In Defense of Journalists… by Steve Safran

Journalists know they are doing a good job when they get hate mail from both sides of a story. By that metric, most political journalists have been doing an excellent job this political season. While I no longer cover news, I write about television and social media. I did produce coverage of the New Hampshire primaries for an online news organization earlier this year, but that’s been the extent of my official reporting. And, since we’re in an era of everyone crying “Bias!” you should know my bias right up front:

People have to shut the fuck up about how journalists are covering this election. Now.

Let’s get this right out of the way: Journalists lean liberal. They don’t deny it. They go into the profession with the idea of changing the world, taking on government and speaking truth to power. They do that, knowing the job does not come with a lucrative salary. Those are not the personality types of a conservative.

Having said that, I am a conservative in a liberal profession. I am a conservative who does not like Donald Trump. There are my biases.

If I had to distill the biggest complaint people have about “The Media” this campaign it is this: The media created Donald Trump in an effort to get ratings, and now they have to expose him as a fraud.

Is there anyone out there who hasn’t heard that Donald Trump tells lies? For that matter, is there anyone who thinks the media has gone easy on Hillary Clinton? And does anyone think that a person who has decided to vote for either candidate would change their mind if they were to read, in “The New York Times,” that their candidate lied?

It is not the job of the news to call news subjects names. Journalists are supposed to tell you what happened, and leave it to you to decide how you feel about the topic. You’re not going to see “Hillary Clinton (D): Hides Emails” and “Donald Trump (R): Lies a Lot” as their titles on TV.

Reporters are operating under unprecedented conditions. One candidate puts them in a pen, calls them names on Twitter, mocks them on live TV and even has them arrested. The other candidate won’t even speak to reporters in a formal setting. So we have a campaign in which neither candidate wants anything to do with the media, and yet the media is called irresponsible. Face it: the candidates are the reason their own coverage sucks.

When you heard there was an explosion in Manhattan Saturday night, you may have first found out about it on Twitter or Facebook. What did you do then? You went to cable news. And you saw great coverage. On Twitter, people were screaming about terrorism and ISIS and all sorts of as-yet unfounded theories. Good journalists don’t do that. They report the facts. They tell you what they know and what they don’t. We need these people on the street– people who are willing to go where a bomb just exploded and tell you what they found out.

Journalism as a profession is a skeleton of what it used to be. Newsrooms are decimated. Newspapers have either gone out of business or drastically cut staff. Reporters are asked to write, tweet, shoot video, post on Facebook, use Instagram and still file a complete version for the web and the next day’s newspaper. Bias? They’re biased toward getting six hours of sleep.

They do this in an industry where the median salary is $38,095. Oh– and it’s a job that CareerCast ranks as the worst job in America, right below pest control.

A word about “The Media.” There is no “The Media.” There aren’t daily meetings to decide how to advance the liberal agenda. There is no consensus. There are conventions, and they are full of seminars on how to improve coverage, have good relations in the community and other ways to improve your skills. There are also free drinks (…but fewer than there were 15 years ago).

Did TV give too much coverage to Donald Trump early on? Yes. He made for good TV. And because he was on TV so much, the newspapers couldn’t ignore him. As for the accusation that TV news put Trump on because he was good for ratings: Guilty. These are businesses. People demand high-quality coverage, but aren’t willing to pay for a newspaper or website. You have to get ad money somehow. I love it when people razz us with, “So– trying to sell more newspapers?” Yes, yes of course we are. We make $18 an hour. We could use the extra $1.25.

But nobody forced people to vote for the man. CNN could have aired a five-knife juggler cracking jokes as a Presidential candidate, and it would have been great TV. I don’t think the juggler would have received many votes, though. Don’t blame reporters for not asking Trump the tough questions. They ask. He doesn’t answer. Or he answers with outrageous statements that used to get candidates disqualified– and he gets more support. This is asynchronous warfare now. I would argue that showing Trump’s press conferences did a world of good by showing people exactly the kind of person he is. It just turned out that he is the kind of person those voters want.

Hillary Clinton gets away with plenty, too. Her supporters should really demand more of her. She is running a campaign not to lose. She isn’t running to win. I can tell you five of Trump’s plans off the top of my head. I can’t tell you what Hillary plans on doing, because it keeps changing and because she answers questions on substance with a “We’re going to look into that.” You should really want more from her. The Clintons don’t answer so much as put together pre-tested words and hope a sentence comes out.

So, with all of these problems– candidates that don’t talk, jobs that don’t pay, reporters hoping they’re not fired tomorrow– miraculously, the news still goes on. Media bashing is a fine political tradition. But when it becomes a habit of the public, it is dangerous. Hold the media accountable, by all means. But consider the alternative. These guys hate the Republicans. Those guys hate the Democrats. Everyone hates the media. The alternative is a one-party state with no press.

And in those places… you’re not allowed to complain at all.

