Thursday, August 25, 2016

Cortana has a new little brother: Say hello to Zero!

We've known for a long time that we wanted a black lab puppy, sometime after Cortana (our pit bull) got settled in. We just weren't expecting one this month! But we stopped by Petsmart to get Cortana some more food, and the OKC animal shelter was having an adoption drive just outside the store.

Instant <3 <3 <3

We named him Zero after Jack Skellington's dog. Cortana, for her part, seems to be handling the new addition pretty well:

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

This is what racist Islamophobia looks like

These are some quotes from a recent opinion piece in the Washington Post, titled "Terrorism is a Muslim problem. Why aren’t more Muslims speaking up?"

• "There was a time when I believed it was up to Americans to protect the world from terrorism. I said Americans had to keep fighting terrorism because fighting it was the only way to change a broken system. I was wrong."

• "It’s never been the job of Americans to dismantle terrorism. Terrorism was created and perpetuated by Muslims. It flourishes and thrives because it suits Muslims. Terrorism is a Muslim problem, and it’s up to Muslims to solve it."

• "I’m not suggesting that Americans give up the fight. But I realize now that no American can change how little our lives matter in this system. It’s up to the Muslims who created that system — and who don’t see all terrorism as real and “legitimate” — to create a better system. Americans are most at risk from Muslims, and particularly the Muslims they know and love. Muslims should be appalled by their complicity in a system that victimizes their sisters, mothers and daughters. Muslims should be lining up in the streets to protest a system that prioritizes their religion over our lives."

• "There are Muslims who are actively fighting against terrorist ideology, but there aren’t nearly enough. [...] These Muslims’ efforts don’t go unnoticed, but they remain few and far between. For every Muslim who stands against terrorism, there are many more bin Ladens who blame Americans for their own terrorization."

• "Terrorist ideology hasn’t changed because most Muslims don’t want it to. Muslims benefit from the presumption of their innocence. When terrorist ideology tells Muslims that committing terrorism is just another part of Islam, it excuses them from those questionable moments in their own memories. [...] Terrorist ideology manufactures gray areas where none existed and hands the power to determine what constitutes terrorism to the perpetrators rather than the victims."

• Terrorist ideology hasn’t changed because most Muslims don’t want it to. Muslims benefit from the presumption of their innocence. When terrorist ideology tells Muslims that committing terrorism is just another part of Islam, it excuses them from those questionable moments in their own memories.

• "When Muslims laugh at jokes about terrorism, call Americans sluts or push a hesitant Christian to convert, they are perpetuating terrorist ideology. Ending it requires far more from Muslims than simply shaking their heads in disgust [...]; it requires them to actively and wholeheartedly commit to dismantling a system that prioritizes their religion over American lives. Even when it makes them uncomfortable.Especially when it makes them uncomfortable."

• "Muslims don’t have to give up their rights in order for Americans to have theirs, too. Victims of terrorism don’t have to be put on trial to protect the accused’s right to remain innocent until proven guilty. There are real solutions to tough problems, but we’ll never find them if Muslims continue to defend their misbehavior at the cost of American lives. Progress requires Muslims to give up some of their power in exchange for a legal system that holds everyone accountable for their actions, not just victims."

• "Instead of demanding that Americans continue to die because of a broken system, Muslims need to begin to change the system they created."

Sounds like the kind of bigoted garbage you'd hear from Donald Trump, right?

Except these quotes aren’t really about Islam or terrorism. The actual title of the article is "Rape culture is a man problem. Why aren’t more men speaking up?". I simply replaced words like "men" with "Muslims", and "women" with "Americans", and "rape culture" with "terrorism" or "terrorist ideology". That's literally all it takes to show how fundamentally right-wing this type of thinking is.

This is what sexist androphobia looks like.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Ghostbusters 2016

Steph and I went to see it in theaters a couple weekends ago.

When this movie was first announced, I was firmly on Team Fuck That Noise. As much as the SJWs of the internet harangued those who were skeptical of the movie as automatically being dumb sexist pigs, I feel like most of the criticism, including my own, centered around a couple different questions: First, are they still really the Ninja Turtles if they fight with muskets and are named Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin, and Bach? Second, is there any actual reason to gender-flip the rebooted characters other than director Paul Feig's desire to make Hollywood more politically correct by filling a gender quota?

My skepticism was softened quite a bit when I saw the first trailer for the movie:

I thought the coolness factor of the music and the updated Ghostbusting tech might actually be enough to overshadow the total disregard that Feig showed for franchise's main characters (i.e. Ray/Egon/Peter/Winston). But I was in the minority on that: the trailer was widely criticized ("It's not funny enough", "The special effects are too cheesy", etc), and it went on to become the most disliked movie trailer in Youtube history.

But by god, I wanted to try my damnedest to go into it with an open mind, and to give it a fair chance. And in fairness, the movie was certainly not the trainwreck that I had envisioned as a worst case scenario. The problem, rather, was that the movie railed back and forth between "Holy shit, that's awesome!!" moments and "Jesus Christ, this is garbage...." moments fast enough to give me whiplash.

For starters, the biggest problems in the movie were not the female actors (Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon, and Leslie Jones). For the most part, I thought their performances were really pretty good. Jones was particularly likable (aside from the random line where she dissed heavy metal music, because that was necessary?). She was also the target of a particularly vitriolic campaign by Milo Yiannopoulos, an unabashedly racist "alt-right" conservative personality, who urged his supporters to spew hateful and derogatory messages at her on Twitter. Jones penned a heartbreaking note expressing her desire to give up on social media because of the campaign, and Twitter, to its credit, banned that fucking little right-wing Trump-supporting douchebag from the platform. Thankfully, Jones also received an outpouring of support after the incident, like this note from "Julian" (an 8-or-9 year old boy):

No, the biggest problems of this movie were Chris Hemsworth and Paul Feig himself.

