Thursday, December 6, 2018

It's not "nerd blackface," okay?

I really love Big Bang Theory.  I recently watched the 11th season (hooray for the library, which had it) and liked it as much or more than the rest.  However, I've heard more than once that it is a bad show and I should feel bad for liking it, because it makes fun of nerds.

My opinion is that comedy always makes fun of people.  Some comedies make fun of bumbling dads and control-freak moms.  Some comedies make fun of young, single New Yorkers.  To have a comedy about somebody means that person or group gets made fun of sometimes.  My favorite other comedy is The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, which makes fun of just about everyone: black people, gay people, Jewish people, Asian people, rich people, poor people.  And yet all these characters are humanized as well--they have moments when you realize that even though they are complete stereotypes, they are people and can rise above your expectations.

Of course there could be mean-spirited comedies, where the same people are always the butt of the joke and never humanized or allowed to do anything good.  I can't think of a comedy that is like this because I watch so few, but I know I've seen reality TV that was about mocking people.  It's ugly and mean, and I can certainly entertain the idea that a comedy is too mean to be a good show.

But is Big Bang Theory like that?  I don't see it.  Every character has a chance to shine as well as get laughed at.  Pick-up artist Howard gets a chance to explain how rejected he feels because women think he's too short and needy to date--and to eventually learn how to treat women.  Raj opens up about his shyness and is sometimes a great friend.  Leonard, we are meant to sympathize with a lot as the most "normal" of the bunch.  And Sheldon . . . we are drawn into his character more than any other.  Does he do weird and often inconsiderate things?  Sure.  But he also gets a chance to explain his feelings.  In one episode, he makes Leonard wear a scratchy sweater for days to explain what it's like for him when something isn't finished.  He isn't being picky, he's really having a hard time, and we are meant to understand this.  And of course he slowly grows as a person and accomplishes things we never would have thought possible.  All of this humanizes nerds by showing us the stuff they've gone through, the things they think, the ways they change.  They're real characters, never just the butt of a joke.

Then, of course, there are the other characters.  Penny is a "cool girl" who gets mocked just as mercilessly as the nerds.  Amy and Bernadette are just as nerdy as the men but aren't into their fandom, and they get teased too.  Occasionally "jock" type guys appear on the show and are mocked too.  It seems pretty equal-opportunity in its humor.  If I could change one thing, I'd have more women who play D&D and hang out in the comic book store . . . because geek girls exist despite men always telling us we don't.  But they do appear from time to time.

Maybe I'm missing the point of the criticism.  Maybe "nerd blackface" means, "non nerds are playing nerds and that's as offensive as white actors playing black characters in movies."  But "nerd" is not a race.  It's a social designation.  Part of an actor's job is portraying different kinds of people.  How fine-grained is this?  Can a biologist portray a physicist?  Can a Star Wars fan portray a Star Trek fan? 

Of course, even then, this wouldn't condemn Big Bang Theory, because the show is not a bunch of non-nerdy actors portraying nerds.  Several of the actors are really into the stuff they're pretending to be into.  Amy is played by Mayim Bialik, who actually is a scientist.  And many of the guest stars are nerdy heroes, like Stephen Hawking or Bill Gates, playing themselves.

Basically, I don't understand how you can criticize the show without saying, look, you can make fun of anyone else on the planet, but not nerds.  Nerds are permanently off-limits for comedy.  There is comedy about black people and Asian people and gay people, but nerd comedy is a bridge too far.

But! you might say.  Isn't Sheldon's character making fun of the disabled?  He's obviously on the autism spectrum, and he's super annoying!  Everyone is always talking about how annoying he is!

That's actually a big part of the appeal of the show, for me.  Yes, Sheldon has autism (undiagnosed).  He's brilliant, but very routine-oriented and he puts other people out a lot, following his routines.  Sometimes they get impatient and even mean to him because of it.  Other times he's able to show them how important their tolerance is to him.

I guess what I love is that autism isn't treated respectfully, in hushed tones.  Sheldon isn't babied or treated like a hero for existing.  Like every other character, he's mocked for his foibles but has time to shine as well.  Like anyone else, autistic people can be jerks sometimes.  Sometimes their challenges become a challenge for the people around them, and we have to work hard to be patient.  Or else we totally fail to be patient.  That's a thing that happens too, and BBT isn't afraid to laugh about it.

That's what makes it much more meaningful when Sheldon achieves things.  He is one of the best scientists of the batch (equalled, maybe, by Amy) but in his personal life, he really struggles with basic milestones.  Yet, one by one, long after the others, he reaches them.  And though humor surrounds them, we have some serious, real feelings in those episodes.

The last reason I find the show's portrayal of autism to be so important is that real autistic people I know have learned social skills from it.  We can see both Sheldon's point of view and the other characters', so an autistic person watching can think, "Oh, this thing he's doing, which makes sense to me because I do it too, is causing these problems for himself or others.  And here's the solution he discovers by the end of the episode!"  Amy, in particular, is good for this.  She's able both to empathize with Sheldon and to explain the social tactics that will get him out of his mess. 

Should BBT be the only show that ever has nerds in it?  Obviously not.  We should include nerds in more things than comedy shows that make fun of people.  But . . . there are lots of shows like that.  There's Star Trek.  There's Doctor Who.  There's Bones.  Likewise, there need to be lots of characters with autism on TV, so people understand that all autistic people are not just like Sheldon -- they're unique individuals with their own foibles and talents.  But that's hardly BBT's fault.

