Thursday, November 29, 2012

I've Moved.

Hello fellow surfer of the internet!  If you have found this blog in error then I apologize that the search logarithm didn't work very well for you. Good luck finding what you were really looking for.  On the off chance that you actually meant to arrive at this specific destination, then you need to know that I am trying out a different platform for my blog:  new blog platform.  Or, you can just type into your browser and that should work, too.

Thanks for stopping by.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Salman Rushdie and gay marriage walk into a blog . . .

When a thing happened that had not happened before, a confusion often descended upon people, a fog that fuddled the clearest minds; and often the consequence of such confusion was rejection, and even anger.  A fish crawled out of a swamp onto dry land and the other fish were bewildered, perhaps even annoyed that a forbidden frontier had been crossed.  A meteorite struck the earth and the dust blocked out the sun but the dinosaurs went on fighting and eating, not understanding that they had been rendered extinct.  The birth of language angered the dumb.  The shah of Persia, facing the Ottoman guns, refused to accept the end of the age of the sword and sent his cavalry to gallop suicidally against the blazing cannons of the Turk.  A scientist observed tortoises and mockingbirds and wrote about random mutation and natural selection and the adherents of the Book of Genesis cursed his name.  A revolution in painting was derided and dismissed as mere impressionism.  A folksinger plugged his guitar into an amp and a voice in the crowd shouted “Judas!”
                             - Joseph Anton, A Memoir (p. 343), by Salman Rushdie

So writes a man who spent more than ten years in hiding in fear for his life because someone in Iran didn’t like a book he wrote.  He should know.  

For those of us who remember 1989 quite clearly (it was the year I graduated from college, moved into an apartment, got a job and started paying rent), the issuance of a fatwa by the Ayatollah Khomeini decreeing that Rushdie's novel The Satanic Verses was "blasphemous against Islam" and, therefore, that Rushdie should die, was a startling lesson in just how small the modern world has become.  That illegitimate and oppressive governments in China, the former Soviet Union and numerous banana republics banned or censored books and jailed their own citizens for perceived cultural, artistic and political infractions was well known, but that a religious leader in one country might seek to impose an extraterritorial death sentence on a citizen of another country (and offer a bounty to anyone willing to carry it out) was something altogether different.  And all over a novel.  It was so .  . . so . . . harsh.  

And un-American. [1]

The fatwa issued against Rushdie, of course, is not the only child born of the fecund ancestral parents of ignorance and fear.  There is a long lineage to be traced, with the same cracked teeth and crooked smiles recognizable across cultures and generations.  We all know the family.  The paperwork goes back in this country at least to Salem in the 1690s.  The more recent branches of the family have included notable figures such as George Wallace and Joseph McCarthy, Anita Bryant and Phyllis Schlafly, and of course, the present-day heirs Jan Brewer, Fred Phelps, Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Rick Santorum and the "rapey" twins -- Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock -- to mention just a few.

The family business, it seems, is one of prescriptive (and proscriptive) line-drawing.  They like to get out their cans of moral paint and draw thick lines around society, telling everyone just where the line is, why they are the ones to draw it, and why it most certainly cannot be drawn in any other place.

Indeed, the self-appointed moral line drawers have always wanted to hold the line right where it is, convinced that, though we have moved the line in the past, it is finally in the right place and need not be moved any further.  Yes, we moved it to end slavery and we moved it to give women the vote and we moved it to permit interracial marriage and we moved it to eliminate Jim Crow and segregation and we moved it to allow women to have equal access to athletics and we moved it to provide access to birth control and legalize abortion and we moved it to allow gays in the military, but NOW, NOW I PROMISE YOU it is really in the right place.  Really and truly we have it right this time.  We have drawn the line right where it should be and to even think about moving it further is to consider the end of Western Civilization As We Know It.  Move the line?  Might as well just drop nuclear bombs on ourselves.  Same result.

One senses and suspects that the puritanical line painters are just plum tired of painting over the old lines and moving 10 yards down the road to paint a new one only to repeat the process over and over again.  "Is there no one we can marginalize and discriminate against through legislation?  Are we never to have something or someone to fear and demonize  -- our very own Rushdie -- ever again?"

Ah, but there is.  Rest assured, my line-drawing friends, your quarry has not escaped.

[Enter gay marriage, stage left.] 

Yes, gay marriage is the answer to a weary moral line drawer's prayers.  Because clearly this time the fucking line (or the line regarding fucking) simply cannot be moved.  As with most fervent line drawing, the line drawers are certain of the accuracy of this line's location based on at least two unassailable principles: (a) my religion says so, and (b) I am uncomfortable with gayness in any amount.   But assail I shall, because neither of these rationales can survive even modest scrutiny. 

Although marriage may have religious meaning for many, or even dual meaning (secular and religious), the reality is that the piece of paper you received when you got married was issued by the state.  By your government.  Not by your church.  (Go look.  I'll wait.)  That's right, Virginia, what you really got when you got married was special legal status in the eyes of your government.  True, your state and federal governments have chosen to include religious marriages among the types of marriage that they will recognize -- and religious marriages may even be the most popular type of marriage -- but that is different than marriage being the exclusive provenance of the church or solely a religious construct.  

Take me, for example.  I'm married and went nowhere near a church or religious official during my wedding.  I said "I do" in the beautiful Minnesota History Center in a ceremony officiated by a family friend who happened to be a judge.  And as Hollywood likes to remind us, thousands of us drop-by city hall for a quickie wedding with a justice of the peace or take advantage of the $40 drive-thru wedding at the world-famous A Little White Wedding Chapel in Las Vegas.  (Hello?  Was I the only one who paid attention to The Hangover?)  So clearly, marriage is not only a religious institution and indeed it can be a completely non-religious event and occasion. While you can choose to have a religious wedding, you can mostly certainly choose not to have a religious wedding and still be just as married.  

But the best part of all for those with religious objections to gay marriage is this: when state and federal governments uniformly recognize gay marriage (and I say "when" because that day most certainly will come), absolutely nothing will change for the proponents of religious marriage and/or opponents of gay marriage.  Zippo.  Nada.  Zilch.  Any marriage that you already have will not suddenly become gay.  If you are not married, you will not be forced to get a gay marriage.  You will not even be forced to attend one.  Your church, synagogue, temple or mosque will not be required to perform them AND you can continue hating and fearing homosexuals and their unions as much as you want.  Truly.  (One of the best things about us lefties is that we still look out for you on the right, even though you don't do the same for us.)  

As for the second rationale ("I can't handle the gay"), this is admittedly a harder nut to crack, so to speak.  First, this is less often an overtly stated rationale for opposition, though a few brave warriors have been willing to stake out explicitly anti-homosexual territory.  (See, e.g., Michelle and Marcus Bachmann, Pat RobertsonJerry Falwell and  Fred Phelps.)  Still, for many this is an unsurfaced but real influence on their view of gay marriage.  Not only are they uncomfortable with gayness, they are even uncomfortable acknowledging or admitting that they are uncomfortable.

But democracy, if you truly believe in it and support it, does not guarantee your comfort.  (Indeed, don't we have a presidential candidate running an entire campaign against "the takers?"  Those nasty, greedy, lazy people who want outrageous comforts like health care if they are sick and food if they are hungry and shelter if they are homeless.  You know the kind of people we're talking about.   People like war veterans, the elderly, the disabled, students and other scum.)

Democracy does not guarantee, much less require, that you like your fellow citizens or agree with the way they live their lives or the choices they make so that you will be more comfortable.  In fact, as we are reminded in painful detail during an election year, there is a lot we don't like about each other already.  For example, I would be more comfortable in a world without Jay Leno, Playboy Magazine and the music of Lady Antebellum.  I also don't like guns, Nascar and any beer with the words "Miller" Bud" or "Lite" on the label.  So you wanna know what I do?  I don't watch Leno, don't buy Playboy and most certainly don't listen to Lady Antebellum.  I also don't own a gun, don't watch Nascar and refuse to let watery beer cross my lips.  I exercise my right to curate my own life.  To include things that matter and avoid things that irritate (though admittedly as long as other people insist on driving on my roads the latter goal will be unachievable.)

