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Sunday, April 6, 2014

How Things Work

Good morning, good afternoon, good evening. This past week has been an adventure in terror for those of us who understand How Things Work on the interwebs. Our first example is a fake piece, with a fake photo, about George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin. A website no one had ever heard of published an "article" (pile of crap), claiming George Zimmerman had created, and sold, a painting of the young man he killed, Trayvon Martin. Accompanying this disaster was a photo shopped image of Zimmerman's "painting" of the American flag, with the flag's image removed, replaced by an image of Trayvon. And people believed it, reposted it, typing all in caps what a monster Zimmerman is, etc. Whatever Zimmerman is, he didn't paint Trayvon Martin, no one bought the painting, and according to a few people I know, the website no longer exists.

For our second example of How Things Work, let me present you with the following photo:
This was posted on an alleged pro-Michelle Obama Facebook page as an actual photo. It's not. That's Angelina Jolie's leg. If you think the First Lady of the United States of America would pose like this, you deserve to have your internet service canceled, your keyboard unplugged, and be forced to stand on a street corner, holding a sign that reads "I have no idea How Things Work."

The third example comes to us courtesy of my friend and fellow Forward Progressive writer, Jason Dye. Jason, who is a braver person than I, found himself on Todd Starnes' Facebook page, wading through a toxic sludge of comments on a post about immigration. Violent people, with no idea of How Things Work, commented that they will "shoot to kill" undocumented immigrants on sight. Todd Starnes, who loves the First Amendment when it lets folks who seem desperately in need of therapy scream they want to kill people, didn't remove the post, or the horrible comments. So Jason wrote an article about the right wing's newest scare tactic, including Starnes' post and the comments in the piece. My guess is, like many right wing pundits, Todd Starnes thinks Jason is a horrible person for using Starnes' own words (and inaction regarding incredibly violent comments on his Facebook page) against him.

Finally, we apply How Things Work to The Bachmann Diaries. The latest installment features a dream Shelly had after eating pork and downing a bottle of Riesling, her frustration with Minnesota's Safe and Supportive Schools Act, highlights her desire to be Queen of Godlandia, and shares her dislike of Marcus's new mustache. It's satire. The Bachmann Diaries have been satire since I first came up with them almost five years ago, while watching "Patty Cake Cats" on You Tube. For those of you who have been reading them from the beginning, you may recall I had Shelly kill a standard poodle named Geronimo, and bury the corpse under a bird bath. And yet, there are quite a lot of people who have no idea these are fake. Those people feel the need to "correct" the things that are wrong (ON PURPOSE) in the Diaries, or tell me the Diaries are "mean," or (this is my favorite), I should write a disclaimer on every, single one. I guess the description included in my author bio on Forward Progressives-The Bachmann Diaries: Satirical Excerpts from Michele Bachmann's Fictional Diary-isn't clear enough?

George Zimmerman did not paint Trayvon Martin, the photo of Michele Obama (with Angelina Jolie's leg) is fake, President Obama is not releasing tens of thousands of "criminal immigrants," and The Bachmann Diaries are satire. This is How Things Work. Hopefully, next week won't be this awful, but given that we're dealing with the internet, it will probably be worse.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Goodnight, sweet Zachary

Zachary Dutro-Boggess was a four year old boy on August 12, 2012. Two days later, he was dead, beaten to death by his mother and her boyfriend. Zachary's body was covered in bruises, indicating he has been abused many, many times. On August 12, his mother, Jessica Dutro, told her boyfriend Zachary was acting gay, and according to police, the two adults beat Zachary that same day.

We as parents are given our children as gifts. We are charged with their safety, their health, we are responsible for helping them navigate the path from childhood to adulthood. That's our job. Jessica Dutro failed, not only as a mother, but as a human being. She killed her own son, a toddler, because she thought he was gay.

I looked at my son today, after reading that Jessica Dutro was found guilty on April 2 of murder. I wondered how anyone, especially a parent, could look at their own child with anything other than unconditional love and joy. Dutro's mindset is foreign to me, because when I see my child, all I see is love. He is the greatest event of my life, and I am eternally grateful for the opportunity to raise him. Jessica Dutro looked at her little boy with hate and bigotry, and tore his body apart with violence.