In short, it's not an offensive show.  It's a comedy show like many others.  If you don't like it, I don't care.  Go somewhere and watch something else, and don't yuck other people's yum.  I love it and am not going to stop loving it just because you don't find it funny.  I like to hear people like myself and my friends and family tease each other.  I like to watch successful scientists tell stories of their awful childhoods--that are over-- while they have fulfilling lives complete with romance and money and scientific discovery.  As a nerdy person myself, it encourages me and makes me smile.  I think that's about as much as anybody can reasonably expect of a sitcom.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Will I NaNo again?

Usually I don't have a real excuse for posting so little, but this time I do: it's National Novel Writing Month.  Last year, NaNoWriMo got me back into writing novels after a five-year break, so the entire experience was exhilarating and I finished in 15 days.  This year, I've had a much harder time.  Part of it was that I wasn't as well prepared.  Part of it was that the story I chose was unexpectedly difficult . . . or, perhaps, expectedly difficult.  Main characters who are aliens are hard enough to write about.  It's doubly hard when your heroine has a voice in her head which is another character.  It's just . . . complicated.  And the plot . . . oh, the plot.  I get stuck every chapter.

The normal way to do NaNo is to start with a completely blank document and write as much as you can without stopping.  It doesn't matter if it's junk and will ultimately get deleted.  It's a DRAFT, we are reminded.  Don't go back and read what you wrote, ever.  Don't edit anything.  Don't stop to pick the exact right word, just write and write and write.  And when you're done, you will have 50,000 words which are a) not very good, and b) not really enough to be a finished adult novel.

I'm realizing that this approach is the opposite of the one that has worked well for me in the past.  While I do very much like to get into the zone and really plow ahead on a novel, over the course of a couple of months, I am not much of a drafter.  In school I always wrote the final draft first, and then went back to make a fake rough draft to satisfy the teacher.  In writing, a "second draft" always winds up being either a complete rewrite with a totally different plot, or else a good draft which has been perfected by daily editing over what I wrote the previous day, followed by pass after pass of editing afterward.  There is no cruddy first draft because it's just really really hard to add good words if your words weren't good the first time.

Of course this is a me thing, not an everyone thing.  A lot of people do draft after draft.  Other people are just starting out noveling so they really just want to make themselves go the distance in a way they never have before.

The way I got around it this time was to "cheat" -- that is, I wrote 21k before November even started, so that by the time November was over I would actually have the novel done.  And that worked well for me, except for the constant stalling over plot problems.  If I were to do it again, I'd do more outlining before I started, and go back to daily editing of the previous day's work, which always gets me back in the right frame of mind.

I love, love, love the community of NaNoWriMo.  I have a facebook group I love, where we rant about the difficulties of writing and challenge each other to word sprints (which I do badly at, but it's nice to know your friends are writing at the same time).  I like to track my word count, to a point.  That is, I like watching it go up, but I sometimes get too focused on it.  Sometimes making your word count go down by a thousand words is much better progress than writing a thousand more. 

So will I do it next year?  Maybe.  Depends on what I'm working on and how ready I am.  I think it's important to dive in when you're ready, plotted out, and inspired, rather than when the calendar says you should.  And that's why I'm planning, when the alien story is done, to start right back in with another novel: plotting first, then some test writing (writing scenes in different POVs to see what works--that was very helpful for the current novel), and then starting in as I'm ready.  Probably not 1667 words per day, like I've been doing, but a little at a time, when I actually have something to write and know where I'm going.

So what am I up to now?  I'm basically in the final showdown and I don't know what to do.  I've won NaNo (50k words in November -- I have 58k at this point) and my total wordcount is almost 80k, which was what I wanted.  But I have to beat the bad guys!  Plus, there was supposed to be kissing!  We'll . . . we'll see.  I just want to get it done, and then maybe see as it's as awful as I secretly suspect.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

How to eat if animals matter

So after that rather mean post about vegans, I feel like I should say something a bit more positive.  I actually think considering animal welfare when you eat is an admirable thing to do.  I just think there are a lot of ways to do that besides cutting out all animal foods forever and shaming everyone who doesn't.

My personal view is to assign animals moral value, but less than people have.  So if I'm doing some kind of moral action, like donating to a charity, I pick human charities because there is so much need there.  Yet it's not really zero-sum; you can care about animals without taking away anything from humans.

Going vegan is one way to do that.  Now being vegan does not mean that your food choices harm no animals.  Animal habitats are destroyed to make farms.  Insects and other predators are poisoned to protect your food supply.  It's a fact of nature that everything is in competition with everything else; for humans to eat we have to take resources that animals want to use.  Perhaps at some future date we'll reach a situation where that isn't the case, but for now, perfect moral purity toward animals is not a reachable goal and I have lots of side-eye for people who think they've met it simply because they're vegan.

That said, a vegan diet causes a lot less animal death and suffering than an omnivorous diet, so that is a good choice if you think you can.

The trouble is, most people don't feel like they could be vegan.  There are an awful lot of delicious animal foods out there, and life is hard, and sometimes you just want a pint of ice cream or a Big Mac.  And I think rather than sit with the idea that we are less than perfect, we prefer to define perfection such that we're not violating it: "animals don't even matter."  Isn't it easier to eat that Big Mac if you assume they don't?

