It’s time for men to evolve into real men

The Thinker by Rodin

In case you hadn’t noticed there are a whole lot of women complaining about sexual harassment all of a sudden. Those accused of harassment, including lots of politicians and celebrities, are feeling more than a little like someone dragged in front of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigation chaired by Senator Joseph McCarthy. In some cases before they have a chance to offer a rebuttal their careers appear to be over; movie contracts pulled and gigs canceled.

In the past women who squawked usually found out why it was a good idea to shut up. In Hollywood their contracts and bookings tended to dry up. A lot has changed in the last year or two, but things have really picked up in the last couple of months. Lots of powerful men have been brought down starting with a number of people at Fox News including Roger Ailes and Bill O’Reilly. Men with Democratic Party inclinations have been no less immune. There is Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein, of course, with decades of harassing women who sought his favor. Weinstein also gave heavily to liberal causes but seemed incapable of demonstrating these principles where it mattered: in the workplace. Scores of women and likely many more scores we don’t know about have come forward to complain about Weinstein’s harassment, which included crude and obscene behavior that wholly appalls me.

It sure feels like the tables have turned at last. I can’t blame women for not having the courage to come forward but the penalties for doing so seem to have lessened. Women (and in some cases men; last night a man reported being harassed by George Takei of all people in 1981) are fed up. Rules for explicit and implicit workplace and social conduct are being rewritten.

Speaking as a man though it does feel kind of dangerous simply because it becomes a matter of she said vs. he said. It feels like once accused the man is guilty until proven innocent, which is usually impossible. In some cases like Harvey Weinstein his guilt is beyond reasonable doubt. Yesterday the Washington Post reported that Alabama Senate candidate and egregious Bible-thumper Roy Moore back in 1979 initiated sexual contact with a 14-year-old girl. He was age 32 at the time and an assistant district attorney in Alabama, probably a position of some status in the community. Three other women also came forward indicating they were minors when Moore initiated romantic relationships with them too.

To me this is beyond reasonable doubt too, as none of these women knew each other, but all came forward to Washington Post reporters when they were tracked down. Having said that I would not be surprised if Alabamans elect Roy Moore anyhow. It didn’t stop them from voting for Donald Trump, whose own extremely checkered past in this area is also beyond reasonable dispute. It sure appears that tribalism these days can excuse pretty much anything, including pedophilia. In any event where there are other witnesses that can report these women told them about these incidents at the time, that’s pretty damning.

Far more men have power over women than the other way around. That’s just the way it is at the moment but perhaps not how things will remain. Having not walked in a woman’s shoes, I can’t empathize. I do have an idea how it feels. I have a gay cousin that either has a crush on me or is pulling an elaborate prank. It makes our relationship uncomfortable, but there is no power relationship to deal with and there’s zero chance that I would sleep with him. So I have just one quasi-relatable experience in my lifetime and certainly nothing I have to deal with on a daily basis. Women don’t pursue me most likely because I have the wedding ring on my finger. But even if I didn’t I’m confident they still would not pursue me. I have been fortunate enough to have a couple of female bosses in my life. They were all positive experiences. I grew to prefer women as my bosses.

Women though can’t help being female. They can’t hide the fact that they have breasts or that their ass is perceived as cute. But really men aren’t that particular. Heterosexual men would put out for pretty much any woman who put the move on them, at least if they worked at them long enough. We do sense though that women don’t want to be harassed in general and so almost instinctively we stay away.

But of course there are plenty of men like Harvey Weinstein, Roy Moore and Louis C.K. who don’t have these constraints on their behavior. There must be something about having power that eggs them on to cross the line. Or perhaps they were boors all along but power makes them believe they will get away with it. Men do like to win, which is why sports appeal to most men. Power distinguishes you from other seemingly lesser men. It generally brings perks and privileges. And it does attract some women. Perhaps they think that since it attracts some women, all women that knock on their door to some measure must want them too.

I mostly speculate because I don’t understand these men. To act like them I would first have to see women as objects instead of people, or at least give myself permission to treat women’s feelings as if they didn’t matter. Even if I could get past these feelings, I still don’t understand why these men would harass women, especially with obscene behavior. I assume I am like normal men in that when women are attracted to me because of whom I authentically am, that’s a big turn on. It’s hard for me to think of a bigger turn off than to force myself on a woman that doesn’t want me. I would want women to think highly of me, not the worst of me. What woman really wants to see you masturbate into a plant?