Director Paul Feig just does. not. like. men. He is a Social Justice Warrior to the nth degree, and it seeps into the pores of the entire movie, to its great detriment. In a fourth-wall breaking moment of what I assume was catharsis, one of the Ghostbusters trashes people who comment on internet message boards like Reddit as being losers. The main villain is a deranged, ultra-pale, pudgy male loner who was bullied as a kid (LOL, LOSER!!) who now works as a hotel janitor while still assuming he's better and smarter than everyone else (WHITE MALE PRIVILEGE, AM I RIGHT LADIES??). When the Ghostbusters team up to fight the biggest ghost in the film (a legitimately cool Easter Egg that I won't spoil), the first thing they do is shoot it in the crotch with their proton packs (AND LADIES, HAVEN'T WE ALL WANTED TO SHOOT A MAN IN THE BALLS WITH A  PROTON PACK FROM TIME TO TIME? HIGH-FIVE!!). One gets the impression that Feig has always wanted to light his own dick on fire, and this is the closest he's ever actually been able to come.

But the movie's single most egregious problem is Chris Fucking Hemsworth. Hemsworth plays a super-hunky stud muffin who is as dumb as a box of rocks ("I took the lenses out of my glasses because they kept getting dirty!"), and Feig makes sure to beat you over the head with both of those points over and over and over again. But his character is so unrealistically stupid, and one of the Ghostbusters (supposedly the smartest one?) falls so completely head-over-heels for his ultra-ripped physique (which is how he's given the job as their secretary, despite barely knowing how a phone works), that the joke doesn't even land the first time, let alone the fifteenth. The credits to the movie are basically just Hemsworth wearing a tight white shirt and doing a sexy stripper dance. From the moment his character is introduced, every time he appeared on screen, I wanted to smash him in the face with Mjolnir.

Thanks largely to Paul Feig, this movie spent so much time screaming "GIRL POWER!!!" that it forgot to actually be good enough prove its skeptics dead wrong. Most reviews for the movie has been as "meh" as mine is, for various reasons. Rotten Tomatoes shows it with an average of 6.5/10 based on 275 reviews; Metacritic shows it as averaging 60/100 based on 52 film critics. IGN gave it a 6.9/10 (but if I'm being honest, given IGN's history of being rather harsh on reboots that aren't particularly stellar, it's not particularly difficult to imagine them utterly trashing the movie were it not for a strong aversion to agreeing with its supposedly 'sexist' critics). Richard Roeper, the famous movie critic for the Chicago Sun-Times, had no such reservations and gave the movie one out of four stars, calling it a "Horrifying mess". Of course, Roeper was immediately bashed as being "sexist" because of it:

“Hey @richardroeper. You’ve got horrible taste. U physically look like that group of sad old men who r mad @Ghosbusters great reviews!”

“@richardroeper You were unfairly harsh towards @Ghostbusters. Do you even care about equality? Clearly you don’t. Write another review.”

“@richardroeper your @Ghostbusters review was in poor taste, mean spirited and worthy of a lowly film blog. U can dislike a film, but come on.”

“Do us all a favor and die. You don’t know the first thing about how to review a film.”

And all of this is on top of the fact that Sony Pictures will actually lose money on this film.

For what it's worth, I would give the movie a 6/10 myself. It was good enough that I'd watch a sequel, but I would desperately, desperately hope that Chris Hemsworth ends up with 'scheduling conflicts' and that Sony Pictures has the good sense to rip the franchise out of Paul Feig's hands and hand it over to someone who doesn't feel the need to make petty little SJW statements throughout.

What's really frustrating is how much of a missed opportunity there was here. Imagine an alternate universe: instead of a total reboot of Ghostbusters, make this movie a spinoff/continuation of the original two movies. The four female leads take inspiration from the original four Ghostbusters, and decide to push their paranormal research to even greater heights (BECAUSE THAT'S HOW SCIENCE ACTUALLY WORKS, AND GIRLS CAN DO THAT TOO). Replace Chris Hemsworth with someone less douchey and more entertaining (Patton Oswalt? Jim Gaffigan? Will Ferrell? Literally anyone else?). Strip out Paul Feig's misandry, and add a better-written villain who's meant to actually antagonize the Ghostbusters, rather than the nerds who were skeptical about the movie itself. Keep the four main actresses and their performances (they were legitimately good!) and the updated music and technology (it was wicked-cool!). And now the cameos from Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, and Ernie Hudson can be as their original characters, now retired and in support roles, while their female successors take center-stage against new threats.

And there you have it: a revitalized multi-million-dollar franchise, with strong and smart female leads, but without legions of former fans being outraged that you tried to jam political correctness down their throats in the form of a arbitrary gender-swap gimmick that disrespects the franchise's history.

Which, as I said, is frustrating, because that (often justifiable) outrage and the controversy surrounding it has completely and utterly drowned out awesome things like this:

Friday, August 12, 2016

Game Review: Pokémon Go!


I have played exactly four Pokemon games in my entire life until now – Pokemon Yellow, Pokemon Snap, Pokemon Stadium, and the Pokemon Trading Card Game. All of which took place in the late 1990's to the very early 2000's. Two things killed off my interest in Pokemon as a kid: first, Pokemon Gold and Silver were released, which bumped the total number of Pokemon up from 151 to 250 – none of which particularly grabbed my interest, and at that point, "Catching 'Em All" starts to seem like a lot of bloody work. (FYI, there are currently 721 Pokemon with another new batch coming soon, and fuck. that. noise.) Second, there was virtually no end to the amount of teasing and shit-giving you got as a pre-teen male who was into a game featuring colorful and cute characters. (Looking back as an adult, it's obvious that most of my junior high schoolmates were just dumb little redneck dickheads and I shouldn't have paid any attention to them, but hindsight is 20/20.)

So I gave up on the Pokemon craze entirely, paying only marginal attention to the series (aside from its inclusion in Super Smash Bros). The complexity and scope of the games have only grown exponentially since that first generation, to the point where it was far too daunting (not to mention time-consuming) to jump back into even if I had the desire to.

