Mr. Mathers Goes To Washington

Slate is charmed that rap, the whole genre apparently, will be judged in the Supreme Court this December. The case, one in which a man who had been left by his wife proceeded to post increasingly darker fantasies about killing his wife on Facebook, until she received a protective order which he then violated by posting additional dumb, intimidating things online in the form of rap lyrics. Because of his use of lyrics, the case is turning into a referendum on whether the Court recognizes that rap is a legitimate art form. Since rap is often wrongly considered “confessional” by default and Elonis never actually dismembered or serial killed anyone (only graphically threatened to do so repeatedly, enough to concern the FBI, whom he then threatened), the concern is that the stodgy and old justices won’t understand the importance of self-proclaimed, amateur, Facebook rap lords to intimidate everyone in their friend circle with exponentially increasing expressions of instability.

The sticking point is that his threats were both “rap” (talent aside) and posted on social media, thereby an expression of his identity, arguably art, even, and for these reasons subject to free speech laws.

Is rap an art form? Fuck yes. Is it always confessional? Nope. Does Rap (capital-R) need Supreme Court recognition to have arrived? Nope. Personally this delight smacks of white nerds enjoying the transgression and irreverence of “low art” in the highest court of law in the nation, but that’s me and it’s snarky and adds more heat than fire. In all the excitement of dropping the f-word in an amicus brief, there seems to be forgotten that at its crux is a guy who was threatening to dismember and mutilate his ex to all of their friends and family, shoot up elementary schools, and threaten and harass his coworkers and FBI agents until he was fired and jailed. Scary dude, and he’s not even a real artist.

The thing is, as a country we’ve written it into our founding documents that we intend to tolerate and defend idiot speech, and will in fact wage literal and figurative wars over your right to embarrass yourself in public within reason. However, the addition of social media to our culture makes threatening speech that much easier to capture and prosecute, with the added complication of interstate laws that escalate sentencing. And indeed, our right to emotionally terrorize others online hangs in the balance. But the effect of putting the language of domestic violence above reproach unless we can verify what’s in the heart of the speaker is chilling for all the targets who don’t get thrills from their emotional abuse.

Plum and Apple Torte

I made this torte on Wednesday night, and it looked and felt wrong until right before I pulled it out of the oven. It didn’t seem like there was enough batter, the batter was too thick like cookie dough, there seemed to be too much fruit to batter ratio, the spring form pan was too large. Then I pulled it out of the oven and the batter had puffed up into a perfect little cake, swallowing the plums (and apples I’d used for filler), lightly (or heavily) dusted with cinnamon and sugar. It’s a rustic little dessert, heavy with fruit but not too sweet. It couldn’t be any simpler, and it’s delicious — DELICIOUS — on Day Two.

If it lasts that long.

Review: Bastards of the Party

As the New York Times puts it, Bastards of the Party is the “genealogy for the institution of the gang. This feature-length documentary “traces the origin of black American gang history, from the great migration of African-Americans from the South to northern and western industrial cities, to the rise and demise of the Black Panther Party and the Organization Us of the mid- 1960s, ultimately to the formation of the 1990s and 2000s gang culture in Los Angeles. Through the eyes of former gang member and co-producer Cle “Bone” Sloan, Bastards focuses on LA gang culture as a micro-community reflective of bad social policies all through the U.S.

We misunderstand the gangs when we assume that they have no history or purpose apart from brute violence, but we romanticize them when we imagine that they’re bands of brave vigilantes.

Clear-eyed history — shot through with archival film — begins to set the record straight. Mr. Sloan begins with a myth: that gangs like the Bloods and the Crips started in 1972, when they formed in response to a dispute over a leather jacket. That’s rubbish. The film shows that gang animosity in Los Angeles dates to the 1940s and ’50s, when the police had set up an extortion racket on Central Avenue to bilk the black music clubs.

Then Bastards points an abject finger at the role of the Los Angeles Police Department, and explores how Chief William H. Parker bolstered the ranks of the LAPD with white recruits from the south during his tenure from 1950 to 1966, who brought their racist attitudes with them into the police force and police work processes. Parker’s racist sympathies helped to lay the groundwork for the volatile relationship between the black community and the LAPD that persists today, and led to the rise of gang culture. The “bastards of the party” are gangs who are, according to Sloan, the “bastard children of” revolutionary black political movements. This is what happens, he says, in a pressure cooker of no jobs, no social safety net, and a militarized police presence, and when the hopes of the prior generation turn into the resentments of the present. He ultimately lays responsibility for the allure of LA gang life at the feet of law enforcement and their complicity with and promotion of generations of racist policy.

