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Member since: 2001
Number of posts: 18,889

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Re-Thinking Sexual Transactions: On Rape and Harassment

Where this comes from: During the ongoing national discussion about the disheartening Maryville rape case, this blowhard's opinions were aired as though they matter. This came hard on the heels of a slowly-burgeoning scandal about harassment in the Science blogging community.

When I was in my twenties, the "second wave" of gender-equity rights had swept the country and raised consciousness, the ERA had been passed (but not yet ratified,) Roe v. Wade had just been upheld by the Supreme Court, Title IX had been enacted into law, and there was real hope that the march toward enlightened, equitable sexual politics in America would continue.

By the time I was thirty, that march had stalled, and we were hanging on teeth and toenails to protect the small amount of ground gained. Decades later, toothless, I raise bleeding, nailless fingers (okay, metaphorically) to type some reflections on the backward slide, and offer some ideas about what might be needed to reset, and restart, our cultural evolution in this important area.

I do not blame individual men or women for the devolution. I blame all of us, male and female, me included, for concentrating on remedying the symptoms of our culture's fucked-up sexual politics, without putting the same amount of effort into addressing the fundamental ideology behind those politics.

I understand the dimension of that problem, "how sexual transactions work" is daunting. So much of our economy, our cultural, social, and personal identities are bound up in traditional patriarchal ideas about sexual transaction. It's a gigantic windmill; our lance is tiny. But I think it's worth tilting anyway. Especially if we start with the idea that what we need is more "How to do it right" thinking, as well as "how not to do it wrong" thinking.

Doing it Right

What should we be doing with our sexual desires and feelings? What is the correct etiquette that will both provide us with some hope of fulfillment, and keep our society healthy and positive for every person of every gender?

Let's start with a simple, unequivocal statement:

It's okay to have sex with someone when they have maturity and power equity with you, and clearly give their consent that they want to have sex with you.

Under any other circumstances, it is not okay to have sex with someone. Period.

Our society and its institutions must bend determined efforts to delegitimizing sexual activity under any other circumstances. That means no more winking and chuckling at the "Pretty Woman" scenarios, no more "happy ending" fantasies about the powerful individual who "falls in love" with the humble and powerless one and "raises" them to sexual ecstasy and social status, and likewise no more "screw your way up the ladder of success" nudge-nudge admiration/tolerance. No more "overcoming ambivalence with ardor" imagery. No more admiration for "Pickup Artists" counting coup.

Can we make enforceable laws based on this concept? Very few. But we can address it in other ways, through sanctioning the behavior of those who violate it, and using professional codes of conduct, ethics policies, etc. to affirm it.

We can also look at building a whole new cultural narrative of romance, wonder, and fulfillment around the individuals who seek out and appreciate partners sharing similar levels of personal maturity and social power. We can construct stories about how they find loving, interesting, exciting, humorous, suspenseful, etc., ways of asking for and receiving consent to share sex, form bonds, overcome challenges, find happy endings, and more.

However we go about it, it MUST become normed that it is okay to have sex with equals who give explicit consent, and not with anyone else, any time, any way.

We must teach better ways of dealing with sexual impulses, thoughts, and feelings in the presence of people we find attractive, in various situations. In school or the workplace, in social settings, in our communities and families.

It is always okay (or at least uncontrollable) to find someone attractive. It is not always okay to act on that feeling, especially when the one we find attractive is someone who clearly cannot give consent from a standpoint of equal maturity and power equity. Or when the setting is inappropriate. Let's create some positive cultural norms about what to do in such situations.

Let's make it possible for any two people who are attracted to one another, who share similar levels of maturity and power equity, and who have no ethical barriers to a relationship, to do any damn' thing they want with each other as long as they don't scare the horses. And keep it none of our business.

But let's also make it IMpossible for our young people to grow up believing that sexual impulses justify predatory, manipulative, exploitive, harassing behavior.

I do not think we will see the backward slide stop and reverse until we add this effort to the mix.

