Monday, December 24, 2007

Jesus' dad.

This being the festive season, it occurred to me the other day that Joseph gets pretty short shrift out of the bible, all things considered.

Here's a fellow who has the decency to take in and care for his betrothed when she turns up pregnant, whereas the standard response would have been to have her stoned in the local square. Then he gets to escort said knocked-up virgin to Bethlehem as required by the bureaucrats who even back then didn't have anything better to do than mess with people's lives.

While in Bethlehem, of course, Mary pops the holy sprog, all glory and hosannah in the highest and all that, and Joseph stands in the back of the stall while all manner of scruffy field workers and "wise" men wander through. (I imagine he found the gold useful, gift horses being what they are.)

When they remove the holy foreskin, Joseph does get to name Jesus, albeit under the explicit direction of an angel. Well, actually, strictly speaking then, I guess he doesn't even get to name him, since he's just following orders he received in a dream. (Pretty much everything he did seems to have been the result of instructions received in dreams.)

At the temple in Jerusalem, he gets preached at by Simeon and Anna. After a couple of years, he does the protective thing in the face of Herod's paranoia and takes Mary & Jesus to Egypt and then later to Nazareth. The last we hear of Joseph in the bible is his presence at a Passover visit to the temple when Jesus was around 12 years old.

That's it.

Not much for Our Lord's dad, eh?

The tradition is to assume that he taught Jesus his trade as a carpenter and there is some argument about whether he and Mary had other kids. This latter seems much like pointless navel gazing to me. More interesting, but equally pointless, would be a discussion as to whether he was Jesus' father or his stepfather. Still more interesting, in a theological sense, and still more pointless, might be an argument as to whether he, er, begat Jesus or not. Some claim that he received grace at the moment of death although how they'd know escapes me.

Whatever. We're lucky if we get any more discussion than that of the most important father who ever lived. Well, to the Christians, anyway.

So much for the 5th commandment, eh, "Honor your Father and Mother"? Mary gets plenty of honor, pretty near enough to qualify for looks askance under that pesky "no idols" thing in some denominations. But Joseph? Well, he does get a sainthood of various things, not least us fathers, we should be grateful for that much (curiously, Mary is not the patron saint of mothers, it is left as an exercise for the reader to find out who is). But amongst the others, he's patron saint of fighters against communism. 'Bit of a fob off, if you ask me.

But then, these days, and apparently for the past two millennia, we should be used to being fobbed off, us dads.

On the other hand, given certain men's rights activists' assertion that feminism is an offshoot of communism, then perhaps Joseph would make a good MRA patron saint. Well, I don't know about that, but certainly I'd put him forward as a candidate for patron saint of Father's rights activism.

Alright, Saint Joe, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our humiliation in family court...

To close, I note that the bible does not record so much as one word of anything Joseph said. Not even "Bugger me, Mary, I've had another one of them blasted dreams! Pack yer bags, 'im upstairs says we gotta do a runner. How do you fancy Egypt at this time of year?" Like all good fathers, he just shuts up and gets on with it, neither expecting any thanks nor getting any.

Happy Christmas.

Friday, December 21, 2007

On Victimhood

I used to read PostSecret almost religiously until I just grew tired of seeing how passive aggressive, victimhood-obsessed and downright unpleasant the masses are when they can get away with it. It started to look like just one long internet whine. (For a while, I flirted with the idea of attempting a gender analysis of the secrets. Have a look, see if you spot a bias.)

Fortunately, this happened before I sent my own card. Had it been published, I'd probably have felt perversely pleased with myself for a while, but eventually I'm sure I would have grown ashamed.

(Of course this same argument applies to anonymous blogs, just like this one. I try to fight that, my last post notwithstanding, for reasons we'll explore below.)

Victimhood is seductive. If life is unpleasant, if someone manages to climb up your back and tread you down, there's something in human nature which is more inclined to whine, lick its wounds and hide behind others than to fight back. Sure, there are people out there who are true victims and who need the support of the strong because they cannot fight for themselves. If that support were readily available, then there would be fewer victims around, to be a victim would make you genuinely strong. But that logic is easily hijacked. All you have to do is look like a victim.

Why do we try to protect victims anyway? The herd, attacked by a predator, doesn't try to protect the weak, the injured, the infirm, it just tries to get away. The victim is by definition compromised. The weakness in one is a weakness in the whole herd. Hence natural selection.

Could protecting the weak be a vehicle towards enhancing your own desirability? If you're seen to be heroic, risk your life even, are you showing the rest how virile and strong you are? Is the risk of weakening yourself so much that you become a victim yourself, worth the payoff that you get if you're successful? If so, then perhaps everyone wins. The weak are protected and the heroes are, well, heroes and all that goes with it. Bingo! Survival trait.

Any means to power will be abused.

The not-so-heroic will look askance and wonder if the hero can be exploited. Get him to stick his neck out, so I don't have to, eh? All to the better if the victim has something to offer, like, oh, I don't know, reproductive capability? 'Just have to look like a victim.

The best lie is one that is believed by the liar. Thus faux victims must convince themselves that they are true victims. While keeping their strength even from themselves, they must appear weak at the right time and in the right place. But don't be too blatant. Being a true victim implies true weakness and a true drain on the hero's resources. Better for the hero if you didn't weigh him down while he's actually being heroic. Once he's hooked, pick yourself up, but make it look like he's doing it, believe yourself that he is doing it. Even if he gets an inkling, if he knows what's good for him and you're good enough in your role, he'll play along.

It's sort of an unpleasant thought, really, the evil hero and his evil victim, conning you into believing the scam, cheering them on. Those words don't belong together: evil, victim, evil, hero. We feel a revulsion at the idea. Play acting for the crowd. Wolves in sheep's clothing. We're vigilant against them, which means they have to be all the more convincing, and you the more predisposed to believe them. The real victim, however, has to cope with being a genuine burden to a would be true hero, has to compete with the not-really-victims for his attention, and yours.

How would you identify a genuine victim? What are the characteristics? Besides the obvious. The faux won't be obvious. They don't want you to figure it out too easily, that gives them nowhere to hide.

True victims would be hard to spot too. If they were easy, they're also easy meat for the predator. Real victims wouldn't want to look like victims, they'd fight the label, wouldn't they?

(Perhaps all this falls down. I once got up close to a herd of wild horses. They were gathered around one of their elders, exhausted, lying on the ground. If he hadn't been prostrate, I'm sure I wouldn't have got so close. They used their safety in numbers to protect one of their own, even though it made them weaker than if they'd run off. Horses are smart.)

So, you can compete to be a hero, and go to war. And you can compete to be a victim, well back from the line.

But if you're a real victim, competition might be beyond your energies, so you'll use all your strength to blend in with the crowd. Especially if you were not the right kind, not politically correct.

Hence the secrets?

One of the PostSecrets read "I was molested when I was a child, but I didn't tell anyone. When I grew up, I found him and killed him, but I didn't tell anyone." This over a postcard of a particularly vulnerable looking child. Is this person a victim? The child was. But is a murderer (assuming it's true) a victim? Is he or she a hero?

I don't want to be a victim, I just want my son back. I'd like to be his hero.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007


He's not there, all of the time.

I'm afraid I don't know what he looks like any more. (The pictures are all two years old now. And he was changing so fast.)

Doctors talk about deferred pain, where pain does not manifest itself precisely at the site of the injury, but at some other place nearby. The pain that I feel from his absence is all deferred. It is everywhere because there is no one place where it can be.

A constant nameless ache. 'Can't get comfortable. No matter what I do.

Constant anxiety that there is something I have not done, that I could do, to make this pain go away and replace it with the presence of my son. Constant anger at the people who have allowed this to happen, who have encouraged it, or just apathetically turned away.

Then I worry that people will think I am an angry person, because that is used against me. (It's what she said, I can't control my anger, while she does things that only merit anger.)

I'm exhausted all of the time, even at 3am when I can't sleep, even after sleeping 10 hours to compensate for a week's short nights. Exhausted by dreams I can't remember. I am exhausted by the energy it takes to sleep, to wait, to be patient, to hope, to survive. I am exhausted with the effort of trying to appear normal.

Turn the music up, so it gets a little quieter.

Some of these posts worry me. I don't want to come across as whiny. I don't want to look pathetic, reactionary, difficult, dangerous, weird. I want to look normal (whatever that is, even if I'm not). I want to look strong. I want to look like it's all under control, that I've got it together dude, and everything will be alright, one day, soon, please. Please.


But I am so tired. I want you to read this stuff and feel helpless anger too, to know that I am right to be angry, you would be too. Rage is the only appropriate response, there couldn't be any other, but it is also the most disallowed. What does this do to me? I'm not like this all the time. Really, I'm not. (Yes, I am.)

They say that anger turned inward becomes depression. Oh yes, it does, it really does. My hands shake a little, I can't seem to get a good breath.

I am worried for him. I want to know how he is. Really, how he is. To know. Not to be told by someone else, not fobbed off with a two month old school report. I want to sit with him. I want to look at him, read his eyes, his face, as he tells me how it all is. I just want to be in the same room as him, to breathe some of the same air, then I could catch my breath, my hands would still shake some, but I'd not care. If I could only watch him play, oh God, if I could laugh with him.

If you could hear inside my head you'd clap your hands over your ears to protect them. Or scream with me.

