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Confirmation bias and bias

Someone on the internet is wrong.  That someone is Melissa at Shakesville.

Earlier today, she tweeted about the case of the unfortunate mother who was jailed for leaving her 9 year old daughter to play at a local park while she was working.  You can read a commentary on this case at Reason by Lenore Skenazy of Freerangekids.com.  Melissa and I had a difference of opinion about this case.  She seems to think race was a factor in the mother’s arrest.  I do not.  Here’s why.

As Lenore has documented over the last several years, the arrest and detention of parents because their children were left unattended is ubiquitous.  There have been cases where a mother has been pursued by family services and taken to court for leaving her kids off at the mall with a 12 year old sibling.  There have been numerous cases of mothers arrested for leaving their kids in the car while they dash into the grocery store or post office for something.  There are many other cases of mothers getting fined and served and investigated for letting their children walk to school or ride their bikes by themselves. By the way, nowhere in Lenore’s commentary does she mention race as the reason for the arrest.  That’s because it’s not the common thread that holds these instances together.

I have two personal experiences with the rampant crackdown on mothers.  The first happened when Brook was in first grade when she innocently told a Lifeskills volunteer that I had forced her to drink wine.  When the principal called me to tell me he was calling DYFS on me, I had no idea what he was talking about.  Was the kid slurring her words?  Falling off her chair?  Asking for something to treat her hangover?  I don’t keep that much alcohol in my house.  What the hell was she talking about?  Then I remembered the Easter at my mom’s house when Brook had the zooms and was driving everyone crazy and I joked about giving her a swig of my chardonnay.  That was it.  That right there nearly got me a permanent record with the state of NJ and the potential lost custody of my daughter.

In the second experience, it was about 11 am on a Sunday in November when I got a knock on my door.  There were two policemen there.  They were responding to a report that there was a mentally disabled boy wearing an orange shirt, jeans and bare feet wandering around the neighborhood doing strange and suspicious things.  They asked me if I knew anything about it.  I had no idea what they were talking about.  Then they hinted darkly that they were on the alert for that kid and left.  Then I turned around and saw my 10 year old Brook with her short hair, orange shirt, jeans and bare feet standing in the doorway trembling.  What the heck were you doing, I asked?  She burst into tears.  She got up that morning and wanted to make an art project out of acorns.  So she went out to the back of our row of townhouses without her shoes on and was looking under the trees for them.  She was very upset and neither one of us could figure out which one of the neighbors was mean enough to report her for something like that.

Butcha know, people do it all the time.

As for the case that has hit the news, I have some problems with attributing this to a race problem.  First, we have no idea who reported the kid to the police.  Are we assuming that the conscientious citizen was white and was deliberately targeting an African American mother?  We have no evidence on this.  The report doesn’t say who did the snitching or what was the race of the arresting officers or even if such a thing would have mattered in the least.

Secondly, if this were a case of race, we would have to disregard the countless reports from women all over the world who have been put through the same process.  The perps come in all shapes, sizes, colors and socio-economic groups and the punishments are all pretty much the same.

But that doesn’t seem to stop people from assuming this is a race issue or that, yes, it is primarily directed at women but maybe it’s harder on African American women or some such nonsense.  If that’s what you want to see in this case, you would be a victim of confirmation bias.  You want to see a racial angle to this when it’s much more insidious than that.

If you had been a long time follower of Freerangekids, you would see that the problem emanates from “stranger danger”.  My bet is that the person who reported that kid neglected has been hearing a steady drumbeat of stories of violence against children ever since Fox and the local news channels figured out that their audiences loved to be terrified.  Like the anti-vaxxers, it is impossible to reason with these people, particularly older white women, that the rate of violent crime has actually done down in the past 30 years.  All they see are rapes and murders of little kids on TV 24/7.  Lenore points out that the chances that your kid will be snatched is infinitesimally small but people have a hard time reasoning when their logic boards have been short circuited by violent sexual imagery.  It’s emotional, not rational.  This is what I think has happened in this instance as well.  Little girl, left in park by herself for hours playing, something I would have done when I was her age, now looks like a sitting duck for any male who can walk by to prey upon her and satisfy his filthy secret lusts.  Where is her mother??

So, if it’s not race, what do these cases have in common?  They almost always involve mothers.  You rarely hear of a father getting this treatment.  These mothers are almost always in a hurry, alone, busy, sometimes single or divorced, or simply ignorant of the unlikely possibility that their kids are going to be snatched.  What they aren’t is sheltering their children 100% of the time with their bodies, protecting with a maternal force field 10 feet wide at all hours of the day and night.  I’ve even read on some blogs that new mothers are afraid to take a shower while their newborns are sleeping because “something might happen” while they’re shampooing their hair. How did homo erectus escape the savannah??