Enter Pokemon Go, and its developer Niantic.

This game is just the reboot that the series so desperately needed to pull people like me back into the fold.

First, an explanation: Pokemon Go is an Android/iPhone app that uses a combination of GPS location technology and augmented reality to make it seem like Pokemon are appearing at various actual locations in the real world, and giving players the ability to fling Pokeballs (via their phones) in order to catch them, just as characters do in the video games and in the cartoon. It's a stunningly clever and super-effective (HEH) mechanic that makes the act of actually catching Pokemon more fun than it's ever been before.

Pokemon Go does a couple things that I've been wishing that the main Pokemon games would do for years. For one, it goes back to the original 151 Pokemon. (Hooray! The only ones I actually care about!) Second, it removes a lot of the number-crunching and statistic-tracking that make it difficult to step into modern Pokemon RPGs without advanced degrees in mathematics and computer science. Pokemon in this game have three basic stats, attack/defense/stamina, which are combined into a single metric visible to the player called Combat Power. Pokemon CP levels range from 10 to about 4,200 (fucking Mewtwo!). You can still fight your Pokemon at Pokemon Gyms (also real-world locations!), but those fights are based on a simple set of tapping mechanics rather than a Dungeons & Dragons –esque weave of mathematical equations.

On top of the mercifully simplified game mechanics, the other crazy thing about Pokemon Go is how insanely popular and mainstream it is. Steph and I both play the game, and when we visit areas around OKC that are highly-trafficked by Pokemon (as determined via GPS), there are typically very big crowds of other Pokemon Go players as well. Massive events have been organized around Pokemon Go, encouraging players to come together to fight at gyms and help each other together as a group to find and catch the rarer Pokemon. One such event ("Bricktown Go") happened in downtown OKC a couple weekends ago, and managed to draw a crowd of almost 1,500 people:

Because of the game's massive popularity, the mockery and bashing that was so common when the Pokemon series first launched almost 20 years ago now tends to blow up in the faces of the people doing it:

"Hahahaha, what kind of lame loser with no life or job plays some dumb game about catching cutesy little cartoons!!!"

"Really? You're going to try to crap on a game that gets people out of the house, walking for exercise, and socially interacting with other people who have a common interest? What are you, a fucking angsty 12-year-old child?"
And exercise – low-intensity as it may be – is an integral part of the game as well. Not only is walking around a certain area to find the Pokemon you're looking for typically the best strategy, but the game also supplies you with "Pokemon Eggs", which are then placed in a "Pokemon Incubator": to use the incubator to hatch the eggs, you have to physically walk (or jog, or bike) a specific distance, and hatching the eggs reveals harder-to-find Pokemon, along with the resources to help evolve them into more powerful forms. The game detects if you're simply trying to drive a car around to hatch the eggs, and prevents that from adding to the required distance. So Pokemon Go is a great way to burn off a few calories after a meal, for example – all while collecting Pokemon and building a team to compete against rival trainers at Pokemon Gyms.

Synthesizing all of the above components of the game (along with quite a few others) has led to Pokemon Go having its own kind of je ne sais quoi that has allowed it to take the world by storm, surpassing apps like Twitter and Tinder in popularity. It's certainly not a perfect game: avatar customization options are limited; the team you choose to be on at the game's beginning cannot be changed; the game is loaded with bugs, glitches, crashes, freezes, and server downtime (the latter is partly due to its popularity, and how overloaded the game's servers are); tracking nearby Pokemon is far more difficult than it should be; graphics are somewhat barebones; you could make the case that battle mechanics are too simplified; it sucks down your phone's battery life like Rush Limbaugh sucks down OxyContin....... And yet the excitement and thrill of catching a new breed of Pokemon you don't have yet, or seeing a crowd of people rush to a certain spot to find a rare Pokemon that just popped up, or taking down another team's gym and claiming it as your own, FAR surpasses any of those problems. I have little doubt that I'll still be playing it several weeks, and possibly months, from now.

Overall: 9/10

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

On Emotion and Masculinity (Part 2 of 2: The Upworthy Article)

A friend on Facebook recently shared the following article from (a site I'm not always a huge fan of). So much of it rings so overwhelmingly true, especially at the moment.

The article, titled "I spent a week sharing my feelings with everyone. Here's what happened.", was written by Evan Porter, and you can read the original post here. I'm re-posting the article in its entirety here, and I've colored the article's original text in blue and highlighted the parts that strike me as most significant or resonant in red. I've added my own thoughts at the bottom, in white.

We all know that phrases like “How's it going?” and “How are you?” are mostly pleasantries.

It's just how we say "Hello." You're not expected to answer any more than the person asking is expected to care.

But every once in a while, someone will surprise you. You'll toss out a casual and totally insincere “How are you?” and the floodgates will open out of nowhere. “I've had the WORST DAY,” they'll say.

I've always secretly envied people who can open up on a whim like that. It seems weirdly fun. And there might be a lot of psychological benefits to it.

So I tried it. For a week, I decided that when strangers asked how I was doing, I'd actually tell them.

But before I could start, a pretty important question occurred to me: Would I even know what to say? After all, I am a dude, and everyone knows dudes aren't always super in touch with how we're feeling.

Ronald Levant, a professor of counseling psychology at Akron University, told me a story about a man he once treated early in his career that sums up this whole thing pretty nicely:
“[He] came in complaining about how his son had stood him up for a father son hockey game. Being relatively naive back then, I said, 'So, how did you feel about that?' His answer was 'Well, he shouldn't have done it!' I said again, 'Yeah, he shouldn't have done it, but how did you feel?'

“He just looked at me blankly.”
Levant recalled similar sessions where women, by contrast, were able to walk him — in detail — through their emotional reaction to a situation: how anger turned to disappointment turned to worry, and so on.

“Among the men I was treating or working with there was a singular inability for many of them to put their emotions into words,” Levant said.

As part of my project, I wanted to test Levant's theory, to see what it would be like to, you know, actually try to express my feelings. As the king of non-answers, deflection, and “I'm fine, how are you?” I wanted to know what it would be like to talk about me.

