Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Let's be brutally simplistic

What is going on inside the family courts? Time and again we hear of unjust laws mindlessly applied, we hear of fathers destroyed and their children taken away, we hear of mothers' bad behavior and its apparent invisibility to the people who are charged with getting to the truth of things, protecting the innocent and controlling the unpleasant. They just fail, time and time again. This is not the behavior of a society that believes in the family, in fatherhood, nor in the best interests of children, despite everything they say. You'd think, in fact, that that is not what they are about at all. It's all so much rubbish. So what is really going on?

Here is a thesis for you.

What if the legal system is an engine, one of many, which helps maintain a tiered social structure of a type which is often, and fallaciously, called a patriarchy? It's not a patriarchy, because women participate fully. Especially in the family courts. It is just a common or garden primate power structure.

Yes, monkeys.

There are alpha males, and there are the rest of them. The females all look for good breeding partners. In a minor refinement of that search, many females are more attracted to unreliable males, i.e. alphas, for genetic material, but look for betas when it comes to keeping house and raising the offspring. (I should reference this, but frankly, I can't be bothered. Actually, I should put references all over this post, but, hey go and buy some Richard Dawkins, or something.).

Once a female has young to raise, and is safely ensconced in a socially acceptable marriage she is, effectively, out of the breeding pool, even while still quite fertile and potentially attractive to males other than her husband. Unless, that is, she cheats, or gets divorced. And those are the routes by which the alpha males will exploit them for further procreation.

Cheating carries a certain risk of discovery, especially now in this enlightened age of DNA testing. Not only that, but it's known that children tend to look more like their fathers when young, in a nod to his need to reassure himself that the brat is indeed his.

Commonly, a discovery might push the betrayed marriage into a divorce anyway. That vainglorious institution is now refined to make sure that the poor, kicked-out beta continues to be liable for paying for the children's care, as opposed to doing some of it personally, while pretty young mom is free for fresh tillage. And let us note that every mom is supposed to be a pretty young mom if she can only buy the right stuff, apply the right cosmetics and ditch the lame jerk who's holding her back.

But we should not forget that divorce, also, is a means for a trapped alpha male to escape back into the, er, swing of things, assuming he has the means to cover whatever child support he ends up liable for and isn't too cut up about being forced to let mom do whatever she wants with the kids.

In fact, let's face it, divorce, for all its superficially intended good side in ending unsuitable marriages, actually best suits those who just want to escape responsibility. That's not to say that everyone who chooses divorce is like that, I'm just saying that it is the jerks who will suffer least or benefit most, male or female.

Back to these divorcing moms. There they are leaping out again into the fray of singledom in the conviction that now hubby's put in his place, all will be hunky dory forever more. Well, until next time.

The truth is, of course, that only a small, even negligible number of such moms will attract ever greater swarms of alpha suitors before her fertility, which by and large equates to beauty, is spent. Then she gets to join the mass who end up saddled with fatherless children, working full time to buy that all that stuff I mentioned before, because the child support can never, ever be enough, and complaining over the garden fence about how useless is her ex.

What has she actually done? She has swelled the ranks of the disempowered - her ex by destroying his fatherhood and tying him down financially, her kids by converting their father into a visiting uncle, teaching them the undesirability of his beta-ness, and herself by destroying the team by which she might have helped to enrich all of them.

This might sound like I'm blaming her, but I have to point out that unless she is of considerably above average intelligence, she's probably as blinded by her own limited horizons and the constant flood of crap to which she is exposed as are the rest of us, and can't see how she's gotten as much manipulated into this situation as she has chosen it for herself.

So who benefits from the swollen ranks of marching morons? The powerful, of course, which is another kind of the alpha male and his female equivalent. Now, I could go off into all kinds of politically inspired screeds about oppression of the masses, but my point is to keep us focussed on the anthropological fact that we are, ultimately, all marching morons. Stupid little monkeys playing "if you show me yours, I'll show you mine" games with precious little thought for the inevitable bawling, needy, inconvenient consequences. Your typical silverback sitting at the bench in his or her wig presiding over the destruction of your family isn't thinking in terms of consolidating his or her power. Well, not over you, anyway.

