Passing Along Info

This is a short piece about a recent experience I had online. I am thinking about using it as part of my curriculum for assessing internet information information. I knew from the start, before clicking on the link, that it was bogus, but since my audience will be thirteen-year-olds, I took a step-by-step approach as if each little discovery slowly confirmed my suspicions.


I recently saw a link in social media to an article that made me raise my eyebrows considerably.

NASA Admits Spraying Lithium into the Atmosphere

I’ve heard about conn trails and the suggestion that it’s some government agency spraying chemicals on a hapless population, but I wondered: In what context did NASA admit this? Was it a news conference? Will there be a video in the article with an official NASA spokesperson admitting this? Will there be a document from NASA?

I read the article and found it lacking from the opening paragraph.

New evidence emerged this week regarding NASA spraying unusual substances into the atmosphere. Officials state these chemicals are “harmless to the environment”. But the real question we need to be asking is, are these substances safe for humans?

Notice: the article cites “new evidence” but never supplies that evidence. Instead it simply summarizes the purported evidence. There’s a quote that lacks any attribution whatsoever: these chemicals are “harmless to the environment.” The quotation marks indicate that it is a direct quote from some source, but that source is never named or even explained. A search of the exact phrase “harmless to the environment” provides “about 2,230,000 results” from Google (source) and 306,000,000 results from Bing (source). So even if this is a direct quote, there’s no telling where it came from.

Next, the paragraph lists as their authority unnamed “officials.” Who are these officials? Are they insiders acting as whistle blowers? How many officials exactly are there?

The rest of the article continues in a similar vein, without listing a single source or providing anything beyond commentary.

But truth be told, I had my doubts from the beginning. The moment the page loaded, I was suspicious.

Three ads in the top fourth of the page? I immediately began thinking that this was a web site set up by one individual simply to earn money from ads. The fact that this is a WordPress.com site (See the WP logo in the clipped fragment at the top? WordPress, which also runs this site, automatically adds that if it is a site it hosts.) also makes me wonder that this might just be an ad-farm site set up by one individual. Whois confirmed this:

The domain is registered by one Bill McIntosh. he’s also the admin contact and the tech contact. I know from personal experience that when one registers a domain name, there is an option to include as admin contact and tech contact the same data supplied for the registrant contact. Most news organizations have very different data for this.

Here’s CNN’s registration information.

And here’s Fox News’s registration information:

Very different indeed.

Who is this “Bill McIntosh” behind Truth and Action? It’s not immediately obvious, and it’s not very easy to find out. What are his credentials? Who has he hired to work for him?

This too is questionable because there is a link suggesting that readers themselves can “report for” the web site. This suggests that just about anyone can write something for this site.

Finally, there’s the other content on the site itself. Articles include

  • “The Nazi Origins of Renewable Energy and Global Warming”
  • “The Most Secretive Treasury in History…Meet the Rothschilds”
  • “Who Really Owns, Controls the Military Industrial Complex?”

Applying a little background knowledge, it becomes clear that this is a site that peddles conspiracy theories as its main fare.

I commented to the original poster,

And the source? A document? A press conference? What about the web site itself? Who’s saying this? Do they have any credentials at all or is it Joe Blow in his basement making money off the ads for this site?

The poster replied that she was “just passing info” and pointed out that she “did not voice an opinion.” Pointing out that “person is free to do their own research” she encouraged me to “research for yourself please.” And so I did. What I found was confirmation of my initial suspicions: nothing but nonsense.

The question, though, is whether or not this is “info.” If its on the internet, is it automatically “info”?

The Neighbors, Redux

Some years ago, I wrote about a house we’d discovered under construction in the Asheville area. It’s on the market now, for just over $10 million. The Trulia listing reads:

An elegant French chateau constructed of 3″ thick limestone and the utmost quality styled for today. A complete Roman Spa, entertainment area with card room, kitchen, pool, wine tasting room and theater entertain guests and owners regally. Formal rooms abound including a very special oak bar. There are 4 full kitchens, 4 garages, HVAC is water furnace.

A blatant attempt to make one’s own Biltmore, the house is certainly huge: at 15,000 square feet, though, it’s not even 1/10 of Biltmore’s 175,000 square feet.

