Who remembers all those kids whose parents got divorced in the late 1970s or early 80s? Remember how resilient they were going to be? How divorce wasn’t ideal, but the kids would be OK because surely it was better for them to be raised in homes that weren’t full of rancour?
Kids were resilient! I’m repeating it, because that was the buzz word. They’d adjust to their new reality, and they’d be fine. How true has that proven to be? We can’t know for certain because every case, and indeed every kid, is different, and for sure there were — and are — plenty of miserable marriages that absolutely had to end, but in saying that can’t we also acknowledge the trauma inflicted on the children?
I think we’re going to have to acknowledge it, because those kids are all grown up, and they are starting to tell their side of the story. Not everyone is going to want to hear it.
Most readers will know the name James Jeffrey. He writes the Strewth column for this newspaper. He’s a unique individual, is James: he keeps pet snakes; he plays bagpipes; he speaks a little Hungarian. He’s got a mop of curly blond hair, and he’s got a curious way of walking up on the tips of his toes, flapping his hands a little, which gives him an entirely agreeable air.
James has this week published a memoir, My Family and Other Animus, and while it is in parts extremely funny, it’s the chapters about the divorce he lived through as a child that had me captivated.
This is the gen X experience. Forget what their boomer parents had to say. This is how it was for the kids.
James was eight when the marriage between his English father Ian and his Hungarian mother Eszter came to a dramatic end. He didn’t see it coming, and my best guess is that most kids don’t. James puts it this way: “Despite the impressive and growing body of evidence my parents had been building over the years — the shouting matches, slammed doors — it was something I’d really never thought about. Loveless as it had become, my parents’ marriage was something that was simply there, and probably eternal, like the sky.”
But then a knife was drawn and the police were called, and for some time afterwards James saw his mother only at weekends.
His parents sustained their rage against each other for decades, determined, he says, to inflict upon each other as much pain as possible.
“To really, really hurt each other. That was the goal,” he recalled this week.
James came to know the inside of the Family Court rather too well as the battle raged around him, and since the supposed resilience of the kids was all the go, nobody even tried to keep them out of it.
James remembers “a friendly man with a moustache, and a brown suit” sitting him down one day to say: “Of course you love your parents equally and they love you, but …”
Well, there’s no but quite like the but that comes in a Family Court matter, is there? “But if you have to choose, who would you prefer to live with?” Brutal.
James’s father won custody, which wouldn’t have been all that common, because in the days before the so-called “shared care amendments” to the Family Law Act of 2006, it was mainly the mum who kept the kids while dad would get them every second weekend and half the school holidays — and maybe for a desultory dinner on Wednesday night at McDonald’s, where there would be a playground and plenty of CCTV.
James recalls in his book the instability that became part of his life after the divorce. He tries to find some comfort in the fact that at least both parents wanted him. That wasn’t everyone’s experience. But he can still remember everything the day it happened, down to the colour of the linoleum in the room where he was told that the only life he’d ever known was over.
A new, chaotic world rose in its place and, four decades later, he says: “I rarely go a week without thinking about it all.”
Forty years on, he still thinks about it every week? Yes, of course. Because we are all so resilient, aren’t we? We’re actually not. We suffer, and sometimes we take the suffering out on others, in ways both petty, and monstrous.
A year after the divorce of James’s parents went through, the old Family Court building in Sydney got bombed. A judge was murdered. That’s how bad it can get, and of course plenty of wives and children have been killed as they tried to make their way out the door.
Plenty of men have taken their own lives.
James says in his book that he was determined to turn his calamitous upbringing into “lessons that would guide me through life, into marriage, and parenthood”.
He never wanted to “come close to replicating the wasteland my parents called their marriage”.
Their wreckage would become “one of the guiding forces of my life”, he writes. “No part of the carcass has been wasted.”
When time came for James to marry and become a father himself, my God, he was going to do things differently. And that’s where you find joy in his book. On the first page, James says he started writing in part “as an explanation to my children as to why their parents kiss so much”.
Because it’s so gross to see old people — your parents! — kissing.
But, he says, “I can tell that at some level they secretly like that we are this way.” Because marriage is hard and some days — actually for some years, sometimes — it’s only going to be the dog that is happy to see you.
None of which is to say that parents shouldn’t get divorced. It happens, and it’s often necessary. In 25 years of adulthood I’ve never a met a person who was cavalier about their divorce.
A friend told me recently that she had been unhappy in her marriage for a decade.
We don’t get that many decades, and by the time you get to your late 40s, you don’t have that many left. And yet she hung in there, and not only to avoid the blasted Family Court, described recently by one of the wise old judges, Robert Benjamin, as a place that thrives on a “culture of bitter, adversarial and highly aggressive litigation”.
He was talking about a case in which the warring parents had been encouraged by rapacious counsel to spend an eye-watering $860,000 on legal fees as they tore each other, and their children, to pieces.
“It must stop,” he said.
Not divorce. You’ll probably never stop that. But the ugliness that comes with it, because it’s really tough on the kids.
Both of James’s parents are now dead, but his mum was still alive when he finished the manuscript. In his hands, their warring comes across a touch comically, which is of course the point. What a waste of energy it was, to spend all that time arguing.
What a sapping of the human spirit. It must have taken some courage for James to write so openly about the collateral damage. However brutal the message, we should all be glad he did.
During briefings as a patrol officer, I scanned the crime reports from the prior week, looking for patterns, trends and changes. If, for example, I discovered an increase in car burglaries on the west side of town, I would ask the simple question: What shifted in the past few weeks to account for the additional crimes? More robberies on the east side? What’s changed? Did someone new move into the area? Did some group of offenders decide to target our city?
Now, as a cold-case detective and author, I apply the same approach to a new crime phenomenon: the increase in mass school shootings. What’s changed in the past twenty years that might account for this? What cultural shifts lie behind the shootings?
An Increase in Social Media Use
Young people are more influenced by social media than any other generation. In a recent survey, teenagers reported that they often feel bad about themselves (or their lives) when viewing the social media posts of their friends. More importantly, teenagers said they are often bulliedon-line. That’s important, because the killers in each school shooting were also said to have been criticized or ostracized prior to the crime. While bullying is not new, the way young people bully each other has shifted. Social media intensifies bullying because it increases its severity, proximity and consistency. We are far harsher when criticizing others on social media. Worse yet, in a smart phone culture, the bully is as near as your phone. Those of us who were bullied in the past could at least find solace and protection in our own homes; bullying stopped as soon as we left the school grounds. Not so today. Bullies follow their victims home every night and sleep next to them on their nightstands. The way people interact has changed, and this shift is seen in the lives of school shooters. Many have been harboring growing animosity stoked by social media.
An Increased Dependency on Prescription Medicine
Parents are medicating their children today more than ever before. While it’s true that many of the school shooters were using (or had recently stopped using) prescription drugs, I’m not suggesting that this form of drug use is contributing directly to the increase in shootings. In fact, I have seen many families incorporate ADHD/depression/anxiety medications with great success. But, in a recent PBS special, Medicating Kids, Dr. Lawrence Diller made two important and insightful observations. First, he observed that we “as a culture – more than any other culture – seem to have accepted biology and the brain as the reason for maladaptive or poor behavior.” In addition, Dr. Diller observed, “we have a continuing erosion of parental discipline…” Some parents have now shifted toward prescription drugs that target the physical brain and away from traditional, time-consuming approaches that address behaviors. As a result, fewer children – including shooters – have extended interaction with their parents.
An Increase in Single Parent Households As a Gang Detail Officer in Los Angeles County, I had the opportunity to spend time with young Hispanic, African-American, Caucasian and Korean gang members. They came from different socio-economic and racial backgrounds but had one thing in common: lack of dad. Some never knew their fathers. Others had dads who were in jail. Some had fathers who were disinterested alcoholics. Others had dads who were workaholics who rarely ever came home. The percentage of children under the age of 18 in the United States living in single parent households has increased dramatically – during the same time that school shootings have multiplied. In addition, many young men are being raised in what is effectively (if not statistically) a single parent household. Men have a responsibility to raise up their boys, and when they shirk this responsibility we see tragic results. Family structures have changed; several of the high school shooters simply didn’t have an effective male role model who could help them navigate their teenage years.
Every cultural change holds both a promise and a threat. We either shift toward something worthy or worthless. The sooner we recognize what’s changed in America (and admit where the change is leading us), the sooner we’ll be able to address the increase in school shootings.
Tattoo inks used in Australia are not regulated Eddie Jim
by Jill Margo 3 October 2017 AFR
When a woman was referred to Sydney’s Royal Prince Alfred Hospital with numerous lumps under both arms, doctors thought she probably had lymphoma.
Apart from these swollen lymph nodes, which she’d had for two weeks, she was well.
At the hospital’s haematology clinic she was examined and given a PET-CT scan which produced the hallmarks of cancer of the lymphoid system.
It revealed several swollen nodes down her chest wall and between her lungs.
When a needle biopsy couldn’t confirm the cancer diagnosis, one node was surgically removed.
And it was black! “This was surprising,” said trainee haematologist, Dr Jad Othman. “It’s highly unusual and a fair assumption that the other swollen nodes were black too.”
The pathologist could find no sign of cancer in the node but did find black particles in it.
The woman,30, had a large black tattoo that covered her entire back and, after ruling other factors, her medical team concluded the particles had come from the black ink.
“The tattoo had been there for about 15 years, and we know the skin on the back drains into these lymph nodes,” says Othman.
She was having a delayed hypersensitive reaction to the accumulation of particles.
“It was a reassuring finding because there was no cancer and when we saw her ten months later, we could no longer feel the lumps.”
Othman is one the authors of her case study published today in the Annals of Internal Medicine, a journal of the American College of Physicians.
It comes just three weeks after the publication of an important German study on how nanoparticles from tattoo ink can travel into the lymph glands.
Using a synchrotron (a scientific instrument to size of a football field), German researchers showed this occurred with organic and inorganic pigments as well as toxic impurities from the ink.
