A T-Shirt for the Weeks Ahead

Whether you’ve got a favorite shortlisted justice you are rooting for, or just want to remind the world that court appointments shouldn’t require religious tests, you can still get “The Dogma Lives Loudly Within Me” t-shirts. Proceeds fund the maintenance costs of the Catholic Conspiracy’s website.

FYI, I just placed an order, and can attest that a quick search for coupon codes is worth the effort.  Also, when in doubt size up.  Click around a bit if there’s a style you are looking for and can’t quite find, because sometimes the “display all” doesn’t really truly display *all*.  Um, I dunno. Could’ve been me.

Just saying: Don’t give up on your dreams too quickly, when it comes to your perfect t-shirt for telling the world “I’m Catholic and also maybe I like C-SPAN too much.”

 

The Dogma Lives Loudly Within Me t-shirt

Photo of the perfect shirt if you’re one of *those* Catholics courtesy of CafePress.

Why Chadwick Boseman Earned a Statesman’s Honors in SC

I got aggravated this morning at a friend, a recent arrival in South Carolina from points north, who questioned why Governor McMaster ordered flags to fly at half-staff for Chadwick Boseman.  In her experience, such an honor is reserved for politicians and other government emissaries — would we lower the flag for xyz other locally-grown actor who is just as talented?

Rather than continue to lose my temper, I’ll take my own advice to catechists and just answer the question.

***

Before we begin, let me tell you about a spider bite.  My kid was ten and he went off to summer camp and he got some kind of nasty bite on the back of his leg — painful but which barely created a mark.  He’s a tough kid and decided to self-treat.

This was not the right move. When we picked him up in the morning at the end of the week, he could no longer hide the injury because it hurt so badly he couldn’t walk without limping.

The bite had become infected and created an abscess.  In the doctor’s office I got to lay my body across his flailing limbs so that the pediatrician could drain the wound while my son screamed in pain. It was a procedure that hurt but would in no way harm; failing to drain the wound, in contrast, could have led to sepsis and death.

Hold onto that image of a wound hidden beneath the surface, and its aftermath.

***

Two aspects of Chadwick Boseman’s life make him worthy of the governor’s attention.

The first is that that he’s from here. If he were nothing more than a small town boy who grew up to be a wildly successful, world-renown celebrity, that would be sufficient in the eyes of most state residents to count him as a local hero.  (See: James Brown). It would not, however, quite warrant lowering the flag at the statehouse.

The second reason, though, is that his life’s work touches South Carolina’s history in a profound and very personal manner.

***

You can read here a brief, informative summary of the Civil Rights movement in South Carolina. If you are a person who has the same question as my friend, please do that.  It won’t take you long.

Okay, thanks.

So.  Civil Rights in South Carolina is a big, big, big deal.  We’re gonna tell a story or two below about that.

Now observe: Chadwick Boseman’s filmography includes not just Marshall and 42, which serve to rectify the longstanding problem of whitewashed history in South Carolina schools, but also Black Panther.

Oh, that’s just a pop film about a comic book superhero who’s been around for decades? Here’s a personal essay from a fan who found the film to be far more meaningful than that.  Read it.  Try for a moment to understand how important Chadwick Boseman’s role was for many, many people, in a way that touches very keenly on South Carolina public life.

***

Here’s a personal story my mom, a white lady, told me a few years before she died.

Her father was from a small town in South Carolina not unlike Boseman’s hometown.  He was career Navy, so my mother grew up all over the United States. She attended authentically integrated schools in California (I have her yearbooks, the photos of staff and student life are unequivocal), and witnessed the first round of integration at her high school alma mater in Virginia.

In college, though, there was a particular class that made the civil rights movement deeply personal for her — not because of the stated subject matter of the class, but because of the way it was graded. The professor announced that everyone’s grade would hinge on their final paper or project, and he advised: “Do a project.  I have never given a passing grade on a paper.”

My mom, who was the epitome of conscientious her entire life, and for whom the prospect of failing a class was an absolute nightmare, found herself having to face an ugly reality: She stunk at projects.  She never, ever, succeeded at projects.  She knew (I don’t know why she was so convinced of this, but she was) that there was no way she could create an adequate project.  She could, on the other hand, write an excellent paper.

So she decided she would just write the paper, fail the class, and accept her doom.

The paper she wrote was about visiting the family farm in rural South Carolina.

***

My grandfather’s family was skin-in-the-game heroic.  His mother christened an aircraft carrier during the war, an honor she earned because six of her seven sons had all enlisted and were actively serving in the armed forces.  (The eldest stayed home to run the farm, necessary because their father had been killed, shot in the back down in town in front of everybody, back when his mother was pregnant with two youngest.)

They were also brutally prejudiced, and did not treat the Black laborers who worked the farm with the respect and dignity my mother (or you or I today) would consider the bare minimum of humane consideration.

My mom’s paper was about that.

It was about witnessing, as a young adult, just how intensely heartless was the deep-seated racism that punctuated daily life at her own family’s farm.

I don’t have my mother here to fact-check me, so rather than risk mistelling, here’s an example of an article about the kind of things that happened across the South:

Employers and white employees went out of their way to engage in what can only be termed the ritual humiliation of blacks. It was not enough to have separate bathrooms for blacks and whites; the “black” bathrooms were often located far from specific workplaces, forcing employees to spend a good deal of their break getting there and coming back. It was not enough to have separate water fountains for blacks and whites; the “black” fountains were never cleaned, and the water was always warm. Federal Compress (where bales of cotton were readied for textile mills) resisted installing electric fans, though black workers were sweltering in concrete buildings that approached 100 degrees. The owner of a Memphis dry-cleaner fired women employees rather than let them talk to one another on the job.

Google around, you can find plenty of stories.  Or just ask one of the many people still alive if they are willing to dredge up the worst of what went down in those times.

