“…the boundary between the civilized world and our worst selves is just an illusion.”

I don’t agree with Lindy West’s politics. I dislike her demeanor. I don’t even think she’s a very good writer. But I found this recent segment she did for This American Life (H/T Cinzia) both fascinating and sad.

If You Don’t Have Anything Nice to Say, Say It With ALL CAPS.

I recommend clicking the link above and listening to her segment – Ask Not for Whom the Bell Trolls, It Trolls for Thee – because hearing her interview the anonymous man who was so viciously cruel to her is quite touching actually. But if you can’t listen to it, read the transcript below.

Lindy West

One midsummer afternoon in 2013, I got a message on Twitter from my dead dad. I don’t remember what it said exactly. And I didn’t keep a copy for my scrapbook. But it was mean.

And my dad was never mean. So it couldn’t really be from him. Also, he was dead. Just 18 months earlier, I’d watched him turn gray and drown in his own lungs. So I was like 80% sure.

And I don’t believe in heaven. And even if I did, I’d hope to god they don’t have fucking Twitter there. It’s heaven. Go play chocolate badminton on a cloud with Jerry Orbach and your childhood cat.

But there it was, a message. Some context– in the summer of 2013, in certain circles of the internet, comedians and feminists were at war over rape jokes. Being both a comedy writer and a committed feminist killjoy, I weighed in with an article in which I said that I think a lot of male comedians are careless with the subject of rape.

Here’s just a sample of the responses I got on social media. A quick warning, these are internet comments about rape, so it’s going to suck.

“I love how the bitch complaining about rape is the exact kind of bitch that would never be raped.” “Holes like this make me want to commit rape out of anger.” “I just want to rape her with a traffic cone.” “No one would want to rape that fat disgusting mess.” “Kill yourself.” “I want to put an apple into that mouth of yours and take a huge stick and slide it through your body and roast you.” “That big bitch is bitter that no one wants to rape her.”

It went on like that for weeks. It’s something I’m used to. I have to be. Being insulted and threatened online is part of my job, which is not to say it doesn’t hurt. It does. It feels– well, exactly like you would imagine it would feel to have someone call you a fat cunt every day of your life.

When I got that message from my dad, it was well into rape joke summer. I was eating 30 rape threats for breakfast at that point, or more accurately, “you’re fatter than the girls I usually rape” threats. And I thought I was coping. But if you get a blade sharp enough, it’ll cut through anything.

The account was called Paul West Donezo– Paul West, because his name was Paul West, and Donezo, because I guess he was done. He was– done being alive, done doing crossword puzzles, done forcing me to sing duets at dinner parties, done writing little poems on the back of every receipt, done being my dad.

The little bio on Twitter read “embarrassed father of an idiot– other two kids are fine, though.” His location– dirt hole in Seattle.

The profile photo was a familiar picture of him. He’s sitting at his piano smiling in the living room of the house where I grew up. The day they sold that house– when I was 25– I sat on the stairs and sobbed harder than I ever had before, because a place is kind of like a person, you know? It felt like a death.

I wouldn’t cry that hard again until December 12, 2011 when I’d learned that a place is not like a person at all. Only a person is a person. Only a death is really a death.

My dad lost consciousness on a Saturday night. That afternoon, when we could feel his lucidity slipping, we called my brother in Boston. You were such a special little boy, he said. I love you very much. He didn’t say very many things after that. I would give anything for one more sentence. I would give anything for 140 more characters.

The person who made the Paul West Donezo account clearly put some time into it. They’d researched my father and my family. They’d found out his name, and then they figured out which Paul West he was among all the Paul Wests on the internet. They knew that I have a brother and sister. And if they knew all that, they must have known how recently we’d lost my dad.

Conventional wisdom says never feed the trolls. Don’t respond. It’s what they want. I do that. It doesn’t help.

I could just stop reading comments altogether, but sometimes I get threatening ones, like the other day someone said I should get Charlie Hebdo’ed. Colleagues of mine have had their addresses published online, had trolls actually show up in person at their public events. If I don’t read comments, how will I know when they’ve crossed the line?

I could just stop writing altogether. I’ve thought about it. But it seems to me that our silence is what the trolls want.

Faced with Paul West Donezo, I was stuck with the question, what should I do? If I respond, I’m a sucker. But if I don’t respond, I’m a punching bag. So I did what you’re not supposed to do. I fed the troll.

I wrote about Paul West Donezo in an article for jezebel.com. I wrote sadly, candidly, angrily about how much it hurt, how much that troll had succeeded. And then something amazing happened.

The morning after that post went up, I got an email. “Hey Lindy, I don’t know why or even when I started trolling you. It wasn’t because of your stance on rape jokes. I don’t find them funny either. I think my anger towards you stems from your happiness with your own being. It offended me because it served to highlight my unhappiness with my own self.

I have emailed you through two other Gmail accounts just to send you idiotic insults. I apologize for that. I created the paulwestdonezo@gmail.com account and Twitter account. I have deleted both.

I can’t say sorry enough. It was the lowest thing I had ever done. When you included it in your latest Jezebel article, it finally hit me. There is a living, breathing human being who’s reading this shit. I’m attacking someone who never harmed me in any way and for no reason whatsoever.

I’m done being a troll. Again, I apologize. I made a donation in memory to your dad. I wish you the best.”