It was already known that tiny particles of tattoo pigment can get through the collagen barrier of the skin, enter the blood stream and travel around the body.
There has, for some time, been visual evidence of lymph glands tinted with the colours of a tattoo.
What wasn’t known was that a variety of particles travel in nano form and because they are so much smaller than micro particles, they can get to and settle in more places.
“They may not have the same behaviour as the particles at a micro level. And that is the problem: we don’t know how nanoparticles react”, the researchers said.
For their study, published in Scientific Reports, in lymph nodes they found only nanoparticles.
There have been other reports of clumps of black pigment being mistaken for malignant melanoma in the lymph nodes, in one case 30 years later, and of pigments mimicking metastasis in female vulvar cancer.
“We don’t know if these inks can harm the body or cause cancer, ” says Terry Slevin, Chair, Occupational and Environmental Cancer Risk Committee of Cancer Council Australia.
“But with more than two million Australians now tattooed and many of them young, there is growing concern about the long term.”
There are new factors to consider: “the enormous increase in the number of people being tattooed and the enormous increase in the amount of skin being covered.”
“In the past, most people had fairly discrete tattoos in fairly band colours, usually blue.”
“Now we have an extraordinary range of colours and an extraordinary amount of ink needed to cover large areas. We have never had so many young people exposed to so much ink before and with such a long life span ahead.”
“The prospect of long term adverse effects has never been greater and it seems a good time to look at what we can do to reduce any potential harm.”
Adjunct professor Slevin believes infection is more or less under control in Australia although there are always a few non-compliant tattooists.
Studies have shown, across the board, there is a 5 per cent rate of infection of one kind or another associated with tattoos.
This includes bacterial infections such as staphlococci and streptococci, mycobacteria and, in rare cases, blood-borne viruses such as hepatitis B and C. Some people are allergic or hypersensitive to ink chemicals.
Slevin is also concerned with the removal of tattoos because lasers can shatter the inks and release particles into the body.
While most people seeking a tattoo are aware of the infection risks of tattooing, they are unaware of the chemical risks. They don’t know what’s in the ink.
Last year the government’s National Industrial Chemical’s Notification and Assessment Scheme released a report showing one in five inks in use in Australia contain carcinogenic chemicals.
Of the 471 inks in use, it selected 49 for a detailed chemical analysis. Only four of these complied with European standards for safe ink.
The major worry centred on polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). These carcinogens were present in 83 per cent of the black inks tested.
Other worrying components included barium, copper, mercury, amines and some colourants.
Labels on some inks didn’t match the contents and one bottle plainly said it wasn’t to be used for tattooing.
Now that the content of inks is known and reported, the next step is adopting a standard to regulate them.
Slevin, who is on an advisory committee of this chemical notification assessment scheme says as Australia doesn’t have a standard, it wouldn’t be difficult for us to adopt the European standard.
“It’s quite a solvable problem. First we need to adopt the standard and second apply the rules to the importation of ink – because most ink is imported.”
“If we take these two steps, those who do chose to have a tattoo can at least be confident about what is being injected into their skin.”
His role on the committee allows him to have some input in to this work and reflect back to the broader community about what does and what doesn’t cause cancer.
In the last couple of weeks, social media has provided millions of users with a sober lesson on the hazards of tattooing the whites of the eyes.
Catt Gallinger, a Canadian model described her terrifying experience after the process went wrong. At 24, she may be left with permanent vision loss in one eye.
After the eye was tattooed, it began to exude purple liquid which ran down her face. The eye then swelled shut and soon became infected.
To warn others she posted pictures on social media. Her story went viral.
Last year there was another report on the compositions of inks from the Joint Research Centre of the European Commission.
Although many manufacturers declined to reveal all the ingredients of their inks claiming it a trade secret, the report found pigments that had been repurposed from textile, plastics and car paint industry.
“There are certainly really good producers of ink. But some of the inks on the market weren’t intended for tattooing,” one experienced tattooist told the report.
“They just put them in a fancy bottle, put a dragon on the bottle, and write ‘tattoo’ on it,”
Malcolm Turnbull would say: “It was a West Australian state election; it was fought on state issues. It was decided on state issues and the result was pretty much as had been expected for quite some time.”
However, the Prime Minister’s unhelpful intervention last year didn’t help. He travelled to Western Australia promising that he would fix the GST distribution issue. He left telling disgruntled Sandgropers that more time was needed before their state could receive any more revenue.
That sort of mealy-mouthed non-response was reinforced by Finance Minister Mathias Cormann telling us on the day after the election: “We have to be realistic on what a national government can do in relation to these sorts of issues. (Can he be serious?)
“The timetable is determined by what happens with the GST sharing arrangements moving forward. There is a flow-through effect, principally from the prices for iron ore and the royalty revenue that is generated on the back of iron ore exports.
“That will play out over the next few years and there is an expectation, in the not too distant future, WA’s share of the GST will start increasing again and, if and when that happens, there are certain options available where the floor can be established without actually taking money away from any other state.”
That pitiful explanation surely would have been one reason many West Australians reached for their baseball bats. But Cormann then added: “That is the way it should happen.”
It’s not just his political tin ear that should worry everyone. It is his complete lack of understanding of the damaging economic consequences of the way GST revenue is distributed.
Just to remind you, Western Australia receives only 30c of every dollar of GST revenue raised in the state. Every West Australian hands over $1736 to the other states and territories. By contrast, every South Australian receives a net $1052 and every Tasmanian receives $1953. Every Northern Territorian receives $10,734 while, wait for it, every ACT resident receives $400. That’s right — the place in the country with the highest incomes and the lowest unemployment receives more money than it hands over.
There is no doubt our system of horizontal fiscal equalisation is broken and has been for some time. It is the most extreme version of the principle implemented in any federation in the world. But all that the risible Finance Minister can say is: “That is the way that it should happen.”
Let’s just run through some of the problems with the system whereby the GST revenue is distributed as run by the arcane Commonwealth Grants Commission, a body that deserves abolition.
• The CGC consistently overstates the real tax bases of the donor states by failing to recognise that their high wages are offset by high living costs.
• Instead of thinking about an overall tax base (and capacity to pay) that the states and territories can tap into, the CGC considers each tax separately. There is no consideration of the impact that levying high taxes on one activity has on the scope to levy taxes on other activities.
• The CGC treats mining royalty income as the equivalent of other state recurrent tax income when clearly royalty income is highly dependent on variable, uncontrollable commodity prices.
• The CGC fails to take into account gambling taxes, so states that chose to limit gambling, such as Western Australia, are disadvantaged. This is just wrong.
At its heart, the system disadvantages states such as Western Australia that go to all the trouble of facilitating a mining boom, for example, but see 70 per cent of the proceeds handed to other states that didn’t lift a finger. So states such as South Australia and Tasmania, which deliberately run anti-business strategies — such as ridiculous renewable energy targets — benefit financially notwithstanding.
The idea this system can continue until Western Australia’ s GST share begins to rise — with the recent resurgence in commodity prices, this will not occur before 2020-21 at the earliest — is political nonsense. No doubt, premier-elect Mark McGowan will have a thing or two to say on the matter.
Even if West Australians were to have the patience of Job, the solution offered by Cormann — just wait — is unworkable. What he thinks can happen is that some sort of collar-and-cap can be imposed on GST relativities — say 0.75 to 1.25 — when the West Australian relativity falls within this range. The trouble with this “solution” is what happens to the Northern Territory because its relativity is above 5 and has been for years. Such a collar-and-cap would involve enormous redistribution away from the Territory.
Here’s a hint, Mathias: the system of GST distribution is broken, beyond repair. Busted. The idea that some states can be compensated to deliver the same standard of services to their citizens but are not required to do so must surely make him realise some political courage is required to fix the system now.
He should not think that West Australians have put away their baseball bats. In all likelihood, those bats will be within easy reach at the next federal election.
Australian Conservatives leader Cory BernardiMAURICE NEWMAN
Maurice Newman The Australian 9 March 2017
What eats at Malcolm Turnbull’s backers is the inescapable realisation that much of what Tony Abbott says resonates with voters across the political divide. Issues such as cuts to immigration, slashing the renewable energy target and making the parliament more workable appeal to voters of all colours. It is why his comments at a recent book launch are judged a threat to the Liberal Party and why the former prime minister is demonised as a “wrecker”.
Indeed, it is a measure of the Prime Minister’s grip on leadership, and the party’s perception of its place in the hearts and minds of the Australian people, that Abbott’s remarks should cause such consternation. When his opinions are labelled “catastrophic”, “unhelpful” and “sad”, what other conclusion can be drawn?
Yet we are told Abbott is friendless. So does it really matter if he harbours ambitions to return to the leadership? By keeping the former prime minister on the backbench, Turnbull should have expected he would speak his mind. But if there is no support and no merit to his arguments, why worry about this latest “outburst”? The party is firmly united behind Turnbull, right?
But Turnbull does worry.
The self-styled “fixer”, former education minister Christopher Pyne, once an irrepressible cheerleader but now a critic of the Abbott government, advised his former boss: “When you’re throwing stones it’s important not to stand in a glass house.”
This adolescent sense of self is a metaphor for what ails the party. It’s a blind, lesser-evil approach. Abbott is worse than Turnbull. Bill Shorten is worse than Turnbull. Labor’s renewable energy target is worse than the Coalition’s. It projects weakness and the people know it.
A confident party should be receptive to fresh ideas, regardless of the author. However, in the current climate of paranoia, the author does matter. If an Abbott recommendation becomes party policy, it may be interpreted as a “win” for him and contrary to the leader’s best interests. Self-preservation trumps principle. Of course, the anti-Abbott forces don’t have to look far for support. The media are first responders. Anxious to nip any latent support in the bud, the old Abbott blame files are being dusted off.
Laura Tingle, writing for Fairfax, channelled Monty Python’s “what have the Romans ever done for us, aside from sanitation, medicine, education, public order …?” when she asked: “Can you remember anything positive he has contributed to our polity that has not involved tearing something down?”
