Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘violence’ Category

This blog has been silent too long. I’ve had some health issues affecting my hands; maybe I’ll write about them eventually, but for now let’s just say I’ve recovered enough to tentatively revive this blog, though probably on a low scale.

It’s Caturday; and since the Kittywampus hiatus coincided with an issue that put the word “pussy” in the mouths of the journo-commentariat (they’re still trying to spit out the furballs), it seems only fitting for this blog to support those three brave Russian feminists who are now serving a jail term for questioning the rottenness of their state.

Sure, we’ve got our own rottenness here in the U.S., too. When was the last time the pundits or politicians spared a thought for Bradley Manning? Why do I find far more Canadian sources than U.S. ones on this week’s deportation of war resister Kimberly Rivera from Canada and her arrest at the Canadian border? How can the Obama Administration possibly justify its defense of the NDAA?

But see, it’s not a question of ignoring abuses of the rule of law at home while highlighting abuses abroad. We can deplore the state-sanctioned violence against Manning even as we condemn Russia’s sentencing of Pussy Riot for being loud and insulting in a cathedral (their real crime was criticizing the state).

At the New York Times, Vadim Nikitin wrote last month that Western supporters are simply jumping on a bandwagon, merely [u]sing dissidents to score political points against the Russian regime.” This is too facile. The Russian regime is profoundly anti-democratic. It deserves to have points scored against it. While I respect his point that using dissidents as pawns is a game that goes back to the good ole Cold War days – and thus ought to come under scrutiny – the fact is, Putin is gutting what remains of Russia’s fragile democracy.

Nikitin also joins a number of North American feminists in decrying some of Pussy Riot’s most overtly offensive stunts – in particular, those involving public sex. I will gladly concede that I do not see the political or artistic merit or utility of such stunts, while I definitely do see how they would just reinforce the objectification of women to most casual observes.

But none of these caveats present a roadblock to supporting Pussy Riot, and Nikitin insistence that they’re dealbreakers strikes me as disingenuous:

You can’t have the fun, pro-democracy, anti-Putin feminism without the incendiary anarchism, extreme sexual provocations, deliberate obscenity and hard-left politics. … Because what Pussy Riot wants is something that is equally terrifying, provocative and threatening to the established order in both Russia and the West (and has been from time immemorial): freedom from patriarchy, capitalism, religion, conventional morality, inequality and the entire corporate state system. We should only support these brave women if we, too, are brave enough to go all the way.

Actually, even though I’m not a hard-core anti-capitalist, the Pussy Riot program all sounds pretty good to me. But Nikitin creates a false dilemma. You most certainly can support Pussy Riot in their moment of persecution without agreeing with all of their stances or tactics. We do this all the time, as when we defend the right to freedom of expression for people whose speech we find abhorrent.

The three band members made eloquent closing statements at their trial, showing that they understood, deeply, that this wasn’t a case about punk music constituting blasphemy. The stakes were nothing less than authoritarianism, human rights, freedom of artistica and political expression, and the state manipulation of media. Pussy Riot knows this. We too should recognize it – and dwell upon the ways in which the U.S. government, too, is systematically eroding liberties and making martyrs of dissidents. The rule of law hangs in the balance, not just the freedom of three young women, and not just in Russia either.

And so, by the great power invested in my by this blog, I hereby declare today Anti-Authoritarian Caturday.

Authoritarian kitteh courtesy of Cheezburger.

Read Full Post »

I didn’t think they really would kill Troy Davis. Surely, the worldwide campaign to spare his life would impress someone in Georgia. Surely, the Supreme Court would stop the process, once they’d delayed it. Surely, the work of the Innocence Project had raised enough awareness of the presence of innocent people on Death Row.

When I heard that they’d murdered him, after all, at 11:08 p.m. on Tuesday, I wept. I’m sure some of you readers did too. It is not true, as one of Davis’s nephews told Amy Goodman, that “we are all Troy Davis.” People like Goodman and me – white people blessed with education and elevated above poverty – are almost certain never to land on Death Row. Nor do I want to appropriate the grief of the people who knew Davis and loved him. And yet, tears of grief and rage seemed the only possible response to a rotten, festering system that committed homicide against a man whose only crime appears to have been being black in the wrong place on the wrong night.

All that is to say that I have no desire to over-intellectualize the murder of Davis. At the same time, I’ve been re-reading parts of Michel Foucault’s Discipline and Punish for a class I’m teaching. The first section of the book, aptly titled “Torture,” describes in excruciating detail pre-modern ways of punishing criminals. A man is drawn and quartered. Foucault forces us to look. Then he spends the rest of the book analyzing how the king’s power to maim bodies and take life has been supplanted in the modern era by the bureaucratic state’s ability to micro-regulate us through surveillance and, ultimately, self-surveillance, shaping docile bodies. We are disciplined, and we discipline ourselves. We are subjected to normalization, and we learn to conform to the norms. Modern techniques of power are all the more effective because they are subtle – and they are no longer confined to prohibiting behaviors. Where power had been merely repressive, it now has the ability to elicit behaviors, attitudes, identities, and reality itself:

We must cease once and for all to describe the effects of power in negative terms: it ‘excludes’, it ‘represses’, it ‘censors’, it ‘abstracts’, it ‘masks’, it ‘conceals’. In fact, power produces; it produces reality; it produces domains of objects and rituals of truth. (189)

Foucault is surely right about the productive and proliferative aspects of modern power. But doesn’t he present a false dichotomy here? While European countries have abandoned capital punishment, the techniques of power in the United States remain deeply invested in repression. Of course, all of the productive aspects of power are in full swing here, too – often commingled with more repressive techniques, as in TSA routines that elicit docility. At the same time, torture is undergoing a renaissance. The spirit of Abu Ghraib courses through our polity.

As Troy Davis waited for nearly four hours while the Supreme Court took one last glance at his case, he was strapped to a gurney with the lethal needle already in his arm. That’s a form of torture that would have pleased the most bloodthirsty pre-modern tyrant. It would have warmed the heart of a postbellum Southern lynch mob. Without being naive about the more subtle forms of modern power, isn’t it time we renounced state-sponsored murder?

A dark flag bearing the words, "A man was lynched yesterday."

(Posted by a bunch of my Facebook friends, attributed to Randall Horton)

Read Full Post »

Emily Yoffe at State puts her finger on precisely why I can’t believe that Dominique Strauss-Kahn is innocent of sexual assault. It seems DSK has given an interview to French TV, trying to exonerate himself but providing no real answers:

Although we only have translated summaries of the interview, Strauss-Kahn acknowledges there was a sexual encounter between the two but says no force was involved and he didn’t offer her money.  … If there was no force, and no money, are we to believe it was his continental charm that caused Diallo to get on her knees and relieve a stranger?

(See the rest of Yoffe’s analysis here; also at Slate, William Saletan offers a tandem, equally skeptical analysis.)

Exactement! This was the weakest point in the prosecutors’ motion to dismiss the case – how to explain the sex if no compulsion was involved?

In that motion, the prosecutors note that the complainant, Nafissatou Diallo, lied repeatedly, thus shredding her credibility (and, I agree, almost certainly alienating every potential jury in the world). But the evidence in the case went beyond he-said/she-said. While injury evidence was inconclusive, DNA analysis indisputably shows that DSK deposited his semen in the complainant’s mouth – a point that DSK does not dispute.

And so we have to ask, what narrative could possibly explain this most unlikely mixing of fluids? What sort of unpaid, consensual encounter could take place in the span of 20 minutes or less, from first meeting to au revoir?

Here’s how the prosecutors laid out the timeline in their motion to dismiss:

The relatively brief nature of the encounter between the defendant and the complainant initially suggested that the sexual act was not likely consensual. Specifically, key card records from the hotel indicated that the complainant first entered Suite 2806 at 12:06 p·.m., and telephone records later showed that the defendant had placed a call to his daughter at 12:13 p.m. Accordingly, it appeared that whatever had occurred between the complainant and the defendant was over in approximately seven to nine minutes. But in light of the complainant’s failure to offer an accurate and consistent narrative of the immediate aftermath of the encounter, it is impossible to determine the length of the encounter itself. That the defendant placed a brief phone call at 12:13 p.m. is not dispositive of when the encounter took place, how long it lasted, or where the complainant was from 12:06 to 12:26. Any inferences that could conceivably be drawn from the timeline of the encounter are necessarily weakened by the inability to solidify the timeline itself. (pp. 23-4)

But the prosecution hasn’t actually shown that the timeline is shaky. Not at all! DSK checked out at 12:28 p.m. (p. 6). The longest time span during which he and Diallo could have occupied the same space is 20 minutes. The prosecution has established this very ably indeed. Questions about what Diallo did after 12:26 – and inconsistencies in her testimony about her immediate reaction – don’t change the fact that the sexual encounter must have occurred in 20 minutes or less. (There is some question about the accuracy of the hotel’s clock and the key-card records, but the two-minute discrepancy described in footnote 25 would suggest an even shorter timeframe.)

Given that we’re taking about a 20-minute encounter, here is what we must believe to hold DSK innocent: We must imagine that a conspiracy set Diallo on DSK to entrap him and ruin his career. Or we must believe that Diallo was a prostitute – a possibility that both she and DSK have denied. Or we must presume that Diallo initiated the encounter in an attempt to sue DSK and get rich. All three of these theories are far-fetched on the face of it. And if you think any one of them aren’t totally bird-brained – well, consider that DSK was practically heading out the door. A few minutes later, and Diallo and DSK would have never crossed paths. That’s a piss-poor way to plan a conspiracy or entrapment.

Or, of course, we may choose to believe that DSK’s charm and charisma alone will bring any woman quite literally to her knees, with no desire for reciprocity. This charm. This charisma.

(Source: The Guardian)

Okay, that’s not quite fair. There are more flattering photos of DSK. But he’s no beauty. He’s a jowly man on the cusp of old age. I’m much closer to him in age than Diallo is, and yet I can’t imagine even eating potato chips with him in bed, fully clothed.

I don’t think any belief about what happened in Suite 2806 can be held “beyond reasonable doubt,” and in any event, the case will never come before a jury. But since DSK is appealing to the jury of public opinion, it’s fair to ask: Which is more plausible? Were two strangers overwhelmed by by lust? Or did a rich and famous man opportunistically assume that room service included gratification of his every whim?

