struck stone

Matt Damon is a pretty good actor. Dude doesn’t know when to shut the fuck up, but he’s a pretty good actor. And yeah, of course, he has the right to voice his opinion. In response to the #metoo movement, he apparently made the “spectrum of behavior” argument. That argument always sounds convincing and reasonable.

And hey, he’s right. Patting a woman on the ass isn’t as bad as rape. We acknowledge that some behaviors are worse than others. But that’s not the discussion we need to be having at this singular moment in time. Here’s the discussion we should be having:

Burn the patriarchal system to the ground. Burn it, pound the ashes into dust, scatter the dust, and salt the fucking earth. 

It’s far too late to have the Matt Damon discussion. This isn’t the time for the niceties of fine distinction. This isn’t the time to parse offenses, to weigh and balance behaviors. This isn’t the time to figure out whether twenty years of patting asses is as bad as, say, five instances of wanking in front of women who didn’t (or felt they couldn’t) voice an objection to it. 

This is the time to put the system to the torch. Burn it all, and if some lesser offenders get caught up in the pyre with the worst offenders, well that’s a shame. They’re all offenders. Will some innocent men also get caught up in the blaze? Yeah, sure they will. Bound to happen. Too fucking bad. All the women who were sexually harassed or assaulted, they were innocent too. If there’s One True Thing we all know, it’s that innocence won’t save you.

Years ago — it must have been in 1989 or 1990 — I was in graduate school, living in a rather dodgy part of Columbia Heights in DC (back then the entire neighborhood was pretty much dodgy). My apartment was a couple of blocks from All Souls Church, where Sweet Honey in the Rock were giving a concert. The opening act was an a cappella group of women from South Africa, and they sang a song called Wathint’ abafazi, wathint’ imbokodo. (Okay, I should admit I had to look that up; it was a long time ago, and while I remember the translation, I’d forgotten the actual words). This is what it means:

When you strike the women, you strike stone.

This is the year we’ve struck stone. And if we’re lucky, the sparks from that will start the fire that eventually incinerates the patriarchy.

what it’s come to

The deadliest mass shooting in a house of worship. That’s how the massacre at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas was described last night on the evening news. We’ve reached the point at which we find it necessary to categorize our mass shootings.

The deadliest mass shooting at a college campus, the deadliest mass shooting at a shopping mall, the deadliest mass shooting at a festival, the deadliest mass shooting at a public school, the deadliest mass shooting at a place of employment.

We’ve had two of these deadliest mass shootings in U.S. history within the last 35 days. In the 309 days of 2017 we’ve had 307 mass shootings (remember, not all mass shootings are mass murders). We’ve made mass shooting ridiculously easy to commit. Semi-auto weapons are readily available, high-capacity magazines can be found without any fuss, bump-stocks that permit even more rapid firing have become somewhat scarce because people bought them up after the Las Vegas massacre, bulletproof tactical gear — vests, helmets, masks, gloves, trousers — can be purchased online or very likely at some local shop. If you have an active credit card, you too equip yourself in the latest mass murderer style.

Ruger AR-556

And we don’t much care who can buy all that gear. Devin Patrick Kelley had no trouble buying a complete mass murder outfit, even though he’d been court-martialed for assaulting his wife and child, did a year in military detention, and got his ass kicked out of the Air Force. He also apparently had a misdemeanor conviction for cruelty to animals. Didn’t slow him down at all when it came to buying a semi-auto rifle. We make it easy because, you know, a man has to be able to protect his family in case some nut decides to start shooting up a church.

And hey, it’s just as easy to mourn the dead. A few thoughts, a few prayers, that’s all it takes. Oh, and the promise to remember the dead. Comrade Trump his ownself said this about the victims:

“All of America is praying to God to help the wounded and the families — we will never ever leave their side.”