If we stick enough toothpick-sized lances into those windmill vanes, they WILL eventually grind down. I must believe this, because giving up is not an option my grandchildren can afford.


The Maryville Case: What It's About

In the small Missouri town of Maryville, a 14-year old girl and her friend were gotten incapably drunk, they were raped, and the act was filmed for the rapists to distribute as proof of their... whatever.

The girl was then left, passed out, in her street clothes (no outer clothes, coat, etc.) on her parents' lawn in 22-degree (Fahrenheit) temps, in the middle of the night. She was out there for some hours- her hair and clothing were frozen, she was at risk of serious injury or death from hypothermia.

Her mother found her, saw abrasions in her genital area while caring for her, and called the police.

The police investigated, found credible evidence of rape, searched the home of her attacker (who happened to be the grandson of a MO State Senate member,) found more evidence, prepared a case they regarded as a slam-dunk for prosecution.

Some time later, the mother was told there would be no prosecution. The family's lawyers discussed the chances of a civil suit.

The girl and her family were subjected to harassment at school, in the town, at the mother's place of employment. The mother was fired from her job, with specific reference to the possibility of a civil suit requiring her to take too much time away from work, etc.

The girl and her family put their house on the market and moved to another town to escape the harassment.

Six months later, their home in Maryville, still on the market, mysteriously burned down.

Now the hacker collective Anonymous is promising "justice" for the victim.

Relevant links:


There has been considerable discussion here on DU regarding what this story is about, including the following (paraphrased by me from the DU discussion threads):

"Justice for Daisy"
"Rapists walking free because of Rape Culture and how it protects them"
"Political influence perverting the justice system"

All of those things are true.

But in my opinion, what this story is REALLY about is encapsulated in the statement just released by Anonymous:

"Most of all, We are wondering, how do the residents of Maryville sleep at night?"

I wonder this, too.

I wonder how our communities, our culture have evolved to the point where we don't even need to be marooned on an Island with our survival in doubt and without adult supervision, to turn into a "Lord of the Flies" analog?

I suspect it has to do with public education being perverted from a way of raising healthy citizens for an independent democratic community, to a way of ensuring there will be a supply of barely-literate low-wage workers unable to effectively organize against Our Beloved Oligarchs.

I suspect it has to do with a media controlled by Our Beloved Oligarchs and tasked with the objective of setting us at one another's throats for trivial differences so that, again, we are unable to effectively organize against Our Beloved Oligarchs, because we are too busy hating each other.

I suspect it has to do with a carefully-fostered cultural emphasis on "winning," on "might makes right" on xenophobia, sexism, racism, and other ways of fracturing us and making us afraid of everyone the least bit different, and believing in solutions of violence, hate, and exclusion as the remedy for our fear.

Someone prove me wrong, please.

I would love to be proven wrong.

Please, somebody?


(P.S. I don't approve of vigilante justice, I don't condone it. However, I can't condemn the individuals in Anonymous who are taking such action as they deem appropriate in this situation.)

Dear President Obama- I'm happy to do my part.

I agree with you, we all need to try to live on less. Although I'm a member of the "99%" in America, I recognize that my modest prosperity and good fortune place me well into the top bracket considered as a citizen of the world.

America and other wealthy industrialized nations have for far too long consumed a disproportionate share of the world's resources, and have done so in a reckless, selfish, hedonistic fashion that is truly indefensible. In light of the misery experienced by untold millions for want of the simplest things I take for granted, it seems selfish and grotesque for me to complain about how the Federal Government will be managing and disbursing the retirement savings my spouse and I have trusted to you for many decades.

So, fine. I'm willing to do my part.

I'll be even MORE careful than I already am to not let my living expenses go up. I can't promise to switch to cheap, calorie-dense, nutrition-barren, industrially-produced foodlike substances, but it won't hurt me to skip a meal now and then, or forgo a few treats. I'll do my best.

