threats to be suppressed. Today we refuse to acknowledge that your hunger for progress built empires, your beautiful curiosity and need to conquer brought technological innovation, your soaring spirits brought the biggest piece of the world's great literature, art and music; your tendency to protect what you love fought and won wars for peace we take for granted now. How many of you willingly ran toward a sword, a spear, a fire, a gun, a bomb, for something you understood was far greater than your one life?

Yes, over a beer, or a bowling alley, I do love your company. I love the candor, the stumbling lack of finesse, the mental gymnastics, the uniquely male insight on the world, the instinct to protect. I know that so many of you are bombarded daily with reminders that you as a gender have somehow failed your species. I'm here to tell you that's hooey.

You're wonderful and glorious and beautiful to look at. You're strong. You're good for the world. And ultimately - no matter what you're made to feel - you are necessary. What you were on the day you were born, and what you have grown into, will always be exactly what you are supposed to be. In my book, that's pretty damn good.

Sexual Harassment: After the Swamp Drains, What Will We Have Left?

Too many of us can relate to this cartoon. 

In this odd time we live in, when it seems the swamp is draining further every day, I often find myself pausing to remember little incidents in my own life.  I find that I ask myself how important they were - would I use them to ruin a life today, decades later?  Sadly, I know that many, many women have such disturbing memories. Far too many. These are moments that are probably forgotten quickly by the abuser, but for a young woman can shape her psyche - she learns that in a world she felt safe in, some men are not safe, nor are they concerned with her welfare. Not the least bit. She has to reset - relearn the rules of day-to-day existence. The world is a little bit darker from that day on.

I found myself thinking today about the long-term consequences to society of this cleansing. Certainly it will bring some good - men (and some women) will think twice about how they conduct themselves, how they choose to use power.  Hopefully they will think twice before abusing someone. I think we can be fairly confident that this positive change will happen. But what about other, more subtle consequences?

Here are some things I've been considering just today:

An ironic statement - that industry traffics in rape culture.
-  Will victims feel "safer" telling someone immediately, instead of years or decades after?  I  doubt it. There are many reasons why a person stays quiet, and unfortunately those reasons will not change. A woman has to weigh the value of her financial security, the possibility that friends will be lost, the possibility that the press will invade her life, how many others will be hurt and how . . .

-  Will it be easier for an unscrupulous woman to ruin the life of a man who has spurned her, or whom she just doesn't like?  Will it be easier to ruin a life in exchange for money? Will she do it to hurt the woman in his life - a girlfriend or wife?  Will she do it to ruin him professionally?  I believe that some percentage (the statistics are widely variable, depending upon sources) are making up allegations to hurt someone. In our zeal to create an atmosphere where women are empowered to come forward, are we going too far, and creating an atmosphere in which any man accused is worthy of lynching, while his "victim" must be believed at all costs?

-  Will we finally create a society where it is less possible for a man to seek revenge on his rightful accuser - by shaming her publicly, ruining her livelihood, reputation or relationships, by ending her professional aspirations?  I hope we can.  We have been putting in place workplace sexual harassment policies for decades and making education about sexual abuse mandatory, but it seems to have done little good.  I believe that's because we tend to talk around the issue in soft, vague terms, and rarely address the elephant in the room.

-  Will the current crisis and coming fallout lessen the frequency of sexual abuse?  I am certain that it won't, specifically because we ignore the elephant. We will still be raising kids who think nothing of sending half-nude "selfies" via social media to hundreds of "followers".  Or to their adolescent friends. We will be raising kids who listen to music all day every day by "artists" (I can't tell you how loosely I use that term here) who make millions spewing sexism, obscenity, homophobia, racism, violence and hatred, without consequence.  Our children idolize women who debase themselves by the way they dress, the language they use, the things they value, the way they refer to other women, the way they (fail to) relate to men. We welcome into our homes video games and films that depict women in the most objectified, demeaning ways, and never admit it to ourselves.  But in the end, we will never be able to really sell to ourselves the idea that the popular culture is not tied to the normalizing of misogyny and sexual harassment in our society.

Men who do this inevitably have bad breath. Murphy's Law.
-  Will men begin to understand the real abuse that women endure in this society?  I think that real because only men really know what cruelty other men can do to women.  I tend to believe that some men will just never know or care what women live daily, because they only relate to women as lesser people who serve men. I think that some men believe that at 60 or 85, and we can lie to ourselves and say they are a function of a certain era and upbringing. But that doesn't explain the many terribly kind older men. I think that far too many men believe women serve them, who are teens or at least millennials. They grew up in a culture where women were for, well, one thing. And the young women around them only enforced that message with their behavior. How have we come to this?  To this vile culture?  To this pathetically sad way of using our sexuality?
men - those who have developed senses of empathy and morality, have always understood it. I remember hearing a man years ago say that prosecuting attorneys tend to want to load juries with males in a rape case,

How many of you reading this have not said to your child, your niece or nephew, your young friend, that NO ONE, not even Jay Z, should be referring to women as "p---" or "hoes"?  Ever?!  How many of you have turned a blind eye when your 12-year-old daughter refers to the girl she doesn't like at school as a "bitch"?  Have we explained to our teens that gyrating half-naked on a stage does not do good things for your self-esteem in the long run?  No matter what the screaming fans tell you?  Do we explain that no matter what that boy-man's NBA average is, if he treats women as toys he is no hero? He isn't even a man. Not even that.