The shrinks tell us that for these men the real aphrodisiac is not sex, but power. Forcing people to do things they don’t want to do — particularly something as intimate as having sex with you — is a violation not to mention in many cases a criminal offense. If you get sex, it’s likely to be bad because it’s not really consensual. It certainly won’t feel healthy. Perhaps it’s like being an opioid addict and that for many men if you try it once, you can’t quit.

Should we shed a tear for men? In the past this sort of behavior, reprehensible as most saw it, still had some legal or societal sanction. It wasn’t that long ago that women couldn’t vote and husbands couldn’t legally rape their wives. The rules of conduct are both explicitly and implicitly changing. Meanwhile, many men feel at some sort of genetic level they are programmed to be this way. They are supposed to strive to be top dog, and being top dog means privileges the other dogs don’t get. To me, this certainly seems to explain our president. I’m speculating that for these men these new rules are all unnatural. Never mind that there are all sorts of laws that seems unnatural but is nonetheless necessary.

Men need to grow up. I’m glad that women are speaking out against those who harass them, and though it still brings some danger to them personally I hope they will continue to do so. We need to evolve, especially those in positions of power. Such men (and women) don’t deserve the privileges of power if they can’t also handle its responsibilities.

Unwinding the crazy (or why Obama and Mitt Romney need to talk)

The Thinker by Rodin

So my daughter has been chatting with me on Skype. She wants to know: “Dad, have politics ever this crazy?” She would actually take some comfort in knowing that demagogues like Donald Trump have actually arisen before and have had a stake put through their hearts.

I had to tell her no, not in my lifetime anyhow and not within the United States. There are plenty of demagogues out there all the time, but few come around as Donald Trump has to create cyclones of ill will all for the purpose of acquiring something close to the pinnacle of political power in the world: being president of the United States. I see him getting the Republican nomination; hopes of a brokered convention are just fantasies. There have been deeply evil politicians and presidents. Richard Nixon comes to mind but at least he was trapped by a political system of checks and balances. It’s not clear if Trump becomes president whether the system still has the backbone to deal with someone like him. I’d like to think so, but I am skeptical.

Over the years this blog has been around, I’ve made something of a second career cataloguing these demagogues. Democrats are not entirely clean, with John Edwards leaping to mind. Both sides of the party can be pandered to and inflamed. Mostly though these demagogues have limited appeal. Some of the many I have blogged about include Bill O’Reilly and Glenn Beck. I have read enough history though to know that Donald Trump is not quite unprecedented. Early in our history we had a president arguably as bad as Trump: Andrew Jackson whose portrait mysteriously adorns our ten-dollar bill.

We’ve also had our share of bad presidents but who were not demagogues. Woodrow Wilson was a racist who purged blacks from the government. President Harding dropped his pants for more than one woman not his wife and got embroiled in the Teapot Dome oil scandal. Herbert Hoover and a top-heavy Republican congress ushered in the Great Depression. Lyndon Johnson made the Vietnam debacle much worse. And I’ve shown 12 years ago that Ronald Reagan was pretty much a disaster of a president. Then of course there is George W. Bush. Still with the possible exception of Jackson none of these presidents rise to Trump’s level. None had the mentality that the ends justified the means. Trump’s success makes him a singular danger to our democracy.

So sorry daughter, we are living the Chinese curse of living in interesting times. Polls suggest a Trump election win will be quite a stretch, but if anyone could pull it off Trump is demonstrating he has the skills and oratory to do it. Trump though is not unique, but simply the most articulate spokesman for the Republican brand. It’s a brand full of chest thumping, racism, classism and staking out unequivocal positions that have devolved into concerns about the size of Trump’s hands and penis. They are all doing it without qualification, except possibly John Kasich. These candidates will denounce Trump on the one hand but won’t take the next obvious step: saying they will not support him if he wins his party’s nomination.