 

journalism_orwell

Vampire Cycling

Last night’s insomnia was sponsored by Moth in the Bedroom, Cousins Who Could Not Catch Moth in the Bedroom, and Necessary Confirmation of Death for Moth in the Bedroom. Coffee will be my best friend today as I help Zealot Sister’s kids shove ten days of accumulated summertime ephemera into too-small suitcases and drive from the Cape to Logan airport. Today is my last day making sure four kids have three squares. Today is my last chance to create memories that will outlast the stretches of time these cousins don’t see each other. Today is my third day of spinning.

I’m at it again: the loathsome exercise I burn more calories complaining about than doing. This is my first experience at one of these boutique cycling torture classes and so far I’ve learned that the price of spinning is directly proportional to the volume of the dance track. It’s also darker than a nightclub. A physically perfect, fast-pedaling lunatic guides us up and down simulated hills, encouraging us to risk certain facial trauma to include arm exercises. I fake my turns on the resistance knob.

“Woo fucking hoo, you crazy batch of minivan moms. You just cycled absolutely no where in Dracula’s exercise studio,” I scream-think as I dismount early, too pooped to stay for the cool down set accompanied by base-heavy Beyoncé orgasm riffs. I’ve seen you Soul Cycle sisters on Facebook all sweat-dreamy and thankful. That’ll never be me. And honestly, I wonder what the hell is in your water bottles. Almost always chipper and annoyingly upbeat, at the 43rd minute of group exercise I hate everyone. Replacing venomous retorts to, “HOW WAS YOUR RIDE?” with normal responses requires the strongest level of verbal Spanx for me.

It’s also possible I’m tired. Graduation season with late night parties, umpteen speeches, and too many Chardonnays was followed by a whirlwind trip to the Poconos for Taiwanese Family Camp. Which is totally a thing. A thing that we did. Bernie was their keynote speaker and somehow managed to give a lecture about Plastic Surgery that included only two sets of boobs and one severed arm. Our kids got to see their Dad at his bow-tied, smartypants best, and then we raced to the Cape where Grandparents were waiting with Zealot Sister’s kids for fireworks. It’s been three squares for dozens of people since then, and the occasional wee hour insect hunt and murder.

After this round trip to Logan, summer really begins for me. Theme: get your own damn sandwich. Also, naps. And let’s be honest, more spinning at Dracula’s Rave. Because all of us should aspire to the physique of these fast pedaling lunatics. Left right left right left right left right.

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But where would a VAMPIRE want to cycle? — B/Spoke studio designers, apparently

 

 

 

 

 

 

Eye-rolling past the memes…

Some mornings, our social media sites are less “hey, look at my kid/cat/foliage/punk art show” and more a shout-y tangle of would be televangelists attempting to grow their ministries. The goal isn’t really for discussion and sharing, but for agreement and accolades. Another evening of Republicans on must-see-TV will cause another flurry of what Steve Safran called “shouting into the echo chamber.” If the end game of that anti-Obama rant, your Stand with Planned Parenthood celebrity re-posts, or your War on Christmas battle cry is conversion of readers, well, you’re going to need better memes. Alternatively, you could scrap those and just post a quickie recipe or puppy-scared-of the-Roomba. Those are always good.

Though I’m beholden and flattered that any of you read this drivel, I am embarrassed by my own contribution to a Look At Me/Think Like Me society. Admittedly, barring rants against the Pinking of October, these blurbs are really nothing more than navel-gazing. And I’ve written it before: I’m politically purple and cannot muster the level of disgust and indignation apparently necessary for launching opinions into the ether. My most controversial belief is that colored Christmas lights are an abomination. Really, quit it with those.

I am quite public about being Church-y, though, and this might be the most provocative thing about me. At a recent meeting with civic-minded volunteers for a fabulous program helping kids in public housing, I “joked” that we should open with prayer. This was received with good-natured, mock horror. And I loved that. Strong opinions shared without humility, humor, balance, or thoughtfulness sadden and worry me. And kindness is sorely lacking in those tweets and updates belittling Belief or angrily supporting a specific worldview. Is there room in your sphere for those who don’t always recycle, for those who love Church or wouldn’t darken its doors, or for someone who thinks meat is murder or that life begins at conception? Is it really so important to try to convert your social media followers? And when did we become so groupthink-y and sensitive?

When strong beliefs are assumed to be commonly held and are shouted angrily into the interspaces, I react like an eye-rolling and embarrassed-for-you teenager, “I’m so sure you, like, care enough to post that. Dork.”

Divisiveness is as unproductive as it is un-loving. None of us has a firm hold on absolute truths. No one is persuasive enough to convince you that Bernie Sanders is our savior or that Matt Walsh has a point. We have ridiculously strong opinions about the Christmassyness of our coffee cups. OUR COFFEE CUPS. So maybe let’s share more of the things that unite us and do our darndest to quiet the earnestly and easily irritated folk who would pit us against each other… by ignoring them. (Dorks.)