(As an aside: the motion to dismiss notes that four other stains in the hallway – not the bedroom! – were found to contain semen from men other than DSK. And here I thought bedbugs were the only reason to avoid New York hotels. I know the Sofitel caters to the privileged, but can’t they at least avoid splattering the wallpaper?)

Read Full Post »

Did you know that reading a book about vintage aircraft now falls under the umbrella of suspicious activity for airline passengers? Actually, it’s safe to say you can probably get away with it if you look like me: white, female, not visibly Muslim (my suspicious skirt notwithstanding).

If you’re male and black? Well, you can expect to be hauled off the airplane and interrogated.

Earlier this month, singer Vance Gilbert was waiting for take-off at Logan when he was asked by a United flight attendant to move his fanny pack from behind his ankles to the upper bin. He suggested shifting it in front of his feet, to keep his wallet at hand. She agreed.

No one is claiming that any conflict occurred. If you read the comments at the link, Lisa Simeone (frequent commenter on this blog) vouches for Gilbert’s character. So does Robyn Ochs, who I “know” through her work on sexuality. Both Lisa and Robyn have known Gilbert personally for years. They and others describe him as a calm, kind man who wouldn’t overreact. We are talking about a graying 50something guy who sports Hawaiian shirts who’s a doggie-dad to two standard poodles.

But moments later, evidently alarmed by the fact that Gilbert was perusing a book about airplanes – we’re talking cutting-edge machines made in Poland circa 1946! – flight personnel diverted the plane from the take-off queue and had a group of state police and TSA officers remove Gilbert from the plane. He was whisked back into a breezeway where he was questioned by police. Here’s how Gilbert describes it on his blog:

Policeman: “Did you have a problem with your bag earlier?”

Me: “No sir, not at all. The flight attendant wanted it secured elsewhere other than behind my feet, and I opted to put it under the seat in front of me. It’s my wallet, even though there’s only 30 bucks in it…And all that was done without belligerence, or words for that matter…it was all good.

A few beats…

Policeman: “Sir, were you looking at a book of airplanes?”

Me: “Yes sir I was. I am a musician for money, but for fun I study old aircraft and build models of them, and the book I was reading was of Polish Aircraft from 1946.”

Policeman: “Would you please go get that book so that i can see it?”

I go back onto the plane – all eyes are on me like I was a common criminal. Total humiliation part 2.

After a couple of minutes he says, “Why, this is all Snoopy Red Baron stuff…”

Me: “Yes sir, actually the triplane you see is Italian, from 1921 a little after World War 1…”

Policeman: “No problem here then, you can go on back on to the plane, sorry to inconvenience you…and have a nice flight”.

“Inconvenience” is hardly the word. The flight was delayed and Gilbert missed his connection. He was out money and time, as were numerous other passengers. But far worse, he was shamed in public. He was frightened. He was reminded that in all the blather about keeping “us” safe, “we” and “us” are always construed as white. (The title of this post isn’t original; it comes from Gilbert’s realization that he was singled out – racially profiled – for flying while black.)

And the persecution of “flying while black,” like “driving/walking/BREATHING while black,” is only intensifying in the post-9/11 era. This isn’t coincidental. It’s built right into our society, from the cult of “Homeland Security” to the concentration of MP-style police ops in non-white neighborhoods. In her book Dangerous Brown Men: Exploiting Sex, Violence and Feminism in the ‘War on the Terror’, Gargi Bhattacharyya details how the WOT isn’t just demonizing and victimizing brown men abroad. It’s also heightening and militarizing the oppression of brown and black men here in the United States.

Gilbert’s ugly experience is just one quotidian example of how the WOT is being brought home to men who aren’t protected by Whiteness. (Brown women are singled out, too, but mostly for the perceived infraction of “flying while Muslim”). It’s also a classic instance of covert racism; every white person involved can point to the manifestly DANGEROUS sketches of Snoopy’s dream plane. No racism here, no-sirree, moving right along …

Gilbert is fighting back. He has contacted the ACLU. United is making apologetic noises (though not yet issuing the abject apology Gilbert deserves). I think they might have messed with the wrong Snoopy/Red Baron aircraft geek, judging from his music:

(Click here if you don’t see the clip.)

A change is gonna come. A change has gotta come. The alternative is a racist dictatorship of the Tea Party-military complex.

On a wholly different plane (ahem), I think one good thing may have come out of Gilbert’s ordeal: wider awareness of his music. It was new to this humble blogger, anyway. So here’s one more … “Some Great Thing.”

(Clickety click if need be.)

Vance Gilbert, I hope you will get your measure of justice. I hope you can take your story to a national audience. Now, could you just add Athens, Ohio, to your tour schedule, pretty please? You truly are Some Great Thing.

(Hat tip to Lisa Simeone for alerting my to Gilbert’s ordeal, and kudos to her and his other friends for jumping to his defense.)

Read Full Post »

We planned to celebrate 14 juillet by attending the German-French friendship fest. All began well: bumper cars! bungee jumping! mini-airplanes! roasted, sugared almonds! the Tiger feeling horrid on one of those “Himalaya”-style rides (or so they were called in my childhood) that consist of speed, minor up-and-down bumps, and a disco-ball plus smoke machine.  (He loved it last year. I take some pride in still enjoying it at 47. I could hardly toss him overboard, could I?)

At 10 p.m. sharp, all the rides, games, and drink stands started to roll down their blinds, much to our puzzlement. Why, we hadn’t even ridden the giant ferris wheel, the one point of consensus in my little family of four! (Evidently some pickle-hearted neighbor – unbothered by the noise of the adjacent airport?!? – had complained after some forty years.) The gal at the whisky stands gave us a generous pour, and then the fireworks began. First the Tiger objected that we were going to miss them. Then he wailed that they were too close. It is not easy to be a small tiger.

And so, since I have no footage of our fireworks, and since any such hypothetical video would be marred by heartrending cries of  “make it stop, Mama, this is SKEERY,” I offer instead the happy patriotic kitten that David Futrelle posted a couple of weeks ago:

By the way, if the images in the clip come from Uzu, as seems to be the case, this program has also been cheap entertainment for my own kittens this summer. Sometimes a light show is best at a safe remove. Ditto for cat claws. I’ll hold my tongue on the complex relation between state power military might, and liberty, since this day is supposed to be one of celebration, after all.

Read Full Post »

I’ll say right now that I think Dominique Strauss-Kahn most likely did sexually assault the maid at the Sofitel who accused him of rape. The prosecution originally claimed to have compelling, virtually conclusive physical evidence. That evidence hasn’t evaporated along with the alleged victim’s credibility.

But I can understand why prosecutors may have to drop the case anyway. Predisposed though I am to believe the accuser, her history of lying specifically about rape in her asylum application – while fully understandable as a survival lie – does raise the question of whether she has lied about the alleged assault. (I’m much less troubled by inconsistencies in her accounts of her behavior right after the incident, which can be put down to shock.) The preponderance of evidence may still weigh in favor of the maid, but that’s not the legal standard for conviction; proof has to be beyond a reasonable doubt. The alternative is that we’ll send many innocents to prison. And so, as Amp also concluded, if I were a juror I might well have to vote to acquit.

However, DSK is hardly in the clear. French writer Tristane Banon has filed a criminal complaint, alleging attempted rape. According to the AP:

Banon says Strauss-Kahn tried to rape her in an empty apartment during an interview for a book project, struggling with her on the floor as he tried to tear off her clothes. His lawyers describe the account as “imaginary” and say they plan to file a complaint accusing Banon of slander.

Banon’s complaint faces a series of difficult tests in the French justice system and could be dismissed long before reaching trial. Prosecutors must decide first if her allegations would support a charge of attempted rape rather than the less serious crime of sexual aggression, an attack that does not involve an attempt to penetrate the victim.

While it’s a damn shame that DSK’s first alleged victim may never get her day in court (and it’s hard not to view that as partly a triumph of DSK’s racial and economic power relative to to his accuser’s), a conviction by French courts would in many ways be an ideal outcome, even if it too is a long shot. I just had a visit from an old friend who is spending the year in Geneva, immersed in the French media and surrounded by her French-Swiss in-laws. She says that the French news has been all DSK, all the time. While some French women have indeed spoken out against DSK, the French media mostly just blame the Americans. Conspiracy theories abound. DSK’s allies are jockeying to alter the laws to still permit him to run against Sarkozy for the presidency.

If DSK were convicted in New York, the French could just shrug it off. If he’s found guilty in France, his career will be over. Banon faces a tough fight, as she’s fully aware. While she enjoys far more social power than the Sofitel maid (she’s white, prosperous, pretty, and politically connected), the case lacks physical evidence. It’s basically a he-said-she-said scenario. Still, one can hope. Perhaps Banon’s courage in filing charges will encourage other victims of DSK’s predatory behavior to go public, too.

Read Full Post »

I leave my adopted state, Ohio, for my annual summer sojourn in Germany, and this is what happens! Nothing but lunacy!

Ohio’s Governor Kasich just signed a bill allowing bars to allow people to carry concealed firearms into bars. As Slate puts it: “Because nothing goes better than guns and crowded places …”

Ha! I know an even better combo: guns + crowds + booze + students + beer pong + flashpoints of overt racism. That’ll be the new scene on Court Street, the main drag where my students congregate to imbibe, socialize, and – all too often – get into fights.

Last fall, 0ne of my former students was racially targeted and physically assaulted on Court Street. His tormenters managed to frame him on assault and menacing charges. This Athens News article ably describes the beginning of his saga and hints at the weakness of the case against my student. All charges were ultimately dropped as evidence mounted that he’d been the victim, not the perp. Ultimately he was exonerated. While I avoided writing about his case because I didn’t want to disqualify myself as a character witness, I posted a thinly fictionalized account of how the local jail radically isolates inmates, especially newbies, from the outside world. My student was in that hellhole for a week before he even saw a lawyer (the hardcore folks of course have their attorney’s number memorized), facing racism from fellow inmates, fearing for his freedom.

I now try to re-imagine the whole ugly story with a gun in play. The likely outcome? My student bleeds out on Court Street. An alternative scenario: My student seizes the gun from his tormenter and finds he’s up against high-grade felony charges, even after allowing for self-defense.