I prefer to carve a middle way where I accept that my moral actions aren't perfect, that there is always more I could be doing, but that I'm doing small things in what ways I can.  Some years ago, my big thing was to avoid cruelty to humans in what I buy, which meant no Hershey's or Nestle products and as few new clothes as I could buy.  The chocolate situation was easily solved when I discovered Aldi sources its chocolate ethically, but I'm less certain about clothes.  I am not sure which clothing companies are more ethical than others.  If I stick to used clothes as I usually do, am I sure I'm helping, or am I just preventing my few measley dollars from going to a third world country where they could do some tiny amount of good, if not as much good as if the workers were paid fairly?  I don't have the bandwidth to unpick this dilemma right now, so I'm putting it on the back burner for the moment, to pick back up later.

Where food is concerned, I've been wanting for a few years to cut back on animal products, but I've been stymied by my own exhaustion and my family's needs.  Marko badly needed to put on weight, so I was sneaking eggs and butter into everything I could.  (And then Marko wasn't eating it, so I was eating it, and that's why my gut looks like this.)  But things are getting a little easier: Marko has hit the ninth percentile in weight, which is considered healthy.  Marko and Michael have both been requesting meatless meals, because neither one likes meat, and the thought of making dinners they wouldn't whine about is a plus.  And John is in the process of converting to Orthodoxy, which means he isn't going to be eating animal products on Wednesdays and Fridays.  So it seems like a good time to try a little occasional veganism!

All right, so what sort of things might a person do, if you wanted to prevent some harm to animals but weren't interested in going completely vegan?  Here are a few ideas:
1.  Try to find cruelty-free animal products.  It can be hard to be sure of how animals are treated when you're buying something at the store (for instance, "cage free" doesn't mean the chickens are better treated at all) but often it's possible to buy things from local farms.  Eggs are the easiest thing to find this way; kids often sell them as a hobby.  The price will be higher, but you can combine this with eating less of them overall.
2.  Try one meatless or vegan meal a week.  Or make all your breakfasts vegan (avocado toast, anyone?) or all your lunches.
3.  Reduce the amount of meat on your plate at a meal--take more vegetables or serve a second vegetable dish.  Or make tacos with two cans of beans and only half a pound of beef.
4.  Give up one single animal product, like eggs or beef.  Apparently giving up beef alone would almost solve our climate problem, if everyone did it.  If animal misery is what you worry about most, I'd give up eggs.  Dairy cows are treated comparatively well, so if there's one thing you keep, I vote milk.
5.  Stop making whole meals out of animal products (e.g. a burger) but keep using eggs in recipes, chicken broth in soup, or cheese as a garnish.

For most of my life I've eaten vegetarian (not vegan) at breakfast and lunch because I don't like meat enough to go through the trouble of cooking it more than once a day.  And now that John is becoming Orthodox, I'm working in some vegan dinners to serve on Wednesdays and Fridays.

It happens that I love vegan dishes.  Only thing is, they're often not very satisfying.  I don't feel like I've eaten a meal.  However, I don't tend to have tofu or almonds or non-dairy milk around to replace animal products.  So I've been trying out different recipes looking for things that actually seem like a meal.

What I've found is that you need to replace meat with more than just protein.  Protein is only one of the things meat provides a meal.  Meat also provides
-umami flavor
-interesting textures

So when I'm looking to make a meal without meat, I can't just make my usual casserole and leave the meat out.  Instead, it's a more satisfying meal if I replace the meat with a number of different things, to make sure there is variety, umami, and fat in the finished meal.

For instance, I've started to make meatless chili, but just leaving the meat out makes it very dull.  So I make a more complicated chili with sweet potatoes, two kinds of beans, onions browned in oil, and bell peppers.  To ramp up the flavor, I make sure to put in plenty of cumin and a splash of lime juice.

Here are some things that I think are really good in vegan meals:
-soy sauce
-tomato paste
-fermented foods -- miso and marmite are two I'd like to try, but even sauerkraut is a nice addition
-squash of all kinds
-bread on the side -- I feel it helps round out a meal.  Foccaccia is a yummy vegan bread.
-seeds or nuts -- sunflower seeds are great on a salad, or sesame seeds on a stir-fry
-avocados.  Yum.  Like if butter were a fruit.
-anything browned, caramelized, or smoked -- that adds a lot of deliciously complex flavor
-vegetable stock.  I got some Better Than Bouillon vegetable stock the other day and it is very tasty.  Don't cook in water if you can cook in stock!

To reward you if you've come this far, a recipe!

Black Bean Soup

1/2 cup dry rice
1 can black beans
1 can diced tomatoes
1-2 bell peppers, any color
1 onion
1/2 cup frozen corn
1 quart water or stock
2-3 Tbs oil (olive is fine)
salt, garlic powder, cumin, chili powder, all to taste
splash lime juice

Cook up the onions in the oil till they're starting to brown.  Add all the other ingredients except the corn and seasonings and cook about 20 minutes, till the rice is done.  Add the corn and season to taste.  Serve with crackers or bread.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Nobody likes vegans and prolifers


You know that joke?  "How can you tell if someone's a vegan?  Don't worry, they'll tell you."

It's kind of true.  I briefly followed a vegan online and the vegan posts were unending.  You know the kind of stuff: rude assumptions about meat eaters, references to people "forcing their children to eat rotting corpses," pictures of slaughterhouses, adorable pictures of pigs, Holocaust references.  I got tired of it and unfollowed.  It just felt extreme.

It occurred to me that this is the same kind of thing I'm used to seeing from the prolife movement: constant posts, graphic pictures, attributing evil to prochoicers, and Holocaust comparisons.  Nobody likes it; it makes them uncomfortable, but the prolifers, like vegans, just can't stop.