I love John Atkinson

I love John Atkinson…

Breast-feeding request brings out the worst in people… by Steve Safran

All Kara Sassone wants is a place for women to breastfeed or pump at Gillette Stadium. As any lactating mom will tell you, even if you don’t bring your tiny child to the game, you’ll probably need to pump by halftime. So, Kara started a petition online. WBZ (the CBS affiliate in Boston) picked up the story and ran it on the news, which I expected would garner lots of support. Maybe some knuckle-dragging men would balk, but surely the women would support this, right? Even a “portable pod” accommodation without need for any substatial stadium real estate could be an easy, affordable solution. Providing a safe, clean spot for a breast-feeding mom hardly distracts from the entertainment at hand. Other stadiums have made this accommodation, after all. It’s not a major request, right? RIGHT?

Except that it is.

At this point, I should disclose that Kara is my friend, and I’m surprised and saddened that her pro-family, pro-Patriots, pro-breast-feeding request would inspire hate mail and nastygram posts. Kara is a kind person. She is also a mother of twins, a great mom, and a huge sports fan. She is fun, funny, and not the sort of person who demands stuff just because she’s the only mom who ever existed. There’s my bias. But if you met her, it would be yours as well.

The obvious, less vitriolic counterpoint to Kara’s request is that football games at Gillette are no place for babes at the breast. There’s some truth to that– I won’t even bring my young teens. It’s become a nasty place with some chance of witnessing drunken brawls, vomiting, and filthy language. But first of all, our sporting venues aren’t really in the business of policing parenting styles. Second, even moms who left babies at home with a sitter might need to pump during the game. Third, there are plenty of “family friendly” events at Gillette besides football games. Fourth, there are likely Gillette employees who might benefit from a private place to feed or pump. Fifth, OH MY GOD, THERE ARE TOO MANY REASONS WHY IT’S A GREAT IDEA THAT HARMS NO ONE.

Many of the responses to Kara’s request are, at worst, so awful they will make you hate mankind. Womankind, too. And there is the surprising part for me, a guy. I might expect the sports radio call-in types to be jackasses. But women are being pretty vicious, too. To what end?

Take a look at the Facebook post.

Here’s a sampling of comments from both genders:

Marybeth Michaelson: Stay home selfish mother and care for your infant, the infant deserves a calm, peaceful, comfortable home environment. Bringing an infant to Gillette for any reason, DCF should be investigating (you)…

Steve Link: What’s next tranny bathrooms?

Cindy Burns: I nursed both of my kids and never pumped, never had any of these issues, didn’t try to bring them places they didn’t belong.

Patrick Moore: Maybe if you decide to have kids you should be able to deal with the fact that you won’t be able to do all of the things you used to do and just stay home

Sally Donaldson Taylor: The world does not need to bow to you as if you were the first and only woman to give birth…. Suck it up Buttercup

And so on. Yes, there are messages of support…

Wendi Ankney: Such misogynistic hate in this comment section. We were all born from a woman… The baby doesn’t have to be AT THE GAME. Women who breastfeed have to pump on a schedule. It’s illegal to force the use of a restroom to do so.

Stephen Tuck Jr.: YES!!! Every stadium in the country should have one.

Matthew Baughn: Why wouldn’t you cater to the ones who use your facilities? If you (host) events that encourage mothers with young children to attend, you’d better make their experience safe and healthy.

However, you really need to cherry pick the comments to find the supportive mentions. The comments I selected from naysayers were the least offensive, to be honest. And, mind you, these are people posting under their real names.

I have to believe this nonsense falls under the greater category of “breasts make people crazy.”  Note how bananas people get about breastfeeding in public. Note how social media will censor pictures of breastfeeding women. Note how even a quick flash of a breast (or, gasp, a baby feeding there) will bump up a movie’s rating.

Kara Sassone wants a place to feed and pump while she’s at the stadium. Football has been vicious to women this year. Robert Kraft, on the other hand, is a generous and thoughtful person. Get this done.

Even teeny Pats fans get hungry at the game...

Even teeny Pats fans get hungry at the game…

How many calories does hating spin class burn?

How many calories does hating spin class burn?

These are thoughts I have while pedaling pedaling pedaling nowhere. When I’m not at the gym, I am unfailingly nice. I’m a benefit-of-the-doubt, go-ahead-of-me-in-line, let-me-hold-that-for-you kind of gal. But at the gym, my interior dialogue spews from a judge-y, pack-a-day smoker.

“WE COULD ALL JUST STOP AND GO HOME!” I scream/think at all of the already skinny people.

But recently, after sprinting upstairs to fetch a forgotten phone, I clutched my chest in gasping exhaustion and thought maybe I need more than the occasional cardio of reacting to spiders in the car. So I went back to the gym for a barre class.

I used to love the barre class with its slow movements and focus on stretchy leg stuff and balancing. I had forgotten that it’s essentially an hour-long squat, and I spent most of the time tamping down the bile that threatened to hurl out of my shaky legged body.

“AM I THE ONLY ONE ABOUT TO THROW UP?” I scream/think at all of the already toned women.

