Saturday, December 28, 2013

No Mere Mockery

During the days leading up to Christmas I suffered a hilarious lapse in my usual cynical pessimism. I went to the morning service at The Church of the Holy Innocents with hardly a thought in my head that I would be uncomfortable there. I wanted to hear Grace sing, and for that I had to go to the service. I suppose that sense of inevitability caused me to sweep any realistic expectations under my mental rug.

Regardless of why my expectations were unrealistic, it didn't take long for the service to disabuse me of them. A sarcastic narrative spooled out in my head. It sounded something like this.
There was this dude with an awesome hat and a fancy white and gold dress with a matching cape, and he had these two other dudes to hold up the cape for him whenever he sat down or stood up. Well, at one point he got up and walked over to this other dude who had this giant metal tea-infuser ball hanging from a chain. The ball must have had something burning inside it, because there was all this smoke coming out. So Cape Dude took the chain, turned to this big book on a lectern, and swung the ball so that the smoke went onto the book. There was lots of chanting during all this.

And I said to myself “Right on, man. Because that is exactly what Christ meant when he never said anything remotely resembling that.”
With each mental draft I relished my wit and anticipated posting it in a private Facebook group I run. I'd created the group as a safe space to say things one isn't comfortable saying in one's public stream--a place where people can share potentially embarrassing or incendiary thoughts and get honest responses without the usual assumption of ill intent that breeds posturing and flame wars. So my little satire seemed like a perfect fit.

But I knew it wasn't. The more I thought of posting it, the more I knew I wouldn't. Even in that place where I trusted myself to say things I couldn't otherwise say without fear of giving offense, I was afraid of giving offense. I knew there was a problem.

By the end of the service, I understood what the problem was. I wasn't being humane. I was taking cheap shots at the structure and ritual without considering it in its historical context, and I know better. To read history from a modern perspective is worse than useless. One can only understand history by placing historical characters in their historical context.

Just a few centuries ago, Christianity was the only game in town: the substrate of physical, social and spiritual existence. That way of life is nearly impossible for the modern agnostic or atheist to fathom, yet if we don't at least try, we'll never see clearly. The church was the only social cushion at a time when humans lived closer to the bone than we can readily imagine.

I despise what religion has wrought. I believe even the most cursory glance at history shows that religion has done more harm than good, and that the world would be a better place without it. Yet lacking a control for reality, I can never prove my beliefs.

For all I know, we couldn't have gotten to where we are without our ancestors having that social cushion. For all I know, the ritual I was mocking had roots in a structure they couldn't have done without.

To dismiss religion and mock religious people would serve nothing but my own in ego. If I were to indulge in such simplistic thinking, I would be no different than those who have lumped me in with misogynists because I don't regurgitate every feminist talking-point. I have to be better than that, my thoughts more granular. I have to be able to parse adjacent concepts.

Neal Stephenson wrote that “the difference between stupid and intelligent people – and this is true whether or not they are well-educated – is that intelligent people can handle subtlety.” That's what my satire was lacking: subtlety.

I'm uncomfortable, scared and angry about the ritual I sat through on Christmas morning. To channel  those feelings into mere mockery would be easy. To respond with measured, contextualized criticism takes an order of magnitude more effort. Yet it's the only honest response. I have to do the work.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

To My Daughter: Common Ground

To the reader:

I used to think I could take an idea in my head and write about it, and that you could read my words and get the same idea in your head. But after writing about feminism for a while, I no longer believe that. The language is too charged, and too many people have drawn monstrous inferences from my words.

Fear of being misunderstood has nearly paralyzed my writing. So I'm taking a suggestion from my wife, who agreed that people would get the wrong idea unless I prefaced each piece with an unambiguous statement of intent.

Here are the basic precepts on which I and feminists agree. They are the reasons why I write about feminism, and why I consider myself a feminist. If you find something monstrous in my writing--something that seems to conflict with any of these precepts--please ask me about it. Odds are, you're seeing something that was not in my mind.


1. The United States has a male-dominated culture. By default, men tend to have advantages which may or may not be visible to them.

2. Systematic inequality exists.

3. All forms of emotional, physical and sexual abuse are monstrous.

4. I want to work against the inequality and suffering implicit in the above.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Not Listening to Body Dysmorphia

Today I met some online friends in Manhattan for a 5k run. Afterward, the organizer of the get-together posted some pictures. Here's one of them.

I'm the fashionable one.

Do you know what I said to myself when I saw this one?

God I look fat.

Yup. Seriously. The voice in my head even had a tinge of Valley girl drama 'tude.

I'd like to reassure you at this point that this post is in no way intended to solicit sympathy, or even support. I don't need support. Know why?

I aint' listenin' to that voice any more.

Far from wanting support, I want to express gratitude. I want to convey the bizarre view from inside my head. And I want to write words that might help someone else who, like me, looks at their body and doesn't see reality.

I was morbidly obese for the first seventeen years of my life, and during most of the subsequent twenty-three years I was none too skinny. Finding a sane relationship with food and attaining a healthy weight has been the primary struggle of my life.

A few years ago I got help, got clean and started losing weight. As I approached my goal weight, I was scared out of my mind. It had all gone to shit each time I'd tried before, and it would all go to shit again.

Except this time it didn't. This time I was doing things differently. Despite my certainty that it would all fall apart... it didn't. I hit my goal weight on October 1, 2011. Words couldn't describe my amazement.

Ah, but my life had hardly begun to get weird. At that point, I had no clue how radically my metabolism had shifted as a result of the enormous change in my eating. I added a few hundred calories to my daily intake, figuring that would be enough to halt my weight loss. Didn't even make a dent. I scratched my head and threw another few hundred calories at the problem, and this time my weight loss slowed... a little? Maybe? Huh. More head-scratching, a few hundred more calories thrown in. My weight loss finally slowed markedly, but still didn't stop.

In the fourth round I rolled up my sleeves and, with a mix of disbelief and irritation, added another few hundred calories to my daily intake, bringing it up to well over four thousand calories. Finally, my weight started to go back up.

And I had to let it.

See, I'd committed to a sensible, healthy goal weight, and I'd shot past it, so now I had to gain a few pounds to get back to that weight and then stabilize. Simple, right? Well, if you think so, you've probably never been obese. There's no thrill like the thrill of finally being skinny, and there's always a voice that says "Yeah... I could be skinnier."

But I didn't listen to that voice. I let my weight climb slowly. And if I was scared out of my mind before, now I was scared out of my mind, out the door, into a cab to the spaceport, onto the next long-range ship, out of the solar system, through the nearest black hole and into some other dimension of shrieking, pants-filling horror where no one had ever heard of minds, let alone being in one.

