Adventure of Little Covid – 19 (part 1)



COVID and outdoor conditions

Doremalen, N. et al. (2020) ‘Aerosol and Surface Stability of SARS-CoV-2 as Compared with SARS-CoV-1’ in The New England Journal of Medicine

Lipsitch, M. (2020) ‘Seasonality of SARS-CoV-2: Will COVID-19 go away on its own in warmer weather?’ on Harvard’s Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics Website

Lawton, G. (2020) ‘Will the spread of covid-19 be affected by changing seasons?’ in New Scientist

COVID Anatomy

Coutard, B., et al. (2020) “The Spike Glycoprotein of the New Coronavirus 2019-NCoV Contains a Furin-like Cleavage Site Absent in CoV of the Same Clade” In Antiviral Research

National Institutes of Health (2020) “Novel Coronavirus Structure Reveals Targets for Vaccines and Treatments” National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Website

General Advice

World Health Organization (2019) ‘Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) advice for the public’ World Health Organization Website




Christchurch Shooting – What Makes a Mass Murderer?

This week a man walked into a community center and place of spiritual refuge with the means and intent to kill. He used a high-powered instrument of murder to shoot unarmed people, targeting women and children, as they ran. He shot the wounded at close range. He ended 49 lives and damaged many more.

Image result for mosque christchurch

This boggles the mind. As we try to understand his capability to do this the psychological understanding and empathy we might have for this awful person slips away. We think of him as a monster, an aberration. The whole thing seems like a break in normality, a freak occurrence or an act of nature. This line of thinking is comforting. But it’s wrong. The uncomfortable reality is that the killer is a person, someone with whom you share a common humanity.

It is not mental illness that tips the scale. There is a kind of rationality to his actions and a culture that informs his motives. As I type this post, on anonymous image boards, people are engaging with the logic of this hideous crime. Some, having seen the consequences of their trolling and the culture that spawned it are recoiling in horror. Others are doubling down, turning first person footage of his murders into memes by using video editing software to impose video-game graphics and score counters onto real life film of bloody slaughter.

Dehumanization of tragety

How can anyone be this callous? The killer’s actions were the product of a culture. Cultures are systems of internal logic and meaning. This one combined division, purity and trolling to justify mass murder.

I ran into a version of this in 2012. It shattered my worldview. I’ve lived most of my life with a strong faith in the essential goodness of humanity. I thought that bigotry was the product of ignorance. I was wrong. What was broken by my field-encounter with naked hate was the innocent presumption that hate couldn’t be rational or deliberate. Hate has a kind of logic, and it exists in conjunction with an exclusive type of empathy and it is bolstered by an internal rationality. Just like humanism, the drive to kill can be cultivated through a type of learning. And it is constantly made, at home and abroad, from thought and feelings that are common to us all. Getting there is a matter of decisions.

What motivates mass murder?

As a scholar of human nature this revelation generated too many questions for me to ignore. The logic of hate pretended to be scientific. These people argued for racism, both the biological and cultural types, insisting that separation of people was a scientific necessity. This is scientifically absurd and easily debunked. But it proliferates. Not just among the ‘crazies’ and the radicalized, but on Facebook and Twitter, on the streets and in parliamentary statements. Racism is a kind of thinking with roots in simple division. Lines are drawn, over and over, between ethnic groups, subcultures, political tribes and preferences in consumer goods. The basis of racism is a simple as dividing the world into us and them. You’ve done it. I know I have. This is the unscientific and illogical rationality of division. It is the basis of discrimination. It’s a key ingredient to mass murder.

When I got back from Europe a thing called Gamergate was happening. In a nutshell, this was a cultural conflict between the progressive and conservative factions of the video game world. What struck me was how much the rhetoric of the conservative faction had in common with the rhetoric of the white nationalists I interviewed in Europe. There was a story of an invasion into their realm by an inauthentic ‘other’ – the feminists were coming to destroy the world of video games. As time went on it turned out that this rhetorical overlap wasn’t an accident. #Gamergate was a case study in radicalization. The lesson was that getting people to internalize a defensive mindset is key to activating action. The logic is as follows: good things are pure and static, and bad people are always out to destroy or change them. Virtue is defined by a person’s willingness to protect the good from the bad. This is a simplification of virtue. It redirects our empathy inside, to those we’ve categorized as good like ourselves and away from those who are bad and different. And good people need to act – to protect the good from the bad – to prove that they’re on the right team. This too is super ‘normal’. Look at your news feed, won’t take long to find an example. This is the logic of radical divisions between the left and the right, proponents of #metoo and its critics, vegans and meat eaters, spiritualists and militant atheists. This logic splits complex issues into black and white positions and turns humans with complex thinking into soldiers in a binary moral war. It’s also another key ingredient to mass murder.

The world is divided; the people in it are sorted into the good and the bad. Action defines character. Pieces are in place, but another thing is needed: The capacity to switch off empathy completely. To dehumanize the bad people until all remorse and hesitation is gone. This is where digital troll culture comes into play. Trolling is an expression of detached action. It allows us to turn people into symbols of things we hate about the world. Trolling also provides ironic distance, turning attacks into games and spite into humor. Finally, trolling feels good. It feels like action in the face of injustice, ignorance or challenge. It feeds the ego and offers a sense of power. As Ginger Gorman points out in her book Troll Hunting, trolling is a tool of power, used most effectively by intelligent people with deep wounds and dark tendencies. It is organized, it has a support structure, it has a logic and culture. It’s also linked to terroristic action.

What do we know about the shooter? We know that he was wounded by the death of his father. We know that his mother was a teacher. We know he lived online – a regular visitor to the anonymous chan boards. We know that he trolled, even as he wrote his manifesto. We know he saw the world as divided. We know he travelled and thought the ‘purity’ of each place threatened by migration. We know he saw Australia and New Zealand as white. We know he met people who lived in a culture of division. We know extremists and mainstream pundits alike inspired him. We know he measured virtue by action.