This is an intensely political documentary that would be appropriate for all audiences interested in social justice, urban American politics, solutions to poverty, maladaptive youth cultures, discussions of gang violence, underground economies, Black American history, and Los Angeles history.

REVIEW: Blue Apron

A friend gave me a free week of Blue Apron, a weekly cooking and grocery service that provides you with high quality produce, including seasonal ingredients directly from farms, importers and family-run purveyors, and easy instructions on how to use them. I like good food and I’m a good cook, so I decided to try it out.

How does it work?

  • Start an account with Blue Apron.
  • Select the type of plan you want – meat and fish or vegetarian – and the number of people you will feed. Your weekly cost is determined by the number of mouths you feed, about $10 per person.
  • New menus are posted one week in advance.
  • Free delivery via FedEx.
  • You get all the fresh ingredients you’ll need to make 3 meals. Many of the ingredients are pre-measured, but NOT pre-prepared. You don’t have to be a gourmand, but you should be comfortable in the kitchen.
  • You will need salt, pepper, olive oil and basic cooking equipment like pots, pans, and a good knife.
  • You can cancel anytime before the weekly cutoff and/or skip a week if necessary.
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Pork brats with caramelized red cabbage and roasted potatoes. I’m not a food photographer, but trust me, it was amazing.

Last Friday, a big box showed up on my porch full of high quality proteins and produce and other ingredients. This delivery included a salmon Caesar salad, brats with red cabbage and roasted potatoes, and a lovely pad Thai. Since I have a hungry teenager that likes to cook, we quickly unpacked the box — a large box packed down with ice coolers and insulation to keep the ingredients cool despite the shipping and weather conditions — and started on the brats, his choice. They were delicious. The red cabbage, especially, seasoned with autumnal flavors like cinnamon and allspice, was great and new to me. A couple of times, the big kid put down his fork and kind of nodded his head like he had to grant his plate extra approval.

Like the brats, the pad Thai and Caesar salad were excellent, easy to prepare, and also quite pretty. The Caesar salad is something I make at home quite a bit, and this version was easier to prepare than my usual recipe and was just as good. The instructions are clear and detailed, printed on high quality card stock with color photographs of each major step.  The servings are also a healthy size, enough to feed my family, including one ravenous teenager, without any leftovers.

Pad Thai with chicken and baby bok choi. Yum.

Pad Thai with chicken and baby bok choi. Yum.

There is no bland food here. The flavor profiles are restaurant-quality, and they are spicy, exotic, and include ingredients I can’t easily get in central Indiana.

I could see this being a valuable service for busy professionals who like to cook, or for people who want to eat more home-cooked meals but who don’t like the process of meal-planning and grocery shopping. But the major drawback is the price. $10 a head for three meals a week is way more money than I would spend buying my own groceries and planning my own meals. Because of the cost, I wish there was an option to receive only one or two meals a week.  And while some people hate leftovers, I love leftovers. Over the years, I have cut so much fat out of my budget by cooking at home and eating the leftovers — legumes, y’all — for lunch at work the next day. Packing my next day’s lunch is part of my cooking routine. I love the Blue Apron cooking experience, but the cost in my budget is akin to eating out twice a week, and I still have to cook for myself the next day.

Looking at the packaging and the quality of the ingredients, however, I’m surprised that this service is only $10 a head. It’s very well done.

Leaving Home

Michelle Goldberg quoting Katherine Cross at The Nation on “Feminism’s Toxic Twitter Wars“:

Being targeted by other activists, she says, “leaves you feeling threatened in the sense that you’re getting turned out of your own home…. The one place that you are able to look to for safety, where you were valued, where there is a lot less of the structural prejudice that makes you feel so outcast in the rest of the world—that’s now been closed to you. That you now have this terrible reputation… To suddenly be tarred by the very people that I’m supposed to be able to work with, my allies, as being a sellout or being infatuated with power or being an apologist for this, that and the other privilege—if that kind of reputation gets around, its extremely damaging,” says Cross.

