Saturday, September 27, 2014

Object Lesson

There's a photographer who posts on DeviantArt by the name of Marcus J. Ranum. His work is often simply amazing. Back in 2010, he took a stab at exploring the concept of obscenity. Specifically, what makes something obscene and when does it cross the line from "non-obscene." This was the result.

Do-It-Yourself Deviation. Marcus J. Ranum, 2010. URL:
Part of the question that Mr. Ranum expects that viewers would have asked themselves is: "A pretty girl... a meat slicer? Bananas, rope, and medical implements? How do they possibly go together?" And he points out that there's nothing inherently... anything about this photograph. Whatever it is to a viewer, banal, artistic or even obscene, it's all in what they bring to it.

I was looking at this the other day, and a thought occurred to me. It's entirely possible to decide that not all of the items in this photograph actually do go together. A least not all at once. After all, it would be fairly difficult for the model to wear all three pairs of shoes, or both uniforms, at once. So perhaps your Do-it-Yourself Deviation would remove one or more of those things. Of course, if you did that, you could just as easily remove the model herself. At which point I realized that this doesn't have to be a photograph of "a pretty girl and a pile of stuff" it could, really, instead be a photograph of a black beret and a pile of stuff.

And if it is, in addition to illustrating something about how we see obscenity, we can also use this to illustrate how we see objectification, as the model becomes simply another thing in this picture - no more or less important than any other thing. The main point that Mr. Ranum was making, that obscenity is all in your mind (or, if you prefer, your polka-dot undies) would be just as valid, not only with any other model in this picture, but without any model at all. The very interchangeability that is central to anything we encounter being "just an object."

Friday, September 26, 2014

Something Better

It's a common enough complaint: "Too bad [fill in the blank] can't think of anything better to do with the money." It comes up almost every time a wealthy person or institution spends what comes across as a significant amount of money on something that someone could consider frivolous or otherwise unnecessary. But implicit in that criticism is an assumption - that the people who receive the money for the goods and services provided are not doing anything constructive with it either.

One of the issues with many forms of charity is that they do nothing to reduce the need for charity. It's easy to complain that someone who bought, say, a large yacht, would have done the world more good if they had fed some number of people with the money, but does simply feeding people actually help to life people out of poverty? Especially given the fact that here in the United States, we often buy food from relatively well-off farmers (and large agricultural corporations) and have it shipped across the ocean, where one of its main effects is to make it more difficult for local farmers to make a living. But, of course, there is a trade-off - while the people in the area who grow food are hurt by the influx of free food, since many people are net purchasers of food (as otherwise, it's less like that food needs to be imported) the population as a whole may be better off. But, in the long run, if the local farmers had the financial means to become even better farmers, perhaps they would be better able to supply the food needs of the people in their communities.

This not to say that the relatively well-off employees of a company that makes what are effectively a luxury good are at risk of being immediately unemployed if a particular wealthy person doesn't knock on their door to have their precious cat copied. Or that the money they earn from their work will be immediately spent in ways that will benefit impoverished members of their communities. But I don't know that the apparent default assumption - which is that the money that goes most directly to the poorest person it can find is the best spent is necessarily accurate.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Raising the Volume

During both my morning and evening commutes today, I heard news stories in which people were talking about "having their voices heard," and "raising awareness." All of the issues involved were things that I was perfectly aware of and knew many of the major talking points for. And I suspect that I'm not alone in that.

As I understand it, the issue isn't that people don't have a voice, that the general public is unaware or that "the media" is working to distract them with sports and reality television - it's that it's difficult to get people to pay attention to someone else's problems when they understand that they have problems of their own that they need to be dealing with. People don't come home and turn on the "boob tube" because they've been manipulated into it by a shadowy cabal of business and media élites who are living lives of luxury by oppressing the downtrodden and who fear only the righteous anger of the masses. People come home and watch television because, as far as they're concerned, they've had a difficult/long/stressful day and they simply want to unwind or find out what's going on in the world. By the same token, people aren't uninformed about one issue or another because "the media" is constantly waving shiny things in front of them. People are informed about those issues that they aren't interested enough in to do any research on. (And this, of course, presumes that people are uninformed to start with - but in pretty much every single conversation I've had with someone who said "this information is being suppressed, but..." I've known exactly what they were talking about. It's a pretty poorly-kept secret when I'm in the know.)