His ideas were radical, but the ingredients that created them were mainstream. Politicians around the world (notably in Australia) trade on division and virtue and engage in trolling with increasing frequency. And I’m not just talking about out-there backbenchers.

When I was in Europe interviewing white nationalists I didn’t see monsters. Listening to their stories, I found that these were people who found themselves at a series of crossroads. Driven by pain or the pressure of relatable circumstances they picked a path. Each turn would lead them away from empathy, consideration and community. A sign that offered ‘virtue’, ‘courage’, ‘truth’, or ‘power’ marked each of those bad turns. These were perverted versions of ideals we all share. They felt right to the people who made those choices at the time and they traveled those roads until an enemy was clear and violence was justified.

We are all at those crossroads, constantly making decisions about where we want to go. We use each turn to rationalize our world. We verbalize it. We do it online and we do it in real life. Even if we are joking, we internalize what we say and defend our right to say it. Our identities are socially constructed. The mass murder that occurred this week might seem monstrous to us, but the perpetrator was, in many ways, like us all. Each decision was the product of an inter-subjective interaction between his ideas and the ideas of the people around him. How we interact with the world matters. His actions were the destination of a journey of thought.

Chose your next turn carefully.

Terroist Nice boy

PART ONE: Optimism and Parkour as Transformative Practice

From 2008 to 2015 I lived parkour. It was my job to study this practice and the people who practiced it. I was working on my PhD and was lucky enough to be there during the flowering phase of the development of the discipline. I also got to talk to many of the early players in the community – the gurus, the coaches, the gym owners, innovators, charlatans and community leaders. I archived the fights about legitimacy and definition that unified and divided us online and I contributed to the debates through weekly parkour panels. This is the chunk of parkour history that is mine and I’m still working on the graphic novel that will archive that history. The PhD is long since done and it is a testament to my love and optimism for parkour. I thought parkour was loaded with transformative potential.

It wasn’t all roses. I saw and spoke about the potential threats that might co-opt our young practice and subvert its potential. In parkour panels I pointed out that commercialism, populism and ego might undermine the things that are unique and beneficial about parkour – as they had with many other lifestyle sports – and transform it from a practice for all into another inaccessible, elite, commercial spectacle. That’s still a concern, but now there are developments that I never saw coming.

What’s so special about parkour? To me, parkour offers a pathway to inner happiness – psychologically speaking. This isn’t touchy-feely spiritualism, it’s neuroscientific spiritualism. In neuroscience and psychology, spirituality isn’t about religion, magic or planetary vibrations. It’s about connection. To borrow from one of many neuroscientific papers on the subject: “Spirituality [is] the belief in a meaningful life imbued with a sense of connection to a Higher Power, the world, or both.” This sense of connectivity is increasingly hard to come by. The features of post-industrialised societies (like cities, endless commercial imperatives, neoliberal hyper-individualism, the competitive ethos, structural rationalism etc.) have an isolating effect on all of us. Even though we see more people in a day than a European peasant from the 1800s would see in a lifetime and are digitally connected to every ‘friend’ since high school, for many of us, social circles are smaller and more precarious than ever. Cities and modern architecture provide comfort and safety but also direct our movement and literally constrain the world by obscuring our view of the horizon, creating a sense of containment and fragmentation. This can make us feel disconnected from the broader environment. Historical beliefs and cultural stories about how the mind and the body are oppositional make us feel like being smart and being fit are somehow mutually exclusive, alienating some from their bodies and others from study, mental stimulation and critical thought. But connectivity – to others, our environment and our complete selves – which we experience as ‘spiritual’, is super important to our mental health. Studies from the early days of city living show suicide rates as higher for those disconnected from community, place and a sense of spirituality. Contemporary neuroscience regularly adds to a growing body of evidence on this topic.

Parkour from the David Belle era (there was a time when he was broadly UNDISPUTED as a sole founder of the discipline with only a few exceptions, believe it or not) seemed purpose built to take apart isolating social narratives. It was non-competitive, because competition added to risk, created and enforced hierarchy and was antithetical to individualised exploration. It cultivated an aspiration for pro-sociability, because it came from the European body-culture tradition of military and civil service. It was ego denying and meditative, because Belle and the Yamakazi were inspired by eastern martial arts philosophies. It insisted on self-challenge and self-improvement, because the young founders were motivated by a search for self through strength, trial and dedication. It cultivated a community of practice, because it was infused with rhetoric of participatory play. It was also occasionally uncritically chauvinistic, classist and often failed to live up to its own values – because it was largely taken up by young men and we tend to make mistakes before we grow up to know better (or, sometimes, not) – but it did a great deal of good to those who took it up and it was loaded with potential. Still is. Parkour did the job of creating connections. It connected people to their environment; it connected people to their bodies and to their creative problem solving capacity; it connected people to others. In neuroscientific terms, it is spiritual. Lots of people I met (over 750 interviews in total) described it as such. It transcended activity, in my notebooks people call it ‘lifestyle’, ‘meditation’, a way of ‘melting with the world’, ‘connecting with a part of myself’ and ‘finding something I thought I had lost’.

I see parkour as a respite from the cultural ailments of the modern world. A patch of European body culture in a world of commercialized, competitive sport. An island of eastern philosophy in a sea of western self-obsession. A playground in the middle of a one way speedway. A place that let you take a breath in the middle of a stressful rush.

If I sound enamored, I am. I allow myself to indulge because I think many readers will agree. But an island stands out because it is surrounded by water – it is an anomaly to the norm. Parkour was powerful because it was different (foreign), and there are lots of people who have trouble processing foreignness. They are confused by it and this confusion manifests in action. Practitioners of parkour have probably seen the most extreme version of this confusion directly in people who are threatened or frightened by training. People who want you to ‘do a flip’ to turn something they don’t understand into a performance. Or gleeful celebrations of injury in the comment sections of ‘parkour fail’ videos. Or sometimes, people who threaten, intimidate and even lash out because you’re using public property in a way they don’t understand. All this is common.