***

My mom’s professor read the paper, and called her into his office, and informed her that she had dared to do the one thing no on else had ever done in his long career as an educator: She earned an A on a paper.

Also: Her father read the paper and nearly disowned her.

He was livid.

He accused her of lying.

But he loved her and somehow they got over it.

***

Governor Henry McMaster is about the same age as my mom.

For him and for countless South Carolinians alive today, all the cruelty of segregation and Jim Crow is not some ancient mystic legend, it’s their formative years.  His political career, his party . . . that’s the party of Strom Thurmond and Fritz Hollings, who locked up the state’s Senate seats so tight that even I am old enough to remember the years when there was only one candidate on the ballot because no one else bothered to run.

McMaster can remember the Confederate Flag going up at the state house.  Understand that I of the next generation am old enough to have been fully an adult when it finally came down again.  My children are old enough to remember when it was finally moved off the statehouse grounds altogether.

***

I don’t travel in the same circles as Governor McMaster, though we certainly have some acquaintances in common.  If you live in South Carolina, and you are white, and you are paying attention, at all, you will amass plenty of evidence that racism remains a serious problem.  You can tell not because of demographic statistics but because of the words that come out of people’s mouths.  Are they lying? Are they just pretending to be racist when they get a chance to express themselves privately in what they think is “safe” company?

But also, in a nation where African-American senators are thin on the ground, Hollings and Thurmond are both dead, and Tim Scott is the new face of the Republican establishment.

***

When I look at Kenosha or Minneapolis, what I see is my son’s spider bite.

Here in the South, we have entrenched racism. It is no secret. Everybody knows it, including a whole lot of outsiders who look down on us as backwards and stupid.

But here’s what Minneapolis and Kenosha are: They are places that also have entrenched racism.  If racism in South Carolina is a gaping wound, up north it turns out to have been an abscess festering beneath the surface. Pretending everything’s fine leads to crippling pain. Like my son screaming on the examining table in the doctor’s office, we’re discovering that ignoring the rot among the “progressive”  states only pushes off the day of reckoning and makes the inevitable confrontation far, far worse.

***

That’s not me saying Kenosha can’t happen in South Carolina.

Sure it can.

Lord willing, it won’t.

Chadwick Boseman is an ambassador of that hope.

***

What I think a lot of people don’t understand is that the legacy of racism is everyone’s history.

You can’t, like my grandfather wanted to do, pretend it’s not there.  That way leads to destruction.

***

So how does the work of Chadwick Boseman fit into state politics?  It’s a reasonable question.  Historically, one lowers the statehouse flag for persons with clear ties to the state: Deceased politicians; soldiers, firefighters, and police killed in the line of duty; victims of terrorist attacks and acts of war.  How does an actor fit into all that?

The actor fits in because his artistic legacy is in culturally ground-breaking work on the issue that has defined the history, economy, and politics of his home state since its founding.

***

Is it exciting and inspiring that a small-town boy could grow up to be a famous celebrity? Sure. The governor could be excused for making a nod to the masses in a contentious election year.

I don’t know Governor McMaster’s heart.  It’s entirely possible he’s just doing the politically expedient thing.  If so, God bless democracy: We have a politician who will do something right for no other reason than he wants to be re-elected.

But consider the possibility that McMaster fully comprehends Chadwick Boseman’s legacy for this state.  This is our guy.  He’s us.  He comes from here and he knew exactly how crucial it is that we deal with our state’s history — so much so that even though he was literally dying he pushed through to step out on the shoulders of giants and take us another step forward in the renewing and transforming of our culture.

Boseman’s work has been a work of healing for exactly the wounds that have torn apart his home state for generations.

So sure.  Statesman’s honors.  Well earned.

Charleston, SC George Floyd Protest : Backs of protesters on Calhoun Street, with a Black Lives Matter sign

Photo: Charleston, SC, May 2020,  courtesy of Wikimedia, CC 4.0

Quick update for the same friend, who was questioning the legality of the governor’s decision:

SC 10-1-161 (E): “Upon the occurrence of an extraordinary event resulting in death or upon the death of a person of extraordinary stature, the Governor may order that the flags atop the State Capitol Building be lowered to half-staff at a designated time or for a designated period of time.”

A quick compendium of all SC laws relating to flying flags at half-staff is here.

How’s it Going, Jen? Mid-August 2020 News & Links

A few quick updates as I hopefully get back into the swing of things?  Maybe? Here’s all that’s been going on since I last fell off the internet:

(1) I took a leave of absence from social media because I had started losing my temper at people who were wrong.  The break was surprisingly beneficial — I say surprising because my primary mode self-correction consisted of watching Agents of S.H.E.I.L.D. Best I can tell, it’s what happens if you cross C.S. Lewis with Tom Clancy with Hollywood Sci-Fi with an Evangelical Presbyterian. Season 3 is when it gets blatant.

Didn’t see that coming, though, tip: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2. is a straight-up pro-life morality tale, except seedy and brilliant — if you happen to like campy sci-fi comedy-adventure infused with a potty-mouthed and hilarious Theology of the Body theme.  (Parental supervision strongly recommended.  None of this is for little kids.)

(2) Had to take a healthy, athletic teenager to the ER for extreme shortness of breath on exertion associated with a respiratory virus of unknown nature.  She’s fine now. Also, our ER experience provides a few theories on why certain minority communities might be experiencing a higher rate of COVID-19 morbidity and mortality.  –> All is not well in public health, guys.

(3) I’ve got two more here at the castle who’ve succumbed to a respiratory ailment of unknown nature, possibly the same one as the teen, possibly something else. In the effort to keep those three distanced from the remaining residents, I was doing an awful lot of zig-zagging around providing food service and so forth.  That’ll keep you busy.  I finally gave two men a kitchen in the camper in the yard so they could do some of their own cooking.  Mr. Boy was appreciative, SuperHusband is not amused. Heh.