Now here's where the body dysmorphia made itself apparent. In the midst of my fear--in the midst of thinking "No way am I going to be able to gain weight without it all falling apart"--I started to look in the mirror and poke at my face, thinking that it looked too fat. Keep in mind that when this behavior started I had gained at most three pounds.

That's when I started learning the skill of getting a stranglehold on myself. "Dude." I would say. "You cannot look fat. At most you have gained three pounds. And you were too skinny before you gained those three pounds, so there is no way you can look fat. So SHUT THE FUCK UP. And CHILL THE FUCK OUT."

I had to start not listening to the voice that said I looked fat, because every other input, from the people in my life to my own internal logic, told me otherwise. That voice was loud, but it was vastly outnumbered, so I had to let it be overruled.

I overshot my goal weight by a pound or two, decreased my calories a bit, and settled into a groove. Within months I got really good at maintaining my goal weight. I spent two years within five pounds of that mark. Whenever I gained or lost a pound or two between monthly weigh-ins, I tweaked my food intake to compensate. My fear seeped out of me. I no longer believed everything would go to shit.

Then, two months ago, I took a huge step. I'd been going to CrossFit for about seven months, and I knew it was past time to adjust my goal weight. Gaining muscle without gaining weight is the equivalent of losing weight, so if I was going to be honest with myself, my weight had to become a moving target. So I started gaining weight intentionally.

At the beginning of November I weighed myself and found that I'd gained three pounds. I'm happy to say not only that I felt only small echoes of that old fear, but that I resolved to continue. Three pounds was a good start. I was still on the slender side of fit, and my pants were still on the loose side of comfortable. I judged that, if I were to gain another three pounds during November, it wouldn't be a bad thing. So I let it ride.

I'm in the middle of that second month now, and it's... a bit challenging. I still have those moments when I walk by the mirror and stop and examine and poke, and that old voice returns. It's always a negotiation. Which leads me to today. I've looked at that picture ten times, and each time, here's what still goes through my head.

I see my man-boobs and my upholstery. I see that I'm a size 42 frame in a size 52 skin. And I wouldn't change any of that. If I had a million dollars, I wouldn't get liposuction, because that flab is part of me. I like who I am, so I won't deny my past. Moreover, I know the difference between flab and fat, so although I see those flaws, I know they don't make me look fat.

I see that I'm wearing sweats, and I know sweats make a person look dumpy.

I see that I'm running like a spaz because I tore a muscle in my calf a few moths ago, and it hasn't healed yet.

I think of all the times since I lost weight when I've seen a video of myself and I said "Holy shit I'm skinny!" and how bizarre it is that I can look at a still picture and have the opposite reaction.

I think of how people have different body types. I think of my mesomorph frame. I know I have a pernicious tendency to compare myself to ectomorphs and think that I'm fat.

I take all these factors into consideration. I extrapolate and interpolate. I weigh it all like Indiana Jones with his bag of sand. And I come out the other side knowing with dead certainty that I do not look fat.

And still I look at that picture and think "God I look fat."

The cool thing is, I'm getting good at not listening to that voice. It's still there, like the imaginary people in the room in "A Beautiful Mind". It's just that, in the convocation that informs my judgment, I've allowed that voice to be drowned out.

I'm feelin' good about that. I'm amused by my crazy brain and tickled at having learned how to rein in one of its more quizzical aspects. So again, the last thing I need is sympathy or support. What I want is to reach anyone who might find this a bit familiar, and tell you that this body dysmorphia shit is real. As real as it gets.

And you can get help.

One other thing. A few months back, a friend and fellow compulsive overeater invited me to speak at a weekly meeting that focuses on body issues. There were twenty-five people in the room, and I was the only man.

That's bullshit. Come on, guys! I know for a fact that I'm not the only man whose perception of himself is compromised. So that stuff I said above, about how it's real and there is help? Yes. It applies to you, regardless of gender. This whimsy doesn't discriminate.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

The Abuser In My Head

The other day I was walking down the hallway at work when the thought of a sandwich popped into my head. The neat stack of bread and fixings coalesced before my mind's eye with no apparent associative chain leading up to it.

But just because there was no associative chain doesn't mean there was no cause. Moments before I thought of the sandwich, an old, angry, embarrassed feeling had surfaced. I wouldn't have noticed this two and a half years ago. But since then I've gotten good at seeing how my mind leaps to thoughts of food to avoid feelings it doesn't want to feel.

I visualized the sandwich and remembered how it felt to reach out for food without a thought in my head of stopping. My behavior was a simple reflex arc; I saw food that I liked, my hand reached out and it went in my mouth. I touched that old feeling, and the contrast between then and now shocked me. I no longer exist in a state of perpetual hedonistic freefall.

In the midst of that overwhelming contrast, there were striking similarities. My new way of eating has so deeply ingrained itself in my behavior that I spend very little time thinking about it. So when I start eating, I have exactly as much thought of stopping as I did years ago, which is none at all. The difference is that the structure provides limits. I'm no longer in freefall. I'm standing calmly in a landscape that has fallen deafeningly quiet.

Now here's the odd thing about that sense of quietude: it felt lonely. I was bemused and curious at that. I wanted to explain the loneliness. At the time, the closest I came was to say that the act of mindlessly eating everything in sight had carried with it a sound and fury. It was reckless and exciting, like a wild party in my head. Now that the party had fallen silent, I was experiencing the silence as loneliness.

But that didn't do it. The feeling of loneliness still didn't make sense. After all, every fiber of my lucid self saw my new way of eating as joyous and free, and saw the loneliness as peacefulness. I was feeling the hush in the wake of decades of binge eating and self-loathing. But that's not how my emotional self experienced it. So for days I rolled more metaphors around in my head, wondering if I was merely overthinking it.

Then the muse came to me unexpectedly in a conversation with my sister about my ten-year-old nephew. She said that he feels constantly pestered by his eight-year-old sister, yet recently he had a day at home without her, and he missed her. I smiled and exclaimed to myself "That's it! That's the feeling!" My relationship with food had been a constant, pestering presence, but once that pestering was gone, I missed it.

I mused on the sibling metaphor and soon found myself extending it, shifting from sister and brother to abuser and abused. I thought of how often people stay in abusive situations. This image of the abused struggling against all reason to stay with the abuser resonated so strongly with me that it seemed like the metaphor I'd been fumbling toward all along.

Maybe my loneliness is analogous to the urge to stay in an abusive relationship. Maybe the silence in my head is not that of the house after the loud party, but rather that of the house after the abuser has left. For decades my house was full of tumult. It hurt, but it was exciting and I didn't know how to live any other way. Maybe, no matter how long I stay away and no matter how good I feel about being away, part of me will always want to be back there.

And maybe this all seems fatuously Freudian to you. Maybe you don't think of yourself as a convocation of sub-selves. But when you ask yourself a question, to whom are you speaking? To whom do the voices belong that debate ethical questions in your head?