And what disservice do we do to men, when we teach boys that they are, by birth, predators and pigs?  When we glorify behavior that amounts to sexual stalking? As if you aren't a real man if you don't objectify women!  Look who their heroes are - athletes that use women, music "artists" that spew profanity about women - none of their heroes treat women well. So why should your son learn to treat them well?

It used to be that men who were caught abusing children or women sexually were punished by relatives. Then, we decided to get civilized and made laws that made that sort of retribution difficult. A part of me wishes that today, when your husband hits you, the neighbor/preacher/bartender/your cousin gives him a lick or two. Or when employer grabs your boob, your brother can go teach him a lesson he won't forget, and every man in town will back your brother. But we don't live in that world anymore. Now, we depend upon the good will of the buddies of that very employer who grabbed us; our brother will shrug and asked what we were wearing that prompted it, and go off to listen to hip-hop lyrics about hoes. We then lose that job. Oh, yes, we have laws to "protect" us: litigation goes public, as does our reputation, and drags on for months or years, ending when the lawyer takes a deal, where you get some money, he never apologizes, and things go on as they always did, except that you, as part of the agreement, can never talk to anyone again about what he did.

Call me crazy, but I miss the old days. The word "gentleman" had a meaning. Aspiring to be that word meant something. Men held each other accountable to a greater degree than they do now. All of open society held them accountable. I'm not saying that some men didn't do nefarious things - but they damn well did them in the shadows and with some shame, and when those things came to public light they caused some outrage, not applause! (Lordy, how many times do we hear someone refer to a criminal as a "gentleman" as if that's a substitute for "man"? And now a senator refers to John Conyers as a "gentleman" even as he discusses Conyers' history of sexual misbehavior! Here is a rule for everyone: "gentlemen" does not equal "male member of the human species". ) 

I hope that some good changes come about when all the dust settles. I cringe to think how many innocent men may be sacrificed on the alter of progress and enlightenment. I sigh when I realize that some jerk musician will get some award next year for some asinine collection of noise, and our youth will still fill their brains with vulgarity and filth. What a sad world they live in, where selling one's sexuality as cheaply as possible to strangers is cool; where idolizing men who abuse women is cool. This is what they learn. This is what we are allowing them to learn.

If any good is to come, we first have to start telling ourselves, and our kids, the truth about those things in their lives they value the most - all those toys and idols and inexplicable cultural must-haves that we really must, in the end, call out and finally reject.

Friday, September 22, 2017

The Arrogance of Youth in a Troubled Time...

The most interesting thing about the times we live in, is the degree of ignorance about simple concepts - the same concepts that were a given of a good public education as I was growing up. It's obvious to most thinking people, regardless of generation, that our public education system has failed to educate a few generations now. And the unfortunate result is that we have a nation of "millennials", the majority of which demonstrate mouths full of nonsense and brains void of substance.

Nowhere is this more evident this week (and that's saying something nowadays!) than the case of Garfield High School in Seattle, where the entire football team and several coaches decided to take a knee during the national anthem. The reason given was to "protest social injustices".  My bet is that if you took these kids into a room one at a time and asked them specifically what social justices they are protesting and how specifically disrespecting our flag, citizens and millions of dead soldiers can change that, not one could give you a coherent answer.

Some digging reveals some interesting facts surrounding the case, such as that Garfield has a history of accusations of racial discrimination, some rather dubious. Perhaps one need consider, though, that we live in a time where every sixteen year old thinks they have been discriminated against and every white adult is to blame. For example, Latino students at Garfield protested that a play about Latinos should have had a Latino cast. (Really? Then I guess every play written about white people should advertise auditions with: Minorities Need Not Apply).

Some of the players in question complained that they were horrified by the third stanza of the National Anthem, when they were exposed to that terrible song. This, according to a Seattle Times African-American reporter, Jayda Evans. The offending lines:

“No refuge could save the hireling and slave; from the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave” . . . 

Evidently, Ms. Evans, the school faculty, and these unfortunate children, can't grasp the concept of historical context. Ms. Evans giddily chirps that the lines are in reference to the blacks that aligned with the British in the war of 1812 in order to flee slavery.  Given that few "slaves" were free to be gallivanting around to join the British Army - I find that a bit surprising. Where blacks did join - and they joined both sides - I would give them enough credit to have good reasons, even love of the birth country and freedom of all men. Evans, all fluffed up because of a few lines she failed to understand, apparently feels the entire anthem - and the love of a nation behind it - needs to be scrapped. But these days, "journalism" abounds with irresponsible, underinformed people with faulty judgment.

The bigger point here is that these kids lack two building blocks of good character: a good education and a respect for those who died fighting for our freedoms.  Some argue that kids need to think about social injustices and get a taste of peaceful protest. Fine. But in an age when every yahoo is protesting some exaggerated - if not semi-fabricated - ill or another, it's hard to take anyone seriously. And there are certainly more productive, less annoying, ways of protesting. Insulting half a nation doesn't seem to make much sense.

What is truly offensive is a bunch of fresh-faced kids, inundated daily with the luxuries of the life of an American teenager, making any sort of public political statement. They aren't old enough to vote, barely old enough to shave, and they obviously lack the education - yet - to really think anything of real value. Their prime has not occurred; they have a ways to go to earn the right to tell adults how to live. We forget to teach our youth humility, on top of everything else.