There’s a lot here to critique, especially the positioning of Mikki Kendall and other prominent WOC and womanists on Twitter as finger-pointing bullies, and the implicit suggestion that the feminist blogosphere was all dandy until people of color raised their hands wanting access to the lunch counter. Because, look. This is well-trod ground.

If we’re arguing about whether racism exists and whether black women have the right to express anger over structural, personal, and professional inequalities – in public! — and whether or not we can honor the humanity of POC as individuals and as a movement by treating their feelings and experiences and opinions like real things, you’re in the wrong movement. Kendall’s is an argument about power, who has it, who doesn’t, and why not.  The implication by the Nation article is that the real feminists doing the real work just happen to be mostly white ladies and Feministing and/or Gawker alumni who live in NYC, while the apparently-not-real online feminists, who happen to be POC, disabled, and/or poor, and/or who don’t live in New England and are not Feministing and/or Gawker alumni, just happen to not have access to prestigious professional resources and have sour grapes for the well-meaning, working (i.e. published, writing, prestigious, industry) feminists.

What’s weird is that it’s almost like the people who are systematically denied access to premium personal and professional  resources just so happen to suffer the biggest consequences from being denied access to premium personal and professional resources! And it’s almost like we are discussing a movement dedicated to uncovering and alleviating this very issue — that happens to be ignoring this very issue when it comes to our upper-crust friends organizing professional events! Folks’re angry about it!  We have a name for this very thing! Weird!

Okay then, not every conference and workshop and meeting can encompass all feminisms. Not every figurehead can encompass every view. Okay. But advising that less anger and accountability and more complicity is the solution to resolving the systemic oppression of creative, activist POC is rich.

WELL. RT @PlayVicious: It’s not an accident the most socially acceptable form of feminism mimics the posture of historic American racism.

— surly murdock (@dopegirlfresh) January 30, 2014

I’ve said for years that industry feminists, by which I mean the paid, careerist, publishing feminists, could fill in a lot of gaps by purposely reaching outside of their industry circles and lighting the way for people who didn’t go to Barnard, Vassar, Columbia, and NYU to get a leg up. Nobody wants to talk about how a lot of lady journalists were part of this community only long enough to get boosted into brick-and-mortar publishing careers, and don’t seem to understand why that’s offensive for those of us doing the same work and nevertheless getting shut out of their meeting rooms.

Whether all this critical heat is actually affecting the research and funding for other projects? I’m open to hearing it. But show us the numbers. What research was affected? How many projected dollars were lost? Otherwise all this conjecture looks like institutionally-ratified shade.

Feminism’s “sisterhood problem” is a big question that is decades old and a messy subject with a lot of complicated personalities involved. It is not a question that can be answered in one article or in a hundred blog rebuttals. None of this, alas, is new.

Taking the argument on its face, I do agree with one thing: The women’s political blogosphere can be an emotional minefield.  It can be toxic for a lot of reasons, including regular grown people being assholes to other regular grown people. There is a lot of that, in fact. Some of that assholishness is bigotry. Some of it is vigorous debate. Some of the assholishness is Mean Girls bullying and cults of personality. Some of it is other things. Some of it is culture and geography. Some of it is the prevalence of earnest kids talking out loud to their own detriment and working out personal questions in public that are best kept private. Some of it is personal baggage that ekes into the activist sphere and that a lot of people participating in online feminism have an extreme emotional investment in this beast over other social experiences and outlets that are probably healthier for them. Compound this with a movement that pushes bad news at you all day long, all week long, all year long, and it’s like trying to drink from a fire hose. It’s impossible, and man, are you thirsty.

The hidden blessing in toxic online culture is that you can turn your computer off. The sad part, having been one of the bloggers who faded out because of the increasing pressure to monetize and the increasing pressure to perform a public fight with your adversaries (which usually includes identity policing and assigning the worst possible intentions to everything they say and do),  is having to cut yourself off from the community that once sustained you.  The only reason I was inspired to post anything about this, not that anyone knows about or reads this blog anymore, is that the pullquote above rang so true. I was one of those folks who was “tarred by the very people that I’m supposed to be able to work with, my allies, as being a sellout or being infatuated with power or being an apologist for this, that and the other privilege.” It was extremely damaging to my sense of self to have to walk away from this community and what I felt was my body of work. Choosing to extract myself from this toxicity from my friends and allies also shut a lot of personal and professional doors as well.