We might speculate why the current culture in America, England and Australia, in particular, are coming down so hard on mothers but since Fox and other cable news sources seem to be popular media features in each of these countries, we can’t discount the idea that the effect that so many child rape/murder stories have on the audience is intentional.  Couple this with the attack on women’s reproductive choices and it sure looks to me like someone(s) is trying to get women to embrace motherhood or else… That is the message they send anyway.  We come down on mothers like a hammer if they step even a teensy bit outside the rigid rules of acceptable behavior that are prescribed to them.  If women give up their careers to stay home, it shouldn’t be surprising that they find it too hard to be the bodyguards to their children and work too.  Socially, they need to project full engagement with their children even when those kids don’t need it or be tagged the “bad mother” on the block.  If you’re the kind of mother who doesn’t care what people think, you may change your tune when DYFS pays you a visit.

As for women vs race, I got a little annoyed with Melissa when it was suggested that somehow we need to spread the problem around to include race.  Aren’t African American women still women?  And don’t women have the right to demand attention to the tribulations they face without having to sweep up every fricking non-priviliged group in their train?  Doesn’t that dilute the issues that women have to deal with simply because they are women?  Isn’t it about time for the African American community, the LGBT community, the Native American community to give something back?  Isn’t it time women stopped apologizing and sacrificing their primary concerns as women in order to let some other group steal the microphone?  Isn’t it enough that the accused in these cases are just women?? I only ask.

Well, I guess this makes me a racist again because I see no reason to stop championing the cause of the majority of people in the world who neglect themselves for the sake of others. Nor am I going to give in to confirmation bias because that is what my tribe would expect of me.  That’s what NOW and NARAL have done in the past and where are they now?  Seriously, where ARE they?  Why aren’t they all over these arrests?  Or did they cede too much to others and neutralize themselves?

The instances of arrest for “bad” motherhood are not going to end until women start to recognize it as another threat to their autonomy.

*****************************************************

Only slightly off topic, this advertisement from Pantene struck a chord with me.  How many times a day do women apologize and what makes us do it?

 

Finally, please remember that the word racism is not to be taken lightly lest it lose it’s true and serious meaning.  Use of the word will result in automatic moderation until I can fish you out of the queue.  It’s a leftover from 2008 but still a useful one.

 

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Sunday: Suburban Soccer Mom Values

I’m about to offend a lot of people.  Be forewarned.

I hate living in the suburbs.  No, really, I hate it with a white hot passion.  It’s because of the soccer moms.  Of course, not all moms in the suburbs are soccer moms.  Some of them are into LaCrosse.  They might be working or stay at home.  They run around in plush minivans and Lexus SUVs.  I don’t get the Lexus SUV.  If I were going to get a Lexus, the last thing I’d want is to haul kids around in it.  It’s even more puzzling when the neighbors in my townhouse development get one.  It’s like, “I can’t afford a single family home but gosh darnit, I’m not going to let the PTA know that.  I’m getting a Lexus SUV.”  The Lexus is the sign of “good people”.

Those minivans (but not the Lexus SUVs) are frequently plastered with soccer ball bumperstickers or banners that read, “Proud Parent – Smallville Honor Student” or “My Kid Can Beat Up Your Honor Student” or the epitome of smug, religiosity, “If you think you’re perfect, try walking on water”.  That last one really bugs the shit out of me.  Who are these people who feel the need to make you feel sorry for being able to read a bumpersticker?

The suburban soccer mom loves her children.  She let’s you know this in many ways.  She doesn’t let them play outside on sunny days because they might get snatched.  She sends her daughter to your house to play with your daughter, after you’ve been thoroughly vetted and after she has cross checked your name against neighborhood convicted sex offenders.  (Yes, I know you did this.  You know who you are.  Whoa!  Look at that! Never so much as a speeding ticket. What am I hiding?)  But she can never be too sure.  So, just to be on the safe side, she sends her bratty, noisy younger son to accompany her daughter to your house.  That’s so the two girls can’t play with their carefully selected, safe, non-agressive and educational American Girl Dolls together without his loud and whiny outbursts and thumping around with his too big for his body feet while you’re trying to relax on the weekends.  After all, you may be a predator who hasn’t been caught yet and with the little brother around, there’s at least one kid able to escape your perverted clutches and run home to tell mommy what you’re doing with the girls chained in the basement.  Bwah-ha-ha-hahhhh!