They attached a receipt for a $50 donation to Seattle Cancer Care Alliance where my dad was treated. I guess he found that out in this research too. It was designated Memorial Paul West.

I didn’t know what to say. I wrote, is this real? If so, thank you.

The troll wrote back one more time, apologized again, and this time, he gave me his real name. I could have posted it online, which he knew. But I didn’t. And I’m not going to be saying it here either.

That was almost 18 months ago, but I still think about it all the time because I still get trolled every day. If I could get through to one troll, the meanest one I ever had, couldn’t I feasibly get through to any of them, all of them?

Was he special? Or did I do something right? I wonder how he would tell me to respond to the people trolling me today. I wish I could ask him. But then I realized, I could.

Lindy West

I don’t know. I guess I’m just kind of nervous. But it’ll be OK, right?

Chana Joffe

Yeah.

Lindy West

This is me in a studio with producer Chana Joffe-Walt and a phone.

[TELEPHONE RINGING]

Man

Hello?

Lindy West

Oh, hello?

Man

Hello?

Lindy West

Hi. How are you?

Man

I got to tell you, I’m really nervous at the moment.

Lindy West

I’m a little nervous also.

Man

At least I’m not alone.

Lindy West

No, no, not at all.

I asked him why he chose me. He’d said in his email that it wasn’t because of the rape joke thing, so what exactly did I do?

Man

Well, it revolved around one issue that you wrote about a lot which was your being heavy– the struggles that you had regarding being a woman of size, or whatever the term may be.

Lindy West

You can say fat. That’s what I say.

Man

Fat. OK, fat.

Lindy West

I write a lot about body image, about the stigma and discrimination that fat people face, about being a fat woman. He told me that at the time he was about 75 pounds heavier than he wanted to be. He hated his body. He was miserable. And reading about fat people, particularly fat women accepting and loving themselves as they were, infuriated him for reasons he couldn’t articulate at the time.

Man

When you talked about being proud of who you are and where you are and where you’re going, that kind of stoked that anger that I had.

Lindy West

OK, so you found my writing. You found my writing, and you did not like it.

Man

Certain aspects of it.

Lindy West

Yeah.

Man

You used a lot of all caps. You’re just a very– you almost have no fear when you write.

Lindy West

Yeah.

Man

You know, it’s like you stand on the desk and you say, I’m Lindy West, and this is what I believe in. Fuck you if you don’t agree with me. And even though you don’t say those words exactly, I’m like, who is this bitch who thinks she knows everything?

Lindy West

I asked him if he felt that way because I’m a woman.

Man

Oh, definitely. Definitely. Women are being more forthright in their writing. There isn’t a sense of timidity to when they speak or when they write. They’re saying it loud. And I think that– and I think, for me, as well, it’s threatening at first.

Lindy West

Right. You must know that I– that’s why I do that, because people don’t expect to hear from women like that. And I want other women to see me do that and I want women’s voices to get louder.

Man

I understand. I understand. Here’s the thing. I work with women all day, and I don’t have an issue with anyone. I could’ve told you back then if someone had said to me, oh, you’re a misogynist. You hate women. And I could say, nuh-uh, I love my mom. I love my sisters. I’ve loved my– the girlfriends that I’ve had in my life. But you can’t claim to be OK with women and then go online and insult them– seek them out to harm them emotionally.

Lindy West

In my experience, if you call a troll a misogynist, he’ll almost invariably say, oh, I don’t hate women. I just hate what you’re saying and what that other woman is saying and that woman and that one for totally unrelated reasons. So it was satisfying at least to hear him admit that, yeah, he hated women.

He says he doesn’t troll anymore and that he’s really changed. He tells me that period of time when he was trolling me for being loud and fat was a low point for him. He hated his body. His girlfriend dumped him. He spent every day in front of a computer at an unfulfilling job. A passionless life, he called it.

And then gradually, he changed. He enrolled in graduate school. He found a new relationship. He started teaching little kids. He had a purpose.

Slowly, his interest in trolling dried up. We verified nearly everything that he told us about himself. Except, did he really stop trolling? I have no way of knowing, but I believe him. It felt true. And if this was all a con, it’s one that cost him a $50 charity donation.

We talked for over two hours, and I spent a lot of time trying to get him to walk me through his transgressions in detail– the actual physical and mental steps and how he justified it all to himself. I felt like if I could just get the specifics, gather them up and hold them in my hands, then maybe I could start to understand all of the people who are still trolling me.

Lindy West

How did you even find out that my dad died? How did you–

Man

I went to my computer. I googled you– found out you had a father who had passed. I found out that he had– you had siblings. I forget if it was three total.

Lindy West

I have two siblings.

Man

So–

Lindy West

Did you read his obituary?

Man

I believe I did. I knew he was a musician.

Lindy West

Yeah, I wrote that. I wrote his obituary.

Man

What I did was this. I created a fake Gmail account using your father’s name, created a fake Twitter account using his name. The biography was something to the effect of, my name is– I’m sorry, I forget the name– the first name.

Lindy West

His name was Paul West.

Man

I wrote, “My name is Paul West. I’ve got three kids. Two of them are great, and one of them is an idiot.”

Lindy West

Yeah, you said embarrassed father of an idiot.

Man

OK.

Lindy West

Other two kids are fine, though. And then–

Man

That’s much more worse.