To a greater or lesser degree we are all sandboxes in which cavort calved-off aspects of ourselves: personality constructs granted sufficient autonomy to compose the dialectic on which cognition thrives. And maybe it's that granting of autonomy that gets people like me into trouble. Maybe a brutish, heedless part of me overpowered the rest.

Maybe my addiction was an abuser in my head.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

To My Daughter: You Are Beautiful

I've been thinking about something you said recently--something about a friend of yours who's prettier than you. You said it in such a matter-of-fact way that it was disheartening to me, yet I couldn't think of a thing to say, in much the same way that I might not know how to respond to someone telling me that the sun is green. What is there to say to a statement so obviously, wholly untrue that it seems not to bear on reality?

We've spoken about this before, so I suspect that right now you're defending your self-deprecating position by pointing out that men respond to your friend differently than they do to you. To that I have two replies.

First, human perception is flawed, and you're human. You don't see yourself clearly. None of us do. When I look back at myself at your age, I see a young man crippled far more by his perception of himself than by any intrinsic limits. I thought I knew what I was and how people saw me, but now I know that I was just telling stories. I could have been whomever I wanted to be, if I'd just had faith in myself. I see the same aching gulf in you. I doubt you see yourself clearly, let alone how men react to you and your friend.

Second--and I know we've talked about this before, but given the dismal sound of your voice when you talked about your friend, it bears repeating--even if those men do react to her in some way that they don't react to you, so what? Men respond to women for a host of reasons, of which static physical attributes compose a small portion. In a person's motion and behavior there are hundreds of cues you would consciously recognize and thousands that you wouldn't. Men may respond to traits that have nothing to do with your friend's looks--traits which you may or may not want to possess.

Your statement stuck in my head so thoroughly because of that article we spoke about, How to talk to your daughter about her body. Many of the women who commented disagreed with the author because they'd spent their whole lives wanting their fathers to tell them they were pretty, but they never did. I keep thinking back to your childhood, wondering what I said to you, if anything, about your body. Did I tell you that you were pretty, or beautiful, or cute? I don't remember. I tend to think I didn't, because I didn't want to emphasize physical attributes. Did you want me to?

I know I can't reach in and change you. I know my opinion only goes so far. I just want you to know the depth of befuddlement and sadness I feel when I hear you say your friend is prettier than you. She isn't prettier than you. You aren't any less attractive then her. You're beautiful, inside and out. I've always thought so.



To My Daughter: Introduction

Dear Morgan,

Last night you posted the following on Facebook.
i'm going to be corny and post this on your wall so everybodyy can see it: you are the best dad and i love you : ]
In addition to getting me all choked up, you may have dropped an answer into my lap.

About seven months ago I broke my decades-long silence on the subject of feminism. During the following six weeks I wrote six more articles. In the last five and a half months I've written only one.

If you read all of my feminism articles from the beginning, you'll see the progress I've made and you'll understand why I've been reticent despite that progress. My initial passion was suffused with an anger that cooled as I wrote. I needed to write about, and with, that anger to get past it. That process has given me both clarity and pause.

Do you remember when I told you I was learning the difference between writing to say what I needed to say, and writing to communicate with my readers? I was thinking primarily of this piece. I don't know if you've read it. Hell, I don't know if I want you to read it. It's not the type of thing your average Dad wants his daughter to see, yet perhaps that very discomfort makes it all the more important to share with you. I stand by every word of it, because it's the truth. Yet I see now that it's an example of my saying what I need to say, rather than writing in a way that communicates. That's why future articles will include rewrites of that piece.

Feminism is polarized, politicized and rhetorically ossified, and I am angry. That's a shitty combination. Now that I've written a few pieces and gained a bit of clarity, I doubt that I'm yet capable of writing usefully about feminism, because the concepts I consider so vital to convey are so easy to misconstrue. Yet I have to keep writing if I'm ever to write more usefully.

I spent months ruminating somewhat bitterly on all these thoughts, and then last night you wrote the post above. And it suddenly occurred to me that I should write all my pieces on feminism TO YOU. After all, why am I concerned about feminism? Because I want to contribute to a world where you are safe, where you have equal opportunities, where you can exercise your vital powers, along lines of excellence, in a life affording you scope.

I trust myself when I think of you. I have faith in my ability to do what I do not because anyone's watching, not because I'll get credit--hell, not even caring whether you know about it or not--but because it's right for you. If I write to you, you'll be my pole star leading me through pitfalls of anger and narcissism.

Thanks for being you. I don't know whom I'd be without you.



Thursday, August 15, 2013

The Rope

It must have been around late 1984my first year of high schoolwhen I first saw that rope hanging from the gym's ceiling beam. I weighed at least 250 pounds by then. I seem to recall a few more rope-climbing days during the next few years, so it's safe to assume I weighed over 300 pounds during at least one "attempt". The quotes are there for the same reason that I remember the experience so well. The handful of moments I spent with that rope weren't my most humiliating--not by a long shot. But they made a singular impression.

Pretense. That's what made those moments unique. I went numb trying to pretend that there wasn't a whole gym class full of boys standing in a silent circle, looking at me, waiting for the inevitable. I played along with the pretense of trying to climb the rope when I knew just as well as they did what was coming. There was an inexorability in seeing the moment in the near future when the misery would be over, and knowing that between me and it there was one path and zero choices. I had to play along with the absurdity. I had to pass through that eye of the storm of eyes.

The pretense was necessary. Grades in gym class were based on effort. I didn't have to climb an inch. I just had to try my best. So I was grateful for that pretense. And I felt pathetic for feeling grateful for the protection that pretense afforded me. I was a freak who was lucky not to suffer more than humiliation for not being able to climb a ropea matryoshka of gratitude and shame.

So when I stepped up to that rope, I knew I would do my best, and I knew I wouldn't climb it. I had seen the other boys climb it--seen one or two of them reach the top. I dreamed of being like them. I knew I never would. I knew I'd never climb a rope to the top.

Today I climbed a rope to the top.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

To Sarah

Dear Sarah,

Thank you for your article, "How to talk to your daughter about her body". I agree with most of it.

When I read the few sentences with which I disagree, I feel a familiar sense of disquietude, worry and even fear. Those feelings color my perception of the entire piece, which does neither you nor I any good. I hope you're willing to discuss your article and my reaction to it, because mutual understanding could benefit us both.

The sentences with which I disagree most strongly, and which present the greatest obstacle to my interpreting your piece objectively, are these.
Don’t say anything if she’s lost weight. Don’t say anything if she’s gained weight.
I am a compulsive overeater. I weighed over two hundred pounds by the time I was in sixth grade, and over three hundred pounds by the eleventh. At the age of seventeen I lost one hundred fifteen pounds. During the following twenty-three years I struggled with my relationship with food, following a pattern familiar to many: a roller-coaster ride of weight loss and weight gain that trended gradually upward. In the spring of 2011 I got help and got clean. Since October of that year I've been within five pounds of my ideal healthy weight.

