Political Correctness: Reflections on Being an Asshole

Political correctness is the poison-tipped sword pointed at the armor of the average American asshole, for the asshole is on a great, noble quest, larger than that of humor, cruelty, or domination. Assholes stand behind a great bulwark of free speech in order to assert their basic human rights. And in the name of freedom, they cast their gaze upon the hurt and horrified sword wielders, and dub them “snowflakes”.  These great knights of vulgarity are righteous in their endeavor to preserve traditions and fortify the American spirit against the delicate.

It is a lovely fairytale. We have heard similar tales from local citizens at a nearby bar, from our grandfathers and uncles at holiday dinners, and from asshole celebrities, like Bill Maher or Rush Limbaugh. I am therefore a bit sad to present the argument that their tale is mere fantasy invented by assholes, for assholes, to protect them from consequence and remorse.

I.

One cannot ever be certain which words, gestures, outfits, or social media posts may be offensive, for offense is entirely the domain of those who perceive it. This is a frustrating truth, especially to those of us who write and crack jokes now and then. Satire may be taken as truth. Parody may be viewed as propaganda. Shenanigans may be seen as insults. This, friends, is the risk we take in the delicate art of communication. If only wishing made it so that I could control the reaction of every eardrum and eyeball so that what I find humorous was laughed at, and that the absurd was recognized universally.

The fault does not lie with the offended, though. Delicate sensibilities can arise from grief, fear, anger, and being shit upon throughout one’s entire life. Just as the asshole cannot control the domain of perceived insults, the offended cannot control the filter through which they digest words and deeds. This is the consequence of so many disparate roads of experience intersecting, criss-crossing, and getting tangled like a knot of spaghetti.

Since neither the asshole nor the snowflake has control, the ongoing saga of enduring each other’s company must be done with a series of deliberate choices, and a fair acceptance of consequences for those choices.

II.

When the common asshole ventures to make a joke or commit an act that he senses may be reviled by snowflakes, a calculation must be made: What is the price he is willing to pay for the expression?

Even the most impudent assholes will typically never don blackface for Halloween, for example. For even if the asshole himself is not offended, and he intends no malice in the act, he, at the very least, recognizes that society has established mores against the practice for the last fifty years. The price for doing so would be extreme: The asshole may be violently attacked, may attract the attention of local news, and may lose his job, friends, and any shred of social standing he had left. Ostracism is the bare minimum price for such a crude act.

This is an extreme example, of course. The difficulty for the average asshole can be in calculating the cost of acts or words for which mores are still being formed, or remain unclear.

Returning to the Halloween scenario, an asshole may dress in caricature form as a Native American or a Mexican. The taboo exists, but not quite to the extent that complete ostracism is the cost. The nature of such an offense is still evolving, and so the rules and consequences are shifting even from year to year. It is understandable that the moving goalposts of offense are confusing and frustrating to assholes, but these shifts must be added to the risk-reward calculation for wearing such a costume. The thinking asshole might consider that such a costume is a high-risk proposition. Not only might people be more vocal in their offense than in prior decades, there could be personal consequences for the asshole.

Not every situation is so grievous for the asshole, however. Sometimes the calculation is more nuanced. For example, when I consume a surfeit of wine at Thanksgiving and become an asshole, I must make the calculation: If I tell my mother’s favorite story using a mocking voice in order to provoke laughter from others at the dinner table, I may make her cry. Or I may provoke her to do the same against me or someone else I love. Or she may take away my wineglass. I have to accept these consequences for my actions instead of dubbing her a snowflake who needs to “get over it” or alter her sensitivity and perception.

III.

Many an asshole believes that he should not be vulnerable to such consequences because of the rights of free speech provided by the United States Constitution. The link between the First Amendment and protection from political correctness is engineered to fortify the asshole’s position of righteousness and patriotism. Except that this is an unfortunate misunderstanding, or deliberate perversion of the First Amendment’s powers.

The scope of the First Amendment merely affords protection against government persecution and prosecution.

The list of consequences for the average asshole entirely outside of the scope of the First Amendment includes (but is not limited to): Social shunning, withdrawal of political support or paid sponsors, termination of employment or work opportunities, and protests.