(4) Oh oh! and during all that?  Our 18 y.o. came back from college for the one week we get to see her until Thanskgiving, we think, and it was absolutely vital, if she wished to return to school, which she does, that she not catch any kind of respiratory ailment.  Huge thanks to the friends who housed her, fed her, and did airport shuttle so that she could limit her time with us to sitting outdoors and far away.  Fun times.  People prayed for us, though, and it was fine.

So that’s been most of it.  In writing news:

NCRegister: “On the Limits of Identity Politics” If you missed it, it’s up and some people liked it.  There should be another piece running soon on a Catholic approach to the problem of gender dysphoria, but I don’t see it yet?  Next in my queue is an essay I’ve been failing at pulling together for an embarrassingly long time, but which introduces Cathy Lins, who specializes in parish mental health ministry, and who has a brand new forum here: Trauma-Informed Parishes. Go say hello to Cathy and soak up everything, because she knows what she’s about.

FYI the rumor that I “started a new job” at the Register is a product of Facebook’s determination to turn everything, at all, ever, into click-bait hype for your friends.  What happened is that I realized I had put my blogging status at Patheos and here at the Conspiracy in my “about” details, but that the Register was missing.  Crazy me went to rectify that oversight and next thing we know everyone’s congratulating me on my new promotion.

Um.  I’ve been promoted to someone whose author bio is slightly more accurate? Kinda?

Books I finished reading, highly recommend, and plan to review in the days ahead:

Blorging: Ads aren’t functioning as well as usual (possible cause: widespread power outages?) so it’s a great time to wade through my latest entries at the mosh pit of religious plurality, if you haven’t taken the plunge lately:

  • “Speaking of Clerical Corruption” 

    We the laity are capable, if we work together, of investigating allegations like the ones above, and we are capable of creating landing places for discarded priests, seminarians, and religious to build new lives for themselves after they are persecuted for whistle-blowing.  It’s too big a job to be done by one person, and too important a job to be left solely to one faction or another among the increasingly fragmented faithful.

  • “Education vs. Childcare vs. Public Goods”

    Because of these harsh economic realities, there is tremendous pressure for schools to open back up, full-time as-per-usual. Parents need the low-tuition* childcare that schools provide, and to not provide that care is to leave parents in a serious bind.

    Catholic social teaching has a different answer, and yes I know when I say it most people will swear it’s preposterous, but here me out below. There’s another way, and its worth considering.

  • “Breathtaking Beauty in Church Controversies over Kinda-Boring Stuff”

    If you are like me, you never for a moment even considered the possibility that the I in “I baptize you . . .” was a make-or-break part of the baptismal formula. (I also never contemplated varying from it.) It was simply there, and it seemed logical, and what else was there to know? Now we have something to ponder. What’s going on with this one little pronoun the CDF is so worked up about? Turns out the answer is more interesting than I had guessed.

And today, prompted by this morning’s readings, and weirdly taking a twist into presidential politics (I didn’t see that coming even if you did): “How to Treat Gentiles and Tax Collectors”.

–> If you don’t care to think about the voting question, scroll directly down to the bottom to see the photo that inspired me to wrap up my meditation on what to do about terrible Catholics with a link to the Epic Vacation series here at the Conspiracy, because, top of page 2 of the E.V. category, I was reminded of my “What it Takes Not to Be a Nazi” photo tour and reflection on visiting a WWII cemetery, many memorials, and a concentration camp in eastern France.

Book reviews!  Spoiler alert: I answer the question of what to do about terrible Catholics in those 300 fun-filled pages of The Beast. So far there’s one review up at Amazon, which I dared read because the reviewer kindly gave the book five stars. I quote the review in full:

Jen Fitz’s clear, sensible advice for the modern evangelist is a must-read. She has years of experience with dealing with many situations a lay Catholic may experience in explaining their faith. The book is well-organized and helpful for anyone who wishes to learn more about how to spread the Gospel.

Thank you, anonymous reader!

FYI – if you’ve read the book and would like to say something good about it, I’d be most grateful if you’d say so over at Amazon, where book publicity ekes out its living these days.  Even more? I’d like you to loan your copy to someone who could use the inspiration or affirmation.

Thanks!

Ella the Snow Dog - adorable cream-colored puppy looking up at the camera in a field of snow

Today we illustrate our post with this photo of Ella the Snow Dog (CC 2.0) because:

  • Presently the 9th grader’s multi-year campaign to get a dog is gaining momentum but also hit a snag in the road called “Parents are doing their best to make sane, responsible decisions,” and
  • It’s mid-August in the Deep South, so even though it is unseasonably cool (low 90’s!?!!), “snow” is a very popular theme around here.

FYI because I love you, I scrolled through many pages of search results for “cute dog photo” in Wikimedia to bring you the very best.  You’re welcome.

White Privilege in a Nutshell

My daughter is, last-minute, looking seriously at a college we had no previous experience with. So Saturday night we drove over to campus.  The place was desolate — everyone’s been sent home due to coronavirus — though a police vehicle roamed the parking lots.  In the waning daylight we parked in a faculty space (no other cars in the lot) and wandered around.

We liked what we saw and grew more curious.  Brazenly we walked right up to the cafeteria window and peered inside.  We passed a dorm, and I crossed the lawn to a window with the blinds open so we could stand there on tiptoes looking into a ground-floor room.  And thus we wandered.

At no time did we fear, at all, that we would get in trouble.  It was possible we’d be approached by security and asked what we were doing and requested to please return on a weekday.  It was, and remains, unthinkable that our interaction with anyone, at any level, would escalate beyond a firm-but-courteous insistence that if we wished to walk the grounds, we park in the visitors’ lot and refrain from putting our noses up to the windows.