Lindy West

And you got a picture of him.

Man

I did get a picture of him.

Lindy West

Do you remember anything about him? Did you get a sense of him as a human being?

Man

I read the obit. And I knew he was a dad that loved his kids.

Lindy West

How did that make you feel?

Man

Not good. I mean, I felt horrible almost immediately afterwards. You tweeted something along the lines of, good job today, society, or something along those lines.

Lindy West

Yeah.

Man

It just wouldn’t– for the first time, it wouldn’t leave my mind. Usually, I would put out all of this internet hate, and oftentimes I would just forget about it. This one would not leave me. It would not leave me. I started thinking about you because I know you had read it. And I’m thinking how would she feel. And the next day I wrote you.

Lindy West

Yeah. [INAUDIBLE].

Man

And I truly am sorry about that.

Lindy West

(crying) Yeah, I mean, have you lost anyone? Can you imagine? Can you imagine?

Man

I can. I can. I don’t know what else to say except that I’m sorry.

Lindy West

Well, you know, I get abuse all day every day. It’s part of my job. And this was the meanest thing anyone’s ever done to me. I mean, absolute– I mean, it was really fresh. He had just died.

But you’re also the only troll who’s ever apologized. Not just to me, I’ve never heard of this happening before. I mean, I don’t know anyone who’s ever gotten an apology. And I just– I mean, thank you.

Man

I’m glad that you have some solace.

Lindy West

Honestly, I did have some solace. I forgave him. I felt sorry for him.

It’s so difficult to believe that anyone ever really changes. And he did it. I found immense comfort in that.

Toward the end of our conversation, I remembered that in his email he had confessed that he had harassed from multiple troll accounts, not just Paul West Donezo.

Did I ever write back? Was there anything I didn’t know? He said, yeah, one time he’d sent something mean from his personal account, and I retweeted it to all of my 40,000 followers. He was mortified.

Man

And I’m trying to remember what it was about. I think you had mentioned a comedian. You had tweeted about a comedian who had threatened to throw his girlfriend down the stairs?

Lindy West

Oh, no, he said he wished that I would fall down a flight of stairs.

Man

Oh, OK, and I think I said– I don’t know if I retweeted it or I– what did I say?

Lindy West

Oh. Oh my god, I remember you.

Man

Yeah, OK.

Lindy West

Oh my god.

Man

What did I say?

Lindy West

You said something like, I wish I could be the one to push her, or something. Or–

Man

Or I thought it was, too bad Lindy isn’t your girlfriend.

Lindy West

Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. Oh my god, I remember you.

Man

Yeah, that’s me. I’m a dick.

Lindy West

I can’t believe– I mean, there’s so many trolls. I can’t believe– I can’t believe I remember you.

Man

Yeah, that was me.

Lindy West

At this point, my producer Chana, who’d been listening, couldn’t stop herself from jumping in.

Chana Joffe

God, hearing you guys, you sound like you’re like, oh, you went to that high school? I went to that high school too. Holy cow.

Man

Yeah.

Lindy West

Well, you know, I mean it’s such a normalized part of my life now. I mean, honestly– and it’s kind of a relief to talk to someone who really knows what I’m talking about, even though he’s coming at it from the other direction. There’s almost no one who understands–

Man

Well, you know what, as a former troll, I’d never told a single living human being until now that I did this. So it’s good, in a way, to get that off my chest to get my secret life– my old life– I don’t know. It just feels good to exercise these demons.

Lindy West

It felt really easy, comfortable even, to talk to my troll. I liked him, and I didn’t know what to do with that.

It’s frightening to discover that he’s so normal. He has female coworkers who enjoy his company. He has a real, live girlfriend who loves him. They have no idea that he used to go online and traumatize women for fun.

Trolls live among us. I’ve gotten anonymous comments from people saying they met me at a movie theater and I was a bitch. Or they served me at a restaurant and my boobs aren’t as big as they look in pictures.

People say it doesn’t matter what happens on the internet, that it’s not real life. But thanks to internet trolls, I’m perpetually reminded that the boundary between the civilized world and our worst selves is just an illusion.

Trolls still waste my time and tax my mental health on a daily basis, but honestly, I don’t wish them any pain. Their pain is what got us here in the first place. That’s what I learned from my troll.

If what he said is true, that he just needed to find some meaning in his life, then what a heartbreaking diagnosis for all of the people who are still at it. I can’t give purpose and fulfillment to millions of anonymous strangers, but I can remember not to lose sight of their humanity the way that they lost sight of mine.

Humans can be reached. I have proof. Empathy, boldness, kindness, those are things I learned from my dad, though he never knew how much I’d need them. Or maybe he did.

He was a jazz musician. And when I was born, he wrote a song about me. And listening to it now, it feels like he wrote it for just this moment. I’ll give the last word to him.

Paul West

You’ve got a lot of nerve, little girl– bundles of nerve, little girl, to come here in a season full of doubt and tattered reason in a world you don’t deserve. You got a lot of nerve, little girl.