However, I'd just like to be reassured that I and others like me aren't the only ones trying to move this mountain. So I'm assuming that if I'm willing to accept a lower return on the retirement savings I entrusted to Social Security, I won't be alone. I'd like to be assured that proportional cuts will be made in:

Military weapons research, development, and acquisition programs
Overseas military deployments and bases
All contracts to all private sector military contractors
Privatized prisons
Subsidies that benefit big business- in fact, all forms of corporate welfare, especially tax credits for offshoring jobs

I's like to be assured, too, that you and the Federal Government will be doing your best to raise revenues, including:

Strict enforcement of corporate tax codes
No more "sweetheart" price breaks for federal land and resource exploitation by extraction companies
A stringent audit program for individual income tax filings by everyone with a net worth greater than half a billion dollars
And more... I'm sure you can think of a few.

Finally, while I hate to back-seat drive, since I'm going to be making some sacrifices here I'd like to have a little bit of say in how the results will be used. I'd like to know that the money raised by millions of middle-class retirees making sacrifices will not be spent on stupid military adventurism and crony capitalism. I'd prefer to see it go to:

Re-building our infrastructure using sustainable, environmentally-friendly models
Re-creating a quality, equitable, universally-accessible PUBLIC education system
Re-designing (and implementing) the health care system to actually <gasp> provide quality health care, affordably, to everyone.

Do you think you can manage this?

If so, I got your back. I'm cool with the whole "sacrifice" thing.

If not, not so much.

Please answer soonest. I'm concerned, but hopeful.


Poll: I Have This Great Idea for a Thriller...

It's even got a title: "Relocation"

Plot synopsis:
A fairly conservative, mainstream small town in a somewhat-rural area of a pretty conservative state becomes the epicenter of an environmental and economic disaster caused by corporate indifference, greed, and malfeasance--a disaster that (due to deteriorating and inadequately-maintained infrastructure) could easily happen again, anywhere. The corporate Oligarchs and their helots in the government agree to "cover up" the horrific extent of the disaster, because if the nation became aware of it, they might face pressure to expend vast sums to renew the infrastructure and <gasp!> possibly demands for regulatory oversight and restrictions.

Assuming that the comparatively small conservative population of the area can have their silence bought with a "relocation plan" that would be cheaper than actually properly mitigating the disaster, compensating the victims, and implementing upgrades and safety procedures to prevent future similar incidents, the Oligarchs dispatch a team of weasels to implement the plan, clamping down a media blackout, enlisting local law enforcement, etc.

At first, all goes smoothly. Many local residents take the deal, agreeing not to talk to the media, not to publish anything (images included) connected with the disaster, and to take their families and a modest quantity of salvageable possessions, plus a seemingly "generous" check and "relocation assistance" in a wide variety of scattered locales throughout the rest of the country.

But some don't. And a few in particular, including a small cast of quirky, feisty individualists of mixed age, ethnicity, personality, and social backgrounds, decide to fight back.

I seriously think I could sell this as a mini-series. Maybe even a film script.

Also, I have NO IDEA what made me think of this. None, whatsoever. It's a totally wacky, wild, blue-sky story full of unrealistic conspiracy-type weirdness. I don't normally think like this, not at all.

Maybe I need a new tinfoil hat.

Whatcha think?

Could it sell?




Mental Illness, Evil, and Blame

Today on DU (and this is no different from any other day I trawl the DU fora...)

An unbelievably repulsive murder is attributed to mental illness, the argument devolves to whether the vile perpetrator will "get off" because of mental illness; and

Yet another sub-thread appears in a post about the Newtown gun massacre, discussing whether and how the mental health status of mass shooters, potential mass shooters, and/or the MSM who report on mass shootings should impact public policy.


We need to discuss some terms here. This is important, people.