Throughout my childhood and adolescence there was never a moment when I didn't hate my body, never a moment when I felt comfortable in my own skin. I of all people understand your concerns about shaming. I wouldn't wish shame on my worst enemy. I used to think that shaming had its place among useful self-motivational tools, but over the last decade or so, thanks to the influence of my wife and friends, I've come to see things differently. I understand that shame never helps. So please understand that I in no way advocate shaming.

Also, please understand my concern for my own daughter. When she was thirteen, I discovered she was plucking her eyebrows. When I attempted to tell her that she didn't need to change herself for anyone, she wailed "But Daaaaad, I have a monobrow! I desisted, because I felt that to show my distress over her reaction to her cultural pressure would only alienate her.

At around the same time, I was becoming more and more disturbed to see advertisements sexualizing girls at an ever earlier age. I took her aside and, with all the earnestness I could muster, told her about the pressures I saw on girls her age and that she shouldn't feel like she has to be anything that anyone else wants her to be.

I wrote all that in the hope that you will understand why I get so scared when I read the words "Don’t say anything if she’s lost weight. Don’t say anything if she’s gained weight." I understand that you want to teach girls to love themselves and their bodies, and never to let anyone limit them with shame. But loading a girl down with body shame is not the same thing as teaching her the importance of physical fitness, and I fear that your statements dangerously conflate those two concepts.

If my daughter gained or lost a significant amount of weight, I would be concerned, and I would express that concern to her because either change could signal emotional or physical problems. I want her to be healthy, and unless I misunderstand you, that means something different to me than it does to you. You seem to want to disconnect the notion of health from the context of the body, and I think such attempts render the concept meaningless. We cannot be healthy if our bodies are not healthy, and a healthy body implies a set of quantifiable attributes.

You speak of your rib cage, and of course I would not want anyone telling your daughter that there's anything wrong with an immutable quality of her body such as that. But we can and should recognize that a person of body type X and height Y will have an optimal weight range Z, and that deviations from that range will cause cardiovascular problems, joint problems, skin problems, skeletal problems and diabetes, just to name the first few of a long laundry list of ills.

Obesity is the worst health problem facing our country, and I know from personal experience exactly how much it harms body and spirit. You seem not to recognize this, and it terrifies me to think of a girl reading your words and thinking that the state of her body doesn't matter. It does matter. It matters to her, it matters to her mother and father, and it matters to a world that desperately needs her to exercise her vital powers along lines of excellence in a life affording her scope.

Here's the second part of your article with which I have a problem. To be clear, I disagree not with the entire paragraph, but with the conflation of different ideas.
Don’t you dare talk about how much you hate your body in front of your daughter, or talk about your new diet. In fact, don’t go on a diet in front of your daughter. Buy healthy food. Cook healthy meals. But don’t say “I’m not eating carbs right now.” Your daughter should never think that carbs are evil, because shame over what you eat only leads to shame about yourself.
Again, you seem to equate the recognition of demonstrably unhealthy food choices with shame. Having made unhealthy food choices, and felt shame, for most of my life, I can tell you emphatically that they are not the same thing. I can recognize unhealthy food choices in myself and in my daughter without shaming either of us.

In May of 2011 I got off flour and processed sugar. For three weeks, I was a junkie in withdrawal. Soon, though, I started feeling better than ever before. My blood pressure dropped to normal levels for the first time in my life. Now, two years later, I'm in the best shape of my life because I made quantifiable choices that led to my body having quantifiable attributes. I talk about all those things with my daughter, including the history of shame and dysfunction that led to it. None of this is shaming.

After hearing about my struggle with obesity, you might imagine that I'm obsessed with the thought of my daughter ever gaining five pounds. Nothing could be further from the truth. Over the years she's gained and lost a few pounds here and there, and while some of her family members were telling her that she needed to lose weight, I was scoffing at the notion and telling her that she was fine. If anything, I'm more concerned with her potential to be underweight than overweight.

Yet even if we were to agree that I should express concern were my daughter to gain or lose a significant amount of weight, we would be missing the big picture. The notion of a "Goldilocks weight" is not even remotely sufficient to indicate health. For that, we need a sane notion of exercise, and I don't think you realize how lacking your article is in that regard.

You seem to think that if you extoll and demonstrate the positive benefits of exercise, your daughter will naturally achieve a healthy weight. I am sorry to tell you that, based on my personal experience, this is not true.

I spent decades struggling with my weight despite being much more physically active than the average man. Through it all, I thought in terms of compensating for my eating through exercise. During the last few years especially, there was never a moment when I wasn't obsessed with burning calories and maximizing the area under my metabolism curve to compensate for what I would be eating. Although I would never have recognized this at the time, I was an exercise bulimic.

If you and your daughter are lucky, she will absorb your enthusiasm for exercise, and her eating will naturally remain subordinate to her physical activity. But this is by no means guaranteed. If she's like me, she may latch onto the idea that she can eat whatever she wants and compensate for it by exercising, and there is nothing in your article to tell her otherwise.

If your daughter eats whatever she wants and compensates for it with exercise, she will not be healthy. Please, please trust me on this; neither her body nor her mind are designed for that ghastly equation.

My last concern is not so much for what you said, but for what I saw in the comments. There's a deplorable thread running through feminism: the conviction that men will never know a woman's perspective and therefore may be peremptorily dismissed. Sure enough, this notion was given full throat by "Ali".
Ok, Ray- please just don’t comment because you have never nor will you ever know how it feels to walk in the shoes of a female, or to be the mother of a girl. Just stop.
This can't be useful. For either man or woman to hope to be anything but a homunculus, neither perspective can be meaningless. I understand wanting to score points by dismissing someone from the conversation. I also understand that it's the exact behavior that made me give up on feminism back in college. Afterward, I spent over twenty years staying out of the feminist conversation. What a waste. Maybe I could have been of use during that time. Maybe my actions or words could have prevented one rape, or helped one woman resist those same forces I saw my daughter struggling with.

I know what it's like to live in shame. I know what it's like to have an eating disorder. I know what it's like to be a father. And I know what it's like to feel tiny and terrified as my daughter struggles beneath cultural influences that seem too big for me to fight. Please examine your own motivations for writing this, and consider a less monolithic response to the problem of shaming.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

An observation of Leucauge venusta trichobothria and web eccentricities

Today I had a lovely opportunity to observe the peculiarities of Leucauge venusta. When I stepped outside my office for a breath of fresh air, I stumbled upon one specimen on top of a shrub at one corner of the parking lot, and another in the corner of a metal pole fence not thirty feet away.