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Approahing Floriańska

As you emerge from the tunnel that passes under the intersection of Westerplatte, Pawia, Baszowa, and Lubicz streets in Krakow, you emerge into a green park that surrounds the old city center. All tourists who arrive from a train or a bus must walk this way, and it’s the logical place for buskers, solicitors, and beggars to line the wide sidewalk and compete for attention. There’s always an accordion player or three along the way, numerous students working for a few extra groszy by handing out fliers, and beggars. One tends to grow accustomed to them all. “Dziękuję,” you learn to say politely and briskly to the students who are near enough that you can’t simply ignore. The buskers merge with the city traffic and the general conversation to form an ignorable element of the soundtrack, unless a given performer is really gifted. And the beggars: they’re everywhere. The conscience hardens, especially when you suspect their motives. (Beginning in the nineties, some younger beggars were more honest, holding placards that simply read “Piwo” with “Beer” possibly scratched underneath for foreigners.)

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But some of they get to you.

Last week, as we were walking the kids towards the old city center, we passed by an elderly woman sprawled on the sidewalk, her hands shaking violently and her medicines spread out in front of her.

“Why is she shaking?” L asked.

“She’s sick, honey,” K replied.

We took a few more steps and realized what we’d done.

“Here,” I said, giving L a couple of five-zloty coins. “Go take this to her.”

The Girl grabbed the Boy by the shoulders. “Come on, E,” she said solemnly. They went back and clanked the two coins into the small metal box that held a handful of change. Hopefully, a small, quiet lesson for them.

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Another Saturday Morning

We are aware of what the kids watch, and we’ve cut a few shows from L’s media diet because of concerns about values and behaviors exhibited and hence promoted.

But what about shows I just personally find annoying? Pokemon is a prime example. L loves it; E enjoys it — I think it’s the most irritating thing on earth. But is that any reason to ban it? Certainly not. But it’s plenty of reason to tell them, “Turn it down. Way down.”

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Slouching Towards Bethlehem

I was recently asked to view this TED talk and provide some feedback. Here’s the talk.

Here are my thoughts in virtually un-edited form:

To begin with, a few seemingly-random facts: Sir Ken Robinson is has a PhD from the University of London. He’s speaking as part of the TED program, which was implemented by Chris Anderson, an Oxford graduate, and his Sapling Foundation. This video was delivered on the World Wide Web, which, despite Al Gore’s protests to the contrary, was the creation of Sir Timothy John Berners-Lee, who studied at Queen’s College at Oxford. All of this is computer based, and many attribute the creation of the computer largely to John von Neumann, a classically trained Hungarian mathematician and physicist who, in an effort to bring himself some peace on his deathbed, quoted from memory large swaths of classical poetry in their original Greek and Latin. I am currently writing this on a computer in my home that uses Linux, an operating system (i.e., Windows and Apple’s OS X) created by Linus Torvald while he studied at University of Helsinki. While many might never have heard of it, Linux is the most used operating system in the world, running on 80% of the world’s super-computers and probably closer to 95% of the servers that make up the Internet. Finally, I am writing this in a country that in the history of the world is and has always been quite unique for its constitutional freedoms, a country that was created by a group of men that experience classical education in its truest meaning.

So it’s deeply ironic that Robinson and all of the individuals who created the technology to view his speech were products of this very education system that Robinson suggests needs reforming. Robinson suggests that we’re stifling innovation and thus we need to have a revolution in education but he says so on a platform made possible by this age of unprecedented innovation, an age that is the product almost exclusively of classical education and its modern kissing cousins.

Robinson suggests that modern education is killing creativity. Yet to be creative, one must have something to be creative with. Otherwise, creativity consists of only the basest instincts, as we have seen here at Hughes on the eighth-grade hall with the recent behavior of two of our students. Their hideous act (and if you don’t know what it was, it’s best not to ask), in their eyes, was brilliantly creative. But as the saying goes, garbage in, garbage out. If we start with nothing to be creative with, we will be creative with our basest instincts.