The next morning, I headed back to the gym for more torture disguised as healthy activity and signed up for cycling to music. Since I could control the resistance on the bike, I could control how terrible it would be, right? I entered the room, adjusted all of the settings, and started pedaling. Slowly. The fit little instructor suggested we “set an intention” for class which, for me, is always the same:

“…don’t throw up, don’t throw up, don’t throw up…”

The tempo of the music got faster. Apparently, one is supposed to keep up with it. I’m sure the songs varied over the 45 minutes of dyspnea, but all of it felt like pedaling breathlessly and pointlessly to Cotton Eyed Joe. At minute 32, The Who entered the playlist and the effect of nervous, might-puke adrenaline coupled to a classic rock soundtrack gave it the panicky date-rapey vibe of a kegger. Somehow, my cycle-mates were still “getting out of the saddle” and pretending to pedal up invisible hills fueled by their great attitudes and second winds and other whoo-hoo-ness I’ll never, ever know.

The biggest insult of the gym is tackling the giant staircase that descends to the nirvana of the exit door. Clutching the railing with two hands as my unsure, wobbly legs navigate 37 steps to freedom, I remember that I’m paying oodles of dollars for the humiliation of it all. So tomorrow, I’ll swim laps.

See you at the gym, friends. I’m the one scream/thinking the hardest.

The only turns on my resistance knob are fake ones...

How many calories does fake-turning the resistance knob burn?

Bossy

Most women don’t know how to feel about anything until Beyoncé and Mrs. Obama weigh in on the discussion. Certainly no one speaks my thoughts more mind-reading-ly than Sheryl Sandberg, a business genius billionaire and everyone’s best gal pal next door. For me, not a day goes by without WWSSD musings. Add luscious Jennifer Garner and Condoleezza Rice to the conversation, and we’ve reached a quorum of superior X chromosomes to decide what words are suitable to describe little Susie’s insistence that a $500 bill goes under Free Parking or she’s NOT playing. If these ladies are backing a ban on the word “bossy” to advance the betterment of our gender-bashing language, then this word must be a scourge on feminism! Most women–women like you and me–we just don’t get it. Maybe we never suffered the indignity… nay, abuse!.. of being called “bossy.” We don’t see that Susie’s classroom dictatorship is her burgeoning quest for success. Should that be squelched to honor trifling social graces? No! Since they can’t summon a single issue more useful to young girls than to criminalize an innocuous word, nor we.

But, let’s run a crazy little thought experiment here and daydream about what this group of powerful and/or booty-shaking ladies, coupled with the zeal of a Girl Scout army, might be able to accomplish toward a lesser goal. What if they were passionate about something slightly less important than printing tags with snappy, “I’m the Boss!” slogans for social media—something like hunger or expanded science programs or affordable housing or subsidized internships for at-risk youth? Obviously it’s super important that little Susie isn’t marginalized for speaking her mind… but I wonder if maybe her bossiness could be even more effectively encouraged from inside a warmer coat. Or not. Whatever. Like this picture of Beyoncé on Facebook!

Does one need to be Flawless to Be the Boss?

Does one need to be Flawless to Be the Boss?

Obviously, I’m not a celebrity who overcame tween-age adversity to become a mogul. I’ve never been tagged “bossy,” so I was able to obtain multiple degrees in a male-dominated field with all the effortlessness of an agreeable girl. Easy peasy. Meanwhile, those girls who were incessantly called “bossy” (and often stronger adjectives) had to struggle against all prejudice to land jobs where that quality keeps getting them promoted. If I had been bossier, I might still wear a beeper; and if my strong-willed sisters had played nice, they might own fewer pantsuits. Is this how it works? I have no idea. What I do know is that when we tell our kids to stop being bossy, it’s because they’re being assholes. What’s the politically correct word for Susie’s acting like an asshole? Sheryl Sandberg hasn’t told us yet.

Writing as Cranky Britt is super fun. But then, in an email exchange with one of my favorite people on the planet… this.

Remember all the “don’t say Gay when you really mean something is Retarded – I mean don’t say Retarded when you mean something is Lame – I mean don’t say Lame when you mean something is not fashionable!”?   It can be comical– but it makes a difference. (Same with the whole, ahem, “don’t call Asian people Oriental,” Mrs. LEE!) People were all: GIMME A F’ING BREAK WHO CARES? LANGUAGE POLICE!!  Truth is, it matters.

Language is powerful. It infuriates me that women—today, like in 2014– say they are not feminists. Not just girls… but grown ass women. That’s how afraid people are of being labeled a lesbian:  a.k.a. ugly, man-hating, un-marriage-worthy. But a word can define and limit someone, and that instills fear.  Language– especially labels– tells people what they are worth. Some people don’t know they get to decide that for themselves.

So, yeah… that. Some people don’t know they get to decide that for themselves.