But I'm getting on with life, really I am, serenely accepting the things I can't change, courageously changing what I can, wisely knowing the difference. Really, that's me. Fully in control, biding my time, mostly, although perhaps a little tense today. That's what I look like, I think. Every day. Don't I?

Here, come in a little closer, there's something I want to tell you.....


How in God's name would you feel?

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Blood Diamond

I watched Blood Diamond last night and, in amongst the rather distracting story about conflict diamonds, western avarice and duplicity, and Leonardo DiCaprio finally succeeding in playing a halfway convincing adult (albeit a young one), I was pleased to find a really quite father-positive story.

Solomon is the man who finds the eponymous diamond, but he is also a husband and father trying to do his best for his family in a malignant world. While the audience is primarily entertained by the hunt for said diamond, Solomon is also looking for his family who've been nabbed by the bad guys, well one set of them anyway. Wife and daughter turn out to be OK, pretty much, but son is taken and trained as a child soldier. The relationship between Solomon and his son turns out to be crucial, exactly as it should be.

The more I think about it, the more I'm inclined to see Solomon and son's story as an allegory for a father fighting for access to his son against malicious forces who are determined to keep them apart and to use the son as it suits them. I'll let you figure out who I think all the various bad guys might be. Melodramatic, perhaps, but I think the connection is there - in Solomon's anguish, determination and fear and in his son's trauma for being made to endure experiences to which no-one should be subject.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Fathers in Britain Have no Rights.

That's all there is to it guys. You've been sold up river. Congratulations, the mothers of your children no longer have to give you the time of day. They can do whatever they want with your kids, they don't have to ask you, they don't even have to tell you. They can have your sons and daughters and put them up for adoption for the sheer thrill of using your DNA to get pregnant and pop a sprog. Your country can fill up with your fatherless children while you wander around like a bunch of clueless morons.

Right now, I'm not sure if there's anything stopping a married mother from doing that while you, dad, sit there and watch, helpless to prevent it.

What am I talking about? Well, as if one loud-mouthed journalist wasn't enough publicly excoriating fathers in the newspaper of record (yes, that's right, the London Times now publishes grotesquely bigoted, nearly psychotic anti-father screed to keep the masses entertained), the highest courts in the land now say that if your partner wants to have your kid and give it away for adoption, she doesn't have to tell you.

Did you get that?

I don't mean that if your girlfriend gets pregnant, she can get an abortion and not let you know. That might be at least vaguely comprehensible given the defensible idea that she should be able to decide what she does with her body insofar as it doesn't harm another (depending, of course, on whether you think a fetus is "another").

No, I mean that she can take your baby to term, give birth and give your child away without you ever being the slightest the wiser.

Legally speaking, therefore, I honestly do not know what there is to stop your missus, mister married father-of-three, from putting all of the little cupcakes and snowflakes up for adoption without your consent, nor even knowledge, until all is said and done.

Say goodbye, if she lets you.

(And don't give me that line "she'd never do something like that". If she can, some mother will, somewhere. Just wait. Legally sanctioned evil is a very powerful and tempting force for the sufficiently spiteful. And let's not forget that classic fighting-words line "do what I say or you'll never see the kids again!"(*) Now she's got yet another way of making that actually happen, chum.)

Let's look at the case in question. The girl (I refuse to call her a woman) gets pregnant, then wants to have the kid, but also wants it adopted at birth. She doesn't want mom and pop to know, nor the father. A legal guardian and the local authority applied to the court to tell the parents and father. The court so ordered, but the appeals court reversed.

One judge, the unladylike unjust Lady Justice Arden, said the father's rights had not been violated because he did not have any to violate.

Could it be any clearer than that? The father of a now 19 week old child has no rights. None. Zip. Nada. Not even to be told.

How evil is that? It was Remembrance Day recently, wouldn't your own fathers be proud? Your country is now one big zipless fuck. She can do what she wants, and you have no say, all you have to do is provide the dick and I'm sure it won't be long before that becomes unnecessary too. If this is what women's rights are all about, then I am a full-on, dyed-in-the-wool, proudly unrepentant, male chauvinist boar.

Britain, you used to be a great nation. What in good God's name happened?

(*) My ex said (well, barely-coherently screamed) pretty much exactly that to me on one occasion. I said something like "don't be ridiculous" and laughed - I had little doubt that she might try if the anger took her, which it did and she did, but also thought that "family courts" and "the law" were there to prevent such a thing, which they clearly aren't. Do I feel betrayed? What the hell do you think?

Monday, November 19, 2007

How's about that, then?

Just a quick post today because I am struck by the juxtaposition of two items from the UK, one today and one from a couple of months ago. It seems that the aging DJ, Jimmy Savile has got his glasses back. For my readers who have no earthly clue who Jimmy Savile is, think of him as something like Elton John without the songs, silly costumes and gayness. Actually, they only really have silly glasses in common but I expect that Jimmy and Elton are pretty much equally famous in the UK in their own ways. By the way, it's arguable that Jimmy Saville invented twin turntable DJ'ing.

But anyway, these iconic specs were grabbed from Jimmy's face in the street last week. In an astonishingly determined bit of police work, the cops actually tracked the assailant down and retrieved the glasses. It turns out that the woman concerned was just playing "a bit of a prank" and that no further action would be taken. Jimmy took it all in his customary good humor and made something of a joke out of it.

Now, rewind to July, and the floods in Oxford, UK. Channel 4 news reporter Sue Turton (not as famous as Jimmy Savile or Elton John) is giving a live report by the side of a small river that used to be a road and her backside is deftly goosed by a passer by. The papers went loopy. Turton got a bit sniffy "I personally found the matter quite humiliating" and played the gender card: "Male reporters would never be treated to a public goosing. Should the women of my profession not expect the same respect?" The cops got all aggressive with talk of charges of sexual assault under the Public Order Act. I don't think they ever caught the fella, despite the whole thing being on camera and a hugely popular YouTube clip.

Can you spot the many differences between these two stories? Can you spot the biggest difference?

Monday, November 12, 2007

Socrates was a baaaaaad husband.

So I was listening to this highbrow podcast from the BBC Radio 4 about the life and works of Socrates.

I know, I know, it happens sometimes, I get all overcome with an urge for some actual culture in this otherwise age of morons.

But anyway, arch intellectual snob Melvyn Bragg is yacking away with these three head-in-the-clouds academics, one from each of Oxford and Cambridge (I expect you've heard of those) and another from Warwick (less likely you've heard of that one, but you never know), and they get to the bit about the old fart popping his clogs.

You know, the thing with the hemlock. "It is a far, far better thing..." No, wait, that's not right. Oh yes, his last words were: "Crito, we owe a cock to Asclepius. Please, don't forget to pay the debt." (Fnar, fnar.) Come to think of it, "It is a far, far better thing..." would have been much better. But I digress.

We get some vitally important details such as the variety of hemlock that has the effect of a slow paralysis from the feet up and then we learn that as he lay dying Socrates asked that the women, his wife among them, be asked to leave. He wanted some peace and quiet, all that wailing and gnashing of teeth obviously getting in the way of a properly examined departure from life.

I mean, how's a philosopher supposed to think of some decent last words with all that racket going on? Eh?

At this point, the female member of the panel gets all insistent about how she thinks Socrates was not a good husband while the two male members (Fnar, fnar. Sorry) of the panel proceed to talk over her. She tried to make the point twice, she did, before she took the hint.

It was a brief and amusing skirmish in the battle of the sexes - some woman got her knickers in a pointless and irrelevant twist because a man did something she didn't approve of while undergoing one of the most iconic deaths of all history and a couple of men knock her point flat on its copious ass by taking absolutely no notice whatsoever. Score one for the guys there, I think (but she was outnumbered, 'tis true).

Sorry, I guess the testosterone's taking over today. Must've been that slab of male chauvinist pork I burned for supper. Grunt.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Imagine a world . . .

Imagine a world where rape is legal. Perhaps even a world where, for some, rape is a rite of passage amounting to proof a man can assert control over his own destiny. Some who have already completed that rite of passage may even encourage others to do so, both as a means to validate their own actions and to consolidate the practice.

Imagine the victim of that rape, knowing she has been violated, being bewildered, hurt to the core, and convinced by any reasonable moral standard that it was wrong, trying to find justice and appropriate consequences for the perpetrator. At first she is treated with bemusement that she should have such temerity. Then the excuses, the brush-offs begin "I'm sure he felt he was doing the right thing", "You must have done something to deserve it", "You shouldn't have been in the wrong place at the wrong time", "I've heard that you're up for it pretty much whenever", "He says you were asking for it". If you're lucky, you get: "Most men aren't like that."

It would be no surprise that most of these apologists are men, most women simply turn their backs, but an astonishingly large fraction are happy to back up the men. It must be sickening.

If you persist, the accusations start: "Why do you have such a problem with men?", "There's obviously something wrong with you", "You have to face up to your own behavior, you can't hope to get better if you don't".

You know that to concede any of this will destroy you completely, both from within and by validating this twisted logic for others. So you keep going. Then they say you're obviously a danger to yourself and to others, and they're taking your children away to make sure you can't hurt them. They might even give the children to your rapist. Then, devastated and unable to function you get fired, then get into trouble because you can't pay the man who took your children. Because you were raped. Because he raped you. Suddenly, everything that matters is taken from you because of something that someone else did to you.