Another student, recently returned from Iraq in 2006, was gravely injured (on his head, I believe) by a bouncer at a Court Street establishment. He had to be airlifted to Columbus for treatment. I don’t know yet how his story ends. While writing this post, I did my best to locate him in the Facebookgoogleplex, and I think I might have found him. I’m now so hopeful that he might be living a good life. (I’ll be sure to update if I learn more.)

But again, what if that bouncer had had a gun? What if my thoroughly traumatized student had been carrying, his wits sharp but his nerves frayed from facing down death in Iraq? Two men could have died that night.

What about the goofy, good-natured football player who showed up with his arm in a cast? “Training injury?” I asked brightly. “Um, no, a bar fight.” Gotta admire these students’ honestly. His athletic career continued – in no small part because he hadn’t been riddled with gunshot wounds.

What about a female student (way back in 2003) who took a certain pride in holding her own in “girl fights”? Will her successors all morph into clones of Bree Vanderkar (or Sarah Palin)? Hey, chicks can shoot as straight as any dude! Their flesh can absorb just about as much lead as a man’s can, too.

I realize why this bill passed. The NRA has legislators at the point of, well, a gun. My Democratic and generally progressive rep in the State House said she had to respect her consituents’ overwhelming support for the guns ‘n’ bars bill. Even an abstention (for me, the least-bad path) might have allowed the Repubs to vote her out in the next cycle. And it’s true that bar owners can post “no guns” signs on their doors, which are just as valid there as in any other public space.

But as for myself, I’ll be avoiding the Court Street bar scene, especially past 7 or so in the evening, until it becomes clear whether full body-armor has become the new trend, replacing the standard-issue shorty-short skirts and towering heels.

Read Full Post »

Overnight, a wannabe commenter tried twice to post a comment calling Lara Logan a tramp and accusing her of having sex in the streets of Cairo for money.

This person is a known troll (who will never be allowed to post on this blog), and obviously she (or he?) is only one horrible person. Yet she’s one of thousands, at least, as one can easily see by reading the comments at less-moderated spaces. (See yesterday’s post for links to examples. More vitriol – both of the victim-blaming and Muslim-hating kind – can be seen at the WaPo.) Most of those commenters are not semi-professional trolls.

It is demoralizing to see so much hatred and contempt for a victim of a crime displayed so openly, aggressively, and even proudly. I have to wonder what kind of shriveled soul produces such vitriol – and what kind of sick culture nurtures such hardened souls.

Read Full Post »

If you haven’t already heard, CBS News correspondent Lara Logan was viciously attacked by a mob of men last Friday during the celebrations at Tahrir Square. She was sexually assaulted and beaten. A group of women and soldiers came to her aid. She flew back to the United States and is convalescing in a hospital (which gives you some idea of the viciousness of the attack).

I am horrified that this happened, and I hope she will heal well, physically and psychically.

You’d think that every reaction would echo those sentiments, but no. Mary Elizabeth Williams of Salon charts just a few of the hateful responses, which range from blaming Islam to blaming Logan herself. Jill has more at Feministe. Some of the blamers suggest Logan should never have been in Egypt – evidently her mere presence provoked sexual assault – and conclude that women shouldn’t do dangerous job. (See for instance the absolutely vile comment thread on Garance Franke-Ruta’s article at the Atlantic.) As Jill notes:

When male journalists are harmed or even killed on the job — and I’d be willing to bet that male journalists are assaulted and killed more often than female journalists — the media narrative is, basically, “He was brave and this is a tragedy.” But when it happens to a woman, the narrative shifts to, “Should women be doing this?”

Funny how no one said that Bob Woodruff shouldn’t have been in Iraq when he suffered brain damage due to an IED that detonated while he was traveling. Nor should they! (Fortunately, Woodruff has made a pretty good recovery.)

As others have noted, the blaming directed at Logan demonstrates how deeply ingrained rape culture is. It shows how eager some people are to demonize Islam (which would merit a post of its own). It reveals some folks’ determination to use the threat of rape to restrict women’s choices. Following that last line of thought to its logical conclusion, we could argue that women shouldn’t be homemakers! Because women are often raped in the “safety” of their own homes! Funny how we don’t hear that argument often, either.

But the blaming exposes one other persistent element of rape culture that I don’t think has gotten much attention: the notion that being raped is even worse than being killed. In what universe is surviving rape worse than dying? Why would we think that sexual assault is worse than shrapnel entering one’s brain? And yet, only if you believe that rape is worth than death does it make sense to “protect” women – but not men – by keeping them out of war zones.

It all goes back to the idea that women’s worth is solely in their sexual purity. A woman who was sullied by rape, under the principles of patriarchy, had better be dead. If she was raped, well, then she just didn’t try hard enough to resist, because a chaste woman would rather die than “let” herself be raped. Apparently these ideas are still alive and kicking – unlike some of the women they have literally condemned to death.

So I’ll say it again: I hope Lara Logan recovers well. I hope she’ll be able to return to work she loves and does well – wherever that work may take her. And I hope for a world where sexual assault is vanishingly rare and is never, ever blamed on its victim.

Read Full Post »

With my partner a whole ocean away from me, I’m not in a very lovey-dovey mood for Valentine’s Day. That leaves plenty of time to think about what allowed Love to sneak out of courtly ballads and Shakespearean plays and into the hearts of average Americans. And no, it’s not chick lit or rom-coms.

The long answer would involve reading Stephanie Coontz’s Marriage, a History: How Love Conquered Marriage – the story of how marriage made the historical shift from an economic arrangement to a partnership from which we expect love and companionship..

Oh, and by now we also expect hot sex for more years than humans used to live, period, from birth to death. Nearly 500 years ago, Martin Luther set us down this road when he rejected the Catholic insistence on procreative sex, and instead embraced pleasure in marriage. Luther liked marriage. He termed it a “hospital for lust.” Bear in mind that in those days, hospitals weren’t in the business of curing; they took the poor and the insane and the unwed-but-pregnant off the streets. They were a way of containing social problems. Bear in mind, too, that Luther thought women’s lot was to be wives and mothers, undoing some of Eve’s screw-up in the garden. Still, there’s a solid though wavy line from Luther to Susie Bright.

The short answer: If we feel free to love today – or to lust outside of of the old “hospital” – we can thank two things: 1) the right to say no to sex, the key prerequisite for sighing a breathy, enthusiastic YES, and 2) reliable birth control with legal abortion as a safe backup. From the Ohio Statehouse to the House of Representatives, these rights are under more ferocious fire than I can recall in the post-Roe era.

But it’s a holiday, and so instead of gloom, let there be satire! It’s the more festive response – and maybe more effective , too. Here’s Kristen Schaal of the Daily Show, mocking the piss out of the “No Taxpayer Money for Abortions” crowd.

I used this in class last week to illuminate rape myths, and students got it like never before. (Does this mean college administrators will one day replace me with a semi-random mix off the tubes?)

And I knew I liked Felicity Huffman anyway (Lynnette is my favorite housewife, of course) but now I’m besotted:

(Via Rachel at Women’s Health NewsIf you can’t see either clip from your blog reader, click on through and say hey while you’re here.)

Take that to your next Tea Party, and sip it!

Happy Valentine’s Day to all, especially to those of you who are celebrating it alone with chocolate, champagne, or blogging. (I’ve only got two out of three but am wondering why I am too cheap to open the champagne sans partner. Wandering off to the kitchen now to rectify what I can …)

Read Full Post »

Just after 10 this morning I got an email from the campus police, reporting that a gunshot had been heard in or around one of the dorms at 6:15 this morning. One student – who had been videotaping himself – had caught it on tape, and the police confirmed that it was indeed a gunshot. A second person also reported the sound.

It’s now nearly 3 p.m., and though I’ve been checking the university’s emergency page, there’s been no further information from the police. Probably everything will be just fine. But it’s disquieting that the initial safety alert came nearly four hours after the incident, and that updates are so slow in coming. I don’t live on campus and I spent the day working at home, but my neighborhood is a five-minute walk from the area where the gunshot was reported.

More to the point, I worry that someone obviously has a gun on campus, despite their being banned in all campus buildings. I worry even more that this person has ammo and chose to use it. I can’t think of any benign explanation.

I also worry that Residence Life staff were going door to door, checking on dorm residents. What on earth is an unarmed R.A. supposed to do if she or he actually finds a student with a gun?

Update, 2/10/11, 4:30 p.m.: I spoke with a police officer at the OU men’s basketball game last night. (There were two officers posted very prominently – which I hadn’t noticed at past games.) He told me that while they had no further information, whoever created the noise wasn’t likely to do it again just for kicks. He further said it was still possible the sound came from some source other than a gun. All very reassuring – but then he casually mentioned having taken guns away from people on Court Street, where students go bar-hopping, on numerous occasions. So much for feeling safe again!

Read Full Post »

Would you leave your gravely injured mate on earth while you blast off for several weeks in outer space? Today came reports that Gabrielle Giffords’ husband, astronaut Mark Kelly, may be planning to do just that in April. Salon describes Kelly’s choice – to fly, or to stay home and support his wife through rehab – as “a troubling predicament.”

Really? I’d say that if this is a predicament, my brain is a porous pickle. (Which, incidentally, is possible.) Your partner gets shot, through the brain, and a large arc of skull is removed to prevent brain cells from dying due to swelling. Minimum spousal duty according to Sungold: you stick around at least until the missing piece of skull has been replaced. This takes months. In the case of CBS newsman Bob Woodruff, doctors waited four months before reopening the wounds and placing a prosthesis. Until the patient has a complete skull again (whether composed of their own bone or, like Woodruff, a synthetic material), she wears a bulky helmet to protect the brain.

For me, staying home would be, um, a no-brainer. But can Kelly really help his wife? Salon reports:

Research shows a strong social support network — family, friends, church or similar — is crucial for rehabilitating patients and improves the outcome.

But that doesn’t mean a spouse has to be there 24-7, 365 days, said Dr. David Lacey, medical director of acute inpatient rehab services at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center in North Carolina.

“You also have to look at what’s normal for the couple,” Lacey said. “If it were my parents who had almost never been apart for the entire 50-some years they were married, all of a sudden changing that structure would be a pretty dramatic impact.”

