Tuesday, January 30, 2007

"Lone parents"? Riiiight.

Is it not intriguing that the BBC website and the Labour government are carefully gender neutral when they want to talk about pushing "lone parents" out into the labor force by cutting welfare?

If they were looking to raise welfare payouts or child support, I'm willing to bet they'd be talking about single mothers.

Mayhap I am too cynical.

Nah. Probably not.

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Monday, January 29, 2007

Soft focus

A friend of mine was watching a movie the other day. It was one of those dialog scenes where the male and female lead are face-to-face, discussing something meaningful. I can't remember what the topic was. Something vaguely romantic I guess. But I became fascinated by a cinematographic technique in overt use. As the camera's attention switched from one participant to the other, I began intoning:

"Soft focus"

"Hard focus"

"Soft focus"

"Hard focus"

"Soft focus"

"Hard focus"

"Oh be quiet" she said, and I went about my business.

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Saturday, January 27, 2007

Kick 'em when they're down...

One of the excuses given for not enforcing visitation orders in the face of a recalcitrant custodial parent is that it is supposedly not in the child's best interest to punish that parent. Supposedly, there are no sanctions that can be made against the custodial parent that will not have some sort of negative backlash on the child. Result: carte blanche for the custodial parent to mess with the non-custodial as much as (usually) she likes.

In a reasonable world, we might expect that the same sort of reasoning ought to exist for the non-custodial parent, at least to some level. To publicly humiliate a child's (usually) father for not fulfilling his obligations would presumably have some sort of knock-on effect for the child. His or her classmates, for example, might have fun targeting him for a little schoolyard taunting, not to mention the chance for the mother to tell him or her: "see, your Dad's a bad man, the government have had to lock him up." Not that today's kids need any additional encouragement to devalue their fathers, any number of sitcoms, soaps and news reports will do that for them quite adequately.

Hence it is no great surprise that the hounding of disenfranchised fathers gets bolder and more hypocritical by the day. There are plenty of tales of the abuses perpetrated by child support collection authorities (here is just one of the latest I've seen), but Kafkaesque bureaucracy is only one of the torments available. The governments of Canada and the UK now seem determined to augment the repertoire with public "naming and shaming". At least the British article has the decency to put forward an alternative point of view: "Naming and shaming would fail the test of whether the interests of the child are paramount." Of course it would, but then the best interests of the child are not and never have been paramount. I fully expect to find stocks being legalized again sometime in the not too distant future. Or, guys, how about tarring and feathering, that would be quite a lot of fun, don't you think?

I make my living off the evening news,

Just give me something that I can use.

People love it when you lose,

They love dirty laundry.

Well I could have been an actor,

But I wound up here.

I just have to look good,

I don't have to be clear.

Come and whisper in my ear,

We need dirty laundry.

Kick 'em when they're up,

Kick 'em when they're down.

Kick 'em when they're up,

Kick 'em when they're down.

Kick 'em when they're up,

Kick 'em when they're down.

Kick 'em when they're up,

Kick 'em all around.

We got the bubble-headed beach blonde,

Comes on at five,

She can tell about the plane crash,

With a gleam in her eye.

It's int'resting when people die,

Give us dirty laundry.

Can we film the operation?

Is the head dead yet?

Y'know the boys in the newsroom,

Got a running bet.

Get the widow on the set,

We need dirty laundry.

You don't really need to find out

What's going on,

You don't want to know just

How far it's gone,

Just leave well enough alone,

Keep your dirty laundry.

Kick 'em when they're up,

Kick 'em when they're down.

Kick 'em when they're up,

Kick 'em when they're down.

Kick 'em when they're up,

Kick 'em when they're down.

Kick 'em where they sit,

Kick 'em all around.

Dirty little secrets,

Dirty little lies,

We got our fingers in ev'rybody's pies,

We love to cut you down to size,

We love dirty laundry.

We can do the innuendo,

We can dance and sing.

When it's all over we haven't

Told you a thing.

We all know that crap is king,

Give us dirty laundry.

Kick 'em when they're up,

Kick 'em when they're down.

Kick 'em when they're up,

Kick 'em when they're down.

Kick 'em when they're up,

Kick 'em when they're down.

Kick 'em when they're up,

Don Henley, Dirty Laundry.

Kick 'em all around.