We traditionalists often suggest that we need to have a wide liberal arts education before the specialization of college in order to ensure the continuation of culture, but it is less esoteric than that. Creativity comes from having something to create with, and all great creative endeavors have stood on the shoulders of the creativity of others–I know I’m mixing my metaphors here, but I’m only intending a first draft of this, so bear with me. Picasso, for example, did not start with Cubism; he learned all the rules, then he decided how he wanted to break them. Faulkner did not begin by writing run-on sentences; he mastered his craft and then learned how and when to break the rules for effect. Linus Torvalds did not create the Linux operating system in a vacuum, and Jef Raskin, Bill Atkinson, Burrell Smith, and Steve Jobs did not create Apple’s operating system from nothing: they both used UNIX, an older, very stable system, as a starting point. So when we start pushing this individualization, this specialization from graduate school to college to high school to middle school, we decrease the amount of raw materials we provide students to be creative with. Despite Robinson’s contention to the contrary, it is based on “the idea of linearity.”

The truth of the matter is that education is linear: one has to learn addition before algebra, and one has to learn algebra before calculus. One has to learn to read music before embarking on a Chopin Ballade. One has to learn basic coding before attempting to create an operating system. There is a hierarchy of knowledge in any discipline, and one must learn things in that hierarchical order or else it’s simply chaos.

I understand Robinson would not dispute that. He’s not suggesting we let students begin wherever they want. He’s talking about an organic model that allows students to follow their own interests wherever they lead them. To do otherwise, he suggests, is soul-killing: We “have sold ourselves into a fast food model of education, and it’s impoverishing our spirit and our energies as much as fast food is depleting our physical bodies,” says the man who quotes Yeats, a product of this very education, an education that, in Yeats’s time, was much more linear than anything we have today. My point is that, as with creativity, to be organic, you have to start with something: life, art, technology, or even existence does not start from nothing.

But there’s more to it than that when we consider the fact that we live in a democratic republic like America. Robinson suggests that students should be able to create learn “with external support based on a personalized curriculum.” This is going to result in a highly fragmented society, with very little common knowledge–i.e., cultural literacy–to share. It is nothing short of Balkanization. E. D. Hirsh, Jr. writes in Cultural Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know about the impact of highly-specialized knowledge on democracy:

No modern society can hope to become a just society without a high level of universal literacy. Putting aside for the moment the practical argument about the economic uses of literacy, we can contemplate the even more basic principle that underlies our national system of education in the first place–that people in a democracy can be entrusted to decide all important matters for themselves because they can deliberate and communicate with one another. (12)

In other words, for democracy to work, everyone must be informed about the basic issues and be conversant about them. That this is not the case in America today is painfully obvious when watching the gotcha viral videos that show people struggling to name one single American senator, to find a given country on the map, and other ridiculous ignorance. Should we create a completely personalize curriculum, many of our students would study video gaming and rap music, leaving very few who are interested in the functions and institutions of our government. It’s easy to see that this becomes an oligarchy quite quickly.

So Robinson can’t possibly be suggesting complete topical freedom for students. He would have to accept the fact that there are some basic things that everyone needs to know in order to function in a modern Western democratic society, but the instant he does that, he’s undermined his own argument. What we have them is not the revolution Robinson is claiming but a bit of feel-good tinkering around the edges. Or complete chaos.

What then is the problem? Why does our education system not work anymore? I suggest that it’s not the education system that’s broken: after all, as I pointed out, it has created all we see around us today. It’s culture that’s broken. Why does the same educational system of the early 20th century no longer work? Because it doesn’t mesh with the 21st century culture, which demands instant gratification, complete and blissful entertainment, and absolutely no hard work.

Furthermore, education doesn’t kill creativity; our modern culture kills creativity. We turn on and tune out with our huge televisions, mobile devices, and gaming systems, then wonder why we aren’t as creative as we used to be. We serve up to our children mindless entertainment that requires no imagination, then wonder why they don’t have imagination. And like always, we blame it on our education system, the system that created Mark Zuckerberg and Sean Parker, Sergey Brin and Larry Page, Bill Gates and Steve Jobs. And what do most people use these men’s amazing inventions to do? Foster creativity? Hardly.