And that's the thing about gay marriage or any marriage.  No matter how much you try to make it about you (and there is a long tradition of bridesmaids wanting to upstage the bride, I'll remind you), it really isn't about you unless it's your wedding.  It doesn't require you to take any action or endorse anyone else's decision.  Marriage, when you really think about it, is just a legal status.  It is a way of raising your hands, waiving them at the state and saying, "hey, we want to be a family, o.k?"  And the state says, "o.k.  If you guys want to be a family then we will require that you be responsible for each other and take care of each other.  And for that, we will extend to you a certain legal status in matters of property rights, insurance, health care, and taxes, among other things."  It's really that simple.  Gay marriage is about your chosen family, just as any other marriage is.

"Ah, but the children," you say.  "We don't really have anything against lesbians and gays per se, but the children, you see.  We need to think about the children.  Marriage is about children."

Yes, yes.  People love to invoke the children, apparently under the mistaken belief that saying the word "children" is like kryptonite to the forces of logic, fairness and common sense.  But I call bullshit on that argument.  Marriage is not about children.   How can I say that?  Hmmm, let's see:

(1) you aren't required to have children if you are married;
(2) your marriage doesn't become null and void if you do not have children;
(3) you can have children without being married;
(4) you can have children with more than one other person;
(5) you can adopt a child if you are not married; and
(6) we do absolutely nothing to qualify people for raising children.

That's how I know.  You can be an asshole and have kids or get drunk and get yourself or someone else pregnant.  We really care very, very little about how children happen.  Just so long as there is no gay sex in the house, though, then everything should work out just fine.

Sounds like a fine bit of confusion and discomfort and tuckered-out line painters to me.  So again, I find Rushdie's experience and wisdom informative:
At the heart of the dispute over The Satanic Verses, . . . behind all the accusations and abuse, was a question of profound importance: Who shall have control over the story?  Who has, who should have, the power not only to tell the stories with which, and within which, we all lived, but also to say in what manner those stories may be told?  For everyone lived by and inside stories, the so-called grand narratives.  The nation was a story, and the family was another, and religion was a third.  As a creative artist he knew that the only answer to the question was: Everyone and anyone has, or should have that power.  We should all be free to take the grand narratives to task, to argue with them, satirize them, and insist that they change to reflect the changing times.  We should speak of them reverently, irreverently, passionately, caustically or however we chose.  That was our right as members of an open society.  In fact, one could say that our ability to re-tell and re-make the story of our culture was the best proof that our societies were indeed free.
(Joseph Anton, A Memoir, p. 360.)  

Rock on, gay storytellers.  Rock on.

  [1]  But of course, even the great liberty proclaiming American democracy has a seamy history of banning artistic expression in the hope of avoiding an awkward introduction to new ideas, too.  On a prominent list of 100 Best Novels of the 20th Century, 46 of them have been widely challenged or banned right here in the United States:  

1. The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald
2. The Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger
3. The Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck
4. To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
5. The Color Purple, by Alice Walker
6. Ulysses, by James Joyce
7. Beloved, by Toni Morrison
8. The Lord of the Flies, by William Golding
9. 1984, by George Orwell
11. Lolita, by Vladamir Nabokov
12. Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck
15. Catch-22, by Joseph Heller
16. Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley
17. Animal Farm, by George Orwell
18. The Sun Also Rises, by Ernest Hemingway
19. As I Lay Dying, by William Faulkner
20. A Farewell to Arms, by Ernest Hemingway
23. Their Eyes Were Watching God, by Zora Neale Hurston
24. Invisible Man, by Ralph Ellison
25. Song of Solomon, by Toni Morrison
26. Gone with the Wind, by Margaret Mitchell
27. Native Son, by Richard Wright
28. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, by Ken Kesey
29. Slaughterhouse-Five, by Kurt Vonnegut
30. For Whom the Bell Tolls, by Ernest Hemingway
33. The Call of the Wild, by Jack London
36. Go Tell it on the Mountain, by James Baldwin
38. All the King's Men, by Robert Penn Warren
40. The Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien
45. The Jungle, by Upton Sinclair
48. Lady Chatterley's Lover, by D.H. Lawrence
49. A Clockwork Orange, by Anthony Burgess
50. The Awakening, by Kate Chopin
53. In Cold Blood, by Truman Capote
55. The Satanic Verses, by Salman Rushdie
57. Sophie's Choice, by William Styron
64. Sons and Lovers, by D.H. Lawrence
66. Cat's Cradle, by Kurt Vonnegut
67. A Separate Peace, by John Knowles
73. Naked Lunch, by William S. Burroughs
74. Brideshead Revisited, by Evelyn Waugh
75. Women in Love, by D.H. Lawrence
80. The Naked and the Dead, by Norman Mailer
84. Tropic of Cancer, by Henry Miller
88. An American Tragedy, by Theodore Dreiser
97. Rabbit, Run, by John Updike]

Sunday, September 30, 2012


Last week saw the observance of the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.  The ten day period commencing on Rosh Hashanah and ending with Yom Kippur, is a time for making amends and seeking forgiveness for sins committed over the past year; for reconciliation with those you have wronged.  It is a time to look inward, acknowledge flaws and shortcomings and apologize for mistakes. 

In case you are wondering, I am not Jewish.  (Though there is the mysterious Preble family relative of unknown origins.  My great-grandmother on my father's side was raised in an orphanage.  She walked out at the age of 18 and eventually married a Preble, but had no knowledge of her parents or ancestry.  Granny (my dad's name for her) had dark hair and, so I'm told, a vaguely eastern-European look about her.  This has fostered some speculation that she may have been Jewish.)  I don't identify with any particular religion, or even with religion. But I readily acknowledge that there are many religious traditions, customs, and practices that are insightful means to personal growth.  Contemplating one's failures and shortcomings, for example, is likely to be worthwhile whether or not you believe it is necessary to clear your name in God's book.

Given that I am on a first-name basis with most of the seven deadly sins, and I can think of at least two or three things I've done wrong over the past year, it seemed a little atonement couldn't hurt.  So this year, I'm invoking Granny's heritage and trying on a little Yom Kippur for size. 


I swear at you.  Sometimes.  By you, I mean the general population, which is bound to include plenty of people that I know and to whom I would otherwise make great effort to be cordial, and maybe even downright polite and friendly.  But if you are on the highway in front of me driving at an insufficient rate of speed (meaning a rate of speed that does not comport with the rate of speed I am going or would like to go), I am likely to mutter and curse and swear in your direction.  I will not gesture with my fingers or give you the stink eye or seek to drive my car into the backseat of yours, but I will swear and mutter, mutter and swear (let's just call it swuttering) until my efforts at circumventing your infernal indifference to my plight are complete.  I'm not proud.  I can admit that this is not admirable behavior.  That is why I am here in the confessional, after all.  But really, it would help me a great deal if you could just step it up a bit.

My daughters like to point out that the people I am swuttering at can't hear me.  I like to point out that it is not important that they hear me, but rather that I have an outlet for my frustration that does not run afoul of the law.  They like to point out that my behavior is stupid.  I like to point out that I am in charge here, and that someday when they are driving their own car that they paid for with their own money  they can choose not to swutter at their fellow citizens all they want.

Sloth:  To be totally honest, I have a hard time feeling bad about this one.  I mean, who really ever wants to get out of bed in the morning anyway?  Is that a natural thing for people -- a desire to remove yourself from a comfortable prone position and then further remove extremely comfortable pajamas in exchange for less comfortable attire and a rigid desk and chair?  I think not.  The natural state clearly points towards lingering and lounging and lollygagging and lots of other lovely "l" words (such as luxuriating or lazing-around-until-you-feel-like-getting-up) that allow for a kinder, gentler, slower approach to the day.  I have always maintained that the formal work day really shouldn't start before noon.  That would allow for some flopping around in bed until the force beckoned you upright, followed by some leisurely coffee drinking and paper-based news consumption about just how your fellow inhabitants of Earth managed to further screw things up while you were sleeping, followed by perhaps a nice jog or stroll around a lake during warmer daylight hours, followed by a shower, followed by settling in for some diligent scanning of the internets.  Only then, if you felt so compelled, might you transfer yourself to a large structure of concrete and steel for some quality time with Microsoft Word and PowerPoint and the relentless tide of email.  I realize I am out of step with the overwhelming force of what we call civilization.  So I hereby beg your forgiveness for my instantly detectable lack of enthusiasm for your 7:30 a.m. meetings.