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Wednesday, January 24, 2007

The fallacy of child custody

Among others, Glenn Sacks has been commenting on the same-sex child custody case in Vermont in which the biological mother has used the courts to exclude her ex-partner from the life of their child. Glenn rightly points out that this is not an issue of gay rights, although it is usually discussed as such. It is an issue of non-custodial parent's rights since many failed "normal" marriages result in similar problems for the non-custodial parent. Understandably, Glenn sees some irony in the situation, but there really isn't any because the situation is completely predictable, even inevitable.

The equation is very simple, but poorly understood and fundamentally flawed.

In the event of conflict in a separation or divorce, the court seeks “the best interests of the child”. It has long been a core theory of child development that a child must have a strong parent/child relationship with at least one parental figure (it doesn’t even have to be a natural parent). This theory is apparently trivial, except that it does not tell the whole story. It reduces what can be a very complicated, 3-or-more-point problem, to a black-and-white issue of one child/one parent. It is based on very dated, largely Freudian theory, on experience with refugee children from two world wars and on prejudice deriving from societal conditions vastly different from those we have today. There is no comparable body of thought arguing that the child needs a relationship with more than one parent, nor even with natural parents, the clay feet of the accepted theory notwithstanding. Note the phrasing "no comparable body of thought", by which I mean that work has not been done, not that it is not true.

The law and the courts are not, ultimately, complicated thinkers, they take the minimalist step which goes with the flow. They ask a simple question: “what is in the best interest of the child?” and get a simple answer: “one parental figure”. But that is a non sequiteur, it is the answer to a subtly but importantly different question: "what is in the minimum interest of the child" and the result is that custody is reflexively assigned to one parent. If there is conflict, the courts will harden on that position for fear of disrupting the overriding motivation that the child have one parental figure in his or her life.

This logical fallacy is so entrenched, it has become axiomatic.

Thus all the custodial parent has to do to achieve full control of the child and freeze out the other parent, is engender conflict. This is positive feedback, all roads lead to the custodial parent and the slope gets steeper at their will. The non-custodial parent is automatically completely helpless. Fighting back will only make things worse. There is nothing the non-custodial parent can do to make them better. The gender of the non-custodial parent is not relevant.

A presumption of shared parenting is the only way out, and it is no good just showing that it is to the child’s benefit. One must also attack the existing theory and show that it is based, as it is, on bad science and foggy thinking. Many of our world’s worst atrocities have been motivated (or excused) by bad science and distorted reason, especially that which appeals to ignorant prejudice.

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Parthenogenesis, girls will make boys

Just the other day, I wrote on Doris Lessing and her rather silly-sounding and misandrist new novel in which a female-only, parthenogenetic society discovers men and treats them as monsters. As an aside, I rolled my figurative eyes at The Times's suggestion that the "virgin births" of Komodo dragons supports the viability of such a society. (Well, us men, we're such dinosaurs, right?) But today I was positively tickled to find the BBC reporting on such virgin births at another zoo with the punchline that: "All Komodo dragons bred in this way will be male". Oh, I know, I get excited at the silliest things, but don't you think there's a delicious irony in that?

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Thursday, January 18, 2007

Everybody Panic!

Barry Lovell has had a spat with the missus and gone out with his kid! Call out the cops! Maybe the SWAT team! Tell the BBC! Make sure the whole world knows because Barry's obviously off his rocker and can't be trusted!

What is it with the world today? Fathers just can't be trusted, not so far as you can throw us. We're dangerous, we're evil, who knows what we'll get up to next. The slightest toe over a line and we're to be hounded into the ground. And just exactly who is defining where that line is anyway and why does it keep moving closer to our toes?

The cops want us to know that Barry isn't in trouble and his actions aren't "calculated", but the BBC want us to know that the missus, Emma, says her "heart is being ripped out". Drama! Tragedy! The world ends at teatime!

What if she'd buggered off with the kid? Would we be putting out all-points alerts, hearing about it on the national news? Like hell we would. Well, unless she were a drug addict who left hospital with her premature baby presumably in search of a hit, and even then, once found, we'd just usher her back into hospital, the poor dear. Would we be hearing about the father and how his heart was torn out? In my dreams.

What do we suppose will happen to Barry once he comes home? A pat on the back and all is forgiven? Yeah, sure.

Why all the fuss? Because we all know what happens when fathers leave with the kid after a fight with the missus. The media have made sure that we all know for sure that it inevitably ends in tragedy. That is the unstated expectation, the media can almost be seen salivating, the cops go loopy. It's a guilty pleasure, we all know what's going on. Barry's chances of having a normal relationship with his kid are almost negligible if Emma decides he shouldn't, especially now. He's handed her his balls, no matter what he does. It doesn't take much to imagine what he might be going through, and it takes even less to imagine how he might react, especially if he's pressured hard enough. Let's all watch as closely as we can and see if he does.

