Holiday Miscellany

Happy Christmas if you celebrate–and I hope you weren’t too inconvenienced by everything being closed if you don’t. I’m going to be absent for a few days, so here’s some wonderful written things from the past week. 

Ozy Frantz has this awesome post on the important difference between unhealthy relationships and abuse. Also this one about drunk sex vs. rape. What I really mean is, zie has a blog and–what are you even doing here anyways? Go read it.

Ithkuil, the language created from logic and philosophy to be maximally concise and precise.

Food stamp challenges and the importance of not speaking when we could be listening.

Armed guards are the solution? The NRA gets it wrong again.

A long but important article on how class is affecting outcomes of university graduates.

More stuff missing from the gun control debate:

Just because gun violence inflicted by armed citizens outnumbers police violence, it doesn’t mean it’s acceptable to ignore the routine killing of unarmed people of color nor does it do anyone any good to pretend it’s not a serious problem with serious consequences.

An investigation published by the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement (MXGM) earlier this year found that in the first half of 2012 at least 120 black men, women and children, the majority of whom were unarmed, were killed by police, security guards or self-appointed law enforcers. That’s one black person killed every 36 hours by “good guys with guns”, as the NRA like’s to call them.

And today in rape culture, Swaziland has banned miniskirts and low-rise jeans…because they’re ‘rape-provoking’. Yes, because what really causes rape is what women wear. Not, you know, rapists. (h/t Ross)

PZ nails it.

Also once upon a time, content in my privilege of being a person of equanimity with few mental instabilities to trouble me, I was certain that the people who held those bad ideas, if not stupid, were surely insane. How could you believe the earth was 6000 years old or that gods existed or that prayer and UFOs and Bigfoot were real, all crazy ideas without a doubt, if you weren’t crazy yourself? And then, of course, it sunk in that most of the inhabitants of this country believe fervently in a god, so it would require a peculiar definition of insanity to argue that a majority of fully functioning, prospering individuals were all mad. They’ve got some crazy ideas, sure, but that doesn’t mean that the entirety of their behavior can be dismissed as the product of a damaged brain.

And then I met a great many smart, disciplined, hard-working, successful atheists and scientists who admitted to suffering from mental illness…and they were good people! “Crazy” isn’t grounds for rejection of individuals.

A how-to from Mad Art Lab on etching glassware: because sharpies on a solo cup just doesn’t work for dinner parties.


Holiday Miscellany

You are Not His Mother

This is excerpted and edited from something I put on Facebook. 

There is a horrible article going around. I am Adam Lanza’s Mother, it says.  It’s the story of a mother who has a mentally ill child.

I live with a son who is mentally ill. I love my son. But he terrifies me.
We still don’t know what’s wrong with Michael. Autism spectrum, ADHD, Oppositional Defiant or Intermittent Explosive Disorder have all been tossed around
I am sharing this story because I am Adam Lanza’s mother. I am Dylan Klebold’s and Eric Harris’s mother. I am Jason Holmes’s mother. I am Jared Loughner’s mother. I am Seung-Hui Cho’s mother. And these boys—and their mothers—need help. In the wake of another horrific national tragedy, it’s easy to talk about guns. But it’s time to talk about mental illness.


She is not. She is the mother of a mentally ill child who is NOT the shooter.

She is taking the story of a child, who is, by her own narrative, quite scary to mother, and deciding to generalizing that to a man she knows nothing about.  When you do that, when you repost it or share it or hold it up as so inspiring and raw and important to relate to this tragedy, you are saying this:

“People who behave in the way that I am describing are just like Lanza”
“Children who do these things that I am describing turn into Lanza”
“My child has something like X/Y/Z Disorder and I think they’re just like Lanza”

Because when you say that the narrative of your child just like that of a mass murderer, and then you describe some characteristics, things we *do not know* of Adam Lanza’s behavior, you are perpetuating some dangerous beliefs.

Please, please stop.

I’m not going to EVER defend the actions of the shooter.

But I will defend to all hell the people who you’re painting with the same brush.

And in case it wasn’t clear already, I will not accept “but any discussion about mental health is important!”. Nope. Discussions that speak over those who suffer from mental illness, that make them The Other, or that stigmatize them and paint them as gangly children with overbites, are harmful, and nothing more. Please stop.

Secondly, if you are going to discuss Autism Spectrum Disorder/Asperger’s here, please go educate yourself first. I suggest here and here, but I would gladly welcome more links in the comments. 

You are Not His Mother

When You Tie Shootings to Mental Illness

If you’ve read my work, you know I am massively for mental healthcare reform. Not just a little bit in favor, but balloons and blog posts on blog posts and boundless enthusiasm for it.

But you know when I’m really really uncomfortable talking about mental health?

Right now. 

Tragedies are horrible. They’re senseless.

School shootings are especially so. We hurt and we reach out and hug our children and try to make sense of everything. And always, always, we talk about schizophrenia, borderline personalities, bipolar disorder.

