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Sunday, October 28, 2018

Matthew Shepard, Twenty Years Later, Rest in Peace



When I was as little girl in Catholic school, I was taught how important martyrs and martyrdom are to our understanding of our faith.

I found the idea unappealing. Why did there have to be such suffering? Why couldn't our moral universe encompass only sweetness and light?

As I grew older, I pondered another question: how could the average decent person, people like my friends, like myself, have supported systems like slavery and Jim Crow?

The martyrs of the Civil Rights movement, like the four little girls murdered in a bomb blast in a Birmingham church, may have taught me something about both questions.

Maybe ugly injustice is not exclusively the product of fanatics. Maybe ugly injustice is a product we all create. There are the fanatics leading the parade, of course, but the rest of us just go along. We say nothing, after someone tells a joke that offends us, we do nothing when the institutions we work for deny equal benefits to selected groups of our fellow employees, we hear nothing when our religious leaders preach a discrimination that Jesus never practiced.

I again ponder martyrdom and the education of the average, decent person in the wake of the murder of Matthew Shepard, a college student, around five foot tall, around a hundred pounds, who was tricked into a pick up truck, beaten, burned, and tied to a fence in a position typical of crucifixion. Later, his funeral was picketed by church members carrying signs reading, "Fag Matt in Hell."

We are shocked. Shocked. After the shock wears off, I hope Matthew's death can teach us as only martyrdom can, what the true face of homophobia is.

***

Twenty years ago, my short essays were occasionally broadcast via WFIU in Bloomington, Indiana. This was one of them.

On October 26, 2018, Matthew Shepard's ashes were laid to rest in the National Cathedral. Matt's parents had feared that placing them in any marked place would result in vandalism. They hope that, in the cathedral, Matt's ashes will be safe.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Thank You Dr. Christine Blasey Ford #ThankYouDrFord

#ThankYouDrFord



Dr. Christine Blasey Ford
c/o Palo Alto University
1791 Arastradero Rd.
Palo Alto, CA 94304

Dear Dr. Christine Blasey Ford:

When news broke in mid-September, 2018, that there were sexual assault allegations against SCOTUS nominee Brett Kavanaugh, my Facebook feed spiraled downward into the claustrophobic murk of a seventeenth-century English village in the thralls of a witch hunt.

Brett Kavanaugh has an expansive interpretation of presidential power. Democrats were predicted to take congress after the midterms. Trump was under investigation. Trump needed a justice who would protect him from a Democratic congress. You, Dr. Ford, became roadkill. As I witnessed on my Facebook page, the vehicles that ran over you were paranoid misogyny coupled with Republican expediency.

Friends who had previously been allies in protest against misogyny exercised by Muslims were suddenly A-OK with sexual assault – as long as the alleged assailant was a white man and key to Republican success, and the accuser was a female PhD, member of the hated coastal intellectual elite.

Friends who had previously been indulgent of male victims of molesting priests, victims who waited decades publicly to accuse those priests, were suddenly enraged and incredulous that a woman might wait decades to come forward. I showed them #whyIdidntreport accounts, now flooding the internet. "I didn't report because I didn't want to hurt my father … I didn't report because my assailant said he'd kill me." All these accounts were dismissed as crafty feminine wiles cooked up to ruin men's lives.

Strangely enough, in the midst of all this, I was violently assaulted by young, black males while walking down the street of a tough urban area. No one doubted my account. No one doubted a white woman talking about being violently assaulted by young, black males. Speaks volumes.

Facebook friends I had previously thought of as nice and normal began to post hundreds of posts alleging that women want to "ruin men" or "destroy men's lives."

I mentioned Clarence Thomas, Donald Trump, Kirk Douglas, Woody Allen, Roman Polanski, Sean Penn, Chris Brown, R Kelly, Nikki Sixx, Tommy Lee, Marilyn Manson, and too many rock stars to mention: all of these men have been accused, and they all occupy the heights of success. No ruined lives. No destruction.

I pointed out that virtually all women are likely to experience sexual assault, attempted sexual assault, or sexual harassment in their lifetimes, whereas there is a negligible chance that any average American man will face false charges of sexual assault in court. I backed up these assertions with statistics from reliable websites. The truth did not matter. Misogyny and Republican needs mattered.

Posts about Tawana Brawley, The Duke LaCrosse Case, and the Rolling Stone University of Virginia hoax flooded my page. These stories of false rape allegations are famous because they are man-bites-dog stories. We know about them the way we know about lottery winners. Media coverage of lottery winners is in no way representational of my chances of winning the lottery.