So can this proposed Robinsonian revolution solve the problem? Well, I don’t think as Robinson presents it, it really is much of a revolution. A total revolution would look like this: the dissolution of the grade-level system in exchange for a mastery-learning program with a basic curriculum that fosters general civic, mathematical, linguistic, scientific, and technological literacy. This program would let students learn these basics at their own pace, but it would require mastery before moving on. If takes a student three years for one topic in math, then it takes that student three years and she stays there until she shows mastery; if it takes another student three months, that student moves on in three months. Once students master these basics–what used to be about an eighth-grade education but now is probably more like a twelfth-grade education–students can move on in a similar setting to explore any interest he or she wants. And if that means a student stops his education then and gets a job in construction, then that’s his choice. But that is too radical a reform, and still more important to policy makers, the fiscal cost of such an education would be relatively staggering.

Yet that wouldn’t solve the underlying cultural problem. That, I’m afraid, is out of the purview of public education. It’s a pessimistic view, I understand, and I’m sure some might wonder how I could be a teacher with such a bleak outlook.

And so in final response to Robinson and to more succinctly and beautifully sum up my thoughts, I too turn to Yeats:

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

Invitation

Ashley Madison sent me an email some time ago. I don’t really know Ashley, so I was surprised she was contacting me. “What could this be about?” I wondered as I opened the email. I quickly discovered that Ashley was offering me a chance to betray all I believe in, to betray my wife, to betray my children, to betray my community, and above all, to betray my conscience. More fundamentally, in doing all of that, I would, in an echo of one of the most the paradoxical Christian ideas, both initially and ultimately betray God.

Ashley’s letter began,

Join our Married People’s Dating community right now and we GUARANTEE that you will have a sexual affair with a married woman or man! We GUARANTEE this!

Press here if you want to have an affair with a married woman or man.

I wondered for a moment about all the stresses an affair would entail. There’s the guilt, of course, of betraying the person you’re supposed to be closest to, the guilt of betraying God, the guilt of betraying your children, your parents. Then there’s all the stress of discovery: this is something that must be kept secret, so the unfaithful partner needs to scrutinize every little act, every little word, every single facial expression to make sure not to betray oneself.

Ashley, though, pointed out another way being unfaithful can increase stress:

Having an affair can be stressful because you never know if the other person involved is going to get attached to you. You just want the “sexual activity” and nothing else.

“What a great point!” I thought. It’s bad enough that you’ve already got someone attached to you, someone who expects you to be faithful and honest with her. What could be more stressful than people expecting this of you?

Fortunately, Ashley had a solution:

The BEST thing about our DISCREET dating community is that you will only meet up with people just like you that DO NOT want a commitment, just a sexual relationship.

Still, I wasn’t convinced. I mean, that’s money we’re talking about. What if someone signs up for this web site and then can’t manage to have an affair? What a tragedy! All that money and time wasted. On the other hand, you might meet someone who’s only playing some kind of game — more money and time wasted. Fortunately, Ashley once again came to the rescue:

Here is why you should join today if you want to have an affair with a married person, or if you’re married and want to have an affair:

  • You can check it out, see if you like it, and then begin contacting married people for secret intimate encounters.
  • We GUARANTEE that you will have a sexual relationship with a married woman or man!
  • Our dating community is 100 percent DISCREET, and you will not have to worry about someone getting attached to you!

What a relief — my biggest concern in having an affair of course would be that the woman I’m having the affair with might actually think it’s something serious, that she might not realize that a man who can’t be faithful to his own wife certainly couldn’t be faithful to a mistress. I was so relieved that Ashley saw this concern immediately.

The letter ended with a simple question:

There are thousands of unhappy married women and men in every city, but they DO NOT want to leave their spouse. They want to stay married, but they want to have an affair without ever being caught. Our dating community is PERFECT for these people. Are you one of them?

All sarcasm aside, no, I am not one of them Ashley. If I were unhappily married, I would try something novel, like talking to my wife about it, like getting counseling, like being honest. I would ask myself a simple question: “Am I not happy because my wife is not happy?” In other words, I would consider whether I was the root cause of it all.