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Mr. Boogedy is Totally Misunderstood

If you were a child of the 80s, then you likely know the tale of the silly and harassed Davis family who bought a haunted house in Lucifer Falls and then battled an evil ghost with a magic cloak. You watched Kristy Swanson (the worst actress ever) pout on a picnic blanket with cheese curls, and a robe-clad Bud Bundy get pulled kicking into the air by an inflated fireplace shovel. The kid from ALF even bickered with a little kid ghost over a snot-soaked teddy bear, and all the spirits glowed in neon. It was the spooky and mesmerizing children’s tale called Mr. Boogedy, which originally aired as a Disney made-for-TV movie in 1986.

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I’ve been watching and rewatching this movie every October for many years now, and it has come to my attention that there is, in fact, something very haunting about this tale. But it isn’t the house or how the Davis family was plagued by ghosts. It was the treatment of a misunderstood man named William Hanover that lasted for hundreds of years. You see a hamburger-faced demon zapping lightning at a wisecracking family, whereas I see a trod-upon and anguished soul.

To see my point, let us all go back to the beginning. Boogedy’s beginning.

The Origin Story

Here is the story of Mr. Boogedy–as he is known pejoratively known–in the words of crackpot historian, Neil Witherspoon:

300 years ago, long before any of us were alive, a small group of pilgrims lived on this very spot. They were a hard-working, decent group of people. Once in a while of course, they would enjoy a good laugh. Most of them, that is.

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The Trembling Heroine in Fantasy Literature

She trembles. She bites her lips and feels shaking all over. She is a beaten dog who is filled with righteous fear and a sudden articulated need to vomit or evacuate her system through other orifices. She shakes and hesitates, and has traumatic flashbacks of the terrible times that came before. And she fidgets her way through spilled soups, clumsy meetings where she averts her eyes, physical stumbles, and horrid dreams that make readers pay for their faith in the author. As soon as she catches a cross glance, she loses her appetite. She befriends other underdogs and creates a bench of friends that she treats like Disney animal companions. And most assuredly she feels that her knees will buckle at the most critical moments of her experience, and prays that no one notices her tremors. Her brain tells her to run, but somehow she continues her stride in spite of her instincts.

Will she ever overcome this? Will she ever find her strength and become her own woman? After all, adversity knocks at her door once more, and dear reader, we are eavesdroppers. Can she pull it off?

The answer is, of course, yes. She is the modern young adult fantasy heroine. In spite of her palsy and digestive failings, she manages to do the impossible and vanquish the evil! Oh, hooray for the reluctant savior who wins the day and overcomes insurmountable odds!

Except that I hate her.

I hate her overly bitten lip and fidgeting. I hate the way she devours broth and bread and fights to hold it down. I hate those moments when she stares at her shoes and prays to move on unnoticed. Our tormented lady is weak, naive, and far too easily intimidated. And she keeps showing up in a number of modern young adult fantasy books.

For the life of me, I cannot understand what the authors are thinking. Are they convinced that they need their own Bella Swan to sell copies? Are there really so many women in the modern world who relate to this?

I don’t know about you, but I face adversity like a motherfucking woman. I fly across the Atlantic Ocean by myself, rent cars and drive on the totally improper side of the road, dodging cows and tractors. I stand up at a funeral when no one else will, and deliver a eulogy that brings to life a most beloved family member. I have changed diapers full of diarrhea and have chopped down trees. And do I tremble? Do I bite my lip?

No. I fight through it. And maybe I need a swig of gin at the end of it, and maybe I need to sob in an embarrassing way when I reach the end of a long week and have a little Sam Cooke playing. But I motherfucking own my struggles and only fight impulses to lunge or shout or at least give one hell of a death glare.

Yes, let’s acknowledge that there are a variety of traumas the likes of which I have never experienced. And I am the first one to sing the praises of the traumatized who tremble and hesitate during their recovery. Facing demons is damn heroic.