Though I haven’t gone 180 degrees on my stance on banning words, I see how the Bossy Label, or any sort of label (blonde, old, fat, hipster, Republican) can affect those who don’t know how to own their own brand. And until all parents are making sure Susie is raising her hand in class, maybe having Beyoncé and Mrs. Obama fill in to encourage her isn’t a terrible thing. However, if we allow a Ban on Bossy instead of encouraging thoughtful language usage, I fear we’re in for an entire roster of Words That Traumatized Celebrities but Prevented Nary a Goal.

The Big Sister Solution

A decade ago, when I was largely alone all day with tiny, parasitic Bernie clones, I might have written something like Mrs. Rowe’s fed-up-to-here, open letter to her husband. In the moment, those feelings seem funny/true, but when read with a decade of hindsight (and larger children who don’t need pooping assistance), rants like this make me… sad. I want the whole family to race past these brutal years that inspire a meant-to-be-funny, but still quite public flogging of The Husband. I might have greatly benefitted from some part time help (and meds) as a Stay At Home Mom in those early years. Swapping a beeper and a real, outside-the-house job for never-ending days with crying children and Dawson’s Creek reruns led to a social, emotional, and intellectual whiplash for which I was unprepared. Because texting, blogging, Facebook, Twitter, and all myriad outlets that keep us intimately tied to each other’s weird little worlds weren’t in existence, I did what you do when you’re at your wit’s end with small children and never-home husband. I called my big sister.

“One of them is always crying, and Bernie isn’t home, and then when he is, he’s ‘tired’ or wants to do things off of the napping schedule. He wants to sleep when they’re awake and have sex when they’re asleep, and these wailing succubae that look exactly like him are attached to me all day and all I want to do at 8pm is drink wine without anyone touching me.”

“Jesus, Britt. You need some mommy friends.”

Boy, did I. None of my besties in the area had started breeding, and absolutely no one I knew in the medical field ever quit their life-saving jobs to stay home with non-verbal bundles of sleep-averse, ever-hungry pant-shitters in embroidered onesies. I was lonely, exhausted, and prone to unattractive moods swinging narrowly between irritated and glum. In that moment, my Big Sister–staunch defender of all of my wants, needs, and beliefs, champion of All Things Britt— the Catholic, opinionated, occasionally scary Zealot Sister… sided with Bernie. Gently, and really quite beautifully, Paige refused to sing my Battle Cry Against The Ineffectual Husband. Instead, she shared some excellent advice, recommended a book, and insisted I get some mommy friends.

I was fabulously bad at the mommy friend thing. I scouted out the local playground and attempted to make nice with the ladies who corralled their strollers by the benches. I never got past a few awkward exchanges before I realized they were all wearing long skirts and head scarves and maybe the Orthodox Jewish Mommy Group wasn’t keen to take on a blonde shiska with the whiff of friendless desperation. I tried another park.

Lonely Mom with a small girl who insisted on wrong-footed shoes seemed like a good option. Surely, this was a pick-your-battles kind of mommy who also cozied to the idea of mid-afternoon wine? As it turned out, Lonely Mom picked absolutely no battles and was still breast-feeding her Dorito-munching toddler tyrant while defending the values of the Family Bed. She made me sadder than her husband I already was.

What I did have, however, was A-Ma. Bernie’s mom raced up to Boston on the Fung Wah any time I called. Honestly, any time. One particularly brutal day, I told her I couldn’t shower without hearing both boys wailing on the baby monitor, that my dreams were exclusively about the sounds of wailing on the baby monitor, that I hadn’t eaten anything but Blow Pops and Hot Pockets for a week, and that I didn’t know if the stains on my clothes were pre- or post-intestinal foods. She arrived that afternoon. A-Ma remembered the unholy, not-cute-at-all daily grind; and with only one foot in the door she’d say, “Go! Go to take nap!” I promised then and there to be that kind of grandma some day. She saved my life (and improved my marriage) more than once.

Perhaps what the author of Five Things You Should Never Say to the Mother of Your Children really needs is a nap and A-Ma. In fact, the first comment after her light-hearted rant against her husband was from the author’s mother:

Recommend you withdraw this blog. Can talk details later—- Love, Mom

I quite agreed with her, recalling the advice Paige recommended to me 10 years ago, when I was exasperated with the man I love the most. First, she reminded me that Bernie was no mind reader and that stewing silently and acting the martyr would lead more quickly to marital strife than to any sort of enjoyable co-parenting. She annoyingly insisted I plant myself in his loafers, and made me read The Bastard on the Couch—a fantastic collection of essays written by dads (and written in playful retaliation against The Bitch in the House, which largely described what I was becoming). Where Momma Rowe gets angry that her husband is allowed to poo behind closed doors apart from the toddler audience with demands, I’m now more apt to think, hey, why share the pain? Go ahead and lock the door. Lucky you! This stay-at-home blogger also, with great humor and exaggeration, suggests sex is off the table until the children are big enough to sit at it.

This is where Paige’s big sisterly advice might have sounded supportive:

“Fuck your husband.”

