Tuesday, December 8, 2015

But it's Donald Trump who hates America.
I'll say it again: Donald. Trump. Hates. America.

"F*ck America, make Trump Great Again."
I don't care anymore whether his presidential candidacy is sincere or just an elaborate performance designed to increase his influence on the national stage. Neither should you, because it no longer matters. It's possible that Trump truly believes that he is going to "make America great again," but it doesn't make a difference. His actions and his words threaten us as a nation of united states. His is the language of division, fear, and hostility. His are the politics of exclusion, demagoguery, and violence. Those things cannot create. They can only destroy.
Regardless of Trump's true intentions, he's playing a dangerous game with the American values of unity, brotherhood, liberty, and justice. He's attempting to hijack the cultural anxiety of contemporary working-class white America, dividing the population against itself and either tearing our society apart or laying the foundation for a fascist takeover. America under President Trump would succumb to anger and fear, betraying and murdering the America the Founders envisioned just as surely as Darth Vader betrayed and murdered Anakin Skywalker. Even without the presidency, he's succeeded in creating an environment of hostility and suspicion at a time when unity is more important than ever if we're going to have any hope of confronting the true challenges of the 21st century.
So to the people being interviewed in this video and those inclined to agree with them, let me state this in no uncertain terms (on the infinitesimal chance any of you read my blog): Donald trump does not care about you. He does not care about keeping you safe. Donald Trump cares about Donald Trump. He represents the wealthy elites, the moneyed interests who would keep you, me, our families and friends, our neighbors and colleagues, all of us distracted and fighting among ourselves while their irresponsible, unchecked brand of militarized hyper-capitalism enslaves us. Creating a scary "other" out of Muslims is only the beginning. Before long the monster under the bed will be someone else. Who knows, it could even be you.
It's time to shut this dangerous demagogue out of our national politics before he can do any more damage.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

An election day message

We in the (nominal) capital of global democracy don't have anything to vote on today. One of the side-effects of being a federal district without voting representation in Congress, I suppose... which is just one reason why I emphasize that we're the nominal capital of democracy only. 

And I've got a craving for some secondhand political participation satisfaction, you know what I mean?

So hey, friends and neighbors in Virginia? (And also Ohio, Kentucky, Mississippi, Colorado, Houston, Salt Lake City, and San Francisco, or anywhere else that has a referendum or a race for office) Just go and vote, all right? 

I know it's not glamorous voting in an off year, and the issues at hand might not interest you directly. But what's happening at the state and local level is, believe it or not, going to affect you much more directly than what's happening on the national stage. 

So make your voice heard. I don't even care where you stand on a given issue or politician. Just make your voice heard. As citizens, we agree on more than we think, and when we don't use our civic power, special interests and their wealthy backers win, and we lose.

Happy election day from a privileged white man in a disenfranchised city.


There's no need to rush...

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Another weird dream!

As I sat down at the greasy table in a dimly lit bar, I was surprised to find a dark-haired, female police detective take the seat across from me. Ignoring the obvious question (how did I end up in a low-rent, gender-swapped version of True Detective season 2?)*, I asked what I could do for her.

The answer, it seemed, was to explain why I shouldn't go to jail.

She slid a few photos my way, blurry messes of colored light and shadow, and pointed to an ill-defined figure at the center of one of them.

"Is that you?" she asked me.

As I squinted at the barely recognizable shapes, my new friend began to explain that a man matching my description was a suspect in a serious investigation from the day before, armed robbery or something like that. He was described as kind of a wannabe rocker, and was known by the victims to play in a rock cover band in bars not unlike the one we were now sitting in.

"I don't see how that could be me," I replied, after a long moment, "honestly, I can't even make out who that guy is, you couldn't get a better picture than this?"

"And what makes you think it's not you," she pressed. "Same build, same dark hair, same..." she glanced disapprovingly at our surroundings, "...pastimes."

"Look, ma'am," I began, tracing the faded outline of a guitar neck jutting out from the picture of my supposed doppelgänger, as the first few notes of Eve 6's "Arch Drive Goodbye"** twanged around us, "there's no way that man is me."

"Convince me."

"Fine." I stood up as the music swelled, breaking into my own rendition of the final song on my favorite band from middle school's final album, following the second verse and chorus, I belted:

"I don't play decent guitar/ I'm never gonna be some rock star/  And I'm not that guy, got an alibi/
I'm so sorry...


The alarm, again. A gray morning and boring ride to work on the Metro.

God, why is my life never as cool as my dreams?


*Haha, just kidding! TD Season 2 came off as surprisingly low-rent, considering it probably had a budget several times that of the first season.

**For reference. The whole story seems much more real if you play the song over it. Like most of my dream music, I hadn't actually heard the song in months.

...love the way that you shock shock shock me...

Friday, September 11, 2015

Has it really been 14 years?

I hadn't even realized what day it was until I heard a brass quartet playing a slow-jam rendition of The Star-Spangled Banner as I rode by the McPherson Square metro station. Frankly, that's probably the extent of the Patriot Day observation I'll do. The morning bustle of one of the busiest courthouses in the United States didn't exactly lend itself to observing a moment of silence at 8:47 this morning.

Over the years, I've gone back and forth on how strongly I want to commemorate 9/11, waffling between "Support Our Troops!" platitudes and belligerent "America is the REAL aggressor!" college campus rhetoric. Now I fall somewhere in between.  

Memorializing a terrorist attack is important, but we can't afford to think only about ourselves, even for one day. So reflecting about everything that has happened since those towers were knocked down, I'll simply acknowledge how privileged I am to exist in a society (and a body) where neither my physical safety nor my socioeconomic security have ever been put in serious danger. I recognize that many people, both at home and around the world, are denied that safety, while others choose to put themselves in harm's way to protect me.

What's more, I'm fortunate to have a job helping to safeguard access to justice and the rule of law. Institutions like courts protect societies from breaking down into overt violence, and (when we do our jobs right) give voice to the voiceless and do our part to ease structural violence.    

Remember 9/11, but also remember that it's each of our duty to work toward a world where evil cannot take root in the soil of desperation.


Thursday, August 27, 2015

I've been thinking a lot this week about Peggy Hubbard, after she posted a video rant against Black Lives Matter:

The points she makes, especially about so-called black on black crime, are ones that I've heard trotted out again and again, usually by white (but sometimes by black) conservatives, as an argument against a greater focus on police violence in America. Not to suggest she's being co-opted-- Ms. Hubbard is very sincere and I've no reason to think this isn't truly how she feels.

But I DO think she's missing the point of BLM. Protests and social change movements are not aimed at changing the behavior of communities, but at changing the behavior of a government or other power structure-- others have made this point much more eloquently than I could. Do yourself a favor and go read their stuff.

There's another theme underlying her rant, though, and it's one I feel the need to address- that black people are protesting police violence while being, in her view, overly violent and unruly themselves. As if that makes black people unworthy of equal protection under the law.

But the right to life is not contingent upon good citizenship or good behavior. As a species, we recognize that there is such a thing as inherent human dignity; that each human life is worthy of protection and advocacy without regard to how, exactly, that life is lived or how sympathetic a figure someone is.

Most importantly, we realize that individual lives cannot be extinguished without due process of law.