Adam Lanza’s mental health won’t be known. Not ever. There’s a lot of things we’d like him answer for–unclaimed Christmas presents and crying families and six year olds with cameras on them and reporters in their faces. We’d like to know why he did it. We want to know what was going on in that mind. There’s no explanation that will put this into perspective. Because, what kind of perspective could it be to understand what would drive you to kill children?

But I’m asking you–begging you, really, to not decide that Lanza had a mental illness. I’m asking you not to make “being a good person” the standard for mentally healthy.

Do not try to rationalize this away with mental illness. Stop talking about how it could have been schizophrenia, stop saying he had to have mental health issues. You do not know.

You do not know his state of mind. When you decide to armchair quarterback him, to stamp him with an “obvious” diagnosis, do you know what you are saying?

Here is a terrible thing. The only thing that could possibly cause someone to do such a terrible, tragic thing is to have This Disorder. Because only people with This Disorder could be so dangerous/awful/scary. 

And you, you people who want to look for signs of schizophrenia, who want to talk about how he ‘went crazy’, how he just needed medication, I want you to consider how much harder you are making it for someone to seek treatment.

I want everyone to seek the help they need, and I’d bet you do too.

I want the next person who hears things or sees things, or has invasive thoughts to reach out and have a place to land. I want them to be listened to and to find employment. I want their safety net to care for them and call on the bad days.

I don’t want them torn up with worry that they could be the next shooter, to isolate themselves because they ‘could be dangerous’. I don’t want their friends to worry for their lives. People with mental illness are four times as likely to be the victims of violence. They are more likely to suffer than perpetrate.

You want to care for the living? You want mental health care to be better? Stop making mental illness the scapegoat. You are causing stigma. You are making it harder. You are part of the problem. If today, seeing a therapist was free, treatment was covered as long as it was needed, do you think everyone who needed it would go? If the dominant narrative is that only ‘crazy people’  shoot schoolchildren?

I worked in a research lab developing and testing therapy for schizophrenia when I was 18, where in part, I interviewed participants and tagged along on treatment sessions. To this day, when I mention it–one of the best experiences of my studies–the common reaction is to ask about my safety. My safety from people who patiently let a teenager ask them incredibly personal questions for hours, who let me into their homes and lives. People with mental illness are not inherently dangerous. These attitudes are.

Mental healthcare needs to be better. That is a conversation this country desperately needs to have. Please don’t do it this way.

Note 1: If and only if a therapist who was seeing Lanza or family member  was to come forward and give his diagnosis, I would accept that. However, that doesn’t actually change the point about the narrative we spin about shooters. It’s dangerous and damaging.

Note 2: When you use mental illness as the reason for this shooting, you are ignoring a host of other societal factors that let him buy a gun, that let that gun he bought be a combat rifle.
EDIT: I know that it wasn’t his gun. This was written immediately after the tragedy. Yes, gun culture is still worth discussing.

Note 3: Assuming mental illness without any kind of evidence is also just plain bad skepticism. As if we needed another reason to stop doing that.

When You Tie Shootings to Mental Illness

Link, Plank, Plunk

[+1 internet for naming the composer this title is in reference to.]

Didya see that? I was posting regularly last week! Nearly-almost-daily! It was great!

It’s going to keep happening, I promise. However, I’ve just had two finals in two days and my brain has given up on almost anything but simple sentences and sleep. Of course, it’s not that easy–I’ve classes and more exams and papers and laundry and endless emails. I’ve promised myself that by midnight, my room is going to look like any parent’s gripe: boots at the door, backpack two steps later, and a trail of winter gear on the floor .

So, in lieu of my own organized thoughts, here’s some organized thoughts from other people.

It’s hard to realize your heroes are less than heroic. Andrew guests posts on Daylight Atheism.

Pervocracy has a sex menu. I have a case of the giggles.

There was a ridiculous piece on FOX about the “War on Men”.

As the author of three books on the American family and its intersection with pop culture, I’ve spent thirteen years examining social agendas as they pertain to sex, parenting, and gender roles. During this time, I’ve spoken with hundreds, if not thousands, of men and women. And in doing so, I’ve accidentally stumbled upon a subculture of men who’ve told me, in no uncertain terms, that they’re never getting married. When I ask them why, the answer is always the same.

Women aren’t women anymore.

It only gets worse. The solution, dear women, is to stop ruining stuff with our careers, and to “surrender to our femininity”. I swear I am not making that up. Melissa McEwan of Shakesville responds with her usual inimitable style.

As someone who has authored zero books on the American family and its intersection with pop culture, but has definitely talked to some number of humans in my life, maybe dozens or possibly millions, I have also accidentally stumbled upon a subculture of men who don’t want to get married. And WOMEN who don’t want to get married! I call them—wait for it!—People Who Don’t Want to Get Married for a Variety of Reasons. Because I’m a fucking genius.