What is more interesting, insidious and tricky is the inability to comprehend the foreignness of parkour that comes from the community itself. Some people loved parkour for everything weird that it was. They embraced the novelty, obsessed over the French origins, did their best to work out a coherent philosophy to stay true to (a tricky task, since the founders had yet to work that out themselves). They saw the value in what was there and loved it as is. In my thesis I called them the purists. But for many others parkour needed to be tweaked. People are generally committed to the ideologies in which they are raised and often see difference as flaw or incompletion; in anthropology we call this ethnocentrism. It’s really common and the growing parkour community is no exception.

Making something different into something familiar by changing its values to match your own is easier than changing your values in light of new information. There’s bigotry in that, a kind of cognitive inflexibility. It’s this inflexibility that I see as the biggest threat to parkour. And it comes in many forms.

Next: PART 2 – Ideology of Improvement In the Face of Limitation, Fear and Depression

Australian Democracy and Inaction

Am I the only one worried by the obvious coup on democracy in Australia orchestrated by the Liberals and Rupert Murdoch? I’m OK with business interests and the circus of politics… but I can’t help but get a bit worried when democracy becomes an obstacle to political ambition corporate desire.

I grew up in a series of authoritarian regimes. I was born in a place where politicians and the state bureaucracy were so bloated with corruption that they had become a mechanism of it. I lived through a brief moment of journalistic freedom, the TV showing images confirming things the public already knew – crumbling infrastructure, military abuse, failing food distribution and graft. I also remember that instead of despair, people in that moment speaking of transparency as cause for hope: “Now that they admit it, maybe something can be done about it…” A short time later, I remember watching tanks roll on parliament, and a coup that replaced years of complacent corruption with a regime ordained by the International Monetary Fund (‘our’ IMF) that set the foundation for an oligarch driven autocracy. We saw anchors and journalists use their final moments of broadcast freedom to warn the public about the authoritarianism to come before the new regime ensured that press licences were dependent on the ‘right’ kind of reporting.

My family brought me to Australia. Democracy. In contrast to what I saw as I grew up, it was amazing to see politicians who were afraid of the power of the electorate. Who had to explain themselves in front of the public and who were, as a matter of national sport, routinely scrutinized, critiqued and even mocked. It was amazing to me that their actions were the business of the public and it was part of a citizen’s nationalistic duty to remind politicians that they were public servants, not lords and rulers.

I love democracy and I’m deeply patriotic towards an Australia that showed me an alternative. But nearly 25 years later, I’m watching that democracy being intentionally unraveled and I’m seething.

Press is key to the culture of political scrutiny. It’s been essential to Australian democracy. And Australia had a truly admirable independent press tradition. When I arrived in Australia the SBS and the ABC functioned as essential checks to political power. My first job was delivering newspapers and I threw approximately seven independent Fairfax papers (The Age) into people’s driveways for every one paper from the Murdoch group (Herald Sun and the Australian). There were racists in Australia, and special interest had power but it felt like reason held sway.

Under the Liberal (Australian conservative) government we saw the dilution of the public broadcaster. The SBS was established to represent Australian diversity, and under Prime Minister Howard we saw mainstream commercial interest assert itself in 2006 with the limitation of funding and introduction of on-air commercial advertising with tight restrictions. Over the years we see those restrictions unravel. Investigative journalism is curtailed through budget strangling and in 2016, under the auspices of conservative Prime Minister Turnbull, the SBS current affairs broadcaster is merged with the privately owned Viceland – a company partially controlled by Murdoch’s News Corp.

Perhaps the most audacious examples of recent undermining of democracy come from the story of an institution central to the Australian democracy since the start of broadcasting in 1932: the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC). Assaults on the broadcaster were many throughout the years but the last 5 years have been truly unprecedented. The audacity is shocking. In the context of the global war on truth and the right-wing revival, Australian pollies are increasingly acting like authoritarian rulers.

Imagine: A far right government is elected with the help of News Corp. (Fox News) who champion a transparent commitment to business and religious conservative interests over those of the general public (Abbott). The independent broadcaster reports on its policies, scrutinizes its links to business and covers public discontentment. The government accuses the broadcaster of bias, an independent review is commissioned and the results absolve the broadcaster completely. Ignoring the report outcomes, the government instigates a reshuffle of the board to address a non-existent bias. News Corp acts as public relations as new board is instated and funding is cut. Somewhat muted, the ABC continues to do its job. Conservative government changes face (Turnbull), focusing more on business interest and less on Christian values, continues to pander to a wealthy elite. In the context of massive international discoveries of tax fraud and tax havens for the wealthiest people in the world, the ABC publishes a series of investigative pieces on corporate tax in Australia. The articles are initially suppressed by the newly appointed board. Journalists from a long critical tradition of reporting speak up internally and start investigations that eventually reveal foul play on behalf of the government appointed board. ABC chairman resigns and the managing director is sacked as staff threaten to walk off the job due to undue interference. Leaks reveal the chairman was taking instruction from the government to punish reporters who published tax cut stories and other work critical of the government . While that’s going on, another independent news organization folds, and News Corp (again, Fox News) changes its format to take advantage of the void and intensify political involvement. Supported (if not galvanized) by Murdock, the conservative government changes face again (Morrison). This same government states that the board (that IT APPOINTED) is in shambles and bypasses the legislated protocol for election to the broadcasters board to directly appoint a group of unqualified and extremely partisan appointees. The ABC journalistic staff again walk off in protest while the government, which has seen more face changes than any other in recent history, tells them to stop focusing on themselves and get back to work.