When I looked at the second specimen, one detail leaped out at me: some delicate, feather-like structures on the front of the hindmost legs. A memory came back to me of seeing those particular structures on that particular species. Years ago, when I first took macro shots of Leucauge venusta, I noticed these structures only after examining the shots on a computer.

Today, though, the quality of the sunlight was just right, and the spider was perched just so. I could see the trichobothria easily with my naked eye, and no, I didn't know that word until I looked it up. I didn't have my camera with me, and I probably couldn't have gotten a decent shot of the trichobothria anyway, so I took the image below from The Find-A-Spider Guide for the Spiders of Southern Queensland after making sure I wasn't violating their image use policy. Isn't that a magnificent shot, and aren't the trichobothria beautiful? It's fascinating to be able to see filaments so delicate, and to know that the spider uses them to detect sound.

As I went back into the office, another aspect of my observation intrigued me. The first specimen--the one on the shrub--hung from the center of a neat orb web over a wispy tangle web, just as I'd expect from Leucauge venusta. But the second specimen, perched in a corner of a fence made of metal rods, had only a tangle web. To the best of my recollection, I've never before seen this species build a web that didn't include an orb.

It seemed obvious why the fence-dweller "chose" not to build an orb web; it would have been impossible to build in a corner. But were there other factors involved? For that matter, why did the spider select that site to build a web in the first place? Did it begin its climb "expecting" to find an opportunity to make an orb web and then, when it found none, "decide" to make what web it could rather than invest the energy required to climb down and find another site?

I see some research articles online that indicate variances in Leucauge venusta web placement and structure, but they seem only to deal with variances in orb webs as a function of sexual development. I haven't found any mention of the species building tangle webs without orb webs. So I'm posting this partly to share my gratification at having had the opportunity to make such a curious observation, and partly in hopes that some future Google search will lead someone who can answer my questions to this page.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

My First C# Utility: Clipboard Text to VB or C# String

Well, my C# skills have now progressed a step beyond "Hello World!". I just compiled a little C# executable to eliminate the drudgery of converting long SQL statements into multi-line code strings. Can't you just see me as the code monkey version of the harried housewife in those old Calgon ads, working my fingers to the bone in Visual Studio and finally throwing up my hands in frustration? Then the voiceover guy comes in with a smooth expo of my utility...

Anyway, the logic was trivial, but I did it in C# as an exercise, so it took a few hours instead of a few minutes. I suppose that, six months ago, contorting my VB head to fit the contours of C# would have seemed taxing, but during that time I've accomplished the much more difficult task of contorting my poor application developer brain around set-based database logic. Now translating from VB to C# doesn't seem that bad.

I got it working, compiled it, and created two desktop shortcuts to the same executable.


In addition to renaming each shortcut, I modified its properties so that each one sends the appropriate command line argument to the executable, and each one runs via a combination of control keys regardless of where I am in Windows.

The upshot is that I can go from this... this...

...or this... about a second, with a quick CTRL+C, CTRL+ALT+V + CTRL+V for VB, or CTRL+C, CTRL+ALT+C, CTRL+V for C#.

I has a happy. Colon. End paren.

Here's the code. Use it, critique it, print it and wear it as a hat. Y'know. If you're into that sort of thing.

using System;
using System.Collections.Generic;
using System.ComponentModel;
using System.Data;
using System.Drawing;
using System.Linq;
using System.Text;
using System.Threading.Tasks;
using System.Windows.Forms;

namespace WindowsFormsApplication1
    public partial class frmClipToCode : Form
        public frmClipToCode()

        private void Form1_Load(object sender, EventArgs e)
            // Takes the selected text from a text box and puts it on the clipboard. 


            // Declares an IDataObject to hold the data returned from the clipboard. 
            // Retrieves the data from the clipboard.
            IDataObject iData = Clipboard.GetDataObject();

            // Determines whether the data is in a format you can use. 
            if (iData.GetDataPresent(DataFormats.Text))
                string sOriginalText = (String)iData.GetData(DataFormats.Text);
                string sArg = Environment.GetCommandLineArgs()[1];
                string sLineContinuationChars = @" "" & _";
                if (!sArg.Equals("VB", StringComparison.OrdinalIgnoreCase))
                    sLineContinuationChars = @" "" + ";

                Clipboard.SetDataObject(@""" " + sOriginalText.Replace(Environment.NewLine, sLineContinuationChars + Environment.NewLine + @""" ") + @" """, true);
                MessageBox.Show("No text in clipboard.");

Friday, March 22, 2013

Fear, Fascination and the Holy

One day over the summer I went up to the roof of our apartment building to water my wife's tomatoes. A pair of abandoned vodka bottles drew my attention, and then my eye latched onto a familiar object suspended in the air between them: a neat vertical stack of mottled grey wadding, about the size of a lollipop stick. It was the smallest trashline, and the smallest Trashline Orb Weaver, I'd ever seen.

Trashline Orb Weavers are so called because of their ingenious method of camouflage. They bundle up their trash, i.e. insect remains, into packets of webbing, and arrange it into a vertical line running through the center of their web. Then they fit themselves neatly into a gap in the line. Without scrutinizing the line, it's impossible to tell what's trash and what's spider.

But the camouflage extends beyond preparation and coloration. If a Trashline Orb Weaver is disturbed by, say, an experimental puff of air from my lips, one of two things happens: it drops off its web; or it shakes the web vigorously. In the latter case, the trashline becomes a frenetic grey blur for several seconds. Neither I nor, presumably, a predator could possibly tell where in that blur the spider is located.

After bothering many Trashline Orb Weavers and watching their responses, I've noticed a comical aspect of the performance: the web vibrates frantically and then stops abruptly. There's no gradual dampening of motion, as one would expect from the elastic web. Clearly the spider "knows" that its camouflage works best when it's either a blur or motionless, so once its burst of energy is spent, it clenches down to resume its static strategy.

I've often wondered if evolution gave Trashline Orb Weavers such an extravagant body shape to support their web-shaking habit. To see what I mean, imagine you were trying to set up sympathetic vibrations in a rope bridge by yanking on the railing as you flexed your knees and bounced your body up and down. Now imagine if you had a big backpack sticking out behind you. You could shake the bridge harder because the pack would give you the mechanical advantage of extra potential torque. Likewise, a spider with an unusual protuberance on its opisthosoma could give its web a little more oomph. Of course, my conjecture could only be proven through painstaking research on many species of spiders to see if a correlation exists between opisthosoma shape and web-shaking behavior. I'd love to see that.

A few days after noticing the tiny trashline, I noticed another one strung between stems of a tomato plant on a stoop near the center of Larchmont. I smiled for two reasons. The first was that proud feeling of intimacy at seeing as only someone with my years of spider-hunting can see. The second was the gratification I always feel when I see a nonhuman creature exploiting the human landscape.