And it makes sense, really.  Prolifers and vegans both believe that they are witnessing a moral disaster, worse than a nuclear bomb or a genocide.  It's pretty hard to stay moderate and appealing when you legitimately think thousands or millions of morally significant beings are being murdered every day.  But the backlash comes from the same place: nobody likes to feel they are being accused of supporting a moral catastrophe.  That's why people sneer at vegans, mock their food choices, or start arguments about the health of their diet.  It's why a prolifer I know got egged outside a clinic.  It's downright offensive to accuse people of being okay with something deeply morally wrong.

The trouble is, the rights of animals and embryos are on the fringes of morality.  I've said before that basic morality is provable through reason, but the actual foundation you choose to underlay it all is a bit arbitrary -- you have to choose who to include in your circle of morally significant beings, and you have to choose whether to value life, liberty, or happiness most.  The result is that we'll all agree on the morality of some things, like slavery or murder, but in fringe cases like animal rights or abortion, we will diverge -- all while considering ourselves to be reasonably moral people.

Unfortunately arguments about these things tend to miss the point.  We assume people share our moral foundations, so we attribute evil motives to them ("they hate babies"/"they don't care about suffering") while failing to address the real differences in morality.

The difference here is mainly the circle of morally significant beings.  A prolifer puts the boundary at "members of the human species."  If it's a human, and it's alive, it's equivalent to any other living human.  An eight-cell zygote is exactly as significant as you are.  A vegan, on the other hand, tends to place it at "beings that can experience happiness or suffering."  So they will find it absurd to value the zygote more than a chicken, because the zygote has no awareness we know of, nor any brain to be aware with, while the chicken clearly suffers when locked in a battery cage.  Sometimes they accuse the prolifer of lying about their motives, and simply wanting to oppress women.  (And some prolifers really do seem to want that; but most, I think, are completely honest.)

Given that the decision which to value is mainly arbitrary, or else handed down from a religion, it's unlikely to be fruitful to argue about these principles.  Instead, I think both groups might benefit from selling a milder form: Okay, say an embryo isn't exactly as valuable as a toddler.  Or a chicken isn't exactly as valuable as you are.  That doesn't mean these beings have no moral value.  If you could preserve these lives without sacrificing the life, liberty, or happiness of adult humans, wouldn't you want to do that?  I don't think a chicken is equal to a human, but all things being equal, of course I'd prefer it if chickens weren't debeaked and locked in battery cages.

To get here, people have to discard the "you're a moral monster" part of the argument.  Instead they should try to stay positive about small changes people could make that wouldn't throw any other moral value (the liberty of women; feeding the hungry) under the bus.  For instance, donating to a pregnancy center that supports women who want to keep their pregnancies but can't afford to.  Or supporting laws that make insurers cover the cost of pregnancy and birth.  Or eating a vegan meal one night a week.  Or buying cruelty-free meat.

Would a prolifer or vegan really be satisfied if people made these choices and didn't go the whole way?  Of course not.  The prolifer won't be happy till embryos have the same exact rights an adult human has; and the vegan won't be happy until everyone gives up meat.  But these are goals they won't actually be able to achieve, not in our lifetimes at least.  So I'm just suggesting that in their outward messaging, they focus on these goals.  Think about it: what are the odds of converting one person to a vegan?  Pretty low.  But you might have better luck converting seven people to once-a-week vegans, and that saves the exact same number of cows.  Likewise, we're not making abortion illegal right now (and if we could, people would still get them) but there are lots of interventions which lower the abortion rate.

I don't know how many vegans or prolifers read this blog, but if you are one, I highly recommend dropping the language about how horrified you are and how terrible people not on your team are.  They aren't terrible, they're working their morality from completely different assumptions.  Now they're doing a great deal of harm, by your standards, but they need to be convinced, not condemned.  And the gentle, positive, incremental way is going to work a lot better for your goals.

Monday, September 24, 2018

Fall takes


Well, it's fall now!  And the weather fairies seem to have gotten the message, because on the Equinox it was clear and breezy, and since then it's been cold and drizzly.

Fall gives me weird feelings.  I don't know whether to cheer for the changing weather or dig in my heels ... because for a short time, it's getting better and better, and then suddenly it's too cold and going too fast and all the leaves fall off and then it's winter.  I really hate winter.  I hate not being able to go outside, but I'm very intolerant of cold so I sit inside staring out the window feeling trapped.  It doesn't help that our house has mostly small windows, and isn't very warm.

But we're far from that day just yet.  Last night we got to sleep with the window open and the fan off, which was lovely.  I'm not used to all that silence though.  The window units are like a jet engine.  When we turn them on in the spring, they're way too loud, but my ears got used to them and now expect them.  At least the crickets are still going strong!  I love the way summer nights in Virgina sound like we live in the middle of the jungle.


I'm still submitting my novel.  So far I've sent out 72 queries (meaning, a query letter and some number of sample pages) to literary agents.  I've gotten four manuscript requests, and most of the rest were either non-responses or form rejections.  All four of the people who read the manuscript turned it down.  But I did get a few encouraging responses saying the story was good, just not quite what they were looking for, and one actual piece of constructive criticism saying the ending was a little anticlimactic.  So I put the querying on hold for a while so I could rework the beginning a bit (since that's the part most people are seeing and not being interested in) and redo the entire ending.

I've gotten that done, and I think it's a huge improvement.  I blew some stuff up, that's always good, right?  So I'm ready to go back to querying, hopefully with better luck this time.