If they had been raised with the humility that an educated youth was, say, in the time of Francis Scott Key, the author of the National Anthem - you know, back when an education included discussions of character and duty and honor - they would know the horror of choosing to defend an ideal with one's life. They would have some understanding of the ideals that build the country that hands on silver platter the convenient little toys that decorate their everyday lives. Not to mention the right to play a game for the public and then spit in that public's face in a very public way. That kind of education might allow them to even grasp the idea of their own ugly arrogance.

Which brings up the biggest point: Garfield is a publicly-funded school. The National Football League is apparently rife with owners who haven't the balls to reign in the idiots on their teams - their cowardice is costing them millions in tickets and weekly viewers. In the end, a professional team is a business: you displease enough of the public, often enough, your business will fail. The beauty of capitalism. However, Garfield is not a business, and not privately-owned. The administration that condoned this disgusting display forgets where their funding is generated. It seems especially arrogant that they would stick it to taxpayers.

Taxpayers - many of whom are patriots, some of whom are veterans, some of whom lost loved ones in war so that the spoiled little brats at Garfield football could take a knee during the required few minutes of respect to the country that gives them so much. The taxpayers in Seattle should be very worried. 

I am grateful to have come from a generation that was taught the cost of this country. I am grateful I come from a school system and a family that knew the meaning of respect. It's very sad that we as a nation have come into an era of selfishness, of make-believe causes for vengeance, of inability to accept one's own burdens while acknowledging that every life - regardless of race - has its injustices and hard burdens. We have brought up generations of youth who are too selfish and angry to ever fight to defend a country. Where will that lead us, except to ruin?

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Protecting the Vile

I had a disturbing encounter this evening with a person who mistook one of my comments. This person was a conservative, someone who knew nothing about me and the fact that I have written on the dangers of radical Islam for over a decade, extensively, under a pen name.

In response to a call from someone to ban the Muslim advocacy organization CAIR (Center for Arab-Islamic Relations), I had suggested that banning wasn't the answer, since banning organizations starts us down a dangerous road, as Americans. The conservative in question jumped on me, shrieking that I was defending an organization of "pedophiles" who believe in beheadings and female genital mutilation. When I explained that they had in fact misunderstood my tweet, they screamed that I was being condescending and repeated the accusation that I was defending the likes of CAIR.

It got me thinking about something that has become more and more disturbing as the country's political stances grow further apart, and the rhetoric gets hotter and hotter. There seems to be a trend amongst young people - with the best of intentions - to "ban" anything they don't agree with. We have to ban organizations, ban houses of religion, ban publications (the Koran), ban even ideas. These people are the product of an educational system that has failed to help them understand why our First Amendment exists, and specifically what it protects. Furthermore, they seem to have no comprehension of a world where we have tossed that most important amendment away.

Out of this zeal to ban what we don't like, rises movements like the current Antifa movement and its droves of indoctrinated, wide-eyed and loud-mouthed eighteen year olds, who storm the buildings and auditoriums hosting conservative speakers at college campuses. For two years, those of us who do understand the value of the First Amendment have cringed to watch these incidents, and grown nauseous at each failure of school administrations to stop it. This casual determination to allow the silencing of speech - and thus ideas - is terribly dangerous to our entire way of life. But how do you communicate that to an entire generation that never learned the concept of freedom of expression? They have grown up free to speak their minds - they never had to pause to question that ability. Worse, they have never had to stop and consider the real potential evil of forcibly taking it from another person.

It was a small light in this dark, turbulent political night we have been living in, when this week the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against censorship of freedom of expression, stating that no right exists to prevent another person or entity from using a brand name that others may find offensive. Apparently, a pop band made of Asian musicians, which calls itself "Slant" was sued by some social justice warriors who just had to point out that the name could be interpreted as a racial slur; they appointed themselves the PC police and took the poor kids in the band to court, with the attempt of actually forcing them to change their name - something the band has stated they use with a sense of pride. (But never mind how the people with the slanted eyes actually feel about it. What has that to do with anything, in this world where we must correct others for thinking the wrong thoughts?) The ruling of SCOTUS is an enormous pro-First Amendment statement. The owners of the Washington Redskins, to name just one nervous entity - not to mention their many fans - are breathing a hopeful sigh of relief.

This is not about allowing anyone to be insulted. It isn't about supporting an offensive slur, gesture, or book. What it is about is freedom and respect. It's about giving each other the respect to back off and allow another to decide what is right and wrong for them; it's saying that we cannot appoint ourselves to be the thought monitors of other people.

I have been more than a little disturbed by the public celebrating this past week when a conservative journalist, Laura Loomer, rushed the stage at a Central Park, Shakespeare in the Park performance of Julius Caesar in which the lead character is a Trump lookalike, and of course undergoes the inevitable assassination. Conservative talk show hosts were cheering Loomer right and left, for standing up for civility. But from where I stand, she was simply lowering herself to the same tactics the Left has been using for two years, and somehow doesn't understand the hypocrisy.

In this political climate, it's always going to be the other side who is wrong. It's always their hypocrisy when they perform exactly the same act that we ourselves might feel morally justified in doing. That's why it is so imperative that we hold ourselves to a higher standard. The problem is, we lose all legitimacy to complain about protesters interrupting conservative speakers the next time that happens, when today we applaud the likes of Laura Loomer, who did exactly the same thing. Remember, the 1st Amendment doesn't exist to protect speech we like, it exists to protect the most vile of speech. If we start censoring this thing... why not that thing, and the next and next?