It turned out to be much less simple than I thought.

Day One

I was on my way to my daughter's daycare to drop off more diapers, and I was trying to think about how I felt at that specific moment. It was a beautiful sunny day. There was a guy on the sidewalk walking three huge, puffy dogs. It made me laugh.

The day had been a bit of a rollercoaster. My 1-year-old daughter woke up all smiles. But by the end of breakfast, she had collapsed into an inconsolable heap of tears, and that was how she left the house that day: wailing in the backseat of my wife's car. When I arrived at daycare, though, she ran to me and leapt into my arms. She laid her head on my chest and giggled as she stared into my eyes. It was a total turnaround and a wonderful midday boost to my mood.

On my way home, I stopped off at a grocery store to grab an energy drink and, potentially, to share this happy moment with a stranger.

I chose the line manned by a fast-talking, bubbly woman. And when I got to the front, she teed me up perfectly with a sincere: “How are you?”

“Hey, I'm good!” I said enthusiastically. In the next instant, though, she was onto other things. “Ma'am?” she yelled to a wandering woman behind me. “I can ring you up over here.”

Her attention swung back to me, but almost immediately, she was telling me my total. “That'll be $2.03.”

The transaction moved at hyper-speed. The moment was gone. As I shuffled for my wallet, I considered just blurting it out anyway, “I just visited my daughter at daycare and she was so happy to see me and it was the freaking best!”

But a voice popped up in my head, and I couldn’t shake it: She's not going to care. Why would she care?

So I said nothing, paid, and went home.

To understand why men and women often handle feelings differently, we have to look at society first.

I can't help but think my wife would have had no trouble talking to the woman in the store. Why is it harder for me then? Are we wired differently? Is it a brain thing? A hormone thing?

Apparently, in the 1980s and '90s, researchers had something of a breakthrough on this question. They became “stimulated by this idea that gender was something that was socially determined,” Levant explained. He noted that boys were being socialized differently than girls were, and it was making a big difference for them down the road.

In a TEDx Talk called “Unmasking Masculinity” Ryan McKelley, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Wisconsin La Crosse, echoed similar findings from his research.

First, he learned that infant and young boys surprisingly displayed more intensity and range of emotion than their female counterparts. “But that story starts to change over time,” he said.

Second, he looked at a series of studies polling men and women in America, which asked people to generate a list of emotions that are “culturally acceptable” for each sex. While the study found that women felt “allowed” to display nearly the entire emotional spectrum, men seemed to be limited to three primary feelings: anger, contempt, and pride.

But despite all these cultural “requirements” about emotion, it turns out that our brains aren't processing things all that differently. McKelley says if you hook men and women up to equipment that measures things like heart rate, skin conductance, sweat, and breath rate, and then expose them to stimuli that can provoke strong emotions, “these gender differences disappear.”

“I do not deny there are biological differences,” McKelly told me in an interview. “However, the degree to which it influences all that other stuff, I believe, is overblown.” 

[EDITOR'S NOTE: Judging from the high degree of influence that testosterone plays in how men and women feel on a day-to-day basis as shown by this episode of This American Life, the idea that biology only plays a minor role in our ability to express our emotions may be highly debatable.]

My learning after talking to these researchers? Men DO feel feelings (yay!) but society isn’t doing us any favors when it comes to helping us learn how to express them.

Day Two

I was sitting in the sweltering parking lot outside a Home Depot when I decided I was going to do better than the day before.

I walked inside and stood in line at the customer service counter for what felt like an eternity. Finally, one of the tellers called me up. She had a shock of white curly hair and kind eyes. A grandmotherly type. “How can I help you?” she asked. Not the exact question I wanted, but we'll see where it goes. “I have some returns,” I said.

We launched right into the specifics of what I was returning and why, and it was looking like I was about to strike out again. The transaction took a while so there was ample space to fill. Since she hadn’t asked me about my day, I took the initiative while she tapped impatient fingers along her computer waiting for it to load.

“How's your day going so far?” I asked. She went on to tell me about how a big storm that rolled through nearly knocked out the store's power and how the computers had been acting up ever since. “My day was going great until this!” she said playfully.

In my eagerness to share, I'd accidentally stumbled into a pretty pleasant conversation with a stranger. OK, so it was about computers and the weather, but it sure beats an awkward silence. She never did ask me how I was doing, and that's OK.

But it did make me realize that talking about your own feelings is pretty damn hard, even when you're going out of your way to try.

Day Three

Day three was tough. Outside it was gray and dreary and inside I felt about the same. Flat. Gray.

I was having trouble identifying the root of why I felt so, for lack of a better word, “blah,” so I Googled “how to find out what you're feeling,” like I was some sort of robot trying to understand the human experience. “Pay attention to your physiology,” one article said. I felt totally normal and my heart rate was an unremarkable 80. What does that mean?

“Don't think about it too much,” another article said. Well, shit.

As I read on about meditation and mindfulness and things of that sort, I started to get a little nervous. “What if I get too in touch with my emotions?” There's something comforting about being a reasonably even-keeled guy without a lot of emotional highs and lows. I don't want to go digging in the darkest recesses of my subconscious and unlock some terrible shit.

Apparently a lot of men feel like this.

McKelley described one man he treated who had severe anger issues and wasn't exactly open to talking about his problems: “I asked him, 'What do you find so subversive about crying?' He said, 'If I start, I'm afraid I'm going to curl up in a fetal position and never be able to stop.'”

I thought a little too much about this and decided I had to get out of the house.

I headed out to grab a coffee at a local establishment (OK, it was a McDonald's, but I really don't need your judgment right now). There was a young, freckle-faced girl working the counter. She was probably 19. When it was my turn, she gave me a shy “Hello.”

“How are you?” I started. “Good. How are you?” she responded, on cue.

Since I hadn’t had any major emotional breakthroughs at that point, I just ... told her the truth. “I just had to get out of the house a little bit. It's so gray and crappy today and I just needed a break. You know?”