Let us also concede, however, that only a portion of these quivering piles of feminine gelatin have any proposed traumas in their backstory. Enter Bella Swan again. Theoretically, she was drawn as a clumsy underdog to make her relatable to the “every girl”. Same with Anastasia Steele. If they seem mortal and vulnerable, then any girl can find love with Edward or Christian (…and be physically abused by her partner–wait, that’s a different feminist literary issue).

The problem, of course, is that in the wide, wild world of women, we possess so many other different types of charms that the simple, shaken variety needn’t be our go-to. Coy and embarrassed isn’t a good look on most people, and I dread the thought of teenaged girls putting on the “oops” act to seem like they need a caregiver more than a partner or minion.

Now, there are plenty of instances where the heroine is good-and-plenty traumatized, as in the newest book I just picked up, “Poison Study”, by Maria V. Snyder. Her “lady of woe” is Yelena, and she seems to have assertiveness Tourette’s. One moment she is too shell-shocked to focus on swirling visions in front of her, and the next she is leaping to her feet and chiding or threatening a powerful superior who could execute her with a crook of his finger. There is something very real about her suffering and paralyzing flashbacks, but I picked up the book not to read about recovery and perseverance, but rather to read about a fantastical life at court with poisons and intrigue. The author has snagged us with a bait and switch. Utilizing trauma as a plot device is a bit like torture porn or grief porn. Every now and then I can stomach it, but not too often.

Where have all the plucky heroines gone? I am craving a leading lady who is so gritty that she tells herself, “Fuck the tremors, I want some revenge. Where’s the plunger and a hot poker?” I want more Rachel Morgans and Mercy Thompsons. Us grown-ass ladies know how wonderful and deliciously wicked they are, but the young folk may not realize what a firebrand the hard-luck lady can be.

If you still aren’t convinced, consider carefully that you almost never read novels with male protagonists who tremble and cower, who bite their lower lip, stutter, and twirl their locks nervously around their fingers. They can eat their broth without spilling a drop, and they certainly don’t swoon. This is a woman problem.

So what kind of commentary is this on young women in our time? To all of the authors out there, I want you to remember that ladies, even those of us who have been terribly hurt, are not beaten dogs. We are fierce fucking bears who lie in wait for our moment to strike. So let’s start showing the literary world what it’s like when we show our teeth.

A Tragic Bar Fight, 1884

A terribly true story of my great-great grandfather, Lorenzo, and his brother, Rufus, taken directly from eyewitness
accounts in court records.

On the afternoon of September 16, 1884, Rufus Eldridge and Lorenzo “Ron” Stevens, farmers living on adjoining properties in London, Ontario, drove their horse-drawn wagon to Nilestown, Ontario to purchase “domestic supplies”.

Lorenzo was a 41 year-old bachelor who managed the family farm and cared for his mother. Rufus was his 48 year-old half-brother and close friend who was recently married and had just become a father for the first time. His son Freddie was a little over one year old.

The two journeyed to Nilestown that day, as they had so often in the past, probably to purchase goods like sugar, fabrics, or fencing. As the pleasant afternoon turned to evening, the brothers were apparently in no great rush to get home. They settled in at the Nilestown Hotel with drinks, their wagon and horses stationed nearby. It was there, at the saloon, where they came across strangers John Richards, William Butt, Edward Noulty, and Henry L’Ansette, among others.

The group caroused well into the late evening, when sometime after 10pm an argument broke out between Rufus and Edward Noulty about which man was the better man–especially which man could “draw brick” better. Rufus began to brag that he could “lick” any man in the room, pressing his hand onto Noulty’s shoulder he exclaimed “I can draw more brick than you, or I can lick you either”. 

Noulty turned to L’Ansette and suggested “Here’s a man can ‘lick’ you”, indicating the inebriated Rufus.

Jeremiah McRoberts, proprietor of the hotel came over, grabbed Noulty by the shoulders and took him to the corner of the room to reprimand him not to cause a fight. Noulty relented and agreed, but as soon as he returned a scuffle broke out between him and Rufus. Shoves. Jabs. Maybe even a punch or two.