The government openly re-framed the public broadcaster because it didn’t like them honestly reporting on their actions. That’s a big deal.

Plus there’s a certain irony in this government telling the ABC to be less self focused after three leadership spills and more infighting than anyone has ever seen. Doubly so since the ABC made the point first – it’s the schoolyard “no I’m not, YOU are” argument, from our politicians!

I have spent a fair bit of my adult life wondering how the mess of corruption I grew up in might have happened. How did people willingly give away their political power? Where does the slippery slope begin? Over the last few years we saw the rise of private propaganda firms like Cambridge Analytica demonstrate that the subversion of democracy is possible. The key is control of the stream of information. This is a lesson global autocrats already know well. The scary thing is it seems like politicians in liberal democracies are paying close attention. We are entering a situation where public opinion is no longer feared, it is manipulated. Accountability is no longer required. The situation with the ABC demonstrates that the Liberal government doesn’t want a media that delivers transparency, it wants a media that delivers propaganda.

What do you care about? Good environmental policy? Humane treatment of refugees? Healthcare? Education? LGBTQI liberties? Women’s rights? Home affordability? None of that matters in an autocracy. Without a good press, autocrats and business interests decide.

There is no cause more pressing than this one.

Living on the Edge: The Value of Graphic Social Science

Comics are great for science. The ‘comics’ medium (not to be confused with comedy and the comics that preform it) is a tool of communication and research that has great potential for the social sciences. But, new methods are always met with skepticism. It’s up to those who are native to the medium to convince the scientific community of its benefits. And to share some of the difficulties that come with breaking new ground.

My name is Alex. I am a ‘comics’ native.

It all started with trains. There’s a wonderful thing happening on public transport. It started about seven years ago. For me, it began with a moment in which a young woman walked onto a train, sat down and opened up a copy of Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi. Right there! In front of everyone! She was reading comics. Then, it happened again. This time it was a young man with a copy of Fables by Vertigo. I was both overjoyed and scandalised. They were doing it right there, in the open, with no shame. And it just keeps going on – I’ve seen it a bunch since then.

I have no doubt that people have been ‘shamelessly’ reading comics in public for years. And I know that this says way more about me than them. In fact that’s the point. Comics are my language. As a migrant kid who spoke no English but came from a family of readers, comics were my first foray into the Anglo culture. Back in the early 90s, when I was first introduced to the medium, they were a way to read without being able to understand the language. They were addictive and off-the-bat; an irresistible, dangerous flirtation. You see, coming from a family of readers, illustrations were for kids or ‘the stupid’. Yet, I always liked to draw. Worse yet, I never saw an issues in punctuating those drawings with a few words of dialogue.  This is how I saw it: words are great, but pictures have so much more to say. Why not have both?

Fast-forward to today. I’m a anthropology researcher with a bunch of experience in the field and the workplace. I’ve got a book (or two) I’m working on. Both monographs spend some time exploring the boundaries of mixed media. Both speak in the language to which I am a native. Here is a fresh piece of that work. This is a part of a conclusion to a current manuscript. I hope you’ll forgive refferences to prior content. On these pages I ask the question: can comics be ethnography?

Heads up: In these comics I use the word ‘comics’ deliberately, in a way that defines conventional grammar. In the book I am writing I argue that ‘comics’ is a term that we should use to describe a medium separate from the comic – the funny, ironic or conversational. I have some strong ideas about how they can make a good ethnography…








That was a part of a conclusion to a monograph that is under construction. In it I talk about comics history and its grammar. So far, everyone loves it, until they hit the logistics of publication. Over the last year I’ve spoken to some highly reputable academic publishers. Each one has been excited by the manuscript, but confused by the format. “This is great! We love it for the comics,” I’m told. “But, can we have less pictures?”

I understand the mentality behind this contradictory response. It’s the same mentality I have on the train when I see comic book readers. I’m excited by the change, but I react through the stigma I grew up with. Comics? In public? Are you childish? Stupid? These attitudes are the result of stigmas I seek to unpack. Worse yet, there is a matter of tradition and subsequent logistics of the academe.

The written word has the unquestionable monopoly on academic analysis. For publishers, the convention defines a physical restriction on publication. Any academic who has submitted a manuscript has been asked some version of the following question: How many ‘plates’ or illustrations do you have? This is telling. We haven’t used ‘plates’ in printing for a long while. That term comes from the days of hard press, when individual pages would be laid out in physical plates that would emboss (press) ink onto the page through brute force. Those plates were unique and craft intensive objects; to be thrown away once the physical object was worn out from the physical force of ongoing use. Plates were expensive to make, picture plates were the most expensive of all.

In the era of digital printing, we still talk with the terminology of 19th century technology. For academic publishing, the tech has moved on, but the attitudes have remained the same. For all the benefits that comics might offer and all the excitement that sympathetic academics might have for its innovations, our community doesn’t know what to do with the novelty of this communicative method. The stigma is strong, and it goes all the way back to Plato. We still think that the word is pure, closer to the ethereal ideal, and the image is profane, closer to the material – Cartesian dualism incarnate. This dualism, and it’s puritanical ancestor, is being made increasingly redundant by contemporary neuroscience. Yet, it is also why these monographs are still unpublished – editors are unsure about what to do with this new marginal text. Such is life on the edge.

The best way to brush a chip off your shoulder is to have someone point it out. Here I am looking for allies and critics. I know I’m not the only comics native. And I’m still committed to the cause.

P.S. If you’re a publisher, and you’re interested in challenging formats, let me know! I really am staking my career on it.

– Dr Pava

Parkour in the City: Neuroanthropology, Stress and Environmental Adaptation

Delivered for third year anthropology students…. Enjoy!