Except that, yeah, we’ll absolutely leave their side. Of course, we will — just as soon as the next ‘deadliest mass shooting at a location to be determined’ takes place. Trump is always saying pointless shit like that. We “will never ever forget the beautiful lives that have been taken from us.” That was the eight people killed a few days ago as they rode bicycles down a bike path in Manhattan. And this: “We will NEVER FORGET the victims who lost their lives one year ago today in the horrific #PulseNightClub shooting.” The hashtag, of course, because this was TwitterTrump. And again: “We mourn them, we honor them and we pledge to never, ever forget their names.” The victims and first responders who died on 9/11. And this: “So wonderful to be in Las Vegas yesterday and meet with people, from police to doctors to the victims themselves, who I will never forget.” Yeah, so fucking wonderful, I’m sure that’s what the victims of the Mandalay Bay shooting thought. And also this: “We will never forget the 241 American service members killed by Hizballah.” Sure, Donald.

First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, Texas

Does anybody really believe Donald J. Trump remembers the names of any of the Pulse nightclub murders, or the names of the cyclists in Manhattan, or the names of any of the Marines who were killed in Beirut? Does anybody really think Trump was even aware of the Marines killed in Beirut in 1983 until a speechwriter coughed up that fact for a speech on terrorism?

We will always forget their names. Always. We will always leave their sides. Always. As a nation we will never remember for very long, because there’s always a brand new horror ready to crowd out the old one. The nine men and women slaughtered in the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston in 2015? Now they’re just victims of the second deadliest mass shooting in a house of worship. Nobody remembers who came in second.

I am sincerely sorry for the victims of the Sutherland Springs massacre. I’m gutted with hopelessness over their tragic, pointless deaths — just as I’ve been for so many other victims of so many other mass murders. I’m genuinely sorry, but I’m also disgusted. I suspect many (or most) of that Texas congregation voted for politicians who believe that this sort of routine shedding of innocent blood is the price we have to pay for our national firearm fetish. And you know what it says in the Bible. ‘Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.’

That’s a pretty grim, tough approach. The apostle Paul wasn’t a very forgiving guy. You broke it, you bought it. Me, I’m more inclined to take the Socratic tack; I prefer the gospel according to e e cummings.

and what i want to know is
how do you like your blue-eyed boy
Mister Death

fuckwits and cowards

We are a nation ruled by fuckwits and cowards. There are people in this nation who truly believe a continuing cascade of mass shootings is a reasonable price to pay for the freedom to…to what? To own a lot of guns? And there are politicians who know there are practical ways to reduce that body count, but are too afraid of losing their job to actually do anything about it. Fuckwits and cowards.

We can talk about honoring the first responders, but it’s all bullshit if we’re not going to even attempt to reduce the horrors they’re responding to. We can talk about honoring the dead, but fuck them — they’re dead and they can’t vote, and even if the families of the dead make a fuss they can’t outspend the National Rifle Association. We can talk about honoring the Constitution, but it’s just a head fake — we routinely shit on chunks of the other amendments. We can talk, but don’t for a minute believe talk will result in anything. It won’t. Not as long as we’re a nation ruled by fuckwits and cowards.

Here’s a sad thing: I can no longer sustain any outrage about the butcher’s bill. 20 second-graders dead, 32 college students dead, 50 gay folks dead, maybe more than 60 country music fans dead. They’re becoming meaningless numbers. Meaningless deaths. Because we all know we’re not going to do anything about it beyond muttering something about thoughts and prayers. They’re good at that, the fuckwits and cowards; they have a never-ending font of thoughts and prayers.

It’s not just the mass shootings, of course. Every day about a hundred people die by the gun. They’re not all murders; some of them are suicides, some of them are accidental, some of them are a result of negligence. The fuckwits believe those deaths are inevitable, which means the world is a dangerous place, which means they’re afraid all the time, and because they’re fuckwits they believe the only way to protect themselves from people with guns is to have guns themselves. The cowards know better, but they encourage that circular thinking because it helps them stay in power.