But, and it is an important but, the "alpha male" as an identifiable example of the human animal is largely a mythological creature, likewise the alpha female. Bruce Willis is real, and gets into all kinds of human trouble, John Maclane does not actually, in point of fact, much as we'd like to believe otherwise, no matter how much we'd love to be his best buddy or have his kids by the dozen, exist.

Likewise, it is a self-evident fact that Kirsten Dunst is a complete bimbo in real life, no matter how much Spiderman would just love to tie up Mary Jane Watson in his web and have lots of little baby spiders. (Ew. Try not to think about that too much, eh?)

But I digress.

My point is, we all try to be our own ideas of alpha males and alpha females, looking for ways to climb on the backs of others and, er, better ourselves in the process. Some of us make it, to some extent, some of us don't. But we all participate in the process. We use our archetypes to assess desirability and develop value structures. The patriarchy is one such archetype, but frequently falsely imagined and identified. The alpha male/female thing seems likely to be much more fruitful.

How did I get onto this? I found an article about a "scientific" study of pickup lines which was pretty much as superficial as you'd expect, but provoked me to apply fingers to keyboard when I encountered this claim:
"A scenario in which a potential suitor chides drunken louts who cut in line won the hearts of female subjects in all personality categories."
Isn't this what a judge does? Chides the louts? So what's the difference between him and the potential suitor impressing the ladies through his grave and sober non-loutiness? Can we not extend this into an examination of his status as an alpha male asserting his huge, throbbing, um, alpha to keep all the other apes in line? Can we not further generalize the scenario to an archetypal alpha, of unspecified gender, maintaining the status quo and their position in a sector of society where the females hold considerable power by keeping the rest of us sniveling apes in line?

Hence the judge in a family court curries favor in a system which is biased towards women and mothers by chiding and punishing the men, whether they deserve it or not. Does anyone really think it's got anything to do with the sanctimony of the law any more?

Do they?


Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Three good movies.

After my last post in which I attempted to express my displeasure at Will Ferrel's excrescence "Kicking and Screaming", I feel bound to offer some alternative watching which might better satisfy my discerning audience.

From the UK, "Gideon's Daughter", is mostly about Gideon, played brilliantly by Bill Nighy, a middle-aging widower losing touch with his motivations in life and, not coincidentally, his daughter. The movie is a veritable symphony of emotional nuance which will resonate with anyone undergoing significant, unexpected and possibly unwelcome changes in mid-life. It is not just the central storyline which is significant. The girlfriend and her ex husband give us much to think about, especially those who are unwillingly removed from their own children's lives. Her recollection, in particular, had a physical impact on me - I don't like tearjerkers, I don't like to be manipulated, even willingly, but I just lost it over that scene. Jeez, not just once, but on the second viewing too. You'll know the one I mean.

Then there's "World's Fastest Indian" in which Anthony Hopkins plays the indomitable old codger Burt Munro, a New Zealander determined to write his seriously modified old wreck of a motorcycle into the record books. Told in three episodes - establishing his life in New Zealand, traveling to Bonneville Salt Flats by ship and road, and the nail-biting run for the gold once he gets there - this is a period piece par excellence. Hopkins portrays Munro as a real man's man, and by that I don't mean a generic tough guy. He's human, he has limits, but he knows what he wants, does what he can to get there and does his best to enjoy the journey in the meantime. Maybe he'll make it, maybe he won't, but he's darned well going to give it a try. So should we all. (Why is it, by the way, that Hollywood is so bad at portraying average Americans as human beings? Why does it take a Kiwi to come along and show them how to do it? Do they ever listen?)