On August twelfth I got both feelings again. I examined a stop sign, knowing how spiders love just such a surfeit of angles and crevices, and found a cute little Salticid with fuzzy white pedipalps. Of all spiders, I find Salticidae by far the hardest not to anthropomorphize. With their huge anterior eyes drinking in the world from on high, and the fiercely attentive way they twitch their bodies and waggle their pedipalps toward me, they seem torn between pugnacious obstinacy and a curiosity that borders on rapture.

On August nineteenth my wife and I found a meadow full of Black and Yellow Argiopes in Teatown Lake Reservation. Everywhere we turned there was another seamstress, perched motionless at the center of her zig-zag stitching or devouring her wrapped prey. I say "her" because Argiope aurantia exhibits a sexual dimorphism that's extreme even for spiders; the male is so comically small in comparison to the female that it appears to be a different species.

Argiope aurantia evokes a singular fear in me. With its vivid black, white and yellow body, its grey head and its black-stubbled legs, it's one of the most arresting sights I've seen. Light seems at once to fall into it and to explode from it. It's as if some trickster god raked its talons across the obsidian surface of primal terror, and the cascading sparks fell to earth and started spinning webs.

Back around 2004 I got into a feedback loop with spiders; the more I photographed them, the more fascinating they seemed, the more I wanted to photograph them. After accumulating pictures of many species I didn't know, I went to a spider identification website. After spending an hour or two looking at pictures of spiders, I had identified most of my subjects. I had also become nauseated.

Up until that day I thought my childhood fear of spiders had diminished, leaving me free to explore my intellectual curiosity. But that's not what happened at all. My fear had not dissipated; it had sublimated. I understood then that fear and fascination are not distinct. They are intertwined. Each fuels the other, each flows into the other. Fear and fascination dance.

And here I was, eight years later, in a field full of creatures from which the young me would have turned and run mindlessly. I was more than fascinated. I was ready to commune with my fear: to feel it dance with my fascination. I'd seen videos of Argiope aurantia crawling on human hands and read that they're harmless to humans. I wanted to see if I could get one to crawl on my hand.

Well, I did try. But the specimens I encountered were as invested as most spiders in having nothing to do with humans. I brought my fingers together gently around each one, trying to scoop it into one hand, but it scrambled out from between my fingers. Its body thumped against my flesh with a brittle heaviness, reminding me of a cicada.

On September first, as Grace and I were walking along Route 73 in Keene Valley, I searched among the raspberry plants for leaves with a particular fold. After years of getting to know Enoplognatha ovata, I can quickly spot its handiwork. I didn't expect to find any so late in the year, when mating season is long past and most spiderlings have left the crèche that their mother built back in late July or early August.

After a minute or two of searching I got a pleasant surprise. I turned over a folded and web-bound set of leaves, and there was a gaggle of adolescent spiders, some of which scattered and dropped as I upended their tiny crèche. The wispy webwork inside looked old, and there weren't as many spiderlings as I'd expect from a recent hatching, so I didn't worry over having hastened their diaspora; they were ready to follow their precocious siblings into a broader world. I smiled, happy for them and for their mother, and grateful to have glimpsed one tiny bubble in the froth of life coursing through the foliage and the forest litter.

On September third I was sunbathing atop Silver Lake Mountain when I felt something crawling on my exposed skin. I looked, and was unsurprised to find yet another tiny Salticid. Now that I've trained my eye to catch the motions of arachnidae, I see them everywhere.

Salticidae are the overcaffeinated neurotics of the arachnid world. I've never had an easy time photographing them, and I only just now realized that I don't find this truly irritating. On the contrary, their twitchy, jumpy obstreperousness endears me to them. As a rule I don't anthropomorphize, because it's irrational at best and dangerous at worst. But Salticidae have such a striking constellation of anthropomorphic attributes that I make an exception in their case.

This little one was no exception. When I brought my hand close in an attempt to bring it up short, it leaped at my finger and bounced off. It was the equivalent of me attacking a blimp. Pound-for-pound, this peppercorn-sized spider was the scrappiest creature it's ever been my pleasure to meet.

A few days later we had a cold snap. My usual bittersweet autumn feelings swept in on the first gust of cool air. One morning, while walking to Aroma, my eye caught a dark blotch suspended in the air among the shrubbery along the sidewalk. It was a cross spider perched at the center of its web.

It's hard to go anywhere near a scrap of foliage in the northeast without running into Araneus diadematus. I've probably seen thousands of them. But this one was posted in a peculiar way. Its front three sets of legs were folded, but the rearmost set was extended straight back. Most adult spiders die at the onset of cold weather, so I wondered if I was seeing a final rigor.

On September eleventh I made the same mistake I make every year; I tried to escape the sadness of that day. In the midst of it, I had an encounter that seemed unrelated. I noticed a familiar tiny movement among the papers on my desk, investigated it carefully, and found a small green spider. Its coloration wasn't quite ostentatious enough to be called "emerald". It was more like polished jade.

I deposited it among the dusty cords at the back of my desk. It crawled down through the slit to the darkness beneath, as I'd intended. Only then did I realized that, in such a sterile environment, it would have no bugs to catch. It would slowly starve. I felt a tiny prick of regret for not having put it outside. But, knowing that it would've died soon anyway, I forgot about it.

The next morning I got to the office and saw two or three small clots of white fuzz suspended in the air between my chair and my desk. A frisson of gladness blossomed in me as I saw the slender line, understood that the fuzz hanging from it was cribellate webbing, and finally noticed the same little green spider from yesterday perched there! It had crawled out from under my desk and made a cast that it could never know was hopeless.

I grabbed my Iron Man pint glass and scooped it up, web and all. And as I brought it outside, I smiled almost to laughing. The gesture meant nothing. The gesture meant everything. It was absurdly profound, profoundly absurd. In its expanse of meaninglessness, meaning burgeoned.

I doubt one in ten thousand people share my fondness and fascination for spiders. Most people would have swept away web and spider in a gesture of shuddering pique. But it wasn't most people. It was me: my chair, my desk. That little green almost-jewel situated itself for the work of my transported hand.

I don't believe the spider came to me through teleologic animus. I don't believe I made a difference in the universe, or that the act conferred on my soul a measure of redemption. I don't believe my act of grace lifted a bit of the previous day's darkness, as chaff lifts toward god.

I believed such things when I was a kid. Sometime during my teens I stepped back from belief, and there I stood for decades, wanting belief but never feeling it justified. Then, in the aftermath of a dark day, I brought a tiny piece of that day outside and put it on a bush. With that act came understanding. In mere wanting, there is meaning.

Some people want to believe that God gives meaning to human affairs. Some people want to believe that the patterns they see around them are the tips of meaning protruding into the observed world. I disdain their irrationality. Then I turn around and want to believe that moments of grace can imbue my existence with meaning.