But what’s normal for Kelly and Giffords, through their three-year marriage, is spending a few weeks apart at a time — he in Houston, she in Washington or her home state of Arizona. However, Kelly, 46, kept vigil at her side in the days immediately after the Jan. 8 shooting in Tucson. The rampage outside a supermarket left six dead and 13 injured.

But nothing is normal when one partner is struck by a devastating illness or injury. Three weeks of normal life is not the same as three crucial weeks in rehab. Indeed, nothing is normal now about their previously independent relationship. Giffords will rely on her husband as caregiver-partner for a long time to come. Perhaps forever. It’s hard to feel indomitable, I suspect, when your brain is protected by thin skin and a helmet. It’s hard to feel enterprising when your mobility is highly restricted.

I don’t know Congresswoman Giffords or her husband (obviously!), but I’m irked by the presumption that Giffords ought to be game for her husband taking off, because that’s the kind of gal she’s always been. She’s not that gal now. Salon, again:

Mark Kelly has said he’d like the decision to be made jointly, with his wife’s opinion, if possible.

A former NASA colleague, Susan Still Kilrain, said if she can, Giffords will tell him to go.

Kilrain, in 1997, became the second American woman to pilot a space shuttle. Then, she was single. She recalls how Ashby’s wife, Diana, urged him to continue with his mission training despite her cancer.

“She really wanted him to stop sitting around and waiting for her to die,” Kilrain said. “All the wives would feel that way, and his wife (Giffords) seems to have a very big support system.”

That said, there’s no way Kilrain would resume training under the Kelly-Giffords circumstances. Women, she noted, tend to be the caregivers. She points to her own life story: She stood down from space flying after her first child was born, and quit NASA in 2002. She’s a stay-at-home mom to four children, ages 4 to 11.

“Me personally? I wouldn’t fly,” Kilrain said from her home in Virginia. “But I certainly would definitely respect his decision to fly. I wouldn’t second-guess that in a minute.”

For me, this type of decision isn’t just Monday-morning quarterbacking. I’ve been on both sides of this decision (minus the cool space stuff). And guess what? I didn’t fly. Nor did he.

When my husband fell terribly ill in Berlin, we stayed on for months while he completed treatment. I didn’t think once of taking the kids and flying back to the States. I dropped out of teaching (without any pay) for six months. Good thing, too, because the treatment was about as perilous as the disease. He needed help, as much as I could provide while also keeping the kids together, body and soul. I needed to be near him. We needed each other. Believe me, you don’t want to be on the other side of the world – or even out of this world – if your partner is gravely ill. That bit about “in sickness and in health”? It’s a vow that expresses the (temporarily) healthy partner’s need, too, to provide care and support and closeness. It’s not just about the sick guy.

Then, turnabout: Two years ago, when an MRI report suggested I likely had MS or vasculitis in my brain, my husband was scheduled to attend a conference in Germany. He was worried about leaving me, and so he asked my doc what he would do. “I’d stay home,” said my doc. And so my mate canceled his trip. Fortunately, my brain managed not to explode. (We still don’t know what was up, but we’re pretty sure it’s neither MS nor vasculitis.) My husband could have made his trip safely, after all. He would have worried the whole time, and I would have quivered in fear, again responsible for the kids but without knowing if they could count on me. I was also just plain sick – very sick. I say he made the right call. He says he doesn’t regret it.

I question whether we should applaud wives for playing the martyr, struggling against long odds and terrible pain while their partner achieves a dream. We do not expect quite the same of men, nor should we. Instead, how about if Gabrielle Giffords and Mark Kelly make a mutual decision that isn’t swayed by these cheering squads who seem to hope Giffords will gamely wave him goodbye? (That image conjures up the anniversary of the Challenger, which just passed, and how those brave families on the ground sometimes don’t get their astronauts back.) Maybe they’ll decide that he should fly after all. But if he stays with his wife, I can’t imagine how he could ever regret it.

Really. It’s not a predicament. It’s a no-brainer. (That cheap witticism is sure gaining mileage, yes?) If you do what’s least likely to cause regrets, the prognosis for future happiness and harmony will be better. You don’t need a neurosurgeon, astronaut, or even a small-potatoes blogger in Ohio to say this. Most of us know it as soon as we reflect on who and what we truly love.

Read Full Post »

Usually I try to blog on topics where I can offer a smidge of expertise or experience. On the Middle East, I have neither (beyond the Iranian exiles who befriended me at my first post-college job, and a rudimentary knowledge of their history). Tonight, I write only because I am moved by the courage of the people taking to the streets, first in Tunisia and now in Egypt and Yemen. I am frightened for their safety. I am awed at the transformative potential they are unleashing for their countries and for the entire Arab world.

Perhaps Iran circa 1979 isn’t such a poor comparison? In a lot of ways, the situation in Egypt reminds me of the Iranian Revolution that brought the Ayatollah to power. A dictator long supported by the United States is challenged by mass uprisings. A people long yearning for self-determination takes to the streets. Islamists waiting in the wings. A substantial secular opposition.

Will the U.S. learn from our mistakes in Iran?

Back in 1979, Jimmy Carter openly professed American loyalty to the Shah. Obama has not done the same for Mubarak, though Joe Biden has proclaimed Mubarek “not a dictator.” I suspect Biden was running off at the mouth with about as much forethought as when he called Obama “clean and articulate.” Thoughtless pronouncements could cost lives. Might this be a good time for Biden to be called up for jury duty again?

As for what the U.S. should do, Goldblog’s take seems about right to me:

President Obama would be standing for American values if he encouraged Hosni Mubarak to leave office now. Mubarak (and his son, it is almost needless to say) have no credibility, and the U.S. will have no credibility if it doesn’t support the aspirations of these frustrated protesters. Will the Muslim Brotherhood follow in the wake of Mubarak’s downfall? Not necessarily. But the U.S. will make that possibility less remote if it doesn’t stand with the people now.

I’m not downplaying the threat the Muslim Brotherhood poses, to America or to Israel. And I fear for the future of the Israel-Egypt peace treaty. And there is a chance this regime could survive, for a while. But these facts are overwhelmed by the reality on the streets.

I’m not sure it would be prudent for Obama to call publicly for Mubarak to step down. I’m queasy with fear that the protestors could be massacred, Tiananmen-style. But couldn’t the U.S. quietly arrange for Mubarak’s safe passage out of Egypt to a friendly third country? Not to the U.S., please! Iran convulsed with rage after the Shah was allowed to come here for medical shelter. We don’t want to embolden the theocrats in Egypt. It’s bad enough that they can rally just anger against the U.S. for its thirty-year policy of supporting Mubarak despite human rights abuses. It doesn’t help, either, that the tear gas canisters used against the protesters are labeled “Made in the U.S.A.” Mubarek also can’t just emulate the Shah, whose first and last station in exile was … Egypt.

But surely we still have no shortage of despots among our friends? One or the other ought to be open to a bribe for harboring Mubarak. We can just call it, y’know, foreign aid. If the U.S. eased Mubarak’s departure , we could then provide succor to the more secular and democratic-minded protesters. As long as Mubarak remains, open U.S. support for the protesters risks triggering a crackdown.

On a less analytical note, I was floored by the fact that the Egyptian government could just shut the whole damn Internet down. I thought the distributed nature of the net was supposed to prevent such centralized censorship? Evidently an oligopoly of ISPs existed, which enabled the Internet to be shut down by taking those ISPs offline. The proximate cause was apparently government intimidation of the ISPs. I still don’t claim to understand it fully, but the graph of Internet usage in Egypt is stunning:

(Via the Daily Dish.)

The sun is rising on Cairo, Suez, Alexandria. I hope that Egyptians – and Tunisians and Yemeni – are waking up to a day when no protesters will be gravely harmed. A day that brings them a little closer to democracy and self-determination. A day that repeats itself until it becomes months and years. May it someday be remembered as the dawn of a new era.

Read Full Post »

In the past ten days, as Limbaugh and Palin and other tighty-righties have tried to argue that their words don’t have consequences, reality keeps getting inconveniently in their way. Case in point: Several local Republican leaders have resigned in Arizona, citing threats from Tea Partiers. Anthony Miller, who was the chair of the GOP in Arizona’s Legislature District 20, stepped down along with three of his deputies a few hours after Gabrielle Giffords was shot. (LD20 includes parts of Tempe and its environs, so it’s not Giffords’ territory.)

The Arizona Republic reports (via Alternet):

The first and only African-American to hold the party’s precinct chairmanship, Miller said he has been called “McCain’s boy,” and during the campaign saw a critic form his hand in the shape of a gun and point it at him.

“I wasn’t going to resign but decided to quit after what happened Saturday,” Miller said. “I love the Republican Party but I don’t want to take a bullet for anyone.”

The word “boy,” of course, is a racist epithet when aimed at a black man. Don’t let anyone tell you this has nothing to do with race. And if that example is too nebulous for you, listen to what the L.A. Times reports Miller heard at a campaign meeting:

“This old guy says, ‘There’s Anthony. Get a rope.’ I turned around and said, ‘If you get a rope, get one for you and get one for me too,’ ” Miller recalled.

Ultimately, Miller said he quit at his wife’s urging:

“Sorry today my wife asked me do I think my PCs [precinct committee members] will kill me. I am done,” Miller texted to a committee associate. “I am done.”

“These people are crazy,” he said. “If somebody’s that mad at you, who knows what they could do?”

In his resignation letter and subsequent letter of clarification, Miller emphasized that his distaste for the animosity and infighting was a much bigger factor in his decision than any concerns about potential violence.

But [former communications director Jeff] Kolb, who has moved to another state for his wife’s job, said the level of rhetoric was escalating to an uncomfortable degree.

“I’m not worried. Nobody’s going to drive 900 miles to come track me down,” he said. “But were things escalating out of control? I would say yes.”

