Intent matters

Because it’s Christma…holid…December, it’s time for the year-end tradition of getting your nose out of joint about things that shouldn’t be things. Merry Christmas v. Happy Holidays. Can we have a manger scene? Should that teacher have told those first graders the truth about Santa? Can we watch Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer? Can we sing Baby It’s Cold Outside?

The last question is a good one to frame the overall discussion. The song was written by in 1944 a man named Frank Loesser to sing at dinner parties with his wife. In 1944, the world was a different place. Women didn’t spend the night–and you can make the argument that this woman wanted to.

But she clearly says no, and has to ask what’s in the drink?

Both of those things are true, and through 2018 eyes, specifically after the #metoo movement, they’re kind of creepy lines.

But in 1944, what’s in this drink? was it’s own kind of in joke. Often there was nothing in the drink. Or just a normal amount of alcohol. But again, this was a time when a woman couldn’t say I want to jump your friggin bones right here on the living room floor as a warm-up exercise for what comes next? And although she says no, the last line of the song is sung in unison, between the woman and the man, indicating ultimate consent.

And yet, it’s 2018. It’s a time when women have to watch their drinks, when a good father tells his daughter (I told my son, too) that if you set down your drink, consider it gone and get another one.

In other words, does intent matter?

Frank Loesser and his wife didn’t intend to sing about date rape. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences didn’t think it was about rape when it was given an Academy Award in 1949. (Ricardo Montalban was one of the people who sang it. I’ll let Star Trek fans dwell on that for a moment.)

But let’s say you got roofied and someone raped you? It wouldn’t be unreasonable for you to feel accutely uncomfortable at the lyrics, in spite of intent.

It’s been 74 years since this song was written. Times change. Norms change. But intent doesn’t change. Frank Loesser’s song is playful and flirtatious. He wasn’t writing about male predatory behavior. To make the song about date rape makes him an apologist for date rape.

Intent matters.

Consider that, please, when someone says either “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays” to you. Consider it when thinking about how awful Rudolph’s story is (it’s just a Christmassy version of X-Men, if you think about it).

It’s a lesson we have to keep in mind during each succeeding round of the culture wars.

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About the entire Kavanaugh mess (and related issues)

I never sexual assaulted anyone during the 80s. Like any guy my age, though, I was interested in exploring the other sex and, yes, I saw them as an end to a sexual means. I was hardly alone in that regard. I knew a guy who had one pair of women’s underwear hanging on the living room wall of his apartment for each woman who made it to his bed. I found that distasteful.

There was a woman in her 30s who told me, as I worked one day, that if she weren’t with a guy, she’d show me what was what. (I was of the age of consent.) Being of that age, I stocked the milk one day musing over ways to figure out how to arrange a horrible accident for a certain guy…

Before I go further, I want to be clear. No means no. Women are not sex objects or male property. Rape and attempted rape are wrong, both criminally and morally. And when a person (for it happens to guys, as well) is sexually violated, it leaves deep and lasting scars.

I want to also be clear that I believe Dr. Christine Ford about what happened in 1982. I believe that she told her therapist about it. I believe that she wanted two doors in her master bedroom because of her scars. I believe the FBI should investigate. I believe that Brett Kavanaugh, at the very least, owes us an explanation about his views on women in 1982 and how they’ve changed. And I believe if it ever comes out that Dr. Ford was less than truthful, there should be a heavy price to pay.

I also believe Kathleen Willey and Juanita Broderick. I believe that Rep. Keith Ellison has been accused of domestic abuse twice–once in 2006 and once this year. His ex-girlfriend, Karen Monahan has brought forward medical evidence that should at least compel further investigation.

I also believe that when you take political donations from Harvey Weinstein while his abuse of women was considered an open secret in Hollywood makes your claims of a “War on Women” a little questionable.

I also believe that people who oppose Roe v. Wade are no more likely than those who support it to rape or sexually abuse women. Harvey Weinstein and Leslie Moonves are both very likely to heavily support Roe v. Wade. (Several people in my Facebook feed have said it’s more likely that Kavanaugh abused Dr. Ford because he opposes Roe v. Wade.)

