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Friday, April 29, 2011

Woo in the courtroom

A Michigan couple were accused of sexually abusing their severely autistic daughter. Julian and Thal Wendrow were jailed and their children taken from them and placed in foster care for months before prosecutors dropped the charges. Their daughter Aislinn had supposedly made these accusations-- not verbally, as she is mute, but through Facilitated Communication, a method of allowing people with severe autism (as well as people in vegetative states) to communicate that is apparently still being used despite having been thoroughly discredited.

Facilitated Communication is, quite simply, facilitators "helping" a patient communicate by literally moving his or her hand across a keyboard to type out messages. The easiest way to test whether this is actually evidence of the patient speaking or the facilitator is obviously to allow the patient access to certain information of which the facilitator isn't aware, and then ask him or her questions about that information and see whether the answers are accurate or at least appropriate. This has been tried, time and time again, and it has failed time and time again.  The hope is that FC will somehow reveal a hidden consciousness in the patient which wasn't clear before, but all evidence to date shows that it is simply a matter of facilitators making statements on behalf of the patients-- knowingly or not:

About two hours away, in Schenectady, N.Y., the coordinator of the autism program at the O.D. Heck Developmental Center was skeptical. But his staff members swore by it, and as they were skilled and caring people, psychologist Doug Wheeler decided not to challenge them. 
Nobody, it seemed, had any interest in asking hard questions. 
But then some of the messages the autistic patients were typing startled the Heck Center’s staff. Some of the typed messages, for example, would have triggered invasive diagnostic procedures, such as exploratory surgeries or biopsies. Wheeler decided that, despite the faith of the staff who were using FC, the technique called for verification before major decisions were made based on the messages. 
When Wheeler searched the available journal literature, he found nothing other than Biklen’s article. He decided to conduct his own experiments with a view toward proving to skeptical members of the staff that FC really was a breakthrough. 
Wheeler designed an experiment using facilitator/student pairs that had used FC effectively. “Students would be shown simple photographs of common familiar objects and asked to name or describe them,” Wheeler later recalled. “The facilitators would be ‘blind’ to the pictures by use of a three foot high divider running down the length of a table. The divider would end at the far end of the table in a ‘T,’ allowing pictures to be hung on each side. The facilitator could not see the student’s picture and the student could not see the facilitator’s picture 
Over a period of three months and 180 trials with 12 students and nine facilitators, FC didn’t work, not once. 
Since Wheeler's experiment failed, what had accounted for the way words had poured out of the autistic clients of the Heck Center after FC was introduced? Wheeler’s trial, and subsequent research by others, suggested that facilitators were unconsciously guiding the hands of the patients. They were so heavily invested in what promised to be a breakthrough in the way autistic people lived, they had become blind to their own role in the communication.
“I wanted so hard to believe that it was real, that I wasn’t able to listen to objective thinking about it,” one of the Heck facilitators told the PBS investigative series Frontline in 1993. “It grabs you emotionally right here and once you’re hooked, I mean, you are hooked.” 
True believers refused to give up. One expert insisted FC required “faith.” Some parents and FC advocates excoriated Wheeler. But he was also startled to receive calls from all over the world, from fathers in jail, from mothers whose children had been taken away, after charges of abuse had been leveled through FC messages. 
Abuse charges were remarkably frequent. In 1995, the New York Commission on Quality of Care and Advocacy for Persons with Disabilities reported that over three years it had received 21 allegations of abuse — often sexual in nature — via FC messages. Just one case was considered “confirmed.” The rest were tossed because there was no evidence or because it was simply impossible for the abuse to have occurred.

As you can imagine, the same proved to be the case with Aislinn.
On Jan. 28 and 29, 2008, Judge Marc Barron held a hearing to determine the accuracy of facilitated communication so that it could be used when Aislinn testified in the coming hearings and her father’s trial. Barron ordered that Scarsella leave the room when Aislinn was asked a question. After the question had been posed, Scarsella could return and facilitate Aislinn’s answer on the keyboard. 
“Do you have a brother or a sister?” Aislinn was asked. 
“3FE65,” she answered. 
Could she clarify that answer? 
“7BQJVWTTT7YI.” 
“What color is your sweater?” 
“JIBHJIH.” 
Belief is a stubborn thing. There were plenty of signs that Aislinn’s supposed accusations against her father were never valid. In early interviews with police she was unable to name her dog or her grandmother, facts Scarsella didn’t know. 
With Aislinn's FC being the only evidence that abuse had occurred, the charges were dropped. On Feb. 22, 2008, after 80 days in jail, Julian Wendrow was released. 
The police said they still feared for the children. 
“We’ve got the scarlet letter,” Julian told msnbc.com. “Some people will still look at us and think I raped my child.” 
The family has been reunited, but the damage has been severe. The Wendrows, who are now suing Scarsella and a variety of officials involved in their case, spent an estimated $60,000 on their defense, money they can’t afford because Thal lost her job. 
The Wendrows suspect the case precipitated her firing. She’s been unable to find another. They fear their house might be foreclosed upon in February. 
They no longer use FC for Aislinn. Instead, they talk to her, touch her, hope they're reaching her.
A federal judge ruled in March that governmental immunity protects the prosecutors in this case against claims of malicious prosecution, but let stand some other claims against them and the Wendrows' suit will go to trial.

