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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.

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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)

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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?)

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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.)

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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.

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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.

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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.

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