He was a little boy. A beautiful little boy, with big, brown eyes, and pudgy cheeks. How a mother could look at the face of her own child, and do to him what Jessica Dutro did to Zachary, makes me believe in evil. Susan Smith, Diane Downs, Jessica Dutro. Mothers who saw their own children as inconveniences, who didn't give them a safe place, or love, and didn't think twice about killing them. Tell me what that is, other than evil.

Oh Zachary, I'm sorry. Your life was supposed to be filled with joy, and giggles, and tickle-fests, silly movies, and love. Instead, your mother chose to murder you in cold blood because of what she thought you were. I don't know if I believe in Heaven the way it's portrayed by religions, but I know this: Zachary is somewhere safe, and filled with sunlight and music and love. Because he didn't get that here, from the one person who is charged with providing all of it for him.

Zachary may not have ever read (or had read to him) "Goodnight Moon," but I read it to my son every night when he was Zachary's age. I hope someone reads "Goodnight Moon" to Zachary forever.

Goodnight, sweet Zachary.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

International Day Against Victim Blaming

Today, April 3, is the International Day Against Victim Blaming, sponsored by SlutWalk. If you're not familiar with SlutWalk, they are an organization whose goal is bring attention to, and combat, violence against women, and the blaming of victims of sexual assault for our own attacks. The first SlutWalk took place on April 3, 2011, in Toronto, and since then, the movement has gained momentum all over the world.

We hear it all the time. What were you wearing, were you drinking, well, why did you go up to his apartment, a gay man can't be raped, men don't even get raped. Rape your own toddler? Probation, because you won't "fare well" in prison. Rape an intoxicated teenager? Maybe a CNN reporter will bemoan your fate, while ignoring your victim.

Look at what's happening in Brazil. According to a survey released last week, 58.5% of the respondents believe that if women knew how to "behave," there would be less rape.Even more shocking, 65% of the respondents believe that women who wear clothes that "show their body" deserve to be attacked. The worst part? More than two thirds of those respondents were women. From an article by The Washington Post:
News of the Institute for Applied Economic Research survey fueled an existing movement and unleashed a tidal wave of new outrage. It crested with the hashtag #ninguemMereceSerEstuprada — “nobody deserves to be raped” — and crashed across all forms of social media. Many tweeted photographs as emotive as they were triumphant. Depicting women in various states of undress, they juxtaposed sensuality with strength. Some women were topless, expressions austere, clutching a poster condemning the survey’s results.
Remember the 11-year old girl in Texas who was gang raped? The New York Times ran an article on that horrible tragedy, using some pretty provocative language, seeming (at least according to other media outlets) to blame the victim. Mother Jones ran a fantastic piece, pointing out the many ways the Times piece tried to excuse the predators. Mac McClelland, the author of the Mother Jones article, eloquently states that the Times reporter is just that-a reporter, not a pundit, and as such, has a responsibility not to write things like this:
The case has rocked this East Texas community to its core and left many residents in the working-class neighborhood where the attack took place with unanswered questions. Among them is, if the allegations are proved, how could their young men have been drawn into such an act?
An eleven year old girl somehow "drew" eighteen young men into gang raping her. Resident Sheila Harrison is upset about the rapists, but not for the reason you might think:
'It's just destroyed our community,' said Sheila Harrison, 48, a hospital worker who says she knows several of the defendants. 'These boys have to live with this the rest of their lives.'
Mrs. Harrison went on to blame the victim's mother:
 'Where was her mother? What was her mother thinking?' said Ms. Harrison, one of a handful of neighbors who would speak on the record. 'How can you have an 11-year-old child missing down in the Quarters?'
A court overturns the conviction of a man who raped a woman with cerebral palsy, because she didn't fight back enough. In January of this year, a female politician in India blamed rape victims for their own assaults. She later apologized, stating that was "her own opinion." Rick Perry refuses to adopt federal standards, aimed at combating rape in prison.

Fuck you. The woman in India, Rick Perry, the judges who overturned a rapists sentence, Sheila Harrison, The New York Times, the 65% of respondents in Brazil, just fuck you. You are the reason predators think they can rape with impunity, you are the reason people like me and so many of my friends were scared to go to the police, you are the reason we have the International Day Against Victim Blaming. 

