Monday, April 22, 2013

Boston Bombing, or Don't Bite the Hand

To live in the United States is a gift.  U.S. citizenship confers great privilege.  The evidence is that people from all over the world still strive to immigrate here. 

I don't acknowledge this with pride;  I did nothing to earn the right to be an American.  In my case, it was an accident of birth.  I did nothing to deserve the fortunate circumstances of being a white, middle class American and enjoying all the advantages of that.  My nationality in no way makes me better than anyone on this planet; it just makes me luckier.

And I don't say this with complacency.  As a country, we are facing huge problems:  democracy is compromised by the disproportionate power held by corporations, for example.  Our leaders' penchant for military adventures ("nation building") has degraded all of us.  We have earned the wrath and contempt of the world.

In fact, America was probably never what we were taught it was.   

And yet the recent Boston bombings by two disaffected youth is not only tragic (for the victims and their families, for the perpetrators and their families), it is god damn infuriating.

Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev had been living in the U.S. for ten years, most of their young lives.  America had taken them in, and had provided them with opportunities, such as a top notch high school education, beyond anything they would have enjoyed in Chechnye, Dagestan, or Russia.  They had friends and family, health and good looks, religious and intellectual freedom here.  And they spat in the face of all these unearned gifts.

Similarly, Roosh's family came to the U.S. as refugees in the late seventies.  Roosh writes that his father had been one of many children born of a fourth wife in a poor, rural village.  This is pure speculation on my part, but I am guessing Roosh's dad had sought upward mobility through a military career under the Shah.  When the Shah's regime fell, the Valizadehs were taken in by the U.S.  Roosh went on to enjoy all the advantages of being a middle-class American, not least of which was an education at a state-supported university.  And now he spits in its face.

I'm in no way anti-immigration.  I've devoted much of my teaching career to helping immigrants assimilate culturally and linguistically.  I've done my share lobbying state legislators to maintain funds for English language and other programs that support immigrants.  And freedom of speech, the freedom to criticize the government or society, is just about my most favorite thing.

I've seen up close how the children of immigrants struggle.  In my trade, we call them the Generation 1.5.  They are dumped into American classrooms with little preparation or support:  sink or swim.  Depending on their parents' educational level, they may find themselves on the threshold of adulthood with huge academic deficits.  They are torn between two worlds: their parents' traditional values and and the values of their modern American peers.  Their parents immigrate -- often at great sacrifice to themselves -- in order to give them the gifts of opportunity and freedom, but with those gifts come cultural loss and great inner conflict.

Immigration is not for wimps. 

I'm just saying, it's the lack of appreciation, the pissing away of the gifts, that jacks my jaw.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Sex in America

I looked at my stats page today.  I'm mainly curious where readers are coming from. 

I'm old enough to get a thrill from seeing that someone from South Korea or Romania has read a few of my words.  I'm so old that the global nature of internet communication still excites me.  When I was a kid, having a foreign pen pal was a big deal (and significant investment of time and effort).  But I digress...

I'm also curious how people manage to find personal blogs, the search terms they use to get there.

One intrepid soul had come to me via "sex in america."  Holy-moly, the mind reels at how many sites he had hit with that entry!

Although I hope he found what he was looking for, I kind of doubt it...

Another Response to Matt Forney's Rape "Satires"

Dear Matt,

This post is in response to your recent attempts to write humorously about a topic we can all agree is loaded.  Yeah, I mean both of your rape "satires", not just the one you quickly took down and "apologized" for.

I can see you're struggling with the genre, so I thought I'd helpfully link you up to a writer you'll recognize, Lindy West, who wrote a brilliant piece about How To Tell A Rape Joke.

Oops, my bad!  I know how much you dislike feedback from women females on any subject whatsoever (especially if the subject is women females themselves), so let me link you instead to a male masculine comic you might relate too.  Like you, Louis CK is bald, pale, pudgy, and has built a stellar career on charting his trouble with girls.
Louis CK has done several bits concerning rape but this one is my personal favorite.  (In case you don't "get it," the "butt" of the joke here is the girl and / or rape culture itself -- yet women find it as funny as men do.)