I post political squibs on Facebook. Um, I am so busted on this one.  I admit that I enjoy a good debate, especially one about the big issues of our times.  I find a well reasoned argument a thing of beauty.  I like the marshalling of evidence, the recitation of fact and scientific study, the inference of the future curve of a graph based on the trajectory of the past.  What's more, I want to flush out and understand the foundations and logic of the arguments on the other side.  On more than one occasion I have encountered an articulation of position or an unknown scrap of data that has caused me to pause and reflect on my own point of view.  Of course, Facebook is often a poor forum for these discussions.  It lends itself to shrill discourse and hit-and-run name calling.  Yet I am not convinced that less dialogue is the right response.  Avoidance of politics and religion in the name of politeness seems to me to be passive support for the status quo for fear of being uncomfortable.  We need to surface more logic, more facts, more reasoning, not less.  We need to get better at talking with each other about the biggest issues of our generation, not avoid them.  So, in this instance I am pledging not to cease my offensive behavior, but to endeavor to reform it, and to seek your prospective forgiveness for what is yet to come that will inevitably piss somebody off. 

Vanity: O.k.  Here's a big one.  It's not so much that I've done something as that I have harbored impure thoughts.  The thoughts go something like this:  how bad would it be if I got an eye lift?  For what I hope are obvious reasons, I am intellectually opposed to elective plastic surgery.  Our society is way out of whack when it comes to standards of beauty and expectations of female appearance.  Barbie is all kinds of wrong.  I just don't trust anyone who doesn't have a single wrinkle or gray hair after 53 years.  And yet, I've noticed lately that my eyebrows are migrating steadily downward and seem determined to come to rest directly on my eyelids.  The sag and droop are real and alarming.  While I have already admitted to being lazy and enjoying lounging around in my pajamas, I don't actually want to appear sleepy and disinterested when I am not.  And then there's the countervailing set of facts that betray my intellectual opposition to engineered appearance: my hair color is periodically "enhanced" with "highlights" and my toenails certainly don't paint themselves (more on that below).  My legs and underarms are free of hair, and while I don't like or use a lot of makeup, I own it and apply it sparingly on a regular basis.  So it seems there is a line out there somewhere that demarcates the border between what I am, and what I am not, willing to do to augment my appearance.  I'm afraid that I will be tempted to keep sliding it outward, which is what brings me here.  I like my eyelids and I would hate to give them up.  Then again, a scalpel seems a long way from the beauty aisle at Target.  The good news here, I think, is that even if my intellectual opposition waivers, the practicalities of figuring out how one goes about even accomplishing an eye lift are likely to trip me up for at least another decade.

Bad Toenails:  As alluded to above, my toenails indeed do not paint themselves.  Which is what caused me to have a four week skid at work this summer during which my toenails -- in all of their unvarnished, unclipped, naturally yellow splendor -- displayed themselves for all to see.  Because, as we've established in a previous blog post, I have a favorite pair of shoes that I wear almost non-stop in the summer.  These sandals expose the entirety of the distal phalanges on my lower extremities (i.e., all of my toes).  This was very unfortunate for all of us.  Because I am lacking whatever skills are involved with ensuring that the nail polish applied to a toenail stays only on the toenail and does not stray onto the surrounding tissue (note: this skill is mostly likely known as "patience"), I have resorted to the complete outsourcing of toenail maintenance.  During the month of August I was certain that the very next day would be the day that I would find time for a pedicure.  Alas, it just didn't happen.  There is really nothing left to say at this point except, I'm truly and deeply sorry.  I will do my very best to ensure that it never happens again.

I don't love chocolate.  This one may be less of an outright sin than a grounds for being kicked out of the women's club.  It's almost like admitting that you don't care who is in the oval office.  It doesn't violate any statute or religious creed, but it is alarmingly irresponsible and borderline anarchistic nonetheless.  You start out nonchalantly not caring much about chocolate and the next thing you know the Communists are surrounding the Godiva factory and declaring it under state control.  But, the fact is that chocolate just doesn't turn my crank all that much.  Do I like it?  Sure.  I've had it plenty of times and it is perfectly fine.  Enjoyable even.  But I hear no Siren call nor do I find myself crashing upon its rocky shores unable to free myself from its spell.  When I am out at a nice restaurant and the time comes for ordering desert, for example, I almost always go for a fruit tart or something with warm apples and cinnamon and vanilla ice cream all drenched in made-from-scratch caramel sauce.  Get between me and a piece of strawberry-rhubarb pie in the summer and it will be you who is apologizing and atoning right quick.  But chocolate? Meh.  So what I'm asking for here is not so much forgiveness as acceptance and the withholding of judgment when you notice that I am eating the pie directly out of the pie pan with my fork.   

Gluttony:   There is a restaurant in Minneapolis called, appropriately enough, Hell's Kitchen.  Without any irony whatsoever I can tell you that this is one of my favorite places for lunch.  I can further tell you that every time I go there -- EVERY TIME -- I order the Walleye BLT with sweet potato fries.  And I eat it.  It is ridiculously satisfying.  First, it has bacon.  Second, it has bacon.  Third, the badness of the bacon is canceled out by the goodness of the fish.  (I told myself this once and I believed it.)  Fourth, it is on sourdough bread.  Fifth, you can get it with sweet potato fries.  I'm sorry to expose you to all of these sordid details, but they say admitting you have a problem is the first step toward recovery.  Well, I don't have any problem at all, actually.  So long as I can keep eating this sandwich and then apologizing for it later, things will work out just fine.


That's seven and it seems like a pretty good start.  It turns out it wasn't even that hard.  Maybe the theory on Granny is correct.  I mean, that was really pretty easy.  I think I'm just naturally good at critical self-analysis and admitting that there are a few little areas in which I could improve a bit.

You don't suppose that it's meant to go deeper than that, do you?  Huh . . .

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Dinotopia, or How I Spent My Summer Vacation

It is human nature to look for patterns and to assign them meaning when we find them. . . . 

Researchers concluded that "people have a very poor conception of randomness; they do not recognize it when they see it and they cannot produce it when they try," and what's worse, we routinely misjudge the role of chance in our lives and make decisions that are demonstrably misaligned with our own best interests. 

So explains Leonard Mlodinow in the chapter titled "Illusions of Patterns and Patterns of Illusion," in his book, The Drunkard's Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives (p. 174).

While I'm sure that's true, it is also true that my summer has been all about dinosaurs.  Truly.  I mean, there is no way the proliferation of dinosaurs is just completely random or the result of pattern seeking on my part so that I might concoct a semi-coherent blog post across several different topics.  There is just too much dino going on to chalk it up to chance or manipulation.  Here, let me show you what I'm talking about:

1.  Minne, the Lake Monster

According to Google Maps, I live just 3.7 miles from downtown Minneapolis.  If you had a jet pack on your back and were able to blast yourself straight up into the sky directly above my house -- well, first off I would think you were pretty cool if you could actually do that, but then, assuming that you safely returned to the ground without incinerating my house down to the studs in a conflagration caused by the searing contrail of your afterburners, I would inquire as to where you got the aforesaid jet pack and what on earth possessed you to try it out directly above my house -- you would see Target Field and the Walker Art Center backed by the Minneapolis skyline all just on the other side of a small forest, right down the road from my house.  While such proximity to an urban core might conjure images of  skyscrapers and neon signs, blaring horns and pavement, it does not ordinarily evoke images such as these:

And yet, every morning on my way to work, and every evening on my way home from work, I drive by Minne, the lake monster.  Minne is an initiative of the Minneapolis Parks Foundation and this year she is hangin' in the lake that sits between my house and the metropolis next door.  Having initially gasped and squealed with delight upon spying Minne for the first time in early June, my love of her has not faded.  I have not tired of her daily and steadfast presence.  To the contrary, we've got a sort of telepathic fist bump thing going every time I pass by.  True, this may exist only in my mind, but Minne knows I'm down with her.  She sees my subtle, up-tilted chin salutes and I see her wink at me when no one is looking.  Sometimes, absorbed in thought about what the work day holds in store or what it has already dished out, I'll glimpse a strange silhouette in my peripheral vision and turn in anxious surprise, only to find that cheeky little dinosaur sneaking up on me.  She never fails to summon a smile.