Those eager to adduce these freak occurrences to discredit you never mentioned these stories of false accusations in the context of allegations against Keith Ellison. Ellison is a black, Muslim Democrat. Ellison's accuser is not black. Ellison must be guilty. You accused a white Republican, key to Trump's success. You are a member of the reviled coastal elite. You must be guilty.

Team Trump, like a drug addict eager never to come down from his high, was relishing the misogynist frenzy. It was certain, in spite of your testimony, that Brett Kavanaugh would be approved by the Senate. They had their victory. They could retreat from the field graciously. But no. When he knew he had the votes he needed, when he didn't have to fight you any more, Donald Trump, the most powerful man in the world, mocked you at a rally in Mississippi, that state with a long, grisly history of lynching the innocent.

Trump didn't verbally lynch you because he had to get Kavanaugh on the court. Trump had the votes he needed.

Trump verbally lynched you in front of a braying, mouth-foaming mob because it benefitted him to do so. Trump has previously profited from his supporters' white supremacy and antisemitism. In the wake of your testimony, Trump, like a vulture, battened on your patriotism, your sacrifice, your pain, and his followers' bloodthirsty misogyny. Team Trump cheered on every blow that Trump struck at you. It was their dog fight, their cock fight, their blood sport. They squirmed with glee as their bully savaged a defenseless victim.

After Kavanaugh was confirmed, your face continued to flood my Facebook feed. Team Trump posted meme after meme mocking you. Too ugly to be raped by a jock, they sneered. She should have just enjoyed it, they laughed. "Used Ford for sale to the highest bidder," they jeered.  

Any woman accusing any man of any kind of assault must confront such primitive, subterranean ugliness dormant even in otherwise "nice" and "normal" appearing populations.

Then there were those who believed you, but said that women who are sexually assaulted should just shut up. Brett Kavanaugh was the real victim! You embarrassed him publicly. A man's honor is paramount. An American honor killing. They would protect Kavanaugh by destroying you.

One Facebook friend posted that if women didn't appear physically attractive, men would not be "forced" to assault women. It was your fault. You were physically attractive. You made Justice Kavanaugh assault you.

Another poster, also a woman, said that women should shut up because if women make noise about being assaulted, that will push men over the edge and men will take away women's right to vote and own property:

"Historically, men have held power … it is Divinely-inspired natural order, and it SHOULD be that way … If push came to shove, the very male power feminists decry would prevent us from voting, from owning property, etc. … If feminists keep up the current shrill hysterical screamy insanity they're currently pulling, we will eventually reach the tipping point, at which enough men get sufficiently fed up that we DO end up in a Handmaid's Tale scenario."

My Facebook friend C said that he didn't like how women ruin men's lives, especially over "things that happen at a teenage party … Kavanaugh may not remember." He said that those protesting against Kavanaugh were paid. He insisted that nowadays "we must believe female accusers over men in all instances." But C said that males can be believed. "I can think of plenty of reasons why boys may not report abuse." T insisted that Senator Mazie Hirono had stated explicitly that the concept of innocent until proven guilty must be jettisoned.

I asked C and T, "Can you please name one person in a position of power who has said that we must jettison the concept of innocent until proven guilty when it comes to sexual assault?"

Neither C nor T could not provide any instance where a person in a position of power said that all accusers must be believed in all cases of alleged sexual assault. Instead of supporting his assertion, C denounced me as an "emotional" man-hater. He then posted a truly disturbing photograph of an infant with a bruised face, and shouted that a woman had punched that infant, proving that women are no good.

I can find no serious person in any position of power, no clergy, no politician, no judge, no attorney, no activist, no essayist, insisting that all women must be believed and that all accused men are guilty and that investigation can be foregone.

Claiming that women who report sexual assault want to eliminate innocent until proven guilty is a misogynist smear. It is propaganda honed to silence victims, and to protect sexual assailants.

Team Trump chanted "Lock her up," about a woman convicted of no crime. Team Trump supports a president who called for the death penalty of the Central Park Five, young men of color, after they had been exonerated. Team Trump vilifies you and Kavanaugh's other accusers as Machiavellian harpies who want to "destroy men" and "ruin men's lives," who want to eliminate "innocent until proven guilty." They vilify you as George Soros' paid puppet. They do all this without a shred of evidence. That Team Trump's lynch mob deploys "innocent until proven guilty" as a way to silence women who allege sexual assault is beyond ironic. It is poisonous.

Scholars and law enforcement officers, for hundreds of years, have been working on methods to determine the truth value of narratives. Criteria include, but are not limited to:

* Cui bono?

* Occam's razor

* Consistency

* Support from known facts

Cui bono means "Who benefits?" Facebook poster Ralph wrote that you "will be rewarded with generous honoraria for speaking engagements and lucrative book contracts. She will be a sought-after guest on shows such as The View."