If he does, he's easy to condemn, and if he doesn't he'll be easy to forget, meantime it's fun to join in the torment.

The cops say "The response from the public has been fantastic". I bet it has, everyone wants to be a knight in shining amour saving a child in obvious mortal danger from nasty, evil dad for the poor defenseless, weeping mom. (She's notably pretty, I wonder if the public would be so "fantastic" if she had a face like the back end of a horse?)

In case you think anything gruesome might have happened already, Barry and his kid have been spotted three times since they took off, only two days ago.

Why are they even considered to be missing yet?

Everyone's all worried because he didn't take nappies or baby food. This isn't the bloody arctic folks! England has actual shops that sell things like baby food and nappies! They have cash machines (he's used one) and credit cards and all kinds of modern, trendy things.

What did they argue about? Money. Now that's downright scary, don't you think? Who knows what that might mean? Let's all imagine the worst.

Good grief, calm down everyone. Give Barry a chance to call home without having to face down a perfect media storm. Apply some basic psychology, and I don't mean trying to pull on his heartstrings with a hysterical mom giving a press conference which is only going to scare him all the more, knowing that the public is now squarely on her side and will be completely deaf to his.

Update: you can all stop panicking now. They found them. Safe and well. Of course, they arrested Barry, "on suspicion of child neglect" whatever the hell that means. "On suspicion of not actually having done anything illegal, you, you father, you!" more like. Morons.

Oh, sorry, you like panicking. Sorry. Go right ahead then. Don't mind me.


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What can you do?

In a comment to my last post, Myra relates her experience being raised by her father after a civilized divorce and her husband's experience with a savage one and asks a series of questions. She says that they are rhetorical, but they desperately need answers:
How do we make a balanced equation in custody battles?
The courts are designed to assign blame, and family courts, denied a criminal charge, sublimate this by assigning custody. They might as well assign "blame" to the non-custodial parent, make him or her the bad guy, and hand the custodial parent a rod to beat him with. The children would be better off for their exclusion from the warfare. But then, of course, you've got to do something about the kids. My answer to Myra would be that we need to assert basic parental rights equally to each parent from the get-go, to be lifted only when either parent is proven inadequate by sufficient evidence (the word of the other parent being considered the epitome of insufficient). We need to make it a crime to obstruct contact of the children with their other parent in the absence of a court order to the contrary. Some would say that this provides an additional weapon to the abusive ex-spouse. But what if that abusive ex-spouse is the mother? She already has that weapon by default and the abused spouse is completely disarmed. Oh, but that's a really good alternative, isn't it?
How do we find compromise?
Compromise is something the parents have to find. The court only lays down the rules. But if the court is set up as an arena, arms the combatants unequally, and declares "let the battle commence", then it becomes a modern spectacle where profit for the venue, the handlers and the hangers-on is the only result, not compromise, peace and safety for the combatants. The family courts need to develop a new philosophy, one which gives highest priority to avoiding conflict, not fostering it.
How do I get up on my soapbox and tell the matriarchal family courts that I am all the better for being raised by my dad?
Getting up on a soapbox these days is a easy as starting a blog. More pro-actively, you might contact your local fathers' rights group; be careful, many of them are deeply wounded and might come across as somewhat angrier than you're really happy with. Some of them deserve forgiveness and understanding, and they are why the group exists. (Some of them really are pretty nasty and these should be identified and neutralized as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, too cautious a group cuts out the very activist element that they need.)
What expert do I tell my story to?
Try writing to some of the local services, telling them your story. The worst that can happen is that they throw the letter away, but someone has to read it first.

Write to some of the "experts" you find on the web.