This is what it is like for men who are removed from their family home by false accusations of abuse, perhaps by a wife who has been abusive for years, but you took it because, well, you're not sure why anymore. It's a rite of passage now, for the self-assertive woman, to rid herself of a man she's decided is holding her back and her divorced friends will happily help her build a case, from raw cloth if necessary. Any regrets will just fuel the fire.

Don't tell me it's not like rape until you've lived through having your world turned upside down, your reputation questioned by anyone who feels like it, taken from and kept from everything you care about by the one person who was supposed to stand by you.

You know it is wrong, but no-one will listen. They apologize for the mother, excusing her actions by arguing that she must feel you are a threat, that you must have done something to deserve it, that it's your tough luck for marrying the wrong woman. It’s all your fault, after all. Idiotically, they ask: "Why would she lie?" But you know it's not true, it's patently ridiculous, isn't it? So you argue.

Most of the people with the power to help, but won't, will be women, but, confusingly, some of them will be men, although most men will just look at you strangely and change the subject when you ask them to try to see it your way, that you have to do something.

Keep going, and they'll judge you to have a problem with women. "Why are you such a misogynist?" they'll ask, "What’s wrong with you, that you can't admit to what you've done wrong". Try to cut a deal, try to bargain an admission of something you know you didn't do to get a little mercy, and all mercy will evaporate, you've just sacrificed yourself on the altar they constructed.

But it wouldn't matter anyway because it's a Catch-22. If you won't admit to the accusations then you're in denial and therefore a danger to your wife and kids.You have to be kept from them. Fighting that just proves their point (so does giving in). They're taking your children from you and giving them to the women who did this to you. Then they make you pay. And God help you if you break down and can't keep your job. Everything that matters is taken from you because of something that someone else did to you. That's what it's like, there's no need for imagination, it's out there, right here, right now. Rape is legal, if you're a man and divorce is the tool used to violate.

(This post was inspired by a comment on another blog which I've since lost, I think it was at Dr Helen's.)

Monday, October 22, 2007

Oh, didn't you know John? Your son died four months ago.

Every now and then I encounter a story which makes me want to grieve and rage at the same time. Consider Jordon Lyon, a ten year old boy who dived into the water to save his 8 year old stepsister last May. Thankfully, she was pulled out, but tragically, he went under and was drowned. A terrible incident for all concerned, it was made worse by the fact that two "community support officers" stood on the bank and whined they hadn't been trained for the work rather than dive in after him.

I will reserve my scorn for that pair. I hope they spend the rest of their lives regretting their cowardice (a much misused word is cowardice, but it surely applies here), but beyond that they are relevant only insofar as their behavior provided the vehicle for their father to find out what had happened to his son.

No, he wasn't informed as a matter of course.

Oh, stepdad Anthony Ganderton got there as fast as he could, and then mom, Tracey Ganderton was interviewed on the BBC expressing her horror at the officers' wretchedness. Then there was the inquest. Should the fake cops be reprimanded or sanctioned in some way, or not? Lots of public wringing of hands, political recriminations, and general wailing and gnashing of teeth.

You'd think that someone, somewhere in all this would think to ask if anyone had told Jordon's dad, wouldn't you? Where exactly is Mr. Lyon anyway?

There is no Mr. Lyon, because Jordon's name is actually Jordon Prestwich.

Come again?


Oh good grief, not that game again?!

Very probably, because you won't find the name Prestwich anywhere in the news reports of the death and inquest, nor even on Jordon's memorial website, not until 22 Sept when there is found an entry which reads:

You gave your life to save another. I couldn't be more proud of you son. Hero at 10 year's old.
'If I went to heaven and you wern't there,I'd write your name on a golden stair.'
'I'd give the angels back there wings, golden harps and other thing's'
Just to prove my love is true,I'd go through hell to get to you'.

Tracey!!!! Contact me!!!!
Yes. Why did nobody tell him?

Probably for the same reason that no-one told him where he'd gone when his mother took off with Jordon and his brother Brandon one day leaving no forwarding address. The Child Support Agency and the police wouldn't tell him, inappropriately citing the Data Protection Act. Now that's a good one, isn't it? The people who take the child support won't say where they send the money because, well, they just can't be bothered? They didn't even pass on a letter to her, despite saying they would. Scum. Utter puerile, covering-their-ass, snivelling, bottom-dwelling scum.

So how does John find out that his son is dead? Well, 8 years later he's watching TV and this report comes on about two gutless "Community Support Officers" who stood by while a child drowned and who are let off the hook by a half-assed claim that the kid was probably dead by the time they got there (yeah, right). It's only while he's watching this choreographed ass-covering that John realizes the kid they're talking about is, was, his son.

"It was like someone had hold of my throat and I couldn't get any words out, I just collapsed on the floor," he said.

Can you imagine?

Can you really imagine the unspeakable horror?

For years, the best you could do was to be "...on the system, the electoral register. I am available to be found if someone looks, and I've done that on purpose, so that if Jordon and Brandon did decide to look for me, they could find me." then you turn on the TV and the first thing you know for all that time about your kid is that he's drowned trying to save some unknown stepdaughter. And no-one's told you. No-one's thought to look for you and tell you.

Dear God, but the horror, the unspeakable horror. Listen to him talk about it here. Really, listen, it's well worth it. He went so far as to consult a spiritualist trying to find his sons. The pain in his voice is absolutely palpable, but he still has the strength to forgive her for disappearing as she did, saying it was nothing malicious, with lots of excuses for her. The man's a bloody saint.

But I call bullshit. There was nothing stopping her from keeping in touch. Absolutely nothing. She just left it all up to him despite being the one who left and let the grey, bureaucratic incompetants do the rest. The cops, even now, are lying about what they're saying to John.

This is not a society that gives a damn about families, this is not a society that cares about children and their parents. This is a society of indifference, of cowardice, of sustained apathetic carelessness which it follows up with a lurid interest in the pitiful aftermath.

Again, I say, damn them all.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

The Trouble with SciAm

I don't know if this is true or not, but I've encountered the notion in several places - it is said that if you place a frog in hot water, it will promptly, and sensibly, jump out. If, however, you put it in cold water and then slowly heat it up, it will happily sit there until it cooks. Is this what is happening to men? Have we been complacently sitting in what we take to be comfortably cool water while the fire is stoked from below?

In 2001, Doris Lessing, the latest Nobel laureate for literature said: "I find myself increasingly shocked at the unthinking and automatic rubbishing of men which is now so part of our culture that it is hardly even noticed". This is the hot water I'm talking about.

Some of us have noticed - check out my blogroll and the links in the news ticker at left, especially Glenn Sacks. Sometimes, one might even think we're perhaps a little oversensitive. But overall, I think it's pretty clear that dumping on men is now so trendy, it's completely acceptable just about everywhere in the western world. We are the butt of everyone's jokes now, guys, even our own.

But I become particularly alarmed when no-one is joking, such as when Glenn posts a series of items on the critics of the critics of the domestic violence industry, as he has done recently. I put it that way because I think that these men and women are not defending the victims of domestic violence, but are instead having fun bullying some of them themselves. For the women, it has clear consequences for their sense of power, for the men, well, I think they're preening for the girls. Petty of me, I know.

But when I find the hot water soaking into that supposed bastion of even-handed objectivity, mainstream science, I become more alarmed still. No, not "feminist" science, whatever that is, I'm talking about Nature and New Scientist, or, across the pond in Scientific American.

Tell me, do you think SciAm's David Biello has some sort of agenda when he titles an article "The Trouble with Men"? No? Then how about the byline which begins "Deadbeat granddads, life-shortening sons and genetically bullying brothers"? It seems unlikely that old Y chromosome is going to come off well out of this, even if the author himself presumably possesses one, don't you think?

Would SciAm ever publish an article title "The Trouble with Women"? With a byline beginning "Deadbeat grandmas, life-shortening daughters and genetically bullying sisters"? I suspect it would be a short-lived editor who did that.

Under this headline is reported some research by a blond bombshell of a Finn, Virpi Lummaa. (Sorry, I guess if I'm going to maintain credibility I should be more objective than to draw attention to her physical appearance, but follow the link and you'll see what I mean. 'Seems she has a thing for big, black dogs, though, so I guess we guys had better keep our raging torrents of testosterone under control. Besides, she's a boring old academic guys, probably too smart to be interesting to the likes of us. Nah, better to go trolling for bimbos, like we're supposed to, so they can complain at how shallow we all are. Whatever.)

But anyway, Virpi's been keeping herself busy digging through piles of dusty old books researching a pre-modern population of Finns. (She's been doing this from the UK, which strikes me as curious, but I guess she gets plenty of free trips home on her grant money.)

SciAm is thin on specifics, as one might expect for an article that leaps into the misandrist fray, but her own web page tells us that she's got a sample of 15,000 people although we have to go to Nature and New Scientist to learn the dates span 1734 to 1888. Nature and New Scientist restrict themselves to reporting her discovery of a correlation between the number of children had by a girl twin and the gender of her sibling.