People aren't "silenced" as much as the rest of us aren't listening. People aren't "unaware" of issues as they are uninterested in them. Given this, simply raising the volume isn't the answer. No matter what one does to drive attention, it's always possible to for others to simply ignore you.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Culture of Terror

  • Video blogger Anita Sarkesian leaves her home after threats are made against her and members of her family by someone who knows where she lives.
  • Rebecca Watson is threatened with being sexually assaulted after disputing the idea that male circumcision is just as harmful as female circumcision.
  • Rhode Island student Jessica Ahlquist receives death threats after filing a lawsuit to have an overtly Christian "banner" removed from the wall of her public high school.
  • San Fransisco technology worker Kevin Rose is threatened with mutilation by people outside his home protesting housing, transportation and income disparities.
  • Members the United States House of Representatives who voted for the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act are harassed. While there are few outright threats of violence (after all, threatening a member of Congress, as opposed to an everyday citizen, carries the threat of prison time), the implication is often there. Angry people also target the siblings of lawmakers.
  • Snohomish, Washington high school student Brett Karch is badly injured firing a cannon at a school function, nearly requiring amputation of his leg. Fearful that the cannonade tradition would be abolished, schoolmates and parents phone the hospital to threaten him with further harm, including the loss of his other leg, if he or his family cooperate with the investigation into the accident.
As I've noted before:
There's some broken bit of the American psyche that revels in the fear and stress caused by threatening to murder those one disagrees with. [...] We, as a nation, have become host to legions of craven bullies, seeking to frighten one another into conformity from the safety of anonymity.
Launching anonymous death threats at people who threaten something that one feels entitled to - or simply make one angry about something, is such a common activity in the modern United States that, in all honestly, it seems that they're hardly worth taking seriously. If the consequences for someone actually deciding to follow through were not so dire, it seems likely that we would simply ignore them entirely, especially given the fact that despite their apparent frequency, it's likely that most threats are made by a relatively small number of people. I, for my part, agree with Josef Joffe when he observes that: "Real terrorists don't write letters; they just kill you."

While the threats against Ms. Sarkesian have captured the attention of the circles that I move in, the fact of the matter remains that being on the receiving end of threats (of assault, rape or murder) is nearly par for the course for anyone with any level of public notoriety. Ms. Sarkesian's problem is not that there is a culture of threats directed at women in technology. Instead, she, along with Assemblyman Adams, Rebecca Watson, Jessica Ahlquist, Kevin Rose, Brett Karch and several members of the United States House of Representatives all have the same problem - that there is a culture of treating the making of serious threats against other people as trivial to everyone but the person(s) on the receiving end.
On one point Thursday, there was bipartisan agreement: No act of Congress - health care reform or anything else - merits threats of violence against lawmakers or their families.
The Seattle Times "Threats against lawmakers spread after health vote"
What we need is a national agreement: that no act of public life - being critical of the content of video games, voting for tax increases as a Republican, disagreeing with a member of one's own "tribe," insisting that the First Amendment be enacted in accordance with one's own interpretation of it, making significantly more than low income people who want to live in your neighborhood, being injured by a cannon made by students or anything else - merits anonymous attempts to cause feelings of fear, stress and helplessness in anyone, regardless of how seriously we consider the actual threat being made. For a time it was fashionable to sneer down our collective noses at the Moslem world for their rage, than the threats that it engendered, at the publication of cartoons depicting the prophet Mohammed. The incident was treated in many circles as proof of the backwardness and barbarism of Islam.

Pot. Kettle. Black.

Friday, September 19, 2014

When They Come Again

"First they came..." is a poem derived from a speech by pastor Martin Niemöller. We see it today as an indictment of those who stood by while the Nazis rounded up various groups and took them away to the concentration camps, and as a cautionary warning of the perils of being silent in the face of a clear injustice being done.

But in an early version of the speech, given in 1946, pastor Niemöller raises a point, that while not poetic, is nevertheless important.

Then they got rid of the sick, the so-called incurables. - I remember a conversation I had with a person who claimed to be a Christian. He said: Perhaps it's right, these incurably sick people just cost the state money, they are just a burden to themselves and to others. Isn't it best for all concerned if they are taken out of the middle [of society]?
He follows this up with another important point:
We can talk ourselves out of it with the excuse that it would have cost me my head if I had spoken out.
It's become fashionable to think that when "evil" triumphs because enough "good people" do nothing, the fundamental problem is that being a "good person" isn't enough to prevent people from being cowards. But the first quote of Niemöller's I presented reminds us - in almost all cases of injustice being perpetrated against a group, the silence of members of the group that perpetrated it is also self-interested. When Japanese-American citizens were interred in World War II, people may have very well be afraid to speak out. But they also saw themselves as safer with possible fifth columnists locked up and people in the areas that the Japanese-Americans had been forced to vacate saw, and in several cases availed themselves of, an opportunity to better their material condition through taking the property of the interned.