First, there's "mentally ill" in the insurance/3rd-party payer definition of the term: This is an individual who manifests a specific set of signs and symptoms, codified the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual created by the APA, to the extent that their treatment is eligible for payment. And that's all it is. It says bupkis about whether said individual is morally, legally, or ethically responsible for any act they may commit, from ordering a cup of coffee they can't pay for to slicing open their own childrens' throats.

Then, there's "mentally ill" in the social definition of the term: This is an individual whose behavior is perceived through a highly negative and disapproving, even stigmatizing, lens, because it appears irrational, destructive, disturbing and/or socially unacceptable, and there is no causative chain or explanation that will allow us to empathize, condone, or understand that behavior.

As in:

'OMG, he was so upset from his girlfriend telling him about how she'd been raped years ago, and then that guy whistled at her and he decked him!' <---We probably do not call this guy 'mentally ill.'

'OMG, she was just walking along on a nice day and suddenly burst into tears and accused a total stranger of spying on her!' <---This gal is likely to be called 'mentally ill' or 'crazy.'

Finally there's "mentally ill" in several legal definitions of the term. And I say "several" advisedly. There are literally hundreds of different definitions in legal codes at all jurisdictional levels that establish mental status in relationship to competence, responsibility for criminal action, and many other purposes of interest to the law.

Please note: there is no MEDICAL definition of "mentally ill." This is because there are dozens and dozens of groupings of signs and symptoms that are regarded as indicative of various disease states involving the brain. Each of these definitions has its own level of validity and consistency (and those two-- validity and consistency, are not the same thing. That complicates it further.) And in many cases there are issues concerning levels of acuity, chronic versus episodic manifestation, and other particulars that make the name of the disease alone a highly imprecise term.

Also, please note that there is no MORAL definition of "mentally ill." I suffer from depression. By the standards of the DSM my insurance company is required to pay for my treatment for that illness. That says nothing about whether I am a person with a strong moral/ethical code that I apply to my own actions, nor whether my hypothetical moral/ethical code would meet your standards of morality or good/evil.

The fact that you can't draw a physical sample or take an image or otherwise establish a unique, reliable status marker for almost all mental illnesses complicates things even further. They're not like diabetes or lung cancer. You can "fake" mental illness if you want to (but... if you want to, you may in fact be mentally ill by some definitions... oh, never mind, let's not go there.) Mental illnesses can be (and very often are) misdiagnosed. Their acuity is misjudged. They're occluded by other disease states or processes.

And even worse: There are few "cures" and even fewer 100% reliable, effective, universal treatments for most mental illnesses. There are plenty of treatments. Some work better than others. Some work well for some people who have a disease, but not so well for other people with the same disease. Some work well for a year, two years, five years... then start to work less well, or not at all. (The good news, though it's not germane here, is that we're learning more about what works and why, and treatments are getting more effective and reliable for many people with many diseases.)

Now let's talk about that small subset of people who have some form of mental illness, by any of the above definitions, and who do horrible, criminal things. Who hurt other people. Who rob, cheat, swindle, assault, rape, kill. Who do things that I think of as "evil." (Why yes, I do have a moral/ethical code...)

To what extent is that "evil" related to the mental illness? And to what extent is a mentally ill person "responsible" for doing these evil things?

I pity the law; I really, really do. And I pity conscientious forensic psychiatrists and psychologists. I know whereof I speak in this, as I spent some years working for a psychologist who had a contract with a state government, and who had to make regular trips to the state's mental institutions to perform forensic evaluations on some people who had done some very, very evil things.

It is possible for someone to be in a delusional state where they are genuinely unaware of what they're doing. It's possible for someone to appear completely functional, and yet be so mentally dysfunctional that they do things their 'normal, conscious' selves would be utterly horrified by.

It's possible for people to be so many kinds of messed up, and do dreadful things, and sometimes, yes, my heart tells me (especially when it's a youngster, or someone with a horrible, horrible history of suffering of their own...) that I can't impute the evil that they do to their own soul. It's the disease, the history, the suffering, that have produced the evil and made the need to act upon it overwhelming.