It seems that a Finnish brother rather cramped his twin sister's style for the production of future generations of Finns. Nature says that Fred vom Saal (it seems surnames with double-"a"'s in them count for something in this field) of University of Missouri-Columbia is unsurprised because he sees the same thing in mice: "If you give a male mouse a choice between a female who hasn't been exposed to testosterone in the womb and one who has, he will always choose the female that was exposed to the lower levels of testosterone".

Now I admit, this is interesting. But on its own, I find it hard to extend it to "girls good, boys bad". All that has been shown is that a twin brother will reduce the genetic productivity of his sister. If you stop your investigations there, and allow your imagination to run riot, you might be able to take a wild running jump and get all the way to claiming that having brothers, or men in general, limits the genetic productivity of the human race, which is kind of counter to the whole evolution thing and therefore surely a bad thing. That is to say: men baaaaad. If you did make that claim, then I'd seriously have to lay into you, because it's obviously flawed by evolution's creation of the situation in the first place. That is, you're missing something, chum.

Nevertheless, there's a definite undercurrent of this conclusion to the SciAm article.

David Biello digs our hole deeper still in the first paragraph with the claim (he says it's "proven") that a son reduces a mother's lifespan by an average of 34 weeks. Do you suppose future researchers might look back and wonder that we seemed more worried about a son costing an 18th century Finnish woman 34 weeks of life than we were about the 7+ year hit of 21st century male lifespan compared to the female?

Let me take a quick aside and make a couple of points which will doubtless be obvious to my erudite readers. First, not having a son will not automagically increase your life span by 34 weeks ladies, it'll only do that on average, and then only if you're a 18th or 19th century Finn. Since you're reading this on the internet which wasn't invented until all those premodern Finnish women were dead anyway, I think I can probably safely assume you're not one of them, so don't try using Dr. Lummaa's results to claim your brat is reducing your life expectancy, you'll need other data for that. And hey, even if you could, who knows, a son might be worth more to you than 34 extra weeks drooling in the old folks home.

Second, correlation is not cause and effect. Otherwise, we might be allowed to argue that having a double-"a" in your surname qualifies you for the study of the effects of testosterone in twins. Hey, but wait, an "l" looks like it might help too!

Third, hands up who can read Finnish and has a complete understanding of the social dynamics of 18th and 19th century rural Finland and might be able to confirm or rebut Dr. Lummaa's results based on a complete picture of any other relevant effects?

Yeah, I thought so.

Biello tries to cover a few other effects, mentioning "competition for food, regular beatings or the practice of primogeniture, in which the eldest brother inherits everything". Regular beatings? Where did that come from? Oh, I forgot, men nasty, bad, violent things.

Just a couple of paragraphs later, Biello sins again when he says "mothers of opposite-sex twins end up with 19 percent fewer grandchildren". Do you see it? Did you see that present tense slip in there?

At least Kenneth Weiss of Penn State gets to slip in a word of caution: "there are dangers in overinterpreting ‘fitness’ effects, even if the observation is correct.” Indeed there are. Eugenics, anyone? Final solution?

A little later on, another suspect claim: Lummaa's "group’s previous research has shown that grandmothers provide direct aid in ensuring the survival and reproduction of their grandchildren. The same records revealed, however, no such benefit from fathers and grandfathers." Huh? Again, even if this is true: correlation, not cause and effect. But the conclusion you seem driven to draw is that fathers and grandfathers are just useless when it comes to survival of subsequent generations. One is left wondering what possible good they are for. How, in any reasonable world, can this claim possibly be true? Who the hell was it who went hunting reindeer in the snow? I don't know about you lot, but I find the idea to be patently absurd and I am given to wonder even more about the rest of the claims in the article.

But it gets worse. "'If anything there’s a negative effect,' [Lummaa] concludes. This could be because of the cultural tradition of catering to men, particularly old men. 'Maybe if you had an old grandpa, he was eating your food,' she speculates."

"If anything"? Either there is, or there isn't. Don't equivocate or cast innuendo, Virpi, you're a scientist, not a gossip. Besides, aren't the old grandmas eating your food too?

But we men should be bloody well grateful because "...possibly, longevity in men is simply a by-product of selection for longevity in women." and we're asked "What, if any, benefits do men get from reaching old age?” Which is an interesting question because it doesn't make sense in the evolutionary paradigm - men don't get a benefit from reaching old age, the genes do, and that is the subtext, because what she's really asking is why does everyone else benefit from men getting old? It's evolutionarily necessary that they do otherwise they'd all die off sooner rather than be a drag on all the girls.

No, don't try to use that to justify the current disparity between male and female lifespans in the developed world, because now, and indeed, in premodern Finland, there are a myriad of other effects involved. In fact, the situation is so complex that we're really not able to do much more than try to help everyone equally (wouldn't that be novel) or otherwise pick out odd correlations and make wild stabs in the dark at what they might mean, publish smug articles in popular science journals and try to convince a gullible public that we know what we're talking about.

But, no, scientists don't ever do that, do they?

Friday, October 05, 2007

Damn them all

In a longish article about child support collections, I find this impressively long list of things they can do to you in New Hampshire if you don't pay:
"...the agency can move in and deduct what you owe from your paycheck, your tax return or your retirement benefits. Same goes for any money you’re collecting from unemployment, worker’s comp or insurance settlements. And any potential jackpots from those casinos we’re all waiting to hear about — “We’re already looking at that,” says DOR spokesman Robert Bliss. If you don’t pay up, the DOR can put a lien on your property, revoke your passport, driver’s license and any other professional license granted by the state. If none of that works, it can put you on its wanted posters, have you arrested and fined up to $10,000."
The people responsible for this are positively wetting themselves over their powers. You can see the toothy smiles in between the print, while they polish up their jackboots and clean their nightsticks. One of them thinks "aggressive child support enforcement has even had a hand in lowering the divorce rate.". Huh? And, she says, "We’re proud to be a contributor to healthy families,". It's not just me, but that is a thoroughly perverse line of thinking, is it not? You'll bully us into healthy families? Control through intimidation, "Doublethink" anyone?

After reading that list of methods of pressing the non-custodial parents face into the pavement, I scoured the rest of the article, looking for any word on what might be done to bring to book the custodial parent who messes with visitation, or even recognizing their existence. I could almost hear the crickets chirping. God damn those people.

I mean it. Sometimes I think we need some good old-fashioned ideas of Heaven and Hell these days. Damn them all.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Who's afraid of Naomi Wolf?

Far be it from me to take sides with a full on feminist, but I was intrigued to note while reading Naomi Wolf's eloquently paranoid column "Fascist America, in 10 easy steps" that many of those steps can be applied to the process of removing a parent from a family and persuading society it's OK:

"1. Invoke a terrifying internal and external enemy."

Domestic violence - the spectre of the abusive spouse is omnipresent within and without every family, we're all terrified by it, and see it everywhere, even in Mary Winkler's white platform heel. Shudder. Child abuse? Don't even think about holding your kid's hand in public, dude.

"2. Create a gulag."

Deadbeat dad? Go to jail. Do not pass Go. Do not collect $200. She says you hit her? Oh dear, we'd better put you away then. G'night.

"3. Develop a thug caste."

Ever had a cop scream in your ear in self righteous rage for even daring to suggest you might not be the bad guy she says you are?

"4. Set up an internal surveillance system"

God help you if you lose your temper and leave an irate phone message for your daughter, eh, Alec?

"5. Harass citizens' groups"

When did NOW last have a good word to say about any men's or fathers' rights group? They're proof of the evil of the patriarchy after all.

"6. Engage in arbitrary detention and release"

Can you say "must arrest policy" or "temporary restraining order"? I knew you could.

"7. Target key individuals"

If you've ever been on the receiving end of what the family court can dish out, then you'll know what being targeted feels like, and you're certainly a key individual for whoever's behind it.

"8. Control the press"

Yeah, what did happen to Glenn Sack's radio program? The BBC, feminist? Naw, it can't be! But when did they last report on progress in fathers' rights, or lack thereof? Across the pond, how many of you lot know that a couple of purple superheroes scaled the Lincoln Memorial a few weeks ago?

"9. Dissent equals treason"

'Ever tried to argue that the occasional accusation might be just a tiny bit untruthful to a bunch of DV victims' advocates?

"10. Suspend the rule of law"

"The best interests of the child" has long since ceased to mean what you'd think it would mean. Then there's those TROs and must-arrest policies, eh?

Hey man, I mean, like, I'm just sayin'...

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Let's be brutally simplistic

What is going on inside the family courts? Time and again we hear of unjust laws mindlessly applied, we hear of fathers destroyed and their children taken away, we hear of mothers' bad behavior and its apparent invisibility to the people who are charged with getting to the truth of things, protecting the innocent and controlling the unpleasant. They just fail, time and time again. This is not the behavior of a society that believes in the family, in fatherhood, nor in the best interests of children, despite everything they say. You'd think, in fact, that that is not what they are about at all. It's all so much rubbish. So what is really going on?

Here is a thesis for you.

What if the legal system is an engine, one of many, which helps maintain a tiered social structure of a type which is often, and fallaciously, called a patriarchy? It's not a patriarchy, because women participate fully. Especially in the family courts. It is just a common or garden primate power structure.

Yes, monkeys.

There are alpha males, and there are the rest of them. The females all look for good breeding partners. In a minor refinement of that search, many females are more attracted to unreliable males, i.e. alphas, for genetic material, but look for betas when it comes to keeping house and raising the offspring. (I should reference this, but frankly, I can't be bothered. Actually, I should put references all over this post, but, hey go and buy some Richard Dawkins, or something.).