But they show their love in so many other ways.  Like, if their kid waits to the last minute to do their social studies project, not to worry, mom will drive them to the library and do the project for them.  You sit in the corner and read a book while your unloved child races through the stacks and does her own research.  The other mothers are busy at the tables lovingly working with the construction paper and the glue and the sheets of neatly typed text to paste in just the right places on the poster board whispering sotto voce, “Go sit over there with your brother, I’m almost done.”  Well, it’s a major project.  Don’t you care about your daughter’s grades??

And their children must stay protected from the elements.  They must all get buses to school.  Some crazy driver might mow them all down if they had to walk on the sidewalks of the neighborhood they chose for its quiet, privacy and safety.  You never know and wouldn’t it be better to be safe than sorry?  You’d kill yourself if something ever happened to them.  Like rain.  Yes, rain happens.  That’s why we must have a bus to take the kids from one school to the adjacent school in the afternoons where there is more space in the annex.  Oh, sure, there is a 500 ft walkway between the schools that is not anywhere near the street and skims the playgrounds between the two schools.  But if it rains, they might get wet while they are walking, in a group, with their teachers.  It isn’t safe and the threat of unpredictable atmospheric conditions is too risky.  We need a bus.  Nevermind that school budgets are finite and we might have to cut the late bus for kids in extracurricular activities who have irresponsible, uncaring mothers who work and can’t pick them up but send them home to a dark, unsafe house after school.  Safety comes first.

Children must be walked to the bus stops.  Even if they are only a few dozen yards down the street to the corner.  Mothers must accompany their children up to the age of 13.  No gender is safe from predators.  Do not let your children roam the neighborhood unattended to look for acorns for her latest art project.  Your neighbor will not approve and will call the police and you will have to answer for why you let a ten year old out of the house to steal windfall acorns from the common area.  Don’t you know how unsafe that is?  And never let a child go to the bathroom by themselves.  Boys over the age of 8 will be accompanied to the ladies room by a responsible, pre-vetted and fingerprinted, designated mother.  Best to take them in groups.  That way, they can inconvenience all the girls and women who have to dance and squeeze the pee in while they wait for the boys to get out of the stalls.  Because, you know, there are just so many open stalls in a woman’s bathroom that we must share them with the boys.  No, no, we *enjoy* waiting in line until our bladders burst.  It’s what we live for.

Soccer moms reserve the right to rescind the invitation to a birthday party that they sent to your daughter.  Yes, the present is bought and wrapped and your kid is bouncing with anticipation, invitation clutched in her sweaty, plump, paint smeared hand.  No, no explanation is given- although, she shouldn’t have said some other little girl was “dumb” two weeks ago.  Sorry, your child will be blacklisted for 2 or 3 years.  At some point in time, the soccer moms will review your case and *may* allow limited reintegration into society.  Meanwhile, your child will live in a suburban black hole.  Children may surreptitiously smile and wave to her when their mothers, who for some reason, can’t look you in the eye, have their backs turned.  Expect no further interaction.

You are a bad mother if you do not schedule your children for 5 different activities during the week, forbid your child from making her own friends, let her play outside at the playground without a security guard or don’t make sure her homework is done (just do it for them, you dunce, it’s how the game is played).

The latest no-no in the suburbs is the game of “assassins”.  This is where high school students run around the neighborhood with super soakers and try to take other students out.  This is forbidden.  Actually, I have to agree with this.  High school students are too old for this game.  12 year olds?  Ok.  But shouldn’t juniors in high school be hanging out at the mall or playing chicken in a pool with their bikini clad girlfriends on their shoulders (wait, that might be dangerous) or making a road trip to the shore with their friends on the weekend after their part time jobs at the bagel shop?  You know, sort of Beach Blanket Bingo meets Jersey Shore without the fake tans, funny hair poofs and tasteless behavior?  These are suburban kids after all, not a bunch of guidos and guidettes.  But, no, expect to get a recorded message from the principal of the high school telling you that “assassins” is a “dangerous game” played with “real looking weapons” of mass water inundation.  Police could mistake their actions as serious threats to other children and take them out.  Do you want your kid to be shot by some hypervigilant cop who can’t tell a super soaker from a Glock?  Well, do you???  Violators will be severely punished and may face expulsion, even if they are not playing this childish and irresponsibly “deadly” game on school property.  Don’t even think about it, kid.