La Strega

Friday, April 19, 2013

MGTOW, or My Uncle, the Misogynist

I don't usually think of putting a trigger warning on one of my posts, but I will alert anyone who is reading that this post involves incest and sexual abuse (not of a child).

This year my mother's younger brother died.  Aside from my sisters, he was the last remaining member of my immediate family. 

Although my sisters and I were not indifferent to his passing, no one shed a tear.

He died alone, in his late seventies, in a nursing home.  He had been failing for several months.  A social worker handled his final arrangements.  There was no funeral; no one would have attended, anyway.

How did this happen?

Once I adored my only uncle.  Every other Christmas, he swept into our lives from exotic locales: Korea, Iran, Thailand, Turkey.  He worked as a technician for military contractors like Litton.  He seemed to me to be larger than life (and at 6'4" 300#, was an indisputably powerful presence).  When I was a child, he was the only male who showed me physical affection.  "Don't pick her up Ken!" my mother would cry.  "She's heavier than she looks!"  But clinging to my uncle's thick neck, fragrant with aftershave, I was as light as a baby monkey.  He bought me Lincoln Logs; he laughed at my antics.  My sisters and I vied for his attention, but I was always secretly convinced that he loved me the best of all.  I had every reason to believe that my uncle would always be the #1 Guy in My Life.

Time passed.  My sisters and I entered adolescence.  Suddenly our uncle didn't love us so much.  He had a way of scrutinizing my developing body with a hypercritical eye.  He warned me darkly of the dangers of becoming so fat that no man would ever want me.  He no longer had any interest in what I was studying or reading or doing.  When we did engage in conversation, he steered it toward sexuality: his own and mine.  He regaled me with stories of his adventures in third world brothels, of the sexual peccadilloes of his many girlfriends, his own sexual preferences, and all the perils and pleasures of being a randy globe-trotting bachelor

Of course, a part of me was fascinated and flattered that an adult would make me such a confidante, but part of me was increasingly uncomfortable with him.  As a 14 year old in the 1970s, I knew nothing about "appropriate boundaries."  That concept had not yet been coined.  I dealt with my internal conflict by mostly avoiding him.  From a safe distance, I could still "love" and admire him

While I was teaching in Tehran, my uncle popped in unexpectedly from Amman.  While using the toilet, he glimpsed my diaphragm drying on the edge of sink, and let me know in no uncertain terms how "disgusting" he had found the sightDeeply shamed, I explained that, had I known he was visiting, I certainly would have hidden it from view.  My apology hardly mollified him.  Apparently, it wasn't the sight of a diaphragm per se that upset him, but the fact that it was my diaphragmI was perplexed by this.   

Clearly, my uncle enjoyed sharing the details of his own sexual adventures with me.  Why was he distressed by evidence that I was sexually active myself?  Did I not at least get credit for being sexually responsible?

While I was doing a Fulbright in Italy in my twenties, my uncle visited me from Germany.  He offered to take me to the Riviera for three days.  As we checked into the hotel our first night, I found he had reserved a "matrimoniale".  He was visibly annoyed when I balked at this arrangement.  When he complained that I was taking advantage of his generosity by insisting on separate beds, I paid for a separate room.

Later, I met my uncle at the pool, where he coolly appraised my swimsuit-clad body.  "You're one of those fat women who actually looks better without her clothes on,"  he opined.  I dived into the water to escape my embarrassment.  Later, he came over to the pool where I was idly dangling my legs.  He sat down beside me, laid a ham-sized hand on my knee, and invited me to give him a massage before dinner.  As he insinuated his hand between my thighs, it was clear that "massage" was code for something more intimate.