Latoya Peterson had some beautiful reflections on this awfulness this week. Yes, your feelings are yours and they are important, but no, your feelings are not a social movement. You have to work with people you disagree with sometimes if you want to reach common goals — in feminism, in social justice, in your boring old day job, in your family, and in your life. If you don’t share goals? If folks aren’t playing nice? Walk away. Take care of you. But scorched earth methods are toxic.

In hindsight, and I can only speak for myself, I think this dynamic of viscerally hurt feelings and deep personal resentment is just endemic to problem-focused communities.  It will always be a part of the landscape. People who gather to talk about the persistence of oppression will naturally be on the lookout for oppression, and elevate these observations to the forefront of the community. On the flip-side, people with loose boundaries who are eager to appear non-oppressive and non-judgmental, a huge portion of the social justice community if you ask me, will bend over backwards to avoid creating conflict with genuine bad guys (re: the persistence of He Who Shall Not Be Named against all logic and reason) because they’re looking for cookies and developing super deep think pieces (I’m guilty!), and not, you know, using good judgment. The anxiety of constantly trying to fix things that are completely out of our control — and frequently out of the control of the person being criticized for embodying the offending privilege — can’t be part of a positive social movement or a happy person’s life. Not mine, anyway.

Karpman Drama Triangle

Exhausting!

My focus today is on more immediate outcomes: my local area, my immediate influence on my family, my neighborhood and my city, the things that create passion in me and make me feel abundant and full of gratitude. Some of this happens online, most of it happens offline. But leaving the online feminist community, and the heaviness of that loss, weighed on me for some years. I guess it’s like grieving a toxic family. Eventually all the positive things you’re getting out of the relationship are over-shadowed by the emotional beat downs every Thanksgiving.  You can’t thrive when steeped in that level of anxiety.  You can’t think your best thoughts, or feel your best feelings, or be in the moment with these people in this house. Eventually the laughs can’t be outweighed by the side-eye and passive-aggression and fear of failure.

It’s about time for the community to fret and collectively ask, “How do we move forward?” I don’t know. Other than talking about this situation peripherally and very occasionally, I moved on.

When I had some distance, I realized how much time and energy was spent policing that space and the people in it, and not living intentionally and with purpose. The people who are able to thrive personally and professionally inside the fray? No lie, I wonder about them a little.

How to Spot a Narcissist Online

It’s a truism that the internet will make narcissists of its users, but now that everyone is online, and it’s unrealistic that every internet user is a budding narcissist, how do you spot actual narcissists online? We’re all noodling around on social media incessantly, but researchers believe that the difference is in our motives. And they believe that real narcissists are more likely to be active on Twitter (gulp!) than on Facebook. Why?

One recent study published in Computers in Human Behavior dug into the how and why of narcissists’ social media use, looking at both college students and an older adult population. The researchers measured how often people tweeted or updated their Facebook status, but also why, asking them how much they agreed with statements like “It is important that my followers admire me,” and “It is important that my profile makes others want to be my friend.”

Overall, Twitter use was more correlated with narcissism, but lead researcher Shaun W. Davenport, chair of management and entrepreneurship at High Point University, points out that there was a key difference between generations. Older narcissists were more likely to take to Facebook, whereas younger narcissists were more active on Twitter. “For older adults who didn’t grow up using Facebook, it takes more intentional motives to use it, like narcissism.”

Additionally, narcissists who would normally gain a lot of friends but lose them through their callousness benefit by the non-narcissistic population’s laziness around unfriending annoying social media contacts — as well as the high entertainment value non-narcissistic folks experienced when witnessing a narcissist bloviate in public. Call it the reality TV effect.

Unsurprisingly, narcissists also respond very strongly to gaming and the status felt with a constant positive feedback stream:

Though social media is an obvious and much-discussed bastion of narcissism, online role-playing games, the most famous being World of Warcraft, have been shown to hold some attraction as well. A study of 1,471 Korean online gamers showed narcissists to be more likely to be addicted to the games than non-narcissists. The concrete goals and rewards the games offer allow the players to gather prestige: “As you play, your character advances by gaining experience points, ‘leveling-up’ from one level to the next while collecting valuables and weapons and becoming wealthier and stronger,” the study reads. “In this social setting, excellent players receive the recognition and attention of others, and gain power and status.”