So, I am not at all surprised that the Democratic party Congressional leadership is calling for Weiner’s resignation.  The guy is an exhibitionist.  He’s got problems.  His REAL problem, I suspect, is that he has been insufficiently conditioned to prevent acting out his mastabatory fantasies.  ({{snort}} I see the male readers squirming)  I don’t know what will come out next and I really don’t care.  To each his own.  I still think David Vitter’s indiscretions were more serious.  If Weiner was into talking about sex with what he thought (mistakenly or not) were receptive women, well, that makes him not a whole lot different than many other people, male and female.  The nice thing about the internet is that if someone makes advances to you of this kind, you can choose not to accept them.  You can dump their junk in a spam filter, you can block their tweets, you can stop frequenting where they hang out.  That’s the power and the glory of the internet.  You are not a passive victim.  I’ve been on the internet for years, decades now and I rarely encounter porn of any kind.  Maybe that’s because I’m on a Mac but it seems to me that if I want to get into bulging underwear, I have to actively search for it.

And 17 year old girls have been conditioned by their suburban upbringing to avoid like the plague places where porn might be found on the internet.  Thou shalt not go into chat rooms unattended.  If someone makes an online pass at you, report them immediately.  Yeah, right.  Even the most thoroughly indoctrinated teen has urges.  Yes, girls too.  I was a girl once.  I remember.  You guys have no idea.

Is it wrong for an adult male to talk to a girl of 17 on the internet?  A suburban soccer mom will tell you yes.  Unequivocally.  It is wrong for anyone who the parent does not personally know to talk to their children.  About anything.  Even the weather is off limits.  “It’s really hot today” is just a prelude to the cheezy porn movie music played just before the gardener trims a lovely young bush.  You can’t even be in a park eating a donut unaccompanied by a child without being ticketed for suspicious behavior.  Anything you say or do can and will be used against you in a court of suburban public opinion.  You can not win this one.

Yes, it’s paranoid, alarmist, indiscriminate, narrow minded, conformist, intolerant, nonsensical, frequently stupid and sometimes cruel.  The only reason why suburbanites put up with each other is to avoid being ostracized.  Where else are you going to go?  And, yes, the media tends to blow things up to the nth degree and feed the overprotective parental frenzy.  Cable news is chock full of stories about abducted and murdered children and their non-conformist sociopathic parents.  After Weiner’s sexting escapades, prepared for the Good Morning America piece that will discuss what you should tell your 17 year old daughter about texting and tweeting strangers on the internet with some child psychologist or criminal behavioral specialist.  The world is fraught with dangers for your innocent young teen who will never emerge from her Freudian sexual latency period unless provoked by some sleazy adult figure.  And you don’t know who that person could be.  It could be your neighbor or the postman or you congressman.

Women, no matter what age, will always be the victims of men and their base desires.  This thought is *not* incompatible with feminism.  Why are you saying that??  Men are always predators.  Girls do not have sex drives.  Women of all ages are helpless sheep before wolves, they are babies, BABIES, I tell you, even when they are not.  They are powerless to defend themselves against the onslaught of disgusting and depraved attempts to converse with them even when they are full grown adults and are no longer virgins.  Women are always seduced and powerless to the male sex drive.  They are always Tess of the D’Urberville, never Moll Flanders.  (How conveeeenient)  They have no ability to tell the pervert to back the fuck off or block their tweets or threaten to expose them.  They are tabula rasas who must be guarded like Spanish senoritas behind high wrought iron internet gates with the constant vigilance of their duenas.  I would like to thank my sister feminists for their efforts to protect me and my daughters but I do not care for their mass infantilization of women on my behalf and must decline.

Oh, please, Nancy.  Lay off already.  Haven’t you done enough damage to women by tolerating the disgusting and over the top misogynism of the 2008 presidential campaign?  Please, don’t do us any more favors.  The suburban security frenzy is way out of control and ruining our children’s childhoods.  Don’t add more fuel to the fire with these ridiculous calls for Weiner to resign.  He’s an immature guy who needs some behavioral modification.  He’s not a fricking predator.

Get a fricking grip already and ignore those damn Lexus SUVs.

For more outrages from the trenches, check out Lenore Skenazy’s documentation of the atrocities at Freerangekids.com.

My New Best Friend

I was redirected to the YouTube channel, Mompetition, from Lenore Skenazy’s excellent blog Freerangekids.  The creator of Mompetition, a cancer researcher and helicopter mom skeptic, and I seem to have a lot in common.  Check it out:

Now, I have made no secret of my dislike of SAHMs.  Some of our former frontpagers, who incidentally were NOT SAHMs, have used this as an excuse to take their dishes and go away.  But I don’t think I’ve made it clear what it is I dislike about them.  So, let me explain, because I suspect that it’s something the forces of evil will use to divide women in the upcoming elections.