Prudently Prepared and Un-Panicked

Supposedly we’re in for a winter storm later tonight, so I’ve been thinking about the topic of preparedness again. We’ve moved since last year at this time, and we’re in a much better situation for riding out acts of God, nature, or terrorism. We have propane in a large tank for heat and cooking – currently a 500-gallon tank but we’re thinking of moving up to a 1000-gallon tank – so we aren’t reliant on gas lines. We have a well and a septic field, so no longer are we reliant on city water and sewage. And although we’re still “on the grid” in terms of electricity, we do have a whole-house generator that runs on propane, so power outages due to storms or other problems don’t trouble us much. We have a good-sized kitchen pantry that we keep stocked, plus an extra freezer and refrigerator in the basement.

image

We’re pretty well set to ride out short-duration catastrophes. But as the news media yammers on about tonight’s possible storm, it seems like a good time to repost something I wrote and published elsewhere last year.

From Kill Your Television, Stock Your Pantry:

A prudent person foresees the danger ahead and takes precautions. The simpleton goes blindly on and suffers the consequences. (Proverbs 27:12, NLT)

One of the downsides – or is it an upside?  I’m not sure. – of not having what Keoni Galt calls tell-a-vision is that you don’t find out when it is time to engage in mass hysteria until everyone else is already in full-on panic mode.

Let me give an example.  We live in Michigan and sometimes the weather here can be bad in the winter.  I grew up in the Grand Rapids area, so I’m used to dealing with heavy snowfall, unlike my compatriots here in the southern part of the state who seem to flip out over five inches.  I noticed yesterday morning when I checked a weather website that we were supposed to get heavy snow today – possibly up to a foot, but I’ve learned to take forecasts like that with a grain of salt because they are often exaggerated and will say things like 6-12 inches possible, which means we might get 4.  Anyway, a possible foot of snow is worth knowing about, but because I don’t have TV, I did not get the Everybody freak the hell out! message.

Coming out of church yesterday evening, my husband left directly to go to work in his car, and I said to our daughters, “We need to stop by the store to pick up some eggs because we’re out and I need one to make dinner.”

Eldest daughter replied, “Oh, didn’t you hear?  There’s a blizzard coming later and there are mobs at the stores and almost no food left.”  Why no, I hadn’t heard, as a matter of fact.  I felt a sense of unease.  “Come on, let’s go.  We need eggs.”  So off we went.

When we arrived at an out-of-the-way grocery store that I thought might not be too crowded, we were greeted by a waiting line of cars to get into the parking lot…at 7:00 p.m. on a Saturday night.  I waited patiently, got a spot, and the girls and I trudged in through the slush.

We needn’t have bothered.  There were no eggs to be had, nor bread, nor fruit, nor vegetables.  All milk other than whole milk was gone – lucky for me, people are still dumb enough to believe that low-fat milk is healthier for them, so at least I was able to get a gallon of milk.  There wasn’t even any toilet paper on the shelves, all because we might get a foot of snow today.  I saw two obese women empty an entire shelf of Little Debbie snack cakes into their shopping cart…because Little Debbie will lead you through the storm safely, ladies, right?  I asked the cashier if it had been like this all day, and the poor, exhausted woman nodded and told me it had been worse earlier, with people arguing over loaves of bread.

Why do people act this way?  There are two reasons.  First, people panic when the TV says to, which kind of makes you stop and wonder a bit about just how much influence we have allowed it to have in our lives.  How much do we unconsciously do and think because that is what the TV tells us to do and think?  Think about how the weather forecast is portrayed on television – it should be a fairly mundane part of the newscast, right?  It used to be that way; when I was a little girl, the meteorologist was always a staid, calm man in a suit explaining something that, to my five-year-old ears, sounded like windshield temperatures, making me wonder why anyone cared what the temperature of their car windshield was.

But forecasts aren’t like that anymore.  There are fast moving graphics, weird sound effects, announcers saying things like Stay with Channel 7!  Storm Team 7 is on the job, tracking the Blizzard of the Century!  and a good twenty minutes of hype, with fluff stories involving interviews with customers buying snowblowers – in fact, the very last snowblower, oh god Bob do we have a snowblower, why didn’t you get a snowblower?! Why did I marry such a terrible, no-snowblower-having man?? – at Home Depot.  What is the point of this?

Well, the more freaked out and emotional people get by the news coverage, the more they watch it; they don’t want to miss any detail.  Why?  Because their emotions are being manipulated – they are being induced into a state of panic in order to get them to continue watching because a large viewership means more advertising dollars.

The second reason people respond this way is that they have not properly prepared for a state of emergency.  Preparedness means getting your ducks in a row before, not during, a crisis.  The reason I did not have to panic and start clearing shelves into my cart at the store yesterday was because I’m already prepared for a short-term emergency.  My husband built a pantry full of shelves for me in the basement, and I keep it well-stocked with canned goods, bottled water, paper products, extra batteries, and the like.  No, we couldn’t live out of our basement for a year, but neither do I have to try to fight my way through a mob to get the last roll of toilet paper on the store shelf with a blizzard on the way.

If you haven’t done so, I highly recommend reading the article The 7 core areas of preparedness by Patrice Lewis.  Patrice runs a preparedness/homesteading blog of her own, Rural Revolution, but this article was originally published in Backwoods Home Magazine.  Here is what Patrice says are the seven core areas and what you need to consider.  She writes:

Food

This is obvious. I don’t mean you should stuff your freezer with TV dinners, either, because if the power goes out, they’re gone. Consider purchasing staples you enjoy eating (rice, beans, oatmeal, etc.) and learn to store and prepare them. These have the added advantage of being dirt cheap. If you want to take the next step, learn to can. Properly canned food lasts years without refrigeration, and canning is a valuable skill as well. Alternately, buy lots of commercially canned food.