Well, nothing aside from beginning budget repair, stopping the boats, completing beneficial trade deals with Japan, South Korea and China, scrapping the mining and carbon taxes, agreeing to a second Sydney airport, ending wasteful corporate welfare, reducing the public service by 12,000, and abolishing 300 unnecessary government boards and agencies. But fear and loathing run deep in the hate media and facts should never stand in the way of a good story.
In reality, this collective theatre has less to do with any prospect of Abbott’s return to The Lodge than the growing realisation that the Liberals are a stranded party. They are a nebulous grey, in a soft-left kind of way, at a time when the electorate is polarising. To date, the Turnbull Coalition team’s achievements are few and ad hoc.Reflecting its leadership, it lacks conviction and purpose. One day things are on the table, the next they are off. Its instincts are more Rudd than Howard, more Obama than Trump.
The disheartening July 2016 general election result and disastrous polling since point to serious voter disenchantment with the party. The Prime Minister’s strong suspicion that the latest devastating Newspoll was delayed until after Abbott’s book launch speech is, at best, naive. He doesn’t see that casting Abbott as the culprit, rather than acknowledging genuine voter dissatisfaction, insults the voting public. It makes winning back support even more difficult.
Right-wing Liberal senator Cory Bernardi’s defection to set up his Australian Conservatives, citing the Liberals’ abandonment of their party’s conservative principles and heritage, validates voter concern and, carries with it a despair that the leftward drift is irreversible. This seems at odds with an international trend to the right.
In a dramatic turn, Donald Trump is now in the White House. His pledge to “Make America great again” means upsetting the status quo and shaking up vested interests. That he is doing, in the face of fierce opposition from progressive urban elites.
Over the next few months, similar dramatic changes are likely in Europe. General elections in The Netherlands, France and Italy should see new right-wing governments installed. Their agenda, like Trump’s, is far-reaching and much of it is a repudiation of years of leftist ideology. Australia will not be quarantined, yet seems unprepared for the inevitable influence these changes will have on voters and the economy.
While the media presents Tony Abbott’s “outburst” as settling old scores, it is now obvious the last leadership change was ill-conceived and a disservice to the nation. There is a reason that this government scarcely has a mandate. Now most voters no longer trust the present leader to deliver the changes it wants.
Blaming Abbott is futile.
Some Turnbull supporters may hope the present slide in the polls will be arrested by a few good weeks. It is a total misread, as the latest polls and the Prime Minister’s continuing indecisiveness are screaming. Abbott’s manifesto was a good start, but he alone cannot deliver it. Judgment, unity of purpose and, courage, are required, qualities not currently in evidence.
Irrespective of whether Abbott has a pathway to The Lodge, Australia’s future prosperity depends on a fundamental change in leadership and policy direction. Without that, the people’s confidence in this government cannot be restored and the voters’ search for something better will continue.
by John KehoeAmerican author and journalist Thomas Frank strides in carrying a notepad and in a huff as I greet him, seated at a cosy table at the Tabard Inn in Washington DC. He is about 10 minutes late for our lunch date and upset about the unreliable local metro system. “But hey, Kansas City doesn’t have a metro,” he says.
Frank is most renowned for writing What’s the Matter with Kansas?, a 2004 book about how working-class Americans outside the big cities act against their own economic interest by voting Republican, based on cultural grievances on gay rights, guns, abortion and patriotism.
In the 1970s, he grew up in the conservative suburbs of Kansas City, which straddles Missouri’s western edge and the state of Kansas near the Midwest.
In many ways, the book exposes the plight of the forgotten working-class Americans who Donald Trump lured in his famous presidential election boilover in November. Published eight months before election day, the book assails the Democratic Party, particularly Bill and Hillary Clinton, claiming it abandoned the working-class roots in favour of the educated professional class.
Frank, a former university Republican – as the son of a small-business owner – before switching to become a staunch liberal (which means politically left-of-centre in America), is aghast at Trump’s victory, even if he may be entitled to feel a little vindicated on foreseeing how it happened.
“It was very easy for me to understand Trump’s appeal. Democrats don’t understand the issue of inequality and they’re completely out of touch on working-class people. Hillary is the manifestation and personification of it.”
Unleashing more, he says Clinton – who he reluctantly voted for – was “tone deaf” by suggesting that supporting Trump was an act of bigotry and that America was already “great” because the official unemployment rate was low and sharemarket booming.
“The Trump supporters are looking at what’s happening to their communities and saying ‘we don’t see that’. The unemployment rate is low right now, people have jobs; the jobs just don’t pay very well.”
Middle-class wages, allowing for inflation, have barely budged over the past three decades. One in six working-age men are not employed, mainly because they are not looking for a job.
Scourge of trade deals
Frank, who now lives around Bethesda on the outskirts of Washington DC, has recently returned from a trip to Missouri where he undertook field research for a column for The Guardian (he also writes for the American current affairs magazine Harper’s, and was founding editor of The Baffler) about why the regions there supported the New York billionaire Trump in droves.
The waiter asks if we would like a drink. Frank, who has work to do later, passes on the alcohol and opts for “plain old” drip coffee. Typically Australian, I ask if they serve espresso. Today, I am in luck.
Frank laments how farmers no longer vote Democrat and notes that even the leftist president Harry Truman, who was in power 1945-53, was from Missouri. “What’s weird today is you have a prolonged crisis in agriculture in family farming,” he continues. Jimmy Carter was, he says, the last to “care”. “As it gets worse, people vote for a more conservative candidate.”
He’s sharply critical of the big food buyer “monopolies” for paying farmers a pittance for their produce, arguing the government should impose anti-competitive sanctions.
In line with Trump, he lashes the international trade deals that he claims have devastated rural and regional communities, particularly old manufacturing strongholds in the South and Midwest. “There used to be a lot of manufacturing in small towns and now it’s gone.”
I push back and argue that technology through automation – more so than trade – has eliminated American manufacturing jobs. It was a point Obama would echo a few days later in his presidential farewell speech, saying the “next wave of dislocation” would come from automation, not trade. Trump can’t stop those powerful forces. Frank acknowledges robots taking jobs, but is adamant that, to date, trade deals have been the bigger culprit.
Hope and disillusionment
The waiter reapproaches.
Having already eyed the farm-to-table cuisine on the menu, I quickly order the grilled hanger steak, medium rare, imagining the mashed potatoes, broccoli and demi-glace listed on the menu. Frank is planning to eat steak for dinner. He peruses the shrimp grits (“are you serious?”) and pork chops before settling on the seared trout combined with the caesar salad. He declines oysters when I suggest a starter, saying they are “too messy”.
The Tabard Inn opened in 1922 and is now composed of three late-Victorian townhouses linked with internal passages. Featuring a bar and lounge on the ground level, it’s a favourite haunt for journalists and progressive political types. On a cold winter’s day, we’re seated upstairs at a table with a neat white tablecloth and overlooking the outside patio that is popular in summer. Vines crawl over the outdoor fence while back inside carved wooden tulips hang on the wall.
Frank came in for an Obama inauguration party in 2008. “I was so happy when he won,” he says.
How does he feel now? “The hope has curdled.”
Obama was his state senator when Frank lived in Illinois: “You’d go to house parties in Hyde Park and he’d walk into the room and people loved this man. People would say, ‘He’s going to be president some day. He’s so smart and handsome and such a good talker.'”
As our meals arrive, we digress and Frank mentions he’s flying to Australia in late February for the Perth and Adelaide writers festivals, promoting Listen, Liberal (Scribe). His two children, aged 15 and 12, would like to go but he’ll be flying solo.
I remind him that the Liberal Party in Australia is our conservative party, something he’s loosely aware of. Frank is “very excited” about seeing Perth, having missed it on a past trip to Sydney, Melbourne and Hobart. I talk up the world-class West Australian beaches, warm weather and Margaret River winery area. Alas his schedule is too tight. He might have time to visit the Barossa Valley near Adelaide instead for a drop of wine.
Fierce critic of globalisation
The photographer arrives. “Oh shit, I should get the hair spray out like Donald Trump,” Frank muses, patting his hair to one side. His son repeatedly teased him during the campaign that “when Donald Trump wins …” He then lost a bet to his son; if Trump won, Frank was supposed to have to style his hair like the celebrity TV star turned President-elect.
I tell him how throughout the election I arrived in the Washington office on mornings and regularly remarked to the office administration lady, Rachel, “one day closer to president Trump”. It was tongue-in-cheek at the time, but turned out to be true.
“You guys need to learn. It’s gonna come there [Australia] too,” Frank chuckles, referring to the Trump and anti-globalisation phenomenon that has struck Britain with Brexit and is engulfing election races in France and the Netherlands. I mention the resurrection of a nationalist Pauline Hanson in Queensland, who he has not heard of.
“It’s happening all over the world,” he says. “This is freaky what’s going on.”
Frank blames globalisation.
“In America, globalisation means you get what you want and I hit the road. I called bullshit on all that.”
So does he identify with Trump’s blistering message? “His message on trade, yes.
“Trump scares me in all sorts of ways, but I really liked what he did to Carrier,” he says, alluding to the US airconditioning manufacturer which Trump bullied and negotiated with to remain in the United States instead of shifting 800 jobs from Indiana to Mexico.
Frank also adds that “TPP is gone, that’s good”. It’s a reference to the 12-country Trans-Pacific Partnership deal that Trump has vowed to tear up as soon as he becomes president.
Out in the ‘real’ America
Rudely, I’ve already finished my lunch and he has barely taken a bite of his. As other diners chat noisily in the background, I mention that Australia is unhappy about TPP failingbecause it means the US will be less engaged in Asia, creating space for a rising China to fill the void.
Frank asks where Australians like to visit in the US. I list the usual tourist hotspots of New York, Washington DC, San Francisco, Los Angeles.
“Lame,” he quips. Instead, they should head to see the “real” America in Kansas City, Chicago and St Louis. During the primary and general elections, I ventured to states including Iowa, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania and Ohio and then took a Greyhound through Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina, Georgia and Florida.