And, just twice, I have encountered human beings in which I perceived a terrible, chilling emptiness of humanity, an evil so pervasive and intrinsic that I could not see around or through or past it to believe that there was a human soul in there at all. And in only one of those cases was the individual considered "mentally ill" by any definition.

We expect the law to deal with all of these complexities, and act on our behalf to sift through them and do some simple "right" thing that will satisfy all of us. And we expect the law to be meted out "equally" and "fairly." To be applied consistently, transparently, taking into account the civil rights of all concerned. And we expect some kind of public policy based on "mental illness," (by which definition? applied how? by whom? and 'quis custodiet custodios?') to provide a social benefit in preventing crime. When the overwhelmingly vast majority of people with any form of mental illness pose no criminal risk at all.

I sat on a grand jury a few years ago, in a criminal case whose profile was so high I can only describe it in the most general terms. Essentially, a person with a seizure disorder (not a "mental illness," but a physical one) chose to substitute 'natural, herbal' treatments for their Dilantin. Unfortunately, they also chose to drive a vehicle. Three people died.

Some people are mentally ill.

Some people make catastrophically poor decisions.

Some people do evil things.

A few people, a very few (I believe) are evil.

None of these things necessitates any of the others. Making public policy based on assumptions that they do, is not only foolish, it is ultimately counterproductive.

Could we please, please stop throwing around the assumptions? Because the more we do, the worse the chances get that some bright, well-intentioned public servants will come up with a "simple" solution that will make things horribly worse.


Let's plan our "Gun Appreciation Day" celebration! I got a great idea....

....for a really BOFFO celebration, but it requires some slightly distasteful sacrifice from our African-American friends & neighbors, and our Muslim, Hindu, and Sikh friends & neighbors, which I realize is going to be a LOT to ask. But I do think it would make a WONDERFUL way to celebrate "Gun Appreciation Day," which (I'm CERTAIN it's coincidental!) also happens to be Martin Luther King's birthday.

You know, that "MLK" guy who was all into equal rights and nonviolence? Anyone remember him...?

Anyway, here's the idea:

It would be so cool if our African-American neighbors, and our Sikh, Muslim, and Hindu neighbors, could pull together little "Gun Appreciation Party" groups of right around 5-6 people, each. And definitely bring your pieces if you have them and it's legal to carry them where you are.

Then attend (as a group) the nearest "Gun Appreciation Day" celebration at your local firearms shop. Bring signs, wear festive attire! Tell everyone how excited you are to be here, and that you plan on purchasing MANY weapons! Line up at the counter to buy guns!

It will add so much to the enjoyment of all your melanin-deficient "Christian" neighbors who will be there to celebrate, too!

I realize it's a lot to ask, as you probably would cross the street to avoid them in most cases, but if you're there in a group, happy and smiling, festively attired and packing your heat, you'll be part of the celebration, and it'll be fun!

Sort of. Well, for you, anyway.

Whaddaya think?

Great way to celebrate "Gun Appreciation Day," doncha think?


P.S. Forum mods, I think "Gun Appreciation Day" is a "current event" so I'm putting this here. But please feel free to move it to the Gungeon if you think it's more appropriate (and/or more FUN!) there...

Weight, Health, Life Expectancy: "It's Complicated"


Yet another "breakthrough study" on the relationship between weight, health, and life expectancy. Number 9,726 in an apparently endless series.

I'm encouraged, though. Many of the recent items of reportage on this topic have pointed out a key concept that's often missed in the cultural dialog, which is:

It's complicated.

Fifty years ago the conventional wisdom was that we had cracked the nutrition code. We knew everything important about how food, weight, and health interrelated. The components of food could be broken down into three major groups: fats, carbohydrates, proteins; and a handful of trace elements such as vitamins and amino acids, all required by our bodies in order to function.