Then it gets very messy, because the question becomes - who decides what speech is going to be acceptable? The Left? The Right? No... THE GOVERNMENT. And then there we are, in Big Brother territory. We just can't condone the actions of Loomer, if we want to stand for Freedom. It's true that the First Amendment comes with exceptions - but these are inevitably exceptions that have to do with imminent public safety - never with censoring ideas. Never.

Some might argue that when the protected speech has to do with killing our president, it's gone too far. There have been cries of "inciting violence" - a totally inaccurate application of that legal concept (the violence in "inciting violence" must be under very specific conditions, and it must present immediate public danger). But actually we have already said as a nation - through previous rulings of the Supreme Court - it hasn't gone too far. We allow for example the burning of a flag - an act that so many of us find so vile and heartrending that it is almost beyond words. But because it doesn't pose immediate public threat, it is protected expression. We have decided as a nation, that the expression of a passionate political idea - no matter how disgusting - is more important than is stopping the expression of that which some may find objectionable.

Laura Loomer is wrong. If she wishes to complain about students banning conservative speech on campuses, she must allow a Julius Caesar Trump, and furthermore she should allow the audience the respect to view the play and make up their own minds. (It is worth noting that the play's entire theme is anti-assassination and anti-violence; the assassination scene is intentionally performed as tragic and emotionally alarming). And those who want CAIR banned are wrong. CAIR is suspected to be a funder of Hamas, and has been declared a terrorist organization by Saudi Arabia. But in this country - where we don't regulate the thoughts of citizens - and where CAIR has yet to commit a violent act - we don't ban organizations for their ideologies.

We have to start correcting our younger generations when they talk about "banning" what they don't agree with. Our forefathers - and in cases like my father, our ancestors - shed their very blood for the idea that a person should be free to express themselves politically as they choose. We can't let these commitments to the First Amendment change, if we want to remain America.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

The Value of a Few Forgotten Virtues: Katie McHugh and Modern Millennials

Reporter Katie McHugh has a big problem. It isn't, as she might imagine, that her voice has been silenced.

McHugh was fired - according to her - by conservative online news-site Breitbart, when in the aftermath of tragic terror attacks in London she posted to Twitter what some consider "racist" remarks. As usual, the liberal Left screams "racist" when anything inflammatory is posted toward the Muslim community - "Muslim" not being a "race", notwithstanding.

This tweet started it all:
McHugh objects that she was simply stating the truth (as she sees it). Funny thing is, on its surface, if one considers it from a purely logical point of view, it is true. But unfortunately McHugh inores the obvious fact that, in a culture that has assimilated Muslims for centuries - and only recently has a radical jihadist issue terrorized the nation - you can't demand that all Muslims be eliminated from the population. I have to believe she understood her own irony, and was using the hyperbole to make a more forceful point.

But McHugh is an employee of a major news outlet that has a reputation to protect. Breitbart is not a government-funded organization. She doesn't work for a publicly-owned entity. This is where McHugh's immaturity catches up with her: her employer has every right to set standards for their employees, and particularly for those who are most visible to the public and working for a communications outlet. I would argue that although she might consider her Twitter account private, she is a voluntary public personality, and as such represents her employer and should consider their image as well as her own when tweeting.

Strangely, McHugh is as much a product of her age group as are the millennials who pontificate screaming into the faces of their educational and intellectual superiors, on college campuses. This sense of intellectual arrogance that young adults possess is alarming - not only because it is so distasteful to the rest of us, but because it is so counterproductive to successful navigation into and through adulthood. Believing that your own beliefs are infallible and unchangeable, is perhaps common to every young generation. But the current one seems particularly arrogant and definitely far more militantly vocal about it, and far less able to measure their own words.

I wonder what the dynamics are. Does the advent of social media and the opportunity to get up on one's soapbox and scream at strangers, with no real correction or accountability or consequence, help to form minds that never question themselves? Is it that we have raised a few generations of kids now that were only hesitantly told "No!" or only occasionally corrected, or maybe never told to be silent in the presence of adults or others who knew more than they did? Is it that their high school teachers and college professors model behavior that is intolerant of other points of view?  Is it a mix of all these things?

The notion of humility as a virtue, in the traditional understanding of that word, is something that needs to be revived. How many modern parents would even know what that word means? How many young adults do?  At its most basic, Humility is an ability to see your own abilities and worth beside those of other people, and accept those things others do better than you do, as well as your strengths. It is a realistic sense of yourself, including your intellectual capacity and your possible lack of insight or life experience. It may be argued that true humility better enables a person to appreciate others, and also to appreciate his or her own unique contribution.

Humility is beneficial first to the one who cultivates it within himself. When internalized as a virtue, it encourages a person to stop and consider the limitations of her or his own opinion, before publicizing it and facing embarrassment. Or loss of the respect of others. Or firing.

McHugh has posted some good pieces at Breitbart, and she may even have some interesting ideas and valid points to make. But she lacks the humility to consider the limitations of her own voice and experience, and the humility that might have caused her to stop and measure her words more carefully, before she hanged herself with them.