I tell him getting out into the small communities held some of the best American memories for me, meeting the Trump, Clinton and Bernie Sanders supporters. Frank tells me he spent Christmas with his extended family from the Midwest, some of whom voted for Trump.
“They meant well by it,” he says, sheepishly. “What’s more remarkable is the liberals in my family wouldn’t vote for Hillary.”
But Frank is not finished with his anti-trade tirade and frustration with the Clintons. “Hillary was uniquely weak facing Trump because of his emphasis on trade deals. This [Trump’s win] is payback for [Bill Clinton’s] NAFTA,” he says, referring to the North American Free Trade Agreement president Clinton signed with Mexico and Canada.
Trump throughout the campaign railed against NAFTA, blaming the Clintons for manufacturing-plant closures and jobs being shipped over the border to lower-cost Mexico. Helping him win the old “rust belt” states such as Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio and Pennsylvania, Trump threatened to impose 35 per cent tariffs on Mexican imports.
The ‘winner’ caused a wipeout
Frank laments that the Democrats didn’t run Vice-President Joe Biden or Bernie Sanders for the presidency instead. “Biden wouldn’t have been beaten in Michigan or Pennsylvania,” he argues.
I suggest Biden probably may have beaten Trump because of his white, working-class background but I cast doubt on whether a socialist such as Sanders could have won. Frank remains “sure” Sanders would have won. He voted for Clinton, but preferred Sanders and backed the 75-year-old Senator in the Democratic primaries.
He says the party chose Clinton because the Clintons have been making promises to Democratic operatives for decades and supporters would be promoted if the former secretary of state was crowned president.
He ridicules the left-leaning US media, including TheNew York Times and MSNBC, for failing to look beyond Clinton’s imposing resume as secretary of state, senator and first lady to see her deep flaws. “They loved her,” he says in despair.
And he laments the electoral “wipeout”. While Clinton won about 2.8 million more votes, she lost the 50-state electoral college; Republicans will control both chambers of Congress, fill a crucial Supreme Court vacancy, rule most state legislatures and state governorships. The electoral map is a sea of conservative red.
“The irony that really gets me is the faction that led them into this catastrophe was the ‘winning faction’, the Clintons,” Frank says, arguing that the Democrats became a party of the affluent, white-collar professional class such as Silicon Valley technologists, Wall Street bankers, lawyers, doctors and journalists who focused too heavily on culture wars and social issues such as gay and gender rights, euthanasia and racial equality.
Trump’s amazing Teflon factor
“I don’t disagree with that stuff. But they have abandoned the other side of liberalism that they’re supposed to be,” Frank says. “Republicans answer to the business elite, Democrats answer to the professional elite and then the working class fit in where they can. With Trump, the working class found somewhere else to go.
“The Republicans do a better job of speaking to them in visceral terms. Look at the way Trump talks,” he says of the brash billionaire. “A lot of this is how you present yourself and talk, which is hard for modern Democrats,” he says, pointing to Hillary and Al Gore.
Frank is amazed how Trump absorbed so many controversies that would have sunk any other candidate, such as the 2005 recording of him boasting of forcing himself on women, calling Mexican immigrants “rapists” and “murderers”, disparaging a US-born judge presiding over his Trump University fraud trial as “Mexican”, ridiculing women, mocking a disabled reporter and disparaging the parents of an American Muslim soldier killed on duty in Iraq.
“One of those things would kill an ordinary candidacy, but this guy kept going.”
Frank, like me, attended the campaign rallies and saw the passion for Trump, but ultimately believed the polls that said Hillary would win.
“How much can anecdote ‘trump’ statistic?” I pose, reciting my own experience of white, working-class men who said they were lifelong Democrats but voting for Trump.
As the Democrats struggle with an identity crisis, Frank believes they should move harder to the left by bashing the banks, opposing trade agreements and slugging the rich with higher taxes as promoted by Sanders and Massachusetts Democrat Senator Elizabeth Warren. “What Warren is selling is very popular.”
I suggest that liberalism has been rejected by Americans and doubling down on a stronger dose of it could be the wrong move.
“What’s being rejected is centrism – Clintonism and Obamaism,” he responds. Frank believes that, beginning in the 1990s, the Clintons moved the party closer to the political centre and not far enough to the left on economic issues such as income inequality, trade and taking on Wall Street. President Bill Clinton brokered deals with Republicans, he says, on cutting government welfare.
However, other observers would dispute Frank’s claim about Hillary and Obama being too centrist. Conservative critics claim the outgoing president loved big government on healthcare and climate change, and that the former first lady shifted to the left of her husband during the campaign.
‘Somehow he [Obama] conspired to lose’
Obama doesn’t escape Frank’s wrath either. He says Obama compromised too much by opting for Republican Mitt Romney’s healthcare plan, rather than publicly funded universal healthcare instead of mandated private insurance.
He also says that Obama proposed cutting social security in return for tax increases for the rich in a grand “fiscal bargain” that ultimately failed, that Obama backed trade deals and he didn’t strengthen the unions by much.
“Obama has always had the passion for centrism, which sat alongside what appeared to be liberalism.”
So how do you assess his presidency? I ask. “He’s been an excellent president in symbolic terms because he was the first black president and an inspiring figure. But in policy terms, this guy came in being dealt four aces in a crisis with both houses of Congress and a massive popular mandate.
“Somehow he conspired to lose.”
He also insists Obama should have broken up the banks and jailed bank executives for their role in fuelling the 2008 financial crisis.
Frank has finally finished his meal an hour into our conversation. I inquire if he’s up for dessert or a wine. “No, I’ve got work to do,” he says, in typical American tradition. A second coffee is ordered.
As for the Trump era with billionaires in his cabinet, Frank says it will be “10 times worse”.
“The horrible joke is: look who’s coming in to run the government now.”
Still, he’s hopeful Democrats will work with Trump on his infrastructure spending plan for roads, rail, bridges and airports to rebuild America, like president Dwight Eisenhower, who built the interstate highway system in the 1950s.
“Infrastructure spending would be really good for working people and the economy. That’s what Obama should have done.”
Obama did try, but Republicans blocked his major infrastructure spending package during the recession.
After paying the bill, we head out via the lounge with Japanese artwork, past the bar and downstairs to a picture of Obama hanging near the exit.
“What a tragedy,” Frank despairs, as he bids me farewell.
Thomas Frank is the author of Listen, Liberal: Or, What Ever Happened to the Party of the People? ($29.99) published by Scribe. He will be appearing at Perth Writers Festival and Adelaide Writers Week.
65 per cent of Americans say their economic system “unfairly favours powerful interests”
Maurice Newman 14 Oct 2016 The Australian
In the late 19th century, Russia’s aristocrats adopted French as their preferred language. While the starving were forced to eat rats, the ruling class merrily decorated palaces in gilt and amber. Unsurprisingly, this splendid isolation resulted in revolutionary change.
In the US, Washington’s understanding of the plight of the average family suggests a similar sense of detachment.
While not eating rats, according to a February survey conducted by the Pew Research Centre 65 per cent of Americans say their economic system “unfairly favours powerful interests”. It is a view that crosses party lines.
Yet, listening to Barack Obama campaigning on behalf of presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, those Americans are just whingers. The President boasts of falling poverty rates and rising wages. He claims credit for economic growth. “Thanks, Obama,” he yelled, should anybody miss his genius. But a stump speech is one thing. In reality, racial division and the gap between rich and poor in the US has widened more under Obama than under any other president.
What he didn’t say is that real median household income is lower today than in 2007 and remains lower than the peak reached in the 1990s.
Actual unemployment is nearer 10 per cent than the advertised 5 per cent, and home ownership is the lowest since 1951.
This attrition of the middle class continues to leave behind increasing numbers of average Americans.
If the people on the street are hostile, Obama’s preferred successor, “business as usual” political insider Clinton, is the ruling class’s favourite.
Many senior Republicans prefer her and are united in their disdain for the blunt, vulgar, anti-establishment and erratic political outsider Donald Trump, who disrespects women and whose policies they fear will upset their supporters’ taxpayer-subsidised apple carts.
After the weakest expansion in history, the US economy is again slipping into recession.
Manufacturing capacity utilisation remains below 75 per cent. Profits have been in retreat for six straight quarters and show no sign of improving. Wage growth is slowing, productivity is down and gross domestic product growth for the past three quarters is the lowest outside of recession. Forecasts continue to be downgraded.
According to the Heritage Foundation, “over the last 10 years, federal government spending has been at the highest level it has ever been in American history”. Eleven states have more people on welfare than are employed. With monetary policy producing no noticeable dividends, Treasury officials will be tempted to run bigger deficits and rack up even more debt.
As Albert Einstein observed, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
Not only will the next US president have to deal with social tensions and a weakening domestic and global economy, but a Federal Reserve chairwoman who believes social objectives are part of her role. Having fuelled the dotcom bubble and the subprime crisis, Janet Yellen’s Fed continues on its reckless ways, rewarding speculators and widening inequality as it goes.
The Fed is so in Wall Street’s thrall that keeping the market up has become an unquestioned mandate. No wonder average Americans think the system is rigged against them.
Yet the election campaign, the debates and media coverage scarcely deal with this. They concentrate on sizzle, such as Clinton’s scandalous neglect of national security, the Clinton Foundation pay-to-play allegations and her alleged forked tongue.
But it is Trump’s juvenile objectification of women, his alleged misogyny, racism and bigotry, and refusal to release his tax returns that dominate mainstream media headlines and send the Twittersphere into a twitter. The media and the debate moderators shamelessly favour Clinton.
Whatever the intention, the various claims and counterclaims simply emphasise the unsuitability of both candidates for the role of commander-in-chief. But, short of an unforeseen event, one of them will be president.
There is no doubt the international community would rather deal with a president Clinton than a president Trump.
Trump is seen as unpredictable and the US’s enemies would prefer Clinton who, as former secretary of state, knows how the game is played and will be easier to deal with. The Iranians will certainly prefer her.