Fuckwits and cowards. And the rest of us? The rest of us are worn out. You can’t win an argument with a fuckwit because they’re fuckwitted. You can’t win an argument with a coward because cowards lie. Making arguments you know you can’t win is just fucking exhausting. And discouraging. And disheartening.

But damn it, we still have to do it. Call your members of Congress today. It won’t matter, but do it anyway. Why? Because there are a bunch of dead country music fans to go along with our dead gay folks and our dead college students and our dead second-graders and all the dead spouses and girlfriends and co-workers and children and neighbors and siblings and no matter how fucking tired we are, we can’t just stay quiet.

If we stay quiet, then we’re also fuckwits and cowards.

a very short conversation about health care

My friend: “I can’t believe what the Republicans did. They hate poor people.”
Me: “I dunno. Seems like it, doesn’t it.”
My friend: “Oh c’mon, they despise poor people.”
Me: “Naw, it’s more like the Republicans are Rick Blaine and poor folks are Signor Ugarte.”
My friend: “What?”
Me: “You know, like in the movie Casablanca.”
My friend: Casablanca? What the hell are you talking about?”
Me: “You’ve never seen Casablanca?”
My friend: “Well, yeah, of course I’ve seen it. But what’s Casablanca got to do with Republicans passing a hateful health care bill?”
Me: “Remember that scene? The one with Humphrey Bogart and Peter Lorre?”
My friend: “Oh, yeah, right. He wants to search Bogart’s office, and he pulls a gun, but Bogie knocks him out and takes his gun and searches him, and when Peter Lorre wakes up, Bogart gives him back the gun, and Peter Lorre points it at him again and demands to search his office. Great scene.”
Me: “That’s from The Maltese Falcon.”
My friend: “Oh. Right. Sam Spade and…Peter Lorre.”
Me: “Joel Cairo.”
My friend: “What?”
Me: “Peter Lorre played Joel Cairo in The Maltese Falcon. In Casablanca he plays a guy named Signor Ugarte.”
My friend: “Okay. I’m still confused.”
Me: “What I’m saying…or trying to say…is that Republicans would probably despise poor people if they gave them any thought.”
My friend: “Okay. Wait, what?”
Me: “Congressional Republicans…and this is just my opinion…don’t care enough about poor people to think about them enough to actually despise them.”
My friend: “But if they did, they would.”
Me: “Exactly.”

corruption, probably, right?

A couple of days ago I responded to a comment about the ‘rampant corruption’ of the Clinton Foundation. Basically I said “What corruption? Show me the corruption. Show me anything like actual evidence that there’s corruption.” Because, you know, there wasn’t any corruption.

Today I got this in my email:

If theres no corruption how come the new york Times is writing about the corruption.

I’m not sure why this person refused to capitalize New York but did capitalize Times, but let’s just ignore that. There was a link to this article by Eric Lichtblau: Emails Raise New Questions About Clinton Foundation Ties to State Dept. That sounds pretty bad, doesn’t it. I mean, questions are being raised! Questions! So I read the article, on account of I wanted to find out what those ominous questions were and why they were raised. You might want to read the article your ownself, just to reassure yourself that I am NOT MAKING THIS UP.

Are you ready for this: Okay, here we go. A guy named Douglas J. Band, who’d worked as an adviser to President Bill Clinton and was still working for him as part of the Clinton Foundation, sent an email to Huma Abedin asking for diplomatic passports for himself and two other aides to Bill Clinton. They’d all held diplomatic passports during their earlier tenure at the White House. Abedin responded that the issue would be ‘figured out’. This is how Eric Lichtblau characterized the exchange:

Mr. Band did not explain in the email exchange why he and the others needed the diplomatic passports, and Ms. Abedin did not ask.