At present, she is loudly protesting her firing quite publicly. I wonder if she has considered how unprofessional or fit for another news position that makes her appear? No one hires a troublemaker, after all.  With all the typical recklessness of today's millennial, she rages about, decrying her own victimhood without considering how doing so will harm her. Regardless of how she feels about it, or whether Breitbart was right or wrong - the truth is that Breitbart did what any private employer can. I hope that McHugh received some warning before this happened, or at least had been given in the past some idea of the expected employee conduct as regards social media and other public communications. But whether this happened or not, McHugh can't control what Breitbart has done, while she can control the conduct she chooses for herself from this point on.

McHugh's tweets lacked tastefulness. They were obviously intentionally provocative, and I think she meant them to be sardonic and even funny. They weren't. They fell flat because they danced too close to meanness and unfairness, and lacked tact, good taste, and common sense. They came from a young mind that hasn't yet learned the value of temperance, the benefit of humility. A statement being true isn't all that matters: the truth of it has to be weighed against the necessity and fairness of it and any fallout that may result from its being voiced.

From the looks of things so far, McHugh may be too much a product of her own generation to exercise much of those virtues - temperance, fairness and humility - in the near future. And in that, she has much in common with other millennials who lack that subtlety of understanding that leads to the kind of nuanced communication skills which would earn them the respect they so loudly - and too often undeservedly - demand.

Monday, August 15, 2016

REVIEW: "Polarity in Motion", by Brenda Vicars

Genre:  Young Adult, Coming of Age, Whodunnit
Publisher:  Red Adept, 2014
Length: 266 pages

This book was recommended to me as being an especially good representation of the genre. I almost never read young adult novels - they just rarely interest me, and so few are well-done. So it was with a little reluctance that I began Polarity in Motion.

About ten pages in, I was hooked. The opening was expertly-written, immediately grabbing the reader as it should. As I read, it occurred to me that I would like to use it as an example to beginner novelists I am working with as a mentor and/or editor, as I try to instill in them the terrible importance of a great opening to a novel. At that point, I double-checked to see how many books the author had under her belt; I was surprised to find out that this was her first novel.

The next thought I had was that she had an excellent editor. Not only was the text clean (I think I found two typos and one grammar error - this is present in any novel, no matter how thoroughly edited), but the book was structurally extremely sound. This wasn't an easy task for a beginning novelist: the book is at its core a mystery, and with that type of book plot structure must be near-perfect: in order to keep the reader wondering and the story flying along, a writer has to do some painstakingly careful plotting. Foreshadowing must be continuous but not overwhelming; tension must be maintained to a high degree; most importantly, all the strings of plot must come together neatly at the end. The reader must be surprised by the ending, and yet satisfied and not surprised at all by what they learn. This book, for the most part, accomplished that.

Polarity in Motion is about a young girl caught up in a sexting scandal at a high school - one in which she is victimized. We follow her as she is removed from her school and home, and - during the impending formal investigation - becomes a temporary ward of the state. I really liked this section of the book, because I think it deftly illustrated the confusion, helplessness and anger of a child in such a situation. The main plot revolves around the discovery of who set her up, where the photo originated, and how it came to be a tool of bullying as it was disseminated among the peers in Polarity's social and academic world.

This book is entertaining and suspenseful and would entertain anyone from 12 to 80. It contains a lot of teen angst, crazy teachers, annoying parents, bullies, cute boys and a little romance. It really is a bang-up debut young adult novel, and is far above most others out there in terms of both quality of writing and of story.

As an editor, I did have one reservation about it, and it is one particularly interesting for me to bring up because it concerns all beginning novelists. This book makes one mistake that is very common in first books: it wants to be too many things. It hovers between being a mystery novel and meandering into various social issues that really have little to do directly with the plot. Although these passages do build layers of character and add atmosphere, they are a bit clumsy and neither advance the plot nor affect the outcome of the story.

I want to take a moment to speak about this in general terms, for the benefit of writers. Oftentimes, first-time novelists try to work a social issue that is near and dear to them personally into their story. This is perfectly fine, as long as the issue is shown within the plot of the story and has some effect on the plot's outcome. Too often, a new novelist wanders occasionally from the narrative of the plot to get on a soapbox of some sort. In terms of the technique of writing there are a few problems with this:

1 - It slows down the tension of the plot. In some cases pontificating about some moral concern goes on for paragraphs, in the middle of what should have been a continuous build of dramatic tension. The new writer will justify this as "well,  but the main character is talking about it, so..."  I appreciate that it is worked into the character's thoughts or dialogue, but that isn't enough. It still has to advance the plot, and be directly related to the story.  Otherwise the impatient reader is skipping those passages in frustration.

2 - A reader is satisfied by a well-defined theme. A great reading experience requires that the book know what it's about. As I said above, this problem is so common with beginning novelists - especially the intelligent, involved, engaged people who have real passion about a cause - and I often find myself saying to someone I'm editing, "Do you want to write a good novel, or do you want to do some real research and write a good non-fiction book about this issue? Because you need to pick one." When the narrative is interrupted by paragraphs of moralizing - even when it is part of the characters' thoughts - and that moral message doesn't directly affect the plot or move it along, it causes the reader to get an overall sense of disorganization in terms of theme. It's very hard to explain to someone inexperienced with writing that a novel is not the place to lecture the reader about social issues. Which brings me to my next point...