The field of human rights exists because of that ethic, and it's one that I stand behind. But it's being violated again and again on the streets and in the homes of this country. I have nothing but respect for Peggy Hubbard and the obviously raw emotional reaction she displays. But the notion that an entire community of people is somehow unworthy of equal treatment is a dangerous one-- the "lesser" status white colonials afforded to Africans formed the basis for slavery in the first place, and and that's led us directly to where we are today.

A person's life must be worthy of protection regardless of their conduct, or we've made no progress at all and "human rights" are simply imaginary.

To those who have countered that "ALL lives matter," that's true, but it misses the point. "Black Lives Matter" is not an attempt to make a life contained within skin of a certain color matter more than a life contained within skin of another color. Instead it's both a recognition and a call to action. A recognition of the injustice inherent to a system in which the deepest and most essential of human rights, the right to live and be free from bondage, is denied to our black American brothers and sisters. Where, for too long, black lives have mattered *less* than other lives in a very real way.

A call to action that cuts through all of our self-congratulatory rhetoric about the victories of the Civil Rights Era and the advent of a "post-racial America." To make those of us who have benefited from that system, the "privileged" like me, wake up to that injustice and work to mitigate it.

Reasonable people can and do disagree about the tactics of BLM, or wonder (as I do) how to be an ally when the movement seems so bent on confrontation as a raison d'etre.

But when Peggy Hubbard says "white people don't care," that's an indictment of white people, probably more than she even realizes. White people, we cannot allow those words to be true.

If we care anything about human rights, BLM's goals must be our goals.


I've been worrying that my time here's a little unclear...

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

I had to return a library book today before I was done reading it.

Oh, I tried to renew it, but the website told me "This item has holds", meaning of course that someone else wants the book so I can't renew it.

How frustrating is that, right?!

"Oh, just read faster/more, Adam," you say, "other people need books too."

Well, I would have, except the book was Master and Commander (yes, the one they made the movie about,) and I had to look up every third word until I finally learned the difference between a mizzen yardarm and a main topgallant.

And now I'll never know how Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin became such good friends. I hope you're happy, random person who put a hold on my book.

People really need to be more accommodating of my needs.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

To Kill Our Childhoods?

Early reviews of "Go Set a Watchman," the much-anticipated sequel to Harper Lee's "To Kill a Mockingbird," are out, and the news... is not great.

Criticism of the novel has coalesced around two main points: one, it's not written terribly well. That makes sense perfect sense, because while it takes place 20 years after "Mockingbird", Lee wrote "Watchman" some years prior, when she had less experience. Her publishers basically told her "well this is all right, but it'd be better if you did it this way..." hence "Mockingbird". In essence, it's a rough draft that got made into a full sequel.*

The second criticism of the novel intrigues me far more. So 20 years have passed since Scout Finch watched her lawyer dad defend Tom Robinson, a black man facing charges of raping a white woman, in the segregated South. Since that time, Atticus has gone to a Klan meeting or two, and supports segregation.

Naturally, there are folks saying "but Harper, HOW could you make Atticus Finch a RACIST??? He's like... such a nice guy! You've ruined my childhood!"

Really, though?

I think it's time I dusted off my Valyrian Steel Greatsword of Unassailable Truth.

Imminent Ned  - brace yourselves disappointed harper lee fans are coming

You can't criticize something merely because you didn't like it. It's like, the second rule of critical analysis. You're free to think less of Atticus Finch now that he's done some unpalatable things. But that doesn't mean that the book is bad. If it's bad, it's bad for other reasons. I'm sure lots of qualified people are going to pick apart the social and political significance of whether or not Atticus Finch gives in to hatred later in life. Let 'em. I think that misses the point.

To me, the relevant issue in Mockingbird was never how Atticus Finch feels about black people in general, though his serene demeanor and overall sense of justice suggest that he bears them no specific ill will. But the real proof of his character is that he believes in the rule of law, and believes that a black man deserves equal protection under the law while many of his peers don't.

When the judge approaches Atticus about the case, it's clear from the conversation that they're both aware of the systemic (as well as overt) discrimination Tom Robinson is likely to face. No one else will take the case, and the jury's not likely to be kind or even fair. Atticus believes, to paraphrase John Adams, that no accused person should lack legal counsel in a free country, and so he agrees to represent Robinson to help him get a fair shot. He even goes so far as to defend Robinson against a lynch mob (with Scout's help) but he does that out of dedication not to the man, but to due process of law. Whatever his personal feelings on race, Atticus Finch knows that mob justice is no justice at all. He knows that the legal system in which he operates is inherently unfair, and feels committed to correcting that injustice in whatever small way he can.

Fast forward 60 years, to a time when symbols and actions born of overt racism are no longer seen as acceptable, but systemic racism and inequity are as strong as ever.** White people can feel more and more comfortable that we are not racists, because we bear no specific ill will to non-whites and don't use racial slurs in conversation. We are ignorant of the fact that we benefit greatly from systemic oppression. When someone points out that our tacit support for a racist system is equally as bad as, say, using the n-word, we freak out like we're being personally attacked. At that point, we tend to shut the conversation down.***

We all like to pretend we're Atticus Finch, doing as best we can for ourselves and our loved ones, with no specific malice for anyone. But we (for the most part) don't fight against the system that oppresses and destroys our fellow Americans for the crime of not having white skin. In reality we're the Maycomb jury, struggling with the decision of whether (and how hard) to fight back against a stacked deck that, to be honest, has worked out pretty well for us.

It's hard to see a paragon like Atticus Finch tarnished. But good people grow old, grow bitter, become distressed by the changes around them and the feeling that the world no longer plays by the rules that they understood to be inviolable. Ultimately, though, that's not what's important about his character. Even if Atticus Finch resents black people by the time "Watchman" takes place, the fact remains that he once took on the Herculean task of teaching a whole town an important lesson about justice (to mixed success.) He worked from within an oppressive system to fight back, in some way, against oppression.

THAT is the example we should be celebrating and attempting to emulate.


*I haven't read the book, and honestly, I probably won't. I get this ooky feeling that Lee was coerced into publishing it, to satisfy our sequel-obsessed culture of media consumption. So there's an outside chance that I'm downplaying the...downfall... of the Atticus Finch character.

**And all the more insidious because they're subliminal, and we do our best not to refer to them. The more social privilege you enjoy, the harder it is to detect systemic bias unless someone points it out to you. Even then, you're likely at first to react defensively and attempt to shut down the dialogue.

***Check out John Metta's excellent piece "I, Racist" and Doug Muder's "The Distress of the Privileged" for a better understanding of the "I'm not a racist, stop playing the race card!" dynamic.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

The Spirit of the Law

Professor Farnsworth gets to keep his health insurance.
(c) Matt Groening

The Supreme Court just ruled, 6-3, that the King v Burwell challenge to the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) was a stupid challenge foisted on the Court by stupid idiot-faces.

I believe those exact words were in the majority opinion. Check SCOTUSBlog.

For any who haven't been following along, King hinged on the legality of providing subsidies to residents of states who hadn't set up their own health exchanges (basically those websites that give people the ability to purchase subsidized health insurance), a key pillar of Obamacare. If state governments refused to set exchanges up for political reasons or whatever, the law allowed the federal government to do it for them and provide subsidies directly to the buyers.


Yes, it did. There was a quirk in the wording of the exchange provision, which the plaintiff's lawyers used to argue that only states had the power to develop exchanges and provide subsidies, and if they declined, the federal government, which is not a state, could not do it for them.