First, I love my kids but I would go stark raving bat $#@^ crazy if I had to spend the majority of time with the moms depicted in mompetition’s videos.  Unfortunately, the suburbs where I live is chock full of these women.  They never let their kids outside, they organize their kids’ friends, sports events and bowel movements down to the second and they have the nerve to impose their religious views on the rest of us.

Second, I have no problem with women who choose to stay home with their kids.  If that’s what you want to do and you can afford to do it and you possess the mothering skills of Mary Poppins, go right ahead.  Don’t let us stop you.  But don’t ask for any special recognition of your “sacrifice”.  When you use that word, you reveal more about your relationship to your children than you probably intended.  They’re your *children*, not a burden that you have given up your life to raise.  More than that though is the attitude that those of us who work have somehow chosen the low road.  We might cure cancer but we will never be saints, revered by our families and churches for denying everything about ourselves in order to raise these future humanitarians.

Let’s clear that up that misconception. We working moms put in a full day and then come home and do all the parenting too.  We volunteer at school, set up science experiments at school science fairs, make smoked salmon tea sandwiches, decoratively cut into perfect crustless triangles for Victorian History Week Lunch and go on two day field trips with a bunch of eighth graders to a Y camp in early March when the temperature plunged below freezing and where (at least) one of the chaperone’s had forgotten her thermal underwear.  In other words, we do everything SAHMs do and then some.

But more than that, the pressure on women (and yes, there is all kinds of pressure on women) to give themselves up for the sake of their children, is rooted in the myth of the golden era of domesticity of post WWII when women were more or less forced back to the home and the household economics of the middle class rose. (And anyone who has watched Mad Men or read Betty Friedan knows how well that worked out for some women who were never meant to be stay at home mothers) There’s some kind of correlation-causation error related to the nostalgia of the era, my parents’ generation, that overlooks the fact that historically, the SAHM has been very, very unusual for the human species.  Most mothers work or have worked since the dawn of time.  They sometimes took their kids with them.  Children have had to grow up fast and go to work themselves.  Some bourgeoise women had wet nurses so they could spend their time at leisure.  The SAHM who was there when you came home to give you cookies and milk was a statistical blip on the historical record.  Most mothers throughout history did not spend every minute of their day obsessing about whether they were spending enough time with their kids.  There were survival things to do and everyone had to help out.

So, this notion that good women stay home with their children while less than good women stick their kids in day care and go to work is a recent construct.

One thing is for sure, people like Sarah Palin will glom onto the mommy wars like there’s no tomorrow.  Older women my mom’s age are heavily indoctrinated and are venerated by the FOX news crew for being “the good mothers”.  If women’s votes are crucial to the next election, and I believe they will be, now is not a good time to be at each other’s throats.  But I am not going to jump on the conservative mothering bandwagon and give SAHMs an extra special place in the pantheon of mothers.  If I did that, I would immediately be complicit in slapping working mothers with the label of inferior mommies.  Yes, Stay at Home Moms, that is what you are doing whether you are aware of it or not.

And I’m not going to go along with it.  Don’t ask for a special recognition award.  If you need to be recognized for giving up your career to raise your kids, then you need to sit down and have a conversation with yourself and determine whether you did that of your own free will.  If you did, fine.  Then you don’t need a medal.  You should be happy with your decision.  If you didn’t, don’t get mad at me because I don’t kiss your ass to validate your choice.  Going against the tide of conformity is hard.  It can make you unpopular with your family, community and peers.  But if you are true to yourself, it has its own rewards for yourself and your kids.  I feel sorry for women who didn’t feel they had that choice but that doesn’t mean they have the right to resent and condemn the rest of us.  How does that move women’s issues to the forefront if we’re ready to go to war over some societally imposed pressure to sacrifice ourselves?  Can it bring back our younger days?  Change the past?  Does it make it easier for our daughters and granddaughters to do what’s right for themselves as person’s in their own right?  It’s never too late to decide that you won’t subject another woman to the pressures that were imposed on you.

We all make decisions that take our lives in different directions.  But fighting over who is the best mother is something the masters of the universe take great delight in stirring up.  I won’t be part of it.  On this blog, I will make sure that no mother is held in greater esteem than any other.  Mothering is hard enough without having someone we don’t even know tell us how to do it.