However, she didn’t offer this as a scatological slam on bathroom door-locking spouses; no, she meant it quite literally. (She also never, ever said this. Well, she said this, but not like this… because she’s classier than I am.) She waxed Catholic: the vows and sacraments and quaint ideas about contracts and promises and vaguely about the baser biological needs of boys in general… and she said all of this without making me throw feminist arguments at her, or throw up in general. In the end, she was really just suggesting that I act with greater kindness and love, and that I find some mommy friends who would understand why sometimes that seemed impossible.

GrandMomma Rowe is adorably protective of her son-in-law… much like Paige was for Bernie back in my days of Days (of Our Lives). Long hours with demanding children and soap operas will make anyone a little nutty. But without an Internet forum for irritated moms to publicly berate their constipated, celibate husbands, we had Big Sisters and A-Mas. The Big Sisters and A-Mas understand you, listen to you, and then tell you to take a nap and to shower and to quit it. They’ll keep reminding you that there is an end to it all, will never (ever!) tell you to “cherish” days of sleepless, messy torture, and they’ll make you feel warm, and loved, and heard.

Then again, having 100 strangers offer thumbs up, preach-it-sister encouragement probably works, too… as long as The Husband is in on the meant-to-be-funny part.

This was ridiculously useful to me back in those days that seemed like 54 hours apiece.

This was ridiculously useful to me… and reminded me why I love boys in general, and my own in particular.

The Data Set of Me, by Steve Safran

Stevie has a bee in his bonnet, and I quite agree with him. As an immunologist, it’s difficult for me to find common ground with those who eschew science. However, I’ve always maintained that we cannot judge the well-meaning parents of children who suffer from autism or other disorders (wrongfully) attributed to vaccines. I cannot sit here on the Throne of Science and proclaim that I wouldn’t fall into the Data Set of Me if something awful befell my child. However, those feelings–given the political power of a movement of healthy, smart people– can be murderous.

You are a great person. You’re smart, you’re educated, healthy, and, if I may say, damn fine looking. Hell, you’re one of the best people I know.

But you, fabulous you, are not a data set.

“Who is this guy to tell me I am not a sufficient collection of statistically reliable information gathered by appropriate methods in order to reach or disprove a conclusion?”

Of course, to most of you, that sounds silly, right? (You are smart and good-looking, after all.) But there are people who make important decisions according to this very mindset: “It happened to me, therefore it must be so.” Examples? Sure.

“I got a flu vaccine and then I got the flu. Therefore flu vaccines are ineffective.”

“Some former Playboy model’s kid had a shot and now he has autism. Therefore, shots cause autism.”

“My daughter isn’t having sex, so she doesn’t need to worry about HPV or cervical cancer.”

“I believe in my God, my religion, and those rules. Therefore, yours are wrong.”

Of these, the one I actually find acceptable is the one about God. At least it’s an opinion. You have yours, I have mine: we’re cool… at least around these parts where we’re unlikely to kill each other about our differences.

What is worrying me–what is literally killing us– is the Data Set of Me. This is the mindset of the anti-vaccination crowd. Vaccines are not a faith, but a tool. Immunity is not a religion, but a biological reaction. Life-threatening infections cannot be staved off with kale. And the medical establishment is not willfully denying you alternative options to avoid whooping cough. And yet, the Hot New Fad for 2014 is the “Anti-Vaxxer” Movement. Quack science has found its ducklings.

Like many avid Internet users, I have grown apathetic to the sharing of misinformation by the misinformed with the misguided. Except this stupid sharing is really, really dangerous. And no oddball theories about GMOs or drug company profits or doctors who want to keep you sick (or endorsement of anti-vaccine chiropractors) are deemed too oddball to “post” and “like.”

We live in a generation that has never seen smallpox, measles, mumps, rubella, or polio take the life of a child we know. There are hundreds of thousands of people alive right now because of the miracle of inoculations. Maybe that’s the power of fervent prayer, incredible quinoa consumption, and wild coincidence. Or, just possibly, vaccines prevent disease. The bee in my bonnet is that statistically-proven, medically sound information can be unintelligently debunked with blogposts from people who cite The Data Set of Me, and scare others into giving in to their basic fears of shots (they’re ouchy!) by suggesting the risks of vaccines outweigh the benefits. When there is no, none, ziltch, zero, nada proof that this is so.

The Anti-vaxxers hurt more than our logical sensibilities. They’re killing our children. If your kid isn’t vaccinated, the “herd immunity” is compromised, and we’ll fall like cows at the hands of drunken high schoolers. Our family docs, our pediatricians, and our CDC are urging you to search for information that is true, and reminds us:

Perhaps the greatest success story in public health is the reduction of infectious diseases resulting from the use of vaccines.”

Let’s consider that statement from the CDC with at least as much weight as Tammy’s Facebook post about not being anti-vaccine, per se, but pro-safety. (Those who deny their children shots consider the Anti-Vaxxer epithet derogatory). Recently, a Dutch group studied why Tammy is so insistent her kids don’t need shots. And because here at East Meets Breast, we aim for understanding, let’s find out what makes Tammy tick… so we can stop that clock.