She gave me possibly the blankest stare I had ever seen in my life. I quickly filled the silence with my order — a large iced coffee. To go.

The more I learn, the more I realize there is so much more to this whole emotions thing than just “opening up.”

By the third day, I’d learned that men definitely feel things. Lots of things. But it's what happens before those feelings bubble to the surface that accounts for the myth that dudes don’t have any emotions at all.

Think of it this way: Almost every single day, you take the same route driving home from work. And while driving is usually a conscious process that takes a lot of focus and effort, you could probably make that super-familiar drive home from work with barely any involvement from your brain at all. We sometimes call this “going on autopilot.” It’s the same way with breathing or blinking. Sure, you can control them if you want, but more often than not, they’re totally automatic.

And I've learned that it can be the same thing with suppressing emotions. For years and years, most men have been trained not to give any indication that we might be scared or lonely or nervous, and we push it down. If we do that enough, it can start to seem like we don’t feel those feelings at all.

McKelley expands on this idea in his TEDx Talk when he talks about the “male emotional funnel system.” Basically, he says all those emotions men might feel that make them vulnerable or that make them subject to judgment, or even being outcast, by their peers are transformed into anger, aggression, or silence. It's how we avoid ridicule.

It's how we survive.

But over time, not only do we lose the ability to understand our own true emotions — the emotions behind the anger or silence — but we get worse at figuring out and empathizing with what others are feeling too.

When it comes to emotional fluency, McKelley said, “it's like speaking a foreign language. If you don't use it, you lose it. It's something you have to practice.”

Day Four

When I went to bed the previous night, the country was heartbroken over the death of Alton Sterling. When I woke up, we were heartbroken over the death of Philando Castile. Two black men dead at the hands of police within 48 hours.

But as devastated as I was, life goes on — right? I had work to do and, later, errands. In fact, we needed more diapers.

But the shootings were the only thing on my mind all day.

When I reached the cashier at the Walgreens down the street from my house, a small pack of size-five Pampers clutched to my side, I saw she was a young black girl. She asked how I was doing. And I told her, with all honesty, that I was sad.

We talked briefly about the news. She'd been at work and hadn’t heard much about Philando Castile yet. We paused so I could enter my phone number for reward points. There were no tears or hugs or anything like that — after all, we were standing at the front of a Walgreens and people were starting to form a line behind me.

When I left, I don't know if I felt any better. But I certainly didn’t feel worse. And talking to a real live human being about an awful tragedy felt a lot more meaningful than reading Facebook comments and Tweets.

So, on an awful, terrible, no-good day, I guess that was something.

While I worked on this project, I often wondered why all of this mattered. Do I really need to tell people what I’m feeling all the time?

And then I thought about our nation, and all the tragedies that we hear about on the news every day.

I thought about the 100 million men in America who, to varying degrees, have had their ability to empathize with the emotions of others slowly eroded over time because society tells them they cannot be vulnerable. I thought about the creep on the street chatting up a woman who clearly, visibly wants nothing to do with him. I thought about the catcallers who seem to be convinced they are paying women a compliment and are oblivious to how uncomfortable, even afraid, they're making them.

I thought of the millions of men in America being conditioned from an early age to turn fear, helplessness, loneliness, shame, and guilt into two things: anger and aggression. I thought of the 80-plus mass shootings in America since 1982 and how almost all of them were committed by men. I thought about how many of those men might have been bullied, hurt, shamed, or humiliated and, perhaps, could think of no other outlet for those feelings than the barrel of a gun.

I thought about the millions of men in America who will never harm another person, but might funnel that anger and aggression inwards through alcohol or drug abuse or worse, with three and a half times more men dying by suicide than women.

To be extremely clear: There is no excuse for hurting another person, whether through harassment, rape, abuse, or gun violence. But when we talk about providing better mental health services in our country, maybe we ought to make sure we're thinking of the next generation of otherwise healthy boys who need guidance about what to do with their emotions.

“If we're not allowed to talk about [shame], we're not allowed to express it, we're not allowed to admit we're experiencing it. And then you surround it with exposure to violence and seeing it modeled as a way to solve problems,” McKelley told me. “But women are bathed in the same violent cultural forces, so what's the difference?”

“Until we can figure out a better way socially to help boys and men navigate feelings of shame, we're going to continue to have problems.”

As bad as all the research sounds, there IS some good news.

But first, here's what happened on Day 5.

I just didn't want to on the fifth day. What was on my mind was not something I felt like sharing with a total stranger.

OK, before you worry, it's nothing dark. I was having minor surgery in a few days and I was feeling a little apprehensive. That’s all. But I didn’t want to be the guy at the fast food restaurant telling the cashier about his knee replacement or his swollen feet or his bunions or whatever, totally unprompted. No one needs to hear that.

No one asked anyway, so I wasn't going to volunteer it.

But later, my wife asked. Her little green box popped up in my chat screen in the middle of the day.

“How are you?”

I usually don't give a lot of thought to digital mid-workday conversations like this. I usually deflect because I know her job is stressful and hectic, so I usually just say, “Tired, but good” or “Busy” and quickly ask her how her day is going. I want her to feel taken care of, not like she has to take care of me. That’s what men do, right?

But today, I didn’t. I thought about it for a second — but honestly, not for very long, maybe I was getting better at this — and I just told her about something else that was kind of bothering me. Nothing life or death. Nothing about her or about our relationship. Just something between the two of us that I might normally have saved for a lull in the conversation during a sleepy evening drinking wine at home.

If that moment never came, I probably would have never said it. And it'd be buried inside of me somewhere with a million other little things just like it.

Now for the good news: Times are changing. Emotional displays from powerful men, today, are far less criticized. They can even be celebrated.

“We are living in changing times. The traditional norms are starting to break down,” Levant told me. “There are more and more instances of this. LeBron James openly crying in the NBA Finals. Bill Clinton would openly cry.”