Maybe this is just normal political infighting on steroids. But when the rhetoric becomes so heated that people can’t be sure they’re safe, it’s time to ask where free speech ends and hate speech begins. Maybe it’s also time to ask – as Badtux did a few days ago – whether general threats should still be protected speech. Specific threats are illegal, but general ones (like “all illegal immigrants should be shot”) have been permitted and protected since the Supremes handed down Brandenburg v. Ohio in 1969. That decision would have to be somehow rolled back. Quoth Badtux:

If outlawing advocacy of violence, as EVERY SINGLE WESTERN DEMOCRACY did after the events of 1939-1945 where some German dictator used violent speech to incite his people to exterminate most of the ethnic minorities of Europe, is “tyranny” — does that mean that only the United States is free, and only since June 9, 1969? Or are you saying that, unlike every other citizen of a democracy on this planet, Americans simply can’t handle such a ban on violent speech? If the latter, why do you hate America?

[Read the rest here.]

Badtux notes that countries who criminalize violent rhetoric actually have a more vigorous, less lap-doggy press than the U.S. (see the British example). Having lived in Germany for a decade, I’ll second that.

I’d also add that free speech is supposed to shore up democracy. When it starts to undermine democracy, we need to ask where the line lies between “mere words” and speech-acts that themselves constitute a form of violence. Wherever it lies, it’s hard to deny we’ve crossed that line and landed squarely on the dark side.

Limbaugh’s billboard in Tuscon, courtesy of Copyranter. The billboard was taken down rapidly after the attack on Congresswoman Giffords and her constituents.

Read Full Post »

I’ve been reading a lot more than writing the past few days. One of the themes that has popped up repeatedly in the discussion of the Arizona shootings is whether college officials should have been far more proactive in seeking help for Jared Lee Loughner. The New York Times today ran no less than three pieces on this topic:

Couldn’t a caring teacher have intervened? It’s an appealing what-if, isn’t it?

Take for instance the piece that appeared yesterday in Salon, where Sarah Hepola interviews a psychiatrist, Dr. E. Fuller Torrey, on the probability that Loughner has untreated paranoid schizophrenia:

Hepola: … What do you do when you see someone like this?

That’s the $64 million question. Among his classmates, if you took all the information known about him and looked at it together, you’d say this guy is potentially dangerous. But one classmate saw one thing, another classmate saw another. The college apparently had enough information to know this guy should be off the campus if he didn’t get mental help. They knew people were purposefully sitting by the door so they could run fast in case this guy did something. This guy clearly struck people as dangerous.

In Arizona the laws are fairly liberal compared to other states. In lots of states the only way you could act on this is if he had demonstrated dangerousness to self or others. But in Arizona, it would have been legal to involuntarily take him to the clinic and have him evaluated. People don’t do this much, because we’re very concerned about people’s civil rights. How do you weigh the fears of a college atmosphere against the civil rights of the individual — an individual who will go in and say, “Look, I might be a little strange, but there’s nothing really wrong with me”?

That’s a key question. Did the college behave properly? Should the school have mandated some sort of mental health treatment for him, rather than kicking him out?

Legally, they could have. Whether they should have or not depends on who had what information and what it looked like at the time. The retrospect-o-scope is a hundred percent.

Exactly. The people around Loughner had only piecemeal information, the impact of which is “obvious” only now that we know how the story ends.

But that’s not the only problem colleges face. For one thing, the actual contact hours a professor has with students are pretty limited. I typically see a student four hours per week (unless they’re taking more than one class with me, the poor dears!). Loughner gave off enough scary vibes that the instructor reported him and the college ejected him until he got treatment. That didn’t happen at Virginia Tech, where as far as I know just one instructor was alarmed enough by Seung-Hui Cho to advise him to seek counseling.

In my eight years of teaching, I’ve had a handful of students who were disruptive of classroom dynamics. There was one guy I considered my “mini-MRA,” who belligerently challenged every idea I presented, but also seemed to think he could kiss up to me by calling me repeatedly at home. Another apparently aspired to become Jonah Goldberg’s clone. But I’ve only had one who gave me an intensely uncomfortable vibe. He talked about how people thought ill of him because he liked to wear a trenchcoat, just like the Columbine shooters. I spotted him again on campus about five years after I’d taught him, and I wondered if he’d had to stop out for mental health reasons. As a new instructor back in 2002, I just thought he was creepy and eccentric. Today, in the post-Virginia Tech era, I’d probably consult with a campus counselor.

But actually reporting someone isn’t a simple matter. Will the student retaliate once he’s put under a microscope? One of my graduate advisers was stalked for many months by a former student, and she had only given him the low grade he’s earned. Loughner, too, acted out when he didn’t get the grade he wanted:

Even in his gym classes, there were problems. In May, the police were called by Mr. Loughner’s Pilates instructor, Patricia Curry, who said she felt intimidated after a confrontation over the B grade she wanted to give him. She said he had become “very hostile” upon learning about her intention. “She spoke with him outside the classroom and felt it might become physical,” the police report said.

Ms. Curry told the police she would not feel comfortable teaching Mr. Loughner without an officer in the area, and the officers stayed to keep watch over the Pilates class until the class ended.

Ms. Curry must have been alarmed indeed to call the police. In her place, I’d be even more frightened about retaliation after class.

The danger of retaliation would be great if the student weren’t treated or didn’t adhere to his treatment. My university does offer psychological services, but they’re woefully understaffed. Severely depressed students are routinely told to wait a month until they can see a therapist qualified to prescribe medications. This has occurred even when the student was suicidal, and said so. Multiple students have told me that they sought help and endured a long wait to get in, only to find they had no rapport with their assigned counselor. One rape survivor told me her sessions were downright counterproductive. Much of the counseling is provided by graduate students. The experienced therapists are quite good, I think, but they’re far too few in number.

Pima College, where Loughner took classes, provides no mental health services. It has over 68,000 students. Much of Loughner’s behavior was bizarre rather than threatening – for example, insisting that the number 6 was actually 18. I can understand why they Pima expelled him but didn’t petition to have him involuntarily committed.

One of the New York Times articles makes the argument that colleges can keep a closer eye on troubled students if they remain enrolled. That’s true as long as students are in dorms. (Incidentally, the same holds true for substance abuse problems.) But when a student lives off campus, we cannot expect an instructor – who in community colleges may teach four or more classes – to keep tabs on a student she sees only four or five contact hours per week. Pima is not a residential school. Did I mention it has 68,000+ students?

It’s striking that no one is asking why Loughner’s former restaurant employers didn’t call in the state. Or why the dog shelter where he volunteered didn’t so the same. Or the Army! All of these entities recognized that Loughner had serious issues. The Army rejected him for having a drug arrest. Quiznos fired him for bizarrely refusing to respond to a customer, and his manage recognized a “personality change.” At the shelter, he exposed puppies to parvovirus after being clearly told to keep them out of a contaminated area. But the New York Times is not asking why these entities didn’t intervene.

I think the difference is that Americans still expect colleges to operate in loco parentis. Even residential colleges haven’t really borne that responsibility – or wielded that power – since the 1960s. We no longer have housemothers and curfews. Young people 18 and older aren’t legally children. Universities can’t act like their parents. Especially when the student is still living at home with his parents.

I don’t want to indulge in blaming Loughner’s parents. His father is reportedly an unpleasant fellow. They still deserve pity and compassion. They have lost their only son forever.

But we surely cannot expect an underfunded, overgrown community college to stand in for his parents, either.

Read Full Post »

I cannot talk about Christina Taylor Green without starting to cry.

My kids are too old to be sheltered from terrible news. And so I have to talk to them about it. We have been talking about the Tuscon massacre since the weekend, in small doses, with as much reassurance as I can muster. It’s not enough.

Tonight we watched the memorial together. The Bear, who’s eleven, said, “It’s important.” He wanted to watch. The Tiger, who’s seven, wanted to be near us, too, though he was playing with rubberbands and flipping through books and asking when we could watch Simon’s Cat again.

The Bear started to cry when the image of Phyllis Schneck came on screen, as Obama talked about her quilting and churchgoing. “The pictures make them real, Mama,” he said. I think she may have reminded him of his grandma.

When Obama’s speech turned to Christina Taylor Green, I broke down, too. Then Obama said:

I want us to live up to her expectations. I want our democracy to be as good as Christina imagined it. I want America to be as good as she imagined it. All of us – we should do everything we can to make sure this country lives up to our children’s expectations.

I squeezed the Bear’s hand. He squeezed back and said, “Yes! But something terrible shouldn’t have to happen before we get better.”

Indeed.

Read Full Post »

It’s not the Tucson Tragedy, as MSNBC keeps terming it. This was a fucking assassination attempt. I’d hope our ostensibly liberal cable news station would call it what it is.

Anthony McCarthy (at Echidne’s place) criticized this trope as soon as it emerged. I’d add that a tragedy is an event that was inevitable because of someone’s personal flaws or their star-crossed destinies. (Think: Romeo and Juliet, not Lee Harvey Oswald.) This was not just a crime, as Anthony so rightly states. It was a political crime. It was an assassination attempt.

Yes, the alleged gunman seems to be deeply disturbed, but that in itself is an incomplete explanation. Why did he fixate on political figures? What fed his paranoia about the government?

In the town next to mine, there lives an intelligent young man who believes that the government (the CIA?) has implanted a chip in his brain and is attempting to control him. He’s been in and out of inpatient mental care. When he’s out, he occasionally emails all of his acquaintances about the government’s nefarious plots, and he regularly calls into a local talk radio show. (I know this because regular Kittywampus commenter Hydraargyrum listens occasionally to said show, and my husband is on the email distribution list.)

This man has never threatened anyone, as far as I know. I also fully recognize that the vast majority of mentally ill people will never pose a danger. My point, rather, is that disturbed people don’t live in a vacuum. They inhabit the same culture as the rest of us. They soak up the political atmosphere. When the climate is charged with hate, paranoia, racism, and kneejerk pro-gun rhetoric, that’s what they’re likely to imbibe. Living in Arizona, a state famous of late for its institutionalized hostility toward immigrants, Jared Loughner was liable to absorb all of these toxins.