Once a female has young to raise, and is safely ensconced in a socially acceptable marriage she is, effectively, out of the breeding pool, even while still quite fertile and potentially attractive to males other than her husband. Unless, that is, she cheats, or gets divorced. And those are the routes by which the alpha males will exploit them for further procreation.

Cheating carries a certain risk of discovery, especially now in this enlightened age of DNA testing. Not only that, but it's known that children tend to look more like their fathers when young, in a nod to his need to reassure himself that the brat is indeed his.

Commonly, a discovery might push the betrayed marriage into a divorce anyway. That vainglorious institution is now refined to make sure that the poor, kicked-out beta continues to be liable for paying for the children's care, as opposed to doing some of it personally, while pretty young mom is free for fresh tillage. And let us note that every mom is supposed to be a pretty young mom if she can only buy the right stuff, apply the right cosmetics and ditch the lame jerk who's holding her back.

But we should not forget that divorce, also, is a means for a trapped alpha male to escape back into the, er, swing of things, assuming he has the means to cover whatever child support he ends up liable for and isn't too cut up about being forced to let mom do whatever she wants with the kids.

In fact, let's face it, divorce, for all its superficially intended good side in ending unsuitable marriages, actually best suits those who just want to escape responsibility. That's not to say that everyone who chooses divorce is like that, I'm just saying that it is the jerks who will suffer least or benefit most, male or female.

Back to these divorcing moms. There they are leaping out again into the fray of singledom in the conviction that now hubby's put in his place, all will be hunky dory forever more. Well, until next time.

The truth is, of course, that only a small, even negligible number of such moms will attract ever greater swarms of alpha suitors before her fertility, which by and large equates to beauty, is spent. Then she gets to join the mass who end up saddled with fatherless children, working full time to buy that all that stuff I mentioned before, because the child support can never, ever be enough, and complaining over the garden fence about how useless is her ex.

What has she actually done? She has swelled the ranks of the disempowered - her ex by destroying his fatherhood and tying him down financially, her kids by converting their father into a visiting uncle, teaching them the undesirability of his beta-ness, and herself by destroying the team by which she might have helped to enrich all of them.

This might sound like I'm blaming her, but I have to point out that unless she is of considerably above average intelligence, she's probably as blinded by her own limited horizons and the constant flood of crap to which she is exposed as are the rest of us, and can't see how she's gotten as much manipulated into this situation as she has chosen it for herself.

So who benefits from the swollen ranks of marching morons? The powerful, of course, which is another kind of the alpha male and his female equivalent. Now, I could go off into all kinds of politically inspired screeds about oppression of the masses, but my point is to keep us focussed on the anthropological fact that we are, ultimately, all marching morons. Stupid little monkeys playing "if you show me yours, I'll show you mine" games with precious little thought for the inevitable bawling, needy, inconvenient consequences. Your typical silverback sitting at the bench in his or her wig presiding over the destruction of your family isn't thinking in terms of consolidating his or her power. Well, not over you, anyway.

But, and it is an important but, the "alpha male" as an identifiable example of the human animal is largely a mythological creature, likewise the alpha female. Bruce Willis is real, and gets into all kinds of human trouble, John Maclane does not actually, in point of fact, much as we'd like to believe otherwise, no matter how much we'd love to be his best buddy or have his kids by the dozen, exist.

Likewise, it is a self-evident fact that Kirsten Dunst is a complete bimbo in real life, no matter how much Spiderman would just love to tie up Mary Jane Watson in his web and have lots of little baby spiders. (Ew. Try not to think about that too much, eh?)

But I digress.

My point is, we all try to be our own ideas of alpha males and alpha females, looking for ways to climb on the backs of others and, er, better ourselves in the process. Some of us make it, to some extent, some of us don't. But we all participate in the process. We use our archetypes to assess desirability and develop value structures. The patriarchy is one such archetype, but frequently falsely imagined and identified. The alpha male/female thing seems likely to be much more fruitful.

How did I get onto this? I found an article about a "scientific" study of pickup lines which was pretty much as superficial as you'd expect, but provoked me to apply fingers to keyboard when I encountered this claim:
"A scenario in which a potential suitor chides drunken louts who cut in line won the hearts of female subjects in all personality categories."
Isn't this what a judge does? Chides the louts? So what's the difference between him and the potential suitor impressing the ladies through his grave and sober non-loutiness? Can we not extend this into an examination of his status as an alpha male asserting his huge, throbbing, um, alpha to keep all the other apes in line? Can we not further generalize the scenario to an archetypal alpha, of unspecified gender, maintaining the status quo and their position in a sector of society where the females hold considerable power by keeping the rest of us sniveling apes in line?

Hence the judge in a family court curries favor in a system which is biased towards women and mothers by chiding and punishing the men, whether they deserve it or not. Does anyone really think it's got anything to do with the sanctimony of the law any more?

Do they?


Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Three good movies.

After my last post in which I attempted to express my displeasure at Will Ferrel's excrescence "Kicking and Screaming", I feel bound to offer some alternative watching which might better satisfy my discerning audience.

From the UK, "Gideon's Daughter", is mostly about Gideon, played brilliantly by Bill Nighy, a middle-aging widower losing touch with his motivations in life and, not coincidentally, his daughter. The movie is a veritable symphony of emotional nuance which will resonate with anyone undergoing significant, unexpected and possibly unwelcome changes in mid-life. It is not just the central storyline which is significant. The girlfriend and her ex husband give us much to think about, especially those who are unwillingly removed from their own children's lives. Her recollection, in particular, had a physical impact on me - I don't like tearjerkers, I don't like to be manipulated, even willingly, but I just lost it over that scene. Jeez, not just once, but on the second viewing too. You'll know the one I mean.

Then there's "World's Fastest Indian" in which Anthony Hopkins plays the indomitable old codger Burt Munro, a New Zealander determined to write his seriously modified old wreck of a motorcycle into the record books. Told in three episodes - establishing his life in New Zealand, traveling to Bonneville Salt Flats by ship and road, and the nail-biting run for the gold once he gets there - this is a period piece par excellence. Hopkins portrays Munro as a real man's man, and by that I don't mean a generic tough guy. He's human, he has limits, but he knows what he wants, does what he can to get there and does his best to enjoy the journey in the meantime. Maybe he'll make it, maybe he won't, but he's darned well going to give it a try. So should we all. (Why is it, by the way, that Hollywood is so bad at portraying average Americans as human beings? Why does it take a Kiwi to come along and show them how to do it? Do they ever listen?)

And lastly, how about "The Thing About My Folks"? Peter Falk (yes, Columbo), plays Paul Reiser's dad and beautifully. Apparently discarded at the end of a long marriage, Falk's Sam Kleinman decides to visit his grown son Ben. The two end up on a road trip together in which there are two scenes which speak volumes - one where Sam holds forth to Ben and the other when Ben lectures Sam. Sam clearly understands his son very well, Ben is only now really learning about his dad. Take my advice though, stop the DVD or switch channels, or just turn the TV off once they fall asleep under the stars. By then, you've seen everything significant the movie has to say. It's not that the rest is bad, it just doesn't say anything more about Ben nor Sam Kleinman and if you're watching for the exploration of the father/son relationship, well, that's it and the rest of the movie is simply distracting. (If you really want to know how it all plays out, remember that this is Hollywood and the lead up to this point means that things couldn't possibly be as they seem. There has to be a way to make things alright after all, doesn't there? Do the details really matter?)


Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Trust me, give this one a miss

I guess I had grown resigned to TV- and movie-land's idea of men and fathers - routinely misandrist and patriphobic - but I have to say that Will Ferrell's "Kicking and Screaming" is a stand out execrable example. The story is chronically cliched, but has been done well in the past. Not so here. Good grief, but this movie sucks.

Phil Weston (Ferrell) is constantly dominated by his father (Played, it grieves me to say, by the otherwise incomparable Robert Duvall. Oh Mr. Duvall, why, oh why?) who coaches a successful little league soccer team. When Weston senior trades his grandson, Weston junior's son, to the team at the bottom of the league, Phil takes over coaching that team.

Can you guess what happens? Uh-huh. That's right. Phil then makes it his mission in life to coach his team to beat his father's team. Can you guess how it all turns out? Uh-huh. That's right. There is no surprise at all in the outcome. There are no surprises in the story. At any point. It even stoops so miserably low as to turn Weston into, you guessed it, an even more cartoonish version of his father. I'm telling you, formulaic doesn't enter into it.

Even so, you might think it the sort of movie that might amuse a kid, for whom the story might yet contain some novelty and inspiration. Hey, you might think there would be at least one admirable role model for him, an opportunity to show how gritty determination can win the day. You might think that.

But no. Without exception, the men in the movie are all pathetically inadequate and/or bullies. Like I said, an appalling waste of Robert Duvall's considerable talent, never mind the reflection on the mind sets of the studio, writer, director and producer. The only real determination present is that of Weston senior to keep his son in his place and of Weston junior to beat his father.

The only sensible adult behavior, of course, comes from the women, but the real adults in the movie are pretty much all ten years old. The moment at which Weston is supposed to be showing some real maturity involves an excruciatingly childish apology to his team. "Sorry, with a capital 'S' and a capital 'orry'".