This is because for all their claims of principle they really don’t have any. It’s not principle that drives them; it’s the lust for power. This puts them ever further on the extreme right as well as makes them back down from taking principled stands like saying they won’t support Trump if he wins their party’s nomination. They are all jockeying for power as best they can by keeping their options open. I was puzzling through Chris Christie’s endorsement of Donald Trump shortly after dropping out. Why was he doing this? The easy rationalization is that both are bullies and he identifies with a fellow bully. But the same can be said for most of the Republican candidates. I think Christie is hoping to be nominated as his running mate. I think he is further expecting that if Trump wins office he will eventually be impeached and removed, leaving him as president. It’s a tactic worthy of Frank Underwood; he was just the first to go there. While Christie may admire Trump for being a master bully, I think his real motivation is simply a lust for power.

The larger question is how do you undo something like this? It’s not like we are at the precipice. Lots of people are already jumping off the cliff into the political unknown. It’s time for the grownups not just to speak up but also to take real action. Mitt Romney says he won’t vote for Trump but did not suggest an alternative, which is hardly helpful. Establishment Republicans are trying to persuade voters in keystone states like Florida and Ohio to vote for someone else, but they appear too late to the game to change the dynamics. President Obama recently spoke out, but it was at a fundraiser. Changing the dynamics here though is pretty much impossible when the other party will refuse to even listen to you. Just for starters Republicans in Congress won’t even allow Obama’s budget director to present his budget, the first time this has ever been done. A Republican Senate also refuses to entertain a nominee for the Supreme Court.

We need an elder statesman with mojo and credibility to bring the parties together to tone down the rhetoric and is some marginal way change the conversation and up the civility factor. There is no one such person, unfortunately. Jimmy Carter comes to mind but Republicans would dismiss him.

We urgently need a national timeout. All these key muckrakers need to have a private conclave and hash this out. If I were President Obama I’d be on the phone with Mitt Romney. I’d be penciling in a date in a couple weeks at a private retreat like Camp David and use the power of shame (if it works) to bring all these blowhards together in one place to hash this out. This would include Republican and Democratic leadership in Congress and all the presidential candidates on both sides. It would also include chairs of the Democratic and Republican national committees. I’d include trained facilitators and psychologists to help ensure the meeting moves forward productively The topics would include: setting baselines for acceptable political behavior and setting up a process involving some compromise so that Congress and the President can work together in some minimal fashion through the election.

Would it work? The odds are against my proposal but someone needs to step forward and we need two brave people on both sides of the aisle. I don’t see any others who can play this role.

Sadly, nothing like this is likely to happen, but it needs to happen. Is there a grownup in the room?

Global warming morons

The Thinker by Rodin

Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC) lampooned, “It’s going to keep snowing in D.C. until Al Gore cries ‘uncle’.” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), observing the record snowfall in the Washington D.C. area wonders where Al Gore was to defend his thesis on global warming against this outrageous assault by winter. Global climate warming skeptic Jim Inhofe (R-OK) had his kids build an igloo for Al Gore on Capitol Hill and posted photos of it in Facebook.

Meanwhile, over at the Fox “News” network, Fox used the occasion of the record snowfall to also castigate Gore and those scientists documenting the unfolding global warming disaster. Naturally, some of the news that Fox “News” did not choose to air was the unnatural lack of snow in Vancouver where the Winter Olympics are underway and where the snow and refrigeration is largely manmade. Nor did they cover the lack of seasonal snow in places like Vermont, which is usually hip deep in the stuff this time of the year but has settled for ice. Nor are they devoting much airtime to the rains and subsequent mudslides in Southern California, which are exceptionally strong this year.

Back when I was studying communications in college, I learned about the phenomenon of selective perception. Most of us go through life with blinders on, perceiving what we choose to perceive and ignoring or dismissing evidence that doesn’t match our view of the world. This seems to be a reflexive human trait. Sometimes selective perception can get in our way. George Washington, our first president, essentially bled to death at the hands of his physician. At the time, bleeding someone who was ill was considered good medicine. No one was studying whether this practice was stupid or smart, but it was the conventional wisdom, such as it was. Eventually enough research was done and the practice was stopped when it was deemed counterproductive.