Section 1: The three-factor model – 1:52
Section 2: Introducing parkour – 6:44
Section 3: The City as a human niche – 14:10
Section 4: The Super-basic Neurology of stress – 22:37
Section 5: Super-basic Epigenetic effects – 28:43
Section 6: Stressful Cities – 35:14
Section 7: Parkour as cultural adaptation – 43:18

Because this lecture presents some 5 years of PhD research and 3 years of subsequent work to an undergraduate audience some generalization was essential to getting the material to fit inside the 50 minute time-slot.
While critique and feedback is always welcome, please consider the requirements of the format and the related time restrictions.

Video Credits, with thanks to respective creators:
Storm Freerun – UNBOUND (Trailer) – Storm Productions…
Speed Air Man – David Belle
Trace Elements Parkour 2008 – Trace elements…
Port Lincoln Parkour Trip 2015 – South Australian Parkour Association…

Copyright to Alex Pavlotski, 2017
Please feel free to contact the author on a.pavotski(at)

RAPED: A Male Survivor Breaks His Silence

RAPED: A Male Survivor Breaks His Silence (1995)

By: Fred Pelka

Editorial Note: I did not write this. I read this a long time ago, in my undergraduate years, and it was powerful then. With time it has become only more powerful. All of the issues mentioned here are more pressing now that ever before and this story is not one that should be hidden away behind academic paywalls. This is a dose of reality that we really need. Please read and share.

– AP



The man who raped me had a remarkable self assurance which could only have come from practice. He picked me up just outside Cleveland, heading east in a van filled with construction equipment. That early morning in May I’d already spent a sleepless 24 hours trying to hitchhike from Oxford, Mississippi to Buffalo, New York, so it felt good when I was offered a ride through the western fringe of Pennsylvania. First, though, the driver told me he needed to stop along the way, to pick up some building supplies. We drove to a country club undergoing renovation, where I hung out with his co-workers while he signed for several boxes of equipment which we carried back to his van. Getting back onto the turnpike he told me about one more stop he had to make.

As a man, I’ve been socialized never to admit to being vulnerable, to discuss those moments when I wasn’t in control. I know also how women and children are routinely punished when they speak out about abuse, how they are blamed for their own victimization. The examples are endless: Witness the contempt with which Anita Hill was treated. For these reasons and more I’m still reticent, years after it happened, to recount what happened to me that day in Ohio. This article marks the first time in 15 years I have publicly discussed it under my own name. The second building seemed deserted. We went up a flight of stairs, down a corridor into a side room. I looked around for the equipment he’d mentioned, and noticed him locking the door behind us. He slugged me before I could react, forced me down with his hands around my throat. As I began to lose consciousness I heard him say, “If you scream, if you make one wrong move, I’ll kill you.”

The police told me later that the man who raped me was a suspect in the rapes of at least six other young men.

The police told me later that the man who raped me was a suspect in the rapes of at least six other young men. During the assault his mood swung from vicious, when he promised to strangle me or break my neck, to self-pity, when he wept because we were both among “the wounded ones.” In that enormous calm that comes after the acceptance of death, I wondered who would find my body.

Most rapes don’t happen like this. Most victims know their attacker(s) — he is a neighbor, friend, husband, or father, a teacher, minister or doctor. The vast majority of rapes are committed by men against women and children, and the FBI estimates that anywhere from 80 to 90 percent go unreported. Rape is an integral part of our culture, and fully one third of all women in this country will be raped at some point in their lives. But this sexist violence does occasionally spill over onto boys and men. The National Crime Survey for 1989 estimated that one in 12 rape survivors is male.

For all this, nobody really knows how many men are raped each year, or how many boys are sexually abused. One study at the University of New Hampshire found that one in 11 young men surveyed had been sexually abused before their 18th birthday. I’ve seen articles which speculate that anywhere from one in nine to one in seven men will be raped or sexually abused in their lifetime, most often by other males, but these are little more than guesses.

“Since rape is generally misconstrued to be a sexually motivated crime,” writes Dr. A. Nicholas Groth and Anne Wolbert Burgess, “it is generally assumed that males are unlikely targets of such victimization, and then when it does occur, it reflects a homosexual orientation on the part of the offender. However, the causes of male rape that we have had an opportunity to study do not lend much support to either assumption.” Groth and Burgess interviewed men in the community who had been raped, and men who admitted to raping other men, and published their findings in the American Journal of Psychiatry. In half the cases they studied, the gender of the victim “did not appear to be of specific significance” to the rapist. “Their victims included males and females, adults and children,” and “may symbolize…something they want to conquer or defeat. The assault is an act of retaliation, an expression of power, and an assertion of their strength or manhood.”

In half the cases they studied, the gender of the victim “did not appear to be of specific significance” to the rapist. “Their victims included males and females, adults and children,” and “may symbolize…something they want to conquer or defeat. The assault is an act of retaliation, an expression of power, and an assertion of their strength or manhood.”

In their article, Burgess and Groth dispute some of the prevalent myths about male rape. The first is that men simply don’t get raped, at least not outside prison. Of course, if men don’t get raped then what happened to me either wasn’t rape (the police asking, “Did you come?”), or I’m not a man (my male friends wanting to know how I could “let something like this” happen to me). The second myth — that all men who are raped or rape other men are gay—is a product of our culture’s homophobia, and our ignorance of the realities of sexual violence. Most people find it difficult to understand why a straight man would rape another straight man. But if you see rape as a way of exerting control, of confirming your own power by disempowering others, then it makes perfect sense. If it makes you feel powerful and macho to force sex on a woman or child, think of how much more powerful you feel raping another man.

“I have a special place,” the man who raped me said after a long while. “It’s out in the country, where we can make all the noise we want.” It seemed obvious what would happen to me once we arrived at “his special place,” but I knew there was no hope for my survival as long as we stayed in that room. So I agreed to go with him to “the country.” I promised not to try to escape. It is perhaps an indication of his fragile hold on reality that he believed me.