That’s white privilege.

***

I write this because Rod Dreher, with whom I often agree, shared a story of white poverty and black violence in “Race, Poverty, and Privilege” that misses the point.

“White privilege” doesn’t mean all white people are born into lives of affluence.  To say racism persists in American society doesn’t mean that black people never commit crimes.

I know that racism persists because I hear it from the mouths of other white people.  Am I to think they are lying to me when they make the comments that they do?  Are they only pretending to believe the derogatory generalizations they spontaneously assert?

What I am to think of stories like “A White Woman, Racism, and a Poodle”?  No matter what possible charitable explanation you can concoct to justify a woman getting repeatedly stopped by the police for a non-offense only when it appears she has a black man in her vehicle, the reality is: She only gets stopped when it appears there is a black man in her vehicle.

What else is that if not racism?

***

A study I think is needed (and may well exist) is the incidence of crime verses the incidence of getting caught, sorted by demographic factors.  Such a study would require respondents to fess up to a reality: We all know people — perhaps even our own self is one of them — who has been spared an encounter with the justice system because they didn’t get caught.

Whether it’s over-dramatized trespassing charges (those noses on windows) or minor traffic violations or an officer following-up on a “hunch” and thus uncovering some more serious charge (drugs, weapons, outstanding warrants), if you are more likely to be policed, you are more likely to get caught. And thus: You are more likely to be considered a criminal — even though other people who did exactly what you did continue to hold positions of honor and power in our society.

(White person can verify: Plenty of leading bankers, physicians, politicians, etc., are guilty of assorted misdemeanors involving drugs, alcohol, and weapons offences that are only ever uncovered if the police decide to do some thorough searching, and therefore said persons now in power never get caught and thus go through life on the Upstanding Citizens Track while so-and-so who did get caught slides onto the Ne’er-Do-Well Track.  The difference isn’t in bad behaviors, it’s in whether you get caught.)

***

White privilege is the freedom to go through life being presumed innocent until you make a concerted effort to prove to the police otherwise.

I am well aware that there is more than just a question of race wound up in the privilege of being presumed innocent.  Being female increases your odds.  Being well-dressed and well-spoken increases your odds.  Having the social skills to fit into your milieu in a way that puts people at ease increases your odds.

Still, when everything else is equal, being white works in your favor.

***

Police brutality does affect white people.  It’s an issue that transcends race and class.

Likewise, violence against law enforcement officers is a real thing.  An epidemic of murders and suicides among our young men is a real thing.  The breakdown of the family, with its significant repercussions on all aspects of social life, is a real thing.  Lack of protection for victims of domestic violence is a real thing.  Lack of social support for vulnerable persons across the spectrum is a real thing.  There are many, many different ways that human beings hurt themselves and others terribly.

Acknowledging that racism is real does not erase any of that.

Seehof Phoenicurus ochruros female - grey bird holding green worm, perched on branch

Wikimedia Image of the Day by Reinhold Möller, CC 4.0.  The only relationship between this image of a female Phoenicurus ochruros and this blog post is that they lived on the internet on the same day.  But I’m confident skilled readers can find some way to read non-random significance into it.

On How You Get People to Kill Other People

I went on a brief social media fast for a personal intention, and, magic!, finished a book.  Go figure.  The book was On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society, by Dave Grossman.

It is the first book I’ve read on the topic (and I lack any pertinent firsthand experience), so I’m not knowledgeable enough to critically assess.  I did check the reviews and there seem to be a fair number of combat veterans who found the book to be on point.

I can tell you, caveat lector, that the author spirals through his arguments and evidence as the chapters progress, though I think at least some of that repetition is an essential part of laying out his thesis.  Personally I found it helpful to have him recall for me information I read previously that was needed again as he moved on to a new topic that built on previous concepts, though I did eventually wish he’d pull out some new data to freshen up with.

I can also tell you that this is not a book to read if you, for whatever reason, don’t need to be putting unvarnished descriptions of deadly violence into your head.

That said, here’s a short version of Lt. Col. Grossman’s thesis:

  • Studies that have looked at evidence from battle outcomes and from anecdotal experience demonstrate that consistently, across centuries and cultures, humans are reluctant to kill their own species.  (As can be said of other species.)  He makes a careful distinction between aggressive posturing, which soldiers do willingly, and the decision to personally kill another human, which soldiers do much more reluctantly.
  • There are various circumstances that make people more willing to kill, as well as managerial decisions that increase the likelihood someone will obey an order to kill regardless of their personal willingness.
  • Furthermore, in order to increase the willingness of soldiers to kill, and thus increase the firing (etc.) rate in battle, there are types of training the military can use to cause soldiers to overcome their natural reluctance to kill.

He concludes his book with a final section on civilian violence, which is a sobering bit of opinion-piece worthy of consideration, but not the primary point of my posting this review.

More pressing today: If you are puzzling over police violence, the information throughout the book pretty much answers your questions about what types of training and circumstances increase the likelihood of police brutality, and what types of training and circumstances would increase the likelihood of minimal use of force and increased use of deescalating techniques.

It seems to me that our present problem with police gratuitously killing civilians does not come from nowhere.  Possibly there are even handy infographics throughout the book to assist in reminding you how to cut down on all the bloodshed?

***
Dave Grossman is not a moral theologian, so plan to bring your own critical thinking skills to the book. But if you wish to understand how one might hope to curb police brutality, the info is there.

On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society by [Dave Grossman]

Enemies of the Thinking Man’s Religion

UPDATE: RR Reno apologized.  My comments on that are over at the blorg.

***
Over at the blorg yesterday
, I broke radio silence not because my life is finally pulled together again, but because I couldn’t resist the siren song of bad logic in need of correction.