I stammered something along the lines that what he was proposing sounded a lot like "incest.The very word stuck in my mouth like a clod of filth, but my uncle was unfazed.

Indeed, he proceeded to instruct me that incest was nothing new, nor anything necessarily immoral.  After all, the Pope had routinely given 17th century Spanish kings dispensation to marry their nieces.  (I didn't think at the time of pointing out that our family had been neither ruling class nor Catholic for at least 300 years. All I could think of was Sex with Uncle Kenny = eeewwww.)

The weekend went down hill from there.  Needless to say, I couldn't wait to get home.  Bidding my uncle arrivederci at the train station, I urged him to get psychological help to deal with his issues.  I mean, that's actually how I put it, and I said it with great kindness because I mostly wasn't angry; I mostly felt sorry for him; I mostly thought he was just a very, very lonely man with "issues" (possibly stemming from abuse my his mother / my grandmother).  I suppose I thought that my familial duty was to steer him into therapy so that he could learn to have intimate relationships with women who weren't prostitutes (or nieces).

My uncle looked me in the eye rather tenderly for a moment while i was earnestly imploring him.  "You know, you remind me so much of your mother..."  The implication was that it was not me he lusted for, but instead his sister / my mother. 

"Anyway," he suddenly turned away dismissively, his face hardening, "You're too old for me now."  (I was 25.)

I never shared these experiences with my mother.  I didn't trust she would believe me, and I didn't want to poison his relationship with the only person he really loved.

Fast forward ten years later: I accidentally saw my uncle while visiting my mother.  We got into a heated dinner table conversation about domestic violence.  When I declared, "There's no excuse for a man to hit a woman," my uncle flew into a rage.  He reared up, chair clattering across the floor, and raised his huge, clenched fists.  Towering over me, eyes bulging with fury, he bellowed, "Some women NEED beating!  Because SOME women just don't know when --  to -- SHUT UP!"  And then -- and this is the worst part -- he opened his mouth and began flapping his tongue in a grotesque caricature of a nagging woman.

My jaw tingled in apprehension of the shattering blow it was about to receive.  

I fled, barricading myself into my mother's bedroom, and refused to emerge until my uncle had left. Weeks later, I sent him a note, telling him our relationship was "over" until he had gotten "help" for his "anger management."

That was the last time I ever spoke to my uncle in person.  We occasionally exchanged words when I picked up the phone at my mother's house. I was cold but civil, while he nattered on, seemingly oblivious to the chill.

When I heard Uncle Kenny was undergoing a triple bypass, I wondered if I shouldn't patch things up between us; let bygones be bygones.  I didn't want to be left holding the grudge if he died.

However, while I was mulling thusly, my mother mentioned casually-in-passing that my uncle had long been disparaging my character to anyone who listened, i.e., had accused me of being "a slut" who had actually come on to him, and, apparently, had slept with half the Iranian Air Force as well.  Aside from the obvious disturbing question of What kind of mother allows her daughter to be so slandered?, I was mortified to realize that extended family members, many of whom hadn't seen me since I was a child, had been hearing this vile stuff about me for years.  

In the end, I did call my uncle a few weeks before he died.  I wanted to remind him that he had been loved once, if only by a little girl that no longer existed.  He wasn't moved by this gesture.  "I'm not leaving you a dime," he croaked faintly in a voice I could hardly recognize.  "I know, I know," I assured him. "It doesn't matter."  

His will left his entire estate (or at least what could be traced and pieced together) to a Korean bar girl who'd had the misfortune of suffering a debilitating aneurysm in his apartment twenty years before. The social worker did the legwork of locating the girl's family in Seoul; I'm sure they were happy for the windfall.  I was just grateful it hadn't gone to the NRA.

My partner might admonish me for speaking ill of the dead here, but my rejoinder is this:  My uncle cannot read these words, and even if he could, he wouldn't suffer because he would not feel a jot of remorse.  

