30 April 2013

Nice hypothesis

Another silly meme image. It was going around Facebook and I couldn't resist.

28 April 2013

Hanlon's Razor

Hanlon's razor
Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.

I am also informed of the variant known as Grey's Law:

Any sufficiently advanced incompetence is indistinguishable from malice.

And that is, of course, an allusion to Clarke's Third Law.

24 April 2013

The blood of White people

Andrew O'Hehir has an good screed in Salon, How Boston exposes America’s dark post-9/11 bargain, which says that the events around the Boston bombing indict pretty much every sector of the Republic as having failed in the wake of 9/11: the press, the government, the commentariat, the polity, the whole thing. Not anything anyone who's reading me doesn't know, but still: a good screed. So check it out.

I want to focus on how, near the end, this jumped out at me:

In America after 9/11, we made a deal with the devil, or with Dick Cheney, which is much the same thing.

The supposed tradeoff for that sacrifice was that we would be protected, at least for a while, from the political violence and terrorism and low-level warfare that is nearly an everyday occurrence in many parts of the world. According to the Afghan government, for example, a NATO air attack on April 6 killed 17 civilians in Kunar province, 12 of them children. We’ve heard almost nothing about that on this side of the world, partly because the United States military has not yet admitted that it even happened. But it’s not entirely fair to suggest that Americans think one kid killed by a bomb in Boston is worth more than 12 kids killed in Afghanistan. It’s more that we live in a profoundly asymmetrical world, and the dead child in Boston is surprising in a way any number of dead children in Afghanistan, horrifyingly enough, are not. He lived in a protected zone, after all, a place that was supposed to be sealed off from history, isolated from the blood and turmoil of the world. But of course that was a lie.

Well of course it was a lie. Again, not anything anyone who's reading me doesn't know.

But while I understand why O'Hehir is saying that Americans don't really think our children's lives are more important than other children's lives, we sure act like it. And that reminded me of a blog post from Mia McKenzie of Black Girl Dangerous that I've been meaning to blog about, Hey, White Liberals: A Word On The Boston Bombings, The Suffering Of White Children, And The Erosion of Empathy.

Your constant prioritization of the lives of white people over the lives of people of color is taking a serious toll on my psyche and those of many in my community. And by that I don't mean what you might expect. Most of us already know that racism and its BFF white privilege have detrimental effects on people of color. Racial oppression leads to any number of unhealthy conditions, including high blood pressure, depression, heart disease, diabetes and even asthma. But what I’m talking about is something different. Something I’m going to call DSWP: desensitization to the suffering of white people.

O'Hehir is nosing around the foothills of that mountain whose slopes McKenzie is climbing — because after all, when he says “Americans” he's mostly talking about a mediasphere of White people — and I have to admit that there are moments where I feel like I'm drifting toward the altitude where McKenzie finds herself with the DSWP. White people beating their breasts about their misfortunes is starting to feel very, very unseemly to me ... and I am a White person.

This means that this is an even worse moment for the Republic than O'Hehir says, does it not?

23 April 2013

Gender archaeology

These words were published by a well-known radical feminist in 1974. (Note that at that time, “transsexual” was used where today one would more politely use “transgender”.)

There is no doubt that in the culture of male-female discreteness, transsexuality is a disaster for the individual transsexual. Every transsexual, white, black, man, woman, rich, poor, is in a state of primary emergency as a transsexual. There are 3 crucial points here.

One, every transsexual has the right to survival on his/her own terms. That means every transsexual is entitled to a sex-change operation, and it should be provided by the community as one of its functions. This is an emergency measure for an emergency condition.

Two, by changing our premises about men and women, role-playing and polarity, the social situation of transsexuals will be transformed, and transsexuals will be integrated into community, no longer persecuted and despised.

Three, community built on androgynous identity will mean the end of transsexuality as we know it. Either the transsexual will be able to expand his/her sexuality into a fluid androgyny, or, as roles disppear, the phenomenon of transsexuality will disappear and that energy will be transformed into new modes of sexual identity and behavior.

Can you guess who? Seriously, guess. Then go see; there's more.


(Spoiler: It's Andrea Dworkin!)

22 April 2013

If we create a better world for nothing

I keep referencing this cartoon and having to track it down again, so I'm posting a copy of it here for my convenience. It makes the point beautifully.

At the Climate Summit we see a man giving a presentation, showing a slide saying:
  • Energy independence
  • Preserve rainforests
  • Sustainability
  • Green jobs
  • Livable cities
  • Renewables
  • Clean water, air
  • Healthy children
  • etc., etc.
An angry man in the audience asks, “What if it's a big hoax and we create a better world for nothing?”

17 April 2013

University tribunals

I don't know if this story is true, but I know that it's plausible.

I am a feminist. I have marched at the barricades, subscribed to Ms. magazine, and knocked on many a door in support of progressive candidates committed to women's rights. Until a month ago, I would have expressed unqualified support for Title IX and for the Violence Against Women Act.

But that was before my son, a senior at a small liberal-arts college in New England, was charged—by an ex-girlfriend—with alleged acts of “nonconsensual sex” that supposedly occurred during the course of their relationship a few years earlier.