The internet, mirror of the world, is of course full of people who are wrong.  It holds up just fine without me.  So why this one?

Because in this particular case, the stakes are both high and personal.

First Things magazine — printed on paper and arriving via USPS once a month — is an institution worth preserving. Year after year, issue after issue, it is invariably laden with wrong opinions. That is the nature of a forum dedicated to exploring ideas and hosting discourse on anything and everything that touches the public square.

It’s a good magazine. There are the monthly puff pieces pandering to base (ode to learning Latin, much?); there is superb poetry hidden among the pretty good poetry and the occasional “we’re just glad conservatives are still attempting poetry”; there is someone around to take down the hot new liberal sensation posing as a history book; and there’s the unavoidable Theology of the Body segment (not always so-labelled), the thought-provoking memoirs, and the mish-mash of intellectual headiness including plenty of within- and across-issue back and forth on stuff that deserves to be thought about.

Very few pictures or advertisements.  Sometimes you go pages at a time with nothing but words.  It’s nice.

Complain all you want, and it’s impossible not to when assessing the successors of Richard John Neuhaus, RR Reno has done a decent job as general editor of the place.  That he would post something I think is wrong?  Sure.  Many people I respect disagree with me on all kinds of stuff.

But that he would completely fall off the ledge and lose all grasp of the most elemental understanding of logic?

Something is very wrong here.

***

This is not the first time a notable Catholic writer has gone completely bonkers on the internet.  The Catholic Conspiracy exists because we who write here wanted a place that was a hangout for ordinary faithful Catholics, devoid of the sensation and hypiness that has been the downfall of so many previously-worthwhile Catholic blogs and websites.

Fact: Satan wants Catholic writers to fail.

The spiritual battle is real.

Few things help the cause of the enemy more than watching smart, insightful, faithful men and women evolve into crazypants reactionaries in front of their adoring public.  (“Adoring public” is likely a contributing factor.)

Lord willing, what RR Reno needs is fresh air and new friends and a gracious audience who can allow that yes, we all lose it sometimes.  Presumably his thinking problems are personal issues that are, professional hazard, unraveling in public.  It happens.  Catholic writers are fallen humans beleaguered by the same sorts of problems that beset us all.  So be it.

When the human who’s sinking into this pit, however, is the editor of First Things, now we have a personal problem that’s affecting the common welfare.

So pray for the guy.  Since we mustn’t tolerate falling for false dichotomies, don’t get sucked into Canonize-or-Cancel.  It’s possible to be the head of a storied institution who’s lately been foaming at the mouth like a man who’s spent too much time caged up with Pop Culture, Elite Edition, and still be capable of pulling it together and resuming the good work.

Meanwhile, I’ll keep on pandering to moderates over at the blorg.  Being crazypants only makes half the people mad.  If you want to make everyone hate you, use logic.

Photo: Red Clover, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain.  I couldn’t think of a good photo to go with this post, so I resorted to that old standby, Image of the Day.  Apply the metaphor of your choice to make it meaningful.

RIP to Science: One Hair Dryer (Mask Test)

I was attempting to answer the question for my kids of whether an improvised mask, such as a cowboy-style bandana over your mouth and nose, could help slow the spread of disease.

Hypothesis: Even though an improvised cloth mask won’t filter viruses, it does limit the distance air coming out your mouth travels, and therefore reduces how far any germs get spread while talking, coughing, sneezing, etc.

Experiment: Well, about that.  So my plan was to set up a measuring tape on the bathroom floor showing the six feet of “social distancing” and then blow various lightweight items (dust, loose powder, wadded up scrap paper) using the hair dryer.  We’d see how far the hair dryer blows these items when unmasked and how far it blows them when masked with various garments — my favorite scarf, a standard bandanna, etc.

I decided to run some preliminary tests before the kids woke up, because if my hypothesis (or my experiment) was obviously wrong, that was something I could learn on my own, thanks.

I got the measuring tape out, found a scrap of (clean!!) toilet paper on the floor (note to self: CLEAN BATHROOM), and dug out my circa-1994 Salon Selectives hair dryer, currently collecting dust thanks to social-distancing.

==>Thanks Mom! That was an awesome Christmas present, even though I wasn’t sure what to think about it at the time. Just a few months ago we were marveling it had held up so long and showed no signs of giving up the ghost.==>

With the dryer on its high setting, I could blow a scrap about four feet.  I put the bandanna over it, and could only blow it about one or two feet.  Also, there was this slight burning odor, which I figured was all that collected dust burning off.  No big deal.

I was pleased by my preliminary findings, but more pre-testing was in order before calling in my skeptical children.  It was possible, for example, that I was seeing such dramatic differences in how far the paper scrap would travel because I was not consistent in how I aimed the hair dryer.

I did some experimenting with holding the dryer at different angles, un-masked, chasing that scrap of unused toilet paper around the bathroom.  Then I put the bandanna over again.  Not nearly as much air-power, again with the burning smell, and then: Experiment over.  Hair-dryer shorted out.

Yikes.

No amount of hoping I’d tripped a breaker bore fruit. After a quarter-century of faithful service, my hair dryer is no more.

Conclusions:

(1) I should not be left unsupervised with valuable machinery.

(2) An ordinary bandanna provides enough airflow resistance that it can wreck a hair dryer.

(3) If you’re contagious and you want to share space with me, yes, I would much rather you covered your mouth and nose with one of those masks that “does nothing” because it sure seems to me like having your germs go not-very-far is better than having your germs fly closer to me.

(4) I can’t afford to resume this experiment on my kids’ hair dryer, because I have three teenage daughters who will mutiny if I wreck their machine, as they do style their hair in quarantine. Therefore,

(5) I’d be grateful if other people would take up the cause and run experiments to see if my preliminary findings are reproducible.

Thanks!

Me with bandana over my face.