We walked back to his van and drove away. I waited until I saw some people, then jumped as we slowed to make a turn, rolling as I hit the pavement. I ran into the nearest building — a restaurant — just as patrons were finishing their lunch. Conversation stopped, and I was confronted by a roomful of people, forks raised in mid-bite, staring.

“I think you’d better call the police,” I told the waitress. This was all I could say, placing my hands flat on the counter between us to control their trembling. She poured me a cup of black coffee. And then the police arrived.

The two detectives assigned to my case conformed to the standard good cop^ad cop archetype. The good cop told me how upset he’d seen “girls” become after being raped. “But you’re a man, this shouldn’t bother you.” Later on he told me that the best thing to do would be to pull up my pants “and forget it ever happened.” The bad cop asked me why my hair was so long, what was I doing hitchhiking at seven o’clock in the morning? Why were my clothes so dirty? Did I do drugs? Was I a troublemaker?

I used to be puzzled at how the bad cop obviously didn’t believe me, in spite of the fact that, by his own account, in the months before my assault six other men had come to him with similar stories. Then I heard of the Dahmer case in Milwaukee, how in May 1991 Dahmer’s neighbors saw him chasing a naked 14year-old boy, bleeding from the anus, through the alley behind their building. The responding officers returned the boy to Dahmer’s apartment, where Dahmer explained that this was just a lover’s spat, which the police believed in spite of the youth’s apparent age, and the photos scattered on Dahmer’s floor of murdered and mutilated boys and men. The police reassured a neighbor who called again, saying that everything was all right — this at the very moment Dahmer was murdering Konerak Sinthasomphone. Afterwards Dahmer dismembered Sinthasomphone’s body.

411fd9_048fa7b0f43d433e8a7a1164503fb397~mv2.jpgKonerak Sinthasomphone (1976-1991)

Sinthasomphone was one of at least 17 boys and men raped and murdered by Dahmer, their body parts stored in vats and freezers in his apartment. It was reported that his first assaults were committed in Ohio, so I had to brace myself before I could look at Jeffrey Dahmer’s photo in the paper. At first I was relieved to find that he was not the man who raped me. Then I thought how this meant my assailant is likely still out there, looking for more “wounded ones.”

Because I gave them such detailed information — the country club, the name painted on the side of his van — the detectives were able to locate my assailant not too many hours after I was brought into their precinct. The good cop asked, after I identified the rapist, whether I wanted to press charges. He explained how I’d have to return to Ohio to appear before a grand jury, and then return again for the trial, how the newspapers would publish my name, how little chance there was of a conviction.

“He says you seduced him,” the good cop said. “So it’s your word against his.” The bad cop glared at me when I told them there was no way I wanted any of this to be made public. “You mean,” he fumed, “I wasted my whole afternoon on this shit?” Standing in front of me with an expression of disgust, he asked, “How do you think this makes me feel?”

By then it was getting dark. I hitchhiked the remaining 200 miles home, studying every movement of every man who offered me a ride. I arrived at my apartment after midnight, walking the last 10 miles.

In the weeks that followed the assault, every stupid, insensitive thing I’d ever said about rape came back to haunt me. A friend of mine had been attacked several months earlier, also while hitchhiking. She told me just a few hours after it happened how she’d missed her bus, and didn’t want to be late to work. She said the man offering her a lift seemed normal enough, even “nice.”

“You should’ve waited for the next bus,” I lectured. Today I cringe at my arrogance. Hitchhiking, like walking alone after dark, or feeling safe on a date, at work, at home, is another perquisite to which only men are entitled. How dare she not understand the limits of her freedom?

While women tell me that the possibility of rape is never far from their minds, most men never give it a first, let alone a second, thought. This may explain why they react so negatively to accounts by male survivors. To see rape as “a women’s issue” is a form of male privilege most men would prefer not to surrender. They would rather believe that they can move with immunity through the toxic atmosphere of violence and fear they and their compatriots create. Being a male survivor meant I’d lost some of that immunity. No wonder I felt as if I’d been poisoned, as if I were drowning.

For years I pretended, as per the good cop’s recommendation, that nothing had happened, secretly feeling that I was somehow responsible, somehow less masculine. The turning point came with the media storm that swirled up around the Big Dan rape in New Bedford, Massachusetts. The movie “The Accused” is based on that incident — a woman assaulted in a bar while other men looked on and cheered. Naive as I was, I figured this was a pretty clear-cut case. Where the police might have doubted my will to resist (no broken bones, no massive lacerations), here was a victim overpowered by half a dozen men. How could anyone doubt that she had been brutalized? Yet, during the trial, The Boston Herald ran the front page headline “SHE LED US ON!” I realized then that, even had I been murdered, someone would have inevitably questioned my complicity: “He probably liked rough sex.”


Spreading doubt: Meme circulated online 2013-2016

It’s just this sort of victim-blaming that discourages survivors from reporting their trauma, or seeking treatment, but there are other factors which may discourage males in particular. Homophobia for one: The sort of gender McCarthyism that labels any man a faggot who cannot or will not conform to accepted norms of masculine feeling or behavior. Men who rape other men capitalize on this, knowing that straight victims don’t want to appear gay, and gay victims might fear coming out of the closet. Groth and Burgess report, for instance, that “a major strategy used by some offenders…is to get the victim to ejaculate.” This “strategy” was attempted in roughly half the cases they studied, and in half of those the rapist succeeded in ejaculating his victim. This confuses the victim, who often misidentifies ejaculation with orgasm. It confirms for the rapist the old canard about how victims “really want it.” And, as Groth and Burgess say, it leaves the survivor “discouraged from reporting the assault for fear his sexuality may be suspect.”