The dispute, which began at the Nilestown Hotel soon shifted just down the street to the Byers Hotel. Rufus and Lorenzo had left the first hotel, and walked down the street a short way to the Byers, not ready to end the evening, and presumably to lick their figurative wounds and grouse about the troublemakers. 

The two weren’t long at the Byers before Noulty and L’Ansette reappeared. Almost immediately, “Rufe” threw Noulty to the ground and began choking him, prompting the hotel-keeper to pull him off.

At the same time, Ron had started brawling with L’Ansette. The latter hit Ron, knocking him down to the ground. Witnesses differ on whether Ron crawled or ran behind the bar, but all agree that then, with L’Ansette reaching for him over he bartop, Ron grabbed a liquor bottle and broke it over his attacker’s head. As blood ran down the Frenchman’s head, Ron reached for more bottles to start throwing, when he was grabbed by a witness and pulled to a hallway at the back of the bar. Rufus was escorted back there as well.

Noulty and L’Ansette were ejected out the front door.

After much protest by Noulty and L’Ansette, they were shortly allowed back in and L’Ansette was said to be quite worked up, holding his bleeding head and muttering that “a man that would do that would kill his own brother.”

The aggravated Frenchman was about 27 years old, and was said to be stout and powerful in appearance, with a “bulldog”-like head and an aggressive countenance. He was well known around the neighborhood as a fighter with a bad temper–a trait that was on full display as he paced, threatened, and ranted, hoping to get revenge against the older men. He was heard shouting “Rufe, you —–, I can lick you, and I will!”

By that point, Ron and Rufus had moved into the kitchen, where a witness told them to sit tight for a while before leaving. The altercation had already gotten too hot, and the brothers were determined to leave. Rufus pulled out a knife saying that no one was going to prevent him from going home. 

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The #WheresMelania Mystery

UPDATE: SOLVED!
It was 24 days that we went without seeing Lady Mel, but on June 5, she reemerged from her hidey hole. No full explanation has been given for the inconsistencies from her office and schedules, but it’s probably safe to assume that she had medical issues to overcome. She may have been sicker than we ever thought, or was working to overcome some kind of addiction. Odds are, we will never know the true details. And I suppose that’s fine. The important thing is that she appears to be okay. Still…something really fishy was going on. The whole thing still stinks.

                                                      Where is Melania Trump?
Melania Trump is missing. She has not been seen for 20+ days, during which time the White House has been cagey and misdirecting regarding her whereabouts. We have not seen her–not from a window, not from a balcony. We have not heard her voice. We have not read a Tweet typed by, or even dictated by, our FLOTUS. And it all stems from a surprising and mysterious hospital procedure, followed by fake tweets, absences from major events and family trips, and a rattling silence from her office.

Listen, FLOTUS and I are from two completely different planets, and I have no clue how she has rationalized some of her life choices. But, she is our First Lady. This is an odd post, in that I hope it will become irrelevant and silly in a matter of just a few hours or days. But for now, it is exceptionally intriguing, and potentially very sad.

All we want to know is, where are you Lady Mel? Come home to us! Donald hasn’t had his tiny paws slapped away in weeks! I forgot how to BE BEST!
#WheresMelania

Here is a Melanie’s Melania’s timeline:


May 10: The last time Melania was seen in public. She and the President are photographed at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland welcoming home the North Korean hostages. In the middle of the night.

May 14: Melania is secretly admitted to Walter Reed Hospital to undergo a “procedure” to treat a “benign kidney condition”. Though such procedures are done typically on an out-patient basis, FLOTUS’s office predicts that she will be kept in the hospital for 4-5 days, causing concern about what additional issues or procedures may be at play.

Her Communications Director and President Trump both note that the procedure was a success and that she is doing well.

May 19: Melania’s office reports that she is returning “home” (presumably the White House) from the hospital. It’s been over a week since we’ve seen her.

May 16-28: Her office continues to tweet on her behalf, on topics including thanks to the doctors at Walter Reed, a brief note about the Santa Fe shooting, and two Memorial Day messages that coincide with the President’s office’s agenda and message.