I believe that Brock Turner made his own bed and that his own actions should dictate his future. His case was a horrible miscarriage of justice.

I believe that in general, if men don’t sexually abuse women, they won’t be accused of it.

I also believe that even if 999 of every 1000 women who accuse men of rape or sexual assault were actually victims, it doesn’t mean that we don’t need to treat the 1001st case as an individual event with its own circumstances and evidence. The Duke Lacrosse team was everything the stereotypical rapist is supposed to be: young, male, powerful, privileged, and pampered. And they were assumed to be guilty. The Lacrosse team was disbanded for the season. Its coach was fired. And guys like Reade Seligmann, Collin Finnerty, and David Evans were public enemy numbers 1, 2, and 3. And the accuser, Krystal Mangum, made it up. District Attorney Mike Nifong saw it as his path to power.

And the accused weren’t guilty.

Whenever possible, we shouldn’t adjudicate sexual assault charges in the public. We like to think we know enough about the cases, but we really don’t. The accuser and accused deserve that much. When the results are known, justice will be served and people will know. In this case, both Dr. Ford and Brett Kavanaugh have became political bludgeon’s. Both parties and their families are receiving death threats.

In such an environment, justice is severely unlikely to be served.

 


The McCains, Donald Trump, and us

John McCain went through fighter jets like Donald Trump goes through wives. He was one of the Keating Five (along with John Glenn), during the Savings and Loan crisis. And no matter what your political leaning, he probably angered you at some point.

He also spent five years as a prisoner of war, where he was tortured to the point where he couldn’t raise his hands above his shoulders. He went through things that we can only imagine. And he did so in spite of the fact that he had a free pass to go home. He stayed because it was wrong for him to leave while others didn’t have that option.

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That, regardless of the other stuff, is enough to deserve respect. From the leader of our country, he deserves a hell of a lot more than “I like people who weren’t captured.”

Yes, there were several allusions to President Trump during the service at the National Cathedral yesterday. They weren’t crass or profane, but they weren’t difficult to decode. McCain’s daughter Meghan was most direct in one her comments.

“We gather here to mourn the passing of American greatness, the real thing, not cheap rhetoric from men who will never come near the sacrifice he gave so willingly, nor the opportunistic appropriation of those who live lives of comfort and privilege while he suffered and served.”

That’s one sentence of a lengthy eulogy that spoke about toughness and love–love for a family and for a country. It was barely material in her complete eulogy. It was a daughter defending her father.

Meghan McCain, like her father, isn’t a slave to political ideology. She leans conservative, but supports gay marriage and sex education beyond abstinence. She appears on The View and has mixed it up with Ann Coulter and Laura Ingraham. For this and other apostasies–and for her visible view in light of her father’s death, she was greeted with this post on Twitter.

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Sure, Mcghan McCain is a public figure. Sure, she’s political. And sure, she’s probably bent some feelings. But she’s also a woman mourning her father’s death. And a citizen in a free country. Threats, or implied threats, for exercising that freedom aren’t appropriate.

The America I believe in is a land of liberty and a land in which Christian ideals–you know, that love one another bullcrap–is something we strive for, knowing we’ll always fall short. And knowing that others aren’t required to view God the same way we do.

At its best, this is not a land of bullying and brute force. It’s not a land in which you encourage your followers to threaten someone’s life because they see the world differently than you do. It’s not a land where people should have to wonder if someone’s going to try to kill them during their eulogy for their father.

Whatever comments were directed at President Trump during the past week are taps on the cheek. They’re the kind of criticism a man of power and class should brush aside as if he didn’t feel them.

Threats to those who think differently have nothing to do with freedom. They’re the farthest thing from the ideals on which this country was created. They’re antithetical to the uneven, difficult experiment we’ve been for almost 250 years.

Unfortunately, the man who currently claims to be our leader doesn’t believe in the best of this country. He believes that they only way to maintain power is to invent enemies and create a siege mentality. Us against them. And anyone who ain’t completely us is absolutely them.

As a Republican, as a guy who sort of digs this country and the freedoms we are granted as citizens, I couldn’t disagree with him more.