The treatment of rape victims at Northwestern. Original Daily Northwestern article here.

Jessica Valenti writes about the intersection of likeability and activism.

Yes, the more successful you are—or the stronger, the more opinionated—the less you will be generally liked. All of a sudden people will think you’re too “braggy,” too loud, too something. But the trade off is undoubtedly worth it. Power and authenticity are worth it.

And in a world where women are told to be anxious about everything—that we can’t “have it all” but will forever be searching for it—saying that ambition and success are actually pretty great can be a radical message.

Better blogging back later!

Link, Plank, Plunk

Your Waffle Fries

[Content note: aggravated homophobia]

You might remember when Chick-Fil-A was in the news a few months back. WinShape, the ‘charitable’ arm of the corporation had been donating to anti-LGBT groups for a while, but Dan Cathy, CEO, had just reaffirmed his inability to understand the meaning of charitable in a few paragraphs of biblical-family-and-tradition nonsense.

You might also remember it from the way your facebook lit up with people FREEZEPEACHing like it was going out of style. (Extra discount available if you add in claims of hypocrisy and constitutional ignorance!) It wasn’t okay to boycott CFA! Cathy was just expressing his opinion! You can’t change your behavior based on what people say! It’s FREE SPEECH and I/we/’Murica have to support it!

Overlying this constitutional illiteracy (tl;dr: Anyone can have their opinion; it’s also totally fine to say it’s a horrible hateful opinion and you don’t get my money if you hold it.) was some sort of belief that it wasn’t that bad. I mean, it’s really hard to find a chicken sandwich, and those waffle fries! To die for, amirite? Besides, who cares where a little money goes–so many corporations are unethical, and you can’t expect me to avoid all of them!

I would hope that when I tell you that Uganda is about to pass their ‘Kill the Gays’ bill as a vile ‘Christmas present’ for the population, you are repulsed. Enraged. I would like to think that you consider the death penalty for so-called Aggravated Homosexuality–being gay and a parent or HIV positive included in this definition–to be immoral and unacceptable.

But if you’ve been arguing for treating CFA as any other restaurant you can’t say you didn’t help it happen. You can’t say that you know that a few cents of your delicious vanilla milkshake didn’t go to a campaign that would make it okay to murder someone for their sexuality. You cannot say you didn’t know. You can’t say it was an accident–WinShape is well aware where their money goes. And one of those places is the Family Research Council which has spoken in support of the Ugandan bill.

So…what if there’s other horrible businesses? I know there are. I know that they will have business practices that appall me. When I find out about them, I will avoid them too, most especially if they shamelessly brag about their commitment to stripping the rights of others. You get a fixed amount of choices in this world. When your chargrilled chicken sandwich with a side of waffle fries (only $4.95!) is worth more than the right of people to just live, you’ve lost me.

Your Waffle Fries

Dark Knight Massacre: Weird Facts UPDATE

The theatre where the shooting took place is only something like 12 miles from Littleton, where the Columbine shooting took place.

From ABC news:

A San Diego woman who identified herself as James Holmes’ mother told ABC News she had awoken unaware of the shooting and had not yet been contacted by authorities. She immediately expressed concern that her son may have been involved.

“You have the right person,” she said, apparently speaking on gut instinct. “I need to call the police… I need to fly out to Colorado.”

I don’t know what to make of that, but I am sure we will hear more. Rare to have the first quote not be something like he was quiet and a nice guy. Rarer still for the negative quote to come from mom. Wonder what she knew.

Eerie page from comic in Dark Knight Returns portraying a shooting at a theatre


UPDATE: People think that the shooter knew the movie because he waited to start shooting until a particular scene.  It seems more likely to me that he simply waited for a big action scene, knowing that there would be one.

UPDATE2: Suspect’s mother’s name is Arlene.

UPDATE3: Suspect was driving a car with Tennessee plates, so probably was not from Denver and hadn’t been living there for a long time.  Mother was in San Diego.  He was from everywhere.

UPDATE4: Shooter’s birthday December 13, 1987

UPDATE5: “I have heard he was possibly wearing some sort of Batman costume,” police spokesman Frank Fania told NBC’s Today.”


UPDATE7: One of the victims had just been through and survived the Toronto Eaton Centre shootings a month ago.

I was shown how fragile life was on Saturday. I saw the terror on bystanders’ faces. I saw the victims of a senseless crime. I saw lives change. I was reminded that we don’t know when or where our time on Earth will end. When or where we will breathe our last breath. For one man, it was in the middle of a busy food court on a Saturday evening.

I say all the time that every moment we have to live our life is a blessing. So often I have found myself taking it for granted. Every hug from a family member. Every laugh we share with friends. Even the times of solitude are all blessings. Every second of every day is a gift. After Saturday evening, I know I truly understand how blessed I am for each second I am given.

Dark Knight Massacre: Weird Facts UPDATE