When I heard about the assassination attempt late on Saturday, William Manchester’s description of Dallas in fall 1963 shimmered in my recollection. I’d read the passage in Vanity Fair a few weeks ago:

“In that third year of the Kennedy presidency,” Manchester wrote, “a kind of fever lay over Dallas country. Mad things happened. Huge billboards screamed, ‘Impeach Earl Warren.’ Jewish stores were smeared with crude swastikas.…Radical Right polemics were distributed in public schools; Kennedy’s name was booed in classrooms; corporate junior executives were required to attend radical seminars.” A retired major general ran the American flag upside down, deriding it as “the Democrat flag.” A wanted poster with J.F.K.’s face on it was circulated, announcing “this man is Wanted” for—among other things—“turning the sovereignty of the US over to the Communist controlled United Nations” and appointing “anti-Christians … aliens and known Communists” to federal offices. And a full-page advertisement had appeared the day of the assassination in The Dallas Morning News accusing Kennedy of making a secret deal with the Communist Party; when it was shown to the president, he was appalled. He turned to Jacqueline, who was visibly upset, and said, “Oh, you know, we’re heading into nut country today.”

Manchester discovered that in a wealthy Dallas suburb, when told that President Kennedy had been murdered in their city, the students in a fourth-grade class burst into applause. …

(The whole article, which appeared in October 2009, is worth a read, though off-topic for this post. Andrew Sullivan also posted a version of this passage on his blog.)

Like Lee Harvey Oswald, Jared Loughner can’t be easily pegged to a coherent political philosophy. Oswald had communist sympathies, but his attempt to defect foundered when he discovered he didn’t much enjoy the Soviet way of life. I’m not credulous enough to believe that the Warren Commission uncovered the whole truth, but it seems hard to dispute their conclusion that “His deep-rooted resentment of all authority which was expressed in a hostility toward every society in which he lived …” Similarly, Loughner’s YouTube rantings seem to revolve around anti-authority, anti-government sentiments, many of them obviously delusional. Loughner seems to be of no organized political party – but if you think the government is controlling our minds through grammar, Loughner is just your guy.

Obviously the Tea Party is not fixated on grammar. Nor is Glen Beck. Ditto, even more obviously, for Sarah Palin. (Hmm … The grammatical deficits or wingnuts: coincidence, or a defense against mind control?)

However, they and the other new American reactionaries (one can’t fairly call them conservatives) have plenty of nasty things to say about how government wants to control our lives.

American reactionaries also have broken new ground in bringing weapons to political rallies. When that taboo was broached in August 2009, I thought that violence was inevitable. Dave Neiwert, who has been sounding the alarm on eliminationist rhetoric for far longer, has reconstructed specific threats aimed at Gabrielle Giffords, including a gun found at one of her previous public appearances.

We’re in the midst of a cultural struggle for how to understand and frame this event. I’m still trying to shut up and listen, instead of blogging my every passing thought. (Hence I’m only getting to my “initial thoughts” two days later, which for a trained historian is actually light-speed.) I think all of us should refrain from snap judgments. I’m prepared to be persuaded by good arguments that Loughner had no political motives whatsoever.

If, however, the wingnut narrative – “He’s just a whackjob!” – prevails, hate speech will continue unabated. It will continue to shape the worldviews of disturbed individuals. And violence will again be inevitable.

My heart goes out to the victims and their loved ones.

The least we owe them is to put an end to our climate of hate.

And while we’re at it, let’s finally adopt sane gun laws, starting with mandatory nationwide background checks and a ban on the ammo for guns like the one Loughner used.

(In case you haven’t seen this – not all of my students had – here is the graphic that Sarah Palin has now removed from her Facebook page. Note that one of the crosshairs targeted Gabby Giffords. Even if Loughner never saw it, this is still vile, eliminationist hate speech.)

Update, 1:20 a.m., 11 January 2011: Rachel Maddow just had a terrific discussion of the different types of assassins – including those with incoherent political motives – with my favorite senator, Sherrod Brown. Watch:

Update, 12:50 p.m., 12 January 2011: Eric Boehlert at Media Matters has an excellent piece on “the right’s rising tide of violent rhetoric.” Essential reading. Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center offers a sober, balanced assessment of Loughner’s incoherent ideology that suggests Loughner’s most salient belief is a “‘smash the state’ attitude.”

Read Full Post »

I haven’t blogged about Julian Assange and Wikileaks because I’ve been trying to understand before I judge. I’m still not willing to offer any final judgment on the rape allegations against Assange. That’s for a Swedish court of law to do, assuming that he’s extradited and the prosecution continues to press its case.

I feel confident about three things, though. If the Guardian’s article presents a good approximation of the facts, some sort of sexual assault occurred. (I’m well aware that Assange disputes his accusers’ accounts, and he deserves a chance to rebut them in court if formal charges are brought.) Secondly, anyone who dismisses the women’s accusations out of hand is out of line – and that goes doubly for feminists, who have every reason to know better. Lastly, even if the accusations never lead to a conviction, Assange is still an insufferable egotist who treats women like crap. That’s not a crime but it does raise questions about whether the left should continue to lionize him as a hero.

As I’ve already stated, I support what Wikileaks is trying to do. But as many other feminists have already argued, we can support its mission without preemptively assuming that Julian Assange is innocent of sexual assault. We don’t have to assume he’s guilty, either. We can instead support due process for Assange (including his right to bail) while also insisting that his accusers be treated respectfully, their allegations investigated, and their privacy protected. Or as Jill at Feministe said: “Seriously, we can chew gum and walk at the same time.” Seriously!

It’s still not clear what charges will be filed against Assange. Indeed, it’s still possible that Swedish prosecutors will decide the case is too difficult to win in court and decline to press charges. In that case, Assange just might be better off in Sweden than in Britain; should the U.S. cook up a brand-new crime and try to extradite Assange, I suspect Sweden would be less likely to cooperate than would Britain, with its “special relationship” to the U.S.

* * * * *

For the sake of conjecture, let us say that events transpired as described by the Guardian. Let us, for the sake of fairness, assume that the defendant is a fictional character we’ll call Albino Aussie. This lets us run a thought experiment without prejudging the actual real-world case. We will assume for this experiment that the women’s accounts are factual. In the real world, of course, the male protagonist disputes their statements, and we don’t have his side of the story. That would matter crucially in a court of law. The intent of my little thought experiment is more modest: to ask whether the alleged actions constitute sexual assault.

[The account of Miss A.] to police, which [Albino Aussie] disputes, stated that he began stroking her leg as they drank tea, before he pulled off her clothes and snapped a necklace that she was wearing. According to her statement she “tried to put on some articles of clothing as it was going too quickly and uncomfortably but Assange ripped them off again”. Miss A told police that she didn’t want to go any further “but that it was too late to stop Assange as she had gone along with it so far”, and so she allowed him to undress her.

According to the statement, Miss A then realised he was trying to have unprotected sex with her. She told police that she had tried a number of times to reach for a condom but Assange had stopped her by holding her arms and pinning her legs. The statement records Miss A describing how Assange then released her arms and agreed to use a condom, but she told the police that at some stage Assange had “done something” with the condom that resulted in it becoming ripped, and ejaculated without withdrawing.

(Source: The Guardian)

Ripping off clothing is standard fare in romance novels. It could be good fun in an established relationship where one partner knows for sure that their partner would like to be ravished in this way. But with no discussion about desires and predilections? Albino Aussie made some major assumptions. Once Miss A. started to put her clothes back on, he had a stop signal – a flashing red light – and he chose to ignore it. (Also, Albino Aussie was a complete asshole to wreck her necklace. Not a crime, but that would have been a deal-breaker for me.)

His attempt to keep her from grabbing a condom is not sexy by any standard. It’s coercive. By itself, it doesn’t constitute sexual assault, but it could be significant if it signaled his intent and he then did “something” deliberately to break the condom, as Miss A. alleges. Criminal intent (mens rea) is a key element in sexual assault law in the United States (except for statutory rape), and it would be surprising if it were irrelevant in Sweden.

Similarly, Albino Aussie ran roughshod over the insistence of the second complainant, Miss W., that he wear a condom:

Miss W told police that though they started to have sex, Assange had not wanted to wear a condom, and she had moved away because she had not wanted unprotected sex. [Albino Aussie] had then lost interest, she said, and fallen asleep. However, during the night, they had both woken up and had sex at least once when “he agreed unwillingly to use a condom”.

Early the next morning, Miss W told police, she had gone to buy breakfast before getting back into bed and falling asleep beside Assange. She had awoken to find him having sex with her, she said, but when she asked whether he was wearing a condom he said no. “According to her statement, she said: ‘You better not have HIV’ and he answered: ‘Of course not,’ ” but “she couldn’t be bothered to tell him one more time because she had been going on about the condom all night. She had never had unprotected sex before.”

(Source: The Guardian)

Note that Miss W. never consented to sex without a condom. In fact, she was adamant that she would refuse consent to unprotected penetrative sex. Nothing changed between the evening and the morning, except that Albino Aussie chose to ignore the critical conditions on which her consent was premised.

Whether any of Albino Aussie’s actions constitute “rape” will depend on the specifics of Swedish law. But there’s every reason to understand them as sexual assault of some form, even if they don’t rise to the standard of rape. He violated the conditions of consent that Miss W. had explicitly and repeatedly stated as a categorical prerequisite to sex. He initiated sex while she was sleeping and could not possibly say no. While the Guardian doesn’t specify the exact type of sex, it’s reasonable to assume PIV since she responded that he’d better not have HIV.

In the case of Miss A., Albino Aussie violated her conditions of consent by ejaculating inside her without protection. (If he was unaware that the condom broke – which is unlike if, as Miss A. claims, he ripped it himself – Swedish law might still allow prosecution on the basis of recklessness, though again I’m speculating since there’s precious little info on Swedish law.) He also ignored her clear signal to slow down and check in with her when she began to dress herself again in the midst of their encounter – an action that obviously signals NO.

To my mind, the clearest-cut example of sexual assault here is the allegation that he had sex with a sleeping woman. She could not possibly consent. What’s more, his decision to have unprotected sex clearly violated the terms of consent that she’d insisted on all night long. No way could he reasonably assume he was giving her something she wanted. (Jill at Feministe has a great analysis of the limits and nuances of consent; she wrote it before the Guardian piece appeared, but her basic points are still relevant. Plus, she’s a real lawyer … and I’m not even a fake one.)

Again, we don’t know what happened. But the substance of the allegations amounts to much more than “sex by surprise” (whatever that might be!). The allegations definitely fall on the spectrum of sexual assault. Everything else that allegedly happened – the fact that Miss A. let her guest continue to sleep in her apartment, partied with him, didn’t contact the police for days – is immaterial, if indeed events went down as she and Miss W. described them.