It's all still fresh and new and rosy with Minne and me even late into August.  I wish she would stay in my little neighborhood lake forever.  But such is not our fate.  She's bound to roam and circulate amongst the citizenry within the jurisdiction of the Minneapolis Parks Foundation and perform her dino duties.  In a month or so, she'll be gone.  Back to the road life and peripatetic existence of a public works dinosaur.  On to other people and other neighborhoods.  Other lakes.  Sure, I can follow her on Facebook ("Lake Creature") or on Twitter (@lakecreature), but it won't ever be quite the same.  Perhaps, if I stay put long enough, Minne will  rotate back around again to Wirth Lake, but who knows when that will be and whether we'll survive the long-distance challenges to our relationship. The end of summer always breaks my heart  just a little, but this year, well, it feels like my heart might just go extinct at the end of September. 

2.  Ty Ragnarsaurus Rex

Perhaps you are heartless and unmoved by daily dino love.  Driving past the same beguiling dinosaur to and from work all summer doesn't impress you.  "Show me the dinosaurs," you say.  "One little lake creature does not a summer of extinct reptiles make."  Fine.  That's not all the dino I have.  

You may recall that last February I mentioned in this very blog space about how I wanted to run the Ragnar Great River Relay in August.  I was hoping that 11 people that I already knew would appear before me with two vans already procured and request -- nay, beg -- that I join their team and thereby render them complete.  When mid-June rolled around, however, and I found myself still sitting in a folding chair on the edge of the dance floor with the first notes of Stairway to Heaven signaling the end of the sock hop, I realized it was time to get my Sadie Hawkins on.  So, I created an account and profile on the Ragnar website and clicked the link labeled "Runner Looking for Team."  And then I spritzed on the charm.  I posted on the Facebook page and responded to teams looking to fill an empty or abandoned spot, only to find that I wasn't fast enough on the draw.  Or maybe my hair wasn't quite right.  It's hard to know.  But then, I got an inquiry, which produced an invitation and culminated in a spot on a team.  A real, live, honest to goodness Ragnar Relay team -- just one that happened to be composed entirely of people I had never met and knew nothing about.  No matter.  When you are looking to get out on the dance floor and kick up your heels, any partner will do.

So, I got my slot (runner #8) and conversed with our team captain by email.  But, as I knew would be the case, my faith in the Ragnar Nation was fully justified.  Because you can deduce two things, at least, from the existence and success of the Ragnar Relay series and its participants: (1) anyone who self selects to pay money for the privilege of foregoing sleep and running around through cornfields in the middle of the night while hopping in and out of a van full of stinky people is just a little bit off, but (2) they are off in the best, all-embracing, experience-loving, would-you-mind-passing-me-the-potato-chips-and-the-Advil kind of way.

And the team I hooked-up with? Team Ty Ragnarsaurus Rex.  That's right.  A bunch of dino-loving Ragnarians.

When I pulled-up in the van on the morning of day one, I got to meet five people I had never seen or spoken to before, but whose names I had seen on our team list --Adam, Pete, Christina, Jordan and Jason -- and then drive all of us two hours south to rural Wisconsin.  Apparently, even quirky Ragnarians need mother figures, and when you are (a) the person who rented the van, (b) the only parent in the group, and (c) the, ahem, senior member of the group (by a significant margin, I might add) you become the troop leader by default, order of the throne, and overwhelming force of nature.  So, the first few hours of my first Ragnar experience looked like this:

But then, after check-in, safety briefing, van embellishment and road trip bonding, it looked like this:

And so, van #2 (that's us with runners 7-12, while our comrade runners 1-6 occupied T-Rex van #1) was ready to hit the road.  My first leg began at Exchange 7, and was a hilly, five mile stint through the Wisconsin countryside.  Here I am still rested and sane and before any permanent damage had been done:

But of course, if you are Team Ty Ragnarsaurus Rex, there is a certain baseline expectation of dinosaur-ness which you are responsible to uphold.  Thankfully, my teammates had this covered:

But the best scenery of all was most often absent of dinosaur sightings altogether:

Of course, beautiful days and clean, well-organized vans have a way of slipping through your fingers while you're reaching for the communal tube of Ben Gay.  Before you realize it, you have nearly entombed yourselves in gear and assorted, running-related detritus and the wide open spaces present themselves as decidedly less wide open:

After enduring a sleepless night and knocking-out your second leg under the cover of darkness with a headlamp strapped around your increasingly foggy and fatigued noggin and a red blinky light clipped to your back so as not to become runner roadkill, you are rewarded with breathtaking early light and a Ragnar-style rest stop:

(Here I note that, though my teammates slept immediately and well during the 1 1/2 hours available for sleep from 8:00 to 9:30 a.m., as the designated alarm setter and texter with van #1, I did not, though it was lovely just to lie down and stretch out my increasingly dysfunctional legs in a place that was not the van.  And it did, too, get cold at night.  Shut up that it was August.)

So, then, it's on to the last set of legs in the relay, where van #2 brings it home and across the finish line, roughly 30 hours after van #1 started.  This is the point at which this whole endeavor reveals itself, rather startlingly, as actually a terrible idea gone very wrong.  The litany of ailments and complaints is long and justified.  You are tired, hungry, sore, stiff, smelly, cold, in need of coffee but afraid to drink it and, worst of all, your cell phone is dead and must wait in line with the other cell phones for charging time on the adapter plugged into the cigarette lighter in the dashboard.

But this is your Rocky moment.  This is where a shrewd teammate summons "Eye of the Tiger" and cranks the volume as you navigate your way through the now urban environment towards each successive leg.  For my part, I donned a dino hat (alas, there are no photos due to the aforementioned dead cell phone), ordered my legs to stand down from their mutiny and ran the most painful, unpleasant, non-scenic, frontage-road loaded three miles of my life -- only to hit the relay shoot for the slap-bracelet hand-off and discover that my team was not there.  In their groggy delirium, they had gotten confused as to which exchange I would end at and had mistakenly driven ahead to the next exchange.  The one I was not at.

'Team 246!  Team 246!!  246!!  2-4-6!!!" the race staffers and I called out in desperation, but to no avail.

Fifty minutes later, they retrieved me with abundant apologies.

But no worries.  I was done and I had done it.  I ran my legs and my legs ran me through 5.2 miles of country hills, then 9.4 miles of starry-nighted wonder from 1:20 to 2:41 a.m. and finally, 3.1 miles of complete crap.  17.7 miles in all and I wouldn't throw any of them back.

So, as each of us summoned our inner dinosaur and busted out our last legs, we inched closer and closer to the finish line at East River Flats, where our fans were waiting to greet us:

So thank you, Ragnar Nation, for your hospitality.  I will most definitely be back next year with as much dino as I can stuff into a minivan.

3.  A Terrible Lizard

Perhaps even two significant yet radically different dinosaur encounters are not enough to convince you that dinosaurs were all over my summer and, therefore, trying to tell me something.  O.k.  I see your skepticism and raise you Representative Todd Akin (R - MO).,126,2750,1749/Todd-Akin-Republican-candidate.jpg

Talk about a dinosaur.  This is no Minne or Ty Ragnarsaurus Rex, folks.  This one is the real deal.  Mr. Akin clearly crawled straight out of the primordial muck and sludge of the Jurassic era (skipping all of the glorious, intervening evolution during the Cretaceous and Paleogene periods) when he opined recently that in cases of "legitimate rape" women will not become pregnant because the "female body has ways to try to shut the whole thing down."