Anyway, he had an entire lifetime to try to understand and be understood, to love and be lovedIt was his choice to live, and to hate, and to die alone, the same choice being made right now by all those MGTOW.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

A Better Man

When I arrived home this evening after a long, hard day of being the cancer of American academia, I was gobsmacked to discover my next door neighbor was mowing my front lawn.

I'll call my neighbor "Dick" because that's how I have customarily referred to him.  As in, "that Dick next door has erected a carport right on the property line" or "the Dick and his girlfriend kept me awake last night brawling" or (the worst), "the Dick's friend, who has been living in the trailer parked in his front yard for three months, has finally managed to kill the hedge with pee."

One afternoon Dick came barreling over to rage that my dogs were barking.  Guilty as charged.  But it was 2:00 on a weekday, and his dogs were barking too (well, howling, really, because they're huskies), so, so what?  He was obviously inebriated, and just spoiling for a fight.  In fact, he seemed mad enough to punch whatever was in his way which was, at the moment, me.  I apologized profusely, promised to rectify the situation, and ever after had a paranoid fear of arousing his ire.  But I kept my temper and bit my tongue.  I even handed him some peonies from my garden on Mother's Day, perhaps hoping that I could kill him with kindness.

I was not alone in my distaste for Dick.  My other neighbors mentioned he was a bit of a scammer.  Apparently he had sold one a lemon car.  Then he bragged about getting on disability due to a shoulder issue, which miraculously healed itself when he started taking special vitamins, which he then started to peddle around the neighborhood.

Dick, a self-professed "car addict," also had a habit of parking his dozen dilapidated vehicles all over the cul-de-sac, effectively leaving visitors to the neighborhood no place to park.

In other words, Dick became The Neighbor Everyone Loves to Hate.

Several months ago I complained to my fundy neighbors about him.  "Don't worry," they assured me.  "He's changed: he's found Jesus."

I wasn't impressed.  Jailhouse conversions are a dime a dozen.

However, about a week later, Dick staggered over.  At first, I was reluctant to open the door without anyone else in the house, but Dick was bearing a gift: an acrylic sink that he had gotten from the Home Depot remainder bin.  "I thought maybe you could use this," he offered.  I have no idea why Dick thought I needed a sink (if anyone wants one, it's still in its box in the hall) but I appreciated the weird gestureIt suggested he was declaring some kind of truce, at least.

Then tonight, I found him mowing my lawn.  Not knowing what to make of this mysterious development in our relationship,  I took my time pulling into the driveway and unloading my car.  In fact, I had to look at him a while to make sure it really was Dick, and not some random stranger performing a random act of kindness.

"Well, thanks!" I approached warily. "What's going on?"

"I've decided to Do or Say One Nice Thing every day," Dick explained.

"What made you decide to do that?" I asked.

"I'm trying to be a better man," Dick confided(Wasn't that the name of a country western song?) 

Later I told my partner about this miracle.

"Great!" she said.  "Maybe he'll mow the back lawn tomorrow."

I'm not sure why I think this story is relevant to the theme of this blog, except that I do believe that even the most hateful, angry people can change for the better.  Sometimes it takes a visit from the Ghosts of Past, Present, & Future.  Sometimes is takes being Born Again.   And sometimes people just figure it out for themselves.  It's all good.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Observe But Don't Engage!

That's the opinion of my partner regarding commenting on manosphere blogs.

She's worried about my safety of course. She also thinks that by engaging with them, I am egging them on.  She thinks I'm on a Joan of Arc trip.  "Don't make yourself bait for a nut case," she pleads.  There is merit to this argument.

She assures me, as does my young male colleague, that the "manosphere" is a tiny group of delusional and paranoid misfits who are mostly all bluff, anyway.   "But there seem to be thousands of them," I protest.  "Maybe, but I doubt it," says my male colleague.  "I'm a guy, and I'm all over the internet, and I've never heard of any of this crap.  Anyway, there are millions of other people."