The allegations are not atypical for date rape cases. As a professor and as a feminist, I hear too many stories from students that echo elements of this case: the desire to normalize things the next morning, pressure to keep the social fabric intact by keeping accusations private, fear of character assassination if one does report, reluctance to label one’s experience as rape instead of – as Miss A. called it – “the worst sex ever.” (That last point is borne out by research done by Arnie Kahn, who found that many college-aged are reluctant to call nonconsensual sex “assault” if the perpetrator is a friend or lover. See Arnie S. Kahn, “What College Women Do and Do Not Experience as Rape,” Psychology of Women Quarterly 28 (2004), 9-15.)

* * * * *

Feminists who’ve worked with college students and rape survivors should be aware of all this. And yet … Naomi Wolf is not. Or more likely, she chooses to repress what she knows, because she so fiercely wants Assange to be able to continue his work with Wikileaks. Here’s Wolf (in the HuffPo):

I see that Julian Assange is accused of having consensual sex with two women, in one case using a condom that broke.

Um, no. Compare with the accusations above. In the second instance, the allegation is that the sex was not consensual, because Miss W. had not consented to barebacking, and she had no opportunity to say yes or no while she was sleeping.

More Wolf:

I understand, from the alleged victims’ complaints to the media, that Assange is also accused of texting and tweeting in the taxi on the way to one of the women’s apartments while on a date, and, disgustingly enough, ‘reading stories about himself online’ in the cab.

Um, no. Self-centered texting is not among the allegations. I’m no expert in Swedish law, but I don’t think they’ve outlawed egotism yet. Just file this nugget away for the last part of this post (on why Assange is a douche).

Wolf expanded on her flippant HuffPo piece in an interview with Amy Goodman, which also included Jaclyn Friedman. Wolf said one thing I agree with: We do need to expect women to behave as “moral adults.” Sure. We cannot expect men to simply intuit a woman’s every wish. But Wolf didn’t stop there:

If you read these allegations, he took off Miss A’s clothes too quickly for her comfort. She tried to tell him to slow down, but then, quote, “she allowed him to undress her.” This is what the report says. The second woman says she woke to find him having sex with her. When she asked whether he was wearing a condom, he said no. Quote, “According to her statement, she said: ‘You better not have HIV.'” He answered, “Of course not.” Quote, “She couldn’t be bothered to tell him one more time because she had been going on about the condom all night. She had never had unprotected sex before.”

So, if you’re going to treat women as moral adults and if you’re going to take the issue of rape seriously, the person who’s engaging in what he thinks is consensual sex has to be told, “I don’t want this.” And again and again and again, these women did not say, “This is not consensual.” Assange was shocked when these were brought up as complaints, because he had no idea that this was not a consensual situation. Miss A kept Assange in her home for the next four days and threw a party for him.

Thing is, the women did say and signal: “I don’t want this.” At some point, both of them gave up on him getting the memo. But dang it, Assange – or “Albino Aussie,” if you will – had every opportunity to see the yellow and red cards the women were pulling. And instead of saying, “OK, being ravished is not your thing – so what would really turn you on?” he just keeps going on autopilot, ripping bodices until Miss A. gives up resistance. Instead of asking, “Should we do something else, since I only want to fuck bareback?” he waits until Miss W. is sleeping and slips it to her against her express wishes.

These women did act as moral adults. They delineated their boundaries. They tried to negotiate a satisfying, sexy experience for both partners. They said and signaled no to activities they found disturbing or unacceptable. According to their allegations, he drove a bulldozer over their moral agency.

How many times should a woman have to say no for it to count?

A final beef with Wolf: In the Democracy Now interview, she insinuates that only violent stranger rape is real rape:

In 23 years, I’ve never seen any man in any situation this ambiguous, involving this much consent, have any kind of legal process whatsoever. And all over the world, women who have been gang-raped, brutally raped, raped in alleyways, pimped, prostituted, trafficked, you know, their rapists go free.

Yeah, well, most rapists will never be convicted. But does the existence of violent stranger rape make date rape irrelevant, trivial, or harmless? Wolf and I are almost exactly the same age. It was our generation of college students that first started talking about date rape in the mid-1980s. Wolf knows that date rape is real rape. Just a few years ago Wolf accused Professor Harold Bloom groped her inner thigh back when she was an undergrad. That might not have been a case of sexual assault, but it was at least sexual harassment. No trafficking or gang-rape occurred, yet Wolf saw fit to publish the incident in New York Magazine. I’m not saying she was wrong to do so, only that she seems to have lost her compass since then. How else to explain her assertion that Assange and Miss W. were “making love”? (She said it in her Amy Goodman interview, at 5:27 – sorry, no transcript.)

It’s not just Wolf who’s twisting herself into pretzels to defend Assange. AnnaAnastasia at Shakesville directs us to Laurie Essig’s essay at The Chronicle of Higher Education. Titled “Assange, Morality, and Desire,” it’s remarkably devoid of morality. Instead, Essig – a a sociology professor at Middlebury – is channeling some combo of Norman Mailer, Philip Roth, and Harlequin romances:

One can imagine the summer air in Stockholm, ripe with possibilities, seducing Mr. Assange into  thinking it was a good idea to hop into bed with his host, known as Ms. A in the court papers, and then hopping into the bed of one of his fans, Ms. W, just a few days later.

Essig doesn’t even try to make Assange into a moral actor. He’s giddy with optimism, opportunity, and the seductive air of Stockholm. Potential entrepreneurs, take note: there’s an untapped market for bottling Swedish air and selling it to frustrated men (the Seduction Community might buy in bulk). Poor Assange was defenseless; he was seduced, perhaps even entrapped, by Swedish women who, Essig suggests, subscribe to a moral code that is wholly foreign to an Australian man.

While Essig initially concedes that Assange is charged with”having sex without a condom (without full consent of the women),” she backpedals a moment later:

And while Sweden might consider having sex without a condom against the law, most countries do not.  Perhaps more confusing is the issue of consent. Although this young woman clearly found being taken while asleep upsetting, some women would be turned on by being the object of that much desire.

This is pure disingenuity. Essig has just noted that the problem is a lack of full consent, not laws against barebacking. She damn well knows better! What’s so “confusing” about consent here? Consent to one sex act doesn’t imply consent to another. Just as consent to vaginal sex doesn’t imply consent to anal sex, consent to safer sex doesn’t imply consent to condomless sex.

As for being “taken while asleep” – in a longer-term relationship, partners might let each other know they’d welcome sleep sex. To just presume it? When it’s your first time hooking up? When your only real communication revealed your incompatible expectations vis-a-vis condoms? That’s more than just stupid and presumptuous. That’s rape.

Then again, Essig seems to consider “date rape” to be something quite distinct from “rape.” Channeling Whoopie Goldberg, Essig digs herself in even deeper in a follow-up post:

Based on what we do know, I do not think Assange is guilty of rape.  I am not sure whether he is guilty of date rape, but if he is, then the date rape is incredibly murky since no one seems to have been drugged or beaten or even particularly coerced.

So if Miss W. had taken drugs before sleeping, then Essig might entertain the possibility of “date rape”? I can only imagine how she might respond when her students report having been raped. “No roofies? No worry! Just be more careful next time … and remember, some women get off on lack of consent.”

Essig wants us to understand that sex is messy and complicated. She strikes the pose of a sophisticated libertine, a connoisseur of heterosexual behavior. Essig teaches classes on heterosexuality – but in her essay, she offers up a vision of female heterosexuality that’s cartoonish, not complex:

According to press reports, Assange held one of the women down in a sexual manner.  Yes, and many women like that.  Assange started having sex while one woman was sleeping.  Yes, that too some women like.  Because people like all sorts of things—clothes being ripped off, dirty threats whispered in their ears, even somewhat violent sexual encounters.  Not everyone likes these things, but many, many people do.  Clearly someone in Assange’s past sexual encounters thought it was a turn on or at least didn’t think it was rape.  That’s why he was doing it.  Is that gross?  Sure.  Is all sex gross when you’re not the one doing it?  Pretty much.  Is it rape if the woman doesn’t wake up and say “Stop” and “No, I don’t want that”?

Many (most?) heterosexual women will cop to some un-PC desires. Fantasies about non-consent are quite common – among hetero men as well as women. But when we go beyond fantasy, the desire to submit and be ravished is virtually always predicated on consent. Partners can ethically incorporate violent activities, even “nonconsensual” scenes, into their sex lives – if they negotiate. If they agree on a safe word. If they consent in advance, with an option to bail if the scene goes wrong. Two people who disagree on whether a condom must be used are in a whole ‘nother universe than partners who communicate their edgier desires. Essig surely ought to know all this too.

After all, Essig teaches in Women’s and Gender Studies as well as sociology.

* * * * *

Even though I think the allegations are serious and credible, I’m still not committing myself to the “Assange must be guilty camp.” I do think that if the two women set out to smear him, they would have constructed a much smoother story. Someone setting a premeditated trap would have avoided the details that Essig and Wolf find damning, such as Miss A. continuing to host Assange in her home, or Miss. W. giving him a ride the next morning. They would have continued to say no throughout the encounters. They would have called the police immediately and filed sexual assault charges, instead of just demanding Assange take an STD test. In short, they would have sought to fit the ideal of how a sexual assault victim ought to act, rather than behaving in the way that actual survivors often act – confused, trying to not to make waves socially, and unsure what to call their experience.

Does that make Assange guilty? No. I would want to hear Assange’s side before drawing any conclusions.

What we do hear from and about Assange doesn’t exactly cover him in glory, though. He comes across as a user and a sponger. Given that he now draws an income from Wikileaks, why did he keep squatting in Miss A.’s  apartment even when she moved into a friend’s place to avoid him? Why did he apparently have Miss W. pay for his train tickets to and from her home? (He told her he had no cash and feared being tracked by his credit card – a thin excuse for a guy who was easily trackable via his public speaking schedule in Sweden.) How narcissistic do you have to be to immerse yourself in online stories about yourself even as you’re trying to get laid? Why did he order Miss W. to bring him orange juice (as Essig reports)? Couldn’t he pour his own damn juice?