Perhaps the lowest point is when Weston has a puerile anxiety attack in front of his son while recounting some of his own father's behavior towards him. His wife, who is more of a mother to him than to their child, brings him out of it by slapping his face, hard, also in front of their son. The movie contains multiple instances of physical abuse of children, always by the men, and sometimes quite unselfconsciously about it.

It's supposed to be a comedy, but I don't think I even smiled, let alone laughed. It's supposed to be about fathers and sons, but fathers are supposed to be the parents, not the children. It's supposed to be about growth and maturity, but no-one learned anything but the crudest of lessons. The makers clearly think their audience are knuckle-dragging morons.

Ferrell has made a career of deadpanning obliviously inappropriate behavior, here he's just inappropriate. The movie has no redeeming features at all, the only reason I watched it to the end was so I could truthfully make that claim.

Friday, August 10, 2007

"I don't like Mummy"

The papers in the UK are full of the news of the guilty verdict against a mother and her boyfriend in the death of 4 year old Leticia Wright. Everyone's shocked and appalled that a mother can murder her own child, as if this never, ever happens. The usual pathetic media circus and wails of "how could this happen?" without actually offering any good reason, nor really caring to find one because it's altogether more fun to run around tearing your hair out than do something constructive.

Well, I found one excellent reason, and I'd like to tear someone's hair out.

I went looking, metaphorically, for the father, Zaheer Hussain -- none of today's reports carried much about him except that everyone felt terribly sorry for him, which I am sure he finds immensely comforting. Digging through Google news reports, I had to go back to Jul 19th, during the trial, and found this:
"[He] told Bradford Crown Court he had last been with his daughter about two months before she died. He told the jury that the girl's mother, Sharon Wright, 23, had then stopped contact between him and his little girl."

And I am not the tiniest bit surprised.

“We were in a shopping mall and I told her it was time to go. She wasn’t having it and crying and she didn’t want to go and said she wanted to stay with me. I couldn’t do anything to keep her because Sharon would have argued and I don’t know what I could have done about it.’’ He added: “It was difficult to take."

“I have never seen her like that. She proper kicked me, smacked me, punched me, screaming and crying ‘no, no, I don’t want to go’.“I just had to pick her up the best I could with her still hitting me and took her back.’’

Mr Hussain told the court that to try and cheer Leticia up he had taken her to a park in Wakefield because she was “really depressed and crying’’ before dropping her off with Wright at the home she shared with her co-accused, Peter Seaton, 22, on Almondbury Bank, Moldgreen. “She was still crying,’’ Mr Hussain told the jury. “I still remember that face. Just sad, just not wanting to go.’’ He added that after that incident whenever he phoned up and asked to have Leticia Wright told him she was busy. The court was told that two months later Leticia was dead.

The child was killed by more than 100 injuries inflicted over a period of four weeks. Did you get that? That's 100 detectable injuries known to be inflicted over 28 days, on a four year old child. There were cigarette burns, bruises and bite marks all over her body. How do you feel about that? What if it were your child?

The father could do nothing because 1) he didn't know and 2) he couldn't find out because the mother was blocking contact, a maneuver so common and so accepted today that he would take the heat for trying to do anything about it.

It wasn't even the first time: the mother had also made off with the daughter before, not telling the father where they'd gone for eight months. This ought to have been central to the whole case: how did she keep the father and his family out? Why is this allowed? Why do we live in this state of denial, wringing our hands about bad mothers, drug addict boyfriends, the awful injuries, the sustained torture of a poor little girl and not ask the obvious question? Why was she allowed to keep dad out?

What are the child services saying?
"Certain aspects could have been handled differently"

I bet they could. Like actually doing something about mothers who stand between children and their fathers, like calling this despicable behavior the abuse that it is instead of waiting for it to be way the *&%6 too late. The hypocrisy nauseates me.

Godammit, what is the matter with these people?

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

A confederacy of fools

If The Onion can say this, I can write this:

Atlanta -- Some 40,000 single parents converged on Atlanta this weekend for a week-long conference of the Association of Alienating Parents of America.

"It's more of a celebration of power than it is a stuffy old conference" said Cindy Smirk, one of the conference organizers. "This year we have succeeded as never before in getting alienating parenthood sanctioned by the courts. Custodial parents all over the country are now free to interfere in their kids' relationship with the other parent without fear of reprisal."

"Alright!" Calls out Marcia Maliciosa of an attendee from Florida, "I've got that bastard nailed down for enough money to pay for three conferences a year like this, it's icing on the cake that he can't see the kids since I complained to the judge they were soooo scared of him!" She rolls her eyes, "Hah! He even knows they're being baby-sat by the neighbor's drug-addict kid while I'm here and there's not a damn thing he can do about it!"

Besides the partying, the conference organizers have brought together a broad range of experts to help their attendees build and consolidate their control over their children and exes. Dr. Pete Snitch of the Council on Court Influence and Child Control heads a team of psychologists and lawyers presenting such workshops as "The Strategic Use of TROs, or: how to get him out and keep him out", "Cause and Effect: how to create confusion and put the blame on him" and "Conflict in the courtroom: your greatest ally".

"Oh yes", says Snitch, "times have rarely been better for the malicious custodial parent. There's a whole smörgåsbord of options for getting the ex out of the house, making it look like he's the problem, persuading the kids to take your side, and milking their dad for every penny you can."

Snitch takes a sip of Margerita, "Sure, sometimes the kids end up pretty screwed up and once in a while, dad tops himself. But hey, who cares? He was probably a loser anyhow. It's all about the best interest of the children and that can never be anything less than what the custodial parent says is best, so I think we've a right to be self righteous in our conviction that we're doing what's best for us."

Barbara Brainwasher, a blond stunner out by the pool enjoying the sun and a pina colada confesses "At first, I wasn't so sure, it seemed to be kinda dangerous. Would [my daughter] Bonnie take my side in court? But the guys here assured me, all I had to do was keep her away from her dad for a few months with a TRO or two, and make sure I badmouthed him at every possible opportunity and she'd come around. The lawyers said they'd be sure to keep the whole thing out of court until we were all good and ready. Then, bingo! when the day came Bonnie said exactly what I'd been telling her to say for the last few months. She's a dear, such a shame she turned out so badly, pregnant at 14 and stoned most of the time." She sighs, "Kids, what can you do, eh?"

Shylock T. Kirk, who has acted for many of the attendees, resplendent in his Armani suit, holds court in the hotel's executive bar in the evenings. "It's like taking candy from children" he says, with a twinkle-eyed leer, and pats his wallet, "there's nothing the other parent can do. He stays away and coughs up, or he goes to jail. Of course, you can't go too far, take him for just so much that he keeps to heel for fear of losing the rest."

"In this age of equal opportunity, it's not just for mothers" says Snitch, "fathers can get in on the game too. It's a little trickier - he needs a gullible ex and has to persuade her it's best for the kids to be with him while she sets herself up in a new life, then use that opportunity to generate, er, evidence and get the kids to see that the breakup is all her fault. 'Same as for a target male, really. Once the thin end of the wedge is driven in, the rest is easy - just get the judge to believe that her howls and complaints are all generating conflict and hurting the kids, it'd be best if she didn't see them for a while until things have settled. We can keep that one going for years!"

Kirk says that it gets easier all the time to separate kids from non-custodial parents. "The most effective, of course, is an abduction, sorry, I mean move-away. It's best if the mother has family in another state, or, preferably, a whole other country. It doesn't matter if she hasn't seen them for decades, it's her family ties that matter, after all. It's best if it's court sanctioned, of course, but these days a custodial parent can get away with just about anything. All in the name of the children, of course."

Cindy chips in: "That said, if tormenting your ex is what you want, you're best to stay nearby, but be sure to keep the kids out of reach. We have a whole session on effective techniques to drive him completely crazy. One of my favorites is to drive past his apartment every day taking the kids to school, then sue him for stalking when he waves at the car. It doesn't always work, but when it does, you should see his face in court!"

Back at the pool, Barbara reminisces about the fun times of her divorce. "Sure, it was a rough time, but that just means you've got to try all the harder to enjoy yourself. You should have been there when he found out I'd slept with his boss. Woo-hoo! What a jerk! I created such a scene that the cops dragged him off and charged him with DV without him even touching me! Good job I'd called them early about that stalker I thought I'd seen." She grinned and winked. "After that, the TRO was a shoo-in. Of course, he got fired too. They said it was because he threatened his boss, but she told me she was going to drop him first chance she got anyway, but not before the court set his child support. He was late with a few payments then, but a night or two in the joint sorted that out. I think his parents paid it in the end, but what do I care? He hasn't missed a payment in a while, but I still call him a deadbeat every chance I get."

Although many of the conference goers left their kids with friends or their own family (all appropriately protected by court order), a full creche and child minder service was available. Betty Airhead, chief child-minder, comments: "these kids are so easy to handle, if they play up, all you have to do is threaten to go and get their mom. They quiet right down, it's like magic."

At the conference banquet, the keynote speaker Professor Eminent Respected, "PhD" (East Podunk), provided an enlightening "history" of the "discredited" junk "science" of "PAS" and other laughable attempts to seek what they call "justice" by the "fathers" that have been so completely discounted by this joyful band of conferees. His conclusion, that any non-custodial parent who doesn't completely bend to the will of their ex must, ipso facto, be a child rapist and wife abuser was met with a standing ovation and chants of "PAS doesn't exist! Oi! Oi! Oi!".