NaNoWriMo is coming soon and I am not sure what to do!  I feel overwhelmed with my life now, and what's going to change before November?  How will I have time to write anything?  But I remember I felt the same last time and I got it done.  So I'm not backing down just yet.

I think I've chosen a story.  I had like seven ideas to choose from, and a big part of me has been saying what I need to write is the memoir, the one about my experience in RC, but I just . . . really don't want to dig all that stuff up again.  So I'm thinking of the interstellar triller with the love story in it.  I came up with the idea when I was twelve or thirteen and reworked it many times without actually writing anything like a novel out of it.  It's hard because my main character is actually two people living in the same body.  How does one narrate a thing like that?  I'm planning on focusing on one of the two people, but they talk to each other and it's going to be a little difficult making all the inner dialog clear.  I tried a few pages in third person and they suck so I'm going to experiment with first person.  Not sure.  Third person is more the thing for adult sci-fi, but of course the right thing is the thing that works for this particular story.


So much political stuff going on right now.  I have been getting way too sucked in, and arguing with way too many strangers.  The one bright side is, a lot of the more-liberal Catholic facebookers keep friend-requesting me.  I never know whether or not to accept those.  Like, they seem like nice people and I'd probably like them.  But would they be super disappointed to find out I'm not actually in their tribe?

I have a smartphone now, which is mostly great because I can take good photos and the school can reach me when I'm at the park.  But it just makes my facebook addiction even worse.  I'm thinking of going back to screen-free Fridays.  Or at the very least, facebook-free.  My messenger conversations with friends really get me through the day, and of course there's writing and reading the news ..... BUT, on the other hand, it's one day a week and I have a pile of books to read.


I got the results from Marko's psychological assessment.  Did I mention we did that, back in August?  It took like five months to even get the appointment, and we had to drive an hour away, but insurance covered it so I really wanted to get it done while we've got it.  (Not expecting to lose it but in this climate who can say what's going to happen?)  Marko was luckily very cooperative.  It was really nice having a day out with him, without any of the other kids.  We even got burgers and milkshakes together.  His behavior lately has frustrated me to no end, so I really needed that chance to see his better side.

Well, he has autism.  Which obviously came as no surprise, but this diagnosis is official unlike the previous one.  We got a big packet full of resources to look into, which I stuck on top of the piano to look at later and really need to go through.

The big thing I need to look into is some kind of counseling for his emotions.  The occupational therapy he gets at school is focused on school stuff, like his (in)ability to write.  But his behavior at home has started to be really dreadful in the past six months or so, and a lot of that is because he is having interpersonal issues with his siblings.  He takes everything as a personal affront (them playing games that don't interest him; them playing pretend; anyone who is not him being first at everything) and, since he's learned to control his temper a lot better, he often doesn't melt down but instead passive-aggressively teases and annoys them.  It's like regular sibling rivalry, but on steroids because even when they're trying to be nice, he often interprets it as being mean.  

It doesn't help that Michael has a big chip on his shoulder lately and Miriam has tended to jump straight to banshee shrieking at the slightest offense.  Maybe they're hyper-defensive because of Marko's bad behavior.  Or maybe Marko's behaving badly because they're being so mean.  I don't know, but it's a big cycle and I keep trying and trying to break it, but the only thing that works is separating Marko from the others.  I keep begging him to please, PLEASE, read a book or type a story or play with your cards or ANYTHING that is not interacting with your siblings!  But that's not a long-term solution because he has to learn to interact with peers someday.  I had hoped he'd learn that at school, and he's made some small progress, but not nearly as much as I would like.  So that's what the counseling would be for.


Jackie is still so hard.  If she naps, she's up till ten or eleven at night.  If she doesn't nap .... she's still often up late because she took a 30-second doze at the dinner table, or because she was up late the previous night, or whatever.  But if she's up late once, she's tired and cranky and there's no way she's getting through the day without a nap.  It's a cycle I'm constantly battling.  And then I hear about 20-month-olds that both nap, even in the afternoon, and also go to bed at seven and I get sour about it.  Did you know that some children, you can deliberately mess up their nap schedule or take them to an evening activity, and the very next day they resume a normal sleep routine as if nothing ever happened?  SO UNFAIR.

In the daytime her hobbies including nursing for what feels like hours while humming Twinkle Twinkle, pinching my belly, and trying to flip upside-down; biting for no reason; demanding food purely for smashing purposes, and coloring on the walls with marker.  I mean, standard toddler stuff.

Her verbal skills have really exploded though.  From just a couple words, in a month or two suddenly she had dozens.  Other. Me. Blue. Purple. Yellow. Apple. Egg. My. Come on. Man. Out.  Some words she won't even try, like Marko or Michael's names; others she seems to pick up after hearing them once.  I can't say it makes her easier to please -- I mean, the main problem in her life isn't that I don't understand her, it's that I do and still sometimes say no.  That's when she goes ballistic and goes for the eyeballs.

Is Jackie more difficult than the standard baby?  Or am I just so tired it seems that way?  The world will never know.


Oh, I do have one thing I'm very proud of!  I finally went to the dentist and got my cavities drilled.  It was both very scary to face and very expensive, so I had every motivation to put it off, but I finally got it done and that's a thing I don't have to worry about again for awhile.

Now is it me, or do dentists univerally pick the worst possible music to play in their offices?  It's always eighties music, and not the good stuff.  Somehow easy-listening eighties music makes the skin crawl up the back of my spine.  It feels like something horrible is going to happen.  And I don't know if it's legitimately terrible music, or if I got this association from how dang often I've been scared in dentists' offices and that's what was always playing.