A president Trump would renegotiate trade deals and require US allies to contribute more to defence arrangements. A Trump presidency would be more inward looking and less reverential to international bodies such as the UN. At home, he is the only candidate seriously talking cuts to federal spending, reining in the Federal Reserve, eliminating burdensome business regulations, reducing corporate tax rates and enforcing border security.
But the reality is, his economic plan falls short on spending cuts. To quote former director of the Office of Management and Budget, David Stockman, it is a “dog’s breakfast of some plausible ideas (and) really bad fiscal math”.
That said, it promises more hope than Clinton’s proposal, which is right out of an Obama-Bernie Sanders playbook: a mix of status quo and rank populism, including tax cuts for middle-income earners, means-tested “free” tertiary education, increases in the minimum wage and tax hikes for the rich.
Stockman’s overall assessment of the scene is dismal. He says: “After two decades of massive monetary stimulus and monumental expansion of global debt … we are now in the payback cycle.”
He believes “beltway magic has pushed the nation to the fiscal brink” and that “the nation’s sputtering remnant of a capitalist economy will be crushed by the welfare and warfare states on which the imperial city feeds”.
Clinton is a creature of the beltway and offers even more unaffordable magic. Trump is the heretic and only candidate who, given the opportunity, could rein in the corrosive, powerful interests that drive Washington and divide the US.
Voter turnout will be crucial but, despite the deplorable nominees, Trump may still be the US’s better bet.
You, me and the smartphone: Electronic devices can be as devastating to relationships as any stashed-away lover.
Weekend Financial Review 20 August 2016
by Hara Estroff Marano”You’re with your other husband, again,” Marilyn Suttle’s only husband would say every time she turned to her mobile phone while the two were driving to dinner. She thought he was just being his witty self. Then his words began getting under her skin.
Suttle, who runs a Detroit-based professional training company specialising in customer service, always asks clients to look at their business through the eyes of the customer: “What’s the experience like, and what could make it better?” It was just after she had given the keynote talk at a leadership conference when it hit her: “Maybe this applies to me.”
“I thought we were having ‘together time’ in the car,” she recalls, “but my husband didn’t see it that way. He felt disconnected and left out.” And that’s not what she wanted, not for herself, not for her 32-year marriage.
Actually she wanted two things: “I wanted a loving, close connection between us. And, as the owner of a business that is always with me, I wanted to check out Facebook to get that instant charge of discovering what’s happening and what people are saying about the company.”
Suttle isn’t the first to discover that the two goals are increasingly in conflict. Couples everywhere are stumbling over what research is now documenting: technology, and especially networked mobile technology, while expanding our cultural and social worlds, is crushing our private one.
Despite the huge boost smartphones give couples in co-ordinating their everyday activities, they’re delivering a double hit to romantic life – on one side from the intrusion of the outside world and on the other from the new possibilities for the exclusion of a partner.
As one researcher puts it, quoting the French philosopher Paul Virilio, “When you invent the ship, you also invent the shipwreck.”
It also challenges couples to reclaim life’s lulls, the unstructured moments of reflection and openness to each other on which feelings of closeness are built and sustained – the ones most prone to digital intrusion.
“I’ve been in practice for 15 years,” says Chicago psychologist Nicole Martinez, “and technology has become a significant issue for couples only over the past five years.”
In one study of young married women, 70 per cent reported that face-to-face conversations were stopped in their tracks by a partner’s phone use or even active texting. “Technoference,” family researcher Brandon McDaniel calls it – “everyday intrusions or interruptions in couple interactions or time spent together that occur due to technology.”
McDaniel, a newly minted PhD in human development from Penn State, along with Sarah Coyne of Brigham Young University, found that the women who experienced technoference in their relationship also encountered more couple conflict over tech use and diminished relationship satisfaction. Such dissatisfaction affects young adults trying to form relationships as well as people of all ages in established relationships.
According to a 2014 Pew Research survey, 42 per cent of cellphone-owning 18- to 29-year-olds in serious relationships say their partner has been distracted by a mobile device while they were together, which is more than the 25 per cent of all couples reporting such problems. And 18 per cent of young adults argue over the amount of time spent online.
Mobile enemies of intimacy
It’s not just that we have only so much time and attention. Smartphones actually transform interpersonal processes. In a much-discussed 2014 study, Virginia Tech psychologist Shalini Misra and her team monitored the conversations of 100 couples in a coffee shop and identified “the iPhone Effect”: the mere presence of a smartphone, even if not in use – just as an object in the background – degrades private conversations, making partners less willing to disclose deep feelings and less understanding of each other, she and her colleagues reported in Environment and Behavior.
With people’s consciousness divided between what’s in front of them and the immense possibility symbolised by smartphones, face-to-face interactions lose the power to fulfil. Mobile phones are “undermining the character and depth” of the intimate exchanges we cherish most, says Misra. Partners are unable to engage each other in a meaningful way.
On or off, smartphones are also a barrier to establishing new relationships, observe Andrew Przybylski and Netta Weinstein of the University of Essex in England. When they assigned pairs of strangers to discuss either casual or meaningful events, the presence of a smartphone, even outside the visual field, derailed the formation of relationships – especially if the participants were asked to talk about something personally significant.
Smartphones “inhibited the development of interpersonal closeness and trust and reduced the extent to which individuals felt understanding and empathy from their partners”, the team reports in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships. Subversion of the conditions of intimacy, they believe, happens outside of conscious awareness.
Misra argues that smartphones fragment human consciousness. The lower quality of conversation in the presence of smartphones and the diminished empathy come about through our habitual use of the devices. They come to embody distant relationships and networks – social nuclei, Misra calls them – and, acting as environmental cues, they make other relationships and interests more salient than those directly in front of us.
“In their presence, people have the constant urge to seek out information, check for communication, and direct their thoughts to other people and worlds,” she says. They divide consciousness between the immediate and the invisible. Feeling less connected to a face-to-face partner, we avoid self-disclosure.
In body but not in mind
The ability of a partner to be physically present but absorbed by “a world of elsewhere” was first described more than a decade ago, in 2002, by Swarthmore College psychologist Kenneth Gergen. He called it “absent presence“. That, however, was before smartphones multiplied the power of mobile phones to remove us from the local.
In the realm of relationships, smartphones turn conventional understanding of vulnerability on its head – for it is the best couples that seem to be hit the hardest. The closer partners start out, the more irked they become by the presence of devices, says Misra; they expect the attentiveness of their nearest and dearest.
If there is a soundtrack of the new plaint, it’s less the gentle prodding Marilyn Suttle got than “Put down that damn phone and talk to me”, which captures the pain and frustration of being ignored rather than engaged by a partner – at least in an established relationship, where time together is especially important and, usually, precious.
(Rarely would anyone dare to be so direct in the getting-to-know-you stages of dating, researchers find, without courting the label “needy” or “controlling”.) It’s the sound of expectations being violated.
No longer accessories, smartphones, by their very embeddedness in our lives, bring the expectation of constant availability to everyone in our social network. But we also generally expect a partner’s interest and involvement when we’re together. And so smartphones, ipso facto, set us up for a clash of expectations and outright conflict, especially during intimate moments. It’s less clear what expectations for accessibility are when partners are just hanging out together – riding in the car, relaxing in the living room.
Nevertheless, as relationship researcher John Gottman has documented, the unstructured moments that partners spend in each other’s company, occasionally offering observations that invite conversation or laughter or some other response, hold the most potential for building closeness and a sense of connection. Each of those deceptively minor interludes is an opportunity for couples to replenish a reservoir of positive feelings that dispose them kindly to each other when they hit problems.
“Clinically we hear a lot of partners complain, ‘I feel neglected. You’re always checking your email, or surfing the web, or checking the news, even during dinner,'” says Gottman.
Attention takes effort, and software capitalises on distractibility. “The real danger is that people are checking their devices so often they’re not noticing a partner’s bids for connection.”
Saboteurs of love
Missing bids for connection is not the only effect of absent presence. In a study of technology use in classrooms, Jesper Aagaard, a PhD candidate at Aarhus University in Denmark, observed men and women ages 16 to 20 and then interviewed 25 of them in depth about non-classroom tech use. Technoference misaligns partners emotionally, he reports in AI & Society.
Their communication is marked by delayed responses, mechanical intonation and lack of eye contact; all result in an unintentional misattunement. Gone are the rhythms of responsiveness and synchronicity of feelings that flow between partners, hallmarks of satisfying relationships. What comes across is indifference, says Aagaard.
In the face of perceived apathy, partners keep restricting their responses, setting in motion a downward spiral of interaction.
Love may lurk in the lulls, in the interstices of everyday life, but those are now the times we are most likely to turn not towards a partner but to our devices. No one such moment may be grand enough to finger as a culprit, but collectively “the microflights from intimacy land couples on an icy couch”, observes New York psychotherapist Ken Page. They are stealth saboteurs of intimacy.
Andrew Blazer* is a physician on the internal medicine faculty at a major medical centre and a digital health innovator. He plumbs big data to discover and develop better ways for doctors to practise medicine and for patients to safeguard their health. In other words, he’s tech-friendly. But he is wistful about the subtle moments of connection that technology tends to obliterate.
“The way my wife winds down before bed is to look at Facebook,” he says. “For me that’s such an important time for talking and sharing the moments of the day, and for intimacy, physical and otherwise. She says, ‘Just ask me and I’ll put it away’, but that doesn’t feel very satisfying.”
It carries little receptivity to the kinds of probing conversations they used to have when they were getting to know one another, the kind of talk that comes unbidden, bubbling up from the depths through comfortable, warm silence – too fragile to rise to the level of significance demanded by a declarative “Let’s talk”.
“Technology is like a third party in the relationship,” says Blazer. His only consolation is the suspicion that couples everywhere are wrangling with the same problem.
We have to talk about porn
There’s another problem that’s increasingly troubling in relationships, that of porn use: videos and images often delivered to a portable device and viewed by one partner in secret from the other.
