Emily Bazelon: The Phoebe Prince Vampire as Enabled by Slate

The online magazine Slate makes its name by taking up the unconventional viewpoint, such as when one of its writers urged us all to take a Trump presidential candidacy seriously.

But at some point, decency needs to enter the formula. If you decide to highlight a topic such as cyber bullying, then the usual "hey let's be the devil's advocate to get attention" routine might not be the best approach. Alas, you would be wrong if you credited Slate magazine with any such analysis.

Emily Bazelon recently was featured on a Slate podcast talking about her research into the Phoebe Prince story. Credited with a more "nuanced" look at the issue, the podcast focused on the perspective of one of the girls who targeted Phoebe Prince, Flannery Mullins.

I want to say, first of all, that my biology partner in high school committed suicide. She was being molested by her stepfather and when he killed her dog, she decided to blow her brains out. I had extended a hand to her, seeing that she was upset, but was brushed aside sharply. So when I went on my band trip, she killed herself.

I carried that guilt for a few decades. Nothing in the situation could have been attributed to me or my actions, and I even tried to help her as best I could. Still, I worried for years that there was something I should have seen or done to stop her from killing herself.

Let's contrast that with Flannery Mullins. "I'm not ashamed of myself at all," she said. When told of Phoebe Prince's suicide, her main reaction was "confusion." Huh? "I have no issue in defending myself. I have no issue with it." Flannery Mullins insists. Where is the introspection? The empathy? No where to be found.

Flannery Mullins apparently saw Phoebe Prince as a rival, not as a vulnerable girl. And how does that connect to how she acted? Nowhere in the interview does Flannery Mullins admit that what she did was wrong. The one thing she said she would do differently is talk to Phoebe directly about what was going on with some boy. And the name-calling, threats, online harassment? Nary a word. "It wasn't bullying to me because I don't think someone was meaner to someone else." Really? You can't tell the difference between Phoebe getting close to your alleged boyfriend and threatening someone with violence, calling them names, getting other people to call them names, and harassing them online? Emily Bazelon just takes the word of Flannery Mullins for everything.

The podcast features an interview of a Slate editor with Emily Bazelon. So rather than an interview where we get to hear Flannery Mullins speak for herself, we get to hear Emily Bazelon minimize their bullying and its effects. Bazelon cites Phoebe Prince's romances with high school boys as the source of conflict with the bullying girls. Left unaddressed is what difference that makes. Their actions were still wrong and led this new girl in school to kill herself. None of that enters into Bazelon's analysis. The entire focus of her "reporting" is minimizing the role of the bullies and laying as much blame as possible at Phoebe Prince's feet.

Emily Bazelon knows she is skewing the facts as she reports them to create an alternative story and get her book deal. Flannery Mullins will be in the news again one day, I fear.


Who Is a Jew?

We've all heard of the right of return in Israel. It is the right of any Jew to move to Israel. Then the question becomes: who is a Jew?

I am Jewish, if you ask me. I keep kosher, light the candles every Friday at sundown, attend Torah study, observe the major holidays, don't work on Shabbat, my father is Jewish (although a practicing Unitarian), his mother was Jewish, etc. Actually, there is a list of things to show you are Jewish that includes a bar or bat mitzvah, choosing your Jewish name, using a Mikvah - that I have not done yet. Nevertheless, the question "Is Christine Axsmith a Jew?" can be readily answered by myself.

Of course, when you are running a country, the question is not so simply answered. Every day, people will want to come to your country to escape poverty or criminal prosecution with a tenuous claim to the religion or ethnic identity. Rules need to be established. Understandable. Judgements need to be made. These are political decisions.

In Israel right now, the question of "who is a Jew" is being answered in a very narrow way, as determined by certain Orthodox rabbis. Conversions to Judaism are not being recognized unless performed by Orthodox rabbis, with devastating results. Marriages are being annulled and children declared bastards, among other outcomes. It is beyond unfair, but it is also within Israel's right to make these choices. Under their scheme, I do not have a right of return. I am not even Jewish. Fortunately, my relationship is with G-d.