And lastly, how about "The Thing About My Folks"? Peter Falk (yes, Columbo), plays Paul Reiser's dad and beautifully. Apparently discarded at the end of a long marriage, Falk's Sam Kleinman decides to visit his grown son Ben. The two end up on a road trip together in which there are two scenes which speak volumes - one where Sam holds forth to Ben and the other when Ben lectures Sam. Sam clearly understands his son very well, Ben is only now really learning about his dad. Take my advice though, stop the DVD or switch channels, or just turn the TV off once they fall asleep under the stars. By then, you've seen everything significant the movie has to say. It's not that the rest is bad, it just doesn't say anything more about Ben nor Sam Kleinman and if you're watching for the exploration of the father/son relationship, well, that's it and the rest of the movie is simply distracting. (If you really want to know how it all plays out, remember that this is Hollywood and the lead up to this point means that things couldn't possibly be as they seem. There has to be a way to make things alright after all, doesn't there? Do the details really matter?)


Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Trust me, give this one a miss

I guess I had grown resigned to TV- and movie-land's idea of men and fathers - routinely misandrist and patriphobic - but I have to say that Will Ferrell's "Kicking and Screaming" is a stand out execrable example. The story is chronically cliched, but has been done well in the past. Not so here. Good grief, but this movie sucks.

Phil Weston (Ferrell) is constantly dominated by his father (Played, it grieves me to say, by the otherwise incomparable Robert Duvall. Oh Mr. Duvall, why, oh why?) who coaches a successful little league soccer team. When Weston senior trades his grandson, Weston junior's son, to the team at the bottom of the league, Phil takes over coaching that team.

Can you guess what happens? Uh-huh. That's right. Phil then makes it his mission in life to coach his team to beat his father's team. Can you guess how it all turns out? Uh-huh. That's right. There is no surprise at all in the outcome. There are no surprises in the story. At any point. It even stoops so miserably low as to turn Weston into, you guessed it, an even more cartoonish version of his father. I'm telling you, formulaic doesn't enter into it.

Even so, you might think it the sort of movie that might amuse a kid, for whom the story might yet contain some novelty and inspiration. Hey, you might think there would be at least one admirable role model for him, an opportunity to show how gritty determination can win the day. You might think that.

But no. Without exception, the men in the movie are all pathetically inadequate and/or bullies. Like I said, an appalling waste of Robert Duvall's considerable talent, never mind the reflection on the mind sets of the studio, writer, director and producer. The only real determination present is that of Weston senior to keep his son in his place and of Weston junior to beat his father.

The only sensible adult behavior, of course, comes from the women, but the real adults in the movie are pretty much all ten years old. The moment at which Weston is supposed to be showing some real maturity involves an excruciatingly childish apology to his team. "Sorry, with a capital 'S' and a capital 'orry'".

Perhaps the lowest point is when Weston has a puerile anxiety attack in front of his son while recounting some of his own father's behavior towards him. His wife, who is more of a mother to him than to their child, brings him out of it by slapping his face, hard, also in front of their son. The movie contains multiple instances of physical abuse of children, always by the men, and sometimes quite unselfconsciously about it.

It's supposed to be a comedy, but I don't think I even smiled, let alone laughed. It's supposed to be about fathers and sons, but fathers are supposed to be the parents, not the children. It's supposed to be about growth and maturity, but no-one learned anything but the crudest of lessons. The makers clearly think their audience are knuckle-dragging morons.

Ferrell has made a career of deadpanning obliviously inappropriate behavior, here he's just inappropriate. The movie has no redeeming features at all, the only reason I watched it to the end was so I could truthfully make that claim.

Friday, August 10, 2007

"I don't like Mummy"

The papers in the UK are full of the news of the guilty verdict against a mother and her boyfriend in the death of 4 year old Leticia Wright. Everyone's shocked and appalled that a mother can murder her own child, as if this never, ever happens. The usual pathetic media circus and wails of "how could this happen?" without actually offering any good reason, nor really caring to find one because it's altogether more fun to run around tearing your hair out than do something constructive.