3 - Readers don't like unsolicited lectures. The reader of a novel is in it for two reasons. The first is enjoyment. An uninvited, unexpected lecture on a moral issue can be annoying and takes away from the enjoyable experience of being told a story.  But secondly, some people like to learn something as well from a novel. It may be argued, in fact, that the greatest novels in literature explore the social issues of the day. I would absolutely agree with that. But I guarantee you that every one of those great novels presents that social issue in a way that it is 1) incidental to the fabric of the story (that is, it never interrupts the flow or reads like a lecture to the reader) 2)  completely and intricately woven into the plot itself: that is, the social issue is the primary cause of tension, affects the plot, and affects the outcome.  It takes some very experienced writing to deftly work a moral lesson into the weave of a good story, and the best writers learn to do it well... which brings me to the last point...

4 - Readers don't need to be beaten over the head. Especially not with the author's life philosophies. Not outright, anyway. Ask my editing clients how many times I said to them, as we worked on a first novel, "Less is more. Less is more."  What I mean is, if you are going to work in philosophizing - and you certainly have the right to as a the author - work it in subtly. Most beginners don't understand how smart the reader is going to be, and how much a reader likes to work things out for themselves. Do you remember when you were a child how your mom used to tell you the same thing over and over to make her point, and how annoying that was?

Beginning authors explain way too much about the meaning and morality of the tale. They need to show it, not tell it. Too much telling - in this case talking about this social or moral issue or that (regardless of who is doing the talking) - feels to the reader like being hammered over the head with a moral. Especially when there are several (let's define that as three or more) places in the novel where that happens. I would argue it doesn't ever need to happen in a well-written novel, because the moral message should be conveyed subtly by the very action of the tale alone, and never have to be stated outright.

In the case of Polarity in Motion, the moralizing is separate from the plot. There is a lot of talk about race, and a lot of talk about inequality of privilege as regards race. But within the story this point is not illustrated: all the kids at the school seem to have the same opportunities for success, and successful individuals are presented in all races. Consequences for characters have everything to do with action, and nothing to do with race. Everything that happens in the story could have happened regardless of what color everyone's skin is. There is some suggestion that only kids of color end up in juvenile detention, which anyone who has worked with teen offenders knows is hooey  (I can say from personal first-hand work experience that many are white). There is suggestion that the kids of color are less often guilty of the charges that put them there - but it is never shown positively that this is true. And again, it's a side-plot.

One disturbing element was Polarity's many descriptions of her love interest's skin color - so many that the reader wonders if the girl is a bit obsessed with him precisely because he is black. Which would be in itself, of course, a type of racism, wouldn't it? And that would be a subject for a whole different story and possibly a legitimately interesting plot it itself. But it doesn't belong here - because in the end his skin color has nothing to do with anything.  I think this feeling comes, again, because the reader is being beaten over the head by the fact his skin is brown - the implication being isn't it cool that this white girl can fall for this great black guy. But I think most modern 13-year-olds already know that.

At the end of the book, to her credit, the author valiantly tries to tie together bullying, racism, economic under-privilege (of white "trailer trash" and blacks), and then other various notions about inequality, all together... but it ends as a jumbled bit of yet more philosophizing (not to mention some bad poetry - such as that our 15-year-old character would in fact write) and it ultimately feels out of place - because there is too much effort to make it fit neatly in to a package. The mystery story works well, and would have felt more organized, if this moralizing had all been left out or had been worked into the actual plot with subtlety.

I don't mean to seem to pick on this book - I want to state again that it is overall well-done and an exceptionally competent first effort at a novel. I simply want to clearly illustrate for potential writers who read my blog how easy it is to get caught up in trying to convey one's personal passion and political philosophy; and without the skill to do it right, you can end up lowering the quality of the novel for the reader.

I did some research on the author of Polarity in Motion after reading it, and find that she has an extensive background in secondary education. This was apparent in the book, in which the reader is taken into the inner workings of high school administration.  Ms. Vicars has openly stated her passion for questions of inequality among teens, and I'm sure that it was tempting to try to work some teaching into her novel.  I really hope to see another novel, and perhaps some of these sub-themes worked in again, but less blatantly and more closely with the plot line.

Polarity in Motion is widely available and can be found at Amazon, where I posted a portion of this review.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Some thoughts on the kindness of PC . . .

Ironically, the day before the Orlando massacre, I had an unpleasant Twitter exchange with someone I had previously enjoyed.  This East Coast university professor shared an interest with me, in medieval literature and history.  It isn't always easy to find kindred souls in that area (yeah, we're geeks), so I always appreciate fellow medieval fanatics.

But on this day, he tweeted a tweet that I found so disturbing, I couldn't stay silent. It was a statement to the effect that people who didn't share his world view (liberal) and weren't PC, were somehow less intelligent (conservatives).  I replied something to the effect that his comment seemed elitist, and that it wasn't my experience that those who embraced PC ideology were always more intelligent than others. He shot back that they had a "kinder and more humane vision".

Oh. Not elitist at all.

I'm sure this man sees himself as intellectually superior to me and to most people around him. He is amused that I am not enlightened enough to appreciate his view. It will never occur to him that I have thoroughly considered his view - indeed years ago I may have even embraced it. At the time of the exchange, I dismissed him as rather limited in his viewpoint; I had to laugh to myself, considering the environment - liberal academia, increasingly intolerant of diversity in viewpoints. No wonder he's as blind as he is to common sense.  I still question his ability to think through layers, despite his Ph.D. level education. But all week I've been haunted by the exchange for another reason: this man is a prime example of one of the biggest myths about the PC culture and the biggest points of misunderstanding of the Left:  that a PC-driven set of values is "kinder".