 

 

 


Crock pot people in a microwave culture

It’s been about three weeks now, give or take, since Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade killed themselves. We’ve moved on. Their families and friends haven’t.

Five families are still coming to terms with the sudden holes in their lives and by yesterday, we’d moved on to whether one of the victims’ colleagues should’ve dropped and f-bomb on CNN. We’re a short-attention-span culture.

And yet it’s a valid story how children deal with their parents’ suicide (both Spade and Bourdain had children). But we’re off the to next outrage. Trump tweeted something. Kennedy retired. Your team made a bone-headed move. That other stuff is from yesterday. The cool kids have moved on.

Death threats are buzzing around like fireflies on a summer night. Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Maxine Waters, and the employees of the Red Hen have all received them. People walk around wearing shirts that say things like “Rope. Journalist. Tree.” Somewhere along the line this stopped being shocking.

When Henry Aaron received death threats for hitting home runs in 1974, it was stunning. Now that same kind of news would be background noise.

I’m not saying to wallow in these things–that wouldn’t be healthy. But people are more like crock pots than microwaves. We evolve. For all our technology, we don’t like change. We like evolution. We make the same mistakes over and over again, but with effort, over time, the mistakes become fewer and we gradually become better.

We aren’t done in 45 seconds if you put us on high and rotate us.

I suspect that some of the rampant discomfort comes from the fact that our world forces us to go faster than we’re comfortable with. Our attention spans–and the content-providers’ bottom line–depends on there always being something new. A new outrage. A new tear-jerker. A new story that touches our hearts.

We think in bumper-sticker phrases because that’s all there’s time for. So existence become a meme battle and life is drained of its nuance and complexity.

I don’t have a solution. And even if I did, by tomorrow, something else would replace it.

But sometimes the hamster wheel isn’t the best place to be. And sometimes scouring the interwebs for that last piece of information about this guy who’s on your side or that guy who isn’t, doesn’t cleanse your soul.

I guess I’m just getting old. And realizing that most of it’s just noise–something you won’t remember in five days, let alone five years.

It all buries the important stuff. And maybe that’s part of the plan.


An abominable policy implementation

I don’t remember how old I was at the time, but I remember the circumstance. We were at Sears in Colonie Center. To me, Colonie Center might as well have been another planet. I had no idea how far away it was and no clue where home was in relation.

As an adult, Colonie Center Sears isn’t very big. As a kid, it was big enough that I still remember what happened there decades later.

I got separated from my parents. They weren’t anywhere. They weren’t in the store. They weren’t in the mall. They might as well have not existed at that point.

The truth is, they did exist. They were still in the store. And when I figured out I was lost and made a lot of noise, they found me.

The entire event probably took less time than it’s going to take you to read this entire post.

And yet, I still remember it.

I support border security. I don’t support catch-and-release. I don’t believe we have a moral obligation to accept and welcome everyone who gets across the border.

CNN is currently showing people who travel from Guatamala with their children because of the beacon of hope our country represents. They’re staying outside the border facility in Nogales, Mexico hoping to get in.

But asylum protection has been removed for victims of domestic and gang violence. And even many of the people who apply for asylum are being treated as criminals.

In fairness, the process that separates the children from parents isn’t new. Any time parents are arrested, their children are taken from them. In this case the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) takes care of them. The President is correct in saying this policy isn’t new.

But this ill-advised implementation of zero-tolerance is new. And it’s completely his decision. The media didn’t do it. Congressional Democrats didn’t do it. President Trump did it. And he can quickly and easily reverse it.

This country has done amazing things. Surely, it can find a way to defend its borders without blowing up families and abusing children.


Miracles

A friend of mine–a woman named Maria–recommended a book to me once. It was 2015 and things were tough. They weren’t I’m dying of cancer or I’m about to lose our house tough, but they weren’t easy.

She recommended a book, a quirky romantic comedy called Kumquat, by a horror writer named Jeff Strand. A really, really demented  horror writer named Jeff Strand. Never in a thousand years would I pick such a book on my own. And most demented horror writers wouldn’t write a book that could be called sweet and uplifting without a hint of irony.