Today, we are called to speak out against victim blaming, and that's why I wrote this. Every day, all over the world, men and women are raped, and in every case, someone thinks that's okay because the victim is somehow to blame. What was I wearing? Surfer shorts and a tee shirt. Fuck you.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

How to be poor in America

Being poor in America is tricky, as I found out early Wednesday morning. It seems Stuart Varney's belief-the poor here aren't really poor because they have stoves and cell phones and refrigerators-is a belief shared by many. Including the wife of one of my closest friends.

My friend's wife detailed an experience she had at the grocery store. She was standing behind a woman who was trying to purchase items using her WIC (a government program aimed at helping women, infants, and children) card. According to my friend's wife, the woman had an I-Phone, and her two children had an I-Pad. Without knowing anything about the situation, without knowing one thing about the woman, my friend's wife posted she's never wanted to "smack a bitch" so much in her life.

I responded, gently. I asked why she wanted to "smack" the woman, how she knew anything about her, and that perhaps judging someone without any inkling of their life wasn't the best way to go. She dug in, defending herself, pointing out she had lived in "ghettos," surrounded by drug dealers, and knew a scammer when she saw one. I dug in a bit myself, never rude, never really confrontational, because this was someone I cared about, and she is married to one of my best friends.

The comment of mine that sent her into a very interesting place stated that maybe I was seeing this differently because I'm a writer, and have to research information, or perhaps it was because I've been that woman. My friend's wife responded very sarcastically that everyone should be as "PC" as me, and strive to be as nonjudgmental as I am. She finished that with a smiley face, which when put at the end of such a hostile statement, is glaringly passive aggressive. I was gobsmacked. I wrote "Wow. Seriously?" And I sat there for a moment, wondering how this had happened. Then I unfriended her.

That hurt. Again, this is the wife of one of my closest friends, and I am sure I will hear about it at some point. But I couldn't just sit there, and watch a thread that was filled with derision and hate go unanswered. My reward was to be made fun of because I do try and refrain from making snap judgments, and I do try and give folks the benefit of the doubt. Maybe that woman was a scammer, maybe she wasn't. There is absolutely no way to know that just by standing behind her in the checkout lane.

But being poor in America is indeed tricky. What I believe people want to see from America's poor is a sackcloth and ashes kind of lifestyle. If you're poor, you wake up every morning, crawl out of the abandoned car you call home, put on your burlap sack, wrap your bare feet in old newspaper, and shuffle down to the local mission for your one meal a day. You can never have anything new, or nice, or un-poor-like, you can't have a cell phone, or a computer, you must be emaciated, your children must be dirty and hungry and cowed. And if you're caught having anything nice, you must spend the next 15 minutes of your day, justifying and explaining that nice thing.

Which is why I unfriended the wife of one of my closest friends. I've been poor, and I had a few nice things, thanks to my parents. Birkenstock shoes, a Coach bucket purse, a top-of-the-line car seat for my son. When I took a break from crying because my ex-husband and I didn't ever have enough money to pay the bills, I liked putting that Coach purse on my arm. For a few moments in an otherwise horrible life, it gave me a bit of a reprieve. My guess is, if my friend's wife had been standing behind me at the checkout counter the days I had to give food back because I couldn't afford it, she would have looked at that Coach purse, and wanted to "smack" me.

Some friends of mine have posited the internet does something to certain types of people: it takes away their empathy, their heart, their capacity to filter themselves, to have any sort of internal moral compass. My friend's wife is a charming, lovely woman, a great mom, and a great wife. Wednesday, I saw a part of her that floored me. So much hate, so much scorn, towards the woman in the store, and towards me. As much as it hurt, and it really did, I had to do this. I had to remove whatever she's becoming from my life.

When I was poor, I didn't wear a burlap sack, or wrap my feet in newspapers. I have a feeling that in the mind of my friend's wife, and so many other people, that means I've never really been poor. And it also means that the vast majority of Americans who need government assistance to live aren't really poor either. My friend, Mary wrote it's the "If they have less, I can have more more more" mentality. The saddest part of this entire day is, I think Mary's right.