Yes, really.

There's a philosophical discussion to be had about the letter of the law vs. the spirit of the law, but I'm not the most qualified to lead it.

If the Supreme Court had agreed, though, millions of people would have lost the subsidies that make health insurance affordable for their them and their families.

But what is a state, really? To a student of international affairs, the "state does not mean federal government" argument was ridiculous on its face. When Americans think about states, we mean a specific, sub-national, legal and political entity with some degree of autonomy, but subject to the authority of the national government. Much like what other countries might call a provincial government. In the wider world, a "state" is just an entity, it just means the government body or institution relevant to whatever we happen to be talking about. "State security forces," for example, could be municipal police or the army. There is a national Secretary of State, and there are state Secretaries of State. Sensing a pattern here?

In that sense, the federal government is a state just as much as a "state" government. Of course it can set up health insurance exchanges under the ACA. It makes no sense or the federal government to pass a law in which it forbids itself from taking the necessary action to implement that law. No sense at all.

Now, the authors of the law may or may not have had my definition of "state" in mind when they wrote it, it'll be interesting to see if the majority opinion uses any of the same logic I did.

***UPDATE: They did not. Chief Justice Roberts' opinion focused mainly on the how completely absurd it would have been for Congress to design a law with the disastrous outcomes a King victory would have led to. Which was probably the right way to look at it. Justice Scalia, however, illustrated my point very well in his dissent, claiming precisely that "saying that an exchange established by the Federal Government is 'established by the State'..." renders all words meaningless. Heh. What a card.***

Either way, there are two peculiarly (and depressingly) American idiosyncrasies that this kerfuffle brought up.

First, there's our veneration of "states rights," the idea that American state governments are constantly defending against encroachments by that Kenyan/Arab/Socialist/Muslim/Fascist/Dictator in the White House. People like David King, or at least his lawyers, buy in. So it goes down like this:

White House: "Hey guys, we have this law now that's gonna help people. But you're gonna need to do some things to make it work."

State House: "The federal government MAKING us help people? No way! That's tyranny. Quit doing tyranny to us."

WH: "It's not-- sigh, fine. I'll just set it up for you."

SH: "Whatever. Sure. Now leave us alone. We'll call you when we need disaster relief, or to buy some tanks for our cops."

WH: "Deal."

David King: "OH HELL NO!"

I'm sure David King has his reasons for not wanting to buy health insurance, and it's hard to convince someone of something that seems to be so obviously in their best interest. But his lawyers took his desire to opt-out and hijacked it into yet another national argument on the legitimacy of Obamacare.

I think they took advantage of him to try and make a political point, and I think that's sad. Which brings me to the second American idiosyncrasy: the constant veneration of soldiers and the military in our culture, juxtaposed against the reality that an actual. Vietnam. veteran. like King somehow ended up in a situation where his health care wasn't all paid for anyway.

The cognitive dissonance there would be delicious if it wasn't so infuriating.


Friday, June 5, 2015

I just updated a post from February, where I apparently gave Jeb Bush short shrift on shenanigans. Here's why. 

Thursday, June 4, 2015

You want to make an omelette, you've gotta break a few nest eggs.

If you know me, you know I LOVE repetition.

Just kidding. I hate it. Jargon, catchphrases, buzzwords, throw 'em all in the trash!

I'm also not much for predictions, but I'm gonna go ahead and make one: "Nest egg" is going to be the most overused buzzword of the millennial generation. And, at age 30, I'm already sick of hearing it.

I'm basing the prediction on several things. First, my generation came of age during the Great Recession, so we're keenly aware of how fragile our economic system is, and how a few quarters of especially poor job numbers can mess things up for YEARS.

Second, we've been conditioned not to trust in the financial fail-safes that previous generations have been able to rely on, at least in part. Social Security and Medicare are more and more burdened, and there are serious questions about whether they will even be solvent by the time millennials reach retirement age (or, indeed, whether retirement will even exist in the way we currently think of it). Pensions are on their way out. So it's increasingly on us to provide for our own twilight years.

Finally, our increasingly interconnected and complex financial system has made it more important for the average person to have a higher degree of financial literacy, and it's something we're not particularly great at .* To fill that gap, online financial services like Mint (which I use), LearnVest (which I do not), and a host of others have cropped up to try and make us entitled kids finally learn something, dammit.

And therein lies the crux of why I consider myself a terrible millennial, or at least a highly atypical one.** We're supposed to love everything web 2.0, and there's nothing web 2.0 loves more than buzzwords. The mere existence of hashtags (which I do actually kinda enjoy, because I get to use them ironically) is proof enough. I get e-mails daily e-mails from the one time I tried signing up for LearnVest, and in a 450-word message they might say "nest egg" about 6 times. And they're not the only offender.

I get it, OK? It's all about branding, and the more you can associate a common phrase with your product in my mind, the better you're going to do. But by the third time I see that detestable phrase, I'm ready to close the e-mail and forget all about your stupid brand.

So can we just find a new word for it, or better yet a series of them to rotate through? Or, and I know I'm reaching here, just call them... retirement accounts? Savings?

It just seems like using a descriptive term would support financial literacy more than a cutesy bird metaphor.

Then again, I suppose the bird is the word.***


...and we embrace in the baggage claim

*I'm not a self-hating millennial, and I generally think journalists need to get off our backs already. Far from joining in the millennial-bashing, I'd argue that American culture at large does not lend itself to saving or financial literacy, and it's not a problem peculiar to my generation. But poor financial literacy is potentially much more damaging now than at any time in the past, since your credit score determines, like, your entire destiny.

**For example, I started working full time more or less immediately after graduating college, at jobs that did not change the world or encourage me to be creative. Upon moving to a new city, I took "the safe job" and am still there six years later. I started a modest retirement account at like, 23. I've never tried to monetize a hobby, nor have I felt particularly passionate about any one side project other than cycling (which is...on hold). While I do get a certain fulfillment from my work, I don't feel a strong personal connection to it, as though it were my life's mission or something. I would never classify myself as a "content creator"-- to the contrary, I'm starting to suspect I might actually be terrible at social media and the internet in general.

***I did not start this post with the intention of bookending it with Family Guy videos. It just kinda happened.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Updated: The verdict

"After all the carnage and fear and terror that he has caused, the right decision is clear," a federal prosecutor, Steven Mellin, said in his closing argument. "The only sentence that will do justice in this case is a sentence of death."
- The New York Times, covering Dzhokhar Tsarnaev's death sentence

Why. Why why why? Why should we demand death as payment for death?

I'm not upset because I think that Dzokhar Tsarnaev isn't an evil man. He is, unquestionably so. What he did was inhuman and unforgivable.

I'm upset because I don't believe that sticking a needle in his arm gives justice to the families of those lost in the Boston Marathon bombings, or to those who survived with permanent scars, any more than locking him in a deep hole where he won't see the sun again. What does his death really prove? Newly confirmed Attorney General Loretta Lynch believes this will bring closure to the families. Maybe. But I doubt it. I've studied war and conflict and death for many years, and I can tell you that death rarely brings true justice. Justice is about restoration, about making people whole. Death has only the power to destroy, never to restore.