For male survivors of child sexual abuse there is also the unfortunate theory that boys who are abused inevitably grow up to be men who rape. One survivor told me it was for this reason he had decided never to be a father. Not that he’d ever wanted to abuse children, nor was there any evidence he ever would. He eventually came to realize that because some rapists are themselves survivors doesn’t mean that all male survivors of child sexual abuse turn out to be rapists. Finally, rape-crisis centers, the only institutions in our society founded expressly to help rape survivors, are identified by some men as hotbeds of feminism, and many men take “feminist” to mean “man-hating.” It’s true that the vast majority of rape crisis counselors are women, that the entire stop-rape movement is an extension of the women’s movement. For the record, though, I have never felt any hostility in response when calling a rape crisis center, this in spite of the fact that RCCs are often plagued by “hotline abusers” — men who call to masturbate to the sound of a female voice.

Finally, rape-crisis centers, the only institutions in our society founded expressly to help rape survivors, are identified by some men as hotbeds of feminism, and many men take “feminist” to mean “man-hating.” It’s true that the vast majority of rape crisis counselors are women, that the entire stop-rape movement is an extension of the women’s movement.

On the other hand, I’ve run across a good deal of hostility towards women from male survivors with whom I’ve talked. One man told me how certain he was that the counselors at his local RCC hated men, even though, by his own admission, he’d never called, and knew no one who had. A while back I attended a survivors’ conference organized by a Boston women’s group, attended by several hundred women and maybe a dozen men. One of these men stood up during a plenary session to shout at the women on the podium. As an incest survivor, he said, he felt “marginalized” and “oppressed” by the way the conference was run, despite the fact that a number of the workshops were specifically geared toward males, and that a keynote speaker received a standing ovation when he described his work with boys and men. Some male survivors even blame women for the denial and homophobia they encounter after their assault. They openly resent the (pitifully few) resources available to female survivors, as if any help women receive is at the expense of men. Even Geraldo has picked up this theme: His show on male survivors ended with an attack on rape crisis centers for their alleged refusal to acknowledge male victimization.

This hostility has been exacerbated by the so-called men’s movement, the Robert Bly/mythopoetic crowd, with their “Wild Man” and “Inner Warrior” archetypes. These men say a lot of absurd things about sexual violence, not the least of which is that “just as many men get raped as women.” This last statement is often repeated by Chris Harding, editor of Wingspan, which The Boston Globe calls “the bible of the new men’s movement.” Harding is generally quick to add that most of these rapes “occur in prison” — a statement which is as inaccurate as it is pernicious, assuming as it does that a disproportionate number of male rapes are committed by working-class and minority men. The men’s movement claims that rape is a “gender-neutral issue,” and thus has nothing to do with sexism.

What is ironic about all this is that what little acknowledgement there is of male victimization generally comes from the women’s stop-rape movement. To the extent that male survivors can tell their stories, it is because of the foundation laid by feminists. So this woman-bashing is as ungrateful as it is gratuitous.


Misplaced Anger: Meme circulated by a ‘Men’s Rights’ Advocacy group.

One source of confusion appears to be the distinction between victimization and oppression. Male survivors charge that feminists see rape as a “man vs. woman” issue, emphasizing the central role male violence plays in stunting and destroying women’s lives, and they’re right. The distinction is that while many women, and some men, are victimized by rape, all women are oppressed by it, and any victimization of women occurs in a context of oppression most men simply do not understand. Rape for men is usually a bizarre, outrageous tear in the fabric of reality. For women, rape is often a confirmation of relative powerlessness, of men’s contempt for women, and its trauma is reinforced every day in a thousand obvious and subtle ways.

For myself, I don’t need for rape to be gender neutral to feel validated as a male survivor. And I certainly don’t need to denigrate women, or to attack feminists, to explain why I was abused by the (male) police, ridiculed by my (male) friends, and marginalized by the (male dominated) society around me. It is precisely because we have been “reduced” to the status of women that other men find us so difficult to deal with. It was obvious to me at the police station that I was held in contempt because I was a victim — feminine, hence perceived as less masculine. Had I been an accused criminal, even a rapist, chances are I would have been treated with more respect, because I would have been seen as more of a man. To cross that line, to become victims of the violence which works to circumscribe the lives of women, marks us somehow as traitors to our gender. Being a male rape survivor means I no longer fit our culture’s neat but specious definition of masculinity, as one empowered, one always in control. Rather than continue to deny our experience, male survivors need to challenge that definition.

As Diana E.H. Russell says in The Politics of Rape, “Women must start talking about rape: Their experiences, their fears, their thoughts. The silence about rape must be broken.

The same must be true for men. And so I offer this article as my first contribution to that effort.

I’ve been back to northern Ohio exactly once in the 15 years following that day. Seven years ago I was traveling from Boston to Chicago with a car full of friends. It was early morning, and I was sleeping in the back seat when we pulled off the highway, and steered onto a street that looked oddly, disturbingly familiar. Rubbing my eyes, I felt an unsettling sense of deja vu. And then I remembered. “Time for some coffee,” the driver said, and I wondered then if we would eat breakfast at that same restaurant, if I would meet that same waitress. We didn’t, and I chose not to tell my companions what had happened to me all those years ago.

Today I think I might be less disconcerted. Today I think I just might have told them what happened.

Originally published (1995) in Patricia Searles and Ronald J. Berger, [eds.] Rape and Society, by: San Francisco: Westview.

Further Reading

A Reply to Lauren Southern’s “Why I’m not a Feminist” by Jenna Christian in Everyday Geopolitics Huston (2015)

Men’s rights activists, gathering to discuss all the ways society has done them wrong by Monica Hesse in The Washington Post (2013)


I Was a Men’s Rights Activist by: Edwin Hodge in MEL Magazine (2016)

The best thing to come out of Brexit and the Trump victory [and some music]


Stupid, stupid, people. A denial of democracy isn’t authoritarianism. It’s complacency. The democratic slogan for every election should be “if you don’t use it, you lose it.”