Here, it seems appropriate to turn to the alternative, less utilized meaning of "dinotopia."  Rather than a magical, utopian world where dinosaurs and people coexist in Disney-esque harmony, the greek word dinotopia means "terrible place" or "land of suffering."  This is most certainly the place that Mr. Akin comes from and into which he would have all of us go if his worldview were to prevail.  Although it is easy to shriek and holler about "legitimate rape" and abortion and whether an elderly white man has uncovered previously unknown biological superpowers that repel only and especially rape sperm, that is all a sideshow.  No matter how you feel about rape and sexuality and abortion, you cannot get to the policy position that Mr. Akin has adopted -- that of claiming expertise on the subject of rape, pregnancy and abortion -- unless you believe that male judgment and experience is categorically superior to female judgment and experience and that women's bodies are not fully theirs to manage.  After all, Mr. Akin will never be subject to the risk of pregnancy by rape.  He is not advocating for his personal, biological interests. He's just offering us his wise and informed expertise in these matters, which should, of course, be adopted as national law and applied to those who are at risk of pregnancy by rape.

So let's compare our resumes, Mr. Akin's and mine, and see where all that expertise comes from:

Robin Preble

*Born female.
*Direct, managerial and supervisory experience with female anatomy, including menstruation, sexual activity and use of birth control.
* Successfully oversaw Pregnancy Project #1 (1999-2000) resulting in birth of a daughter after 21 hours of labor, followed by extended lactation, infant care and associated permanent and irrevocable remodeling of maternal body.
* Successfully oversaw Pregnancy Project #2 (2002-2003) resulting in birth of second daughter after 11 hours of labor, followed by extended lactation (including in a certain court house in Oakland, California and on the New Jersey turnpike), infant care, and further permanent and irrevocable remodeling of the maternal body.
* Regular procurement of annual gynecological exams including pap smears from accredited medical providers trained in obstetrics and gynecology who provide extensive information and guidance in the area of female health.
* Nearly 30 years experience managing fear of rape and executing rape avoidance measures.

Todd Akin

* Born male.
* Elected to Congress.
* Knows some women.
* Spoke to some doctors about rape.
* Goes to church.

Hmm.  I don't like to bash other people's credentials and training.  I mean, we're all students of life in one way or another, but, um, doesn't his resume seem a little thin to you?  Admittedly, he does have me on the male thing and the Congress thing and the going to church thing, but I guess I'm just not seeing the uterine management experience I was expecting or that I think the position of Uterus Tzar really requires.

In fact, now that I think about it, when I look around at who does have that experience and core competencies, well . . . if I were inclined to handpick a bunch of facts from which to deduce patterns and manifestations of divine intent as support for my fragile worldview, well, it kind of seems to me that if God had intended men to be in charge of a uterus, he would have given them one, right?  I mean, just looking at the plain fact that women have them and men don't, it seems pretty clear that God was sending a message here, you know, the way we know that God is against homosexuality because he created Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.  So, it just seems to me that God has spoken here and given a uterus to, you know, the ones he can really trust with that level of responsibility.

But don't fret, Mr. Akin.  God never gives us more than we can handle, right?  So I'm sure if you pray a lot and be extra, extra good, God might let you have a uterus of your own when you get to heaven.  It's just your burden to bear while on earth that God didn't see fit to give you one.  I'm sure you'll find a way through your grief.

Then again,  I like to consider all sides of an issue, and I hear your concern about not wanting to take any chances.  I mean, God is great and all that, but to your point maybe he needs our help with uterine oversight and baby making.  Never mind about that thing with Mary where he seemed to have it down pretty good.  That was a long time ago and even divine hardware is bound to flag every now and then.  So, if we want to be extra cautious, then we should do as you advocate and plant a government flag in every uterus and declare them state property.  We could regulate them through a central agency, sort of like national parks or endangered wetlands.

But the more I think about it, I'm concerned that doesn't go far enough to really accomplish our objectives.  I mean, if we're protecting babies for God then we need to address both sides of the equation, so to speak.  We can't have every Tom, Dick and Harry putting their dicks in the hairy holy land, as it were.  No.  That won't do.  I'm thinking sex licensing and accreditation combined with a fair and balanced program of castration is what we need here.

Young men wouldn't just automatically get to drive their penises all around town and into the nation's sacred uteri.  That's just too risky and not the responsible way to manage our precious national resources.  No.  We would need to have every young man who reaches sexual maturity come to a government office to be fitted with an anti-sex belt with 4G wireless monitoring capability.  Think of it as the next generation of Lindsay Lohan's ankle bracelet.  Those who successfully complete the mandatory 10-year waiting period without incident would be allowed to select a wife and could look forward to the removal of the sex belt on their wedding night.

Of course violators would need to meet with severe punishment.  Wanton dispersal of sperm and breaking and entering into a uterus without state approval would be severely frowned upon.  It seems to me, the only way to be certain that we are safeguarding future generations appropriately is to require castration of any offenders.  I mean, we just can't be allowing those kinds of bad genes to keep circulating when we're acting as proxies for God.

But you know, now that I step back and think about all this, as admirable and pure and beyond challenge as this program would certainly be, it seems to me it would require a lot of complex process and administrative oversight, not to mention significant capital investment.  (Those 4G sex belts won't be cheap even if we do source them from China.)  And if there is one thing as sacred, if not more sacred, than the legal status of women, their uteri and any nub of cells that might exist therein, it's the American dollar and the need to ensure that we preserve as many of them as possible for shopping sprees at the mall.

So, Mr. Akin, I hate to do this to you, but I think I'm with the big guy on this one.  It's just simpler that way and pretty hard to ignore the fact that God already decided who should get a uterus.  So, I guess what it comes down to is this: this uterus is mine and you can't have it.  God said so.


So there you have it, my friend.  My summer of dinosaurs.  If that's not a pattern for you, I don't know what is.  As for what it means, I think that's pretty clear: the only place for dinosaurs in the modern world is for fun and games.  The real ones are properly left in the past.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Daniel and the Fear Factory

I've been thinking about fear lately.  It's kind of scary.

For one, it's an election year, which means that the fear factory is working overtime delivering gallons and gallons of fresh fear to the nation's doorsteps each day.   Thanks to your elected representatives (or those aspiring to be), it turns out there is a LOT to be afraid of all around you.  Just because you didn't see all those glowing, beady eyes when you looked out into the night doesn't mean they weren't there.  With a little help, you'll see that gay people want to get married, the government wants to ensure that every American has access to health care, and menacing environmental types want you to stop guzzling gasoline like lemonade on a hot day just because some stupid ice cap somewhere is fixin' to melt.

Fuck the ice caps if they can't take a joke, am I right?

On top of that, it's been conclusively proven that your President is an Islamic, socialist from Kenya AND Van Halen recently canceled the last 30 dates of their tour.  Talk about the signs of the apocalypse.

And even if you somehow managed to run that gauntlet of fear and emerge on the other side, you might find yourself shopping at Costco one day and encounter this:

Something big must be about to go down if they're hawking giant buckets with 203 food servings and a 20-year shelf life.  Fire and water filtration are also included.  I hear it's the "ultimate 4-person, 72-hour kit!" In fact, I bet it's "[m]ore than just food storage . . . it's delicious peace of mind."  So, when those healthy, married, gay fuckers come and storm Shreveport on the icebergs they rode down from the North Pole (and up the Red River -- it could happen), you'll be able to wait them out until VH gets the tour back together and you can show everybody that guys with big hair and tight pants are what America's really all about.

(And I'm no dude, but I thought you were supposed to pick a side -- left or right.  Looks like Eddie's slicing that python right down the middle.)


Since we have so many fears, it's helpful to index and categorize them.  Give them long names and Greek origins: phobias.  There's even a website called where you can find them all, though personally I like better because it's searchable and they have a fun button labeled, "Get another random fear!"

We deem some fears rational and some irrational, though I maintain that fear of snakes is just being smart.

Here's a couple for you: fear of laughter is called geliophobia and fear of bad comedy routines is called Tosh.ophobia.  Which brings me, ever so deftly, up to the topic that I have been inching steadily towards since the beginning.  Yes.  I'm going to go there.  The Daniel Tosh rape "joke" melee.