This tendency didn't end with the Second World War - people are still motivated to look the other way when it may benefit them to do so. And so when people fear that recent injustices, like the second-class citizenship of women or Native Americans, will rear their heads again, they aren't necessarily worried that a majority of White men will actively support such measures. Only that, secure in the belief that no-one will ever come for them, they'll remain silent and simply accept the advantages offered them.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Beating the Rush

So... apparently Rush Limbaugh made another comment that people who don't routinely listen to him would find offensive. Which, I'd always thought, was his stock in trade. But it's spurred national Democrats into action, and as someone who went to a fundraiser back in the day, I found multiple e-mails in my inbox, exhorting me to stick it to him.

The basic message was pretty simple:

A rape apologist does not deserve a national platform. Rush’s comments that sometimes “no means yes” are wrong and damaging to our national discourse.

Can you help us get Rush off the air by demanding his sponsors pull their ads??
There’s only one problem. Even if I thought that Limbaugh was actually telling his male listeners that, if they want sex with a woman, that they should proceed despite being told that they should desist, and thus were inclined to denounce him for promoting rape, I don’t know who his sponsors are. The e-mails don't say - they simply offer a link to an online petition. (A link that, judging from its length and cryptic nature, likely has my e-mail address encoded into it...) Maybe this is just because I’m not in the media business, but if someone presented me with a “petition” that was basically just a bunch of people clicking a link, none of whom were likely listeners to the show in question, I’d simply ignore it.

Now, if I knew the names of the sponsors in question, I could make a decision whether or not to place them on my “Do Not Buy” list. Which, by myself, wouldn’t really make any difference. But if a lot of people did it, it could bring about change, as companies tend to be sensitive to things that impact the bottom line. While simply having to click a link makes things much easier for me, it also more or less reduces the whole thing to an exercise in slacktivism, removing any need to.

P.S.: As for Limbaugh, it really doesn’t sound like he’s advocating that men simply ignore any objections from women that they wish to sleep with. He’s mocking a policy that strikes him as overly fussy and falling back on the old trope that sometimes women send mixed messages or don’t say what they really mean. While such comments are often used as cover by people intent on acting in bad faith, it’s a bit of a stretch to claim that Limbaugh is acting as a “rape apologist.” Instead, what he’s doing, and I suspect quite deliberately, is seeking to undermine “no means no” and cast informed, intentional and unambiguous consent as a standard for sexual activity as part of a feminist/liberal trap for “real men.” Which, honestly, is bad enough on its own. I’m surprised that the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee felt the need to trump up the charge from there.

P.P.S.: There seems to be a pretty good database of companies that run spots during Rush Limbaugh's show here. If you’re interested, you can add them to your own “Do Not Buy” list. As I've just done with, as an example, what had been my favorite airline, Alaska.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

What is it Worth to You?

When I was first taking courses in Project Management, one of the classes I had signed up for was one on Ethics. After class one day, I asked the instructor: “Can you ever be considered really ethical if you’re not willing to risk your job, and maybe the rest of your working life?” What followed was an uncomfortable silence and an unspoken agreement. We both knew that the answer was, quite likely: “No.” But we also both knew that it was, quite likely, an untenable trade-off.
I was reminded of my earlier post while reading “Rape Culture in the Alaskan Wilderness” at The Atlantic. When I wrote it, I was commenting on the fact that accountability has costs for the person(s) who enforce it, and not just the person being held accountable. At the time, I noted that this created a rational incentive for us to avoid holding people accountable. When the costs of holding someone accountable for what we have defined as wrongdoing are greater than the cost of not doing so, it may simply be worthwhile to look the other way.