Well, I found one excellent reason, and I'd like to tear someone's hair out.

I went looking, metaphorically, for the father, Zaheer Hussain -- none of today's reports carried much about him except that everyone felt terribly sorry for him, which I am sure he finds immensely comforting. Digging through Google news reports, I had to go back to Jul 19th, during the trial, and found this:
"[He] told Bradford Crown Court he had last been with his daughter about two months before she died. He told the jury that the girl's mother, Sharon Wright, 23, had then stopped contact between him and his little girl."

And I am not the tiniest bit surprised.

“We were in a shopping mall and I told her it was time to go. She wasn’t having it and crying and she didn’t want to go and said she wanted to stay with me. I couldn’t do anything to keep her because Sharon would have argued and I don’t know what I could have done about it.’’ He added: “It was difficult to take."

“I have never seen her like that. She proper kicked me, smacked me, punched me, screaming and crying ‘no, no, I don’t want to go’.“I just had to pick her up the best I could with her still hitting me and took her back.’’

Mr Hussain told the court that to try and cheer Leticia up he had taken her to a park in Wakefield because she was “really depressed and crying’’ before dropping her off with Wright at the home she shared with her co-accused, Peter Seaton, 22, on Almondbury Bank, Moldgreen. “She was still crying,’’ Mr Hussain told the jury. “I still remember that face. Just sad, just not wanting to go.’’ He added that after that incident whenever he phoned up and asked to have Leticia Wright told him she was busy. The court was told that two months later Leticia was dead.

The child was killed by more than 100 injuries inflicted over a period of four weeks. Did you get that? That's 100 detectable injuries known to be inflicted over 28 days, on a four year old child. There were cigarette burns, bruises and bite marks all over her body. How do you feel about that? What if it were your child?

The father could do nothing because 1) he didn't know and 2) he couldn't find out because the mother was blocking contact, a maneuver so common and so accepted today that he would take the heat for trying to do anything about it.

It wasn't even the first time: the mother had also made off with the daughter before, not telling the father where they'd gone for eight months. This ought to have been central to the whole case: how did she keep the father and his family out? Why is this allowed? Why do we live in this state of denial, wringing our hands about bad mothers, drug addict boyfriends, the awful injuries, the sustained torture of a poor little girl and not ask the obvious question? Why was she allowed to keep dad out?

What are the child services saying?
"Certain aspects could have been handled differently"

I bet they could. Like actually doing something about mothers who stand between children and their fathers, like calling this despicable behavior the abuse that it is instead of waiting for it to be way the *&%6 too late. The hypocrisy nauseates me.

Godammit, what is the matter with these people?

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

A confederacy of fools

If The Onion can say this, I can write this:

Atlanta -- Some 40,000 single parents converged on Atlanta this weekend for a week-long conference of the Association of Alienating Parents of America.

"It's more of a celebration of power than it is a stuffy old conference" said Cindy Smirk, one of the conference organizers. "This year we have succeeded as never before in getting alienating parenthood sanctioned by the courts. Custodial parents all over the country are now free to interfere in their kids' relationship with the other parent without fear of reprisal."

"Alright!" Calls out Marcia Maliciosa of an attendee from Florida, "I've got that bastard nailed down for enough money to pay for three conferences a year like this, it's icing on the cake that he can't see the kids since I complained to the judge they were soooo scared of him!" She rolls her eyes, "Hah! He even knows they're being baby-sat by the neighbor's drug-addict kid while I'm here and there's not a damn thing he can do about it!"

Besides the partying, the conference organizers have brought together a broad range of experts to help their attendees build and consolidate their control over their children and exes. Dr. Pete Snitch of the Council on Court Influence and Child Control heads a team of psychologists and lawyers presenting such workshops as "The Strategic Use of TROs, or: how to get him out and keep him out", "Cause and Effect: how to create confusion and put the blame on him" and "Conflict in the courtroom: your greatest ally".