If you don't know about the Daniel Tosh rape "joke" debacle, then that just means that you are a stable and intelligent human being who has better things to do than waste time watching the virtual bullets and daggers fly on Twitter.  Luckily for you, I, apparently, don't meet those criteria and I happen to like a good Twitter kerfuffle, so I'll catch you up on the plot before we proceed any further.

First, there's a comedian named Daniel Tosh.  He has a television show called Tosh.O.  That's not really all that important, except that most people who might decide to go to a comedy club would probably have heard of Mr. Tosh.  In this story, a real person and her friend did decide to go to a comedy club (The Laugh Factory in L.A.) and Mr. Tosh was on the bill, though they had no idea who he was or what to expect from him.  I'll let our comedy patron take-up the story from here in her own words from her blog:

So Tosh then starts making some very generalizing, declarative statements about rape jokes always being funny, how can a rape joke not be funny, rape is hilarious, etc. I don’t know why he was so repetitive about it but I felt provoked because I, for one, DON’T find them funny and never have. So I didnt appreciate Daniel Tosh (or anyone!) telling me I should find them funny. So I yelled out, “Actually, rape jokes are never funny!”

I did it because, even though being “disruptive” is against my nature, I felt that sitting there and saying nothing, or leaving quietly, would have been against my values as a person and as a woman. I don’t sit there while someone tells me how I should feel about something as profound and damaging as rape. 

After I called out to him, Tosh paused for a moment. Then, he says, “Wouldn’t it be funny if that girl got raped by like, 5 guys right now? Like right now? What if a bunch of guys just raped her…” and I, completely stunned and finding it hard to process what was happening but knowing i needed to get out of there, immediately nudged my friend, who was also completely stunned, and we high-tailed it out of there. It was humiliating, of course, especially as the audience guffawed in response to Tosh, their eyes following us as we made our way out of there. I didn’t hear the rest of what he said about me.

And cue Twitter explosion.  Because after her Tumblr post went viral, it became controversial.  Huge names in comedy like Patton Oswalt and Louis C.K. came out in Mr. Tosh's defense.  Why?  Because a comedian's right to free speech is sacred and should never be challenged.   They must be allowed to make "jokes" about any subject.  Heckling, apparently, is a capital offense.  (I must have missed that in law school.)

The early quips and snarks then spawned deeper analysis of  "What is a rape joke anyway?"  and tutelage about "How to make a rape joke."  CNN even got into the game with a home page (for a few hours, anyway) opinion piece under the headline, "When rape jokes aren't funny."

Tosh eventually tweeted an apology as follows: "All the out of context misquotes aside, I'd like to sincerely apologize."  He then added, "The point i was making before I was heckled is there are awful things in the world but you can still make jokes about them. #deadbabies"

So the debate became about whether rape jokes are funny or whether rape is an appropriate topic for comedy. 

But here's the part that I don't get: why did everyone assume that what was said was best characterized as a "joke?"  If you ask me, the problem with the Tosh incident is that it wasn't a joke.  It was a threat.  Mr. Tosh wasn't joking about rape in an abstract or absurd way, he was on the edge of inciting an act against a specific woman present in the audience.  He "joked" that she should be raped.  Isn't that exactly like a thug with a gun "joking" that he's going to blow your head off?  Is the threat diminished because the threatener and his defenders label it a "joke"?  Don't we all recognize the archetypal bully who, when caught bullying, claims he was "only joking"?

1.  something said or done to provoke laughter or cause amusement, as a witticism, a short and amusing anecdote, or a prankish act: He tells very funny jokes.  She played a joke on him.
2.  something that is amusing or ridiculous, especially because of being ludicrously inadequate or a sham; a thing, situation, or person laughed at rather than taken seriously; farce: Their pretense of generosity is a joke.  An officer with no ability to command is a joke.
3.   a matter that need not be taken very seriously; trifling matter: The loss was no joke.
4.  something that does not present the expected challenge; something very easy: The test was a joke for the whole class.
1.  a declaration of an intention or determination to inflict punishment, injury, etc., in retaliation for, or conditionally upon, some action or course; menace: He confessed under the threat of imprisonment.
2.  an indication or warning of probable trouble: The threat of a storm was in the air.
3.  a person or thing that threatens.
I bet most women, even just reading the written account in the post (which, by the way, neither Tosh nor anyone else credibly contested), can imagine how that woman felt and why she left.  Because what she felt wasn't just the absence of humor or the offending of sensibilities.  It wasn't just a difference in politics or a lack of insight.  It wasn't even disappointment in the product her entertainment dollars had purchased.  What she felt was fear.  The man with a microphone on stage at the front of the room with everyone's attention and the power of celebrity stated that it would be "funny if that girl got raped, by like, 5 guys right now.  Like right now."

So, Tosh-defender-guys and apparently hugely ignorant stand-up comics, let's play a little game.  It's called Being Female.  There are lots of different ways to play this game, but the part of the game we're going to focus on here is called "not getting raped."  It goes like this.  Every time you park your car, you think about whether it is in a "safe" area.  Every time you walk alone to or from [anywhere] you think about whether you are in a visible area or whether you could get attacked.  When you travel for work or find yourself alone in your own home or go jogging on less traveled trails, you are vigilant against rapists.  You don't go to bars by yourself or walk home by yourself or basically ever have a day in your adult life when some thought of self-defense doesn't cross your mind.  You have likely taken self-defense classes and know how to hold your car keys between your fingers for maximum infliction of damage, how to slam the butt of you hand upwards into an attackers nose in order to break it and how to jam the heel of your shoes (even and especially high-heeled shoes) into the top of the arch of an attacker's foot in order to break that body part and escape.  Friends will forward you alerts about recent attacks in parking garages or other nearby areas and urban legends will persist about attackers hiding in the back seat of your car or in your closet or under your bed.  Home security companies will prey on your fear and indisputable vulnerability and run ads showing masked men breaking into your home in broad daylight.

And we're not done yet.  Guys will pull up in their cars next to you if you are driving alone and show you what they are hanging on to in their lap.

You will have friends who have been raped. 

You will have friends who have been groped and harassed.  And threatened.  Just this week, a female attorney whom I know very well received a call on her cell phone while at work at 10:00 a.m.   She answered it and encountered a strange male voice yelling and shouting at her to "stop calling" and repeatedly screaming that he would "rip her tits off" if she called him again.  To repeat, this happened just days ago, in a professional office building in downtown Minneapolis in the middle of regular business hours.   Perhaps the caller was "just joking," but fear is what she experienced.  Threatened was how she felt.  What should she do?  Get rid of her phone?  Call the police?  Was she safe leaving the office?  Did the man know her or was it a wrong number?  (The number registered as too many digits for a conventional phone number, so it seems it was deliberately cloaked and re-routed.)   Had she been specifically targeted somehow or was her number just randomly selected for this hilarious prank?  (And give some thought to the possibility that it was a wrong number and the threat was real, but some other woman was meant to receive it.)

And we're still not done yet.  Your boyfriend, brother, husband, father, and male co-workers and acquaintances will offer to walk you home or insist that you not leave the office, court house or restaurant by yourself.  Why?  Well, because, you're female and you could get attacked anywhere at anytime.  Indeed, the most fear-inducing piece of all is the oft-cited statistic that 1 in 5 women will be raped or sexually assaulted. 

When rape is everywhere, it's not at all clear that it won't find you at The Laugh Factory and follow you home.

To be sure, men incur threats of violence as well.  The risk of being mugged and robbed is not a phantom one, and yet, well, let's conduct a poll.  First, we'll clearly define our choices: 

(a) mugging/assault and battery: likely to involve getting punched and bloodied in the head and face, possibly involving a broken nose or teeth, as well as punching or kicking in the abdomen, including broken ribs; may also include getting kicked or kneed in the groin; numerous bruises and lacerations will result; may incur the pointing of a gun or knife at your body; finally, your wallet, watch and other valuables on your person will be forcibly removed and taken.