So the internet and everything on it is a massive narcissistic supply. Weird! For folks who want to understand how the internet affects this personality disorder and  its attendant maladaptive social behavior, read the rest here.

 

Riding Bikes With a Teenager

Not my kid(s).

Not my kid(s).

There are so many pieces out there about riding with young kids, but not many about riding with older kids, so when I started riding with my older child, a young teenager, I felt like we were on the steep end of the learning curve. The Big Kid learned to ride a bike when he was little, had no issues with balance, distance, or speed, but I found that street riding in a more serious way was an exercise in parent-child anxiety. I was constantly yelling, “STOP!” “GO!” “WATCH OUT!” “OMG!” and freaking out about nearby drivers, intersections, and near-accidents, which inspired a serious lack of confidence in BK.

Confidence and safety go very much hand in hand on the road. The two things I noticed that were crucial to his success as a new cyclist were:

GEAR

If riding bikes with a toddler is about having the right gear, riding bikes with a teenager is about having gear that is both for safety and for confidence.

Convincing him that a helmet was a necessity and not a fashion item was the first hurdle. Admittedly I was not the best role model until we started riding on a regular basis. Once I had some real solo experience on the road — and with the aggression of drivers — we wore helmets. No excuses, no exceptions.

Another crucial step was finding a bike that fits his body. Teenagers seem to grow inches overnight. They are constantly growing. Can’t keep this kid in shoes or jeans. While he once was fine on a youth bike, very suddenly he was too tall for it and required an adult bike — but still one small and light enough to fit his frame. We went through several used bike configurations* before finding one that was comfortable that he could navigate with feet on the ground at stops, and that he could start easily at intersections. That said, some cool lights, some bike stickers, and a helmet that didn’t make him feel dorky were pretty important too.

KNOWING THE RULES OF THE ROAD

At some point I realized that in order for him to feel confident on the road, I had to get myself to a level where I was confident and knowledgeable myself. I started reading bike blogs, paying more attention to the local biking advocacy group, and asking annoying questions at my local bike shop. I also had to learn the local laws of the road and get familiar with using turn signals and taking the lane.

As I learned these rules, I’d pass them on as we were riding together. With practice, BK began signaling his movements and taking the lane alongside me. He knew what to to at stop signs and stoplights and when a car was approaching in any direction. He got comfortable in bike lanes on busier stretches of road, and began to learn the side streets in our section of town. I haven’t given him carte blanche freedom to go wherever he wants by bicycle, but I’m confident in his skills.

OTHER RELATED OBSERVATIONS

  • This time riding together has made us closer. This is the time we have to be fun and playful together, to race, to joke, to tease one another about our skills (i.e. “Mom is so slow”), and leave behind stern conversations about life and school and household responsibilities.
  • The confidence = safety factor was never clearer to me than the day we added another teen to our bike crew that didn’t have the experience we do. The addition of an inexperienced, hesitant rider to our group made us all less confident and more jumpy on the road. Over the course of the ride, BK and the other teen were commiserating about how to ride, where to go, and what to do, which bolstered the other teen over the course of the outing. BK got to be the authority and teach his buddy some of what he knew. It turned out to be a really fun day. Which is to say, as I always do, that it’s beneficial to all to build one another up rather than leave one another behind.

All this said, before I sat down to write this post, I googled a lot about teenagers and bikes and found that most of the top stories online are of drivers targeting teen cyclists for violence nationwide. Kids are shot at and run off the road for the offense of sharing the lane. This is terrifying. It both underlines the need to educate the greater public about cyclist safety and road rights, and emphasizes the pervasive social enmity we have against teens and older children. Even living in a bike-friendly — or bike-friendlier — community, we have experienced some scary interactions with angry and/or ignorant drivers that remind me that no matter how safe and knowledgeable we are out there, we are always at the will of the people behind the wheel. My job as a parent is to make sure that BK knows how to minimize that risk on the road as a cyclist, and later as a driver as well.

* Craigslist Bikes is your friend.