This wasn’t always the case.

Levant told me another fascinating story (he was full of them) about a man named Edward Muskie who ran for president against Richard Nixon in 1972. After a vicious campaign, including smear tactics used against Muskie's own wife, Muskie wept during a live speech — though he later claimed his tears were melted snowflakes. At that time, that kind of display was unacceptable to many, and U.S. News later wrote that “Muskie's emotional outburst that snowy morning helped to ruin his presidential bid.”

We’ve come a long way since then. But we still have a long way to go.

My best advice for how all of the men I know can figure out what their feelings are? Give it a shot.

Many of us are risk-takers. We go skydiving, wakeboarding, speedboating, or even shopping-cart-riding (full-speed into a thorn bush on a rowdy Saturday night, amiright?).

But we won’t tell our best friend that we love them.

“The irony is men repeatedly score higher than women on average in risk-taking behaviors. And yet we won't take those types of risks. Those emotional risks are terrifying for a lot of men. That’s probably the one thing at the end of the day that I suggest guys do,” McKelley said.

It might not always work out, but more often than not, he says, you'll find so many other people are feeling the same way and just waiting for someone else to say it.

“It doesn't require courage to hide behind a mask,” McKelley said in the closing minutes of his TEDx Talk. “What requires courage is being open and vulnerable no matter what the outcome.”
And as for me? I learned that talking about how I'm feeling, especially with people I don't know or trust, can be pretty hard.

Throughout the week, there were a lot of voices inside me telling me not to do it.

It'll be weird! They won't care! They're going to judge you!

And sometimes those voices were right. But as the week went along, it got a little bit easier to ignore them. And in the days since the “experiment” ended, I've found myself sharing just a little, tiny, minuscule bit more on a day-to-day basis.

What was most incredible was that I started to realize that the experts were right: This IS a skill. It’s something I can learn how to do, even as a self-described “nonemotional” guy. By taking “little risks” with my feelings, I am getting better and better at bypassing those instincts in me that want me to clam up and be the strong, stoic man.

I just hope I’ll have the courage to keep practicing.

But again, this isn't just about me. And it's probably not just about you either. It’s about the next generation of young people who will look to us (both men and women) for reassurance that men can feel, can talk about feeling, and can respond with things other than anger, aggression, or silence.

I want to leave you with a question, one I want you to really think about and answer as honestly as you possibly can. It might seem silly, but answering it could be one of the bravest things you'll ever do.

All right. Are you ready? Here it goes:

How are you?

This article hits the nail on the head, over and over and over again. This is the type of thing that is almost never mentioned when the issue of gender equality is raised – and on the rare occasions when it is mentioned, it's either by Men's Rights Activists who are immediately dismissed outright as angry, deranged, loathsome lunatics wearing tinfoil hats, or by feminists who use male emotional problems as a jumping off point for bolstering their arguments about how men are ignorant, inferior neanderthals who are generally to blame for most of society's problems.

The article is great about pointing out that society tends to punish men for showing a wide range of emotions, but it doesn't mention that women are often just as punishing, if not more so, than other men are. Most men would find it hard to disagree with the statement that women, whether they're aware they're contributing to the problem or not, tend to prefer macho, tough, dominant, quasi-stoic, ultra-confident, ripped strongmen. How easy is it for Marines to get laid? For firemen? For MMA fighters? May god have mercy on your lonely, frustrated, broken soul if you struggle to express those qualities. Which is doubly true if you openly talk about that frustration, at which point you'll immediately be accused of "THINKING THAT WOMEN OWE YOU SEX! THAT YOU'RE ENTITLED TO THEIR BODIES AND THEIR ATTENTION! YOU SELFISH MISOGYNISTIC PIG!" (Typically by people who will never know what it's actually like to feel emasculated, of course.)

An example on a more personal level: if I wanted to do something that's not particularly masculine – say, seeing a musical, for example – and the guys at work tease me about it not being macho, I can blow them off pretty easily and do what the hell I want. But if the girlfriend teases me about it (not that that's the kind of thing she would do), then either my plans are going out the fucking window or I'll do the thing anyway and feel like a shitty little wimp about it.

Society has no problem funding programs and creating viral memes that are all about empowering young girls and making them feel confident, like they can do anything they want and take on the world. And that's great! But maybe we should stop assuming that young boys – including, HORROR OF HORRORS, white male children – have no need for similar forms of emotional support. I'd be willing to bet that if society taught boys that it's okay to cry (and if those boys weren't surrounded by girls, and other boys, and football coaches who directly or indirectly gave them hell for actually doing it), you would see a dramatic decrease in violence in society.

I can empathize with pretty much all of this. Anger is something I'm quite familiar with. For me, feeling angry is like slipping on an old pair of jeans that fit exactly right, regardless of whether or not they're stylish, or ugly as fucking hell. There were at least two men I wanted to literally beat to death with my bare hands as recently as a few weeks ago, and those feelings still haven't really subsided much at all. But in contrast, sadness and insecurity are uncomfortable territory for me to be in, so I tend to filter those types of feelings through the lens of anger almost every time. Not that it's something I do consciously, and not that it's something I take pride in. That's just the way it is. I have to be wrecked really fucking badly before I can even come close to shedding tears. The fact that there are countless millions of other men like me really isn't that much of a comfort. Mostly I'm just amazed that the rates at which we commit suicide aren't any higher than they already are.

On Emotion and Masculinity (Part 1 of 2: 'This American Life' on the Effects of Testosterone)

The public radio show This American Life did an episode that was all about testosterone way back on August 30th, 2002. (Unfortunately, the HTML code they give for embedding the player doesn't seem to work, so CLICK HERE to listen to the program instead.) I recently listened to it, and took notes. (For those who don't know, T.A.L. episodes are divided into an introduction and four acts.)