A mystery! Surely if everything was above-board, Band would have explained exactly why he and his buddies needed those passports, right? And if Abedin wasn’t complicit in this conspiracy, she’d have asked why they needed those passports, right? So obviously something untoward, possibly sinister, and certainly majorly corrupt is taking place here, right? Right?


Band and the other two wanted those diplomatic passports because ordinary citizens can’t get into North Korea without them. Wait…what? North Korea? Why would these people want to go to North Korea? Obviously something untoward, possibly sinister, and certainly majorly corrupt is taking place here, right? Right?

Still nope.

Bill Clinton was on his way to North Korea to secure the release of two American journalists — Euna Lee and Laura Ling — who’d been falsely imprisoned as spies. The two women had been held for more than five months, and had just been sentenced by a North Korean court to serve twelve years at hard labor. Band and the others wanted to go along on the diplomatic rescue mission. Which is why they asked for the diplomatic passports. And since the State Department knew this rescue mission was going to take place, Band didn’t need to explain why they wanted the passports, and Huma Abedin didn’t need to ask them why the passports were needed.


And guess what? Because nobody at the State Department could see any necessary reason for Band and the other two aides to accompany the former president, their request for diplomatic passports was denied. Which is why they’re not included in the photograph of two newly free journalists smiling and crying.

Got that? These guys asked for diplomatic passports in order to enter North Korea to help imprisoned journalists — and were denied. And how does the new york Times characterize this humanitarian request?

Emails Raise New Questions About Clinton Foundation Ties to State Dept.

New questions, my pale pink ass. There are NO questions at all to be raised about the Clinton Foundation or its ties to the State Department.

Here are some questions that should be raised: 1) Who the hell is Eric Lichtbrau? 2) How the hell is he employed as a journalist? And 3) What the fuck is wrong with the new york Times?


A couple of decades ago a woman friend said this to me: “I’m always suspicious of a man who talks or writes about women’s issues, because there’s a good chance he just wants to sleep with smart women.” I suspect/hope things have improved somewhat since then, but I still take her comment to heart. I’m aware that it’s more than a little presumptuous for a man to talk about certain gender issues — partly because they’re usually issues created and perpetuated by men, and partly because it can easily come off as a guy telling women how to feel and what to think. And most women I know have had enough of that.

Still, I have thoughts and opinions (too many, some people think) and writing about them helps me clarify stuff that’s loitering about in my head. Stuff like this: a couple of days ago something awkward and unpleasant happened to a friend of mine. With her permission, I’m repeating what she wrote about the incident on Facebook:

This afternoon a total stranger commented on my (non-existent) pregnancy. I was sad and surprised to find that I felt not amused or irritated, but ashamed. I’ve never much minded my soft little belly; I really, really love food and I love beer and if this is the physical result I’m okay with that, as I live a life full of joy. But all of those good feelings were suddenly wiped away in two seconds after the woman spoke. I wanted to run out of the restaurant and hide, to cry in my car, and then to come home and work my abs relentlessly, to diet, to change my body, not for me, but because I felt, somehow, like I had done something wrong that I needed to fix, to apologize to her. It was weird, and it hurt, in a lot of ways.

What struck me most wasn’t that somebody said something thoughtless and hurtful. I expect people to do that, because humans fuck up on a regular basis. What struck me was her immediate reaction. This is a smart, confident woman; she’s active, capable, physically strong, determined. And she’s always seemed entirely comfortable in her body. And yet her immediate response to that absurd comment was shame. Her many friends responded to her FB post in a couple of ways. First, they reassured her that she looks great (which she does, but which is really completely irrelevant). Second, they excoriated the stranger for being insensitive and clueless (which she may have been, but which I think is also completely irrelevant). I love the fact that everybody offered her instant, spontaneous support.