UPDATE: I've learned (with a hat tip to Doug at The Weekly Sift, my blogging spirit animal) that at least one of the victims' families urged life imprisonment and an end to the case instead of a death penalty appeals process that could drag on for years. And only a third of Bostonians overall favored giving Tsarnaev the needle.

I'm frustrated because studies have shown, time and time again, that the death penalty does nothing to deter capital crimes. The criminal justice system moves too slowly to create a true association in our animal brains between the act and the punishment. So all his death will do is fulfill some equally animalistic societal need to take a life in payment for lives lost. And I like to think we've evolved past that need- clearly I'm wrong.

I'm scared because the modern method of execution, lethal injection, has too many problems to be reliable. And no matter what someone has done, they don't deserve to writhe in pain and gasp for air in their final moments. If we want to show that a democratic government is the only entity that can legitimately use violence and end lives, then we need to be better at it than that.

And I'm disappointed because, in fulfilling this need, we've very possibly given Tsarnaev exactly what he wanted- to commit atrocities in the name of a warped view of Islam, and then die a martyr. And given the abysmal state of our prison system, death might be giving him the easy way out.

The lead prosecutor in the case pointed out that Tsarnaev was beyond rehabilitation. Was he really? Maybe, after sitting in a cell for a couple of decades, he might have realized how futile his actions ultimately were- how wrong his younger self had been, how Boston's people only grew in strength in the wake of the tragedy and loss he foisted upon them. Who knows, he might have even turned others off the same path.

I'm not naive-- I know how astronomically unlikely that would be. But the point is, now we'll never know.


Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Europe's migration crisis has it caught between a rock and a hard place.

Or maybe between a...rogue wave and a hard place?

Yesterday, the European Union asked the UN Security Council to endorse an EU naval plan to board and sink vessels used in human trafficking across the Mediterranean, in order to cut off the flow of migrants from Libya and elsewhere. This year alone, tens of thousands of migrants have attempted to cross the sea from North Africa into Europe, fleeing violence and lawlessness in their home countries. Refugee centers in Greece, Spain, and beyond are struggling to bear the weight of the upsurge in new arrivals. The migrants, for their part, live in harsh, precarious accommodations, assuming they're lucky enough to even arrive.

Many are not.

Last year, 3,400 of these "boat people" never made it to the shores of southern Europe. This year's numbers are on track to be even larger.

Many of us think of the Mediterranean as a tranquil sea under fair skies. But our vision of resorts, pristine beaches, and warm, blue water is in stark contrast with the reality that many migrants face when crossing in inflatable dinghies or decrepit fishing boats, carrying nothing but the clothes on their backs. Because the human traffickers running these vessels are out to make a profit, they pack way more people aboard than could ever be considered safe.

And when the boats start to go down, EU navy vessels may be nowhere in sight, consigning the passengers to a grisly fate.

In spite of the criticism that humanitarian organizations have heaped on EU governments for their response to the situation (which is their job, after all), I think European countries overall have done a fairly decent job dealing with a crisis not (entirely) of their making. Military personnel have taken valiant action to rescue those stranded at sea, and the EU is developing plans to equitably resettle those migrants who do arrive in Europe. (Check out those pictures, they're really something.)

But military action against trafficker's boats? I've got a couple major problems with that, even if we ignore the undoubtedly tricky international maritime law regarding destroying non-combatant vessels launched from other countries.

First, the notion that destroying the vessels will stop those fleeing from attempting the crossing is just wrong-- they're not out there on the water, packed like livestock at a factory farm onto an inflatable boat about as wide as my bedroom because they thought it would be fun to put-put up to Europe for the day. They're fleeing, because they literally cannot live in their home countries anymore. If you destroy those boats, people are still going to try and cross, and the traffickers will find other ways to float them. Like rafts. And then even more people are going to die. Search-and-destroy fixes nothing, it only makes people more desperate and exacerbates the already dire humanitarian situation.

Second, I'm deeply uncomfortable with the idea that countries would use their armed forces to cut the lifeline of those fleeing violence and repression. EU politicians have framed the crisis as a security issue, and it is. But it should be one of human security rather than national security. To use the language of terrorism and drug trafficking in combating this problem unfairly criminalizes people who are, at the end of the day, trying to do one thing-- exercise their rights as human beings to enjoy a degree of safety, security, and dignity.

I understand the bind that the EU countries are in, here. They've got problems of their own, the economic situation in Southern Europe is perilous as it is, and they don't necessarily have a place for all those people to go.

But their situation is nowhere near as perilous as that of the migrants fleeing across the sea.

What's more, a military solution to the problem adds to the already troubling worldwide trend of using security forces to punish human rights defenders or those asserting their rights, silence dissent, and reinforce the powerful at the expense of the marginalized. The buzzwords have changed, decades ago it was containment of Communism, then it was the War on Drugs, and now it's national security and terrorism, but the objective- militarization- has remained the same. We need less of that, not more, and the developed world needs to lead by example. The time, money, and effort of a military operation would be better spent improving the conditions of the facilities that receive and process the migrants, or conducting peacebuilding work in the affected regions in order to try and stop this mounting crisis at its source. This is as true for Europe's maritime policy as it is for the situation on our border with Mexico.

We can only hope the UN can show a path to a better solution.


...brothers in more than name....

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Happy Cinco de Mayo!

So what's the first social justice-related news story we're going to hear about today? Will it be:

a) a bit about a small town in Texas where Mexican American students get persecuted for wearing Mexican flags on their clothes, and everyone freaks out;

b) a story about a small town in Texas where white American students organize some weird American patriotic thing in response to Cinco de Mayo, and everyone freaks out, or;

c) a viral-ready BuzzFeed or Upworthy post meant to shame some bros at a state university for doing something that insults or cheapens Mexican culture in some way?

My money's on C, but I'm taking bets through the end of the work day.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

A feminist* reading of Kate Rusby's "The Game of All Fours"

Kate Rusby is a folk singer whose music I enjoy. 

She bases many of her songs on medieval legend, romantic poetry, or minstrel-type ballads. "The Game of All Fours" is a sweet-sounding, lighthearted little tune with kind of a funny ending, where a guy goes walking with a whimsical girl, she beats him at cards, and so he decides to leave. His leaving so abruptly kind of throws the rest of the song into question, like maybe the guy was a bit of a jerk all along. 

Recently, there's been a renewed focus on relations between the sexes, and the concept of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl seemed to fit the young woman pretty well, so the last time I heard the song I started to think about how a feminist* might have regarded the story. Give it a listen as you read along, but be warned: Kate's voice is haunting and you'll probably want to listen over and over and over and over and over and over again. 

As I was walking one midsummer's morning,

To hear the birds whistle and the nightingale play,
Was there that I met a beautiful maiden,
As I was a walking along the highway.

So this man was wandering around one day, enjoying all his privilege and dominance over lesser creatures, he saw a Womyn and thought "wow that is one hot chick lemme txt my bro how how this chick is durrr"....

Oh where are you going my fair pretty lady,

Where are you going so early this morn,
She answered, kind sir to visit my neighbours,
I'm going down to Lincoln the place I was born.

She wasn't with a man, so he figured She was obviously single, and fair game for some casual street harassment, so her accosted Her. As demurely as possible, out of fear of what he might do if She made him angry, the Womyn politely explained that She was just trying to go visit some friends in Her hometown...