Complaints about porn use constitute the number-one problem walking in the door of many, if not most, couple and sex therapists today – a direct measure of the power that privacy afforded by handheld devices has to disrupt intimate relationships. In 2015, more than half of porn users polled regularly accessed it via their phones, and the number of porn videos viewed worldwide was estimated at 88 billion – 10 billion more than the previous year, according to research conducted by Pornhub.
About 90 per cent of young men report using pornography with some regularity – as do 34 per cent of young women. But if there is a stereotypical situation, it’s this: a woman finds her boyfriend or husband accessing erotic images or videos on the internet. The images bear little resemblance to what she looks like or to what she and her husband do in bed, explains Michigan psychologist Joe Kort.
She feels hurt and betrayed, almost as if she had found him in bed with another woman. She is ashamed of his interests, afraid of what they imply about her, and, given the distorting lens of sexual secrecy, concludes that his desires are proof of perversity.
“I think he’s a sex addict,” she says. “Fix him.” Ashamed of his secret use, he often agrees.
It’s difficult to overstate the impact: discovering porn on a partner’s computer can be an unnerving way to learn about a spouse’s sexual fantasies. But it’s often the only way. Couples almost never discuss their sexual desires. And both sexual appetites and sexual interests tend to be highly divergent between heterosexual partners.
For a number of reasons, a man may not be able or willing to talk to his wife about his sexual needs, says David Ley, a clinical psychologist in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The tragedy is that a woman may not even know she’s not meeting her partner’s needs, because he’s not telling her what they are.
Symptom of sexual silence
Compounding a woman’s distress in discovering a partner’s secret porn use are the conclusions she is likely to draw about herself. Data on the universality of porn viewing by males across the globe suggest that its use is entirely impersonal, but a woman is apt to experience it as a personal reflection on her.
“I’ll never look like that.” “Why am I not enough?” Or “Why is he masturbating instead of having sex with me?”
A woman’s self-esteem and feelings about her body are often potent indices of her reactivity to porn, experts report.
“Porn is never really the issue,” says clinical sexologist Claudia Six of San Rafael, California. It’s usually erotic differences between the partners. Most often, couples are clueless about their sexual selves. “They think there is one certain way to be sexual. With sexuality there is more variation than people give themselves permission for.”
The secret use of porn is a symptom of the great sexual silence in many heterosexual relationships.
If viewing erotica is ubiquitous among males, why do so many men and women regard internet porn use as pathological? Being labelled “porn addict” by a partner, or even by oneself, has nothing to do with the amount of porn a man views, says Joshua Grubbs, assistant professor of psychology at Bowling Green University. He says, “It’s shame-motivated.”
In the face of guilt over pornography use, transgression becomes addiction, the team reports in the Archives of Sexual Behavior.
Grubbs calls it “perceived pornography addiction”. “It functions very differently from other addictions. If it were an actual addiction, one would expect to see some correlation between perceived self-control and porn use.”
Wired for Intimacy
Dr Bill Struthers – describes how pornography hijacks the male brain, using the latest brain science studies to show what takes place in the brain during sexual activity, whether licit or illicit. Video link here
But among those who designated themselves porn-addicted, actual rates of use were all over the map – from one or two views in six months to daily watching. “Perceived porn addiction is independent of actually being dysregulated,” says Grubbs.
Whether imposed by a partner or oneself, the label of porn addict reflects an impoverished understanding of human sexuality, says David Ley. People who believe themselves to be porn addicts need help understanding what their use of porn means.
“They need help unpacking the conflicts between their own sexual desires and the moral/religious society around them,” he adds. Men as well as women need to be educated about their own sexuality and explore why they respond to particular visual images.
Pornography is a scapegoat for all the conversations couples aren’t having, and it’s an easy target, says Ogi Ogas, a computational neuroscientist and co-author of A Billion Wicked Thoughts, a groundbreaking study of sexual interests revealed through internet usage.
Labelling porn use as pathological all comes down to one thing, Ogas insists: men and women have very different sexual tastes, sexual preferences, sexual interests, sexual fantasies. They are aroused by different things, prefer different kinds of sexual stimulation.
“But we each look at our partner and want his or her behaviour to be more like our own. When it is not, we get upset, and that leads to accusations of ‘porn problems’. We are not properly educated about the nature of sexual taste and sexual preference.”
The male brain is particularly responsive to and stimulated by visual imagery, first and foremost by pictures of anatomy that cut directly to the sex act. Women prefer dialogue and seduction – everything leading up to the sex act.
Dominance and submission: it’s mammalian
Men and women do share one big sexual calling, reports Ogas, now a visiting scholar at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education – an interest in dominance, submission and power themes.
“In fact,” he says, “it is the only universal sex interest shared not only by men and women but by gay and straight, young and old. Everyone is turned on by one person being dominant, the other submissive.”
It’s also the primary theme of “romantopia” – the hundreds of thousands of romance novels that constitute women’s erotica, which our culture deems healthier than male erotica, or “pornutopia”.
All mammals have very specific parts of the brain devoted to the physical postures of dominance and submission during sex, and along with the physical patterns come psychological responses. We may live less in hormonal thrall than rats and rabbits, but we’re all likely to tap into a preference for dominance or submission.
A third of straight men and two-thirds of gay men prefer to be sexually submissive, while a small minority of straight women prefer to be dominant.
Porn is not about a relationship. “It’s not about his wife or his partner,” says Kort. “It’s about the freedom to be self-centred. Porn never says ‘no’, carries no opportunity for rejection. And no negotiation is needed.”
Men choose to watch porn because it is easy and quick – and they can escape the burden of pleasing a partner.”It’s a way for a man to relax,” adds Ley. “That is one of the main reasons a man can get an erection more easily with porn than with a partner. He doesn’t have to focus on her needs. You have to relax in order to get an erection.”
An end to secrecy
Joe Kort invites couples to talk openly about the differences between their erotic identities. Once partners take the mystery out of their sexual interests, they open the door to understanding and compassion for each other.
Either scenario calls for a willingness of both partners to be open about their sexual fantasies and drop the secrecy that now drives so many to their own devices.
RULES OF ENGAGEMENT
No matter if you’re an established couple or not, it’s wise to consider whether you and your partner have the same view of what is, and isn’t, fair game for posting about your life together.
Technology changes the boundaries of couple life in new ways, says Katherine Hertlein, associate professor of psychology at the University of Nevada Las Vegas and co-author of The Couple and Family Technology Framework. But most couples don’t realise it until one person feels there is a transgression – say, the other adds an old flame as a Facebook friend.
She urges couples to have an explicit conversation about how to manage tech use. The ideal time to do it is when two people become serious about their relationship. Since technology is always changing, however, it’s necessary for all couples. Here are discussion points: What are your expectations about tech use by your partner and by you? Exactly what kind of contact does each partner regard as cheating? What is appropriate to disclose about the relationship; about your spouse? Do you exchange passwords or not? Do you tell your partner whom you are texting? When is it OK to be anonymous online? What, if any, places in the home are off-limits to electronic devices?What are rules for use in the car? When is it OK to post photos of your children? How much checking on each other is OK?
When you need support, Hertlein advises, it’s best to text. But if you’re having a fight or otherwise trying to solve a problem, better to do it via email. (Or even face to face by voice.) Technology facilitates frequent but brief communication – not enough to get at core issues. Set aside time at the end of the day for old-fashioned face-to-face talking.
Dylan Voller had more than 50 criminal offences to his name when he sat in a dock two years ago and was told by a judge “your counsel informed the court you spit at people when you get upset with them’’.
The image of the 18-year-old confined in a “spit hood” and tied to a prison chair has gained world attention this week but it was the end point of anger management issues which first surfaced when Voller was a child.
His bad behaviour emerged during a childhood marred, according to the Northern Territory Department of Children and Families, by intergenerational abuse combined with “family transience, neglect, family violence, physical abuse, parental mental health issues and parental substance abuse’’.
Sister Kirra Voller yesterday said her brother’s behaviour had been reasonably well controlled when he was a student at a Lutheran school in Adelaide but the attention deficit hyperactivity disorder sufferer deteriorated after the family moved to Alice Springs when he was eight.
Government workers provided respite care but Dylan was lavished with weekends spent in hotels, at bowling alleys and at movie theatres. Her brother was being rewarded for his bad behaviour, Ms Voller says.
“He was never a dumb kid, he knew the carers didn’t care and knew they’d give him all this free stuff for being naughty,” she says.
His relationship with his mother deteriorated and Voller was placed under the guardianship of the state when he was 11, but Ms Voller says he would escape curfew in residential care houses, do the wrong thing with friends and then go back to his mother, where police would look for him.
“Mum’s broken because everyone has said she failed and all she’s done is try,’’ Ms Voller says.
Her brother was offered counselling each time he came out, but she said he dealt with his problems, including his early years of abuse, by going out and trying to get his hands on alcohol and later drugs.
His criminal career began at 11. By 16 he had graduated to terrifying attacks, the worst of which was attempting to run down a policeman in Alice Springs who feared he would be “killed or paralysed for life” and who suffered “unpleasant intrusive thoughts and even violent dreams”.
When police arrested Voller, who was high on methamphetamines at the time of the offence on February 8, 2014, he abused them.
The officer has since moved to Darwin. Some of Voller’s victims have considered leaving Alice Springs out of fear of him and other violent teenagers roaming the streets late at night. Earlier on the night the officer was targeted, Voller was in a car with two others when they picked a random victim walking along Todd St.
“You took off your shirt and ran with your co-offenders towards the victim,” Justice Peter Barr told Voller at his sentencing hearing two years ago.
“When you got to the victim, you confronted the victim and yelled out at him, and I quote, ‘You fat, white racist dog, you fat prick, you yelled out at us.’ The victim replied, ‘I didn’t say anything’.
“You and your co-offenders then surrounded the victim on the footpath near Rocky’s Pizza and backed him into the building, The victim feared for his wellbeing.