But I think it’s also important to recognize and address the ugly fact that her immediate response to that thoughtless comment — that she felt shame — is an indictment of our culture. I think it’s important to keep acknowledging and discussing the fact that our culture routinely undermines women by keeping them focused on and distracted by an irrational beauty standard grounded in a body image that’s largely unattainable. And to compound that problem, the culture not only makes women think that whatever body shape they actually have is somehow wrong, it also suggests that whatever is supposedly wrong with their bodies can — and should — be corrected.

Again, look at what my friend wrote:

I felt, somehow, like I had done something wrong that I needed to fix.

This ‘fix it’ notion is pervasive and insidious, and only serves to further sabotage a woman’s sense of worth — and when I say pervasive, I mean seriously pervasive. We’ve created entire commercial industries that are basically devoted to fucking up a woman’s self-worth. Cosmetics, fashion, dietary products, surgical enhancements.Women are taught to ‘fix it’ by wearing the right makeup, by buying the right clothing, by eating less (or eating more), by having invasive surgery on perfectly healthy bodies. Consider, for example, the astonishingly complex, culturally masochistic relationship women have with shoes, then apply that to ALL their clothing decisions. Then also consider that women’s clothing generally costs more than men’s clothing — and women’s styles change more often, which means their clothing has to be replaced more often. That sucks on its own, but it sucks even more when you consider women generally get paid less, yet their wardrobe costs more (and have you ever looked at the cost of cosmetic products?). All this serves to keep women more poor than men, which makes them more dependent on keeping a job, which makes them more susceptible to putting up with shit from their employers.

And it’s not just their bodies and their clothing women have to fret about. Our culture judges them on their voices (too shrill, too masculine, too loud, too soft), on their laughter (laughs too loud, shows too many teeth, laughs too often, doesn’t laugh enough), on their emotions (too emotional, not emotional enough, too angry, too nice, too aggressive, too timid), and Jeebus Jeebus Jeebus how is it that women are able to keep themselves from climbing a water tower with a high-powered weapon and shooting all of us?

But they don’t. To me, this is the most remarkable thing of all — the amazing capacity of women to deal with all that and remain resilient. Look again at what my friend said:

It was weird, and it hurt, in a lot of ways

And it hurt — and it hurt in a lot of ways. But later that day, she’d moved on. I don’t know, but I suspect today if she feels any shame at all, it’s shame at having felt shame for something she had no reason to feel shame about.

I want to end this by saying something positive. I want to say that things are getting better for women — and it’s actually true. Or at least partly true. Reproductive rights are in jeopardy, women still lack pay equity, and the fashion industry continues to create clothing for women with a complete absence of usable pockets. But there’s a woman running for President of These United States. Despite three or four decades of being knocked down, she’s refused to stay there. Of course, even as president she won’t be able to buy clothes with pockets.

But as president, she won’t need them. So there’s that.

fuck you sexual harasser

I can remember being in high school, riding around in a car with my buddies, passing a couple of girls on the street, and the guys leaning out the windows, laughing and shouting. I don’t recall what they shouted. Probably something like “Hey baby, looking good.” I remember thinking it was a stupid thing to do — not because I thought it was harassing or threatening, but simply because it didn’t seem to me like an effective way to pick up girls.

I never gave much thought to cat-calling as a young man. It was just something some guys did. I did four years in the military and heard male troops catcall women, and didn’t think much about it. I did four years in college and heard undergrads catcall women, and didn’t think much about it. Then I became a counselor in the psychiatric/security unit of a prison for women. The inmates taught me a LOT about what life was like for women — or at least what life was like for women who ended up in prison. Every few weeks I’d be assigned weekend duty. That sometimes included taking low-risk inmates on local excursions — a movie, maybe. Maybe a trip to a nearby park. Maybe a visit to a local diner so they could get to eat something other than prison food. It wasn’t unusual for me to drive a prison van with six to eight women convicts into town, herd them into the local theater, buy them all popcorn, and watch a movie with them.