But in reading the Atlantic article, I realized that I'd left out a facet, one that I'd touched on in the excerpt that I quoted above. Courage.
Geneva’s father demanded that she change her speech for the second round, offering less detail, and less of her personal experience, because people would be jumping to conclusions, wondering who she meant when she said “it’s happening in his house, in her house, even in your own bed.” He feared her words could implicate him.
“Rape Culture in the Alaskan Wilderness”
This is not the only instance of a lack of “courage” in the article, but it was perhaps the first, and one that really stood out for me. As a species, we are not courageous unto death. If we were, there would likely be none of us left. And we understand that, and so we do not often demand it. But where before that is the line drawn? And is there even a line? If I make an ethical choice that turns out to result in perpetual unemployability, then what do I do? How do I support myself? If someone takes me in and gives me food, shelter and clothing, it is wise to bring my ethics with me?
For that reason, family members often blame the victims, or the friends of victims, who attempt to report a crime, out of fear of losing material support, or a vital link in a precarious web of familial structure.
In the end, whether it is rape, murder or simple theft, all crime culture stems from the want of a certain level of courage. The perpetrator lacks the courage to ask permission or do without, and the rest of us lack the courage to suffer the consequences of enforcing our own rules. It’s easy to become outraged when the consequences strike us as trivial. Watching football is enjoyable, certainly, but not so much so that we should condone domestic violence simply to watch one more faceless bruiser suit up. But what should we expect of people? Loss of their livelihoods? Their homes? Their families?

There is more to courage than simply someone else standing up to things that we cast ourselves of unafraid of or have some confidence that we can overcome. In the end, courage requires a level of detachment from life that allows us to walk away from everything, even life itself, in the name of doing what we understand to be right, even if nothing comes of it but loss on our part. A friend of mine once remarked to me that “If you’re not willing to do whatever it takes to bring about what you believe in, I question your commitment to it.” By that standard, I am uncommitted, because I don’t know that I am ready to be destitute, utterly alone and/or dead in the name of enforcing my primary ethical conviction - that the costs of an action belong to the actor. As such, I am inclined to forgive Geneva’s father. He may be willing to have the message watered down and, in doing so, perhaps see others suffer sexual assault rather than be thought of as a sex offender himself, but his tolerance for risk is his own, and not subject to my approval.

There is a reason why our tolerance for risk is not infinite, regardless of what one thinks of its origins and utility. And, as our courage can never be absolute, despite the stories we tell ourselves, our ethics can never be so, either. And so, ethics become like everything else - worth only what we are willing to pay for them.

Thursday, September 11, 2014


But the fact of the matter is that many of the students who choose to come to Spelman are coming from communities where they have clearly been in the minority. It is often surprising to the casual observer that if you talk to students, they will often say, "I was one of a handful of black kids in my school. One of the reasons I wanted to be at Spelman was because I wanted to be at the center of the educational experience, not on the margins of it the way that I felt like I was in high school."
Beverly Tatum, President of Spelman College "Why America Still Needs Historically Black Colleges"
It was odd for me to read this, because, even as an African American, I felt being at a Historically Black College in the mid-1980's to be even more marginalizing than the nearly all-white high-school that I had just graduated from the year before. So although I understand it on an intellectual level, I have trouble relating to it.

But what I started learning that year was the politics of "in-group," and it's application to race. For the suburban whites I grew up around, "in-group" was mainly a matter of appearance - in effect, being white required looking white, and that was really about it. But for the more urban black students that I spent my freshman year of college around, there was an added component - to be counted as in the "in-group" you had to look black and to "act black." And while I had the first part of that down, I failed miserably at the second, and so found myself in the "out-group," mainly, and perhaps ironically, because most of my classmates felt that I was rejecting them.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Hit Me Pull You

I don't know if he intentionally set out to victimize me. I don't think that he did. But the thing that still baffles me is, if what he wanted was me to really love him, then why did he hurt me? 'Cause he drove me away. He made it inevitable that I would leave at some point. That's the part that I really don't understand.
Leslie Morgan Steiner "Why Don't Domestic Violence Victims Leave?" The TED Radio Hour "The Violence Within Us" - National Public Radio
What if, in the end, some instances of domestic violence are just an extreme form of "push me, pull you" in adults?

When I was in my twenties, I worked with children who had been taken out of their homes for abuse or neglect and were high-functioning enough that they didn't need psychiatric hospitalization or a similarly restrictive setting, but were unable to thrive within the less-restrictive setting of a foster home. And one of the phenomena that was endemic to the population was "push me pull you." There are a number of ways that the phenomenon is described, but the way we experienced it was generally that a child who feels unlovable would push back against the efforts of a caregiver to pull them in. It was, basically a form of testing, of searching for the limits of love. And, typically, if not always, a limit was, in fact, found. Generally because there is no way for the person on the "pull" side of the equation to win on the strength of their own actions. Only the complete confidence of the "pusher" can end the dynamic. Which they were unlikely ever to do, perhaps because, deep down, they understood something that the "puller" did not - that love is a choice. And not a choice that can ever truly be abdicated.