Write comments on the patriphobic blogs pointing out the inevitable holes in their reasoning. Be prepared to be flamed and banned - they're closed minded, they won't like you, and they will spit on you, then slam the door. What that achieves is to show the world their hypocrisy; a negative step for them, a success for reason.
And on the other hand, who does my husband tell his story to?
The same people. To be silent in this game is to be complicit. Most of the general public haven't a clue how unpleasant family court can be. They think divorces should be amicable and if they aren't then it's the fault of both parties. They don't see how this attitude gives an advantage to the more combative party. They don't see how one side, the one with the kids, has a powerful advantage over the other. Mostly they objectify the money, assuming that's the whole story. They simplify the thing into soap opera terms with a very limited set of default assumptions. Question the assumption that the more hostile parent is right, question the assumption that either side has a default right to deny access of the other to the children, that either side has a monopoly on what's best for the children.
Who's to answer for the unconscionable behavior he witnessed from his father?
The easy answer is "his father". But that's too pat, isn't it? All too often the ugliest behavior by either side is gotten away with, even encouraged. Sometimes it can even be hard to see who is the "bad guy" especially if there isn't one, just two angry, frightened people shouting at each other. But there are others who should be answerable also - inadequate judges don't help, lawyers who build up the conflict to a level sufficient to maximize profit, but not enough to completely scare them off. Court officials who react from prejudice and sabotage one side or the other just because they don't like his face or she's the half-sister of that boy who got into trouble once at school. Mediators who don't. Politicians who distort the data to get votes which are all too often working from even baser prejudice. Social and behavioral researchers who want to find a specific result and therefore do. All these are answerable for the bad behavior we see in the courtroom.

Would the gladiators fight if they were not forced into the arena with an audience baying for blood? In those circumstances, it can feel like self defense to strike the first blow.

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Friday, January 12, 2007

Read what I've written, I've got something to say.

I have been enjoying some increased popularity of late. I should hasten to point out that this is through no apparent effort of my own. I have been linked to from Violent Acres where the hostess has written a quite deliciously piquant piece on, among other things, man bashing in television land. This deservedly got Digg'd (Dugg?) in a big way and now she's well on her way to becoming one of blogging's shining stars. Then I read her FAQ and I'm even more flattered to be riding her shirttails. In fact, if I hadn't sworn off the whole institution and she wasn't married already, I might be considering a proposal.

So, I guess I should be making the most of this extra exposure and point out some of the items I'm most proud of, by way of shortcuts for those passing through. Check out the "Essays" on the right.

"Feminist bashing" is a reply to a feminist complaining about said passtime which says everything I want to say about the political movement I used to support but no longer can.

"In the Best Interests of the Child" parts 1 2 is a commentary on a text which features highly on many family law reading lists which advocates the complete removal of a child from the life of one parent in the event of a divorce, any divorce. I never finished this because it just got too distressing, but the main point is there.

"The First Step Towards Destroying a Parent is Made by Law" is an exploration of the problematic Parental Alienation Syndrome and the first inch provided by sole custody thinking towards the long, long mile that some parents are forced to walk down and away from their children.

I was amused by 20/20's exploration of titty bars and suspect they must not have been carded at the door, either that or they're just terminally naive. Oh, and I invented (or hijacked) a new word: "patriphobia". One of the saddest tales I ever heard from family court is in "How to destroy a man". On the revisionist historical fashion for claiming famous male figures stole credit from their wives, I am particularly pleased with the horribly punny "Bach gets fugued".

Oh that's enough, as the good lady of Violent Acres might put it: turn off that fucking TV and just follow the fucking links.

(I guess I should figure out how to add a "Digg This" thingy, then maybe I'll get famous too.)

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Tuesday, January 09, 2007

I happened across this list of "alternative parent plans" or Child Custody Schedules from one Robert E. Emery, Ph.D. I find it interesting how so many of these experts feel the need to tout their qualifications in big letters along with their names at the top of their writings just in case we miss it. Reading his bio, we find that Emery (Ph.D.) has expertise positively dripping from his ears - professor of psychology, director of a center for children, families and the law (U. Virginia) and has or has been on the editorial boards of eleven professional journals.

You will gather from they way that I harp on all this expertise that I am about to point out something truly moronic in this guy's writing.

After the usual pat advice for keeping it cool for the kids during your divorce, he lists a range of "parenting plans" for various age groups of children. In each of them, he offers plans for "Traditional Options for an Angry Divorce", "More Integrated Options for a Distant Divorce" and "Closely Integrated Options for a Cooperative Divorce". In every single case, the amount of time the non-custodial parent gets to spend with his* children increases as one progresses along this list.

Upshot: the equation is mind-numbingly simple - a custodial parent who wishes to punish her* ex by limiting his* time with his* children need only make the divorce as acrimonious as possible to achieve her* ends, and the onus for keeping it friendly is entirely on the father* who is in no position to do so should she* not wish to cooperate. In other words, the uglier she* gets, the more power she* gets, limited only by her* cruelty and the amount of punishment he* is prepared to take, an ultimately poisonous test of his love for his children.

Dr. Robert E. Emery, Ph.D. is a psychologist of considerable standing but he, like so many of his kind, seems to be unable to figure out basic human behavior.