Research then moved on to determining the exact ratio of these elements in the health-optimal diet. All we needed to do is determine the precise ratio of fats to proteins to carbs, and the precise balance of vitamins and amino acids, required for the optimal weight/health relationship. Then ensure that everyone understood the magic formula and based their diet on it.

Conventional wisdom and popular consciousness remain largely stuck at that stage, exacerbated by the needs of our consumer-based culture and economy to sell lots and lots and lots of food products, diet and supplement products, clothes and beauty products, and other health-related products. Establishing an ideal that never quite settles but always remains fluctuating at a level largely unobtainable for a majority of the population optimizes the function (read: profit) of that consumer-dependent economy. A set of "simple" rules, standards, beliefs about what will enable a consumer to attain the ideal gives the Marketing Dept something to work with.

So it's not at all surprising that the growing body of research that concludes that, yes, the relationship between food, weight, health, body function, life expectancy is not just complex, but very complex, gets cherry-picked, oversimplified, or not reported at all.

Granted, science related to the impact of mitochondrial DNA on metabolic patterns, the relationship of molecular variants in food components to digestive and metabolic processes, and other abstruse and not-easily-classifiable variables, is not exactly Reader's Digest fodder. Discussing complex interactions between non-food-related endocrinological processes, and how an individual's body metabolizes food, begs a lot of questions and in the absence of simple answers, may be better left unexplored by the Junk Science Press.

(Yes, your body processes calories differently when you are under various types of stress. And different individuals are differently affected by stress hormones, creating more variables in that equation.)

All of which is to say that as a general working understanding, using the food pyramid as a guide for "healthy eating" is probably adequate for the vast majority of us. Avoiding extremes of obesity and skinniness, ditto. Reasonable levels of physical activity, ditto.

But now we're learning more. And one particular thing that is beginning to emerge poses a major threat to the vast consumer economic machine. Expect it to be ignored, and when it doesn't go away, watch it get repeatedly "debunked," "refuted," "contradicted," questioned, have doubt cast upon it, etc. Because it's really, really scary to those whose vast wealth depends on us feeling inadequate and insecure about our looks and our health.

So what is it, this scary, scary thing?

It's the growing awareness that our body works best and is healthiest when we feel happy with how we look and feel, generally. (Yes, happy people do tend to live longer-- who'd-a thunk it? But our economy depends on us needing to buy stuff to be happy. Work it out.) And also, that changes in our metabolic function should be slow, gradual, incrementally tiny, and based on a variety of factors much greater than calorie consumption and expenditure via exercise. And when we start trying to consciously alter our metabolism at an unnaturally fast pace, based only on those two factors, we risk throwing sand into a delicate mechanism we don't really understand. And a messed-up metabolism will do us more damage than being a few pounds over or underweight over the long haul.

So, yeah, it's complicated. The "good thing" about the complexity is that it keeps the consumer machine well-oiled with excuses to update the Magic Formula! New!! Improved!! Anti-oxidants are so last week, people! This week, buy our new, improved, gluten-free Sweet Tarts(c) or apple juice!

The "bad thing" about the complexity is that it keeps us focused on finding magic bullet after magic bullet, vulnerable to the Marketing Dept's conditioning about how we should look or feel in order to be sexy, happy, vibrant, socially acceptable, powerful, young, fulfilled consumers.

The next-to-the-next-to-the-last thing they want is for us to grab the admittedly simple, big picture truth of Michael Pollan's healthy eating formula: "Eat food. Not too much. Mainly vegetables."

The next-to-the-last thing they want is for us to internalize the realization that industrially-produced, highly-engineered foodlike substances manufactured from a few highly-processed organic compounds that started life as food, do not actually comprise "eating food" in the sense of fueling our bodies to maintain healthy metabolic processes.

And the last thing they want is for us to realize that health and happiness have no intrinsic relationship to what we buy.

Yet those three simple realizations are the real fundamental, cut-through-the-Gordian-knot Magic Formula for achieving an ideal weight, a healthy body, and a long, happy life.

We're doomed.

Doomed, I tellya...


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