Maybe it's because of what happened in Orlando. Maybe it's something that has nagged at the back of my brain for quite some time. But I've been chewing on this question all week: is it really kinder? Every cell in me screams, "No way!"  and I have been driven to define for myself specifically how it is unkind.

I agree with this misguided professor that the PC movement was born of the intention to make interactions between people kinder. Back in the 1980s, the term "politically correct" didn't make me cringe; it was an invitation to simply stop and think something through, consider if prejudice was present, if discrimination was present. It began as a nice idea.

But today, in 2016, it has mutated into a tool for intimidation, thought-shaming, censorship, and ultimately, an attempt to control. Read that list again: it has a lot in common with "socialist" (read: progessive) movements in history that ended up oppressing and eventually murdering their own people.

Besides its blatant ignorance of history - or its willful desire to selectively forget history - there are several things that frighten me about the PC culture in 2016. I mean, really frighten me.

  • It seeks to censor the world of journalism. It seeks to control the free flow of ideas in the mainstream press. Those within that structure who disagree with any element of the PC world view are isolated, ridiculed, even bullied out of their jobs. At this point, we have journalists selectively editing anything from interview footage to statistics, in order to deceptively present them in such a way that the PC narrative is protected. The accompanying willingness to ignore simple - simple! - fact is astounding. Worse, the intellectual arrogance of a journalist who would manipulate factual information to fool his or her audience into adopting a particular view is ... well, immoral. 
  • It seeks to censor the world of science. Working with the press, the PC culture has demonized and ostracized formerly-respected scientists by creating a mythology around "climate change". While fact is that many of these scientists tell us that although the climate is changing, a tiny fraction of the change is due to human influence, the PC culture continues the narrative that any scientist disagreeing with their view that climate change is an imminent disaster is a nutjob. This they perpetuate through the press. 
  • It seeks to control the world of education. A serious study of the industry of textbook publishing in recent decades will make it obvious to a thinking person that some of our history is being rewritten and taught in such a way as to align with the current PC thought. Now it may be argued that as any society evolves, its textbook material also evolves. But the problem here is that it has evolved in a very specific direction, favoring very particular ideologies that may or may not be based upon the humane values of our traditional past. These would include such things as liberty, freedom of thought, freedom from an intrusive government, freedom of speech, responsibility toward one's fellow man, integrity of one's right to protect home and family. The PC culture seeks to alter actual history in such a way that it will align with the rest of the narrative. The facts be damned; so many are inconvenient. 
  • It seeks to control the world of art. In an area of society where all viewpoints should be explored at the deepest and most creative level, we have thought control. In my view, this cheapens all of art. Consider the loudest and most arrogant of Hollywood voices - they seem to project an absolute zero tolerance for a conservative viewpoint. If you have read up on that issue, you know that many actors, writers, technicians, have reported being persecuted - from being harassed verbally, to being ostracized from social events, to being outright fired because of their views. Hollywood has sought to create an environment where one point of view rules. Consider the music industry. It's even worse. What do you think would happen to a conservative who, upon accepting some award at the Grammys, got up and expressed a view the room didn't share?  This used to happen, and be accepted. No more. Recently I watched episodes of Seinfeld and realized they wouldn't fly today. Not because they are not thought-provoking, but because the PC crowd running television media would be overly sensitive to them. It even seeks to squelch humor - except humor at the expense of the opposing view. 
  • It seeks to define morality for all society. I don't deny that we, as the collective humanity, must define a common morality. Most of western society, at least, can agree that enslavement, punishment without trial, rape, child abuse causing injury, political imprisonment, racial bias, gender bias, are all wrong. But PC culture seeks to define minutia, for all of us. Although the United States was founded by a group of people seeking the freedom to practice Christianity as they chose without governmental interference, the PC culture has used the laws growing out of that centuries-old history to silence all non-secular expressions of religious faith. Or at least, two religious faiths that they don't like. Thus we have courts dealing with situations where a creche is removed from view, but another symbol is welcomed. Or where school children are taught the tenets of some religions, as part of a "cultural sensitivity experience", while other religions are ignored or even demonized.  Again, some views are oppressed in favor of those
    that fit the narrative. 
  • It seeks to control the free flow of information, aside from media. Consider the environment that has grown in the state-funded universities of this country, where by definition all views should be welcome. We now have young people who insist they should be considered adults who need "safe places", and "time-outs" when they hear speech they don't agree with. We have students who see no moral problem with their behavior when they interrupt and stop a presentation by a conservative speaker. In their arrogance, they truly believe that they have a monopoly on intelligence, on Truth, and this justifies silencing opposing opinion.  Consider the behavior of the mobs of "protestors" - some there for hire and some too young to know better - who have recently perpetuated real violence at rallies for Donald Trump. These people have one aim: to prevent the free flow of ideas, by preventing others from hearing ideas that they don't agree with. Historically, they have this in common with rising fascist movements. But they are too young, uneducated, naive... and maybe too arrogant, to know history and understand the patterns.
I could go on. But my point is, when people are silenced, intimidated, bullied out of jobs... is it kind? When people are terrorized, pummeled with rocks, eggs, and even fists, at a rally, is it kind? When people are lied to about the value of their own heritage in favor of another group's, is it kind?  When people are shamed in 2016 for actions of their ancestors in 1800, or 1700, or 1600, is it kind?  When people's work and struggles are erased because of their skin color, and their right to reap benefits of their labor denied, is it kind