I posted the above on social media the day after the outcome of the American election was publicized, and since then I feel increasingly like I need to clarify this post. The conversations that post sparked made it seem as if people think that I was arguing that low voter turnout was the only issue that decided the outcome of the Trump/Clinton race.

Fact is, many people reacted this way tells us something about how people are thinking. It seems like everyone wants this whole election outcome to be pinned down by one explanation. It was the media; it was Russian intervention; it was middle class discontentment; lies; corruption; a grand conspiracy.


Voter participation is an issue, and it was certainly a factor. But it is far from the only factor. Democratic engagement with politics and vote value have been a hobby horse of mine for years since being exposed to the alternative first hand. But, it is not the only reason Trump won. Just to make my position clear, like with everything else, this outcome was the result of a combination of factors. Media landscape and engagement, social media, political marketing, charisma, the left-right divide, the economic and geo-political circumstances, reactionary populism (from both sides), the rise of individualist identity politics, culture, class, authoritarian militarism (both sides of politics), neoliberalism and many other real and complicated elements converged to deliver this result.

All of these factors have to be considered in thinking about the outcome. I get bummed out when people chose not to vote, but voting doesn’t solve any problems alone – it’s just a useful mechanic for societal transformation. Also, to me, the most valuable function of voting participation is that it gauges the level of interaction between the public and the political sphere. And it always makes me sad to see when that gap when it grows wider.

Aside from all the endemic issues Trump and Brexit illuminated, the big thing these phenomenal events proved was the power of the vote. That, despite any efforts from the establishment and regardless of how entrenched the people in power may appear, at least in England and America (I think in Australia and many other democratic nations as well) people’s participation in voting, or lack there of, has a massive impact on the political process.

For everyone who might despair at the results of these processes, this is an important silver lining. My annoyance at abstention is based on my deep commitment to the democratic process. Imperfect as it might be, it’s much better than dictatorship. This may be cliché: but I love the freedom that it offers. The important thing to remember is that democracy requires work and participation.

And that is the bitter pill. Keeping politicians honest is actually the job of the public in the democratic system. Again, we return to the notion of political participation. In the wake of this election, allegations came out about mass corruption within the American political system. The involvement of big money and corporate influence were pointed to as massive rots in the system – the reason to shake things up and bring around change. People were keen to be involved in this process of exposure and a million sources suddenly came to light.

Though a great deal of the information that was published was either blatantly false or politically framed in bias, much of it was true. Trump was seen to be delivering the public ‘The Truth’ about the system. Except, NONE of this is new. Hillary is following a trajectory of American politics that has been ‘exposed’ many times in the past. People have been campaigning about corporate involvement, the unfair projection of military power and the delivery of promises the 60s and before. These people have even pushed into the mainstream. Michael Moore, Noam Chomsky, Joel Bakan, Naomi Klein, Adam Curtis, John Pilger and others made public appeals in the media and in press in open and accessible ways. The press ran endless stories and exposed corruption and corporate influence regularly. Academics in the field published books and articles and campaigned to draw public attention. In the 90s, top charted bands spoke about issues that resonate with contemporary realities – geo-politics, corruption, racism, sexism, freedom and democracy. And they did it with emotion and directness that makes the ‘edgy’ /pol kids of today seem tame in comparison.

While the music got play, when it came to the message, very few people listened. Perhaps what’s different in this election is that people have been pointed to it for the first time by dire economic circumstances – now that life is hard the folks are looking for someone to blame.

As a long time liberal humanist and democrat the current circumstances call for mixed feelings. To be honest, under ordinary circumstances, I’d be overjoyed at [anti establishment, Hillary] allegations gaining traction in the public realm. Right now, I’m more than a bit worried. This information is being offered for a reason. Those mentioned above worked to expose these issues because they held aspirations of fixing the system. They were speaking to the public with faith in the idea that political power could be taken back by the public. When this information is broadcast now, by the Trump campaign there is a different purpose – the attainment of political power. The aim was to shift the blame. The story is that politicians are bad. It resonates and appeals to previously held popular ideas. But this corrupt and ‘broken’ system has been widely supported by a previously disinterested public. When the public was given news about all of this before Trump, nobody listened. When 9/11 happened that same people calling foul about the war now were first to condemn investigations of this type as unpatriotic. When the global financial system collapsed in 2008, public pressure for prosecution quickly evaporated.

Most people wanted news that was either fluffy or talked about their immediate fears. There are hundreds of books and articles by academics and news reporters on all of these issues, articles that only 1% of the population has ever picked up. This complacency is in large part to blame. The process that lead the US political system to this state took many steps, and the public never held the establishment to account long enough to change the trajectories of power.

We do need change – but we also need to be careful about our information and act with public good and democracy in mind. I just hope people remember this and work for greater transparency and democratic accountability after this farcical election. Now, that the power of the vote and its capacity to bring about revolutions are clearly demonstrated, and the ills of the old system are still in the public mind, is a big chance for us to get involved. To imagine how we want to make things better and engage. To remember what we learned and not to turn away in disappointment or satisfaction, or worse yet, turn on each other.

The work of democracy is never done. People really do have the power, we just need to have the will. The best thing about the surprise election results of this year is that we KNOW it can be done.

How about some music?

Here’s a niche artist, MACKLEMORE. You might not have heard this song, cos it’s a little political. But then, have you actually looked into the politics of his music?

Classic folk lyrists, Ani DeFranco, delivers a poem that ranges from political to immediate.

Let’s take a trip back in time. You’ve heard this song a million times as a movies soundtrack… but have you actually paused to listen to the lyrics?

A little bit of soul from Middle America. Country is all about breakups, pickups and whiskey, right?

2Pac is famous…

What was 2Pac talking about? Everyone gets the same service… No, they don’t. Sometimes 911 is a joke.  Sad thing is, not much has changed since the 90s.

I’d love to hear your picks. I need me a good political playlist.