Along with storing food, you should have the means to prepare it. Your options will be more limited if you’re in an urban high-rise apartment (where you can’t install a wood cookstove, for example), in which case your food will have to be pre-cooked (such as MREs) or otherwise edible without cooking. Eating unheated soup or beans right out of a can might not be the most pleasant meal, but at least you won’t starve.

Water

Without water to drink and wash, you’ll be miserable (or dead). At all times you should have a minimum of 20 gallons stored in your home. Look for options to secure larger quantities of water (roof runoff? storage tank?) as well as ways to sterilize surface water such as bleach, iodine, or filtration.

If you’re preparing for a minimum of three months, then your storage space for water will be huge and will probably take up far more space than most people have available. That’s why you need the means to purify water. A non-electric water filter (such as Berkey) might be part of your water storage efforts.

Heat

We live in rural north Idaho not far from the Canadian border. Heat is a major concern for us. How can you heat your house if the power goes out? Everyone’s circumstances are different – you probably can’t install a woodstove in a Manhattan apartment – so think through the alternatives that will work for you.

Be careful about ventilation when considering your heat sources. Endless people have been asphyxiated due to carbon monoxide poisoning because they chose the wrong option to heat their living space. Some buildings have windows which will not open, and this must be considered when thinking through your heat sources.

Lights

You don’t want to be in the dark, do you? Everyone can afford an oil lamp or two. Don’t bother with those pricey containers of scented lamp oil, either. A gallon of kerosene is less than $10 and works just fine.

While flashlights and batteries are nice (and necessary), you’ll go through your battery supplies very quickly if you depend on them exclusively for lighting. Remember your Rule of Three: plan to have backups to your backups. You should have candles, oil lamps, perhaps battery-powered LED lamps, or other light sources.

If you’re “bugging in,” consider blackout curtains for your windows that will block light. Alternately, a roll of black plastic and duct tape will work (as well as being useful for other purposes). No sense advertising how prepared you are (OpSec!). But remember, sheeting your windows in plastic will trap carbon monoxide, so be careful.

Sanitation

What happens if you can’t flush your toilets? If you run out of diapers or feminine hygiene products? If you don’t have toilet paper? Think about what kind of reusable alternatives you can substitute for pricey disposable items.

Find reusable versions of disposable sanitary items. Cheap washcloths from the dollar store can act as reusable toilet paper. Use cloth instead of disposable diapers. Try washable feminine napkins instead of disposable. Of course, these reusable versions require a means to wash them, so think through your options. For short-term preparedness, it might be better to stock up on disposables.

If you cannot flush your toilets and an outhouse isn’t possible, a five-gallon bucket lined with heavy-duty trash bags and a toilet seat may be your next best option. Wood shavings, sawdust, or ash can be sprinkled in the bucket after each use to help control odors.

Medical

Can you doctor yourself for minor injuries? Do you have a good stock of your prescription medicines? It doesn’t cost much to pull together a comprehensive first-aid kit. It might be harder to stockpile prescription medications, so this is something worth discussing with your doctor.

Now may be the time to take a refresher course for basic first aid. You might also stock up on medical items you may not otherwise consider — burn dressings, tape closures, compression bandages, and lots of over-the-counter pain killers.

Safety

What happens when too many people suddenly want to be your best friend post-bleep? What should you do if you live in an urban area subject to rioting and unrest? Some people interpret “safety” to mean they should have an arsenal of guns. Others think they need a secret rural bug-out location. However you interpret it, identify prospective dangers for your circumstances and think of how to mitigate them.

Personally, I believe every family member old enough to handle a firearm should be taught safety factors and target practice. Adult members should also have holsters (either concealed or otherwise) for ease of carry during “bleep” situations. I recently purchased a bra holster which will make concealed carry very simple and comfortable (and invisible).

Safety should be more than just firearms. It also includes such things as situational and strategic awareness, home and property security, communications, and local relations (friends, neighbors, community).

Just like nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition, so too no one expects a sudden state of emergency; nevertheless, unexpected events do happen, and when they do, people panic because they are being manipulated by mass hysteria cues being screamed at them by their TVs and because they have not prepared.  But if you are prepared, and if you turn off your yammering tell-a-vision, you will not need to panic.

Oh, and how did my trip to the grocery store end?  Well, feminists are certain that careers rather than babies are our salvation, ladies, but in this instance our littlest daughter saved the day.  As I stood fretting at the empty dairy case about not being able to make the dish I had wanted to make for dinner due to the missing eggs, she cried, “Mommy, I see eggs! I see them!”  Sure enough, there they were; she was just the right height to peer into the bottom dairy case shelf and notice a little half-dozen carton of eggs pushed to the very back and unnoticed.  I grabbed them, we checked out, and dinner was just as I had planned it.

image

And so here I sit, cozy and calm, watching the snow fall.  Won’t you now join me in a little sing-a-long, dear readers?