Photo: The guilty parties (me and that bandanna), posing in my makeshift office in the garage.  I love having my family at home all day, and I’m grateful my husband and I can both work from home, no matter how crazy the set-up is. Not everyone is so lucky.  Pretty sure those on the front lines keeping our infrastructure together wish you’d do whatever you can to reduce the odds you make them sick when you run your essential errands, even if it isn’t perfect and 100% foolproof.

What More Do Old People Have to Give?

If you have not already seen it, watch this sorrowful video showing the increase in deaths in Bergamo, Italy, since the coronavirus outbreak began.  The speaker shows you first a newspaper from mid-Febuary: One and a half pages of obituaries. Typical for the area, apparently.  By mid-March, flipping through the paper as the coronavirus epidemic intensifies: Ten pages of obituaries.

Most of these deaths are elderly people.  At this writing, my own grandmother is 96 years old, and though now facing what will probably be her final illness, she’s had many long years of healthy retirement.  My mom died when our children were ages 0-6, and her mother became very ill with dementia about that same time, so for my children, their experience of “visiting grandma” on my side of the family is long road trips to Florida to see their great-grandmother.

They have many happy memories of playing dominoes and taking Grandma to eat out at local chain restaurants, and listening to her approve and disapprove of various styles and habits. Two years ago there was the never-to-be-forgotten discovery of toy bananas when we all went to Walmart, in which the elder and younger generations ganged up against the mother in the middle in the Great Banana Impulse Buy Debate.  (They eventually won, but I exacted my price. Totally worth it.)

It is not unlikely, now, that my grandmother’s final illness will be COVID-19 instead of the slow-moving cancer she’s currently dealing with.  “But she was old and sick,” people will say. Well, yes, but we were hoping to see her again in June.

She’s 96.  We knew last summer that our visit then might be the last. But what if she were eighty?  We’d have lost an entire lifetime of visits for most of the children; none of them would have any but the faintest memory of her.  I would have lost nearly two decades of mentoring from a woman whose vocation and outlook on life is so much like my own, and whose differences are like iron sharpening iron (clean your house, Jennifer!).  I think I can safely say that her children and other grandchildren and great-great-children feel the same: These last nearly twenty years she has enriched our lives so much, despite “doing nothing.”

Suppose you’re sixty right now.  You are looking at retirement soon, you’re tired out, thinking about downsizing, probably dealing with some health problems, and maybe beginning to feel like you haven’t got much more to offer the world.  And yet, if you don’t die of COVID-19, you may yet make it to eighty.  During which time:

  • You could grandparent a child (your own or a neighbor’s) from birth to adulthood.
  • You could mentor a young professional from young adulthood into the peak of his or her career.
  • You could, from the comfort of your desk, armchair, front porch or fishing hole, provide another ten or twenty years of incisive analysis and otherwise-forgotten experience related to difficult issues developing in your area of expertise.
  • You could finally write that memoir or novel, learn to paint, play the piano, or perfect your putting game, and in the process encourage some younger person who needs to hear by your example, your words, or your companionship, “What you are doing is worth it.”
  • You could write letters to the editor and bless out upstart politicians and conceited middle managers, in the process saying what the rest of us wish we had the nerve to say, but aren’t old enough not to care what other people think.
  • If you’re a priest, you could . . . well, you don’t get to retire.  Sorry.  Nice try.

People with “not much more time” still have much to contribute.

I won’t say that every old person is therefore wise.  I won’t say that every younger person facing a shortened lifespan due to medical problems is therefore living the well-examined life.  Nor do I say that the value of human life can be measured in utilitarian terms; your life is of infinite worth even if you can’t do anything at all.

But sick people and old people and the perfectly healthy young person who also dies of this thing do bring value to the world.

Nothing we can do, individually or as a society, can eliminate every untimely death that this new coronavirus will cause.  We can, however, delay the spread of this disease so that our healthcare systems are not swamped, and therefore no one needs suffer for lack of all the current treatments medical science has to offer. Slowing the epidemic also buys us more time for doctors and nurses to learn which existing treatments are most effective, and for researchers to develop new treatments or preventatives that will save people who would otherwise perish.

They are worth it.  Stay home.

File:St. Wolfgang kath. Pfarrkirche Pacher-Altar Sonntagsseite 01.jpg

Photo: St. Wolfgang Altarpiece, Austria, showing scenes from the life of Christ.  I’m sure you can think of ways it relates to this post, but honestly I just thought it was cool looking.  You can read about the artist here. Image courtesy of Wikimedia, CC 4.0.

 

 

The Prepper Life

So it appears that the US’s response to the coronavirus thus far is, “Good luck with that.” The saga of non-testing continues, with standard procedures still continuing to assume that travel to an outbreak area is required in order to catch the virus, and no real plan in place to do serious triage and infection control before exposing other patients and staff.

A few token patients get identified and quarantined, and everyone else gets a generic “stay home if you’re sick” message that in no way takes into account the reality that American society is almost entirely built on not staying home when you are sick.  School attendance policies don’t allow for it.  Workplace attendance policies don’t allow for it.

To make the spread of the virus even more certain, many school and work attendance policies require the provision of a doctor’s note in order to excuse absences and thereby avoid truancy charges or termination — thus the booming urgent-care industry, where you can pop in during extended hours and spend five minutes with a doctor who will write you an excuse.

Barring a major public health campaign to change these factors, people who value their jobs and their good relationship with the department of social services are going to carry on as usual.  Even with a public health campaign in place, unless there are serious provisions made for assistance covering lost childcare and lost wages, people are going to make the hard decision to continue faking their way through the day, as we do now.  Which means we continue to live behind the curve. Call it Italian-style.

***

The good news is that South Korea, which is testing vigorously and thus has the most reliable statistics, is showing only a half of a percent overall mortality rate (.62% at this writing).  That’s awesome news for the general public.