The current PC culture has come with a sense of entitlement and superiority that is alarming. Like the most dangerous and ultimately oppressive socio-political movements of the past, it justifies unethical behavior by virtue of a sense of moral/ethical/intellectual superiority; the immoral has become relative to how the behavior serves the goal. PC culture justifies shaming someone for their views as "stupid". It justifies ignoring factual information in order to convey what one considers a bigger message. It justifies robbing people of livelihoods, personal safety, the right to an idea. It justifies, even, taking a "protest" as far as violence. Because, you know, the Greater Good.  
Problem is, that greater good is coming at a higher and higher price to the integrity of this nation, as the PC culture grows more and more certain of its own superiority. And sadly, it comes at a higher and higher price to the individual.

So I'm just going to say it. I think this pattern of PC thought is the worst of the worst kind of just plain mean. It devalues Truth in favor of New Narrative. It devalues the right -the right! - of a human being to acquire real, factual information before making up his own mind. It distorts our world when it distorts science, education, journalism, arts, political discourse. It robs us and cheats us and binds us in ways we never agreed to. It presents a false picture to us, which is ultimately misleading. And it is deliberate in its deceit. Because it believes it knows what is best.

Call me old-fashioned, but I come from an era where lying and deceit no matter the reason were
immoral. I come from a time where people understood the meaning of the word "humility" (wonder how many 20-somethings can even define that?). I come from a time when, to assume one's own intellectual superiority was not only immoral, but to assume the right to rob others of their autonomy and liberty and rights by virtue of one's own intellectual superiority, would be unthinkable. 

It doesn't take much courage to stomp one's foot and shout over an opponent until they are silenced or slink away in defeat. It doesn't take any courage to shame someone into non-opposition, conveniently ignoring your own shortcomings. It takes no courage to join a group of like-minded bullies to shout another, minority, view into silence.  It takes zero courage and less character, to assume your own ideas and opinions are so perfect that they can never change or alter in keeping with new information. It takes nothing to assume you're superior to another human being because they don't share your narrow view of the world. 

It takes real work and time to seek out and research factual information. It takes real patience to listen to someone whose life experience has led them to have views different from yours. It takes intellectual courage to examine the ways in which information that makes you uncomfortable may have merit (that would go to allowing opposing speakers and opposing theories a platform at universities, wouldn't it?).

We are becoming a society of cowards due to a rising PC culture. It demands persecution of any voice it doesn't like. If it can't legally silence, it does it by intimidation and harassment. Again, this is the beginning of fascism - that word so many of our youth, with their PC-saturated minds and view of the world, throw around so easily to describe the opposing view, all the while never really understanding its history or meaning. This is the beginning of one loud societal group silencing another. 

The real irony of PC culture is that it becomes the very thing it seeks to stop. In striving to emphasize certain races, histories, art forms, groups, that it has deemed persecuted, it begins the same persecution of other groups. Thus, Christians are bad, conservatives are bad. Police, whites, are bad. Some people deserve persecution more than other people - and we have come full circle. We've simply swapped victims.

My hope is that the part of the American spirit that has defeated fascism again and again in this world, will rise in a common voice that will say, "Enough."  That, although the ideas that gave birth to political correctness may have been noble, it's gone too far. When it stepped into oppression territory it went too far. 

The PC culture doesn't value character. It doesn't value integrity. It doesn't value truth - not the real,
unpleasant, inconvenient truth that often accompanies fact. It doesn't value humility. It doesn't value real equality - you know, that old ideal where people would have the same rights regardless of their background or skin color or what their blinking ancestors did four hundred years ago. It doesn't value diversity of ideas, or ideology. It doesn't value diversity of heritage - not really, because it overvalues and re-invents the heritage of some and ignores and re-tells the heritage of others. The PC culture wars within itself because it never stops shrieking long enough to really hear and examine all points of view, and come to real compromise. Compromise does not fit the narrative. The patience required to accept that most social change requires time to happen humanely, is not part of the PC mindset. 

Sorry, Professor, but there is nothing kind about it.


UPDATE:  The Benghazi hearing concluded on June 28, and the following came to light: Obama's administration, after the Sec. of Defense ordered that our military needed to go in to Libya and rescue Americans who were under attack, fretted over what impression our military uniforms would make upon the Libyan terrorists. Because we didn't want to offend their sensibilities, our citizens suffered over 13 hours under severe attack, and our ambassador and three others met horrible deaths (which we now know for a fact Obama and Hillary lied about, Hillary even lying to the families of the victims - to save the election which for Obama's second term which was 59 days away).  One serviceman reported that he and comrades changed clothes four times (!) - in vain, as it turned out, because by the time the administration came to any conclusion about attire, it was too late to help, and none was ever sent.  This is a prime example of how political correctness is not kind, it is not sensible, it is not reasonable. It is selfish; it seeks to value one point of view over another, and it seeks to silence any opposition.  Political correctness out of control, in this case, killed four brave Americans.