"Oh yes", says Snitch, "times have rarely been better for the malicious custodial parent. There's a whole smörgåsbord of options for getting the ex out of the house, making it look like he's the problem, persuading the kids to take your side, and milking their dad for every penny you can."

Snitch takes a sip of Margerita, "Sure, sometimes the kids end up pretty screwed up and once in a while, dad tops himself. But hey, who cares? He was probably a loser anyhow. It's all about the best interest of the children and that can never be anything less than what the custodial parent says is best, so I think we've a right to be self righteous in our conviction that we're doing what's best for us."

Barbara Brainwasher, a blond stunner out by the pool enjoying the sun and a pina colada confesses "At first, I wasn't so sure, it seemed to be kinda dangerous. Would [my daughter] Bonnie take my side in court? But the guys here assured me, all I had to do was keep her away from her dad for a few months with a TRO or two, and make sure I badmouthed him at every possible opportunity and she'd come around. The lawyers said they'd be sure to keep the whole thing out of court until we were all good and ready. Then, bingo! when the day came Bonnie said exactly what I'd been telling her to say for the last few months. She's a dear, such a shame she turned out so badly, pregnant at 14 and stoned most of the time." She sighs, "Kids, what can you do, eh?"

Shylock T. Kirk, who has acted for many of the attendees, resplendent in his Armani suit, holds court in the hotel's executive bar in the evenings. "It's like taking candy from children" he says, with a twinkle-eyed leer, and pats his wallet, "there's nothing the other parent can do. He stays away and coughs up, or he goes to jail. Of course, you can't go too far, take him for just so much that he keeps to heel for fear of losing the rest."

"In this age of equal opportunity, it's not just for mothers" says Snitch, "fathers can get in on the game too. It's a little trickier - he needs a gullible ex and has to persuade her it's best for the kids to be with him while she sets herself up in a new life, then use that opportunity to generate, er, evidence and get the kids to see that the breakup is all her fault. 'Same as for a target male, really. Once the thin end of the wedge is driven in, the rest is easy - just get the judge to believe that her howls and complaints are all generating conflict and hurting the kids, it'd be best if she didn't see them for a while until things have settled. We can keep that one going for years!"

Kirk says that it gets easier all the time to separate kids from non-custodial parents. "The most effective, of course, is an abduction, sorry, I mean move-away. It's best if the mother has family in another state, or, preferably, a whole other country. It doesn't matter if she hasn't seen them for decades, it's her family ties that matter, after all. It's best if it's court sanctioned, of course, but these days a custodial parent can get away with just about anything. All in the name of the children, of course."

Cindy chips in: "That said, if tormenting your ex is what you want, you're best to stay nearby, but be sure to keep the kids out of reach. We have a whole session on effective techniques to drive him completely crazy. One of my favorites is to drive past his apartment every day taking the kids to school, then sue him for stalking when he waves at the car. It doesn't always work, but when it does, you should see his face in court!"

Back at the pool, Barbara reminisces about the fun times of her divorce. "Sure, it was a rough time, but that just means you've got to try all the harder to enjoy yourself. You should have been there when he found out I'd slept with his boss. Woo-hoo! What a jerk! I created such a scene that the cops dragged him off and charged him with DV without him even touching me! Good job I'd called them early about that stalker I thought I'd seen." She grinned and winked. "After that, the TRO was a shoo-in. Of course, he got fired too. They said it was because he threatened his boss, but she told me she was going to drop him first chance she got anyway, but not before the court set his child support. He was late with a few payments then, but a night or two in the joint sorted that out. I think his parents paid it in the end, but what do I care? He hasn't missed a payment in a while, but I still call him a deadbeat every chance I get."

Although many of the conference goers left their kids with friends or their own family (all appropriately protected by court order), a full creche and child minder service was available. Betty Airhead, chief child-minder, comments: "these kids are so easy to handle, if they play up, all you have to do is threaten to go and get their mom. They quiet right down, it's like magic."