The delightful Dutch, with real surveys and statistics, found that Tammy believes her healthy lifestyle is sufficient to prevent diseases. She delivers organic meals to breast-fed, hand-washing children and believes that these are adequate “preventive” measures. Tammy also is an amateur immunologist and worries the host defenses of her newborn will be incompetent to handle a barrage of antigens. Well, she’ll say it this way,

“A baby’s immune system has built up thanks to the mother, and it is not desirable in my eyes to give the child all kinds of substances that can disrupt the whole immune system.”

Tammy thinks that the risks associated with the vaccines (and she still supports discredited evidence linking them to autism) certainly outweigh the benefits because the diseases her healthy kids might contract could then be, quite easily, treated with antibiotics. Also, Tammy deems “natural” immunity superior to vaccinated immunity and would rather her child contract the (potentially fatal) disease and combat it with his own, uneducated battery of T- and B- cells than risk exposure to dangerous aluminum and mercury. More than one study has also shown that Tammy’s fears are supported by her community and usually at least one alternative care provider who disparages the use of vaccines.

To be fair, a certain proportion of the whooping cough cases from the Pacific Northwest in 2012 can be attributed to decreased efficacy of the vaccine. However, the dramatic increase in its incidence (and preventable deaths of children) has doctors pointing fingers at the Anti-Vaxxers. The anti-HPV crowd baffles me even more than people who can drink gallons of liquefied vegetables. Here is a vaccine that can prevent cancer. CANCER. Unfortunately, Tammy doesn’t believe that, either, and places her trust in cauliflower and the chiropractor.

Right now in California, where vaccination is falling out of favor more quickly than Duck Dynasty, people are dying from the H1N1 flu: 28 humans… dying. And across the world, vaccine-preventable outbreaks will astound you. To be reasonable, some of these can be chalked up to non-compliance or access rather than political Anti-Vaxxer beliefs. Also, recent media scares that (European) H1N1 vaccines may cause narcolepsy in young children (notably, so does contracting actual swine flu), give less thoughtful people an excuse to skip their appointment at CVS.

Ultimately, this plea is to champion science above fear, and to encourage a more thorough browsing of the Internet for medical information if your family doctor or pediatrician isn’t reassuring you with statistics backed by the keenest minds in medicine. There is simply no legitimacy to people spouting opinions that are anti-science. Prior to the vaccine, every year whooping cough was like having three 9/11’s. Worse, actually: three 9/11’s with children as the primary casualties. Can you even imagine the panic if that were to happen today? If something were killing thousands of our children yearly, what would you risk to stop it?

You are a fine person, and a reasonable one too. Engage Tammy in a dialogue apart from her kale-crunching crowd and acupuncturist. Spread good information.

Get the shots.

Stevie and I summed up all of the evidence for you...

Stevie and I summarized all of the evidence for you…

My Ta-tas aren’t amused

Reissuing this oldie in honor of a day many of us dread: the ridiculous No Bra Day. Keep your unmentionables hidden and support research that aims to cure metastatic disease.

You’re either a bumper sticker kind of person or you are not, and I am firmly seated in the latter group. I cannot think of a single thing I need you to know while we queue to brave the rotary. If pressed to slap something on my fender, I might be able to commit to, “You look pretty!” My community service call to action would resemble: “Did you make your bed today?” And the most politically polarizing statement I could muster is an endorsement of only white Christmas lights. (I’m actually kind of passionate about that one.) So today, as I inched the entire length of Beacon Street behind a “Save the Ta-Tas” truck in threatening weather, I wondered who convinced the owner of this otherwise serviceable vehicle to besmirch it with pink ribbon dreck.

Obviously, my reaction was informed heavily by my Cancer-versary. So whatever “Save the Ta-tas” intends to protect, it’s certainly not my patience. We never see this inane message translated into testicular cancer awareness in order to sell stickers. Defend the Danglers! Safeguard the Stones! Protect the Plums! Keep the Cojones! Oh, the hilarity of designing t-shirts that urge women to Cup Your Husbands for Cancer! But this is for sale:

You could find a Cancerous lump! It's sexy AND hilarious!

Oooh, sexy sexy! And maybe you’ll find a CANCEROUS LUMP! Hilarious!

The mission statement from this dreadful ta-ta advocate is that laughter heals. Well, sort of. Surgery removes cancer, chemotherapy intends to zap stragglers, and laughter makes the whole bald nightmare tolerable. But no amount of hee-hee-you-said-boobies humor kills rogue cells. And until we have a cure, launching a slogan that insinuates saving a cancerous organ is just irresponsible and confusing when it stops being sophomoric and insulting. Are we supposed to “save” our breasts at all costs, succumb to shark bite surgery and post-operative radiation that turns the ta-ta into a dried fruit approximation of breast-ness? Is this the message of “Save the Ta-tas?” Breasts are not endangered animals, and cancerous ones are unlikely to have a longer life expectancy for the five research projects you’ve funded with a pittance of the proceeds from your disrespectful swag. I can only imagine the weight of all of those horrible jokes on the good scientists whose work will be expected to atone for them.