On today's college campuses, neither “beyond a reasonable doubt,” nor even the lesser “by clear and convincing evidence” standard of proof is required to establish guilt of sexual misconduct.

These safeguards of due process have, by order of the federal government, been replaced by what is known as “a preponderance of the evidence.”

It's trivial to notice that the criminal justice is horrifically ineffective in protecting women from nonconsensual sex, largely through dismissiveness about women attesting to their experience. But a standard which assumes that women would never lie is terrifying.

In a discussion of this story on Facebook, a male friend observes

Women have tremendous power over men.

I replied at length.

It's tricky.

On balance, men as a class still have power over women. It's categorically less skewed than it was fifty years ago, but the bottom line is unmistakable: society advantages men and disadvantages women.

But this is the sum of a system of injustice which also creates meaningful injustices for men. I think we can recognize that the injustices against women are categorically greater while still objecting that the injustices against men need correcting. (Indeed, because these are interlocking systems, I suspect that one cannot fully correct the injustices women experience without also attending to the injustices that men experience.)

The model of the civil rights movement against racism adopted by feminist rhetoric proves misleading in this respect. Racism doesn't have significant injustices which cut the other way, but sexism does.

And the forms of power women have over men are largely threats that men face from extraordinarily unscrupulous women exploiting systems that serve typical women. This is very different from the way that injustices women encounter come from the exercise of power by typical men unconscious of the effect that they are having.

The flawed analogy to racism, the overall condition that women are treated less well by society, and the power that women do hold over men being largely a threat from atypical women makes men's vulnerability to the operations of power from women invisible to most women.

The story I linked is an example of a form of power that women don't notice because it would not occur to them that it could be used for ill. Women's sphere of experience is the pervasive threat of being coerced into sex through social pressures and violence. Saying that women making false accusations of rape is a threat to men sounds absurd to them, like a denial of the very real rapes that happen horrifyingly routinely.

But men have commonly had the experience of an encounter with a woman who was more unscrupulous than they realized at first and think to themselves, there but for the grace of God ....


It occurs to me that it would be useful to link my long note about the challenges men face in getting their heads straight about consent.

Buddha compassion

I just discovered that Blogger has mislaid my post about what may be my favorite news story ever.

He was walking toward the stairs when a teenage boy approached and pulled out a knife.

“He wants my money, so I just gave him my wallet and told him, ‘Here you go,’ ” Diaz says.

As the teen began to walk away, Diaz told him, “Hey, wait a minute. You forgot something. If you're going to be robbing people for the rest of the night, you might as well take my coat to keep you warm.”

You know what happens next, right?

Update: Diaz tells the tale.


This nugget of snark about David Brooks' writing, from Charles Pierce, is irresistible.

Irritable mental gestures that resemble thought indeed.

16 April 2013

In time of crisis

Jesse Walker at Reason has a good overview of things to know about crises like the Boston bombing. This snippet stood out for me:

Movies and TV shows have given us a deeply misleading picture of how people behave after incidents like this, one where the folks at the scene of the crime lose their minds while those who have the benefit of distance keep a steady head. This is backwards. Sociologists have shown that people tend to behave very admirably under the pressure of a disaster; panic and anti-social behavior are fairly rare. We saw that pattern play out again in Boston, from the bystanders who instantly rushed toward the blasts to help the injured to the locals who opened their homes to stranded strangers.

This is a striking contrast to this quote from Rebecca Solnit, provided by Cory Doctrow at bOING bOING.

The term “elite panic” was coined by Caron Chess and Lee Clarke of Rutgers. From the beginning of the field in the 1950s to the present, the major sociologists of disaster — Charles Fritz, Enrico Quarantelli, Kathleen Tierney, and Lee Clarke — proceeding in the most cautious, methodical, and clearly attempting-to-be-politically-neutral way of social scientists, arrived via their research at this enormous confidence in human nature and deep critique of institutional authority. It’s quite remarkable.

Elites tend to believe in a venal, selfish, and essentially monstrous version of human nature, which I sometimes think is their own human nature. I mean, people don't become incredibly wealthy and powerful by being angelic, necessarily. They believe that only their power keeps the rest of us in line and that when it somehow shrinks away, our seething violence will rise to the surface — that was very clear in Katrina. Timothy Garton Ash and Maureen Dowd and all these other people immediately jumped on the bandwagon and started writing commentaries based on the assumption that the rumors of mass violence during Katrina were true. A lot of people have never understood that the rumors were dispelled and that those things didn't actually happen; it's tragic.

But there's also an elite fear — going back to the 19th century — that there will be urban insurrection. It's a valid fear. I see these moments of crisis as moments of popular power and positive social change. The major example in my book is Mexico City, where the '85 earthquake prompted public disaffection with the one-party system and, therefore, the rebirth of civil society.

Doctrow talks about why this is important.

In crisis – in the horrible, slow-motion, global economic/environmental catastrophe that we inhabit – we form theories about how everyone else will react and plan accordingly. When Katrina hit, people nodded when soldiers and mercenaries shot “looters” in New Orleans, convinced that looting was the sort of thing that transpired after disasters. That was news. Hardly noticed, months after the fact, was the truth that there was practically no looting in post-Katrina New Orleans, and that those shot – particularly those shot by Blackwater mercenaries – were innocents who’d been killed in the service of a lie: the lie that human beings are bad, and that the first thing we do when the veneer of civilization falls away is kill, rape, and/or eat one another. This lie was a racist lie, and it was a speciest lie, too.

This is the worst kind of lie: the lie that makes itself true. When enough people believe the libel against the human race, the vile calumny that “human nature” would have us all at each others’ throats were it not for coercive force, it becomes a truth. If you are sure your neighbor will kill you when the lights go out, the natural thing to do is kill him at the first flicker – and even if you’re more reasonable than that, you still won’t want to let a potential killer into your shelter; you won’t want to share your food with him; you won’t want to take in his children when they need it.


Tim Wise helpfully provides a list of White terrorists.

For future reference.


NPR's new Code Switch blog features a knockout long article, When Our Kids Own America from Gene Demby of Postbourgie. It's about how the critiques of appropriation and gentrification and cultural ownership that have been common in social justice circles in recent decades don't apply well to the world we live in now. Here's a taste:

Hip-hop is now the lingua franca and the background music for an entire generation of kids. And one of its dynamics — the idea of a marginalized group rapping about that marginalization — has remained essentially intact as hip-hop has conquered the world, in part because marginalization is the narrative that teenagers everywhere fit themselves into.

If something is everywhere and everyone trafficks in it, who gets to decide when it’s real or not? What happens when hip-hop stops being black culture and becomes simply youth culture?

Cecelia Cutler, a linguist at New York’s Lehman College, says that when kids who aren’t black traffic in hip-hop slang or African American Vernacular English — even if they aren’t themselves hip-hop fans — they’re not trying to mimic blackness, per se. They’re calling upon this language to signal (or “index,” as linguists like to say) some of the postures that people associate with hip-hop — coolness, toughness, hipness, swagger, separateness. The black part is being referenced, but it’s not quite the point. In some circles, Cutler said, hip-hop-inflected black speech has become a kind of prestige English.

It's long, and it's all that provocative and smart. Check it out. And the official NPR comment thread is already looking lively. Here's something I said to the author on Facebook:

I've already been circulating this article, because it's a home run. Bravo. I live in the SF Bay Area and you've definitely captured something about Oakland: my friends half-tease me when we are in Uptown and I say, “This looks like the America I was promised.”

I think you've managed a nuanced description of how the way we have been talking about appropriation has often been a little screwy. Minstrelsy and deracination are all too common, yes, and bad for all the reasons we know, and deserving of the vigorous critique they get. But the rhetoric of “appropriation” has been too broad and sloppy a brush. The implication that group X owns cultural idea Y and practice Z and so forth never really made sense. Culture just doesn't work that way; it's always a stew of overlapping influences.

These days, our mediasphere makes that process faster, and therefore more visible; I think that's part of what you're pointing to here.

But I suspect more importantly, you're describing is the generational effects of some victories. Bigotry is a long way from being over, but we have a lot of young people who aren't poisoned by it in the same ways. And the effort to break the hegemony of White Culture has worked: a lot of people are seeing a lot more culture from folks different from themselves. It would be absurd to imagine that young people coming from that experience would dutifully obey the boundaries of what culture they supposedly do and do not “own” because of the racial identity which they viscerally know is socially constructed.

11 April 2013

Natural News

For future information hygene reference: NaturalNews.com is not a source of reliable information.


Driftglass offers a stunning demonstration of David Brooks denying his own statements in support of the Iraq war.

08 April 2013

Torture, again

The UK Guardian article Pentagon's link to Iraqi torture centres is a cavalcade of horror. It pains me to excerpt it; almost every sentence is stunning.

The Pentagon sent a US veteran of the "dirty wars" in Central America to oversee sectarian police commando units in Iraq that set up secret detention and torture centres to get information from insurgents. These units conducted some of the worst acts of torture during the US occupation and accelerated the country's descent into full-scale civil war.


After the Pentagon lifted a ban on Shia militias joining the security forces, the special police commando (SPC) membership was increasingly drawn from violent Shia groups such as the Badr brigades.

Petraeus is implicated. Military advisors who helped set up the death squads in El Salvador back in the ’80s are implicated. The leads came from the WikiLeaks documents that put Bradley Manning in prison. Torture victims were shown on a reality TV show in Iraq.

I had this stupid fantasy that I'd be able to retire my tag for the horror on this blog thanks to Obama. How naïve I am.

We need to be sending people to the The Hague for this.

03 April 2013


On Twitter, I find that I often need to express this idea.

It is obvious to me that you have badly misunderstood what I was trying to say. But I don't blame you, I blame me. I was trying to fit too much into a single 140-character tweet, and in my effort to keep it short I wrote something that could be easily misunderstood.

So I propose this new bit of Twitter vocabulary to be able to say that in just a few characters: #ack140