After the banquet, I caught up with Eileen Onmylaurels, winner of the conference lifetime achievement award for Most Dedicated Alienator, still clutching her trophy - a beautiful statuette of a crouched man, holding his head in his hands. "Oh yes" she said "it's marvelous how we can do pretty much what we want with the kids and get away with it, for the simple reason that using them against their fathers is an entirely natural thing for us to do. Every vindictive divorcee should have the chance to really stick it their ex through the kids. There's really no arguing with it. All the better if you can get them to take the blame. I'm the living proof - my four kids say they all hate their dads whenever I tell them to. None of them have had any contact for three years now. The last one was an accidental meeting in the mall, where I didn't know his dad was moonlighting as a guard - I got him locked up for a week for it, and garnished those wages too. Every one of them is behind on child support payments but they pay enough between them that I'm doing fine anyway. If I want a bit more, I just pick the highest earner of the moment and have him tossed in jail. 'Works like a charm."

"Parental alienation?" she says "Pshaw, who cares?"

(This is not a satirical blog, but this is a satirical post.)

Friday, August 03, 2007

One word

Sometimes this blog worries me. I have no desire to come across as misogynistic, let alone actually be that way. When I talk about gender differences in general, I try to apply an objective standard of equality, in which all other factors being, er, equal, men and women are treated equally. Then I try to assess whether or not what I am reporting on succeeds or fails according to that standard. Of course, given my orientation, I do this from the point of view in which I seek to expose areas in which men are unfairly treated rather than the acutely politically correct women as losing out. This, of course, can be very difficult to do without seeming to complain about or blame women.


Digressing slightly, I note that a few recent comments have not exactly helped matters. Guys, I don't blame you for being pissed, I've got plenty of reason for that myself, but the fact is that all women are not to blame. In fact, not even a majority are to blame and sometimes not even those women who think you're to blame, are to blame. They're just living in the same twisted, blinkered society you are, but they're female, not male. What they need, just like every other distressingly ignorant innocent, is to be educated. You don't help that by yelling at them. Most especially, you can't help it by yelling at your allies. Quit it.

But today's posting concerns one word. That word is "much". It appears in a New York Times article where the findings of a study are reported which show young women in big American cities are now making more than men. That is, the pay gap has actually reversed itself in this demographic. Great? No, not great because now you have a reverse inequity. Not that that will be any reason for concern for the vast majority who reflexively seem to think that a second wrong puts everything just right.

The word appears in the fourth paragraph of the article in the last sentence which puts the penultimate sentence into a broader context. The two sentences read:
"[The study] shows that women of all educational levels from 21 to 30 living in New York City and working full time made 117 percent of men’s wages, and even more in Dallas, 120 percent. Nationwide, that group of women made much less: 89 percent of the average full-time pay for men."
There it is, "much". So what's my problem? Well, 89% is 11% less. 117% and 120% more imply 85% and 83% for the lesser earners, or 15% and 17% less. Forgive the remedial math, but what I'd like to know is why 11% less is "much less" and 15% and 17% less are just, well, less? If 11% is much less and 17% less, then is 17% less than 11%?

It's a little thing, a tiny thing, too small to merit a blog post, I should really just get over it, I really should, shouldn't I? But, but, well it just bugs me. It's the little things like this that I should just get over behind which real prejudice lurks. If I let the little things go, won't the big things follow? Enough little things can add up to an awfully big thing. Indeed, maybe enough little things like that can chew you up, spit you out and take your children away.

Do you see what I mean?

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

"Mothers are twice as likely to physically hurt kids..."

Once in a while, despite all the prejudice against father custody and the sanctification of the single mother, the occasional unmistakable, unavoidable refutation pops up. Here's a real keeper. The American military has discovered, no surprise, that the incidence of child abuse rises significantly when dad has been deployed away from home, but, and here's the kicker, when it's mom who's deployed "the effect [...] on the likelihood of abuse or neglect was insignificant".

Did you get that? Dad goes away to war and mom takes it out on the kids - the likelihood triples! But when mom's away and the kids stay with dad, he's no more likely to abuse them than if she'd stayed.

Of course, it's no surprise at all that the article blows off dad's restraint by explicitly claiming he must be getting more support from elsewhere and poor, victim mom isn't, left bereft and on her own, but this is nothing in the face of the bare fact of the study.

Now I wonder what happens in the aftermath of divorce, eh?

Overheard in New York

'Found this while browsing:

Little girl: Daddy, when you die do we get all of your money?

Father: Well, that won't happen for a very long time.

Little girl: Daddy, how much money do you make?

--A train

Overheard by: A Chan

Overheard in New York, Jul 29, 2007

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Writhing in agony

A truly international post today, with three stories involving four different countries, but each could be from any of those four.

First, Sandra Horley, chief executive of Refuge, a British domestic violence charity for the protection of women only (by the website), takes exception to the transfer of two children from the mothers' custody to the fathers' in an distressingly uncommon effort to redress years of alienation by the mothers against the fathers. While she accepts that "this is not an ideal world", she sees it as flawed in only one way that matters - mothers having to protect their children from abusive fathers. She says that the mothers she sees "are not bitter exes vengefully preventing separated fathers from seeing their children" and that is all she has to say about such women, that she doesn't see them. This should make her entire letter a thorough non sequitur because, from the article concerned, these two mothers who have, for once, been disciplined by the court manifestly are such vengeful harpies.

Nevertheless, Ms. Horley proceeds to forcefully suggest that the judges hadn't looked into these cases closely enough. Normally, and over that specific, unadorned point, I'd agree with her, the judges don't look closely enough nine times out of ten - it's very much the exception when they do and finally, after much hemming and hawing, find for the father.

She goes on to demand that court personnel should "receive training to dispel misconceptions about domestic violence" and likewise, I would agree with her. But not in the way should would imagine, not that all mothers claiming abuse must inevitably be telling telling the truth, nor that the facts of domestic violence is as one sided as she clearly believes, but that the courts themselves do cause considerable pain and anguish through their unwillingness to see the father in any terms besides those declared by the mother, often taking years to figure out what they want to do while children grow and fathers wither and die.

I find a third point in Ms. Horley's letter to which I can nod an assent, and again with a quick twist of which she would doubtless disapprove. She says "an automatic presumption that it is in 'the best interests of the child' to have contact with both parents, ignores the courts' responsibility to protect that child". Superficially, yes, she is correct, but she misrepresents the court by suggesting that the presumption implies the court shirks its duty in protecting the child in such a way. She would have done better to use the word "requirement" instead of "presumption" to retain some integrity to the assertion. But anyway, the whole meaning is undermined by the vacuousness of the phrase "the best interests of the child", no one has the least idea what that means any more.

What raised my jaded eyebrow, however, was her claim: "Defying the courts may well be a mother's 'last-ditch option' to keep her child safe." and here we have the chief executive of a major charity in a first world country advocating violation of the law. But only under certain conditions, I'm sure. I very much doubt that she would advocate a father kidnapping a child to protect his relationship with him or her, but it's clear she'd defend a mother doing so to keep the child away from the father, provided, of course, that the mother said he's dangerous.

A quick flit across the ocean to Texas and we discover precisely such an example of a father breaking the law to, he says, protect his relationship with his child. Daniel Pavon Cuellar has done a bunk across the border to Mexico with his infant son. Now this is clearly wrong and at best foolish because both Mexico and the USA are signatories to the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, the only complicating factor being that the mother is not American, but British (it's not clear to me what the two of them were doing in Texas when the child was born). Of course, they have to find the child first, and it is trite but true of me to say that we all hope that this resolves without lasting harm to anyone, especially the boy, but it isn't hard to see that the father, ultimately, is doomed pretty much no matter what he does.

That said, you'll be unsurprised to hear that I think reflex condemnation in all respects is too pat and that the father's motivation, for all the stupidity of the act, is quite significant. He fled for fear of a custody action which he would inevitably lose anyway and, one presumes, a move of the child to the UK. It wouldn't be hard to see that he'd have unsurmountable problems in remaining any part of the child's life, especially given the UK's track record in such things. On her webpage, baby Sebastion's mother, Samantha, asserts that "Daniel is violent and shows signs of been [sic] unstable, and mentally ill", although there is no supporting evidence provided, besides the kidnapping, and Daniel, by newspaper reports, insists that she is lying.

Now some might think it crass and insensitive of me to even show shades of taking the father's side, but I am sure that even Sandra Horley would be pleased to join me in disapproving of his behavior, although doubtless with somewhat more vehemence and hypocrisy than I. Nevertheless, I urge you to look at his position right now, which is pretty tight, run to ground somewhere in Mexico City. Somehow, I doubt that calling him "violent", "unstable" and "mentally ill" is helping matters and causes me to look a little askance at the hysterical press who have already tried and condemned Daniel forever. In fact, the whole thing reminds me of another incident not long ago which resolved itself quite cleanly hopefully to the embarrassment (but I doubt it) to all the gung ho rescuing "heroes" involved.