(* - Emery explicitly states that the non-custodial parent is of the male gender)

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Monday, January 08, 2007

Dorris Lessing, Cleft not Squirt

I always had a sort of ignorant respect for Doris Lessing. Many years ago I bought one of her science fiction novels but never got very far. It was too difficult, or something. I knew she'd written books called things like "The Good Terrorist" which title appealed to my paradoxical tastes, and I knew that she was highly thought of in the stratospheric heights of educated culture. It was basically true that I liked reading more than I liked literature, so I assumed that it was me who was deficient in being unable to engage myself with the book.

So via Angry Harry, I learn from the London Times that she's now 88 years old, was probably dropped from the Nobel prize's unofficial list because she committed the sin of writing science fiction, and is one of a "cabal" of women writers who, er, "defined the latter half of the 20th century". Er, yeah, OK, whatever.

So what's she up to now? She's written a book in which a purely female society, calling themselves the Clefts, which has had only female children, suddenly starts having male children. They are horrified by these "monsters" and call them the Squirts. (The Times feels the need to tell us that "Clefts" and "Squirts" refers to reproductive equipment. I'm so grateful, I'd never have figured it out on my own.)

Lessing seems to be surprised that this could be taken as disparaging to men (The Times still hasn't discovered the word "misandrist"). “There’s no judgment of men. If women had been producing clefts for centuries and they give birth to a boy they would call it a monster." How is this not a judgment?

It's a little difficult to wonder about the opposite claim, but we can try: that if we'd only been breeding men for centuries and suddenly a girl appeared, would we think of her as a monster? Now that I come to think of it, the female-only society is something of a (feminist) science-fiction staple, is it not? But not male-only. Which makes the imagining all the harder. But let's ignore the details of how reproduction might take place, this is science fiction after all, and imagine anyway. Here we are, surrounded by men, and we have been for generations. It's all body odor, holey T-shirts and testosterone, even in the kitchens and laundries, but it's stable (it has survived, after all), it's making progress, it's out there adventuring in the dark. I doubt they'd call themselves the Squirts, (the Dicks?), nah probably "human" will do.

Then suddenly this other creature appears, and it's got slot B where everyone else has tab A, not to mention the bumpy bits. How might we react? Is it a monster? A curiosity? Something to try and understand? Or is it something too different, something to fear? Quick, call it a Hole and kick it out? That seems unlikely. Perhaps Ms. Lessing reveals a deep-seated issue here.

She goes on: "Well, you must have seen a baby boy: it’s all genitals. It’s quite a shock when you have a baby boy.”

Can we imagine a male author claiming "Well, you must have seen a baby girl: it's all genitals."? I think we would rightly worry about such a man, don't you?

Ms. Lessing "remains a feminist", but thinks it "the most self-indulgent movement there has ever been", and doesn't like being one of its icons. She sounds positively conflicted to me and, methinks, doth protest too much.

Ludicrously, The Times seems to think that Lessing is serious about a parthenogenetic, female-only society, citing virgin births among komodo dragons (puh-lease!) and quoting her: "I think men were a new invention. They have new ideas, but they’re erratic, you can’t count on them. They haven’t settled down yet." Well, thanks, missus, I'm glad you think of us as immature fools who can't be relied on. Generations of bread-winners, home-defenders and family-raisers will have to bow to your superior knowledge.

She goes on: "You have to agree, there’s a kind of solidity about women. They’re sort of heavy and rooted, even if we don’t think like that.” Fortunately, we don't have to agree to a damned thing. Heavy and rooted? What the hell does that mean in an era when two thirds of divorces are initiated by women? Disingenuous cant, if you ask me.

At least I feel a little better at never having gotten into her writing.

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"What decent person would want to put a child through that?"

So asks Glenn Sacks in a recent blog post regarding a 67-year-old new mother in Spain, pointing out the extreme selfishness of the behavior and the apparent blindness of the media to the inherent risks to the children. The answer, of course, is that no decent person would do that.

But a child psychiatrist would. Indeed, I have been struck by the complete absence of comment anywhere that I've looked on a case in Britain where a 63 year old woman recently had IVF to get pregnant. At least in that case, there's a father, but still, one has to ask why a child psychiatrist thinks it's OK for a kid to grow up with parents who are 30+ years older than they should be, with all the accompanying issues, assuming they live long enough to actually raise the kid.

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Friday, January 05, 2007

DV as fashion statement?

I couldn't possibly comment on this image, it's definitely one of those "worth a thousand words" pictures. (Shamelessly stolen from here)

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