I guess Ashley wouldn’t, which is why I feel for her, but most of all, I feel sorry for whomever she claims to be committed.

Aldi Quarter

“Daddy, can I have my quarter back?”

“Just a second,” I say, reaching into my pocket as I come to the stoplight. To find my pocket is empty. The irony brings a smile: “Honey, I think I left it in the buggy.”

Aldi saves money in many ways, but one method is based on the simple principle that we like physical things, that the slightest bit of actual money has more value than the minute or two we might save in leaving a shopping cart in the middle of the parking lot. The theory was, I’m assuming, that if people have to put down a monetary deposit, they’ll want it back, no matter how insignificant. And so we all dutifully roll our carts back to the long outdoor line of carts, snap the metal tab back into place, and retrieve our quarter. (Actually, since we leave our cart at the checkout for the next customer, it’s the quarter belonging to the guy who beat us to the checkout lane.) In doing so, we save work for the employees, because no one has to go out and round up all the carts, thus reducing overhead, which leads, in part, to Aldi’s famously low prices.

Why do we return the shopping carts? After all, it’s just a quarter, and we could easily just tack that on as a shopping expense like gas. But we don’t. Not a single one of us: I’ve never seen a single buggy left in the parking lot at Aldi. Not one. Yet in the parking lots of grocery stores that have buggy corrals and regularly send out young employees to rustle them up, we see shopping carts left here, there, everywhere. Customers must feel that, since someone is already coming out to release the carts from their little prisons that they could just as easily walk a few more steps and pick up the buggy left a few yards away. It’s rare that you see a good Samaritan pushing back someone else’s cart, but therein lies the beauty of the Aldi system: it relies not on motivating customers to return their own carts but in motivating other customers to round up abandoned carts, because, hey, free quarter. So the rest of us must internalize that thought and tack on a little sense of competition: “Someone’s going to get that quarter — it might as well be me.”

At least that’s my idea. Any others?

Stories

You pass by an old house in the middle of the country and you immediately start thinking about the story. About the stories that make up the one story. A house is the physical center of a family, and so when you see a house that is falling in on yourself, you wonder about the times in the house when the roof was still whole and the chimney still smoked. You wonder if the condition of the house is in any way a reflection of the condition of the family, sure that it isn’t but equally certain that it could be, especially when it’s a house in the South. It brings to mind images of the Sutpens and Bundrens and a thousand other families from Southern Gothic novels.

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It’s hard to see a house that’s caving in on itself and imagine laughter in that house, but surely it was there, you say to yourself. A family without laughter is as horrific a thing as you can imagine. But still, it’s hard to hear the echoes when the roof has fallen in and a wall collapsed under the weight of years of neglect.

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On the other hand, perhaps it is the old family homestead that is empty now because one of the sons has made good enough in some venture or another to be able to build his parents a new house. Or perhaps it’s simply that the widowed mother has now moved in with her daughter and son-in-law in the house across the way.

All these stories swirling around us and we don’t even know what page we’re looking at.

Leave Your Best Shot

Odd day today: three hour delay for students but a normal arrival time for teachers. Due to the cold, the district didn’t want people out waiting for the bus; due to the lack of snow, most parents would be going to work and would have no way to arrange care for their children. (What do they do on snow days? The whole city doesn’t shut down? They still have to go to work many times students get to stay home.) That was the thinking: delay school for those who have to wait for a bus but open school for those who have no way arrange care.

The result: an odd day. No student at all during first period. One student during second period; three students during third period, though technically I’m supposed to have no students during third period because it is the first related arts period for eighth grade. Fourth period we returned to semi-normal for the rest of the day.

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One for the hallway?

So I arrived home and Babcia jokingly asked if we teachers did a little drinking during the morning when no one was there. A shot or two. Only, she wasn’t really joking: until recently, it was fairly common in Polish schools.

“No,” I said with a smile, imagining the horrors that would produce in an American school.

“Why not?”

“Because you can get fired for that. Or possibly even face some jail time.”

“I don’t believe it! Not even a little something? That’s a bit of an exaggeration,” she pontificated.

Like so many cultural differences, I just let it slide at that.

