Sunday, February 7, 2016

Bad Intentions

Mistreating bad people is still mistreating people; and the American system frequently does that.
Garrett Epps "The Nobility of Good Lawyers With Bad Clients"
And I think in that, it's doing exactly what we intend it to do. When Mr. Epps notes that Americans have lived with what describes as the myth that: "The solution to crime, social conflict, and persistent injustice is not reform, not increased democracy and equality, not social improvement—but police, courts, and prisons," he is touching on this. Who wants to make bad people more equal? Who wants to improve their lives? Who wants them to participate more fully in our democracy?

While public officials looking to downplay misconduct in their ranks have begun to alter what it means to have bad apples in one's barrel, the original saying reads as follows: "One bad apple spoils the whole bunch." While this was originally very good advice for keeping fruit fresh, it been taken as a prescription to do away with anyone who finds themselves labelled "bad," and we tend to do so with gusto.

Generally speaking, American society tends to divide lawbreakers, rather arbitrarily, into two broad categories. We can call one of them Robin Hood, and the other Jack the Ripper. Robin Hoods are, unsurprisingly, those people whose breaking of the law we agree with - either because we like that person well enough to give them a pass or because we disagree with the law that was broken to the point where we sanction people placing themselves above it. Jack the Rippers on the other hand, are people we have come to view as a threat. And, as I understand it, we view them as a threat because their breaking the law is not about economic incentives, unmet needs or mental illness, but out of a lack of respect and regard for the rest of us, and the rules that we have put in place. They are, in short, bad people. I've noted before the common refrain we use for young people that "There are no bad children, only bad decisions," and our unwillingness to apply that same logic to adults. And when we start to see people as bad, we don't see them as making bad choices - we often don't see them as capable of choosing at all - they're bad people, and so their default behaviors are going to be bad things. What more needs to be understood?

And once we understand people as bad, from there it's only a short step to "violence is the only language these people understand." Because remember, we've written them off as people who are incapable responding to conditions around them and making rational choices in favor of seeing them basically as animals.

Except for the fact that we tend to have qualms about (visibly) mistreating animals that we don't have about mistreating bad people. And that allows us to put in place a system that makes that mistreatment into a feature, rather than a bug.

Friday, February 5, 2016


I spend a lot of time writing about the things that people do that leave me scratching my head or get on my nerves, despite not wanting my blogging to be simply me complaining about things. So today I'm showing off some miniature painting work done by an acquaintance of mine. Enjoy.

Isn't it amazing what you can do with something only a couple of inches tall?

Monday, February 1, 2016


The following picture was posted to LinkedIn today.

Then I have some prime Montana oceanfront property to sell you - because I'm betting you don't remember the West Coast, either.
Fortunately, we don't have to remember, because Google sees all and knows all, and has plenty of pictures of President Obama hugging uniformed servicemembers. In fact, when you start typing "Obama hugging" into Google, before you even finish, "Obama hugging military" is suggested - even before "Obama hugging Michelle," as in Michelle Obama - the first lady.
The work of about two seconds.
But despite the fact that Google will offer up all of the pictures you could ever want of President Obama hugging men and women in uniform, the posting on LinedIn started attracting comments from people who were positive that the implied accusation, the President Obama didn't care about the military was accurate.

Now I know that for a lot of people, this is evidence of personal or racially-motivated animosity, but I see it simply being partisanship and the self-righteousness that goes with it - the "Everything I needed to know about you, I learned from your party affiliation" school of thought that has been on the rise in the United States over the past couple of decades or so. As it has progressed, this partisanship has become a means of removing moral ambiguity about an otherwise unknown person - in effect, since I know that [Insert Name Here] is a [Insert Opposing Party Affiliation Here], I can intuit from this that he shares none of my commitments to what is good and correct in the world, no matter how outlandish that intuition might be.

As the willingness to separate people into Good and Evil based on their perceived politics grows, it will interfere more and more with out ability to work together. Which is to be expected, and is perhaps inevitable - nations don't last forever, and the United States will be no exception. But the push to hurry the process along seems odd at times.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Knot For You

This is an important question, especially because it frames the cultural pressures surrounding marriage in the right way: Why don't we teach boys that they need to get married, the way we teach this to girls?
Emma Green, "Wealthy Women Can Afford to Reject Marriage, but Poor Women Can't"
I started to mull this question over, asking myself if there had been a time when the people around me sought to teach me that I needed to be married. And as it turns out, I can remember a time when people told me that I should aspire to marriage. But I wasn't a boy at the time. People tried to teach me that I needed to marry when I was an adult - once I had passed into my twenties and hadn't yet started to actively look for someone which whom to "settle down" or "share life with." After it began to dawn on family, and to a lesser extent, friends (and friends of the family) that I wasn't planning on marrying, as everyone had assumed I would, then they began trying to educate my on why I should.