I am gross and perverted
I’m obsessed ‘n deranged
I have existed for years
But very little has changed
I’m the tool of the Government
And industry too
For I am destined to rule
And regulate you

I may be vile and pernicious
But you can’t look away
I make you think I’m delicious
With the stuff that I say
I’m the best you can get
Have you guessed me yet?
I’m the slime oozin’ out
From your TV set

You will obey me while I lead you
And eat the garbage that I feed you
Until the day that we don’t need you
Don’t go for help . . . no one will heed you
Your mind is totally controlled
It has been stuffed into my mold
And you will do as you are told
Until the rights to you are sold

That’s right, folks . . .
Don’t touch that dial

Sensible precautions for single young men and women who want to protect their futures.

Just recently I gave some advice to young women which can be summarized as follows:

Young women:

  1. Don’t have more than one drink.
  2. Don’t go back to a young man’s room with him. That’s not just slutty; it’s also dangerous.

Now a recent news story from my alma mater prompts me to repeat that advice to young women and offer the following advice to young men:

Young men:

  1. Don’t have more than one drink.
  2. Don’t take a young woman back to your room with you. That’s not just caddish; it’s also dangerous.

 

Three young people, all with ruined futures. Nevermind about the he-said-she-said. Nevermind about feminists and men’s rights activists. These two young men and one young woman were young, they were foolish, they were just doing what everyone else was doing, and now their lives are trashed.

Don’t take that chance, young men and women. There is no fleeting pleasure in a drunken hook up that makes it worth the risk of potentially being raped or having a false rape allegation brought against you.

Biblical sexual morality: it’s not just right and holy. It’s also sensible and safe for both women and men.

Should improving access to daycare be a national priority?

I wanted to write a well-thought-out post about this NPR news story from this past weekend, but I have just been so buried at work and at home that I can’t get caught up, let alone find much time to blog. However, I urge you to go read the article and ponder it:

U.S. Once Had Universal Child Care, But Rebuilding It Won’t Be Easy

NPR explains:

Stumping in Kansas after his State of the Union, the president said that for most parents working today, child care is more than a “side issue,” and that improving access “is a national economic priority for all of us.”

In urging greatly expanded subsidies during his Tuesday address, the president referenced a national child care program that was in place during World War II, when his grandmother and other American women were needed in the nation’s factories.

But to my mind, this was the money quote in the article:

“The problem is that the quality rendered in the U.S child care market is low to mediocre, on average,” he [Arizona State University’s Chris Herbst, an associate professor in the school of public affairs] says — in fact, his research finds that children in federally subsidized day care don’t fare well on cognitive and behavioral tests.

So, is the president saying we should create more subsidies for something that seems to be bad for children? There’s more to it than that, of course – kids who are currently in federally subsidized day care tend to come from rough situations, so it’s not comparable to a household comprised of two-income college-educated married parents, and it’s also not clear that they’d fare any better on those cognitive tests if they weren’t in day care.

But honest to goodness, doesn’t looking at this picture from the story depress you?

Detroit, 1942 – Welcome to your Day Orphanage, kiddies!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Millennials: childless, indentured to student loans for life, and all for nothing.

At Rural Revolution, Mrs. Patrice Lewis writes in Are Millennials in trouble? about a young couple named Nathan and Mandy who graduated from college as a married couple with $60,000 in student loans and haven’t been able to find jobs in their field. They can’t buy a house and they can’t start a family. Mrs. Lewis presents a good discussion about the foolishness of the Everybody Must Go mentality relating to college and then she makes an observation about the Millennial generation:

If I could make some possibly unfair assumptions about Millennials, one of the problems is they’ve never been told “no.” They’ve never been told it may not be a good idea to major in English or Psychology when there are no English or Psychology jobs available. They’ve never been told NOT to “follow their heart” when it comes to studying useless subjects in college and then wonder why they emerge with $60,000 in student loan debt that haunts them for years to come.

One of her commenters, MC, gives an excellent response (highlighting mine):

Unless it’s changed a lot in the last 15 years, it’s not just a matter of not being told “no.”

It’s a matter of being actively, aggressively encouraged to do stupid things like attending college without a plan (“I don’t care what you study, just GO!”), change majors half a dozen times, or study something useless (I recall all those lectures from the English department about all the great jobs for English majors…).

Who’s doing this?? Silly parents, or a predatory banking and/or education industry?? Maybe both…

It’s a matter of more than spoiled kids. It’s also a matter of teaching them to have sense enough (and enough faith in their own common sense) to resist the barrage of propaganda they’re subjected to.

Because, to a frighteningly large subset of society, we are, if not slaves, then nothing more than “human resources.”

The problem is that in our modern society, the job market is more credential-based than it is skill-based, at least for higher status jobs. For example, it doesn’t matter how good a teacher you are, you can’t teach without first getting a four-year university degree and a state teaching license. Skill is secondary to credentials, and our university degree programs prepare people to be credentialed but don’t prepare them very well with actual skills. This is so for several reasons.

First, students have to take a lot of mandated classes in the “diversity” subjects. These classes rarely present a balanced discussion of women’s issues or racial issues nor do they provide students with actual skills. Instead, they are a form of societal welfare for the far left. Radical (usually Marxist) politics is de rigeur for these professorships; you will be hard pressed to find any diversity of social or political thought among most college professors.

Second, degree programs have to prepare students to pass credentialing exams.  The percentage of students who pass these exams reflects back on the program, so naturally there is some “teaching to the test” at the expense of teaching real skills.

And finally, there are simply too many people going to college. The last two towns I lived in were Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti; in both these university towns, nearly everyone with a job has or is working on a degree. Your barista who serves you your morning latte, the secretary at the DMV, your garbage man – they’ve practically all got degrees.