A few worst offenders: I'm Still Standing, Fly Like an Eagle, literally anything by The Police, Your Kiss is on My List, Take On Me.  Is it the minor keys, the synth, or what?  I don't know, but a whole lot of 80's songs give me the heebie jeebies.

Sunday, September 2, 2018

The Catholic way to be gay?

I read a lot of blogs by Catholic gay people.  Especially when I was dealing with my own different conflicts, I found a lot of encouragement from other people who felt they didn't fit in.  But of course, after a lot of reading, I started to feel pretty bad about it all.  It wasn't just that Catholic teaching itself is very hard to follow for a gay person.  It's that everything in the church seemed designed to hurt them and make them feel terrible.

Right now I've been seeing that in spades: nasty articles blaming gay people for sex abuse, saying that gay people have no ability to control themselves, saying that homosexuality is inherently pederastic, and so on.  These people love to make the assumption that any priest who says something welcoming to gay people is both gay and an abuser, and any priest who calls out homosexuality "for what it is" is a holy and virtuous man.  I've even read that when an antigay priest is caught in homosexual activity, it's always a setup.  The whole church is infiltrated with gay people, aka evil people.  How does it feel to be a Catholic gay person, following the Church's teaching to the best of one's ability, hearing stuff like this?

But it's not new.  As long as I've followed the subject, there have been lots of voices saying that gay people have a mental illness, that they should never say "gay" but "struggling with same-sex attraction," and that in order to be faithful Catholics, they have to not only be celibate but handle their orientation in the exact way the lecturer recommends -- which usually means being deeply ashamed of their orientation and never disclosing it to anyone.

It's gotten to the point that whenever I see someone say, "There's no such thing as gay, there are only straight people who are confused about their sexual identity," I roll my eyes.  Isn't that exactly what a gay person would say, if they didn't want the shame and stigma of being gay but also felt bad about lying?

The main points of this position:
-homosexuality isn't natural, but is caused by psychological trauma of some kind
-homosexuality can be cured by proper therapy
-it is important never to call a person "gay" but "same-sex attracted"
-gay people are emotionally immature and narcissistic
-gay men should never be priests because they can't have a spousal relationship with the church
-the "gay lobby" should be opposed in every respect

I don't know how this particular attitude became "the Catholic way to be."  The Catechism certainly doesn't support it.  I do think Benedict's instruction on gays in the priesthood has some hints of it.  And it's very much pushed by Courage -- a group which, to many people, spells out the Catholic way to be gay: be in the closet, while attending a secret support group a lot like AA to talk about your struggle with same-sex attraction.  What I have recently found out, though, is that its roots come from some unsavory places.

The first problematic root of this position is Freud.  The blogger Chris Damian has a five-part series explaining how it is derived from Freud.  Although Freud is appreciated today as having broken some new ground and asked some interesting questions, psychologists today largely don't approve his conclusions.

The second is Fr. John Harvey, the founder of Courage.  I didn't know anything about him till I read of him on Chris Damian's blog, but my eyes about bugged out reading this article of his from 1992, in which he argues pedophile priests can and should be returned to ministry.
"The success of the Saint Luke Institute Program in Suitland, Maryland, should also not be overlooked. Dr. Frank Valcour, Medical Director, reports that 32 of 55 child molesters who had completed treatment by September 1989, were doing well, with no reported instances of relapse and no new allegations of child molestation. 
Valcour concludes that, after making allowances for the possibility of some improper behavior which was not reported and for individuals who are impaired in other ways and thus not fit for future ministry, the majority of those treated have attained a new level of psychological and spiritual health. It would seem, then, that the risk of relapse will continue to be minimal and that these men should be reassigned to ministry under carefully qualified conditions. "
It seems that, after his work rehabilitating pedophile priests--where "the majority" of the priests did not offend again, but it appears about a third did--he turned his attention to gay laypersons.  Just as he thought he could "cure" pedophiles with psychiatric care and 12-step programs, he tried to do the same for homosexuals.  He seems to see both in the exact same way, as disordered, sexual sins, ignoring that one harms a victim and is a criminal offense.   Using the same approach for both is needlessly harsh to gay people, and unconscionably lax when it comes to pedophiles.

Another person who has been active in Courage and written a lot of their material is Dr. Richard Fitzgibbons.  He's written lots of articles on homosexuality that fits the pattern I've talked about above, stuff like this:

"The most frequently seen cause of sadness in the past leading to homosexual attractions in males was the result of childhood and adolescent rejection by peers because of very limited athletic abilities. Many children who have poor eye-hand coordination are not good in the most popular sports and are on the receiving end of harsh and cruel criticism and rejection by their peers. Subsequently, powerful feelings of loneliness, sadness and isolation develop. The craving for acceptance and love from peers results in strong emotional attractions to those of the same sex which leads many youngsters to think they may be homosexuals."