I know thousands is a lot less than millions, but it still seems like rather a lot.  Of course, if most of these guys were dragged out from behind their computers and exposed to the full light of day, it's likely I'd find them more pitiful than threateningAlthough they fantasize a lot about running away to various poor countries where the living is easy and the girls are cheap, I suspect most of them never go farther than the local convenience store for more beer.

For example, they idealize angry old gasbags like Mark Minter, an MGTOW who brags about living off the local economy in Colombia, and you know what?  I too tried escaping from the U.S. (in my twenties, a lifetime ago), but it got pretty damn old, pretty damn fast.  In the hothouse environment of most expatriate communities, it takes about two weeks to recreate whatever social straight jacket you thought you'd escaped, only now it's even worse because there's no reliable electricity, hot water, or public libraries.  You learn after a while that wherever you go, there you are.  

If it seems like you're an outcast in your own land, and everything and everyone is rubbing you the wrong way all the time, and you are casting about for someone or something to blame, take it from meLook in the mirror.

Don't take these buffoons seriously, I think.  And then I remember, wait, Isn't that what a lot of Germans were telling each other in Berlin in 1930?

I've promised my partner to step away from this for the sake of my sanity, but I'm of two minds.  Does one just ignore bullies, hoping they'll get discouraged and go away?   On the other hand, do they "win" if they chill or silence feminists' public voices?  I'm thinking of course of the redheaded protester doxed and harassed by "A Voice for Men" readers this week.   

How can these guys scoff at the existence of "rape culture" when their widespread response to rude or uppity women is to advocate gang-raping, torturing, and murdering them?

The answer is, of course:  They don't care.  They're not looking for truth, or compassion, or mutual understanding.  They are angry white guys who have lost (or never developed) the capacity to engage in rational debate or self-analysis.  That leaves them to spinning fantasies of escape and revenge rather than doing the hard work of engaging in any effective way with the rest of society or taking any positive actions.

I am the cancer that is killing American academia...

Or so says Matt Forney, in response to a comment I left on his blog giving his most recent post a C-.   

"Herds of rabbits???" I wrote in imaginary red ink in the imaginary margins of his unimaginably weak essay.  "Logic?" "Over generalizing!" and "Please support this assertion."

I know, I know: quit picking on Matt Forney!  He has enough problems, especially now that half of Portland Reddit is about to tar, feather, and ride him out of town on a rail.  And God knows I have enough grading to do without taking on another recalcitrant student; it's not like I'm getting paid by the head.

Yet I can't help laughingCancer!  Really?  In typically hyperbolic, manospheric fashion, Matt will never reach for a fly-swatter when he can fire his really big cannon.  
Now I realize I'm not just some overworked, underpaid, ineffectual frump with a crummy M.A.  Rather, I am a curiously powerful, even dangerous creature, part of a vast malignancy invading the highest portals of learning, stealthily inserting the tentacles of feminism and liberalism into every nook and crannyThe horror! The horror!

In fact, when I say that I "toil in the basement of academe," even that's a stretch:  I teach remedial English in a community college (or, as one wag put it, "13th grade with ashtrays").  Which means that going to the manosphere for recreational reading is, for me, a kind of busman's holiday.  It also means that Young Matt greatly overestimates my Power to influence young minds, either for Good or Evil.

Trust me, had I such powers, my students would recognize comma splices by now.

Cancer is no joke, of course.  At the moment, I have four-count 'em-four friends who are either in treatment for, or in remission from, cancers of various lethal sorts plus two peers who have died in the past two years (I really don't have many friends, so that is a lot.)   And since everyone in my circle is aging at an even faster rate than I am, "cancer" is likely to become an ever-increasing presence in all our lives Bummer.

"Everybody's dead or dying and I don't feel so well myself," as my mother used to grimly chirp -- before she died too.

Back to grading essays!  I am twenty down, fifty to go.  Each essay takes at least 15 minutes to read and mark: you do the math.