We cast about for patterns in the static, just as hopefully as that spider cast its line for prey. We train our eyes to catch glimpses of meaning, the way I've trained my eye to catch flickers of motion or folded leaves. We extract and process meaning. We cherish and horde our product. We are meaning-making machines.

Bees can calculate geometric relationships. Termites and ants can build marvels of engineering and thermodynamics. Aphids have adapted their waxy excretions to a panoply of uses. Howe and Cornwallis were avoiding open engagement with the Continental Army in 1776. It could have been bees, ants or aphids that most caught the eye of my intellect. It could have been George Washington or Jesus, language or science, music or math, code or poetry. My lapel could have sported any blossom from the summer meadow of the mind.

Spiders terrify me. Spiders fascinate me. So I picked spiders.

I've long suspected that, in the words of J. Michael Straczynski, "We are the universe made manifest, trying to figure itself out." Now I more than suspect. I see the way we cast about for meaning. I see how fear and fascination are bound to faith, and how they inform the holy.

The universe behaves like a meaning engine, and we its hungry eyes.

Isoentropic Dreams

Wherever I look, I see people searching for meaning. They get a string of bad luck and they start wondering if someone is sending them a message. A happy coincidence seems like a sign. This piece of wood is not just a piece of wood; it retains an imprint of the spirits of all who have worn it smooth. That ritual is not just a communal habit; it's a thread of continuity that embodies us as a people across time.

We seem built not to allow the perceptible to bound our world. It's as though our reality is merely a membrane stretched taut over a hidden landscape. The membrane throbs and hums with tectonic rumblings from the world of meaning beneath. Exceptionally violent upthrusts stretch the boundaries of our reality thin enough for us to perceive them. The patterns are too clear to ignore; they must come from that rich transmundane landscape.

There is a cost in fixating on that landscape. When we demand that every thing bespeak hidden depths of meaning, we do not allow a thing to be only itself. We trivialize it by neglecting to seek its intrinsic value. One sees this rejection of reality as ungrateful, almost Manichaean. Where does it come from?

The bluegrass gospel music I've been listening to, particularly the song "Gloryland", helped me find an answer. Listen to it.  Read the words below. See the sadness underlying the faith. The speaker's keening lament over the pain of life drives his belief in a better world beyond.

If you have friends in Gloryland,
Who left because of pain
Thank God up there, they'll die no more
They'll suffer not again.

Then weep not friends, I'm goin' home
Up there we'll die no more
No coffins will be made up there
No graves on that bright shore

The lame will walk in Gloryland
The blind up there will see
The deaf in Gloryland will hear
The dumb will talk to me

The doctor will not have to call
The undertaker, no
There'll be no pain up there to bear
Just walk the streets of gold

We'll need no sun in Gloryland
The moon and stars won't shine
For Christ Himself is light up there
He reigns of love divine

Then weep not friends, I'm goin' home
Up there we'll die no more
No coffins will be made up there
No graves on that bright shore

That's the voice of a human who's looked around at the pain of living and has had his heart broken. Unable to bear the thought of his loved ones enduring that pain only to pass into merely nothing, he believes this world to be a shoddy prelude. Those friends of ours have passed into a world where there is no pain: where our bodies don't break down, where we don't need to worry or suffer.

He's dreaming of an isoentropic universe.

This song exemplified the relentless questing after meaning I'd noticed. I listened, and asked myself why people seem hard-wired not to accept the universe around them at face value. Why do they demand that reality not be merely itself?

Abraham Heschel would say that the very prevalence of the quest for the transcendent is evidence for the transcendent. I find his faith breathtaking. I love the way he answers the question I've been asking for decades, "Is there objective beauty?", with a resounding "Yes". I wish I could buy it. But I don't.

However, when I started with the assumption of a makerless entropic universe, and thought it through, the results were eye-opening.

Imagine you have a universe with nothing but an initial state and a set of physical laws: a gravitational constantPi, a proton-to-electron mass ratio, that sort of thing. And entropy, of course. Never forget entropy. The fabric of our universe is dyed in it. I doubt a human could imagine a universe without it.

Entropy is another way of saying that the universe trends toward disorder. Air rushes into a vacuum. A hot object imparts its heat to its cooler surroundings. Watches wind down. Everything winds down.

Think of the universe as a river. The vast majority of the water molecules are moving downstream. But here's the interesting thing: our universe seems not only to support, but to actively encourage, its equivalent of eddies. Within isolated pockets, some of the water can move in an upstream direction. That's negentropy: little bits of order, like you and me, existing within the overall disorder.

The direction of the entropic stream guarantees that negentropy always comes at a price. Those eddies get their power to buck the trend from the trend. The energy of the stream drives the eddies; without it, they could not swirl. To maintain our ordered selves we create disorder. We break down food for energy, and we slow heat loss from our bodies by burning wood and by tearing apart plants and organizing the pieces into clothing. To exist, we must destroy.

But we do more than exist, don't we? We aren't insensate self-replicating patterns, like viruses. We conceive of ourselves, and of our relationship to the rest of the universe. Where does this sentience come from? Why would a machine imagine itself more than a machine? Why would it imagine itself at all?

Richard Dawkins articulated a convincing explanation of sentience. Like a general pushing toy soldiers around a tabletop to simulate battles without risking real troops and equipment, an organism can use cognition to simulate interactions with its environment without risking its life. Sentience is what happens when the simulator grows complex enough to include the organism in its own simulation.

Our brains let us exploit our environment, arguably more than any other organism. They also cost us dearly, using about 22 times as much energy to run as the equivalent in muscle tissue. So presumably sentience confers a potent adaptive advantage.

Imagine a topography of adaptive strategies. One might think that sentience leads species to the global maximum except that, in the words of Michael Creighton, "The survival value of human intelligence has never been satisfactorily demonstrated." Perhaps sentience can lead only to a local maximum or, worse, to a catastrophic plunge into the global minimum. But regardless of where sentience leads, for the sake of this argument we need only suppose it an evolutionary attractor.

The moment its species gets pulled over the threshold of sentience, the organism has a problem. As it develops, it begins to include itself in its simulation. Seeing itself in relation to its universe, it has more options, and so seeks a firm basis for choosing among them. It looks for causation. And when it discovers that its progenitors are organisms like itself, they no longer suffice.

As it casts about for a causative agent, the organism finds nothing obvious. Cognitive dissonance leads to anger over having wasted processing power on dead-end scenarios. It sees no intent in its creation: not even malice or indifference. Either of those would be a kindness, because it would at least give the organism an implied focal point for its rage. But it is denied even that. It sees only a lack of intent. It is merely a resultant of the interaction of abstract forces.

With sentience comes existential horror. Staring into that abyss, the organism might recoil into quiescence, or it might see what Camus saw: that the argument for suicide is at least strong enough to warrant a counterargument.