(b) rape:  likely to incur being beaten about the head and choked; likely to include forcible ripping or removal of clothing; will include violent sexual penetration (vaginal and/or anal) by a penis or other object that results in tearing and bleeding; numerous bruises and lacerations will result; may involve penetration by more than one assailant;  may involve ejaculate by more than one assailant in or on your person; afterwards, the victim may report the attack to police and be subjected to physical examination and the collection of forensic evidence (hair, bite marks, semen); will later need to be tested for exposure to STDs and pregnancy; may involve abortion or pregnancy and the carrying of a child to term.  Finally, you will feel shame and endure social stigma for the rest of your life.

O.k. You get to chose between (a) and (b).  You have to pick one or the other.  All those in favor of (a), raise your hands.  . . .  Keep them up.  . . .  40, 41, 42 . . .  O.k.  Thanks.

All those in favor of (b), raise your hands. . . . .  . . . 

Again, all those in favor of (b), raise your hands . . . . . .




And I have to think that if 1 in 5 men were getting mugged and beaten, well someone would have to do something about that, don't you think?  I mean, that's like, 20%!


So, what do we do with Mr. Tosh.  Hang him by his testicles in the town square?  I don't think that's necessary.  And actually, I fault him less than those who, with time for thoughtful analysis and deliberation, threw their weight on the side of "comic's rights."  Because Mr. Tosh was in the heat of the moment.  He was surprised and perhaps flustered or irritated.  He lashed-out without time to think through (one hopes) the implications of what he was doing and saying.  He may have been rightfully irritated by a heckler, but a better response would have been to go into 10 minutes of actual rape jokes that are actually funny and thereby prove his point. (And such a thing is possible.  I offer this that I came up with all by myself:  "Every morning I find my boyfriend in the kitchen with his penis in the box of Wheaties.  I think he's a cereal rapist.")  Instead, he threatened and bullied and intimidated.  He invoked the subtext of fear and violence that, for women, is always just a heartbeat away.  He used his power -- both the inherent, societally conferred power of being male and the situationally conferred power of the comedian's microphone -- to make sure that woman was shut-up and put in her place. 

He made a mistake. 

And who among us hasn't done or said something ignorant or stupid or ill-considered in the moment that we later regretted?  (My hand is up on this one.)

But his defenders?  They had time to review the setting and the circumstances.  To reflect on what was said and how it was experienced.  And they missed it.  They missed the distinction between the subject of rape and the threat of rape.  "He's a comedian.  He was just joking," the analysis goes.  And once you've decided that this was just a "joke", well, then too bad for you, audience woman, if you can't take it.  It's your fault, not his.  Next time be more careful about where you go and what you do and who you talk to.

Sounds familiar, doesn't it. 

It's interesting to play that out.  So, let's assume that instead of leaving, our audience member and her friend stay and stick it out for the remainder of the show.  Maybe Tosh circles back around a few times to get another jab in and remind everyone that there is a particular woman still in the audience that would generate great laughter and entertainment value if she were to be gang-raped right then and there; because, after all, he's a comedian and rape is hilarious.  Finally, the show ends.  The woman and her friend retreat to a nearby bar and commiserate about what an asshole Tosh is and how scary that was and how hard it was to stay for the rest of the show.  What they don't know, is that some guys are in the bar who were also at the show.  They know who the woman is, but she, of course, has no idea who everyone else in attendance was. 

The next day the story breaks about how a woman was gang-raped in a car not far from The Laugh Factory.  Apparently, the story goes, she was at a show and there was some back and forth about rape jokes and the suggestion that gang-raping her would be funny.  Her friend was beaten, but not raped, while a bunch of drunk guys raped the woman just to see how hilarious it would be.

And what's the reaction to that story?  She should have left the show!  Why did she stay after that clear threat?  She must have been looking for trouble to stick around and wait to get raped!!  How stupid can you be!!!  

No one is going to claim that it was "just a joke" with the benefit of hindsight.  No one will think that the woman shouldn't have expected anything to happen to her and that it was perfectly reasonable for her to stay for the duration and then go to a bar afterwards.  No.  It will fall on her shoulders to have sorted through the risk and identified it properly.  She, after all, is the one who got herself raped.

It's easy to get hysterical.  And I've gone further than I would like to in making the case that it is a horribly scary world out there and women need to really be careful.   And perpetually afraid.  Because, in my experience, fear is an emotion easily manipulated and, therefore, not to be trusted.  It's used to rush important facts and details past your more careful filters of reasoned analysis. It is the engine that drives bigotry and discrimination and hatred. It allows you to be preyed upon and taken advantage of.  Or marginalized.  Worst of all, the more you give in to it, and the tighter and tighter you draw your self-imposed circle of "safety" the more you have just installed yourself in a prison of your own making.

But women's fear of rape and violence is not unfounded or imagined.  While I consciously try to identify and push back on fear as much as possible, I have to admit that this one is with me all the time.  In fact, women are so accustomed to the "what I should do to not get raped" thought process that it's nearly automatic. Reflexive.  We just build it into our daily existence like any other part of the routine. I'm not sure most men really get that.

Adam Carolla complains that women aren't funny.  Leaving that assertion aside for the moment (and let's acknowledge, please, what a Herculean effort is required for me to do that), let's consider what it takes to become a successful stand-up comic and why I'm bringing Mr. Carolla into this at all.  I'm guessing it takes a lot of long, late nights at obscure clubs all across the country.  Driving around in an old car or van.  Maybe sleeping in the car if times are tight.  Taking gigs in dicey areas for little pay and lots of hassle.  When you're not on stage doing comedy, you're probably working as a waiter or bartender trying to earn enough money to pay the rent in the cheap part of town.  I'd suggest that the same is true for young bands trying to break-out and make it. Touring, gigging, traveling and sleeping wherever you can find some peace and quiet.  (I did read Bob Mould's autobiography, after all, so I'm practically an expert on this subject.)

Now imagine that your 18 year-old daughter tells you she wants to be a comic.  Or tour with her band.  What's your reaction?  Great!!  Definitely go do that.  I can't think of any reason to worry or be concerned or try to dissuade you from doing that.  Because the world is a pretty low-risk place for 18 year-old girls wandering around late at night in strange cities trying to make it.  Probably not.  And while you might also be concerned if your 18 year-old son came to you with the same proposal, I bet the concerns aren't the same.

So, fellas, I know it's kind of a drag, but this stuff actually matters.  Because half of us are female and whether you can distinguish between a joke and a threat will make a big difference in how much fear you put out into the world, and that just might make a difference in how many new jokes get told and how much new music gets made. 

Plus, I think we can all agree that those iceberg riding, married gays under the command of our Islamic-socialist President are plenty enough to be scared about for now.  That and whatever's in Eddie Van Halen's pants.  Maybe you should pick-up two of those food bins, just to be safe.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Beware of Dog

At 1:42 a.m. one recent night-turned-morning gone very, very bad, I contemplated my circumstances whilst my head was the filler in a pillow sandwich.  I had just been awakened by my needy newborn, whose needs had been addressed, but who nevertheless continued to howl.  And howl.  And howl.  There was no consoling him.  My only recourse was to block-out the wails and whimpers and wait for him to fall back to sleep.  I've been through this before, of course, but it's really true that you somehow forget or repress the less pleasant parts of the experience.  

If you haven't seen me in a while, you may be thinking, "Wait.  Whaa . . .?"  Because you are correctly calculating that I am well beyond even "Advanced Maternal Age".  Fear not.  The newborn in question is of the canine variety.  I have a new puppy in the house.  And by house, I mean in a crate in my bedroom just two feet from my head; at least during the night-time hours for purposes of house-training.

Although it's all a bit furry, from what I can tell, the basic reason I have a puppy two-feet from my head at night these days is that I have children. Children like animals.  Before the puppy joined our troupe, we already had two cats and a perfectly fine, reasonably well-behaved three year-old dog.  I had weathered extensive lobbying for rabbits and rats (yes, rats) and fish.  There was even once a request for a snake, but I made it clear that if I ever encountered a snake in or around my house -- for any reason and even if just borrowed or on loan from someone else -- I would leave and never return.