And why didn’t he just get the STD tests? He claimed that Miss W.’s demand for testing was “blackmail,” but it’s a pretty reasonable request, given how open he was about his predilection for barebacking. If he’d agreed, the whole matter would probably never have come to the prosecutor’s attention.

The interview Assange granted the BBC last week hints at the answers to these questions. Here are a couple of especially prime slices:

Q: You do see yourself as a martyr here.

JA: Well, you know, in a very beneficial position, if you can be martyred without dying. And we’ve had a little bit of that over the past ten days. And if this case goes on, we will have more. …

Q: But you haven’t denied having sex with those women?

JA: No, I haven’t denied that.

Q: So you did have sex with those women?

JA: I have always tried in this case and in my other dealings to be a private person and to not speak about matters that are private.

Q: This is now public. So I’m asking you the question. Did you have sex with those women?

JA: It’s a matter of public record as far as the courts are concerned but I am not going to be exposing other people’s private lives or my own more than is absolutely necessary. That is not what a gentleman does, that why I have also never criticised these women. We don’t know precisely what pressures they have been under, exactly. There are powerful interests that have incentives to promote these smears. That doesn’t mean that they got in there in the very beginning and fabricated them. …

Q: The allegation against you, the very broad allegation that’s been made over and over again in the media over recent days is that you’re some sort of sexual predator who has sex with a large number of young women, ideally without a condom, and that you do it because you can, effectively, because in some cases they’re groupies or they’re enthralled to your fame or whatever it is. Are you a sexual predator?

JA: That’s ridiculous. Of course not.

Q: How many women have you slept with?

JA: That’s a private business. Not only does a gentleman not tell, not only does a gentleman like to talk about his private life, a gentleman certainly doesn’t count.

Q: Many, without being specific?

JA: I’ve never had a problem before with women. Women have been extremely helpful and generous.

Q: Not quite the question I asked you.

JA: No, women have been extremely helpful and generous and put up with me. But…

Q: Does put up with you mean having you in their beds?

JA: Of course on occasion, I mean I’m an adult man, but women have been generous to me over many years.

(Read the full BBC interview here. Ellipses are mine except for the one in Assange’s second-to-last statement.)

Of course, a gentleman wouldn’t argue when his partner insisted on a condom. That’s what a foolhardy narcissist does.

A gentleman might not keep count of his lovers, but then again, a gentleman would keep some mad money in his pocket, so as not to mooch train fares off his lovers. A gentleman gives as well as takes. Relying on women to be “generous”? That’s what a sponger does.

Also, a gentleman doesn’t relish martyrdom. That’s a role better suited for a someone with a messiah complex.

In a profile of Assange as a dark-hatted hacker, Bruce Sterling calls him a sociopath. I don’t see proof of that. But a wannabe martyr? A cheapskate mooch? A narcissist? An exploiter of groupies? A misogynist with no understanding of women? An antifeminist who says “Sweden is the Saudi Arabia of feminism”? A jet-setting, globe-trotting, world-class douche? I think the evidence is in.

None of this makes Assange guilty of sexual assault. But it does indicate that Assange has some grave character issues. He’s too self-centered to earn my trust – too entitled and narcissistic. The Wikileaks organization would be better served with a leader driven more by public interest than by self-interest.

Read Full Post »

A couple of weeks ago, while trying to understand why body scanners are ineffectual, I found this great clip. Trouble is, it’s in German. Now, I could fix this, because I’ve done a fair amount of professional translating, German to English. But more trouble ahead: We were heading into final exams, and I know how much time it would take to insert the subtitles, having done it once before. I figured I might tackle it after I finished grading, even though the main expert’s Bavarian accent is atrocious.

Now that my grades are in, I found the same clip via Clarissa’s Blog – this time with English subtitles. They contain more infelicities than if a pro had done the job, but the translation is perfectly serviceable. (When they say “plaster,” they mean “band-aid,” in American English.) I’m pretty confident the translation isn’t Clarissa’s, but we owe a debt of thanks to this person (I suspect a native German speaker) who took the time to do a conscientious job.

In any event, you will understand more than enough to be alarmed.

This, folks, is why we could double our national debt investing in these scanners and not be appreciably safer.

(Go here if you cannot see the clip.)

If any of my chemist readers is itching to pen a guest post on thermite, I will gladly publish it. (I know there’s at least one of you out there!)

The scanners are, of course, only part of the problem. Another loophole could allow a bad guy to sneak through 24 ounces of Evildoer’s Goo (thermite specifically? I dunno).  Jeff Goldberg recounts this three-way rendezvous between himself, security über-guru Bruce Schneier, and a TSO in Minnepoo:

We took our shoes off and placed our laptops in bins. Schneier took from his bag a 12-ounce container labeled “saline solution.”

“It’s allowed,” he said. Medical supplies, such as saline solution for contact-lens cleaning, don’t fall under the TSA’s three-ounce rule.

“What’s allowed?” I asked. “Saline solution, or bottles labeled saline solution?”

“Bottles labeled saline solution. They won’t check what’s in it, trust me.”

They did not check. As we gathered our belongings, Schneier held up the bottle and said to the nearest security officer, “This is okay, right?” “Yep,” the officer said. “Just have to put it in the tray.”

“Maybe if you lit it on fire, he’d pay attention,” I said, risking arrest for making a joke at airport security. (Later, Schneier would carry two bottles labeled saline solution—24 ounces in total—through security. An officer asked him why he needed two bottles. “Two eyes,” he said. He was allowed to keep the bottles.)

(Read the rest here; it’s hysterical, precious, and horrifying, all at once.)

See? If it says saline, it must be saline! And not thermite!

Wherever the new scanners are coming online, they actually intensify an existing threat: that of a bomb aimed at passengers being shepherded toward the security checkpoint. Even if only 20% of flyers are directed to the scanners, without any opt-outs or false alarms – well, that’s enough to slow the lines noticeably. In busy airports, the waiting times will balloon, as will the crowds, once the new scanners become more routinely used. They’re simply slower than the old magnetometer.

Schneier makes this point in the Goldberg piece just cited: we’re creating sitting ducks. In the Thanksgiving edition of the New York Times, Roger Cohen channels Osama bin Laden in a busy U.S. airport and observes:

bin Laden might also wonder at just how stupid it is to assemble huge crowds at the Transportation Security Administration’s airport checkpoints, as if hundreds of people on planes were the only hundreds of people who make plausible targets for terrorists.

Feeling safer yet?

So far Germany, at least, isn’t squandering its money on naked body scanners. But then, its watchdog media (ZDF is a publicly supported TV network) are actually doing their job right.

And really … if the intent of the grope-down was to save us from the underpants bomber, why weren’t “enhanced patdowns” implemented way back in early January 2010, when our memory of him (and our gullibility) had just hit another local maximum? After all, that’s when Chertoff traversed the airwaves to sing the praises of Rapiscan technology. “Enhanced patdowns” are a better bet than the scanner for actually catching the next underpants bombers (though I’m positive there won’t be a clone; next up will be the booty-bomb.)

Of course, I’m not defending the grope-downs. Not at all! I’m just pointing out that the timing of their introduction had nothing to do with “homeland security,” as it has been sold to us. It had everything to do with the first major rollout of the naked body scanners, however. They were a punitive means of guaranteeing compliance and organizational efficiency from the flying herds of American sheeple. Otherwise, we would have gotten the grope back in January, for sure.

Read Full Post »

Best Thanksgiving song ever? “Alice’s Restaurant.” Hands down.

(Then again, I can’t think of another T-day song except for “Over the River and through the Woods,” which was written by another kick-ass American dissident, Lydia Maria Child, who fought for the rights of slaves, Indians, and women. Her song wasn’t political – unless I’m missing a subtext – but I do want to know more about her.)

If you don’t know “Alice’s Restaurant” – or if you haven’t listened in a while – here’s Arlo Guthrie playing it a few years ago, with scenes from the “Alice’s Restaurant” movie interspersed. (The original lyrics are here, but Arlo updated and edited them a bit for this performance.)

(Click here if you can’t view the clip.)

Astonishingly, my very Republican, anti-hippie, draft-dodger-deprecating dad loved this song. He used to play it on the piano all the time when I was a little kid in the early 1970s. My sibs and I would sing along and dance. Only later did I read all the spoken-part lyrics and wonder: what’s a father-raper? By then I was maybe twelve and able to plunk the tune out myself on the piano. I was also abundantly old to realize my dad was not a good person to ask.

“Alice’s Restaurant” has been running through my head the past week or so, and it’s not just in honor of Thanksgiving. I’m thinking it’s time for a new edit of its final lyrics (with apologies to Arlo):

And the only reason I’m singing you this song now is cause you may know somebody in a similar situation, or you may be in a similar situation, or maybe you’re just tryin’ to hop a plane without gettin’ all irradiated and nekkid-scanned. So if you find yourself inspected, detected, infected, neglected and seee-lected for a backscatter scanner,  just sing, “Officer, You can get anything you want, at Alice’s restaurant.” And opt out. You know, if one person, just one person does it they may think he’s really sick and they won’t grope him. And if two people, two people do it, in harmony, they may think they’re batshit and they won’t grope either of them. And three people do it, three, can you imagine, three people walking in singin’ a bar of Alice’s Restaurant and walking out. They may think it’s an organization. And can you, can you imagine fifty people a day, I said fifty people a day walking in singin’ a bar of Alice’s Restaurant and walking out. And friends, they may think it’s a movement.

Maybe it’s not a movement. Maybe it’s just one guy who convinces a couple of other people to opt out.

Or maybe you don’t care about opting out in the airport. Maybe you’re okay with people viewing your, ahem, junk. (Geez, I hate that term as much as I hate “vajayjay!” Now we’re stuck with it!)

Isn’t there something in your life, though, that just has to stop? Isn’t there some occasion that demands you sing a bar of “Alice” and just opt out? (And no, I don’t mean an irritating relative at your Thanksgiving table … though I just learned that my sister’s husband’s father’s third wife conducts training (??!!WTF??!!) for the TSA, so perhaps it’s just as well I missed out on this years family gathering in California, even though I’m aching to be there.)

If you’re ready to sing a bar of “Alice” – well, I’ll join in on the harmony. And I might – just might – sing it solo at the Columbus airport a week from today.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 49 other followers

%d bloggers like this: