I was not bullied much as a kid, which is surprising given that I was funny-looking, nerdy, and bad at sports. I would have thought I’d be a prime target, but no, I can only think of two incidents.

When I was in middle school, there was a gang of older girls who liked to intercept me as I was walking home from school, and surround me and mockingly tease me — ruffling my hair, telling me I was cute, asking about all my girlfriends, giggling as they made fun of me. It wasn’t your classical kind of bullying, but it hurt just the same, and I would linger by a corner of the school until they’d moved on, or change my route to avoid them. Even today I still feel the sting when anyone compliments me, so don’t. I only mention it for completeness’ sake.

The other incident was in third grade, and better fits the typical mold. There was a huge kid in my class, I’ll call him Huey because he had that kind of physique and was a bit on the dim side, and one day he grabbed me as I was walking home, threw me down, and sat on me and started punching me.

The thing is, Huey wasn’t the bully here — we later got along just fine, in part because I didn’t talk to him or about him. No, the real bully was the principal of the school, Pete Baffaro (his real name, boy did I despise him) who charged over to the grassy lot where I was visibly outclassed, grabbed both of us and hauled us into his office, where he pulled out a wide leather strap and proceed to brutally beat us both to the point I was uncomfortable sitting down for days afterwards.

I learned an important lesson that day. The real bullies weren’t my peers, but the officials who lorded over us and felt they could abuse us with impunity. Ever since, I’ve been deeply mistrustful of the kind of bullying assholes who get on school boards or other elected positions, or who are hired by bigger bullies into positions of power, who just want to control others.

This reminiscence was triggered by an article by AR Moxon, writing about the bullies who want to be elected governor of Missouri. He’s discussing the story of the Republican political candidates who put on a show of using flamethrowers on a pile of boxes, to demonstrate what they’d do to them there woke books if they get elected.

This is nothing new these days, really. Republican office-holders and aspiring office-holders have been burning and shooting all sorts of effigies for years now, indicating the types of things and people they would like to see eliminated in one way or another.

A lot of people are alarmed by this, because they understand that burning and shooting things meant to signify certain people is always the precursor to burning and shooting the signified people.

However, I’m told the difference between burning books meant to signify certain types of people and burning cardboard meant to signify books meant to signify people is a very important distinction.

I agree, actually.

It tells us where the permission levels are right now for our national gang of genocidal bullies, by which I mean the Republican Party.

I look at that photo and I see a bunch of Pete Baffaros, seeing an excuse to batter children in the name of protecting them. Don’t elect them, Missouri. There is no kindness in any of them.


  1. StevoR says

    The right conservatiev wing of politics like tomaake a thing of them being decent people.

    But lately they’ve lost all kindness and empathy and that makes them incompatible with decency.

    (I was bullied a lot as a kid. It hurt..Still a lot of painful memories. Plus to my shame, I sometimes bullied others as well.)

  2. mamba says

    So your principal saw 2 kids in a fight, one clearly outclassed and probably not really fighting back (sorry), and his reaction was to beat BOTH of you even harder. To show why beating people to get what you want was bad. Don’t even bother to learn the situation, just make a double-victim out of one of them so they can be used as an example to everyone else. What a typical idiot.

    This is why I have an issue with anyone who was raised with “good old values”. THESE were the values taught. Might makes right, shut up and do what you’re told, only sissies cry, being tough is the only thing that matters, etc. Bet the principal was only doing what he was taught too…as he was belted the first time he asked a question or something stupid.

    But like you said, this is basically the Republicans in a nutshell…they wish they could just belt people to make the problem go away on the surface and they can pretend everything’s wonderful while they get to be cruel as well!

  3. raven says

    .1 Since when did burning books become a good thing?
    In the past, that was always regarded as a bad thing, something the Nazis or Catholic church did.

    .2. How is burning “woke” books and libraries going to improve the lives of the people of Missouri?

    .3. He isn’t really selling himself as a book burner.
    Books are just a symbol.
    He is selling himself as a violent thug who will persecute the marginalized people of Missouri who can’t fight back very well.
    Women, gays, Trans people, the educated, Democrats, librarians, nonwhites, nonxians, children, public health and public health workers, etc..

    I’m sure I’m leaving some groups out here. The right wingnut hate list is ever expanding and it is hard to keep up. I never thought Disney and a cartoon mouse would be so high on their list.

  4. raven says

    One of the new targets of the right wingnut haters is…public health and public health departments.
    Because they fought the recent Covid-19 virus pandemic with some success.
    A newly evolved virus with initially no antiviral drugs or vaccines with a fatality rate of 1.6%.

    Because having to wear anti-infective masks and not being able to hang out in bars for a while to avoid getting very sick and/or dying is too much to ask of normal adults.

    The right wingnut extremists took over Ottowa county recently and they are doing a DeSantis on the county government.
    One of their main targets is the county health department because they were involved in the fight against the Covid-19 virus.
    “But their particular target has been the public health department, apparently in retaliation for COVID mandates.”

    That is going to impact everyone but mostly mid and lower income residents. The county health departments usually run vaccine clinics for school age children, disease surveillance and tracking, and STD testing and treatment.
    These days, they aren’t even doing much about Covid-19 virus other than maybe offering booster vaccine shots.

    The Far Right Took Over a County Board in Michigan and Wreaked Revenge
    Decca Muldowney
    The Daily Beast Sun, September 24, 2023

    A county commissioners board in western Michigan that was taken over by a far-right slate of candidates will vote Tuesday on whether to drastically cut the health department’s budget, in the face of pleas by public health officials and community protests.

    A group of ultraconservative candidates, motivated by resentment over COVID restrictions and mask mandates, swept to power in a election held in Ottawa County in Aug. 2022. Since taking office in January, the new commissioners affiliated with “Ottawa Impact” have used their majority to fire top county officials, install a former Trump administration official and MAGA loyalist as county administrator, shutter the county’s Diversity Equity and Inclusion Office, and change the county motto from “Where You Belong” to “Where Freedom Rings.”

    But their particular target has been the public health department, apparently in retaliation for COVID mandates.

    The embattled public health officer, Adeline Hambley, who the Ottawa Impact commissioners have been attempting to remove since they took office in January, said the proposed new budget would gut the department.

  5. christoph says

    Growing up, I learned that authority figures would usually side with the bully in situations like this. Not because they approved of bullying, more like they were more afraid of the bully (or his well to do parents) than they were afraid of the victim.

  6. says

    I can relate to that. The petty tyrant when I was at high school was a principal who publicly caned students for offenses as trivial as smiling on assemblies or being last in the line to go into the classroom. Offenses such as non-regulation haircuts , wearing suede shoes or missing minor items of uniform also merited a flogging in his eyes. Bullies eventually get their come-uppance. in the case of this despot a couple of years after I escaped school to the much freer environment of university a mother had a meeting with the principal to complain about the treatment her son was receiving. When he started trashing her son and threatened to continue assaulting him she stood up and slammed his head into his desk, breaking his nose. Rethuglicans however deserve more than a bloody nose for their crimes.

  7. robro says

    Bullying for me meant be called “fatso” repeatedly in elementary school. I was also “cry baby” because I would cry when I got harassed. Not so much after that for reasons that aren’t clear. My BMI did not change much between 6th grade and 7th grade. Like so many social things in America, there’s no rhyme or reason to it.

  8. robro says

    raven @ #4 — Book burning has a long and cherished tradition in the US. Per Wikipedia:

    Burning anti-slavery books in the American South, 1859–60
    Following John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry in 1859, slaveholders and their supporters spread panic about abolitionism, believing that anti-slavery conspiracies would lead to widespread slave revolts. Pro-slavery southerners burned books in Mississippi, South Carolina, and Texas, including textbooks from public schools. Books that were critical of slavery, or insufficiently supportive of it, were seen as “anti-Southern” by the book-burners.

    Comstock institution dedicated to book burnings in the United States (1873–1950)
    Anthony Comstock’s New York Society for the Suppression of Vice, founded in 1873, inscribed book burning on its seal, as a worthy goal to be achieved. Comstock’s total accomplishment in a long and influential career is estimated to have been the destruction of some 15 tons of books, 284,000 pounds of plates for printing such “objectionable” books, and nearly 4,000,000 pictures. All of this material was defined as “lewd” by Comstock’s very broad definition of the term – which he and his associates successfully lobbied the United States Congress to incorporate in the Comstock Law.

  9. raven says

    I didn’t know about Comstock. Not surprised though.
    The Comstock laws are still on the books.

    Washington Post:

    Comstock’s idea of what was obscene was expansive and included Walt Whitman’s “Leaves of Grass,” anatomy textbooks for medical students and especially anything providing women with information about contraception. “Books are feeders for brothels,” he declared. Comstock allegedly oversaw the destruction of 15 tons of books.

    What a creep.

    In the mid-sixteenth century, Franciscan missionaries burned nearly all of the Maya’s written records in an effort to eradicate their religion. Today, only three or four Maya codices remain. Three of them are named for the European cities where they are kept—Dresden, Paris, and Madrid.

    The Maya Codices – Archaeology Magazine
    Archaeology https://www.archaeology.org › features › maya-2012

    The Catholic church also burned all the Mayan books they could find.
    Only 4 of them survived the fires of the priests.

    The common saying still holds true.
    People who burn books often go on to burn people.

  10. says

    As we all know, you will find bullies at all levels of society and government. Their only goal is using violence (physical or psychological) to hurt others and thereby gain control. They often use bullying to bolster their own self-esteem. (looking at you, corporations and rtwingnuts)
    Book burning (and) banning is a sign of the resurgence of depravity in the coarser elements of our society.
    One member of our group advocates burning bullies in effigy, which is a small town outside Chicago.

  11. says

    PZ wrote: Even today I still feel the sting when anyone compliments me, so don’t.
    I reply: I apologize, PZ. I had no idea that the times I complimented you in past comments I was causing you discomfort.

  12. birgerjohansson says

    One good thing about Sweden is, the police takes vetting seriously to keep out unsuitable people from a position of great power.
    Like you, I also have unpleasant memories. I have many ideas about bullies, both institutional and ‘lone’ bullies.
    As my revenge fantasies are inspired by films like “Saw” and books like Philip Jose’ Farmer’s “A Feast Unknown” I cannot share them without DHS freaking out and forever banning me from entering the USA.

  13. wzrd1 says

    I recall an incident in my daughters school, where, during a high school field trip, one of the male students attempted to sexually assault my eldest daughter. The incident curtailed when she pummeled him to the floor quite effectively.
    The principal called us into the office, our daughter having already informed us of the incident, explaining the school’s zero tolerance policy toward fighting and entirely omitting the root cause and that she’d be suspended from school for fighting. He was entirely uncomfortable during the meeting, as I attended in my full military dress uniform, for once wearing all of my medals and awards. I listened, observed the desired discomfort was having the desired effect of altering the power dynamic in the room.
    When he was finished, I asked about the other student, who the principal described as the victim and would go without consequences for his own ignored action.
    Once he had finished, I inquired as to the district’s zero tolerance policy toward sexual assault. Principal then claimed he said – she said…
    I interrupted at that point and quietly chided him for his sexist bullshit and explained that actions and crimes have consequences and due to his official position, the students safety was his absolute duty and responsibility and since criminal actions have no consequences upon the perpetrator, they flow upward to those in positions of responsibility. Effective immediately, whatever happens to my children shall happen to him.
    I then closed out the meeting, took both children from the school and on a trip to the Philadelphia zoo, after first changing clothing into something more comfortable.
    I also filed an official complaint, with the assistance of an attorney friend, on the school district ignoring its own policies against sexual assault, with witnesses and suggested further pursuit of the matter would be via the press and courts, which I’m sure we’d mutually agree is undesirable.
    The principal was suspended, my daughter reinstated, the young man, suspended and I saw to it that his misogynist father’s business suffered some deleterious effects as well, as that was the root cause of both entitlement and abusive behavior toward women in that family group.
    All have much better behavior afterward.
    Proving, yet again, I’m a fucker, not a fighter. I don’t get mad, I don’t get even, I get ahead and occasionally, I’ll take the shoulders with it. Using one’s own weaponry, be it policy or otherwise. Because, my primary weapon has and remains my mind and creative use of available resources.

    As for book burning, well some books are better burned, as due to the amount of ink, they cannot be recycled. Whenever possible, the ashes can be used in compost, if there’s no toxic compounds in the pigments.
    As for flamethrowers, I’ll leave those to firefighters working with forestry professionals. Well, those and roofers working on specific types of roofing.

    Oh, I’ve got quite a few Comstock hated books on my ebook. Comstock can go to hell and stay there, where he rightfully earned his low place. Heaven for me would be to be delivering coal onto his head. I actually saw Comstockesque “editing” of books by blackening out “offensive” things, such as medical anatomy books for medical students, which had all “naughty bits” blackened out. Great thing for genitourinary training, as well as reproductive health physician training!
    Let such people run amuck, we’ll be back in the 500’s in no time at all.

    raven @ 4, such people will happily destroy all public health agencies, in part from COVID-19 masking, closures and offending their god-emperor, in part because of public health prevention of STD’s running wild. Then, when another pandemic arrives and decimates their families, they’ll promptly threaten the government that they eviscerated with violence for not preventing their losses.
    You know, they’re idiots.
    Just take the front sight post of their AR or AK and paint in yellow, “Front toward enemy” on the rear of the sight post to make their condition self-limiting.

    Okay, Jim, since you are my guest and I am your host, what are your pleasures? What do you like to do?
    Oh, I don’t know. Play chess…screw.
    Well let’s play chess.
    ~Blazing Saddles

  14. robro says

    raven @ #10 — Yes, I saw that about the Mayan texts as well. I was deeply saddened. I happen to be reading a book titled The Dawn of Everything which has a lot to say about the prejudices and bigotry behind the destruction of non-European societies and cultures around the world during the colonial period, of course, but in fact to this day.

  15. birgerjohansson says

    Bullies and otger vermin that make it to the top of very hierarchial institutions are dangerous.
    In Germany, a statue of a dead, prominent cardinal and bishop has just been removed. And, yes, the background is exactly what you will suspect.

  16. birgerjohansson says

    Wzrd1 @ 14
    Somehow, I suspect Mein Kampf never got Comstocked.

    Plato’s The State is big on keeping the wrong kind of ideas away from citizens- he does not outright suggest burning books but it would have been an obvious consequence. It is the first work to suggest keeping people ignorant to make them more pliable for the powers that be.
    The idiocy manifested itself in Turkey in the 1980s – a shipment of textbooks of sociology was destroyed because the semi- literate officials thought it had something to do with socialism.

  17. robro says

    wzrd1 @ #17 — Is it possible that Plato didn’t advocate burning books in the 5th century BCE because there weren’t a lot books or scrolls around, and not many people had access to them who were able to read them?

  18. Matt G says

    Funny how those who praise freedom are happy to limit the freedom of those they dislike. It’s almost as if they don’t really care about freedom….

  19. vucodlak says

    Missouri is already run by murderous fascist thugs. Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey crafted one of the worst anti-trans policies in the country months ago, which not only denies care to trans and non-binary people, but also aims to create a list of every person in the state who has ever sought gender-affirming care. It also forces healthcare professionals to report anyone seeking gender-affirming care, for their own “protection.” MOAG Bailey used documents from anti-transgender hate groups to bolster the lies he used to justify this move.

    MOAG Bailey has also seized control of the St. Louis prosecutor’s office, because the STL prosecutor (Kimberly Gardner) is a progressive who, among other things, has advocated for freeing innocent people who’d been imprisoned by corrupt former STL prosecutors. She also created a list of cops whose testimony would not be accepted, on account of their habit of lying on the stand. Kimberly Gardner was democratically-elected by the people of St. Louis, but democracy doesn’t count for much in the state of Missouri.

    Governor Mike Parson has been an enthusiastic supporter of and cheerleader for all this, in addition to his work to see draconian anti-abortion legislation passed.

    This has been a pattern for quite some time in Missouri. For example, voters rejected a ballot measure authorizing concealed carry several times, so the far-right Missouri legislature simply passed a bill overriding that vote. Voters overwhelmingly passed measures requiring the expansion of Medicaid and raising the state’s minimum wage. The legislature refused to fund the former, despite being required to do so by the Missouri State Constitution, and rushed back to Jefferson City to pass legislation barring the latter after it was passed by the voters (again, in violation of the state constitution).

    Missouri has been on the front lines of the fascist takeover of the United States for a while now. We (meaning those who are eligible, of course) should all get out and vote against these scum, but I’m not sure how much it’s going to help. Democracy hasn’t mattered much in this state for years, and the fascists have grown ever bolder.

  20. rietpluim says

    Actually, I believe Huey was the bully as well, but it is not uncommon for a bully to be a victim from bullying at the same time.

  21. hillaryrettig1 says

    Interesting what we remember over the decades. Children literally can’t forget.

    HBO’s Big Little Lies is a fantastic show about bullying, domestic violence, and the links between – and Liane Moriarty’s novel (that it’s based on) is even better in some ways.

  22. Hex says

    It’s bullies all the way up. Sexually and emotionally abused by my peers and teachers thru school for “not being man enough” and was brainwashed almost to the point of suicide into thinking all the abuse was my fault because of my sexuality. After grade school, bullied by my employers for being autistic and adhd and being unable to complete certain tasks. Bullied by the cops who shot at me and my community for marching in solidarity with George Floyd and BLM, then by the politicians who continue to support and fund the same cops who did it and who are gleefully enforcing anti-trans and anti-abortion policies.

    Last week I went to a new lawyer to discuss my disability case that I’ve been fighting for for five years and he told me after reviewing the judge’s notes was that the likely reason for my most recent denial was a therapist at the Cleveland Rape Crisis Center who I saw immediately after I was sexually assaulted noted in their report that I was self-medicating, with the blessing of my other doctors, with weed to treat my PTSD and nightmares after the event. He showed me that the judge repeatedly pointed out I had used it and was pretty sure that was the major reason as my case was otherwise very solid.

    So in effect, because I seeked out treatment after being sexually assaulted, I was denied disability income. He told me on a personal the judge who denied me was “a real asshole”. Bullies all the way up. And the worst part is no one can/wants to do anything about them. Honestly people who maintain that we can’t/shouldn’t take direct action against them (which doesn’t necessarily mean violence, but usually is against the law, because our laws primarily protect bullies from consequences) piss me off more than bullies themselves, because they just serve to perpetuate their power. Ignoring them, as anyone who has ever been bullied before knows, almost never fucking works.

    Just kinda hate the world after everything I’ve been through at this point. If you think things can get better, it’s certainly not going to be thru voting and legal reform (not saying those things don’t help slow down some bad stuff sometimes, but it’s just constantly putting bandaids on a festering wound). We already know what works against fascism, and we’ve seen that entities like the GOP will ignore laws they don’t like (see my home state’s gerrymandering battle going on rn, where maps were ruled unconstitutional several times and the party just continues drawing the same ones, getting their way anyways) while shielding themselves behind ones they do or using them to enforce their white supremacist Christian theocracy.

    Honestly I’m pretty hopeless at this point. I don’t think enough people will fight them, I don’t think “voting” is going to stop fascism. People still say “we can’t resort to violence” as they are actively genociding me and my loved ones and putting people who get abortions behind bars. I think the best thing anyone can do is just never have kids. I hate existing in a world where I’m continually abused and raped, and then punished on top of it economically and powerful people (who we can’t do anything to actually hurt or inconvenience because it’s against the law and if you do you’re just as bad as they are! /sarcasm) justify it because I’m trans or disabled or whatever and don’t fit into their worldview rooted in white supremacy. Fucking hellworld this is

  23. anthrosciguy says

    Knew a woman who went to a one-room school. They had a guy who liked to bully the little kids, so she would beat up the bully. The bully grew up to become the county sheriff.

  24. Paul K says

    Bullies taunted me by calling me Baby Huey. I was very large, very submissive and non-aggressive, but also very smart. That was perfect for them. Pick on the big kid who doesn’t fight back so you look tough, and, bonus, he’s smart, too, the loser.

    And, in my day (late 1960s), whenever there was a ‘fight’ (almost always an act of bullying, not actual fighting) teachers watched from a distance, since fighting was seen as just kids being kids. I recall very clearly a day in ninth grade, when I was walking to class and this kid, much smaller than me, and who had, for no reason I know, hated me since kindergarten, hauled off and punched me in the stomach. It didn’t hurt at all, and I was just going to walk on. But a teacher, standing there watching, said, ‘Are you going to take that?’ I was more confused by this than by the punch, and asked him, ‘What do you want me to do; hit him back?’ The teacher didn’t seem able to answer the question honestly, and just looked at me angrily and turned away.

    I spent a lot of time being baffled as a kid.