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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.


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.


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.


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.




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.

Imagine there’s no hell

Pope Francis made the news earlier this week–Holy Week in the Christian faith–by saying that there is no hell. In an interview with Eugenio Scalfari, an atheist friend of his, which was published in La Repubblica, the Pope said, “They are not punished, those who repent obtain the forgiveness of God and enter the rank of souls who contemplate him, but those who do not repent and cannot therefore be forgiven disappear. There is no hell, there is the disappearance of sinful souls.”


A little inside baseball for non-Catholics:

  • Both the Catechism of the Catholic Church and Holy Scripture point out the existence of hell.
  • The Pope’s statement to Scalfari is just that–a statement. Papal infallibility does not apply to everything a Pope says. It’s used only twice–once to cover the Immaculate Conception and once about Mary’s assumption into heaven.

immaculate reception

With that out of the way, it’s always seemed to me that the overriding desire to attain heaven or avoid hell misses the point.

If God is the father in the story of the prodigal son, then what he wants is to have a relationship with us, and then for us to have a relationship with each other. Hence, he waits every day for his wayward son and runs to him when he returns. For a Jewish patriarch of the time to do that was unheard of. It would be like Archie inviting the Meathead to sit in his chair.


After the reconciliation of the wayward brother, he practically begs the responsible son inside to accept his brother back. There’s no reference to heaven or damnation because the story ends there. It’s entirely about relationships, not eternal reward or condemnation.

In the Christian faith, we’re taught the necessity to surrender ourselves to God, to give back to him the most precious gift he’s given to us–our free will. Not because he demands it, but because of his desire for relationship. Sort of like you give up your right to date when you get married. It’s a desire for union, not a harsh command.

Beyond that desire to enter into a trusting relationship is the desire for us to love his other children, or do our best. He’s inviting us into that larger union that exists horizontally. He wants us to join everyone else in the messy, sometimes agonizing party.

It’s another request to trust.

If that trust exists, then heaven and hell are beside the point. The relationship with the Beloved is heaven and its absence is hell.

I’m not sure of heaven or hell. I’m not nearly as sure as I’d like to be about that loving relationship of the Father. But if I were sure, heaven and hell would be the last thing on my mind. When a relationship that overpowering occurs, there’s no room for anything else.

The death of the idols

I cut my teeth on a certain style of fiction. When I first started writing, I finished every bit of dialog with a tag (he said, she said, etc.) because Robert B. Parker generally did that. When my uncle read Spenser, he said he heard me talking.

There were a few other writers who fit in that first set of writers that influenced me. A guy name Ben Schutz from northern Virginia. William Pronzini. James Lee Burke. Jeremiah Healy (who I met a SleuthFest about ten years ago). And later Earl Emerson, Denis Lehane, Julie Compton, and Alafair Burke (James Lee’s daughter). There were others, but these were the genre I adopted.

It’s part of life to watch your idols succumb. Parker died in 2010. Schutz passed in 2008. Healy died in 2014. The others will over time.

But there was one other author I started reading just after Parker. Sue Grafton’s stories were always little. While even Parker tried for an ocassional big story (Catskill Eagle), and Lehane’s Gone Baby Gone has one of the greatest endings of any book in the genre and on and on, the thing that separates the Kinsey Millhone series was the fact that she, and everyone else in the stories, were people you might actually meet.

The stories were things that might actually happen. Her work was decidedly low-concept an that’s what made them work for me. Spenser was hopelessly in love with Susan and their sex was always magnificent. Hawk was a walking obsidian slab people always moved out of the way for, perfectly tough and eloquent.

Kinsey ate whatever she had in house. She ran three miles most days, except when she didn’t. She tried and sometimes failed, personally and professionally. Her romantic life was certainly less amazing than Spenser’s. And she didn’t get along with some of the characters who regularly showed up (Henry’s brother William, for instance).

Spenser shifts seemlessly through time. Kinsey Millhone is a child of the 80s, and now she always will be.

Sue Grafton died today, a victim of the celebrity curse of a late December death–some sizeable who’ll miss all the celebrity death lists for the year. But her passing affects me more than Tom Petty, Bill Paxton, or any of the other big names, because her work was personal and inspirational.

Grafton’s daughter has said there will be no follow-ons, no other writers picking up the torch. For Kinsey Millhone, the alphabet ends at Y.

And another idol passes from this life.

Applying the Billy Graham Rule

Last year, when he was running for Vice President, Mike Pence caused a lot of angst by saying he went by the Billy Graham Rule–that is, he was never alone with a woman who wasn’t his wife.

Like most things, the application of the Billy Graham Rule is more complicated than the snap judgements that seem to accompany every issue. It is unfair to women and guys working with attractive females should be professional first and always. In other words, you should be able to walk through a Victoria’s Secret dressing room and keep your hands and private thoughts to yourself.

That said, it’s the Al Franken situation that clouds things up. If you look at the picture (displayed below), you easily see that Senator Franken isn’t touching Leeann Tweeden in this picture. And, at the time, Franken wasn’s a Senator.

But, in this case, you can clearly call him a schmuck. And the charges Ms. Tweeden lodges about his stuffing his tongue in her mouth during rehearsal are clearly in the he-said, she-said range. If Senator Franken had been, say, Dennis Miller or Tom Selleck, most of the people defending him would be condemning him and vice versa.

Fortuanately, most of us exist in a work environment where French kissing your co-workers without clear consent is obviously way over the line. That said, were I rehearsing a scene that even called for simulated kissing, someone would damn well be there.

For the rest of us, there’s still risk. Sometimes you have to have conversations with women and they have to be private. Sometimes you have to deliver a message that’s not going to be well-received. Sometimes, you work with some who lacks scruples, but not lust for revenge.

In those cases, at least on my opinion, unless someone has clearly shown they aren’t trustworthy, you have to take that chance.

I’m not really anyone’s boss right now, but I have had to deliver difficult messages to people. Depending on the circumstances, sometimes, it’s best to deliver those messages in private. In every circumstance, regardless of context, there’s always a danger someone’s going to throw down the two words that can kill almost any career: hostile workplace.

And if you’re the guy delivering the message, that’s part of the gig. If you really care about the job you’re doing and the people you work with, you have to take that chance. (Unless, someone has a reputation of abusing such a charge, in which case, common sense rules.)

The key is to conduct yourself in a way that such charges are simply unbelievable.

I’ve worked with people who’ve regularly played hopscotch with that line. They haven’t (to my knowledge) raped or groped people, but they’ve done things most would consider to be in questionable taste.

In most cases, it’s your own reputation that puts you at risk, not some shrew with a Fatal Attraction fetish.

In the end, it comes down to love. There’s too many people making too many problems, and not much love to go round.

It’s not that hard to care about the people around you.