Finally, over to Australia, and a graphic description of what can happen to dads who put their trust in the system, even when it is supposed to have laws which protect their relationships with their children. The director of the Shared Parenting Council of Australia, Edward Dabrowski, says
"I have seen fathers writhing in agony outside the doors of the Family Court. I will challenge any parent that is having their children wrenched away from them to say that they can remain totally sane and totally impassionate about what is happening to them."
I know that agony, and it does indeed test any normal person's sanity (hang in there, Samantha), it leads me to understand Daniel's behavior (but not, you idiot, to condone it!), and makes me realize that the Sandra Horleys of this world and their simplistic thinking are a disease of prejudice and ignorance which must be cured.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

"The alternative results in me."

Yesterday's post netted an interesting comment. You can read the whole thing here, but I extract the gist and points I wish to address below.

(Let's call him) Joe was raised by his mother. He met his father twice in his life, when he was 13 and they exchanged letters for about a year. But then Dad stopped writing. Joe carried on for a while, but then stopped too. Joe is now 24, has graduated college and is building his own life. He has located his father, but is angry with him, and has not made contact.

A short digression; Joe writes: "I might not agree with your portrayal of women post-marriage (chalk it up to the innocence of the unmarried, undivorced, and single-parent raised)"

I'm not sure how to react to this except to say that if I have portrayed women post-marriage in any particular way, that is not my intention. There are good men and good women, and there are bad men and bad women. To say that women in general behave in a certain way after divorce would make me guilty of hypocrisy through my claim that the world reacts to these things with far too much prejudice already.

My beef is with the imbalance present in the law and its application (or lack thereof). The law is supposed to control injustice. If it refuses to acknowledge an injustice, it cannot control it and there are plenty of people in the world, men and women, who will take advantage of that. The definition of injustice is to treat people with prejudice, to pre-judge them based on experience of others whom they are not.

But back to Joe, who thanks me for my blog, and he is welcome.

He goes on: "I figured if the letters had stopped coming, he might have sensed what I had sensed at that first meeting at the age of 13 (but what was too young to interpret). He didn't know me in the least. All those letters prior to meeting him, and he had no idea who [was] this person who bore his blood in his veins but had grown up completely away from him."

It's not hard to imagine. For whatever reason, Dad turns up after 13 years away, completely absent from Joe's life. Who knows what he was expecting? Only Joe knows what Joe thought. They only saw each other twice, barely even scratching the surface of what would be required to get to know one another. And it's not as if a 13 year old is equipped to understand the average old fart, is it? Hell, my parents raised me together and I didn't really begin to understand either of them until I had left home and started to experience the world for myself.

What was going on with Dad? If we read carefully what Joe has written, the only clue we have is actually a projection of his own feelings. "He didn't know me in the least." 13 year old Joe eyeballed this strange guy and correctly surmised that he didn't know him from Adam. Of course, 13 year old Joe didn't know his own self. What 13 year old does? And how many 13 year olds think that anyone at all knows them? Most teenagers I've ever known (I was one myself once, I think) believe there has never been anyone on this planet less understood than they are. (What is important, of course, is that there are people around who understand them, even if they think that there aren't.) Of course Joe decided Dad didn't know him.

On the other hand, I find it a very suspect conclusion to suppose that Dad looked at Joe and saw nothing he recognized. Maybe, indeed, he saw quite a lot, which is why he wrote for a year. If he hadn't seen anything, perhaps there wouldn't even have been more than one encounter.

"Even with this glaring knowledge staring both of us in the face, I still wonder why he stopped writing. And to a smaller degree, why he started writing in the first place if he didn't intend to continue."

I doubt that anyone starts writing, and keeps it up for a year, with the intention not to continue. We don't know why he looked Joe up, we don't know why he wrote, nor why he stopped and neither will Joe unless he goes and asks.

It is easy to be angry at Dad, but we know too little. It is easy to condemn him, to write him off as a ne'er do well, but we know nothing of his struggles, his demons, his pain; except that he surely has them because he is (was?) an alcoholic. Even if he weren't an alcoholic, the emotions that likely surrounded receiving and writing those letters were unlikely to be insignificant.

If he felt nothing, I contend they'd've dried up a lot earlier. More likely, given the alcoholism, each letter represented a considerable risk and effort. Hell, maybe with each one slid through a letterbox, he fell of the wagon and went on a binge. Stopping might have been a matter of survival! (He's hardly likely to have said as much in one of those letters.)

Even if it weren't, even if everything in Dad's life was hunky dory, there's this little issue of a son long abandoned which clearly eats at him somehow, or why make the contact in the first place? Modern life is hardly conducive for a man in his (I'm guessing) forties to keep up a letter correspondence with a teenager with no other engagement. Perhaps we should blame him for not generating greater engagement (was anything done to encourage him?), but I think we'd do better to recognize him for the effort that he did make and reflect on how we might feel or behave in his shoes.

Joe says: "In closing I urge all those disenfranchised fathers who read these words to pick up a pen (or keyboard, or piece of charcoal and write to your children. Perhaps you won't send all of what you write. Hopefully you'll keep your anger from them, as it will probably only serve to confuse them. Pick up a pen and write."

These are wise words. It's tough, sometimes very tough, to do this. the longer it goes on, the harder it gets. You're supposed to move on in life from the disasters that beset you, but at the same time, against the odds, continue personal responsibilities that derive directly from the fiasco that became your marriage? That piece of charcoal can be incredibly heavy, and it takes a strong man to lift it. Joe, maybe Dad looks at that piece of charcoal every day and doesn't feel strong enough.

Joe ends with: "The alternative results in me."

OK, Joe, so now I'm going to challenge you. Who are you? What are you? What is this "result" of which you speak? Should you get off that horse and drink your milk or scurry into that mouse hole, not yet a man? Yeah, so Dad is human, that can be an unpleasant realization, and for many it is hard not to be angry with him, even if he doesn't have some very plain shortcomings. Hey, there are plenty of kids out there whose fathers could be saints and they'd still hate them.

Joe, you're a grown up now, you know how to benchpress biros! How hard can it be for you to pick up a piece of charcoal? It's risky, I know. You may not like what you learn. But you may learn something of yourself. Half your genes are his, there will be a connection. If you don't give him a chance, who will?

Friday, July 13, 2007

Heroes in training

I am often bemused by the fact that "feminist" blogs appear to attract so much more attention and commentary than do fathers' and men's rights blogs. I find it reflective of the reflex attitude with which the population has been infected with respect to perceived (if not always real) oppression of women in contrast to the failure to perceive men's and fathers' problems. The content of that commentary further illustrates the problem.  It is easy, in our modern world, to be volubly outraged by often cliched examples of mistreatment of women to the point of blindness to the wider context.  It is harder to identify the hurdles faced by men and fathers and when they are identified, it is harder still to make the passers-by fully aware of what we are talking about, encouraging a descent into incoherent rage.

Mistreatment of men is so ingrained that it is often only the bona fide victims who speak up. Just as poking fun at other minority groups in the past has been so acceptable as to be barely noticed in daily life, the same is now true of men and fathers. Thus the average person in the street is taken aback when their, at best, humor and, at worst, bigotry is challenged.  It is something vaguely incomprehensible to them and like many things that are unknown, to be fought against.

As a consequence, those who do complain are those whose eyes have been opened by direct experience, and they are often driven to reactionary positions, unable, or no longer willing to see how that furthers the alienation they experience. Even if it doesn't go that far, many will find that just trying to voice their grievances is interpreted as politically incorrect - it can be quite difficult to find a way to air a legitimate grievance in this topic without being labeled as misogynist, and hard too, to avoid reacting by claiming to have paid the price and so might as well commit the crime. Thus men's and fathers' rights activists become seen wrongly, but wholly, as a lunatic fringe.

Moreover, the lack of a politically correct stance from which to fight for men's and fathers' rights drives many to seek support in political stances which further polarize debate. For example, the men's rights movement is largely seen as allied with right wing political philosophies and one of my pet peeves is the way that fathers' rights are often discussed in religious terms, complete with old testament quotes. One does not need to be a republican to recognize that men have a right to respect for what they are, one does not need to be a bible-thumper to know that fathers have a right to participate in raising their children. Nevertheless, these positions, being sympathetic to the specific goals of these activists, become attractive in the urge to generate allies and the goals become diluted and distorted as a result.

For all our problems with hurt and damaged men claiming the problem is with women, when discussing an issue sanely and logically it is clear that we have much higher standards of reason and behavior in ourselves than do the opposition. The other side fights dirty. This is plain, for example, in the blatant censorship of debate in many "feminist" blogs and, more subtly, in the argument about PAS - obviously, all parents who claim they are being alienated are not abusers, but the opposition wants you to think they must be. The mob censors by reflex, without thought or hesitation, the empowered minority thinks carefully before it tries to shout anyone down because ideas are central to a vital movement.

Surrounded by this confused miasma, hanging onto the central points and pursuing them relentlessly while under sustained attack and without losing the plot can be exceptionally difficult. If I may say so, it is a particularly manly challenge to attempt this. Holding onto what is right and true in the face of unpleasant odds has always been a trait we ascribe to heroes. Another characteristic of a hero is the discipline to police himself, to rise above the simple fray to fight the more important battles. This discipline has to be learned. It is my hope that the MRA reactionaries and lunatic fringes are merely heroes in training.

A useful manual for such heroes in training is to be found here.

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