In the real world, we hire scientists and researchers to tell us fact from fiction because we need to infer knowledge based on evidence, not fantasy. Unfortunately, to be elected to Congress you do not have to have accreditation as a scientist or researcher, although a law degree helps. An educated American would look at the Jim Inhofes and Glenn Becks of the world and know their opinions on these matters are ill informed. Instead, particularly when it came to topics like global warming, we should be listening to people like Jane Lubchenco. You probably have no idea who Jane Lubchenco is, which is a shame. She is the head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration as well as a professional scientist with sterling credentials. Prior to her nomination by President Obama, she had an illustrious career and received a number of notable awards including the 8th Heinz Award in the environment in 2002. Lubchenco has not abandoned her position on the reality of global warming because of one snowstorm in the D.C. area. She would be a moron to do so.

Could it be possible that Fox News is just a wee bit biased on the whole global warming question? Could it possibly be that they are far more interested in returning Republicans to political power at any cost than they are in learning the true about global warming as a result of human activity? As if I needed more proof, this reality was driven home to me yesterday at the health club where I happened to watch Bill O’Reilly on Fox “News” redefine the term socialism. Before, it has always meant that the government controlled the means of production. In O’Reilly’s weird world, socialism is anything the government does to shift wealth from one class of Americans to another class of Americans. Clearly, O’Reilly was asleep during the lectures on socialism when he was in school. Communism attempts to make everyone live at the same socioeconomic level, not socialism. Such ignorance is appalling, particularly when the whole point of government is to redistribute wealth. If it didn’t redistribute wealth, there would be no roads, no public schools, no bridges, no military, no regulated airwaves, no assurance that our drugs would be reasonably safe, ad nauseum. If it didn’t redistribute wealth, there would be no food stamp program, which due to the bad economy now feeds one in eight Americans. These fellow Americans would be starving, but that apparently is okay in O’Reilly’s world. (O’Reilly does seem to be okay with redistributing wealth from the poor to the rich, which has been underway for years.)

In short, the people who are spouting such opinions are either delusional, have an agenda or both. If they really believe that thirty something inches of snowfall on the Washington region means there is no global warming, then they are really morons who cannot see two inches beyond their own nose. Rather than taking them seriously, the media should be laughing them off for being such fools. Meanwhile, glaciers keep melting, the Arctic sea ice recedes to lowest levels ever, mountains of evidence shows winter snow melts beginning earlier every year, tiny Pacific countries are in imminent danger of disappearing due to rising sea levels, and devastating droughts are happening both here in the United States and elsewhere. Climatologists have overwhelming evidence that these are a direct result of shifting climate patterns due to global warming.

The last time I had the flu back in 2005, I remember regularly monitoring my temperature. For much of it I had a temperature in the 102 to 103 degree range. There were other times that I took my temperature and it was normal. Then it would go back up again. The moment it reached 98.6 did I no longer have the flu? My experience suggested this was the wrong inference to draw. The same is true with large snowstorms. One large snowstorm does nothing to disprove global warming. Scientists record temperatures across the globe, look at available evidence, measure carbon emissions and carbon levels in the atmosphere and draw inferences.

In fact, our snowstorms if anything give more credence to global warming, not less because they are more extreme. What makes a snowstorm bigger? It is the amount of water vapor in the air. How to you put more water vapor in the air? Well, if the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic is warmer than it was, the atmosphere above it is capable of holding more water vapor. This is why we get hurricanes during the warm part of the year and not in the middle of the winter. If you move that body of water vapor over a part of the country that is still cold enough in the winter to generate snow, not only do you get snow but a whole lot more snow. Looking for evidence? Look at the length of the Gulf Stream this year, which extends further north than usual. Why? Well, I am not a climate scientist but it seems likely to be that if you have a warmer body of water it has more energy so it can push further north. These changes are likely causing the unusual snowfalls experienced in Great Britain and elsewhere in Northern Europe this year, where it is still cold enough to turn rain into snow, but where there is also more water vapor to turn into snow.

If you “get” global warming, I think you have a duty to get the facts out. We must vigorously challenge these global warming Luddites. If these people succeed in their agenda, not only will the planet rapidly warm up but also we will also likely be dooming ourselves as a species on this planet. Climate change will also drive human migration and competition for resources, increasing the probability of war, conflict and endangering our national security. Speak up! Do not let the sirens of ignorance get away with these outrageous claims.