An oft-viewed post on this site is Things to Say to People With Cancer. Because wordpress.com practically assigns you a blog at the first mammogram abnormality, we blabby girls in the Shitty Sorority become a Google-searchable source for cancer information and attitudes. I’ve been asked about Komen, and this Ta-ta nonsense, and even how to contribute in a grand gesture way. It’s quite simple. If you have time, donate it to your friend with Cancer: she’s too tired to ask. If you have money, contribute to funds for metastatic breast cancer research, because that is the disease that kills us. The Ta-tas don’t need saving. And no one needs goofball slogans about boobies intended to support the very women who don’t have them.

Well, that was an uncharacteristically shout-y, probably post-traumatic little rant. But I stand behind it with the full weight of my implants. Now go make your beds, my pretties.

White lights... only white lights.

And Merry White Light Christmas!

Your baby is totally flirting with me

Rants are all the rage in the blogging world. From “open letters” to pet peevish posts punctuated with angry bullet points, these writers are fuming, and it’s something you are doing wrong. Of course, a proper rant is as satisfying as a Snickers® if you’re nodding right along with the writer. To wit, in honor of Pink-tober, Lisa Boncheck Adams reissued her angry plea to end kitschy Facebook postings that annoy us in the name of “awareness.” (The 99% who won’t repost are my kind of people.) Because my feathers don’t ruffle easily, I want this style to be wicked funny (better yet, satirical), or I read only whiny, self-indulgent, holier-than-thou foolishness.

If you are a ravenous reader of rants, you’ve noticed that the Internet has hijacked the word “feminism” in order to write angry essays about all sorts of things. When a 24-year-old Australian blogger took a crack at Feminism, and his young, thoughtful female readers chimed in with “I’m not a feminist, but…” comments, I couldn’t keep my meddling fingers from the keyboard. Doesn’t everyone know that the definition of feminism is a belief in the equality of the sexes? That’s it. Full stop. If you think women and men deserve equal rights and pay and access and accountability, then you are a feminist. (Yup, that’s you. Go get your bumper stickers.) All sensible and caring humans are feminists.

But after reading a ridiculous rant today, I see a glimmer of why sensible and caring people might shy away from the term instead of embracing it with pride. Occasionally, “feminist culture” has one too many Chardonnays and permits a dogged McCarthyism to unearth slights and inequalities in innocuous settings. Tagged with feminism! and gender this was published today on the always entertaining Belle Jar. A proud, but irritated mother of three absurdly attractive children doesn’t want you to compliment them. Seriously. She wants none of your inappropriate cooing about her diapered “heartbreaker.” She doesn’t want you to “warn” her that her son won’t be able to fight off the ladies. And when her Disney cute child aims a gassy grin your way, she doesn’t want to hear “he’s flirting!” Because apparently babies aren’t sexual creatures designed to seduce. Aaargh! I’M SO MAD THAT MY CHILDREN ARE BEAUTIFUL AND YOU ONLY HAVE COMPLIMENTS FROM 1965!

Taking offense at well-intentioned grandma praises is almost as silly as writing an essay about the downsides of financial security. I’m assuming future guest posts will tackle injustices against the naturally thin. Blessed with gorgeous, healthy children this mom can only suffer the right brand of compliments? A thread of supportive comments suggests there are plenty of sensitive moms who don’t think this is as silly as I do, but instead are aghast when someone wants to nibble Matty’s fat little toes. I imagine all of them sewing small burqas to shield gorgeous children from gender-role stifling compliments of evil anti-feminists. But telling someone in the checkout line that her baby is “delicious” is lovely, goddamit. There is NO OTHER WAY to receive this aside from, “thank you” or “I know, right? I just want to bite him!” The compliment may be trite or old-fashioned, but it’s a kindness from a stranger and should be paid forward with something much, much better than a rant about how not to say nice things about a baby.

And sure, we know what she’s getting at… after all, we’re all feminists (see paragraph 2). And language used thoughtlessly can certainly feed all sorts of stereotypes we would like to obliterate. But, if your children elicit these responses regularly enough to rally a rant against them, then you are throwing that cute baby out with the politically incorrect bathwater. Have the self-awareness to realize the world’s appreciation for your stunning children might not be knicker-bunch-worthy. Acknowledge a sincere kindness–hell, even a passing and corny kindness– as just that. And when we recognize the beauty of a child, this is not a willful neglect of his other traits, or a condemnation of all un-pretty babies (which do not exist, anyway).

Me, I’m much more concerned about why Suzie won’t be encouraged to pursue astrophysics. And if you want to compliment my boys on their cuteness and future prom date fitness, fire away. I’m going to thank you, and agree with you, and pour you a Prosecco.

My boys when little... big time flirts

My boys when little… big time flirts