Dr. Ford, you are a successful, self-made scientist. You teach biostatistics, a highly demanding and remunerative discipline. You teach, part time, at Stanford, one of the most prestigious and demanding institutions in the world. You own a home in a wealthy neighborhood; you have a husband and children. You are publicity-shy and private.

Since your allegation has been made public, you have received death threats, you have been smeared. You have sacrificed your anonymity, a precious gift in this age of cyber stalking and viral cell phone videos. You have not been able to sleep many nights together in the same place. Your children are traumatized, confused, and endangered. I read the comments on right-wing websites and even now, after Team Trump's victory, they are still gunning for you. They want you to suffer and they vow to make you suffer. Given the fury and hatred among those who oppose you, your life will never be the same.

Anyone who believes that you are enduring what you are enduring for a guest spot on The View is a misogynist beyond reason. Any woman who alleges sexual assault must confront such irrational hatred, a hatred that further victimizes victims and protects assailants.

Cui bono is not in Brett Kavanaugh's favor. He benefitted by denying your claim. He received a lifetime seat on the SCOTUS.

Occam's razor dictates that the simplest explanation is the most likely to be true. Occam's razor works for you. In 2012, you told your husband and therapist of the alleged assault. The therapist has notes backing this up. If you were the pawn of the alleged diabolical mastermind, George Soros, who they say controls the world the way a puppeteer controls a marionette, you would have invented an easier, more sensational narrative.

A tweeter named Kimberly Strassel became very excited because she found what she claimed was an inconsistency. One description of the alleged party included four boys; another included three boys and a girl.

Whenever I teach tests for truth in narrative to my students, I ask them, how does consistency reflect truth? And my students always say, "If a narrative is consistent, it is true." I smile and bide my time.

I tell students that it is common for law enforcement officers to keep a suspect for a lengthy period, and to require that suspect to tell a story over and over again.

My students guess, "The cops want to know if the story is told the same way every time. If the story is consistent, it is true."

Then I ask, "Have you ever told the story of a long past event over and over again? Did you tell it the same way every time?"

My students get that Aha look that teachers so love.

Consistency is not perfectly correlated with the truth value of narratives. The Gospels of Mathew, Mark, Luke and John disagree on some details. This inconsistency is cited by scholars to argue for the historicity of Jesus. If everyone told the exact same story in the exact same way, it is less likely, not more likely, that the story is not true. What kind of stories are perfectly consistent? Practiced alibis.

Dr. Ford, you named other persons. None of those persons supported your account. That suggests that you are telling the truth. You would not have concocted a story that included four potential witnesses, none of whom would be likely to corroborate what you said. Two of those others are your alleged assailants. They have good reason for denying your story. Two others say they don't remember such a party. They have no reason to remember it. It was unremarkable to them.

If you were lying, you never would have named Mark Judge as participating in the alleged assault. You had to refute not just one assailant, but two.

Another thing that adds to your credibility: the detail about being in a one-piece bathing suit that Kavanaugh allegedly could not remove.

Why would you add a detail that weakened your narrative, that turned it into groping rather than rape, or at least naked flesh fondling, if you were a Machiavellian femme fatale or a paid agent of George Soros? Occam's razor, when it comes to these details, suggests that you were telling the truth.

Finally, narratives can be judged by support from known facts. We credit Luke in his Gospel because Luke famously mentions numerous historical personages and places that are familiar to us from numerous canonical sources.

Dr. Ford, you depict a Brett Kavanaugh who was blind drunk, who attended beer parties, and who was capable of a callous, sexually exploitative view of women, and interested in a male-male-female threesome. We have available facts that support all these points. Brett Kavanaugh and Mark Judge made sexually exploitative and humiliating references to Renate Schroeder and other women in their yearbook comments and other documents. Kavanaugh mentioned a devil's triangle, a threesome involving two men and a woman. That is exactly the assault you described – Kavanaugh and Judge assaulting you. Friends report that Kavanaugh was a heavy drinker who was disoriented and belligerent when drunk. Kavanaugh's own calendar, yearbook comments, and a letter he wrote describe parties devoted to beer consumption to the point of loss of self-control. Inside Edition found a house, once belonging to Kavanaugh's friend, that matches the description you gave of the house where you were allegedly assaulted, in the neighborhood you mentioned. Kavanaugh's calendar mentions that he was at a party at such a house during the summer you say the assault took place. Rachel Mitchell attempted to ask Kavanaugh about this calendar entry. Republican senators cut Mitchell off. Brett Kavanaugh lied repeatedly under oath. He also avoided questions, whereas, as a Vox tally shows, you answered them.