I don't know if that woman is scamming, and neither does my wife's friend. I do know that making a judgment about someone simply because they have a cell phone, or their kid has an I-Pad, is representative of a belief system I cannot understand or embrace. I never will.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Cancel Colbert, but keep the Redskins?

Googling the term "redskins" results in reference after reference to the "derogatory" and "offensive" nature of the the word. The Washington Post called redskins a "grotesque pejorative." And yet, until quite recently, most people didn't have a problem with an NFL franchise named after a "grotesque pejorative."

Well, most non-Native American people. Luckily, privileged liberals have jumped onto the bandwagon, and whenever they're not distracted by how awful President Obama is, or how Monsanto is Satan, they are out there, making sure that Stephen Colbert's show gets canceled. Wait, what?

First, I'm sure you're glaring at the screen, yelling at me for using the phrase "privileged liberals." Allow me to describe this person: They dropped out of college halfway through their first year to go make sculpture out of aluminum cans and their own feces. They thought about being a lawyer once, and now know more about law that an actual, practicing attorney. They're sanctimonious, condescending, always believe they're the smartest person in any conversation, and you find yourself wanting to slap them. If they're online, they're even worse. This is not libertarian code-speak, these are actual people. Conservatives have them as well; the difference is a privileged liberal thinks they are intellectually superior to everyone, while a privileged conservative thinks they are morally superior to everyone. Either way, bloody annoying people.

Enter Stephen Colbert, satirist, television host, COMEDIAN. On March 26, as part of the Colbert Sport segment (those T's are silent), Monsieur Colbert handed Dan Snyder a package filled with shame and scorn.
Snyder, the owner of the Washington Redskins, in an effort to distract people who suddenly noticed the name of his team is racist, formed The Washington Redskins Original Americans Foundation. Because nothing says "I feel your pain" more than putting Gary L. Edwards in charge of an organization, since he has a such a great track record no, not really. Go ahead-click the link, learn a little something about Mr. Edwards.

Sir Stephen told his audience he had also formed a charity, in response to attacks from attackers about his character, Ching Chong Ding Dong, The Ching Chong Ding Ding Foundation for Sensitivity to Orientals or Whatever. Comedy Central sent out a Tweet, without a link to the segment, which no one apparently thought to find and watch, and we were off to the races. The hashtag #CancelColbert began to trend, privileged liberals who again, up until recently, had no problem with the use of the word "redskins," were suddenly screaming for Stephen Colbert, a comedian and satirist, to be fired. 

The Tweet on its own sounds horrible. The SEGMENT, which as I stated above, wasn't watched by many of the people demanding a comedian be fired, is hilarious. Dan Synder created this charity as a shiny thing, a way to switch the conversation about how awful the Redskins name is to how wonderful and sparkly his new charity is. Which was the entire point of Stephen Colbert's shtick. 

Stephen Colbert pretends to be a conservative in order to skewer conservatives. He pretended to agree with Dan Snyder in order to show the glaring hypocrisy of Snyder's actions. As usual, some just didn't get it. Including some of my friends. But this guy gets it, and I applaud his view.

The Washington Redskins have been The Washington Redskins since 1933. Native Americans have been protesting the name in large numbers since the 1980's. While there are debates about the meaning of the word "redskin," I think if the people that word is used to represent have a problem with it, the NFL and Dan Snyder need to take their concerns seriously. I would also like to point out that The Washington Redskins are not comedians, they are an incredibly profitable sports franchise. Stephen Colbert is a comedian, and it's part of his "job" to push the envelope, to be outrageous, and to use satire and snark to point out hypocrisy on all sides.

Colbert addressed all of this on his program Monday, and made what may be the best comment about Twitter, the media, and poutrage in the history of the world:

Colbert closed the segment by saying he was reluctantly ending the "worldwide operations" of the Ching-Chong Ding-Dong Foundation for Sensitivity to Orientals or Whatever and was donating its funds to Dan Snyder's foundation.
"Which Twitter seems to be fine with because I haven't seen s-- about that," he said.