May 25: Outside of the White House, a reporter asks Pres. Trump how Melania is doing. He replies that she is doing “great” and then points to a window of the White House and says, “Right there. She’s doing great. Just looking at us, right there.” The window appears empty, presumably because the cardboard cutout or pillowcase dummy he set up fell down after a strong breeze.

May 28: Memorial Day. She has supposedly been resting at home after being released from the hospital nine days before (from an outpatient procedure). She does not attend the wreath-laying ceremony at Arlington with Donald, as she normally would.

May 30: Melania surprisingly does not appear for the “White House Sports and Fitness Day” event, though it dovetails with her children’ initiatives. Ivanka takes her place.

May 30: While Pres. Trump is at the fitness event with his daughter-wife, the @FLOTUS account tweets the following:

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Anyone not recently hit in the head with a frying pan, realizes immediately that this tweet was not composed by Melania or any member of her staff, as the syntax is completely off, and alarmingly familiar. Oh, Donald, why are you working overtime to dictate your wife’s tweets?

June 1: Melania has now been missing for 3 weeks. The White House announces that she will not be traveling to Camp David with her husband. It is now likely that she will remain missing throughout the coming weekend.

June 2: The President and his children, Don Jr., Ivanka, Tiffany, and Jared Kushner, all head to Camp David together without Melania. Her conspicuous absence from the family gathering fuels theories that she is either preparing to divorce the President, or that she is gravely ill.


The more the timeline unfolds, the more troubling her story becomes. Given the current administration’s predilection for lying–and in Trump’s case, impersonating people who don’t exist (*cough*, John Barron)–their sloppy attempt to Tweet in her voice only makes the situation as suspicious as the sock puppet they tried out for a Fox News live Melania interview. Nothing about this is normal.

So Where IS Melania?

Theory #1: The Official Hermit Theory
The FLOTUS and POTUS offices stand by the story that the famously private First Lady has been staying under the radar while she recuperates at the White House. They note that she has been out of sight for longer stretches (under, arguably, far less peculiar circumstances). She will reappear when she is feeling up to it, and continues to tweet her support and love for her country.

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Problem With This Theory: She hasn’t been tweeting at all. And in light of growing public concerns about her well-being, it is highly strange that she does not at least step out on to a balcony to wave at reporters. She is certainly under no obligation to do so, but wise communications officials might typically press the matter to quell chatter and minimize distractions.

Plus, she doesn’t attend the wreath-laying ceremony? She avoids a family gathering at the serene and private Camp David? Feisty FLOTUS either can’t or won’t participate in White House/husband events, and it has nothing to do with mere privacy. (more…)

The Handmaid’s Tale: What is the Deal With the Colonies?

Season 2 of The Handmaid’s Tale is a remarkable study of the human spirit that embodies exquisite acting, titillating visual imagery, and more tension than my poor smothered teddy bear can handle. But there is an arc to this season that is more than troubling–a xenolith of torture porn that exhibits no forward movement or even the promise of it: Emily and the colonies.

It isn’t just an interesting band name. “Emily and the colonies” is the bone spur of this season. There is no virtue or entertainment in watching women pull out their teeth and fingernails, and dig at the steaming earth over and over. There is no purpose to witnessing their decaying bondage, other than to string out June/Offred’s tale. The arc is so far gone in degrees of hope, and even reality, that it is a face-punching anchor on the entire season.

You may disagree with me entirely. But, even if you find a smidge of virtue in watching rotted bodies digging in the earth and washing their skin away at the sinks, you have to admit, there are some major problems with this storyline. So many questions. So much that makes no sense.

What are the colonies?

The answer is that we do not exactly know. Margaret Atwood–the source-material author–never explicitly states what or where they are, only that they are toxic and horrible. It is pretty easily inferred, however, that they are massive areas that were hit by nuclear bombs (or other weaponry). This explains the radioactivity, and (sort of), why they are digging at the soil. Presumably, the idea is that my scraping away the top foot or so of earth, the land may be livable again some day. Many, many, many years from now.

Why aren’t they using bulldozers?

So there are the unwomen, and the aunts, and the guardians, all slowly (verrrry slowly) digging and picking at the earth and shoving it all into bags (bags!). But why the hell don’t they have big machines to make the job go monumentally faster? The technology exists, the fuel exists.