Now of course you don't become gay because you couldn't hit a baseball.  (I believe there is some correlation between homosexuality and Asperger's, both of which have genetic causes, and Asperger's does screw with your hand-eye coordination, so perhaps that's what showed up in his data.)  But I'm just going to go ahead and assume you'll agree this guy is an untrustworthy source when I show you what he said about priest abusers:

"Mental health professionals who are called upon to evaluate priests should report fully on the background of the accuser and should document how they have determined that the specific accusation against the priest is not false. The need for such an evaluation process is clear, given the extent of the false accusations made in our culture today. The same responsibility applies to review boards. 
Since the major unresolved anger that adults bring into their adult lives that is misdirected at others arises from hurts in the father relationship, a thorough history of the accuser’s relationship with her/his father is required. 
Unfortunately, some dioceses have supported false accusations by accusers with criminal records, who even spent time in jail. One such accuser, who had no proof of her accusation, received a financial settlement, followed by an attempt to laicize the priest. 
A veteran Los Angeles lawyer, Mr. Steier, who was involved in over 100 investigations into claims of sexual abuse by Catholic priests, wrote in a declaration to the Los Angeles County Superior Court in 2011, “One retired FBI agent who worked with me to investigate many claims in the clergy cases told me, in his opinion, about one-half of the claims made in the clergy cases were either entirely false, or so greatly exaggerated, that the truth would not have supported prosecutable claim for childhood sexual abuse.....
The background for the work of the review boards is that the allegations of a charge of sexual abuse seem to be the one “crime” in our society in which the accused is considered guilty until proven innocent. This attitude in regard to accusations against priests, in particular, has led many priests to describe the present situation in the Church as a witch-hunt, comparable to that in Salem, Massachusetts, in the 1600s."

 Elsewhere he says that informing the congregation of any allegations and asking anyone with information to come forward will simply "create false memories" and "destroy the priest's reputation."

Another leading light in all this is Fr. Tony Anatrella.  I've mentioned him before, because I'm so blown away how much of the fashionable viewpoint on homosexuality comes from him.  He even helped write Benedict's statement on gay priests, linked above.  He came under fire for telling bishops they didn't necessarily have to report sex abuse to civil authorities.  Later, he was accused by four people of sexually abusing them during "conversion therapy."

With all this, one has to ask if any of this viewpoint has any credibility at all.  If its main inventors were that bad at psychology, and that poor on the subject of abuse, why should we trust them on homosexuality?  And why do we have ministries for gay people entirely led by priests or doctors who claim not to be gay -- what qualifies them for this ministry?  I far prefer to listen to people who actually are gay, if I want to know what it's like to be gay and Catholic.

In that interest, I'm just going to signal-boost a few of my favorite blogs, which can tell you all you want to know about what it's really like to be gay.  They tend to be skeptical of the explanations of these "psychologists."  For instance, some come from families where they had good relationships with both  parents; some not.  Some were abused as children; some not.  Some have tried to be "cured" of being gay and had no luck.  Most agree homophobia is a serious problem, within and without the Church.

Chris Damian at University Ideas, who inspired this post
Gabriel Blanchard at Mudblood Catholic
Melinda Selmys at Catholic Authenticity
Spiritual Friendship, a group blog
Eve Tushnet

I would recommend straight Catholics read these regularly to get a sense of what it's like to be gay and Catholic, attempting to follow church teaching.  Stop getting your idea of what homosexuality is and how it can be fixed from wingnuts. 

Monday, August 27, 2018

Bad Venn diagrams

I apparently have to address homosexuality again.  Because when I shared my myths post, everyone kind of ignored what I said and just repeated "but lavender mafia tho."  It's really entrenched and I've been arguing against it over and over, but no one's really convinced and I'm wasting my time.  Instead I'll just throw it all in a post, and if I feel the compulsion to talk to these people again, I'll just linkdrop it as needed.

People like LifeSite News, Church Militant, Crisis, and former nuncio Vigano (more on him later) are pushing a single narrative in regard to sex abuse, the "lavender mafia" story.  Basically they separate priests into two categories, like this:

While they'll admit that there are few rare exceptions (apparently 20% of victims being female is just a tiny blip in the data) they mostly think that if you purged the gays -- who can be easily recognized because they are liberal and push gay rights -- there would be hardly any abuse anymore.

I argue that the Venn diagram looks more like this monstrosity:

In other words, some priests are liberal and some are conservative.  Of both camps, some are gay.  Whether liberal or conservative, gay or straight, some are not celibate.  And whether liberal or conservative, gay or straight, some of the non-celibate priests have molested children.

I've had some trouble because there is no statistical proof of what percentage of priests are gay, which makes it impossible to say if the gay ones are more or less likely to be celibate, or to be molesters, than straight priests.  One thing that is clear is that the rate of homosexuality is drastically higher than the surrounding population.  Estimates range from 1/3 to 1/2 of all priests having a homosexual orientation, though most would be private about it.

The usual "proof" given is that 80% of the victims in the John Jay Report were male.  The authors of the report denied that this meant the abusers were gay, but said it was about opportunity.  Still, they left themselves open to such a claim by calling the 11-14 age group -- the age about half the victims were -- "postpubescent."  Only, most boys in that group would not be postpubescent.  The clinical definition of pedophilia is attraction to children under thirteen.  Psychologists believe that pedophiles do not care about the sex of their victims; it's children in general that they're attracted to.  So I think we can discard this "proof."

The next claim is that priests who are gay (and by extension, assumed to be non-celibate and possibly molesting children) are necessarily liberal.  It makes sense that a gay priest might choose a liberal approach, because it would allow him to be sexually active without guilt.  And certainly there are some who have taken this approach, and if they get into any trouble for their behavior, whether with adults or children, they might claim "I'm being persecuted for being gay!  It's those terrible homophobes in the church!"  That way he can bring liberal lay people and liberal clergy to his defense.

But there are plenty of priests who take the opposite approach: they preach a very conservative, strict ethic on sexuality and even decry homosexuality.  Sometimes they even obsess over it, making it their main mission.  But this is a smokescreen to conceal their behavior.  What better cover for being gay than being a massive homophobe?  That, or they are so deeply ashamed over their behavior that they can't stop preaching against it, even though they also can't stop doing it.