The book is about a guy named Todd who’s in his early thirties, works a dead-end job, and is existing in a life that doesn’t consider the possibility of even quiet desperation. He meets a woman named Amy who may or may not die at any moment of an inoperable brain aneurysm. Together, because she convinces him to do it, they take a spur of the moment road trip from Florida to a hot dog stand in Rhode Island.

At one point, Todd does something good and decent that’s quickly forgotten in the unfolding plot. Later, he’s recognized by people. It turns out that the good, decent thing he did went viral.

At the time the book was exactly what I needed. It refreshed my soul.

A book about a forgotten event that picked someone up became a forgotten event that picked someone up.

I’m no saint. But when they used to collect tolls on the Veteran’s Expressway, once every few days, I’d pick up the toll for the person behind me. And then for a while, a men’s group I’m in met at the hospital cafeteria for St. Joseph’s North in Lutz, Florida. I’d always buy a coffee there before the meeting. And often, I’d pay for two and let the next person through have a freebie.

The things we do don’t have to always be grand and sweeping. Sometimes they can be small and insignificant. The extra toll. The next cup of coffee. A sweet book for a friend that has a hard time.

In Bruce Almighty, Jim Carrey’s character talks a lot about miracles. One of the best quotes ever in a movie was from God. It’s a long one, not suited for a bumper sticker but it’s worth staying to the end.

“Parting your soup is not a miracle, Bruce, it’s a magic trick. A single mom who’s working two jobs, and still finds time to take her kid to soccer practice, that’s a miracle. A teenager who says “no” to drugs and “yes” to an education, that’s a miracle. People want Me to do everything for them, but what they don’t realize is, they have the power. You want to see a miracle, son? Be the miracle.”

Miracles are often hard. But not always. Maybe someone picked up a toll for the single mom and it got her through a difficult day. Maybe the teenager was all set to give in until someone who cared let it show. Maybe someone saw a friend having a hard time and recommended a book.

Miracles aren’t limited to five-decades old baseball teams, or to Catholic saints, or to neurosurgeons.

The world is angry enough. It needs miracles. And God’s not gonna do them all.

Thanks, Maria!


Diversity and the Royal Wedding

Just for the record, I only saw the Royal Wedding because my wife had it on and I’m suffering from a cold this weekend. If you’re scoring at home, I have a cold and I’m whiny and worthless–man card intact.

When I wasn’t using my Facebook feed to make gentle fun of the whole thing (for instance, Peter Cook saying “Mawwwaige.”), I actually paid attention to what was happening.

What I noticed was that the couple looked happy. More than anything, the bride, Meghan Markle, looked happy. This seemed to me something like Westley and Buttercup, true love. It wasn’t a Miracle Max “to blave” wedding. Sure, there was pomp and circumstance. There was Prince Charles appearing to fall asleep and Bishop Michael Curry’s stirring sermon. There were celebrities and more media coverage than at the Super Bowl.

But at the core, I saw a happy couple that appeared to be deeply in love.

A lot of the coverage focused on the fact that Meghan Markle is mixed race. There were shots of her mother, who is black. And I can understand why, if you’re black, that would be important to you.

But honestly, I only cared about Ms. Markle’s race in that the barrers are falling. That a very visible white man met and fell in love with someone who isn’t white and they were able to fulfill their lives by getting married.

To me, at least, that’s diversity. It’s the elimination of barriers. It’s more freedom. It’s the freedom to find happiness in any way you desire, as long as it doesn’t hurt other people. Meghan Markle could’ve been purely black or Hispanic or Korean and it wouldn’t have made a difference to me.

Two people met and fell in love and it looks like they’re starting out on the right foot. That’s what’s important.

Life can be hard. I imagine there are pressures in the royal family that you and I can’t imagine. Sure, you aren’t sweating the rent each month. But if Meghan goes to Starbuck’s alone, the whispers will start. If there’s an event that include Kate and Pippa Middleton and not Meghan, well, is there trouble in the royalty?

In the public eye, with rare exception, we build people up to tear them down. Not much is more public than the British royal family.

If the wedding is what it appeared to be, then Prince Harry has a true partner, a woman who will become part of him and make him stronger and better than he would otherwise be.

That he could reach outside his race is at once, both irrelevant and a great step forward.