In Torah study this week, it was pointed out that the idea we can choose our religion is uniquely American. I wouldn't know, but many Christian evangelists and Mormons in Korea, Russia, China, Brazil and Africa might disagree. At any rate, I am unaffected, either way.

In fact, I am unaffected by anyone's definition of Jewishness outside of my congregation. But it is when that identity is tied to political expectations that I begin to get rattled.

No one can seriously expect my loyalty and support on a political level when my beliefs and practices are rejected wholesale. OK, they do expect that. It's funny, when you think about it. "We reject you and the idea of you. Give us money."

Now Israel's leaders are upset at President Obama's ideas for Middle East peace. And they want me to be upset as well.

Sorry, darling. That's political. You already made that choice. If most of the Jews in the United States don't cut it for you, don't come bitching to me now. It seems I am not an Israeli Jew. I am just an American one. I find the behavior of Israel towards the Palestinians to be unreasonable and their approach to "peace" to be just as bad. So you are on your own now. Enjoy.


Cheap Happiness

The following is a summary of a psychology study done in 2010.

Most of us tend to think that if we just had a bit more money we'd get more satisfaction out of life, but on the whole, this turns out not to be true. So why doesn't money make us happier? New research by Jordi Quoidbach and colleagues suggests that the answer lies, at least in part, in how wealthier people lose touch with their ability to savor life's pleasures.

Savoring is a way of increasing and prolonging our positive experiences. Taking time to experience the subtle flavors in a piece of dark chocolate, imaging the fun you'll have on an upcoming vacation (and leafing through your trip photos afterward), telling all your friends on Facebook about the hilarious movie you saw over the weekend - these are all acts of savoring, and they help us to squeeze every bit of joy out of the good things that happen to us.

Why, then, don't wealthier people savor, if it feels so good? It's obviously not for a lack of things to savor. The basic idea is that when you have the money to eat at fancy restaurants every night and buy designer clothes from chic boutiques, those experiences diminish the enjoyment you get out of the simpler, more everyday pleasures, like the smell of a steak sizzling on your backyard grill, or the bargain you got on the sweet little sundress from Target.

Create plans for how to inject more savoring into each day, and you will increase your happiness and well-being much more than (or even despite) your growing riches. And if you're riches aren't actually growing, then savoring is still a great way to truly appreciate what you do have.

J. Quoidbach, E. Dunn, K. Petrides, & M. Mikolajczak (2010) Money giveth, money taketh away: The dual effect of wealth on happiness. Psychological Science, 21, 759-763.

My husband and I savor life by sitting in lawn chairs in front of our apartment building under the big tree together. It is very pleasant, especially with the dog and cat out there with us. Justin reads to me, I knit, we chat about books and people we know.

To say that this is a bizarre habit here in Washington, DC is an understatement. No one in NW DC sits on their front lawn and says hello to everybody who walks by. No one in apartment buildings do it, either.

We prefer to treat the lovely lawn in front of our apartment building as our own. And why not? We may be the bizarro middle-aged couple in a rent-controlled student ghetto, but newcomers to DC appreciate that someone is friendly enough to talk to them. We will get the occasional knock on the door asking to borrow a lamp or how to get on the Internet from central European kids upstairs. It's nice.

During Snowmaggedon, we had no Internet or t.v. We entertained each other for two weeks by reading aloud to one another and visiting friends in the neighborhood. Just like on the olden days. And you know what? It worked.

As an avid knitter, I have way too much yarn on hand. Before deciding what to knit next, I lay out the yarns I may want to work with, I look over knitting patterns, I imagine what the finished product will look like. My goal is to make as many gifts as possible, rather than buying them. And to add to my own wardrobe, too. For every friend who has had a baby, I knit a lace baby bonnet and tie it with a satin ribbon. It's a lovely gift and people really like it.

So the savoring has gone up in our lives these past few broke-ass years.