Watch Stephen Colbert's response here

Monday, March 24, 2014

Rep. Shirley Jackson's Constitutional Mistake

Rep. Shirley Jackson, while speaking on the House floor a few weeks ago, mistakenly said the Constitution is 400 years old. It's not-the Constitution will celebrate its (*adopted) 227th birthday (or if you go by the ratified date, it just turned 225) this September-but in the heat of the moment, Rep. Jackson made a mistake. And oh my goodness, conservatives lost their collective minds. My theory is Rep. Jackson, being an African American woman, perhaps had Jim Brown's comments about slavery being not that bad in the forefront of her mind, and confused the dates.
What I find fascinating about the right wing's response to Rep. Jackson's error is how many times one of their own says something incorrect, misleading, offensive, or just plain dishonest, and we hear almost nothing from them. Well, we hear support for the incorrect, misleading, offensive and/or dishonest comment, but they rarely call one of their own out on the carpet. Allow me to do a little carpet calling on their behalf.
*Rush Limbaugh's comments about the Pill. In 2012, Rush Limbaugh called Sandra Fluke a "slut," because he seems to believe the Pill works like Viagra (illegal or not). According to Rush, Ms. Fluke is a slut for having "so much sex she can't afford the contraception." Um, no. But do you recall any conservative pundit or politician coming to Ms. Fluke's defense, or pointing out that the Pill is taken once a day, not every time a woman wants to have sex?
*Todd Akin's legitimate rape claim. Also in 2012, Todd Akin, who was running for senate in Missouri, gave an interview during which he said this:
From what I understand from doctors, that’s really rare. If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down. But let’s assume that maybe that didn’t work or something, I think there should be some punishment, but the punishment ought to be of the rapist, and not attacking the child.
To their credit, Mitt Romney, John Cornyn, and Mitch McConnell did slam Akin for that comment. Others on the right did not. From Bryan Fischer and the American Family Association to the Family Research Council, right wing "Christians" lined up in support of Akin and his comments. One group, American Vision, went so far as to accuse GOP leadership of engaging in "legitimate political gang rape." Tony Perkins of FRC stated:
We haven't seen anything this vicious since some of the same operatives did this to Palin.
What a perfect segue!

*Sarah Palin's "blood libel." In the aftermath of the Tucson shooting, a map on Sarah Palin's website showed gun sights over numerous congressional districts Palin had targeted for defeat. Included in that map was Gabby Gifford's district. Attempting to defend herself, the Half-Governor released a 7-minute long video. Reading from a teleprompter, Palin spoke of the "enduring strength of our republic," made numerous references to "the greatness of our country," then made what is quite possibly the most offensive comparison I've heard in a very long time:
Within hours of a tragedy unfolding, journalists and pundits should not manufacture a blood libel that serves only to incite the very hatred and violence they purport to condemn. That is reprehensible.
In Sarah Palin's mind (and apparently, the mind of Andrew Breitbart), the media was waging a blood libel against her. Blood libel is an accusation that Jews kidnapped and murdered Christian children, and used the blood of those children in religious rituals. It's a horrible lie, used to promote and defend violence against Jewish people. The Anti-Defamation League issued a statement after Palin's comments, and while pointing out it was unfair of the media to accuse Palin of being an accessory to murder, stated they wished she had used another phrase, "instead of one so fraught with pain in Jewish history."
*Weapons of Mass Destruction. Former president, George W. Bush, and members of his administration told the American people, the United Nations, and both Houses that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. They lied. When Joe Wilson returned from Iraq with proof that Iraq did not have WMDs, the Bush administration outed Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, to the New York Times as a covert CIA operative. The man who did it-Scooter Libby-the man who gave Valerie Plame's name to the press, had his prison sentence commuted by Bush. Dick Cheney was allegedly pushing for Bush to pardon Libby, but Bush refused.
Iraq never had weapons of mass destruction; the Iraq war was all about oil. Thousands of our military men and women, and over one hundred thousand Iraqi civilians, all dead because of oil and a lie. Again, I don't hear many conservatives railing against the Iraq war. Cheney has said he'd do it all again. And conservative pundits and politicians often say America was safer under George W. Bush.
Yes, Rep. Shirley Jackson mistakenly said the Constitution is 400 years old. She didn't call a law student a slut, or lie us into war, or hand out checks from tobacco companies on the House floor, or scream "You lie!" during the State of the Union, or tell women our bodies have a way of shutting the whole thing down, or compare being attacked by the media to a horrible myth used to justify murdering Jewish people. But to many conservatives, Rep. Jackson's error was an egregious one, while the "mistakes" listed above were  just fine. 
Give the choice between Shirley Jackson's innocent mistake, and mistakes that encourage bigotry, embrace misogyny, or lead to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people, I'll take Rep. Jackson's Constitutional mistake every, single time.