To be fair, the trend of drinking in the teachers’ room was noticeably on the decline when we left almost ten years ago, and at that point, it had already diminished significantly in frequency compared to what it looked like in 1996, when I first arrived. Then, the teachers’ room looked like any other office when it was someone’s name day or some date of similar significance: cake, coffee, tea, a bottle of vodka, perhaps some wine, maybe some champagne. Indeed, in one of the most ironic scenes I’ve ever witnessed at a school dance, one teacher took a shot of vodka, stood, squirted his always-present breath-freshener into his mouth five or six times, and said, “Come on, Tadek, let’s go check the students for alcohol.”

By the time I’d left, a bottle of this or that was a relatively rare occurrence in the teachers’ room. It happened, but seldom, and more and more people begged off when offered a drink. As Poland has looked more to the West and less to the East, they seem to be leaving this cultural oddity — something which likely strikes the average American as unspeakably unprofessional — behind.

Matt Walsh on ADHD

I’ve been thinking along these lines for some time now, but I never got around to writing about it. Good thing someone with an actual audience did.

[D]rug companies [are] lamenting the fact that they have trouble selling ADHD meds in Europe due to a “stigma” that surrounds the disease. Stigma. That’s apparently what we call it when people are naturally and rationally hesitant to start stuffing pills down their children’s throats.

Matt Walsh Blog/

Enforcement

Measure B — it sounds like something from a cheesy low-budget sci-fi, but it’s law in Los Angeles County. It requires permits from the health department for the creation of pornographic films, regular testing of participants in pornography (not sure what to call them, but “actor” certainly doesn’t seem right) for the HIV virus, and the use of condoms in all pornographic ventures. Predictably, the porn industry is against it. Porn starlet Cameron Bay’s recent positive HIV test, however, might be causing some second thoughts. ABC news has an article about it.

There is of course the question of the constitutionality of the law. “U.S. District Judge Dean D. Pregerso [ruled] last week that found Measure B’s mandatory condom requirement on all shoots in Los Angeles County to be constitutional” (Daily News), but porn company owners insist that it is a violation of their First Amendment rights.

There are of course other concerns as well. An anti-Measure-B web site makes the contention that “Measure B will hurt working, middle-class families that have been hurt hardest during the Recession” (source) but it’s hard to understand how that could be the case: I don’t think most porn stars/starlets would be considered working class. Of course there are those actually shooting, editing, packaging, and marketing the pornographic videos, and since porn is a multi-billion dollar industry, that could be a sizable number of people. (The same site suggests that the number of jobs affected would be more than 10,000.)

Whatever the argument for and against, I have some questions of my own. How will this be enforced? Will county representatives be on set for every pornographic video filming? Will they be randomly screening videos to see that actors wear condoms? Will there be pre-filming inspections? Just how will this be enforced?

Furthermore, do we really want to have our government engaging in full-time viewing of pornography? How will the county advertize the position? One shudders at the thought of the wording of such a classified.

These people are engaging in a morally questionable (at best) industry, and they’re adults: they know the risks. No one is forcing them to act in these films, so why is the government wanting to force this on them? People participating in this form of entertainment should do a risk assessment, taking into account the risks not only to their bodies but to their spirits, before embarking upon or continuing in a porn career.

A Response to Ferrett Steinmetz

A friend posted a link to an article at The Good Men Project entitled, “Dear Daughter: I Hope You Have Awesome Sex” by Ferrett Steinmetz. With that provocative title, how could I resist reading? Completing the piece, I posted it to my on Facebook account with the comment, “This article has so much wrong with it, I don’t even know where to begin…” To which another friend responded, “?? what exactly is wrong with it?”

At the heart of the problem is the notion grounding the whole perspective: “Look, I love sex. It’s fun.” It’s kind of like going to the movies or listening to your favorite band: it’s fun! And what do we do with fun things? We enjoy them without much thought of the consequences. Indeed, it’s fun–how can there be anything but positive consequences? Sex is little more than fun because sex is pleasure. That is the basic underlying assumption of the whole piece.