Of course, people understand that once someone has graduated college and moved into the working world on their own, it's a little late for the sort of indoctrination that you can get away with on children. And so the tactics were different - and all over the map. One of my friends challenged my courage, another my capacity for selflessness, an aunt's co-worker framed it as a responsibility I owed to Black women and my father pitched marriage as the answer to having to do my own housework. But it was clear from everyone that I had violated an expectation. (Something I was well aware of. When someone erroneously assumed that I had a girlfriend, I never corrected them - that people found "the idea of nonsexuality more bizarre than deviant sexuality" was quite clear to me.)

In this, we could answer Ms. Green's question as follows: For boys, that they will find marriage to be important, that one day they will need to marry someone, is simply assumed. Everyone expects that, at some point, any given male child will want to find a partner and "settle down," and so there isn't the pressure to specifically set out to teach them this necessity. But that kind of falls flat, because it doesn't answer why we expect boys to gather this via osmosis, yet girls need to have the lesson taught and reinforced over and over.

Using my own experience for this is kind of iffy, because I was child in the 1970s, and even if I could recall all of it clearly, it still be decades removed from the experience of many, but I'm going to take a stab at it. But to do so, I'm going to alter the question a bit. In my understanding, both boys and girls were taught by the society at large that they should one day marry, whether as a rite of passage into adulthood, or just so that people didn't think that there was something wrong with you. What I would say was different about girls was that for them, marriageability also entered into the mix.

When I was a single twenty-something, and everyone had an opinion about the fact that I was unattached and planning to stay that way, it was made quite clear that the ball was in my court. Especially as concerned finding a Black woman to be a partner. All I needed to do was sift through the available offerings, find The Right One, and pop the question. I was the active party, the one who was expected to go out there and chose someone to pursue and/or wed. My understanding of the expectations for women was that they should concern themselves with remaining eligible to be chosen. While my being single was viewed, variously, as something between a quirk and a serious character flaw, it was never viewed as something that fundamentally lowered my suitability as a mate (leaving aside, of course, the simple fact that willingness has something to do with suitability). That particular trait was governed more by the facts that I had a college degree, a job and a car/apartment. But even then, when I was being pressed to complete my Bachelor's degree, find a job, and have a place/car of my own, these were things that were important more for the fact that they marked me as an independent adult - no-one pushed me to finish school because no-one would want to marry me if I didn't.

And so (and I understand that I'm guessing here), I would venture that, at least when I was young, the "need to get married" wasn't taught to girls as an end in itself, but as a proof of worth as individuals and/or women. And although it has that connotation for boys to a degree, what makes men worthwhile as individuals and/or men is based on other things than whether or not a woman would choose to marry one. In that sense, I think that, regardless of what one sees as the economic or personal benefits of marriage, that we're better off dropping how we teach it to girls, rather than broadening it to all children.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

A Loan of an Ax

“Exclusive:” Reads the subtitle of Al Jazeera America’s story on Carly Fiorina, below a smirking image of the former executive. “GOP candidate was paid by Merck at a time when anti-abortion groups criticized company’s vaccine production.”

What follows is a piece that seems to be devoted to making the case that Ms. Fiorina cannot be accurately termed a “pro-life” candidate because, during her time on Merck’s board of directors, the company sold vaccines derived from tissue that came from fetuses aborted in Europe nearly 50 years ago. Okay, I can live with that. But...

Since when is it Al Jazeera’s job to report on a candidate’s anti-abortion bona-fides? And I’m not even sure how this is relevant to anything. By this calculus, anyone who has an investment in or works at Merck cannot be called “pro-life,” because some fractional part of whatever income they derive results from these 1960s stem cell lines. Had Ms. Fiorina come out at some point and said that it was illegitimate to use fetal stem cells or tissue for any purpose, I could see it. But the article doesn’t claim that, and “[Debi] Vinnedge, [executive director of anti-abortion group Children of God for Life] said she believes Fiorina might not have been aware that Merck’s vaccines utilized stem-cell lines derived from aborted fetuses,[...].”

Add to this the swipe that the article takes at Ms. Fiorina over her apparently (wildly) exaggerated description of what was in the videos of discussions between Planned Parenthood personnel, and the whole thing begins to take on the appearance of a strange “bootleggers and Baptists” alliance, where the Al Jazeera reporters help Children of God for Life get out their anti-Fiorina message to pro-life conservatives, while at the same time reminding readers that Ms. Fiorina opposes Planned Parenthood. (Interestingly, the three authors of the piece had no other bylines between them when I checked, and the two of them that I was able to find other information on appear to both be firmly in the Liberal camp, based on their earlier projects.)

One could be forgiven for having forgotten that Ms. Fiorina was still a candidate for the Republican nomination for President of the United States. Coverage of her candidacy has been fairly sparse, at least in the media outlets that I check in on. Which leads me to wonder why anyone would bother with a hatchet job in the first place. Surely there is something more substantive on her campaign to report on than the complaints of a little-known anti-abortion group.