At the conference banquet, the keynote speaker Professor Eminent Respected, "PhD" (East Podunk), provided an enlightening "history" of the "discredited" junk "science" of "PAS" and other laughable attempts to seek what they call "justice" by the "fathers" that have been so completely discounted by this joyful band of conferees. His conclusion, that any non-custodial parent who doesn't completely bend to the will of their ex must, ipso facto, be a child rapist and wife abuser was met with a standing ovation and chants of "PAS doesn't exist! Oi! Oi! Oi!".

After the banquet, I caught up with Eileen Onmylaurels, winner of the conference lifetime achievement award for Most Dedicated Alienator, still clutching her trophy - a beautiful statuette of a crouched man, holding his head in his hands. "Oh yes" she said "it's marvelous how we can do pretty much what we want with the kids and get away with it, for the simple reason that using them against their fathers is an entirely natural thing for us to do. Every vindictive divorcee should have the chance to really stick it their ex through the kids. There's really no arguing with it. All the better if you can get them to take the blame. I'm the living proof - my four kids say they all hate their dads whenever I tell them to. None of them have had any contact for three years now. The last one was an accidental meeting in the mall, where I didn't know his dad was moonlighting as a guard - I got him locked up for a week for it, and garnished those wages too. Every one of them is behind on child support payments but they pay enough between them that I'm doing fine anyway. If I want a bit more, I just pick the highest earner of the moment and have him tossed in jail. 'Works like a charm."

"Parental alienation?" she says "Pshaw, who cares?"

(This is not a satirical blog, but this is a satirical post.)

Friday, August 03, 2007

One word

Sometimes this blog worries me. I have no desire to come across as misogynistic, let alone actually be that way. When I talk about gender differences in general, I try to apply an objective standard of equality, in which all other factors being, er, equal, men and women are treated equally. Then I try to assess whether or not what I am reporting on succeeds or fails according to that standard. Of course, given my orientation, I do this from the point of view in which I seek to expose areas in which men are unfairly treated rather than the acutely politically correct women as losing out. This, of course, can be very difficult to do without seeming to complain about or blame women.


Digressing slightly, I note that a few recent comments have not exactly helped matters. Guys, I don't blame you for being pissed, I've got plenty of reason for that myself, but the fact is that all women are not to blame. In fact, not even a majority are to blame and sometimes not even those women who think you're to blame, are to blame. They're just living in the same twisted, blinkered society you are, but they're female, not male. What they need, just like every other distressingly ignorant innocent, is to be educated. You don't help that by yelling at them. Most especially, you can't help it by yelling at your allies. Quit it.

But today's posting concerns one word. That word is "much". It appears in a New York Times article where the findings of a study are reported which show young women in big American cities are now making more than men. That is, the pay gap has actually reversed itself in this demographic. Great? No, not great because now you have a reverse inequity. Not that that will be any reason for concern for the vast majority who reflexively seem to think that a second wrong puts everything just right.

The word appears in the fourth paragraph of the article in the last sentence which puts the penultimate sentence into a broader context. The two sentences read:
"[The study] shows that women of all educational levels from 21 to 30 living in New York City and working full time made 117 percent of men’s wages, and even more in Dallas, 120 percent. Nationwide, that group of women made much less: 89 percent of the average full-time pay for men."
There it is, "much". So what's my problem? Well, 89% is 11% less. 117% and 120% more imply 85% and 83% for the lesser earners, or 15% and 17% less. Forgive the remedial math, but what I'd like to know is why 11% less is "much less" and 15% and 17% less are just, well, less? If 11% is much less and 17% less, then is 17% less than 11%?

It's a little thing, a tiny thing, too small to merit a blog post, I should really just get over it, I really should, shouldn't I? But, but, well it just bugs me. It's the little things like this that I should just get over behind which real prejudice lurks. If I let the little things go, won't the big things follow? Enough little things can add up to an awfully big thing. Indeed, maybe enough little things like that can chew you up, spit you out and take your children away.

Do you see what I mean?