“You then called out to the victim, ‘I’m going to smash you, you f. king dog! The victim replied, ‘What for? I haven’t done anything to you. I’m just wanting to walk’.’’
Voller then demanded his wallet while his co-accused punched the victim and while he lay in pain on the footpath Voller and the others kicked him in the ribs.
Ms Voller says her brother has lived a tough life and struggled to overcome horrific abuse suffered in the first two years of his life and the family battled to find people who could adequately deal with his ADHD or try and help him improve his behaviour.
“He has always had behaviour issues, (which) probably started when people didn’t know how to deal with his ADHD,” Ms Voller says.
He often failed to attend school, when at school he had “a history of inappropriate, aggressive and disruptive behaviour”, according to court documents.
He would refuse to take his ADHD medication and his mother, Joanne, would sometimes crush up the tablets and put them in his drink before calling the school to tell them he was OK to attend that day, only for Voller to get upset with her and accuse her of tricking him. Joanne Voller was regularly called to pick him up and take him home.
Voller was the subject of a care and protection order, issued by a magistrate, from November 2009 until 2013.
He needed a father figure, his sister says, someone who could give him guidance other than the revolving door of paid carers who could not prevent him from leaving residential care at night.
Many shop owners and residents in Alice Springs all said Voller was no angel, and he had been known on the streets as aggressive and verbally abusive.
Well-known Alice Springs councillor Steve Brown says youths should not be locked up, but they should be held accountable for their crimes. “I’m appalled by (the assaults) but I also understand that some of these kids are vile and they’re in there for a very good reason,” Mr Brownsays.
“You can’t have these centres destroying people’s lives either, they should be put in a facility like a Bush Mob, where they given direction.”
When not in juvenile detention — where his court records show he spent at least three periods of up to nine months between 2011 and 2014 — Kirra Voller said her brother was regularly on the streets roaming in small gangs, often with youths he befriended while inside.
A youth advocacy group asked to provide a report to the Supreme Court two years ago said Voller was “not capable of monitoring” his own behaviour which had, at times, “spiralled out of control while in detention’’.
The report referred to anger management problems and a “propensity to spitting.”
Before finally sending him to detention, where his case would become one of the drivers for the royal commission called this week, Justice Barr told Voller his type of criminal offending had made Alice Springs residents fearful.
“That kind of crime is disturbing. It unsettles the community,’’ Justice Barr said. “It makes the residents of Alice Springs afraid to leave their homes at night. They do not feel free to enjoy the amenities of their town. Community morale and community spirit are at risk. The affected residents are left wondering if they should look elsewhere for a safer place to live.”
Original article here
Northern Territory government counter-suing Don Dale youths
The Northern Territory government says two boys from Darwin’s Don Dale juvenile detention centre caused $89,000 damage in an escape attempt.
12:50PM July 29, 2016
The Northern Territory government is counter-suing two boys who appeared in footage shown on an ABC program about abuse at Darwin’s Don Dale juvenile detention centre.
The ABC says the CLP government is suing two former inmates for $160,000 worth of damage after they escaped from juvenile detention in June last year, allegedly stole a car and then rammed it back through the front roller door of the centre.
The pair were part of the group of six boys being held in the behaviour management unit at the Don Dale facility who were tear-gassed when another boy managed to get out of his cell. The footage was shown on the Four Corners program on Monday night.
Darwin lawyer Peter O’Brien earlier this week announced he would sue the NT government on behalf of Dylan Voller, now 18, and a 16-year-old boy.
Guards were show stripping, tear gassing, hog-tying and assaulting Mr Voller.
The other boy was also tear gassed.
However, the ABC says the boys in this case, whose names have been suppressed by the NT Supreme Court, filed papers in June seeking damages for alleged mistreatment by Don Dale staff.
In its response, filed on July 4, the government is seeking damages with interest and legal costs following the boys’ May 31, 2015 escape attempt.
The government says the pair caused $89,000 in damage during their escape, and caused another $74,025.60 in damage when they rammed the prison roller door upon their return two days later. AAP
This morning as I was getting ready for work, I took my phone into the bathroom to play music as I showered. I put the phone on shuffle and the first song up was Justin Timberlake’s Spaceship Coupe off of his latest, 20/20 Experience. I’ve been playing the 20/20 Experience a lot. I don’t think there’s a track on there that I don’t like. My favorite songs are Pusher Love Girl and Mirrors. His album is a breath of fresh air as far as R&B is concerned. Singers like Usher and Chris Brown seem to be moving more towards R&B/techno mashups.
No sooner did Spaceship Coupe finish playing, the next song started, which was I Luve Dem Strippers by 2Chainz ft Nikki Minaj. To say there was a glaring difference in the two songs would be an understatement. Not to say that I don’t enjoy ratchet songs because it was in fact on my phone but I started to think, “Why don’t rappers rap more about love?”
In my opinion (and I’m assuming the opinion of many others), it seems that the topic that rappers rap most about are sleeping with lots of women and not caring about them, how much money they make and freely dispense, and their propensity towards violence. What rappers are selling are fantasies. Rappers like T.I., 2Chainz, Jeezy and Pusha T are all above 30 years of age. I’m pretty sure they have either wives or long time girlfriends (I’ve considered the possibility that they may or may not cheat with reckless abandon). Rappers also don’t stay rich by spending their money thoughtlessly. Those bottles they’re popping in the club? I guarantee the owner provided them free of charge for making an appearance to draw customers to their establishment. Most likely they have an accountant and/or a financial advisor.
When I asked my timeline why the majority of rappers discussed the subject matter that they did, I was told that it was because talking about committing to one woman and financial responsibility isn’t cool. I thought that most rappers took pride in being trendsetters and setting themselves apart from the crowd. Rapping about jewelry and liquor accomplishes neither. You want to really win my respect? Rap about something more powerful and uplifting and don’t fall for the trap of discussing subject matter that do nothing but sell false dreams and false bravado.
So why don’t rappers talk about love? Hypermasculinity and need for approval from other men. Have you ever heard that women don’t get dressed up when they go out to attract men, but to compete with other women? This is the same theory when it comes to rappers. Rappers do their best to one up each other to prove who can be the most virile and macho. The longing for acceptance by other males makes the act of loving a woman not acceptable. It’s seen as a weak emotion that only weak people fall victim to. Love isn’t for the weak. Love is for the strong. It’s not an easy emotion to deal with.
What about what hip-hop consumers want want? Arguments could be made that rappers are just giving listeners what they want. Outside of rap music, our society has a fascination with violence, easy money and sex so I can’t realistically put this all on hip-hop but that is a different conversation for a different day.
Have you noticed that monotony that is rap music? Why do you think rappers don’t rap about more diverse topics?
Michelangelo and Picasso, so often celebrated for their contributions to art history, now have something else in common. Kanye West likened himself to both artists in a circuitous two-hour interview that saw the Chicago rapper and fashion designer speak candidly about social class, race, misogyny in rap and the pressures of fame.
“All of my aspirations are things that currently only 60-year-old white people do,” West said, in the video interview live-streamed by fashion site Showstudio. When asked why he referred to himself as a creative genius and visionary, West said: “Because otherwise I’m called celebrity. I’m called nigger. I’m called rapper. And when they use the word celebrity, nigger or rapper, it’s not in a positive way. So I have to define who I am.”
During a conversation with journalist Lou Stoppard that veered from personal anecdotes about struggling to break into fashion – “me sitting here, trying my hardest, and everyone laughing at me” – to family memories, West outlined his positive vision of a society that overcame class hierarchy.
“I want everyone to win. I don’t even want to be in competition with everyone,” he said. “I just want people to be the best thems and live the happiest lives possible. If you keep information and opportunity away from a certain group of people, then it’s destiny that they’ll stay part of a lower class.” West’s comments on class echoed views he’d shared during an interview in March, when he’d talked about class holding people back from success more than race.
West’s optimistic outlook didn’t keep him from frankly addressing questions about racial politics in America. He spoke about the legacy of slavery contributing to African American people’s reluctance to speak with confidence and carve out their own space in public life. “Blacks, especially in America, have been raised with a slave mentality – they don’t feel that they have the right to speak as loud as possible,” he said. “And every time you hear a black person speaking as loud as possible, somebody’s going to say: ‘Look at those niggers over there’.”
Over the course of the inteview, Stoppard asked West questions submitted by his friends, peers and fans. Most focused on race, fame and when West’s forthcoming album would be released – still unconfirmed, for those wanting to know. “You want to deliver genius, you want to prove people wrong and prove people right that are fighting for you,” West said, before likening the pressure of expectation around the album to being pulled apart by horses in all directions.
Lighter moments arrived elsewhere. London mayor Boris Johnson asked what West would do to make London better – “widen the streets” – while West’s wife Kim Kardashian West asked what he would choose for his last meal. He opted, diplomatically, for some of her home-cooked fried chicken. But a fan-submitted question about the portrayal of black women in rap lyrics saw West offer one of his more hesitant and convoluted responses. “I definitely think generally rap is misogynistic,” he said, after a pause. “Not that that’s justifying the culture.”
West spoke about rap music responding to trends, and communicating the current zeitgeist at the time that its lyrics are written. “There was a time when we had Afrocentric rap, and everybody was more like how Common is – ‘my queen’ and all that,” he said. He described misogynistic lyrics as an outlet for men who’ve found themselves belittled, turning towards the women in their lives and lashing out at them in order to feel validated.
“So let’s take that to the idea of a black male in America, not getting a job, or getting f*ed with at his job, or getting f*ed with by the cops or being looked down upon by this lady at Starbucks. And he goes home to his girl … and this guy is like … you just scream at the person that’s the closest to you.” West linked the use of misogynistic and violent language in rap to a “lack of opportunities” before switching tack and discussing hatred and racism.
Between sharing his pride about his wife’s former stepfather Caitlyn Jenner’s gender transition and labelling himself a humanist rather than feminist, West maintained that he understands his privilege as a celebrity. “Do I worry about being in the public eye and raising kids? Yeah. Any situation you’re in you’re gonna worry about raising kids. But it’s champagne problems, too. There are people who can’t feed their kids. I’m not gonna sit here and complain about these issues.”