Italian-style, though, does not bode well for nursing home residents, people at high risk of complications, and Walmart employees.  Thus, prepping: If you buy your extra pack of toilet paper this week while you aren’t coughing and sneezing, you won’t need to run to the store in a pinch when you do come down with the thing, and thus go around infecting the people who cannot afford to be infected.

***

I do not have good prepping advice to give.  I am not a minimalist.  My house is cluttered.  My hoarding instincts have been steadily reinforced over the years thanks to hurricanes, ice storms, dam breaks, water main breaks, almost-a-snowstorms (you want to never truly *need* groceries, lest you get stuck going to the store the day before the snow doesn’t come), guess-who’s-coming-to-dinner and “by the way I need _________ by tomorrow morning.”  So maybe I have a closet we call “Prepperville”?  Yes I do.

But these are things that I know:

#1. Bleach.  It does so, so many useful things.  Good for all kinds of emergencies.  Get the plain stuff.

#2. You know you’re a born prepper if you hate going anywhere without dish soap.  It can be used on bodies of many species, clothes, dishes, your bathtub, your car . . . whatever needs to be washed.  You actually *can* put it in a laundry- or dish-washing machine, if you manage the dosage properly.  Gets the grease out.

#3. Duct tape and contractor bags, individually or in combination, can be used to solve so many different problems I can’t imagine you don’t keep both on hand at all times.  In a crisis, it’s therapeutic to go ahead and top off.  It doesn’t really matter what kind of crisis.

#4. My son buys the wrong coffee.  Actually every member of my family buys the wrong coffee, but 4/6ths of those people are not my problem, because they can just cope.  In a crisis, nobody wants the boy and I going cold turkey on the caffeine.  He buys this stuff:

Aldi brand dark roast coffee from Columbia

Photo penance of the day: Me holding a package of Aldi brand dark roast coffee labeled “Colombia.”

This is wrong.  In the same box from Aldi you can get either “Colombia” or “Sumatra.”  Both are dark roast.  Both are fair trade.  But one of them is just not as good as the other.  I confirmed this by accident this morning.

First week of any disaster, he and I are going to have the coffee we want.*  We can slowly adapt to our circumstances as we toughen up gradually.  Everyone will be happier that way.

#5. Your three teenage daughters do not want to adapt to improvised feminine hygiene products the first week of the disaster.  Give them at least a month into the apocalypse before you lay that one on them.

#6. Yes.  I know that most people throughout history did not have toilet paper.  Many manage just fine without even to this day.  I don’t care. Quit making fun of people who binged on toilet paper this week.

#7. Other people’s ideas of good prepper-food are usually disgusting.  You have to figure this one out on your own.  I go with ingredients that already feature in our regular menu, are pretty durable in a weather event, and can be consumed either uncooked or else can be cooked over an alternate cooking source (propane stove, charcoal, wood fire, etc). You’ll be pleased to know that the best popcorn recipe ever stands up to this rule.

In conclusion: In the face of any disaster, I’m totally prepared to live on coffee and popcorn.  We’ll be fine.

 

*The ability to improvise coffee-making** under nearly any circumstance is my chief super-power.

**I did not say you would like my improvised coffee.  Indeed, I prefer that you do not.

Transplaining J.K. Rowling

Quick update: Rod Dreher has excerpts of the ruling against Maya Forstater, if you wish to know what all the fracas is about.  Read it.  Forstater’s crimes are thought crimes and speech crimes.  Is this the society you want?

***
For insight into the state of the culture war, here’s Katelyn Burns at Vox explaining that J.K. Rowling, the poor dear, just doesn’t know any better because she’s been raised by those dreadful backwards British feminists.  Holds onto these horribly unscientific ideas about gender and biological sex, dontcha know.

Full Disclosure: I am one of seven people on the planet who have no opinion whatsoever about the Harry Potter books.  Haven’t read ’em, don’t plan to, don’t care if other people do or don’t. Not my genre.  As a result, I’m in that rare position of not caring, one bit, whether J.K. Rowling and I agree on issues dear to my heart.  But weirdly, she’s been caught holding an opinion not unlike* my own:

Dress however you please. Call yourself whatever you like. Sleep with any consenting adult who’ll have you. Live your best life in peace and security. But force women out of their jobs for stating that sex is real? #IStandWithMaya #ThisIsNotADrill

So let’s talk about her need to Woke Up!

Feminism is a Big Tent

The group of people (and I’m one of them) who believe men and women should have equal rights is an extremely large and varied population.  We have, at times, different ideas about what “equal rights” looks like in both theory and practice.  There are sharp divides over questions such as whether women should have lots of children (I think women should be free to do so), whether they should stay home to rear those children (I think women should be free to do so), and whether one ought to practice distinctive gender roles within marriage (I think women should be free to do so).

So it is no surprise that the varied group of persons calling themselves feminist, and holding in some general way to a belief in equal rights for women, would be divided on the question of where male-to-female transgender persons fit into this equation.

Are There Things Only Women Experience?

One of the divides among feminists is about what exactly the female experience is, and how it plays out in society.  Are there power imbalances between men and women?  If so, where and how do they occur?  How does one’s experience of being a woman vary based on social class, race, wealth, education, political power, physical ability . . . all these questions are dealt with by feminist thinkers in varying ways.

And most importantly, feminism has from its inception looked at the question of What does it mean to say someone is a woman?  What does it mean to say someone or something is feminine?

One answer, and the answer to which I and many other women (and men) hold is that something is feminine by simple fact that a woman experiences it.

The Fight Against Gender Stereotypes

We who hold this view do so for logical reasons, but also for reasons seated at the very foundation of the feminist movement.  In fighting for equal rights, a significant hurdle to overcome was the challenge that xyz items (legal status, political power, equal pay, certain jobs . . . and the list gets longer and more absurd the more restrictive the culture) were not open to women, or appropriate for women, because it wasn’t “feminine.”