Want examples?  There are lots.

Fr. Maciel, of course.  I don't remember him ever ranting about being gay, but his order was very conservative and gender-essentialist.  The sexes were strictly segregated for chastity's sake -- to the point that those of us who had brothers at the apostolic school weren't allowed to talk to them except under special circumstances.  But we also were not allowed to be undressed in front of other girls; to form particular friendships; or to share beds when we stayed in hotels together, even though we were put 3-4 in a room.  The careful tiptoeing around any sexual circumstance led to a lot of people defending Maciel -- "When could he have ever acted out sexually?  The rules there are insane, it would have been impossible!"  Well, the rules were different for him.  Anyway, he had two mistresses and abused dozens of boys.  To me, that looks like a person who is normally straight, but also a pedophile.

Fr. C. Frank Phillips, of the Society of St. John Cantius founded a traditionalist order of priests who say the Latin Mass.  He was placed on leave after credible allegations of sexual misconduct with adult males.

Fr. Tony Anatrella is the originator of much of the narrative of homosexuality being merely a defect -- you're not gay, he would tell people, but simply straight and confused.  He also helped write Benedict XVI's policy against ordaining homosexuals.  Later it turned out he was sexually harassing people during his "conversion therapy."

Cardinal Keith O'Brien campaigned heavily against gay marriage, calling it "grotesque."  Later it turned out he had been sexually involved with at least four priests or seminarians -- one of them for years.

This seminarian claims there was an active homosexual culture at his conservative seminary.

This article claims several conservative bishops are gay.  From the article:

"[This bishop] spent a million dollars in a campaign to persuade registered Catholics to support a marriage amendment that would define marriage as only between one man and one woman. (It was defeated on November 6, 2012.) In connection with this effort he wrote every priest of the diocese and said the he would "not tolerate any open dissent" to his efforts.
He wrote an article about his official teaching on homosexuality to a local paper. When a woman objected to his interpretation he wrote her a letter: "Catholics are bound in conscience to believe this teaching (that homosexuality is intrinsically evil). Those who do not cannot consider themselves to be Catholic and ought not to participate in the sacramental life of the Church... Your eternal salvation may well depend upon a conversion of heart on this topic." (Star-Tribune 5-11-10)
Our clerical informant insisted that [this bishop] has a gay orientation that was known and talked about since his seminary days. (I never report the identification of a cleric's sexual orientation without at least three reliable independent personal validations. Those I have.)"  [My note: I redacted the bishop's name because I still feel a bit funny about outing the guy.]

Three priests say gay men should not be priests -- I'm including this because I find it ironic that the first of the three did not know that his superior was sexually active with males, and the third was later accused by several women of sexually molesting them during "exorcisms." The former should tip us off that purging gays from the priesthood is a lot easier said than done; the latter should remind us that women are also victims of molesters.

Anyway.  Given all this, I'm pretty annoyed at Vigano's statement.  Not that I disbelieve his main point, that Francis knew about McCarrick and brushed it off.  I mean, we already know that Francis knew about Barros and brushed it off.  He's got a history.  And we also know that JP2 brushed off any number of things and still got canonized.  One can always claim one was naive and believed the guy was innocent.

But Vigano goes well beyond accusing Francis of defending McCarrick -- he blames the whole thing on a lavender mafia.  It's the liberals and the gays!  They're attacking the real church!  Their goal is to change church teaching on homosexuality!  And I don't think all this is true.  Why would gay cardinals want to change church teaching on homosexuality?  They aren't being held back from following it by church teaching.

Basically, here's what I think is going on.  Let's keep the mafia metaphor.  Everyone's got skeletons; everyone's got dirt -- or nearly everyone.  The bishops who don't have mistresses or lovers have covered at least once for those who do.  Vigano himself covered up an investigation against Niedstedt.  For a long time, it was an uneasy truce between liberals and conservatives -- let's sweep the scandals under the rug, even though we all know each other's dirt, because if a scandal came out, the church's reputation will suffer and we'll all be worse off.  (Just like in the Harry Dresden books I'm currently reading -- the wizards and the vampires hate each other, but there's a mutual understanding that you never call the cops.)

Well, the scandals are out and the church is suffering just as predicted, so Vigano thought, "Well, why the heck not?  Let's start slinging mud."  He's bringing out what he knows, because he hates Francis and the liberals.  We'll have to see if some liberal bishops have anything to sling back.  But I think we can predict a lot of ugliness in the future.  And really it's for the best -- even if they're exposing scandals for their own reasons, they'll be exposing them and that can only be a good thing.  Fewer coverups are always a plus.  Maybe people will stop doing it because they don't want to give their ideological opponents ammunition -- when, sadly, the virtues of chastity and charity were not reason enough.

Victims' advocates are coming out saying they don't care to be used as ammunition in a fight between liberal and conservative bishops.  And really, it's a pretty gross thing to do.  I'm also concerned about innocent people caught up in this -- for instance, Fr. James Martin, who has preached against discrimination against gays (though he has never, by the way, advocated for a change in church teaching).  People are saying he must be gay, must be part of the lavender mafia, must want more child sex abuse.  That's a really sick thing to say about a priest who, so far as anybody knows, is celibate.  And there are lots of quietly gay priests, both liberal and conservative, who are doing a fine job as priests, chaste and harming no one.  I would hate to see a witch hunt attempt to drive them out.
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