It is possible to understand a  statement of unconditional love, such as: "No matter what, I will always love you," (especially if it is phrased "no matter what you do") as saying, in effect, "I have chosen to love you, and no circumstance will prompt me to revisit that decision." To which a person who feels actively unlovable often unknowingly responds: "Challenge accepted." And then they set about searching for the circumstances that will prompt a re-visitation of the decision to love, perhaps they're subconsciously convinced that they'll find them, or perhaps they're just trying to prove to themselves that they really don't exist. Push me pull you is about forcing choices. Which is more important: loving that person or having unbroken dishes? Loving that person or not having money stolen? Loving that person or keeping a pet alive? Loving that person or not having one's home set afire? Loving that person or staying alive and healthy? Push me pull you demands that a choice be made, and interprets "unconditional love" in its most literal, pedantic and unrealistic sense. And to the person who fears or believes that they are unlovable, the evidence that "unconditional love" is a fallacy is everywhere.

And so, what if, in some cases, a person has learned that violence is how one tests love for its conditionality? I don't have that answer. And, to be sure, I don't know what I would do with it, if I did have it. My impulse would be to deploy it to save future targets of domestic violence from suffering, but when I was a foster care caseworker, I couldn't get people to understand. How to you tell someone who sees themselves as, to paraphrase Ms. Steiner: "a very strong soul in love with a deeply troubled person, and the only person on Earth who could help that person face their demons," that neither their strength nor their love, in the end, matter? That it's simply not possible to hand love over to another person so completely that only choice that will ever be involved is theirs? The idea that breaking a commitment to love is sometimes necessary and never more difficult than making a choice doesn't sit well with many, given our cultural attachment to the idea that love is eternal and all-conquering. I don't know how we change that.

I don't know if Ms. Steiner would be satisfied by the idea that what she went through may have been simply the result of her husband searching for proof that someone would (or perhaps would not) always love him. It makes perfect sense to me, and I find it unsatisfying, if only for its extremity.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Perfect Police People

Many echoed the sentiments of David Hiller. He's the chief of police and director of public safety for Grosse Pointe Park in Michigan. We reached out to him, and he told us that, quote, "if you did nothing wrong, you have nothing to hide. Stop and speak to the police. Because he's talking to you doesn't mean you did something wrong. And if you did, then we have a problem," unquote.
Michel Martin "'The Talk:' How Parents Of All Backgrounds Tell Kids About The Police"
Chief Hiller's sentiment is a common one. Less common is an examination of the assumptions that underlie it. For his statement to always be accurate, police officers must be omniscient and infallible. Because, in reality, it doesn't matter what you may or may not have done. What matters is what people think you may have done. If a person encounters an officer who thinks that they may have done something wrong, then, as Chief Hiller notes "we have a problem." And of course that person is going to want to get the Hell out of Dodge.

And one other issue to bring up - police officers are not required to be truthful with people they consider suspects.
In the performance of their duties, police officers frequently engage in a significant amount of deceptive conduct that is essential to public safety. Consider lying to suspects, conducting undercover operations, and even deploying unmarked cars. Presenting a suspect with false evidence, a false confession of a crime partner, or a false claim that the suspect was identified in a lineup are but a few of the deceptive practices that police officers have used for years during interrogations. These investigatory deceptive practices are necessary when no other means would be effective, when they are lawful, and when they are aimed at obtaining the truth.
Police Officer Truthfulness and the Brady Decision
Which perhaps explains the following advice:
Many times, an officer will tell you they cannot help you if you do not talk to them. More often than not, what you tell them will be in their report and will be used against you. It is important to remember that police officers are under no obligation to be honest with you.
Morris Parnell & Ellis "Your Rights"
None of this is to say that dealing with the police is, on its face, a bad idea. It's simply to point out that while Chief Hiller may think that the innocent have nothing to worry about from interacting with a police officer, many people find the reality of the situation much more complicated. When people say that those who have done nothing wrong have nothing to hide from the police, they are building upon an idea that a police officer is a neutral and unbiased finder of fact who goes into an encounter with no erroneous information or preconcieved notions of about the person they're dealing with. Maybe it's just me, but that comes across as an impossibly high bar for any mere mortal to consistently live up to. And because that idea tends to go unstated, it's rarely challenged.

