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.      


Thursday, February 5, 2015

Justice for Thomas Palermo

Wow, a driver is actually getting charged for killing a cyclist.

Bishop Heather Cook, left, indicted this week on 13 charges in the death of Thomas Palermo, right.
Cook struck and killed Palermo with her car in December. 

If you're a cyclist, you get used to hearing stories about other cyclists being hit and killed by drivers every couple weeks or so. And it's really discouraging.

Usually, the outcome is that the driver faces no consequences of any kind: he couldn't see her; he was distracted by his new car smell and couldn't focus on the road; she didn't notice the bike frame stuck under her bumper for 10 miles, these are all just terrible accidents. 

Those are real things that have happened by the way, I'm only not linking to them because I can't find the reports. The blame is all too often placed on the cyclist in order to excuse the driver: he should have been wearing brighter clothing; she should have ridden on the sidewalk; WHY didn't he wear a helmet?

Our limitless capacity for victim-blaming aside, Bike Snob NYC and others have made much of the societal pathology, embedded in America but increasingly rare in other developed nations, that leads us to view rampant traffic deaths (National Safety Council nationwide estimate: 35,200 in 2013, most caused by cars) as an acceptable cost of doing business, rather than a mind-boggling public health crisis that demands immediate attention.

So it's refreshing to see the justice system working at least in this one instance. The beginning of a new era? Maybe. But this particular case has several aggravating factors that would have made the usual "I didn't see him" defense ring *real* hollow, including that Bishop Cook may have been drunk and texting at the time, and initially left the scene of the crash (allegedly.) I guess it takes a crash that egregious to suggest the driver may be at fault after all.

Word is, she's been at a treatment center since the incident, which is probably good- though there's no excuse for killing someone with your car, drug and alcohol addiction is as every bit as serious a public health issue as traffic fatalities, and she obviously needs help.

Burning questions around Bishop Cook remain, including how much the Episcopal Diocese knew about her possible alcohol abuse and what might have been done to prevent Tomas Palermo's death. I've always had a lot of respect for the Episcopal Church for their progressive stance on gender and LGBT issues, and it would be really unfortunate if they had missed an opportunity to help prevent this tragedy.

Below I have some additional musings on this event's relationship to other current issues. They may or may not be in entirely good taste, so only read it if you want to. If you do, I hope you'll understand it's my attempt to process some conflicting thoughts and I intend no offense to anyone.

So there we have it. If you're hearing about this ongoing saga for the first time (or if you're not,) I encourage you to go offer your support to the Washington Area Bicyclist Association and Baltimore Bicycle Club, or your local cycling advocacy group, as they work to mainstream cycling in (y)our area, increase alternative transit opportunities, and help ensure that people can get where they're going safely, regardless of how they choose to get there. Thanks for reading, and ride/drive/walk/Metro/helicopter safe!

--AWG a style Clark Gable would have admired...

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Callin' "Shenanigans"

***UPDATE 6/5/15*** I'm giving Jeb a bonus shenanigans for JUST THIS WEEK declaring that's he's ABOUT to declare his candidacy, weeks after leasing a campaign headquarters and having had plenty of time to court wealthy potential donors. We should know more mid-June. Nice job sidestepping campaign finance law, Governor! Original post begins below.

Welcome to the very first "Callin' Shenanigans", a new Mainer segment where I call out complain histrionically about stupid things or people I see in the news. Today, we check in with a certain prospective Republican candidate for president in 2016:

Uh-hurrr, hiya little lady, ya wanna join my exploratory co-mitty?

Yes, Jeb Bush was in not-so-rare form in Detroit today, reminding low-income people to be afraid, be very afraid, of liberals and all their anti-poor policies. See, you might think that the potential standard-bearer of a party so wildly supportive of letting corporate profits skyrocket while workers' wages stagnate would tread a little more carefully when it comes to The Poors.

But no, you don't understand, it's a failure of "liberal government policies" that have created, not a social safety net, but a "spider web" to ensnare people in the trap of government dependence. Which is why his party wants you to have to take drug tests before you get can welfare. Jeb wants to get you out of that web! After all, it's not like any of the responsibility for Detroit's economic suffering can be traced to any of the GOP's pro-corporate, anti-regulation policies that led to the Great Recession, which hit Detroit particularly hard.

I call shenanigans.

Governor Bush then launched another salvo at pro-government progressives, who act like we need to govern our way out of major societal problems or something: "The progressive and liberal mindset believes that to every problem there is a Washington, DC solution, but that instinct doesn't solve any problems."

Okay, seriously, how many more times are we going to let the Jeb Bushes, the Marco Rubios, and the Ted Cruzes (Cruces? Cruz'ses?) get away with saying how harmful "government" is while being/aspiring to be a major public official? It's not even like they're saying they wanna fix government, no, they seem to want us just...not to have one. Government keeps people down and overcomplicates problems and it needs to get in the back of the bus. Until it's time to secure the border or defeat Islamic State, that is, in which case, all hands on...the ground. In boots. On the deck. Hands on deck tying your boots to the ground?

Either way, you can't verbally assault the government and governing in every speech, and then tell people to make you the literal head of the government. And that is why...

...I call shenanigans.

Total "shenanigans" (shenaniganses? shenanigii?): 2

So thanks for reading joining us on "Callin' Shenanigans," a new whenever-I-get-to-it-ly segment where I'll probably piss off a lot of conservatives and car-centric urban planning advocates. I hope you'll join us next time for something else I think is dumb!


...the beauty of this mess it that it brings me close to you.