Lengthy petitions for more cats were denied without further review.   But somehow, the request for a second dog kept finding new life in an extended series of appeals during which the assigned judge repeatedly stated on the record that the matter would be taken under advisement.  (Between you and me, my husband should never be left in charge of any matter that may require saying "no" to wily, doe-eyed girls with their hands clasped beneath their chins while their eyelashes bat up and down at an unnatural rate of speed.  Especially if these girls are dramatically inclined, self-proclaimed animal rights activists and cunning bacon-vegetarians.  (If you are not familiar with bacon-vegetarianism, it is the kind of vegetarian who abhors and refuses all meat in the interest of preserving animal life and eradicating animal cruelty; except for bacon.))

Having given credence to the idea that a second dog might possibly be procured this summer after school was over, the judge then vacated the bench in favor of an extended business trip to Germany.  But a business trip full of schnitzel and sausages and beer is exactly when the scheming bacon-vegetarians will make their move.  And by move, I mean surf the web site of the local Animal Humane Society (AHS) for listings of adoptable puppies. Which they will promptly find.

Consider further that it is a rainy Friday night and the bacon vegetarians (BVs) are bored and restless. "Please, mom," they begin.  "Can't we just go look at them?  We've got nothing to do and it's just right down the street."  They are correct on both counts.  The three of you are confronted with the vacuous space that results when a fatigued parent is left to entertain fatigued children at week's end.  And the AHS is indeed just a mile down the road.

Familiar with their feigned innocence and superficial reasonableness, you anticipate their strategy: get mom in front of the adorable little puppy and she won't be able to say no.  Who cares if dad is in Germany.  I mentally steel myself for "no."  Certainly there will be other adorable puppies to be found in the world when both parents are stateside and school is adjourned for the summer.  Just dangle the carrot of a puppy "soon," I calculate, and I will be able to avoid a puppy now.

"Sure," I hear myself say.  "We can go look.  But we can't get a dog until dad is back and school is out.  O.k.?"


Confident that I have everything well in hand, we proceed down the road into the Humane Society (whose layout we are very familiar with due to all of the lemonade stand funds that have been donated by the BVs over the years) and proceed directly back to the puppy area.  And there he is:

He is truly adorable, but then, of course, all puppies are adorable.  As the BVs ask to play with him in one of the visiting rooms, I remember that the web listing said something about the dog having a health condition that would not require any further care from the owner.  I also recalled receiving a similar disclosure when adopting one of our cats many years back and it turned out to be the equivalent of a feline cold that just necessitated a few days of isolation from other pets.  No big deal.  I ask the volunteer attendant if she can open the cage so that we can take the puppy to a visiting room.  The attendant cheerfully retrieves the dog and I notice that something about this puppy's face is slightly off just as I register the attendant saying, "oh this puppy is SO cute and SO friendly.  He's just a lover!  And you don't even really notice that he only has one eye."


The BVs and I look at the dog again, more closely, and sure enough, there is only one eye.  Two sockets, but only one contains an eyeball.  The other is just the ocular equivalent of a soap dish without a bar of soap.  My already fatigued mind struggles to comprehend this reality and sputters in its effort to generate even one, coherent follow-up question.  The BVs, on the other hand, instantly lock and load and take the kill shot, which they are eerily good at for proponents of peace and goodwill towards all living creatures (except those made of bacon): 

"Mom!  Look at him!!!!  We have to get this puppy.  He only has one eye and he's SO cute and cuddly. And friendly.  Look at him, Mom!  We can't just leave him here!!!  He NEEDS us!"

They embrace the puppy as if they have time-traveled and returned just in time to save him from the smoldering wreckage of a cold and harsh future with some other family.

I am totally screwed.

My prepared line of defense that "there will be other puppies" will instantly fail.  Because there will NOT be other one-eyed puppies.  Having never before in my 44-years of living encountered a one-eyed puppy, I know they are rare creatures who must keep company with the likes of unicorns and leprechauns and actually compassionate conservatives.  This puppy is, in fact, one of a kind.

To make matters worse -- he is delightful.  He exhibits no signs of abnormality, except for the missing eyeball, of course.  He is lively and happy and playful and puppy-ish, but not freakishly hyper or frenetic.  The BVs are cooing and hugging and bonding with him.  Finally, I grasp the only lifeline that is available and explain that we can, perhaps, put the dog on hold for 24 hours so that I can consult our veterinarian and gather information about any long-term care issues for one-eyed dogs.  And also, there is the matter of consulting the German office and somehow raising the prospect of possibly adopting a one-eyed puppy dog. 

Apparently, there are generally no long-term health issues for a dog born with just one eye, as this one seems to have been.  All sources indicated that he would adapt just fine.  Having never known life with two eyes, he would be blissfully unaware that there was any mode of existence that provided for better peripheral vision and depth perception, as well as a much lower frequency of being startled from the left.  On top of this, the German office responds with, "he's cute!"  Which provides no quarter for further objection or delay.

And so, 24 hours and a trip to PetSmart later, the BVs are joyfully clutching the one-eyed wonder dog in the backseat. 

We named our first dog Ozzy.  After Ozzy Osbourne.  In case this isn't self-explanatory, I will explain.  At the time my then 7 y.o. did a great impression of Mr. Osbourne.  In case this isn't self-explanatory  . . .  well, let's just say that she had somehow been exposed to Mr. Osbourne and had an uncanny ability to mimic his accent and speech patterns.  (I blame her parents.)  She even went as the Blizzard of Ozz for Halloween that year:


Wanting to memorialize this special talent, I suggested we name our dog Ozzy.  Everyone agreed.

When it came time to name dog number two, I invoked what I thought was the firmly established convention of naming our dogs after hard rockers.  I considered the following:

Jimmy Page
Robert Plant
Roger Waters
Steven Tyler
David Lee Roth
Eddie Van Halen
Dee Snyder
Nikki Sixx
Carlos Santana
Roger Daltrey
Pete Townshend

It turns out that the vast majority of hard-rocking types have very pedestrian first names.  Ozzy and Roger or Ozzy and Carlos just doesn't quite cut it.  But then:

AC/DC.  Angus Young.   



Hence, I suggested Angus.  Ozzy and Angus.  Perfect.  

Summarily rejected by the BVs.  Angus, I was informed, was a horrible name.  Completely unacceptable.  I was crushed.  This was the perfect second dog name.  How could our children be so blind? And selfish?  What about me and the name I wanted?

I adopted a fall-back position.  What about Ajax?  Or Pirate?  Or one-eyed Jack?  No, no and Mom! There was only one name that would do, and it was the name given to him by the Humane Society.  The name already printed in all-caps on his complimentary dog tag.  The most iconic and cliched dog name of all time.  The only name, apparently, that could be given to a dog with this marking:


And so, his name is Spot, though I whisper "Angus" on the side and give him treats when the BVs aren't looking.

But although his origins are humble and his name simple, the ego on this dog is something else.  It's all about him.  All the time.  He wants to jump on you.  He wants to bite your shoes.  He wants to pee exactly where he is standing . . . in the middle of the dining room.  And as if a "Spaniel-mix" with the ego the size of a St. Bernard needs any further boosts to his self-esteem, he was just named "Pet of the Month" by our veterinary clinic.  This will certainly go straight to his head, so I have banished him from all of our computers, especially since he tried to take a bite of out my MacBook Air.  He most certainly will not be allowed to google himself, if I can help it.  Because if he did, he would find this for the month of June 2012, at


Pet Of The Month

Kenwood's Pet Of The Month - Spot
Name: Spot (3 months)

 Likes: Playing with my brother Ozzy, meeting new friends, and going for walks!

Dislikes: Being alone; stairs that I can't get up; when my food bowl is empty!

When I grow up I want to be: Professional hole digger.


As is often the case with so many aspects of human relations and the conundrums we find ourselves in, Shakespeare has usually been there well before us and said all that can be said, quite well.  From existential crises of "to be or not to be," or sage advice to "neither a borrower nor a lender be" or "It's a long way to the top if you want to rock 'n' roll," Shakespeare has been there and done that.  Well, that last one might have been AC/DC, but in any event when our newest family member ran off and deposited this on the carpeting,

 I found myself channeling Lady Macbeth: "Out!  Out!  Damn, [S]pot!"