*I edited this after someone I know only on Facebook ignored all the conservative horrors in this article, and said I got the age of the Constitution "wrong." I guess not only conservatives think that's the most important error one can make. 

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

All Children are Gifts; Not All Children are Gifted

Tuesday, I read an article entitled Every Child is Gifted & Talented. Every Single One. The article proposes that every child is gifted, and we should nurture those gifts. While I agree that children may have individual gifts and talents, stating all children are gifted is a mistake, and a harmful one. I waited, thinking and musing over the piece, and then today, Wednesday, I read a response to that article by Madison Kimrey.

Madison is, in fact, gifted. She tests in the "Profoundly Gifted" range, meaning she can think me under the table. I'm pretty sure I could beat her at RISK, but only by distracting her with pie. Madison is twelve years old, a petite political powerhouse, with a disarming grin, hair most of of would sell our souls for, a wicked sense of humor, and a brain that does things most others' brains do not. She also has a support system made up of friends, family members and mentors, all of whom understand how unique Madison is.

In her rebuttal to "Every Child is Gifted," Madison writes about her own struggles with her mind. Anxiety, mood swings, and social skills that are a little wonky are part of her daily life. Madison is home schooled, which, for many truly gifted kids, seems to be the best option. Madison is so bright, I sometimes forget she's still a kid, to be honest. Reading her article reminded me, and it made me adore her all the more.

See, I was gifted as a child. I was reading fluently by age 3, always at least a grade ahead in reading and math, and I was lucky to attend a Catholic school that seemed to draw many other gifted children. I had at least 6 friends who probably qualified as gifted. Did we get fabulous grades? Nope; in fact, almost all of us failed deportment every report card. The teachers would sigh, and say things like "Erin's so bright, but she just won't stop talking during class." I was bored out of my tree in school, so I stopped paying attention.

The 6 friends and I got along pretty well, but we didn't get along with other kids. Sometimes, we would fight among ourselves, and that got really ugly. None of us had the social skills to say "I'm sorry," or "I was wrong," we would just stew and plot, until Chrissy would yank one of us (me) by the hair, and we'd make up. A few weeks would go by, and we would start it all over again. I distinctly remember one of the Jacot twins throwing a rock at my head. This was in grade school, mind you; high school was worse.

Depression, crippling self doubt, never feeling good enough are all part of many kids' experience with being gifted. I had theater and ballet to keep me "sane," but my life was complicated by a mother who was battling (and losing that battle) with mental illness, a father who had no idea what to do, and my own seeds of borderline personality disorder. Yes, I read "The Shining" when I was 13 and understood it, yes, I excelled in English and Religion and Reading Comprehension and Math, yes, my standardized test scores were through the roof. But I didn't have the one thing I needed to really do anything with my giftedness: a support system.

Instead of college, I joined the Army. Instead of furthering my education, I taught myself how to write, how to be a lighting designer. Instead of a 4-year degree, I have a degree from a culinary school. Everything I know, I gleaned on my own.

My son is smart as heck, he's funny, he's empathetic, he's just a joy. But he's not gifted, and in a way, that makes me happy. Please do not misunderstand-I know so many gifted people, and I loudly support them, and cheer their accomplishments. I also know what they went through as children. Not all of them were lucky enough to have Mary Kimrey as their mom, not all of them were loved and cherished and protected the way Madison is. One of the only true geniuses I know (as an adult) is Craig Kanarick. He co-founded Razorfish, and now he runs Mouth, a high-end gourmet food company. I remember him as a kid: he didn't have it easy, either.

Every child is a gift. Every child deserves a safe place where they are loved, where they can thrive and grow. Every child is not gifted. And that might be a good thing.