London riots: Is rap music to blame for encouraging this culture of violence?
UPDATED 24 FEB 2012
BY PAUL ROUTLEDGE
A teenager standing near a burning car in Hackney
WATCHING London’s Self-Blitz on live television was a horrifying experience. I’ve lived in these riot-hit places and know them well.
The mayhem erupted overnight, but it has been building for years. And putting more police on the streets – while vital to end the threat to life and property – will not solve the crisis.
I blame the pernicious culture of hatred around rap music, which glorifies violence and loathing of authority (especially the police but including parents), exalts trashy materialism and raves about drugs.
The important things in life are the latest smart phone, fashionable trainers and jeans and idiot computer games. No wonder stores selling them were priority looting targets.
Stir into this lethal mixture the fostering of irrational anger against the world and disrespect for others and the end result is self-absorbed young people living at boiling point.
Tension is always there. You see it in their eyes, hear it in their voices and it can break out over the most trivial issues. I’ve been on the receiving end, threatened on a Number 12 bus to Peckham for no apparent reason.
In the short run, the civil authorities have to restore order on the streets, using whatever means are available. Society cannot function if marauding gangs of young men are free to terrorise neighbourhoods.
I don’t care how “angry” these kids are. It’s simply not on for ordinary people to be cowering in their homes, too scared to go to work or out to the shops. Or, even worse, petrified of the petrol bomb that could take their lives.
For the medium term, Cameron’s government must rethink their security, employment and education policies. And fast. It is too glib to blame all this violence on ConDem policies, but they have undoubtedly contributed to it.
Cutting police numbers by 2,000 in the capital is unwise. Ending education maintenance allowances that prepare thousands of young people for work was a mistake. And half-hearted measures to bring down the appalling toll of youth unemployment are not enough.
But in the end only a change of culture, and the way these kids see the world about them, will work. I would ban the broadcasting of poisonous rap, and urge – require, even – schools to teach that the world is a much better place without pointless rage.
“I ain’t gonna change nothing I do, cause I aint doin’ nothing wrong,” rap legend Ice Cube said when asked whether he would cut “F*k Tha Police” from his future sets in light of the recent Dallas shootings.
The protest song, originally released on N.W.A.’s Straight Outta Compton in 1988, echoes the anger and frustration expressed by supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement, but its perceived call to violence has many critics clamoring to censor the song for fear that it will incite listeners to act out in kind. Conservative commentator Bill O’Reilly said it was “very disturbing” that the song was still being distributed, and Bernard McGuirk called Ice Cube’s refusal to stop performing the song “beyond disgusting.”
But James M. Jasper, Ph.D., a CUNY sociologist specializing in the emotions of protest, stands by Ice Cube’s refusal to self-censor. “Anger is a totally appropriate emotion for protesters,” he tells Inverse. “You want people to go out in the streets and shout. You want people to go out protesting.”
Music has played such a large part in protests throughout history because it creates a sense of solidarity by inciting strong emotion. “It makes you feel like you’re part of a bigger whole, or larger cause,” Jasper says. The emotional bond shared by people exposed to the same song — whether on the streets or online — can spur collective activities — dancing, marching, and chanting — all of which create a feeling of cohesion. In the Black Lives Matter movement, which has fought to gain recognition on the national level, this sort of mobilization is crucial. And using anger to fuel it is “totally appropriate,” Jasper says.
“You go to a protest to feel angry. You’re already angry. In some way you go to a protest to know you’re going to feel even angrier,” he explains. “F*k Tha Police” is not a trigger; it’s an echo chamber. But what’s most crucial to realize is that it’s not, in itself, a call to violence.
What critics fail to understand is that the strong emotions aroused during a social movement or protest don’t necessarily translate into shootings, Jasper says. While MC Ren’s line on the original N.W.A. track — “I’m a sniper with a hell of a scope/Taking out a cop or two, they can’t cope with me” — is pointedly aggressive and especially uncomfortable to hear in light of recent events, it remains a vehicle for anger, not violence. “Music is neither necessary or sufficient for violence,” he says.
He does concede that music can make it easier for people with violent intent to actually act, explaining that putting on loud music could get the adrenaline flowing and make it easier to actually do something. But there is no evidence to says that violent music directly begets violence in a social movement. “It’s a powerful song,” he says. “But 99.999 percent of people who listen to it will not get a gun and start shooting at cops.”
It’s funny that the people who have their foot on our neck are telling us, ‘Get up. What’s wrong with you?’
One thing to keep in mind, he points out, is that the lyrics of a song are much less important than its musical elements — its beat, tempo, and melody — and shouldn’t be given too much weight. Even a song like “F*k Tha Police”, in which Ice Cube declares there’ll be a “bloodbath of cops/Dying in L.A.”? “I wouldn’t worry about the lyrics so much as people do, especially for outsiders,” he says. “All they learn, all they see are the lyrics. They don’t experience the music. They aren’t there feeling the feelings of the music.”
That’s the point that Ice Cube’s critics are so blatantly missing. Yes, “F*k Tha Police” is a shocking title for a song. Yes, its lyrics depict and defend alarming acts of violence. But focusing on what the song says is less important than asking why people want to listen to it. And perhaps understanding why is impossible to grasp unless you know how it feels to be compelled to do so. N.W.A.’s classic anthem is a song of protest, indignation, and outrage, feelings that are entirely appropriate given the frustration experienced by supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement — and feelings that are largely, consistently misunderstood by those watching from the outside.
During a recent march commemorating the brutal shootings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile one sweltering evening in New York city, protestors marched on Times Square, tirelessly chanting “Hands up, don’t shoot,” and “Whose streets? Our streets.” But the crowd’s tone changed sharply as police forces started lining the sidewalks. Cries of “F*k the police” began to surface above the din, echoing in waves throughout the crowd. Were people violent? Not at all. Were people angry? Of course they were. But they had every right to be. [not]
Rap Music, Brainwashed Youth, and the Power of Hip Hop Culture
As a Hip Hop purist, I’ve always hated the fact that most commercial rap music promotes negative images and messages.
Having used Hip Hop culture as a medium to empower youth for the last 15 years, I’ve seen first hand how mainstream rap impacts young impressionable minds. It is disturbing. Having also worked with incarcerated youth, I’ve seen how rap that glorifies irresponsible and criminal behavior has become the soundtrack to their daily lives.
The music industry’s role in promoting negative music has been a hot topic for many years. I’ve personally written about it extensively. What is too often under reported is how young people, including incarcerated youth, are directly impacted by the music. Although the overall effect is easy to imagine, specific details are extremely revealing. Here are some of my personal observations gathered from years of work with teens in traditional schools and juvenile detention centers.
When asked to explain what Hip Hop consists of, the majority of kids list violence and gangs as being elements of Hip Hop.
When asked to list what their favorite artists rap about, the overwhelming majority list guns, sex, violence, cars, thugs, jewelry, and money as popular topics.
When asked to name rappers with positive lyrics, most kids name Drake, Tupac, and Kendrick Lamar (within the last year) but seem unaware of any others.
When asked to name female rappers, the overwhelming majority can only think of Nicki Minaj.
When asked if rap music influences them, the majority say yes.
When asked if they know anyone who tries to emulate what rappers do, 99% say they know one or more people who do.
The majority of girls say that most boys seem to learn how to treat girls from their favorite rappers.
The majority of boys say that rap music has taught them that girls cannot be trusted.
Over half of kids use slang they picked up from the newest songs in their everyday conversations.
99% of kids get all of their music for free. Most have never even owned a CD.
The majority of kids only know commercial rappers and aren’t very familiar with the underground scene.
Most kids don’t realize that they can use the internet to discover new artists and end up only acknowledging rappers who top the charts.
Half of all youth state that they’ve never heard rappers use big words.
The overwhelming majority of incarcerated youth say they listen to “gangsta shit” to pump them up to get high or commit a crime.
Over half of incarcerated youth refer to rappers who glorify negativity (ex: Chief Keef, Gucci Mane, Lil’ Boosie, 2 Chainz, etc) as “real shit” while rappers whose content is more progressive are labeled “weak” or “corny”.
Over half of incarcerated youth dream of becoming rap stars when they get out of jail.
During rap writing sessions, most kids write about the same topics commercial artists rap about. 99% of incarcerated youth have an extremely difficult time writing about anything else besides the streets.
Half of incarcerated youth say that slow and bass heavy instrumentals (trap music) inspire them to do negative things. They say “something” in the beat has an effect on them.
The previous data is usually gathered within the first few days of working with youth. After I’ve had enough time to teach kids about Hip Hop culture, the music industry, and the “Commercial Rap to Prison Pipeline”, I expose them to pioneers and iconic Hip Hop artists as well as new underground and independent rappers, of whom most of them have never heard before. Some of these artists include:
The overwhelming majority of kids say that the artists I’ve introduced them to sound better than commercial rappers.
Most kids wonder why radio doesn’t play these artists in heavy rotation.
Most say that they didn’t know rappers could speak intelligently and still sound good.
About half of the kids state that mainstream rappers sound stupid in comparison to these newly discovered artists.
Many of the kids who are aspiring rappers ask me what they can do to become better lyricist.
The majority of them are mad at the mainstream music industry once they’re exposed to alternatives and conclude that the industry is intentionally promoting music to “brainwash” them.
These findings are both disturbing and hopeful. As I’ve stated in previous articles, mainstream rap music can’t be blamed for all of today’s social ills as unemployment, poverty, gangs, drugs, failing school system, and institutionalized racism are the real culprits.
However, mainstream rap’s impact on youth cannot be ignored and has undoubtedly contributed to an already troubled society. Still, when seeking solutions and innovative ways to effectively reach our youth, it’s good to know that Hip Hop culture, in the right hands, can have the kind of impact on young people that may help to save their lives.