Sentience is highly adaptive. Existential horror is highy maladaptive. How can a species have the former while minimizing the latter? Simple. Throw more processing power at the problem. Give the organism a predisposition to include another world in its simulation: an invisible world beyond what Plato called the sensible.

The overall entropic gradient of our universe fuels pockets of negentropy. Those negentropic patterns which develop better methods of exploitation carve out larger pockets for themselves. Sentience is one attractive strategy. With sentience comes a thirst for meaning. We slake that thirst with a profligacy of abstraction.

Everything in this argument is predicated on the assumption that no cause, either efficient or final, exists. I don't speak to the validity of that assumption. I say only that we behave like organisms that could reasonably be expected to arise within a universe having only the observable attributes of our own.


My difficulty with the charged language of feminism reminds me of another polarizing topic. I wrote the article below to articulate the frustration I've felt when talking about religion. Everything applies just as well to feminism, except that I believe feminism has done much more good than harm.
Occasionally a friend sees my writing as bigoted against religious people. The following metaphor explains why that perception is inaccurate.

Every so often I write about a chainsaw murder. I point out that the killing was deplorable, and decry the misuse of such a dangerous tool. I say that the act was despicable, irresponsible and childish, and that it never should have happened. My friend replies as follows.

"Hugh, how dare you? I own a chainsaw, and I use it responsibly. I keep it locked away in my garage so that no one else can get to it. I use it for landscaping, and for cutting up firewood. I even make art with it. Have you seen my chainsaw sculptures? I'm not hurting anyone! I am so sick of your bigoted attacks on chainsaw owners!"

I was not criticizing owners of chainsaws. I was criticizing the misuse of chainsaws.

To understand a tool, look at it the way the universe looks at it. The essence of a tool is force multiplication, and the universe looks at force multipliers the way Maryland cops look at New Jersey plates. Whether it's a gun or a plow blade or a computer, the universe exacts a heavy toll. Folks have to digest the food to get the muscle power to dig up the ore and cut down the trees to make the tools to dig up more ore and cut down more trees to make machines to harvest more materials to burn and filter and mix and process and press and stretch and purify and heat and cool and hammer and quench and assemble that tool. Without all that work bound up in it, the tool in your hand could not allow you do do that which you could not do without it.

When I look at a tool, I see vast swaths of energy gathered over time and concentrated. I admire the power of a tool used wisely, and fear the power of a tool used fecklessly.

Religion is one of the most powerful tools humankind has ever seen. And even the most cursory glance at history reveals its potential for misuse. Its potency, and the wantonness with which that potency has been directed, terrifies me. I have every right to point out the misuse of the tool. I do not deny that the tool is also capable of doing useful work. I do believe the tool has done more harm than good, but this belief does not invalidate my screeds against the tool's misuse, nor does it equate to bigotry against those who use the tool responsibly. And while we're talking about those who use the tool responsibly, they should understand that there is a connection between the purchasing power they exercise when they buy the tool, and the continued existence of a tool that is so often misused.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

The Abnegation of Empathy

Today a lot of people were praising the article "I Am Not Your Wife, Sister or Daughter. I Am A Person" on The Belle Jar. I couldn't disagree more. I abhor it.

The author does a fine job of summarizing the Steubenville rape trials and their troubling implications. The rational part of her article ends with a summary of the rhetorical device that concerns her.
You should stop defending the rapists and start caring about the victim. Imagine if she was your sister, or your daughter, or your wife. Imagine how badly you would feel if this happened to a woman that you cared about.
Abruptly the piece lapses into a flurry of logical fallacy.
You know what, though? Saying these things is not helpful; in fact, it’s not even helping to humanize the victim. What you are actually doing is perpetuating rape culture by advancing the idea that a woman is only valuable in so much as she is loved or valued by a man.
Nonsense. Utter nonsense. Of course imagining your sister, daughter or wife helps humanize the victim. That's how empathy works for primates. Beyond a certain number, we literally do not see others as human. To see one of those others as having the same nature as those we hold dear helps us to value that other. I'd like to know what evidence the author has to support her assertions to the contrary.

I'm stunned at her dismissal of the rhetorical device, but that's nothing compared to her baseless assertion that what I'm "actually doing is perpetuating rape culture". Again, where is the evidence? I'd like to know what, aside from the author's overweening self-satisfaction, gives her the right to tell me not only that I've not helped, but that I've contributed to the problem.

This is just the kind of peremptory narcissism that makes men throw up their hands and walk away from the entire conversation. I know, because that's just what I did. Over twenty years ago I was stupid enough to buy into the constant barrage of accusation. No matter what I did or said, I was always an oppressor who would never deserve to take part in the conversation.

Twenty years. Twenty goddamn years. Maybe I could have been useful during those twenty years. Maybe my words could have prevented one woman from being raped. But I kept my mouth shut. Because of horseshit just like this.

Do you think I'm being harsh? Do you think I'm letting my anger control me? Maybe. But what I'm doing is nothing compared to what the author does. On my very worst day I would never write anything as inhumane as what follows.
This rape, and any rape, was wrong because women are people. Women are people, rape is wrong, and no one should ever be raped. End of story.
No matter how angry I got, I would never presume to co-opt objective truth, as though anyone who dares disagree with me is a rape enthusiast. And I damned sure wouldn't write "End of story." Because I know that those words are the guillotine of dialectic and the death knell of empathy. And that's the greatest irony of this article; in seeking to define true empathy, the author achieves its abnegation.

But it gets even better. Near the end of the article, she says this.
I have value because I am a person. Full stop. End of argument. This isn’t even a discussion that we should be having. 
So please, let’s start teaching that fact to the young women in our lives. Teach them that you love, honour and value them because of who they are. Teach them that they should expect to be treated with integrity because it’s a basic human right. Teach them that they do not deserve to be raped because no one ever, ever, ever deserves to be raped.
Oh, yes, it all sounds so bloody easy to agree with, doesn't it? Applause all around. But once we've all come down from the high of masturbatory self-righteousness, let's breathe for a moment and see what we've accomplished.

First, we've imbued the word "should" with a power that will never, ever be more than imaginary. If you don't know what the hell I'm talking about, go back and read the article carefully. The word "should" appears a number of times. Take 'em in. Then come back to that last pair: "This isn't even a discussion we should be having... Teach them that they should expect to be treated with integrity because it's a basic human right." 

Wonderful. Teach them not to even listen. Teach them never to seek dialectic. Teach them that the way they think the world should be is the way the world is, so they need never prepare themselves for a reality that has never once given a shit about your "should".

The author talks a lot about how women are people, and how we need to teach this notion. What I'd like to know is "How?" Now that she's taken away the most obvious, effective and common-sense tool of empathy, what's her lesson plan? All I see is a blueprint for giving young women a sense of entitlement that enhances their already dangerous sense of invulnerability.