Do you really need a degree to pick up trash? Of course not, so why did the garbage man get a degree? Because he was told relentlessly that getting an education would get him ahead in life, but in truth the only people who are really helped by getting a degree are people with a certain level of intellect and drive. The average person simply doesn’t have that level of intellect and drive nor is that a problem. The world only needs a handful of English professors; it needs far more trash collectors and baristas.

In a clear and concise essay which I recommend reading, Making the University Irrelevant, Henry Dampier explains:

It isn’t so much that the concept of the university is a bad idea. It’s just that what the university has become in the United States has departed from anything which might be recognized as a university in past times.

Most parents see universities today as places that prepare their children for ‘careers’ which in previous times might have been called vocations. The actual methods by which masters taught apprenticeships vocations have been largely made illegal or otherwise out-competed by various subsidies from federal and state governments. University education and vocational education have been conflated for at least the past century, even before the laws that made it more challenging to enforce apprenticeship contracts, dating back to the 1930s.

Professors are ill-equipped to provide vocational training because of the way that markets function. Markets are eternally calibrating to  real-world conditions. If the market participants do not continue calibrating their operations to the conditions of the real world, they are pushed out of the market by stronger hands. Professors, especially when they are insulated from competition, have little incentive to match what they teach to the conditions of reality.

Our children will be heavily pressured to go to college by the media, all their teachers and guidance counselors, and most of their peers. We parents should educate our children about taking an honest look at their skills, the demand for various jobs, and the amount of time and money that a degree costs and then making realistic life decisions.

Further related reading on college, work, and family formation:

When it comes to urban farming and renewal, “left” and “right” are mostly useless political terms.

Good career choices for the family-minded girl.

Christian women should be helpers, not careerists.

The purpose of paid work for women.

The pleasure of a quiet evening at home with family and a few thoughts on prioritizing family formation.

Winter daydreaming about spring planting.

We’re in the winter doldrums here in Michigan, where by 8:00 in the morning the sky has lightened to a dull grey and by 4:30 in the afternoon, the dim light is fading into dark once more. Snow blankets the land, the trees are brown, the fields appear lifeless, and nature rests.

image

Today’s view from the edge of our woods with our neighbor’s farm in the distance.

Being a person who loves solitude, I am unbothered by being home mostly alone today while the children are off at various activities (and bless my husband’s name for volunteering to take eldest daughter to her volleyball tournament today).  The flour and sugar and chocolate chips are out on the counter just waiting for the obstinate butter to soften so they can be turned into cookies. The laundry is caught up and the pond ice rink is shoveled, which means I will spend this grey afternoon daydreaming about one of the things I love most to do – gardening.

I love every aspect of it – composting, digging, pulling weeds, starting seeds, making containers and beds, growing flowers and fruit and herbs and vegetables. Previously all I was limited by was space, and that limitation has now been lifted, allowing my imagination to run wild. This is the one thing I really use my Pinterest boards for, which is where I found a lot of the daydream images I will post here.

Sunshine’s garden daydreams:

1. Build stairs down the back hill

Our home is built into the back of a hill, which makes for a really nice walkout basement but doesn’t make for easy landscaping. The hill down from the front of our house to the back is just lots of oak trees and some grass that is growing poorly and allowing erosion to occur.

image

Standing next to the garage, looking down the back hill.

As soon as we moved in I began planting hostas that I divided from the overgrown front garden and some lemon thread cypresses that I got on clearance for $5 at Lowe’s at the end of the season:

image

These lemon thread cypresses I planted should eventually grow to be about five feet tall.

 

lemon thread cypress

Example of a full-grown lemon thread cypress.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When spring comes, I will build steps down the back of our hill similar to these ones I found on Pinterest:

What I will do is buy composite decking boards and cut them to about 32 inches in length. I will use 16″ aluminum flashing  that I’ll bury half way to form the border edges of the walkway and then bury the cut composite deck boards half way and fill in each “step” with pea gravel. I’ll probably line the walkway with rocks I find in our woods and plant ferns among the rocks to give it a natural, woodsy feel and to help control erosion.

2. Plant a raised herb and fruit bed.

I will use cinder blocks, as they are very cheap to buy and also easy to find for free.

Directions for mosaic cinder block can be found at Delicate Construction.

To make the mosaics, I’ll use liquid nails and stone tiles which the previous owner had left over from retiling the kitchen floor and left for us:image

I’ll construct the raised bed by lying the cinder blocks on their sides so the pretty mosaic faces out and the holes face up, allowing me to plant strawberries in them.

 

 

 

 

 

3. I will turn the garden shed into a secret hideout in the woods, sort of like this one but less shack-like:

What garden shed in the woods? you may be thinking. Well, that is actually a funny story…

The people we bought this house from did a lot of great work inside the house, which truly looks beautiful, but they really didn’t keep up with the grounds very well. You see, when you build your house in the middle of the woods, the forest is always trying to reclaim it. You are in a very real battle to keep the wilds of entropy from reasserting their dominance over your temporary cultivation. When we bought this house, everything outside was very overgrown, and we dove right in to cutting it all back, pruning and weeding (including my husband “weeding with a chainsaw”) and bringing back a sense of order, much to the chagrin of all the little woodland snakes that had gotten used to a peaceful existence on every walkway and in every overgrown garden.