• (2:09) The quote at the beginning of the episode, from the feminist novel The Women's Room, written in 1977:
You think I hate men. I guess I do. […]My feelings about men are the result of my experience. I have little sympathy for them. Like a Jew just released from Dachau, I watch the handsome young Nazi soldier fall writhing to the ground with a bullet in his stomach and I look briefly and walk on. I don't even need to shrug. I simply don't care. […]
Marilyn French was, apparently, a horrifyingly sexist writer.

• (4:12) Alex Bloomberg, the show's producer, who read the novel as a young boy, talks about feeling tremendous amounts of guilt because of the sexual urges he felt growing up, partially as a result of what French implied in her novel. As the rest of the podcast explains, those urges were brought on in large part by his testosterone, something that was largely beyond his control. He felt like the men in the novel, who were being compared to Nazis. He still feels that shame in his adulthood.

Act I

• This act is about a man, Alex, whose body had stopped producing testosterone entirely for four months, because of a medical condition.

• (5:44) He begins to describe how not having testosterone affected a tremendously wide range of personality traits, including things that he had considered fundamental to his sense of self. Even the quality of his speech was affected.

• (9:10) Ira Glass, the host, describes how testosterone is the hormone of desire – any kind of desire, not just sexual. Alex describes what life is like without any sense of desire. Absolutely no desire for entertainment, for companionship, or even for interesting food.

• (11:53) Alex talks extensively about how everything he saw while he was without testosterone could be described as "beautiful" – not in a passionate sense, but rather in a cold, disconnected, analytical sense.

• (14:52) He describes the overall experience as being strangely pleasant – in that a life utterly devoid of desire leads to an almost Buddhist monk-like level of serenity.

Act II

• This act is about a transgender man born as a woman, who was given an incredibly massive boost in testosterone as part of his female-to-male transition.

• (16:32) Griffin, the transgendered man, went to a woman's college before making the change to become male. "She" strongly identified not only as a woman, but as a feminist and a stereotypical lesbian at the time.

• (18:20) He describe the change as being almost instantaneous: within a few days of his first testosterone treatment, he explains that the most overwhelming change he felt was a massive increase in libido, and changes to the way he perceived women and thought about sex.

• (19:25) He describes how, after having the testosterone injections, simply seeing a woman was enough to flood his mind with very intense images of lust and sex – and there was no way to turn it off. Everything triggered a sexual reaction. He talks about how it made him feel like a monster, but he also began to understand men in a way he never had before.

• (20:43) He talks about seeing a woman in a small skirt on Fifth Avenue and being unable to stop looking at her in a sexual way. An inner voice, from his female, feminist background, berated him for it, and made him feel like a sexist pig. That voice tried to fight his urge to gaze at the woman with sexual desire. It lost.

• (21:20) He talks about how he used to do "edgy" feminist poetry readings about how awful men are for looking at women in such a sexual way, before he understood the male perspective on such an intimate level. He talks about getting into arguments with friends and co-workers who didn't know that he used to be female, and would be called misogynistic by them for the way he looked at women as a man. He had no way to truly explain how he had come to that point in his life. He points out that it's far more complicated than simply labeling a man "misogynist".

• (23:15) Griffin mentions that after he began taking testosterone, his interest in science skyrocketed. He found it much easier to understand concepts like physics. Griffin and Glass are dismayed by how that could play into the lack of women in STEM fields, and all of those accompanying stereotypes.

• (24:24) Glass asks him if the testosterone had changed the way he perceived his feelings at all. He talks about how it's much, much harder to cry now that he's taking testosterone. He does not see this as an improvement in his emotion, he finds it very frustrating.

• (25:22) Glass asks him if he knew what kind of man he would be before he made the transition. Griffin says he had anticipated become a very cool, smooth, masculine man – but after the transition, he's largely seen as a nerd, instead. He finds this immensely disappointing. He went from being seen as a very masculine woman, to being seen as a very sensitive, effeminate man.

• (27:25) He talks about how he still has a great deal left to learn about being a man. He talks about how even just walking down the street as a man is a kind of constant struggle, or battle, for dominance against other men.

• (30:03) Glass asks him what he misses most about being a woman. He replies that he misses having close relationships with women, and misses the ability to make new female friends.


• This act is a contest between nine people (five men, four women) who work on This American Life, to take a scientific test to determine who has the most testosterone.

• (36:30) An expert on testosterone talks about how the chemical most often leads to boldness and confidence, but that the downside is that it causes people to pay less attention to other things happening around them.

• (41:41) When the radio staff starts to predict who has the highest levels of testosterone, the women feared the idea of having high levels and "winning" the contest, whereas the men all hoped to have the highest levels to "win".

• (42:33) The gay Canadian male, a fan of Martha Stewart, had the highest testosterone among the men (almost twice as much as the other men); the 'pushiest' and 'most decisive' woman (according to everyone during the prediction phase, including her herself) had the highest among the women.

• (42:40) I think it's very telling that when Glass announces which male had the highest testosterone, the women immediately began cheering for him in a congratulatory way.

• (43:22) When Glass announced which woman had "won", she was fairly disappointed. The male with the lowest levels of testosterone was even more disheartened by the results.

Act IV

• This act is about a mother of a 15-year-old boy asking him questions about his own maleness (and more often than not, failing to get answers from him).

• The biggest takeaway from this act is the son's reluctance to communicate his answers to his mom's questions. This is understandable, given the nature of the relationship and the awkwardness of the questions. But perhaps the son's difficulties in communication are also greatly influenced by the fact that he's male, and how males are taught by society to deflect rather than to talk through how they feel about different things. This hypothesis seems to be supported when the mom talks about how eager his younger sister is to talk all about how she feels and what she experiences.

• (54:58) The mother notes that even when her son tried to comfort his sister by reassuring her it's hard to be a girl, she's "not sure it's any easier to be a boy". The mother notes that it's been years since she's seen him cry, and that she wishes she could read his private notebook.

• (55:17) When the mother asks him if there's anything about girls that he envies, he initially deflects, and then admits (after some prying) that he envies their ability to talk about their feelings.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

…..we do understand that black lives actually *do* matter, right?