And it wasn’t unusual for local young men, seeing us all walk down the street, to shout out the windows of their pickups at the women. When that happened, I noticed a lot of the women would tense up. And I paid attention, though not entirely for the right reasons. I paid attention in part because I’d been trained to notice body language. But I was also very aware that when any group of inmates start to tense up, you’d best pay attention.

A big chunk of my job was to try to understand and help these women, so on various occasions I’d talk to some of them about their reaction to the cat-calling. I remember one of them saying something like “When I hear that, I get ready to run. They gonna have to catch me, if they want to rape me.” That’s when I first started to get it. I still tended to put that anxiety down to druggie paranoia and living in bad neighborhoods — but I got the first real inkling of what it was like for those women to move through the world.

Years later I was living with a woman — a feminist criminologist. She opened my eyes in a lot of ways. One of the many things I learned was that an intellectual understanding of feminism doesn’t give you any meaningful insight into how women have to live. There was a night when she asked me to go with her to fetch something from a local market. I was busy doing something and didn’t really want to interrupt it. I figured she just wanted me along for company. But she explained there wasn’t any safe place for her to park at the market — which made no sense to me, since there was plenty of parking spaces nearby. What she meant, though, was 1) a lot of navy men often went to that market for beer and 2) there wasn’t a street light she could park beneath. She needed to park under a street light, she said, to be sure nobody was hiding in or near the car.

And I began to understand a bit more. I could run to the market to buy a clove of garlic without a second thought. For her, a run to the market required strategies to stay safe. And it wasn’t just a run to the market at night — it was going to the gym in the morning, it was getting off work in the evening, it was going to the mall, it was taking the dog for a walk. Taking the damned dog for a damned walk, and just by doing that she knew there was a decent chance she’d get harassed. Just walking down a street with a dog.

To me, this was a revelation. To her, it was so glaringly obvious that it hardly needed to be mentioned. And this was a woman who taught feminist thinking.

And you know what? I still don’t get it. Not really. I mean, I get it when I think about it. But as a guy, I rarely have to think about it. Which is why I’m both ashamed and grateful when a woman reminds me. And that’s what happened this morning. A friend of mine, Lori Andrews, posted this on Facebook:

I just got cat called with “mommy”. Of course I was far enough away that I couldn’t identify which construction worker did it. But here is what I wanted to say to him.

I have hated you my entire life. You drove beside me when I was a child and terrified me. You followed me and tried to touch me when I was a young woman. You have yelled at me from cars, broken my reverie in quiet walks, assaulted me verbally on my bike. You still talk about me and call out to me just out of view but always in earshot. Always when just I alone can hear it and no passers by are aware. Every day of my life I have endured your endless taunts and frightening threats. I’m 48 years old.

Fuck you sexual harasser. Fuck you.

It’s difficult for me to imagine the ridiculous lengths women have to go through every day just to avoid being harassed or harmed. Most of my life I’ve been in careers that required me to try to understand what life is like for other people. I like to think I’m pretty good at it. But every time I come across an experience like Lori’s, I’m reminded that I still don’t really get it. Despite having the lesson repeated to me countless times by so many women, it still doesn’t entirely register in my brain that women deal with this shit every day.

Here’s proof of that: earlier today I mentioned to a woman friend that I was thinking about writing a blog post about cat-calling because another friend had posted about an incident on Facebook. I said something like “More women should talk about this crap, so men will be reminded of just how hateful and pernicious it is.” My friend said “Why should it be a woman’s responsibility to remind men not to be assholes?”

There’s no good way for me to end this post. There’s nothing I can say that won’t come across as self-serving, or patronizing, or stupid in some way. But this has been on my mind all morning and it’s important that this stuff gets discussed.

I want to thank Lori for allowing me to quote her Facebook post and use her name. And I want to thank all the women who responded to her Facebook post, and as long as I’m at it, I should thank all the women who’ve been patient with me over the years. It’s not your responsibility to remind men not to be assholes — but thank you for doing it anyway.