We know that Atwood remarks the unwomen cannot have protective gear because Gilead won’t bear the expense, but surely, sending a fleet of bulldozers to cut the job time 1,000-fold, is more cost effective than the labor of the aunts and the guardians, the food provisions for everyone, the cost of all those damn bags, and the utility costs of maintaining these camps for years upon years.

Damn it, Gilead! Dig down a long way into the earth, pour a concrete shell with a nice lead lining for good measure, and then bulldoze a whole lot of toxic earth into the subterranean concrete vault, seal the thing up, and move on to the next site.

What in the name of Janine are they planning to do with those bags, anyway?

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What Happened to the 1890 Census?

Genealogy nerds like me frequently weep and fan themselves to exhaustion over a gaping hole in America’s historical record:

The 1890 U.S. Census is gone.

The original was destroyed. No copies exist.

It has been erased from history, erased from existence.

That, my friends, is no small deal. Every ten years since 1790, we have records of who lived where, with what family members, how old they were…and assorted other nuggets of personal history. Try to research your family history, and you will quickly understand what a treasure chest each census is–“oh look, my great-great grandfather was a ‘gentleman’ by profession in 1910, while in 1900, he was a fruit peddler.” I can tell you when my great grandparents took in my young, distant cousins (after their mother’s dress caught on fire from the stove, and her instincts to run across a field to a neighboring home while aflame were fatal). I can point to the empty, weed-filled lot in Detroit and say with confidence, “Yep, that was my family’s home for over fifty years.”

I know all of this because of census records. But thanks to a deep and bizarre mystery, I cannot track much of my American ancestors’ history and movement from 1881 to 1899, because the 1890 census has been wiped from history.

What happened to it? According to most stories it burned up in 1921. But that isn’t really the truth. Something far stranger happened, and to this day it isn’t clear at all why it happened.

This is the story of the 1890 U.S. Census and how it went from controversial marvel, to disappearing pile of ash. What you are about to read is a tale of greed, incompetence, and mystery.

1890: The Eleventh Census is Taken

It is June, 1890. Across the country, about 86,000 men had recently been hired for temporary work as census enumerators. Now, in the June heat, each man plods door to door within his assigned district to take down a wide range of personal  and confidential family details about births, residences, parents, occupations, race, ethnicity, education, and impairments. For the first time (and what would later turn out to be the only time for many decades to come), there is a separate schedule (sheet of paper) for each family, allowing for unprecedented details to be recorded–and making it a back-breaking job to shuffle all of that paper. (It is said that there is more paper used in this census taking than in all previous ten censuses combined!)

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When a family cannot be questioned personally, it is within the power of each enumerator to obtain the needed information from neighbors as proxies. It is important to be efficient in the collection, as the job must be done and reported back to Washington by the July deadline.

The untrained enumerators have sworn an oath to be courteous, confidential, and thorough–the last part being nearly guaranteed, as the men are paid according to what each records. According to the 1890 “Instructions to Enumerators” guide, they are each to be compensated to the tune of 2 cents per death reported, 5 cents per person with a mental or physical defect, or for each prisoner, pauper or homeless child. Each also receives 5 cents for each veteran or veteran’s widow from the “war of the rebellion”, and 2 cents for every other living person.

The data collection is likely grueling, tedious work without long-term prospects, but it is in service of their country and history–or, in some cases, it is a wonderful gesture of patronage by powerful friends and muggity-wumps who want well-placed (and untested) enumerators to advance their political or business agendas. Many deals across the nation hinge on the outcome of this census and what it reveals about changing populations, movements, and resources. In short, a lot of money may be made or lost over the results.

Once the work is complete, each man wraps up his work by following these guidelines as described in the August 30, 1890 issue of Scientific American:

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This is a deviation from the practice of enumerators in past decades, who had previously filed their completed census schedules with County Clerks offices before they were forwarded to Washington. But this year, there is so much data (*sigh*) that the hand-copying burden is an easy excuse for the census records to bypass local offices and head straight to Washington, and only Washington. All eggs in one flammable basket.

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