This leads to experiences like my beautiful, stylish, teenage daughter dropping in at Lowe’s Hardware this week to buy more flashing tape for the construction job going on at our house . . . and being directed to the command hooks.  Yes, she is in the middle of a DIY project  — but it’s not hanging knick-knacks, thanks.  She eventually helped the employees find the product and showed them how to scan the barcode on the box, because she knew what she wanted and they’d never heard of it.

Is construction a “feminine” activity?  Well there’ve been female contractors on all the crews that came to our house, and the parts we’re doing ourselves keep involving me and my daughters . . . so I say yes.  The fight of the feminist movement is to not be told Honey you need to leave that dangerous, dirty construction stuff to the men, it’s not for people like you.

The Experience of Being a Woman is Distinctive

Some of what feminists write about is experiences like this one, where, due to societal prejudice, people still assume girls like my daughter couldn’t possibly know what flashing tape is or how to use it.  Other experiences are distinctively feminine regardless of culture: Menstruation, intercourse as a woman, childbirth, breastfeeding, weaning, menopause . . . these are uniquely feminine experiences.

Cultures vary, and so do the experiences of individuals within a culture.  When we look at situations like the hardware store example, there may well be men who can relate in some way to my daughter’s experience; there may also be women who never experience that low-level bless your heart prejudice.

Likewise, not all women experience their reproductive sexuality in the same way.  There are situations where a given man and a given women might find more in common with each other than they do with some other men or other women.  It happens.

Still, and this is the assertion of the strand of feminism that I and J.K. Rowling appear to have in common, there are certain experiences that are distinctive to being female, and should not be explained away.

Where Does This Leave the Male-to-Female Transgender Person?

Here is an interesting story from those who are old enough to remember a time when transgender wasn’t a thing, we just had drag queens and transvestites and dinosaurs: Back in those days, no one was paying attention to who used what bathroom.  If you looked like a woman, you used the ladies’ room, done.

Passing was everything, of course.  “Success” was the friends sitting out on our porch, he a man of variable sexual interests, his date a man in drag, and our housemate coming in late, chatting for a few minutes, and the next day asking, “Who was that?  A couple from church?”  Well, no.  Good friends, but not church-friends, heh.

Now it is clearly on record that I do not hold that the correct treatment for gender dysphoria is an attempt at a sex change.  But allow me to assert something that I think is important in respecting people who experience gender dysphoria, whether they consider themselves transgender or anything else: Other people who have not been there don’t know what it’s like.

Other people might be able to relate, to some extent, because they have had analogus experiences in some other context.  But to be a man who feels strongly that he is a woman? To be a man who undergoes any number of personal changes in a sincere attempt to embody the womanhood he feels is his own?  That is a unique experience.

It is not the same as having the privilege and ease of being born with a female body.  It is not the same as growing up with a firm sense of your masculinity or femininity.  It is not the same as going through life with the whole world agreeing with you about what your gender is or should be.  It is not the same as showing up in the ER and doctors just know what to expect from your body where sexual differences are concerned.

Can Harry Potter Feminism Serve Transgender Persons?

Among the many strains of feminism in the big tent, there’s a brand that I and many women have rejected.  This brand says that “equality” means men and women must be the same. I need to surpress my fertility, pretend not to have a period, show indifference to motherhood, and all the while prove to the world that I’m just as strong and mathematical and scientific as any man.  (In fact I am more mathematical than most of the men I went to grad school with, but that’s not what confers equal rights — theirs or mine.)

I find this abhorrent.  My equal worth as a woman doesn’t depend on my ability to pass myself off as smaller, pudgier, breast-laden man.  My right to equal pay for equal work doesn’t depend on my supressing my fertility or weaning my baby prematurely.  I don’t deserve to be treated with respect only if I can somehow prove that I don’t experience “girl” emotions or “girl” interests.

We who hold that the experience of being born a woman is distinctive, valuable, and deserving of equal rights and equal respect don’t subscribe to the “woman are defective men” theory of gender differences.  Femininity informs many aspects of our lives, but it is not what gives us equal rights.  Being human is what gives us equal rights.

I assert that for transgender persons, this kind of feminism is not the enemy.  This is the path to genuine respect and genuine equality.  On this path, the unique experiences of being transgender are not brushed away.  Your worth as a human being is not measured in how well you “pass” as the gender you identify with.  To openly acknowledge that being a male-to-female transgender person is different from being born female is to get off the hamster wheel of forever having to prove yourself “woman enough.”

Shall We Cancel Harry Potter?

I don’t expect many beyond my ordinary readership will find this point of view persuasive.  We are living in an age of soundbite philosophy.  Logic and the examined life are, at present, out of fashion — and the fashion police are vicious.  The idea that one could have an honest opponent, or even an opponent whose freedom of speech is worth preserving? Unthinkable.

So J.K. Rowling may or may not hold up in the twitterstorm.  If she does, perhaps Harry Potter becomes one of those embarrassing franchises now requiring the cultural-safety warning.  Perhaps, in one of those twists only our warped times can produce,  Chik-Fil-A starts issuing wizard cows.  Who’s to say?

But I’m grateful there are still a few voices championing the strain of old-school feminism on which I was raised, because I believe it’s a point of view that serves all men and women well.

File:Sojourner Truth, 1870 (cropped).tif

Photograph of Sojourner Truth, whose “Ain’t I a Woman” speeches should be mandatory reading on this topic, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons, public domain.

 

*I am somewhat flexible on the question of whom you sleep with, but I think you ought to save sex for your faithfully wedded spouse.  But let’s not get into the co-sleeping debate, okay?