I find the article objectionable because I believe sex is more than pleasure. I believe it’s so much more significant than almost anything else we do in our lives that to call it “fun” is to diminish it to its lowest common denominator. Steinmetz, though, feels sex is little different than a sit-com, and he denigrates those of us who feel differently with misrepresentation, false dichotomies, and straw men arguments.

To begin with, he hardly seems to understand (or perhaps he willfully misrepresents) the thinking behind those of us who look at those “10 Rules” memes and chuckle that they’re pretty accurate. (It almost goes without saying to point out that the rules are hyperbolic expressions of some fairly basic, traditional ideas about parenthood and sex, but perhaps some take it a little more literally than others. I cannot say.) He begins by calling them “twaddle” and goes on to misrepresent the motivation behind such tongue-in-cheek thinking.

There’s a piece of twaddle going around the internet called 10 Rules For Dating My Daughter, which […]boil down to the tedious, “Boys are threatening louts, sex is awful when other people do it, and my daughter is a plastic doll whose destiny I control.”

Nowhere in said meme is there the suggestion that “sex is awful” or that “my daughter is a plastic doll whose destiny I control.” I’m not quite even sure where this comes from, for there must be so many progressive interpretative steps between a hyperbolic “rule” like “when it comes to sex, I am the barrier, and I will kill you.” and hating sex and plastic dolls that a simple-minded traditionalist couldn’t possibly grasp it, but I’ll try to reconstruct it.

  1. When it comes to sex, I am the barrier, and I will kill you.
  2. This shows that I don’t want you to have sex with my daughter, which
  3. means that I can’t possibly like sex, and so therefore
  4. I want to force this view onto my daughter, and by doing so,
  5. show that I think she’s a plastic doll.

That doesn’t make a lot of sense, I know. It’s not very coherent, logically or otherwise. Perhaps there were other steps I missed. I’m not sure. When making such huge leaps as these between the premise and the conclusion of an argument, it’s difficult for others to reconsctruct the rest of the argument. Still, it’s hardly a surprise: Steinmetz simply passes over these steps and assumes that his audience would fill in for him. He knows his audience: mostly progressive males. And judging by the comments, the seem to have done so willingly.

Of course this is an old theme, this notion that anyone who equates anything moral with sexuality is a repressed prude who has never had satisfying sex and therefore doesn’t like sex and furthermore doesn’t want anyone else to have sex either. It’s nice to see that Steinmetz spells this quaint notion out as well a few sentences later:

It doesn’t lessen you to give someone else pleasure. It doesn’t degrade you to have some of your own. And anyone who implies otherwise is a man who probably thinks very poorly of women underneath the surface.

There it is: the implication that behind all of this is misogyny. There could be no other reason for being concerned about how our daughters view sex than our hatred of women. No, that doesn’t make much sense to me either: the conclusion doesn’t logically follow the premise, but as with the earlier example, Steinmetz is likely making a series of progressive connections that he assumes his readers will make, so he doesn’t bother to explain how these ideas might be connected. They just are, and ever correct-thinking individual knows that.

This is also a complete misrepresentation of the traditionalist worldview. No one is suggesting that giving someone pleasure lessens you; no one is suggesting that receiving pleasure lessens you. What a traditionalist is suggesting is that this pleasure might come at a price, and that that price might not be worth the pleasure in the first place. What might this price be? Disease; unwanted pregnancy; complications later in life with desired pregnancy after these unwanted pregnancies were dealt with through abortion; a lack of self-esteem when one begins wondering whether anyone actually likes you for you, whether anyone can see through your body to your soul. Those are a few that come to mind. Is it possible to live a modern sexual life without these? I would imagine so. The point is, I don’t want my daughter taking that risk.

This last quote also illustrates Steinmetz’s tendency to present the issue as a series of false dichotomies. He continues with this gem:

Do you know what would tear me in two even more [than holding you after you’re heart’s broken]? To see you in a glass cage, experiencing nothing but cold emptiness at your fingers, as Dear Old Dad ensured that you got to experience nothing until he decided what you should like.