I've been finding it immensely disturbing to witness the massive disparity between the way white people react after unjustifiable police-on-black violence vs. unjustifiable black-on-police violence.

A recent timeline:
July 5:
Alton Sterling, a 37-year-old black man, was shot several times at point blank range while pinned to the ground by two white police officers in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Sterling was armed, but according to bystanders he never pulled his gun on the officers, and according to the owner of the store where the shooting occurred, Sterling was not the one causing trouble outside the store.

July 6:
Philando Castile, a 32-year-old black man, was pulled over by a cop in St. Anthony, Minnesota. When the officer asked Castile for his license and registration, Castile informed him that he was licensed to carry a weapon and had one with him in the car. At that point, the officer told him "Don't move" – as Castile was putting his hands back up, the officer shot him several times in the arm. He later died from the gunshot wounds. He had been driving with his girlfriend and her four-year-old daughter.

July 7:
Micah Johnson, a 25-year-old black Army reservist, outraged about Sterling and Castile, ambushes police officers at the conclusion of a peaceful Black Lives Matter protest in Dallas, Texas. 5 officers were killed, 11 others were wounded, including two civilians.

July 17:
Gavin Long (aka "Cosmo Setepenra"), a very mentally unstable and heavily-armed 29-year-old black man, lured and ambushed a group of officers near a beauty supply store in Baton Rouge. 3 officers were killed, and another 3 were wounded before Long was shot and killed. He referenced Alton Sterling in a Youtube clip posted prior to his rampage.

July 18:
Charles Kinsey, a 47-year old black male mental health therapist, was retrieving his 23-year-old autistic patient who had wandered from his group home. Police encountered them while searching for an armed suicidal man. Kinsey, in an attempt to show he was no threat, laid flat on the ground with his bare hands in the air while talking to the police officers about what was going on. A SWAT team member fired three rounds, one of which struck Kinsey in the leg. The officers then patted both men down, but failed to take any action to stop Kinsey's bleeding before the ambulance arrived. The SWAT officer then later tried to explain the shooting by saying that he was aiming for the autistic patient, and struck Kinsey by mistake.
But if we're really being honest, it started long before those incidents, with names we're all (or at least, we all should be) familiar with now: Michael Brown, Freddie Gray, Eric Garner, Eric Courtney Harris, Sandra Bland, Tamir Rice, and countless others.

All of those incidents were disturbing enough on their own, but the most recent ones I highlighted above are the ones that really turn my stomach. More specifically, the way society, white people in particular, have reacted to them. After the shooting in Dallas, and again after Baton Rouge, you immediately saw a deep outpouring of support for those police for being shot in such a cold-blooded manner. You saw viral Facebook posts about how great and heroic police are, you saw people sharing all sorts of banners saying "Blue Lives Matter", you saw tribute after tribute after tribute of blue lights on buildings and American flags with blue strips in support:

Well that's all well and great, but where the fuck was all that sort of sympathy after Alton Sterling? After Philando Castile? 

Those men were murdered in an equally cold-blooded way. But white people don't want to admit that: time and time again, the reaction from white people (excluding liberals) has been to make blind assumptions that attempt to justify the officers' actions: "But those black men were probably just violent criminals who had it coming! They must have resisted arrest, or put the cops' lives in danger!"

No. Wrong. Not true for any of the police-on-black shootings I annotated above. In each instance, the black men clearly posed no real threat whatsoever to the officers who murdered them.

Here's [GRAPHIC] video of the Alton Sterling incident:

Here's [GRAPHIC] video during the Philando Castile incident:

And here's the position that Charles Kinsey was in when a SWAT team member decided to shoot him in the leg:

The evidence of systemic racism within law enforcement agencies around the country is undeniable. Granted, that racism is more likely to take the form of internal biases rather than explicitly racist directives – but that hardly matters when the end result is still young black men being massacred with impunity by white police officers with itchy trigger fingers.

The fact of the matter is that the eight recently slain officers might still be alive today if police departments across America had taken the issue of racism being a factor the unnecessary use of lethal force as a serious issue that needs to be confronted and ameliorated.

But good fucking luck telling white non-liberals about any of that:

So the Black Lives Matter movement, whether or not you agree with their tone or their methods, makes perfectly valid points about the blasé use of lethal force against young black men in America. And yet whenever their movement is brought up, people (typically white, right-wing conservatives) often counter with "ALL Lives Matter!"

The idea that "ALL Lives Matter" is something I'm highly sympathetic to, on a philosophical level. Police do gun down innocent white people, as well. And the vast majority of police officers are just people trying to do good and keep the peace in their communities. But on a practical level, those of us who are white are nowhere near as likely to feel the same spike of fear upon seeing a police officer as many young black men in America are, including those who have never committed a crime in their lives. I've wondered how much differently the movement would have been received if it had been called "Black Lives Matter Too".

It may seem like an immense irony to some, but my sharply critical examinations of modern feminism have played a very large role in increasing the sympathy I have for black men in America. When a large, vocal group of radical activists is dedicated to pushing the ideas that men are violent, that men are rapists, that men are abusive, that men are predators, that men are volatile savages, into mainstream society, it should hardly come as a surprise that the elements of that society that are inclined toward racism will see their ideas as being especially true when it comes to people of color. When society is taught to fear and hate men, it is, sadly, black men who wind up catching the brunt of that fear and hatred. I know that, as much shit as I catch from society merely for being male, black male catch far more than I do, and to a far worse degree. And in learning about so many people who have internalized prejudices against men, it's hard not to see stark parallels in people with internalized prejudices against blacks.

Whatever the underlying causes of the prejudice, fear, and mistrust between police and people of color are, there has been entirely too much innocent blood spilled to let those causes go unaddressed. Fellow white people: please understand that while the overwhelming majority of police officers are serving with honor and integrity, there are bad apples in the barrel.  They, and people who attempt to make excuses for their actions, must be weeded out if we want this cycle of violence to end. And it has to end. Because all lives matter.