And it needs to be challenged. Not to demonstrate that police are bad people, but to show that they're people in the first place. If angels were to police men, to borrow the phrase, then we could assume that they were neutral and insightful enough to only have a problem with the people who have actually done something wrong. But while I've seen plenty of people in blue with badges and guns, thus far wings and halos haven't been part of the ensemble.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Choosy Disasters Choose...

The video, like a lot of things these days, has a somewhat misleading title: "CNN's Wolf Blitzer to atheist tornado survivor: 'You gotta thank the Lord'." The title is misleading because Mr. Blitzer didn't realize that Rebecca Vitsmun was an atheist when he was on his "Thank the Lord" binge. So it wasn't a matter of him attempting to press an atheist into showing gratitude to a deity she didn't believe in, but rather making the (reasonable) assumption that she was a fellow Christian, and becoming a bit carried away. If you chose to, it's easy to fault Blitzer for wearing his faith so openly on his sleeve while covering a story, but it's really a human-interest piece more than anything else. And "thanking the Lord" has become almost a reflex for many American Christians. From the outside, it often seems that Christians believe that their god created mankind incompetent as well as sinful, but this is not a position that they arrived at out of intentional disrespect.

I found the video through a Google+ post that carried its own bit of strangeness. One sentence read: "[Rebecca Vitsmun]'s the woman who survived a tornado with her son even though she's an atheist, as Wolf Blitzer awkwardly found out." "Even though she's an atheist?" Where on Earth did that come from? There was nothing in the clip that seemed to indicate that Wolf Blitzer, or anyone else, was particularly surprised that an atheist had survived the tornado that flattened Moore, Oklahoma. I'm not sure than anyone expects that disasters are so choosy about whom they kill.

The mutual distrust, and expectations of disrespect, that pass between atheists and deists seem to have little purpose other than to keep a tired conflict alive. But I suppose the fact that we have time to devote to such things is better than the alternative.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Finding Fault

I read that Ricky Gervais (among others) landed in hot water for a tweet about the latest nude celebrity photo scandal.

Celebrities, make it harder for hackers to get nude pics of you from your computer by not putting nude pics of yourself on your computer.
Outside of the fact that it's not an accurate description of what happened, as near as I can tell, it doesn't seem all that over the top. And so while CBS news refers to the backlash as "not surprising," I'm not sure that I understand what was so problematic about it.

When I first became acquainted with the concept of "blaming the victim"the definition seemed to me to be along the lines of: "Offering an affirmative defense for the perpetrator of an action, based on the behavior of the victim." I suppose a classic example could be a lynching, where the killers defended their actions as necessitated by the behavior of the murdered person.

More recently, the definition seems to have shifted, and it strikes me as often reading along the lines of, "Implying that there was any action that could or should have been taken by a victim to reduce their vulnerability." One example that seems to consistently raise hackles is advising young women to be careful about their alcohol intake as means of reducing their risk of sexual assault.

To be sure, there are people who will happily do the first under cover of doing the second. I understand that. But it seems to me that it's not possible to expunge the world of disingenuous statements. And I'm not sure of what we hope to accomplish by making people out to be helpless. I don't know if the expectation that only the perpetrator be the target of anything that can be construed as the least bit critical is going to have the desired effect.

Part of this strikes me as being about gender - women have long had to shoulder varying degrees of blame for the acts committed against them, and this has lead to a focus on redirecting that opprobrium to the perpetrators instead. Which is long overdue. I wonder, however, if seeing an admonition to "let's be careful out there" as a remnant of the bad old days does them the service we might want it to.

Monday, September 1, 2014


So I went out for a drive today and was coming back through downtown Woodinville. Where I noticed that the parking lots were packed. The grocery store, the movie theater, Barnes and Noble - there were more people there than I typically see on a weekend.

Labor Day is, in my experience, wildly misnamed. It should be something more akin to "People with Disposable Income Day." As non-working days in the United States are increasingly thought of mainly as shopping days, people who work in retail are required to work them. Of course, there's never been any such thing as a truly universal day off from work - fires still need to be put out, electricity still needs to flow and children who have been removed from their homes still need to be looked after. But the shift of retail into the ranks of "essential" workers seems to undermine the point of labor day in the first place.