Oh may I go with you my fair pretty lady,

May I go along in your sweet company,
She turned her head round and smiling all at me,
Said you may come with me kind sir if you please.

He began to follow Her down the street while attempting to be charming. He mistook Her simple politeness for an invitation, and kept following after Her.

We hadn't been walking a few miles together,

Before this young damsel began to show free,
She sat herself down saying sit down beside me,
The game we shall play will be one, two and three.

After he had followed Her for what seemed like forever, She began acting strangely to try and make him leave Her alone. Instead, he thought "wow, this is the Manic Pixie Dream Girl I've been searching for!", and asked demanded "you don't mind if I sit with you, right," to which She responded "it's a free country." To his privileged mind, that was the same as "yes, please!" She attempted to distract him from staring at Her chest by challenging him to a card game.

I said my dear lady if you're fond of the gaming,

There's one game I know I would like you to learn,
The game it is called The Game Of All Fours,
So I took out my pack and began the first turn.

A typical man, he only knew how to do things one way: his. So he decided to run some Game on Her. To throw Her off Her guard and make Her feel vulnerable, he started dealing out cards for some game She had never heard of or played. He figured this would make Her unable to resist his advances.

She cut the cards and I fell a dealing,

I dealt her a trump and myself the poor Jack,
She led off her ace and stole the Jack from me,
Saying Jack is the card I like best in your pack.

Despite never having played the game, She beat him using Her superior Womynly intelligence. She knew he'd be offended and maybe even angry, so She made a throwaway remark suggesting She had gotten lucky and didn't truly understand how the game was played. 

I dealt the last time, its your turn to shuffle,

My turn to show the best card in the pack,
Once more she'd the ace and stole the Jack from me,
Once more I lost when I laid down poor Jack.

"If you're so good, you go ahead and deal this time," he sulked. So She did, and beat him a second time in only a few moves.

So I took up my hat and I bid her good morning,

I said you're the best that I know at this game,
She answered, young man, come back tomorrow,
We'll play the game over and over and over and over and over again

He finally admitted to himself that this Womyn had actual skills and intelligence. Who knows, maybe She even had desires and dreams apart from being an object for the fulfillment of his pleasure! His warped notion of masculinity and gender roles couldn't handle the realization that She was not, in fact, his Manic Pixie Dream Girl. 

With a renewed confidence, the Womyn called "come on back when you learn how to play!" She then continued to Her friend's house so they could make a post about the incident on UpWorthy while the defeated man slunk off to an internet forum where so-called "Nice Guys" complain about Womyn who won't have sex with them. 

Hahahaha! Feminists, amirite?


*Obviously, this is not what I think feminists actually believe. This is satire you guys.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Some thoughts on yesterday's riot-protests in Baltimore, which jumped off in the wake of Freddie Gray's "mysterious" and entirely unnecessary death in police custody:

It's heartbreaking to hear Gray's family pleading with protesters to remain peaceful. Naturally, they're mourning a loved one and don't want his memory tarnished by destruction and violence.

But, unfortunately, it's not up to them.

The protests are truly about Freddie Gray only to the extent that his death is yet another symbol of the ongoing repression of minority communities, black people in particular, by the police officers charged with protecting them. Trayvon Martin. Eric Garner. Michael Brown.

As our country racks up more and more of these incidents, it becomes increasingly difficult to directly ascribe protests, violent or nonviolent, to any one incident of brutal police treatment of black American men for minor crimes or no crime at all.    

The family has called for protests to remain peaceful. Obviously, those calls were not heeded. Now, as one-time student of peacebuilding, I struggle with the idea of nonviolence. It's an attractive term, and history is full of examples of successful nonviolent movements that brought about real change. India. Serbia. The American Civil Rights Movement of the 60s*.

But it's also an ideal that makes it too easy for observers to tune protesters out as soon as they turn violent. Police respond with force. Veteran civil rights leaders appear on the news and shake their heads sadly while pundits tut-tut. Twitter erupts with white people armchair-quarterbacking the whole thing, comparing the protesters unfavorably to Martin Luther King, Jr. and making thinly veiled suggestions that if you loot, it just proves that you're a criminal and don't deserve to be treated with dignity.

I don't support violence as a tool for change, but I'm forced to ask: how reasonable is it to expect a population that is repeatedly subjected to violence, both direct and structural, to remain peaceful, docile, and entirely nonviolent when another father, brother, or son has been violently taken from them? I think the answer is "not very reasonable." We should not be surprised when pockets of violence erupt, and we cannot use it as an excuse to ignore the anger, frustration, sadness, despair, and yes, rage, that the protesters are expressing. Structural violence and racism do not get a pass just because the victims react violently.

Ta-Nehisi Coates put it succinctly: "When nonviolence is preached as an attempt to evade the repercussions of political brutality, it betrays itself. When nonviolence begins halfway through the war with the aggressor calling time out, it exposes itself as a ruse. When nonviolence is preached by the representatives of the state, while the state doles out heaps of violence, it reveals itself to be a con."

I don't believe that to be true in all cases, but it certainly seems to be the reality in Baltimore and the many similar cases we've seen over the past months and years.

Has anyone been able to confirm whether the "credible threat[s]" police received ahead of the protest regarding planned violence were indeed authentic? So far I've read that:

  • there was a flyer posted to "social media" and circulated at high schools advertising a period of widespread lawlessness in the style of The Purge, and,

Frankly, both of those things seem just a little too convenient for the Baltimore PD's narrative: brave officers defending the community against aggressive, violent pseudo-citizens**, and too well-tailored to hijack middle-class, suburban anxiety about urban crime.

The gangs, for their part, have denied having such a nefarious objective and cast themselves as the true protectors of the communities that law enforcement has repeatedly failed.

Three or four years ago I probably would have taken the police at their word, but not now. Call it naivete, call it white/male/cis/hetero/any other kind of privilege, call it whatever you like, I tended to trust the police because I never had a reason not to. But no American can truly ignore what's happening any longer. Too many lies have been told, and too many lives have been destroyed, seemingly for no reason.

Even if we discount the immense human cost of police violence (which I do not), we should all be concerned by how these events make policing on the whole less effective. If communities distrust and fear law enforcement, law enforcement cannot function effectively.

And that affects all of us, regardless of where we live.

Lastly, I'd be interested in hearing suggestions for a few reputable alternative news outlets that cover events like those in Baltimore. Too often, the police/official narrative dominates the airwaves, at least while the conflict is unfolding, and the other side of the story only appears much later, if at all. We're treated to running commentary of how many police officers have been inured, and how badly. Not how many citizens. How many storefronts have been looted, or cars torched. Not how many protesters DID stay peaceful and implored others to do the same. Those facts may come out later, but by then, far fewer people are listening.

And that's precisely what more of us need to be doing: listening.


*The ultimate success of the American Civil Rights Movement, it seems, we must increasingly question. It surely made strides, but there's still a long way to go.

** I say pseudo-citizens because these narratives always involve making an "other" out of suspects: a violent, unpredictable, virtually sub-human being who poses a grave threat to polite society and so must be dealt with swiftly and decisively.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Listen, street corner shoe-shine guy, it's not that I don't appreciate the offer. It's just that these boots are supposed to look a little beat up, that's kind of the point.

I'm sure you've got skillz, and I know you work hard, and $3 is really pretty good. Those tweens back in Plaza Grande charged like...twice that.

But the last time I let someone who wasn't me shine my shoes, they ended up an entirely different color. I mean sure, I should have seen it coming. Street children in a plaza in Quito probably can't tell the difference between brown and cordovan. I imagine you can, in fact I think I saw distinct stains of each on your apron. But since that fateful Ecuadoran afternoon, no one puts polish on my shoes but me.

Also, and I hate to be pedantic, but once someone turns down your (admittedly cheap) services, you're probably not going to have any better results with "Well lemme get you to buy me a hot dog for $3, then," that's not an effective use of the foot-in-the-door phenomenon. And I know, for a fact, that that hot dog would become a dog/chips/drink meal the second we got to the cart. You're not gonna grift me like that. Never again.

But I wish you the best, hopefully someone less finicky than me will hire you for a quick shine-up.

Also, good luck with the imminent turf war between you and that well-dressed young blood with the sound system halfway up the block. Sure, he's more technological, and he drapes a towel over his bent forearm like a waiter at a fancy restaurant, but you've had that spot WAY longer. Frankly, I prefer your old-school barking to his DJ-style pronouncements that he recorded himself and repeats aloud while it plays.

And he's going to learn pretty quick how hard it is to get cordovan stains out of a suit jacket.


...on a crooked corner of a dirty street.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Hillary(?) for President!(?)

It's become increasingly clear that Hillary Clinton is going to be THE Democratic candidate for 2016, and increasingly clear how much she wasn't the first choice for a lot of people.

I can't decide how I should feel. I mean, sure, she's uniquely qualified for the job. Former first lady, U.S. Senator, Secretary of State, it's almost as though the White House is the only logical next step for her.

But somehow... I can't get but so excited about her candidacy, which was officially announced on Sunday. And I suspect I'm not alone there. Maybe she's just, I don't know, old news?

A lot of people wanted Elizabeth Warren to run, and are still deluding themselves that she will. She won't. Honestly, I'm okay with this. We need more Elizabeth Warrens in the Senate, not less. She can do much more good as a progressive warrior in the legislative branch. Warren's voice provides an inspiring counter-narrative in the Senate where, quite frankly, progressive leaders can almost never match the soaring, firebrand rhetoric of Tea Party Republicans. To win a presidential bid, Warren would have to move much further to the center, and that would be dangerous in a country where conservatives are being pushed further and further to the right.

In fact, I imagine if you took an Elizabeth Warren, ran her through the machinery of a presidential campaign and years of Washington executive-branch insider politics, she'd come out looking and sounding a lot like...well...Hillary Clinton. We've already got one of her.

Incidentally, that's probably going to be Hillary's biggest weakness in 2016- the perception that she's just another Washington insider out of touch with everyday America. Clearly, she's already got a strategy in place to blunt this edge, I mean just take a look at her campaign video:

She's going heavy on that personal touch, and plans to emphasize that the Hillary you think you know, the political juggernaut, household name, and all-around HBIC is only one side of her- the other is a lifelong, compassionate advocate for regular ol' folks trying to make a better life for themselves and the people who depend on them.

Maybe that will help, maybe it won't.

But what's almost certain to make skeptical progressives line up behind Hillary* is stuff like this article casting Marco Rubio as the Republican Barack Obama, young, "diverse," so to speak, savvy, an inspiring speaker, not a complete wingnut, similar to Hillary in that he's the "next best thing" for Tea Party hardliners.

And as much as I'd like to say that Rubio's sawdust-mouth moment will probably tank his campaign before it ever truly starts, the reality is that continuing to refer to that little gaffe will just make his opponents look mean-spirited and shallow.

Whatever the state of his TV skills, Rubio's stance on most issues: nix the ACA, keep our heads in the sand on climate change, give corporations free reign over...everything, etc. should, at least, be enough to frighten otherwise unenthusiastic progressives into turning out for Hillary come next Fall.

Say it with me now: Hillary... for President...!


*Other than thinking it would be kind of cool to elect our first woman president right after our first black president. Cause you know, there's that.

...or maybe you were the ocean...

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

There Ought to Be A Law

I woke up to more rain.

Normally I wouldn't care, but I'm on dog-watch this week so we had to go out to pee. Fortunately, Zeus is almost as terrified of water falling from the sky as water sitting on the ground. He did his business like, real quick, and then we went back inside to start the day.

It was one of those mornings where the air seems strangely warm and close despite (or because of?) the rain. Amanda, having lived in Southeast Asia, loves a warm rain. Me? I feel like I'm suffocating. Maybe I should make her walk the dog.

I've gotten so bad at dealing with temperatures and humidity levels that fall outside a really narrow range.* As a kid, none of it mattered. I was going to go out and run around anyway. But now that I'm a "grown-up," no matter how uncomfortable it is out, I still gotta put on a tie and climb the hill to the train station.

On the bright side, the shortened dog-walk meant I had time to eat breakfast at home for a change. Toasted everything bagel with avocado and tomato, what could be better? And I still managed to catch the bus to the Metro, minimizing my time getting rained on. (Seriously, what the hell has happened to me?)

There ought to be a law giving us all the day off from work when it's like this outside. Think about it. Foul weather puts people in a foul mood, I mean it can't be all delicious bagel breakfasts for everyone all the time, and that's gotta have some negative impact on, like, productivity or something. And that's without taking into account the worse traffic, crashes and stuff.

How about it, presidential candidates? Administrative rain closures for federal/quasi-federal employees? I'd be willing to take that over our next cost-of-living raise.


*Of warmth, that is. It can get as cold as you please, and I'm fine with it.

...her picture was on the back of a pack of cigarettes...

Friday, April 3, 2015

Ted Cruz, Back on the Cross

You've really got to hand it to Ted Cruz. He can feign victimhood with the best of them.

CNN today reported Cruz's laments over the backlash over Indiana's Religious Freedom Restoration Act. RFRA is a piece of legislation so ridiculous and embarrassing that the same man who signed it into law last week, Governor Mike Pence, is already calling for amendments that clarify that the bill is not meant to permit discrimination against LGBT Hoosiers. Pence's repentance likely has a lot to do with the backlash Indiana has faced over the law, not only from citizens, but businesses from Apple and Angie's List to Walmart and the NCAA.

Far be it from Ted Cruz to undercut a fellow republican, but the senator expressed his sorrow over big business' refusal to stand up for traditional exclusionary values, and that they bowed instead to the "extreme left wing agenda that is driven by an aggressive gay marriage agenda."

How come it's only called an agenda when it's what your opponents want?

Surely, as a Republican and thus a staunch ally of corporate America by his very nature, Ted Cruz must have heard sometime, from someone, that exclusionary politics are bad for business. Though the law's defenders will tell you it's not intended to be discriminatory at all, it's certainly being perceived that way, and a person's perception is their reality. If you want your business to be competitive, especially at the national level, you have to be seen as appealing and welcoming to the broadest possible cross-section of people. So you want to stay far, far away from supporting laws that even look discriminatory (with a few notable exceptions.) In this context, the business reaction to RFRA is 100% rational and makes perfect sense.

But not to Ted Cruz.

Because in his world, if someone points out the wrongheadedness of something you did, you don't change course or even engage them in discussion. Instead, you double down on your rhetoric. You cast yourself and people who agree with you (hetero, conservative Christians) as the true victims. Those nasty progressives are the intolerant ones, you insist. In so doing, you hope to provoke your supporters into reacting and giving you a few points' boost in the polls.

It's telling that the only businesses defending Indiana's RFRA are certain small outfits run by religious families such as Memories Pizza , whose owner Crystal O'Connor states that the law is not discriminatory, and then in the next breath argues that religious business owners should be allowed to discriminate "stay true to their religion while running their business."


Leaving aside the obvious question of what couple, gay or straight, would ever ask a rural pizza joint to cater their wedding (rehearsal dinner, maybe?), how is a law allowing you to refuse to provide services to a gay couple because they are doing a gay thing --getting married to one another-- NOT discriminatory? The fact that O'Connor can persist in that strong a contradiction shows a certain... small-mindedness on the part of RFRA's defenders (read: certain conservative Christians) that I think we can extrapolate straight up to the national level.

The states, at least, can be reasoned with. Governor Pence says he's floored by the backlash against the law, as if he had no idea that it was going to cause trouble. And Governor Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas, another Republican, will probably decline to sign the bill until it's changed to be less of an invitation to further marginalize the LGBT community and alienate businesses. A Republican governor of a Southern state could hardly be called the vanguard of the progressive "aggressive" gay agenda, but he can tell which way the wind is blowing.

But where Pence and Hutchinson at least appear to want to make changes to their states' RFRAs to bring them in line with the much looser federal standard, Ted Cruz is having none of it. To hear Cruz (or O'Connor) tell it, it is not discrimination to turn away a gay customer if being gay is against your religion. Real discrimination is requiring that when religious people conservative Christians start a commercial enterprise, they treat their customers equally regardless of their identity. Christians, who have enjoyed religious, political, and cultural hegemony in the U.S. since the dawn of our nation, are the true victims here for having their dominance challenged:*

Cross-posted from Doug Muder at the The Weekly Sift,
because he's better at this than I am.

Quick digression: I'm not criticizing Christians as a group, or the faithful in general. To paraphrase Nick Offerman, I have nothing negative to say about faith or prayer- they're both wonderful things, though they happen to not be a big part of my life. My point is that when certain members of privileged groups find their (our, I'm very privileged too) dominance threatened, they (we) sometimes react in a visceral way that they may not intend to be discriminatory. It's simply meant to, you know, reinforce their dominance over other groups.

Increasingly often, those efforts are couched in the language of tolerance or protection from an out-of-control federal government, "activist" judges, or some other nefarious system. The Men's Rights Movement  is another example- they believe, among other things, that courts, the military, and other institutions are stacked against men and any attempt to strengthen women's role in society is a direct assault on men, who have been the true victims of inequity all long. A similar thing is happening here, with a small but vocal segment of believers: the relative prevalence of Christianity in America is decreasing, meaning Christianity is threatened. Christian social mores are declining in importance, so America is hostile to Christian values. Institutions are becoming more cognizant of the full range of identity concerns in a pluralistic, multicultural society like the U.S., and by responding accordingly, those institutions are persecuting Christians. We, the faithful, must fight this injustice on every conceivable front.

And Ted Cruz is just the politican/demagogue to lead that fight. Whether Cruz truly believes in the Christian anxiety he gives voice to, or if he's simply playing a character he believes will be attractive to theocrats in the 2016 race, only he could say. Either way, his support for the politics of exclusion and division is likely to cost him dearly down the road. Eventually (and we've all been talking about this for years, so who knows when), Republicans will have to choose between attracting the younger, more left-centrist, less white part of America that represents an increasing share of the electorate, or clinging to a smaller and smaller constituency whose views become more dated with every passing year.

In the meantime, I'll stick with the extreme left-wing agenda that believes "religious freedom" doesn't mean "your (Christian) beliefs trump everyone else's rights to be treated as equals in society."

*Ironically, Crystal O'Connor might be one of the only white, Christian conservatives who can claim victimization at liberal hands. I just read on The Daily Caller that the owners of Memories have been targeted by threats and online harassment by liberals angered by their stance on gay marriage, and have closed down for the time being. No link, because I can't stand that site's firebrand proclamations about socialist-fascists etc., and I don't want all three of you who read this blog adding to their page views. But that sort of behavior is unacceptable. We don't need progressive allies who act without thinking, preach violence, and work to silence opponents instead of convincing them. It's wrong, and it only strengthens the other side's arguments that progressives are the true oppressors.*


We'll fumble with the planet, dry the river and then dam it, just persuade me that everything's all right.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

What Does it All Mean?

I had a really strange dream the other night. Not just strange because of the content, but uncommonly vivid besides. Normally, I wouldn't entertain the idea of keeping a dream journal in a blog on the very public internet, but this one was just too good.

Step into my subconscious, if you will. No, right over- yes that's- OK. Far enough.

I snapped into being on my bike on a rainy morning, bent over the handlebars getting seriously aero. I had just gone down a steep, steep ramp into a Metro station. "Damn," I muttered as I hit the landing and worried if my still weak legs could handle the impact. They did, barely. 

I dismounted and headed for the train. No 7:00-10:00 AM bike ban in the Metro of my dreams, apparently. I hadn't been on the train for more than a minute before a handful of people began asking me questions about family law, the kind I get at work. Did my best to answer them, simultaneously proud of my dedication and frustrated at being asked to do my job when I wasn't even at my job. 

But there was something else too, something had changed. As the doors to the next stop slid closed, I looked down to check on my bike. It was gone! (of course!) In the seconds it took to assist those curious people, someone had apparently removed my hands from the handlebars and walked off with my beloved Two-Wheeled Siege Engine of New England Liberalism!*

Faced with a situation like that, what's a civil servant to do? Well, I don't really know, because time flashed ahead and suddenly I was standing on the National Mall near 7th Street and Jefferson Drive. I suppose I had gone to work in the meantime, but who knows? A man pedaled into view, southbound on 7th. As he grinned and looked around I immediately recognized the blue and black frame and panniers. He had my bike!

Ignoring the pain in my knee and throwing self-preservation to the wind, I half-ran, half-hobbled across the thoroughfare that is 7th Street. Miraculously, I avoided being hit by a car (dream!), and somehow caught up with the thief as he tried to flee, his legs spinning wildly in too low a gear. I tackled him to the ground and he crawled away, and I just didn't have the will to go after him. He would face no justice, but my bike and I were reunited. I felt a great sense of peace...

...which dissipated a moment later, as a cruiser pulled up and a college-age police officer got out. His polite smile barely covered the wariness underneath; he leered at me in the way an animal might regard a predator. In as conversational a tone as he could manage, he asked me why I was on the ground. I explained the events of the past few moments, and he seemed less concerned about my bike being stolen than the mild violence I visited on the thief in order to recover it. I asked, politely, why I was being treated as the aggressor in this situation, and he knelt and picked up one of my kitchen knives, which had suddenly appeared the ground. It was wet with something other than water, and had recently been used on something other than a carrot.

I opened my mouth to protest, but all that came out was a strange, lo-fi sort of electronic music...

It was my alarm. 6:00 AM. No rain, but neither would I be riding my bike today, nor any day soon.

Well, at least it wouldn't be stolen on the Metro.

WHAT??? What does it all mean???

I almost never remember my dreams in that much detail, and when I do, they leave me feeling so strange that I don't take much time to think about them. A couple days on, though, I have some ideas. If I'm honest, the symbolism wasn't even terribly complicated.

The bike-- obviously, I miss riding my bike. I worry that I won't ever be able to again, and if I do, I'm going to be weak and it's probably going to be painful.

The theft-- I also get really frustrated with the Metro. For the national capital of an industrialized power, our train system is really crappy. The system is disintegrating, delays are rampant, and sometimes people get really hurt or outright killed.  And they're always warning us that our smartphones or whatever are going to be stolen. Probably by teenagers. I never used to worry about that, but now I'm just as beholden to the slings and arrows of a spiraling transit system as anyone else. And it has a significant effect on my mindset when I arrive at work.

The confrontation-- worse, if someone were to steal something of mine, I probably couldn't run after them. Even when I recovered my bike, it was through sheer dumb luck, as I shouldn't have been able to catch up with him. I've touched before on how much physical fitness and general...capability?... have become part of my identity, and I still haven't really made peace with the fact that that part of me is gone and may not come back.

As for the incident with the cop and the knife, I have NO idea. Maybe I have some hidden angst over the grim state of policing in our country, and my subconscious was trying to reconcile that with the truth that, as a white male, I'm much less likely to be mistreated by police than...pretty much anyone else. It's almost unthinkable, for instance, that a cop would plant a knife at the scene of a scuffle I was involved in and accuse me of using it. Maybe I need to pay some sort of...psychological penance and work for greater social justice.

Or maybe I just had too much cheese in my burrito on Sunday night and I shouldn't read so much into things.

But I really think I'm onto something with that whole police, social justice thing.


*Not my bike's real name. Her real name is Winona.

It seemed so different than I pictured in my head/ everyone fighting looked exactly like me.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Callin' Shenanigans: #iamonestudent

Welcome back to "Callin' Shenanigans!" In everyone's favorite Mainer segment, I call out get on a soapbox and wax quasi-intellectual about things I think are even just a little bit dumb.

While reading Doug Muder's excellent news blog The Weekly Sift, I saw he had posted a link to the following "powerful video about men's responsibility for sexual assault," in which college students get real real about the issue.

Now, I agree that this video is excellent in that it calls out us dudes for our persistent tendency to use language that suggests to women that it's THEIR responsibility to avoid being harassed or attacked. Language that casually blames women for sexual assault. What the narrator was saying was so true, even for someone 8 years removed from college, that I found it hard to look directly at his eyes while he told me that meaning well doesn't cut it. It seemed too raw somehow, like I was realizing I wasn't nearly as innocent of oppressive tendencies as I had allowed myself to believe.

My privilege aside, a couple things about the video itself made me itch a bit. And since this is my blog, I get to blow those things way out of proportion.

First, did you really need to make that many sports metaphors in a 6-minute video? You're acting like the only way to get guys to the table on this whole gender equality thing is to make them think they're talking about The Big Game instead.

I call shenanigans. Not every guy thinks and speaks in terms of sports-- base-running, offense/defense mentality, those terms are unhelpful for men who don't or can't relate to that lifestyle, which is going to limit the potential for uptake of the important points the video makes.

It could be argued that the video's target demographic is only that sort of collegiate fraternity <----> athletics axis, the last great adolescent bro-down before you have to go and deal with the "real world." That's traditionally one of the strongest things underpinning the patriarchal aspects of our culture, and it hits men at a critical period in their development. But there's a large (and growing) segment of the male population that doesn't relate to that world and that has its own sinister, often internet-based ways of marginalizing women (think Gamergate.) So basically, the language of the video limits its audience and reach unnecessarily.

A second, and related, point. The man speaking issues multiple demands that men stop lazily relying on a culture permissive of our supposed base aggression and lack of caring. He argues that it's time for us to prove that we have evolved past the point of being cavemen clubbing cavewomen and excusing ourselves because it's just our nature. By debasing women, we create animals of ourselves.

I call shenanigans. He makes an excellent point, of course. But when I sent the video to a friend who shares my low level of sports literacy, his response was "Looks like something I, as a cretinous male, might be able to understand." Yuh.

So you're saying... it's MEN that mostly do sexual assaults to women???

The narrator invites us to evolve our thinking, but again, his language assumes that we won't understand unless that message is couched in sports terms, because we're dumb guys. It's almost an invitation to revert to outdated, tribal thinking. The message and the messenger appear to be at cross-purposes-- he deploys a vocabulary and a set of metaphors germane to a thought pattern he simultaneously asks us to abandon.

Maybe creating cognitive dissonance was the objective, since it might lead us to really examine our perceptions, which could lead in turn to a positive shift in attitude. I'm just not sure how successful it was. Definitely watch and share the video all the same, since carpet-bombing the male persuasion with several brands of this stuff might just work.

Total shenanigans: 2
Lifetime shenanigans: 4

Bonus shenanigans: I honestly had the urge to call shenanigans on myself a number of times while writing this post. I wondered whether I was really evaluating the video on its own merits, rather than just what I wish it had said, which is like Critical Analysis 101. Was I manufacturing flaws in order to avoid confronting an uncomfortable truth about myself and my entire sex?

No. I'm way too evolved for that.

Thanks for reading.


I might be a prototype, but we're both real inside.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

How Many Incidents in a Trend?

I've lived a pretty sheltered life, OK? Never been mugged or attacked (while in the U.S.), never had my house broken into, never even had a cabbie try to rip me off. That I can remember.

But when you live in a city and work in a crowded, public building, you're constantly reminded to maintain "situational awareness," hold your phone with both hands, avoid this or that area at night, and "when you see something, say something."

D.C. used to be known variously as "Drama City" and the "murder capital" of America during the 80s and 90s, as the violent crime rate soared high above our stunted southern skyline. Things have improved vastly in the past 20 years or so, though the revitalization has brought its own set of problems. But I've always felt mostly safe in the four neighborhoods I've lived in since moving here.

In the past few weeks though, my neighborhood of Mt. Pleasant/Columbia Heights has seen more than its fair share of incidents- some robberies, a stabbing, bike-borne smartphone theft, and a group of youth who attacked a woman at random. I even saw two guys fighting, like literally trying to beat the crap out of each other, on the corner of 14th and Irving, the unofficial hub of Columbia Heights. Oh, and yesterday some muggers shot a guy 2 blocks from my house.

And now some of the commentary on our neighborhood blogs like PoPville and New Columbia Heights express a lot of anxiety over a general uptick in crime and blight in our neighborhood(s) over the past 2 years, backsliding from all the progress that had been made.

I've never had a head for numbers, and I was not the star of statistics class in college. But I did learn one very important critical thinking skill there: don't let "vivid cases," exemplary incidents that stand out in your mind, trick you into seeing a pattern where there isn't one. Obviously we're nowhere near the levels of crime and blight that the long-neglected neighborhoods east of the Anacostia have been dealing with. Everything is relative, and even these small incidents no doubt burn brightly in the minds of people not used to seeing them. But what sort of predictive power do they have, if any?

So a thought for this weekend is "how many incidents does it take to make a pattern?" Is my adopted home actually backsliding, and if so, how worried should I be? Or, are these just the fits and starts of a neighborhood and city in an ongoing transition, and I should pay less attention to upper-middle class (mostly) white-gentrifier anxiety over crime?

Maybe the police could release some statistics already so we'd be able to know for sure.