Dr. Ford, I don't believe you more than I believe Kavanaugh because of any prejudice on my part in your favor. I don't believe you more than I believe Kavanaugh because I am a stereotypical, Machiavellian, harpy straight from the pages of the Malleus Maleficarum. I believe you more than I believe Kavanaugh because the facts support you more than they support Kavanaugh.

Dr. Ford, maybe you really are a stealth replicant cooked up in the underground laboratories of Team Trump's boogeyman, the evil Jewish genius bent on destroying the world, George Soros.

The available evidence suggests to any intelligent, inquisitive, fair-minded person that you are telling the truth.

That being the case, my heart goes out to you. You said, "I was … wondering whether I would just be jumping in front of a train that was headed to where it was headed anyway, and that I would just be personally annihilated." You knew that that was a possibility. Patriotism inspired you forward.

You opened my eyes to subterranean misogyny among people I previously thought of as "nice" and "normal."

But you also opened my eyes to hidden heroes. Several men in my Facebook feed came to your defense, and to my defense, when the misogynists rushed to destroy you, and to go for my throat because I dared argue for the full, human, dignity of women. Otto Gross, Mark Shea, Sandy McReynolds, Paul Kujawsky, Karl Jonsson, Walter Perry. I had not realized, before this, how heroic these guys are. And now I know how heroic they are, because of you. May God bless you.

Friday, October 12, 2018

Trump Supporters Believe a Woman Reporting an Assault



The other day I was violently assaulted by some young, black men.

I mentioned the assault on Facebook. I provided few details. I asked that people *not* express sympathy.

I made clear that I was reporting the assault specifically as part of an effort to communicate with rich, white liberal Facebook friends.

I have a handful of rich, white liberal Facebook friends who believe that Jim Crow never ended, that all cops are murderous white supremacists, and that all whites bask in the unearned glamor and ease of white privilege. They believe that poor, white Trump voters are lesser lifeforms, not even fully human. In fact one such Facebook friend refers to Trump supporters as "orcs," the villains from The Lord of the Rings.

Further, these rich, white liberal friends all live in lily white enclaves. Some live in towns with virtually no minorities. Some in entire states with virtually no African Americans.

I mentioned the assault because it is a microcosmic incident in a larger pattern. Young black males do commit a disproportionate amount of violent crime in the US. Poor whites in diverse states are more likely to be targets of that violent crime. Poor whites would like an honest conversation about this topic, rather than the politically correct fantasies that rich, white liberals insist on.

Rich, white liberals do steer the culture and do control national conversations. Rich, white liberals could benefit from losing their hostile, oppressive contempt for poor whites. Van Jones, himself a black man, said the same thing after Trump won. And Van Jones was trashed by liberals. "How dare you accord full humanity to poor whites? We all know they are nothing but orcs."

And this national discourse, that refuses to address real problems in our culture, and that demonizes poor whites, helped get Trump elected, and fuels his power.

Anyway.

A handful of Trump supporters expressed sympathy after my assault. Here's the strange thing. These same Trump supporters who expressed sympathy to me were all part of Team Trump's bashing of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford.

Dr. Christine Blasey Ford reported a credible account of being assaulted by Brett Kavanaugh, who was, at the time of her testimony, a SCOTUS nominee. Team Trump responded by trashing this woman. They have sent her so many serious death threats that she has had to abandon her home and she has not been able to sleep in the same place for more than a few nights at a time. Senior senators and President Trump called her a liar, part of a plot by Hillary Clinton and George Soros to undermine the US government. Trump mocked and laughed at her at a Mississippi rally, and Trump supporters laughed along.

The mockery of a woman who gave a credible account of being sexually assaulted burbled through my Facebook feed like sewage from a broken pipe. Trump supporters said she was too nerdy and too ugly to have been assaulted by a studly jock and team captain like Brett Kavanaugh. They said she should have just enjoyed it. They said she should have kept her mouth shut because it wasn't that big of a deal. They said, after all, he was only 17.

When I reported my assault, some of these same people expressed sympathy.

I thought about this for twenty-four hours. "Why would they doubt and mock Dr. Christine Blasey Ford and immediately believe and support me?"

And then I got it. My assailants were black. And I am white. So, yes, I am believable, and the guys who assaulted me are bad and guilty.

This is a guess. I can't know for certain that this is what was going on in the minds of these Facebook posters.

But it might be.

Me? I am not part of Team Trump. I am also not a rich, white liberal. I'm just one of millions of Americans looking at both the left and the right and shaking my head.



Tuesday, October 9, 2018

The Witch Craze

Talk by me about the  Witch Craze. 

Who were the witches? Were they holdovers from ancient Paganism? Why did they wear conical hats? Why did they ride on brooms? Is the Catholic Church responsible for murdering witches? What started the witch craze? What stopped it? 

I speak slowly. You can bump up the speed.