There are apparently only two options: let the kid screw around, learn from her mistakes, and be there as a shoulder to cry on, or be a controlling manipulative freak who hates all emotion and wants to create a carbon copy of himself. How about the middle way? That would be a father who teaches his daughter that she is more than what’s between her legs, that her value comes from more than how others view what she does with what’s between her legs, and that happiness and fulfillment in life are never connected solely with what she does with what’s between her legs. It would be a father who realizes the daughter is going to make mistakes but tries to give her the tools to avoid those mistakes–and still accepts her unconditionally if she makes them. It would father who doesn’t want to send his daughter out on the journey of life without a map, without a compass, with only the assurance that he’ll be there for her if she loses her way.

But that is diametrically opposed to what Steinmetz thinks is his role as a father:

And so you need to make your own damn mistakes, to learn how to pick yourself up when you fall, to learn where the bandages are and to bind up your own cuts. I’ll help. I’ll be your consigliere when I can, the advisor, the person you come to when all seems lost. But I think there’s value in getting lost. I think there’s a strength that only comes from fumbling your own way out of the darkness.

Some of us feel it’s our job as parents to be there before their children get lost. Some of us feel that being sexually lost is not quite the same as being lost in all the career options one faces or college options. And that precisely is the problem with this article: it turns sex into a decision along the lines of whether to have a latte or a cappuccino. He essentially admits this when he concludes a paragraph later in the text, “Love the music I hate, watch the movies I loathe, become a strong woman who knows where her bliss is and knows just what to do to get it.” Music, movies, sex–it’s all the same thing, so don’t get hung up on preferences! It’s a reframing of the “whatever makes you happy!” meme, and it orients the notion of what it means to be a strong woman along those lines alone.

The obvious 21st century progressive modern response at this point is, “If it’s consensual, though, what does it matter?” Indeed, how consensual is it when everything in our culture objectifies women and turns every encounter into a potential sexual adventure? How consensual is it when the entertainment and advertising industries (aren’t they really one and the same?) spend billions of dollars teaching girls that good girls are slim with large breasts, that sexiness is the greatest virtue, and one’s sex appeal is a tool to be wielded in pursuit of whatever happiness one seeks? (It also teaches that the ultimate happiness is sexual happiness, so it sort of kills two birds with that last bit.) Our culture pumps into girls from a very early age the notion that their value comes from their genitalia, and if they buy into that, that consent is a false consent.

The article isn’t all bad. There are passable passages. Well, one.

This is how large and wonderful the world is! Imagine if everyone loved the same thing; we’d all be battling for the same ten people. The miracle is how easily someone’s cast-offs become someone else’s beloved treasure.

This is about the only thing I can agree with entirely in the whole article. However, the whole article has been about sex, so I’m inclined to assume that the author also is referring to sex here. Perhaps I’m wrong, but he has set me up to interpret it thus: “Imagine if everyone loved the same thing” means “Imagine if everyone had the same sexual predilections.” Hopefully he meant more than that, but judging from the rest of the article, I doubt it.

There’s another passage that seems sweet but is left bitter by the shallow nature of the rest of the article:

Ideally, I am my daughter’s safe space, a garden to return to when the world has proved a little too cruel, a place where she can recuperate and reflect upon past mistakes and know that here, there is someone who loves her wholeheartedly and will hug her until the tears dry.

That’s what I want for you, sweetie. A bold life filled with big mistakes and bigger triumphs.

Given the guidance this bloke has given his daughter, I’m fairly sure that he’ll be providing that “safe harbor” quite often. However, I prefer to be the safe harbor before and after the tragedy. I prefer to try to equip my children with tools to avoid as many on those mistakes as possible, to teach them to see them as mistakes before committing them and thereby avoid them.

The final line, though, puts it all into proper perspective: “Now get out there and find all the things you f-ing love, and vice versa.” It’s all about “f-ing.” Perhaps Steinmetz could have saved us all the time of reading his article by simply quoting the Bloodhound Gang:

You and me baby ain’t nothin’ but mammals
So let’s do it like they do on the Discovery Channel
Gettin’ horny now

Some of us see a bit more deeply into life, though, and we hope our daughters do, too. What’s more, we make a deliberate effort to that end. It’s not about controlling; it’s about empowering and enabling.

And here’s the real kicker for those arguing that this is a case of misogyny: we do the same for our sons.