Now, the woods along the driveway were so thick that you couldn’t even see into them, but as the leaves began to fall in October, we started to get a glimpse in. One day my husband was hacking back some scrub while I was mowing when I caught sight of a flash of brown and white deep in the woods, down a little hill, off to one side of the driveway.  I turned off the mower and tried to get a look.

“Phil,” I called, “there’s something in the woods down here!” He looked up with concern, wondering what the “something” was – we’ve got coyotes on our land and, astonishingly, saw a bobcat once – and if he should run up to the house for his shotgun.

He walked down to where I was and began using his implements of order to chop into the brush.  I didn’t get pictures of it then, but here is the view today from where I was standing:

image

Can you spot the shed in the distance?

 

In the middle of the woods we found this utterly charming little shed, its existence apparently forgotten by the previous owner, who never mentioned it to us:image

Inside it has a window in the back and a loft up under the pointed roof. It’s sort of useless as a garden shed since it’s a bit of a hike down a hill and through the forest to get to it, but as a secret hideout for reading, drawing, and daydreaming, its potential is unparalleled.

Philip cleared a temporary path, and I began building a pallet walkway to it, like this one:

I ran out of pallets and then the weather turned bad, but I’ll resume working on it in the spring. Pallets, which have a nearly unlimited number of ways that they can be upcycled, can usually be had for free if you go to hardware or home improvement stores and offer to haul away the old pallets stacked up behind their business.

These are just a few of my many garden daydreams. In the spring, I’ll begin documenting here which daydreams I turn into reality. Now I’ll leave you with a few more daydream images:

 

When it comes to urban farming and renewal, “left” and “right” are mostly useless political terms.

Recently I attended a lunch hour talk given by Drew Philp, a young man who is a fellow University of Michigan alum, a journalist, a home renovator, a teacher, and an all-around renaissance millennial man. His talk was based on an article he wrote last year which was published on BuzzFeed entitled Why I Bought A House In Detroit For $500:

After college, as my friends left Michigan for better opportunities, I was determined to help fix this broken, chaotic city by building my own home in the middle of it. I was 23 years old.

Being the young, idealistic, U of M educated sort, I’d say Mr. Philp probably considers himself fairly liberal, whereas I consider myself an orthospherian sort of reactionary. Nevertheless, I found much to admire in this young man and had a brief, interesting chat with him about urban farming after his talk. He told me that Detroiters he knows have had their goats taken away due to Michigan’s recently-passed (and signed by our Republican governor) regulations denying Right-to-Farm protections to small scale farming in urban and suburban areas (i.e. your backyard chickens are no longer protected by Right-to-Farm laws; also, see this interesting article: Right to Farm protection denied for Michigan farmer’s goats, greenhouse).

He also wrote about an incident that exemplifies something I too have noticed:

One of the [United States Social Forum] events I did see was a march staged by professional protest coordinators who had come in from California opposing Detroit’s trash incinerator, the largest in the United States. It’s located in Poletown. We have an asthma hospitalization rate three times the national average. If you would like an inside look at Detroit’s Third-World level of corruption, a good place to start is the incinerator. You can safely say there is a culture of corruption in your city when the top two politicians, including a former mayor and city council president pro tem, have been, or are currently in, prison for corruption, racketeering, and the like. One former city councilwoman allegedly requested a bribe including 17 pounds of sausages.

The protest would march down Detroit’s main thoroughfare and past the incinerator, presumably raising holy hell and sticking it to the man. They needed a place to stage the making of the props — hundreds of spray-painted sunflower pickets, miniature incinerators, signs. One of my well-meaning neighbors offered The Yes Farm, an abandoned apothecary where we occasionally staged art and music shows.

I guess no one saw the irony in cutting down real pine trees to make fake sunflowers. Or that a protest to demand clean air would use so much aerosol spray paint. But the real irony came when the Social Forum was over and it was time for the out-of-towners to leave for the next protest.

“What are you going to do with all this stuff?” we asked.

“Why don’t you just recycle it?” they said.

“Where?”

They left it all in The Yes Farm and split, leaving it for us to deal with. Now we had another pile of trash to clean up and nowhere for it to go. So while they were gallivanting off to the next good deed, that shit went into the incinerator and into our lungs.

Gee, annoying liberal white people, thanks for adding to the pollution of Detroit’s air. Image source

Our Republican governor had no problem removing Right to Farm protection from small scale urban farmers, and Democrats and other leftists have no common sense and are not only useless but actively make things worse, as Drew’s protest march anecdote demonstrates.

I don’t know the answer, but there’s got to be another way. The left and right – conservative and liberal – ideologies in this country are not serving us well. Conservatives have sold their souls to capitalism and liberals have sold their souls to debauchery and destruction, but both sides seem to love the rebellion against kith and kin that democracy always seems to bring wherever it lands.

What I admire about young men like Drew Philps is that they have become relatively apolitical; they no longer seem to trust that the government will necessarily make wise decisions, and they aren’t waiting around for government and capitalism to solve everyone’s problems. Drew told us at the talk that most of them try to stay off local government radar because it just ends up causing headaches and they just want to get stuff done. They don’t want to govern, they don’t want to march, they don’t want to protest.  They want to work, they want to build and rebuild, they want to plant and grow.