James Randi's term for irrational ideas which are unsupported by science and appeal to mystical notions is "woo-woo," or just "woo." For some reason, though FC has been known to be woo since at least 1993, it was used as sufficient evidence to separate parents from their children and accuse them of rape in 2008.  That should absolutely count as malicious prosecution, but in the U.S. protections for prosecutors are so strong that it's virtually impossible to hold them responsible for it.

Being nonverbal or very slow to begin speaking is common for kids on the autism spectrum. And some of them, while they do not speak, are capable of communicating through text-- of their own accord. That doesn't mean that inside of every autistic child who does not do so, there is a person who is "locked in" and can only express him/herself through FC.  But the hope for this to happen has created an inadvertent monster that just refuses to go away, and it is ruining peoples' lives.

If you have iTunes, you can go here and listen to show 200 of Penn Jillette's radio show in which Randi, who has done a lot of work on facilitated communication, calls in to discuss it with Penn and co-host Michael Goudeau who has an autistic son. The show was recorded on 5/9/06.  In the interview they tear into an article  from Time magazine on FC and really delve into why, though parents might desperately want it to work, it's important to be skeptical about it.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Hmm....profound

Also:

If there is no bulb, do not turn on the light.
If you have no car, do not drive.
If there are no clothes, do not get dressed.
If there is no food, do not eat.
If you have no voice, do not speak.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

How not to counter-protest

Gawker reports that the Westboro Baptist Church were met in Mississippi by some people who decided to try and out-douchebag them. And succeeded:
The feel-good blog item of the day is the story of when the small town of Brandon, Mississippi successfully foiled Westboro Baptist Church's plan to protest a Marine's funeral. (Here is a video of the refreshingly protester-free road as Marine Staff Sgt. Jason Rogers is returned home on April 14.) How'd they do it? They sicced the police on them and beat them up.    
Here is the story that is blowing up the blogosphere, which was originally posted on an Ole Miss sports message board:  
[Westboro Baptist Church] did show up, a few showed up a couple of days early.
 A couple of days before, one of them ran his mouth at a Brandon gas station and got his ass waxed. Police were called and the beaten man could not give much of a description of who beat him. When they canvassed the station and spoke to the large crowd that had gathered around, no one seemed to remember anything about what had happened.  
Rankin County handled this thing perfectly. There were many things that were put into place that most will never know about and at great expense to the county. Most of the morons never made it out of their hotel parking lot. It seems that certain Rankin county pickup trucks were parked directly behind any car that had Kansas plates in the hotel parking lot and the drivers mysteriously disappeared until after the funeral was over.   
Police were called but their wrecker service was running behind and it was going to be a few hours before they could tow the trucks so the Kansas plated cars could get out. A few made it to the funeral but were ushered away to be questioned about a crime they might have possibly been involved in. Turns out, after a few hours of questioning, that they were not involved and they were allowed to go on about their business.   
Ranking [sic] deserves a hand in how they handled this situation.        
As much as we despise the Westboro Baptist Church, it seems like police illegally detaining people in order to squelch atrocious and unpopular but constitutionally-protected free speech, is not something we should encourage! Although the part about parking cars behind them was pretty good.
No, it wasn't. That's also against the law, I'm pretty sure, and even if it wasn't it would still be a horrible way of attempting to combat people whose views you don't like.  Is it really so hard to grasp that the way to protest speech is with more speech?  That actually attacking people or blocking their cars into a parking lot so they can't drive anywhere just makes you the bad guy?  The glee with which this post describes the effort by a mob of people who don't like the WBC to threaten, silence, and physically attack them is disgusting. "What they say is hateful, so we're entitled to take any action we want against them." No, you're not. You're entitled to speak back, and to ostracize them if you want. That's it.

The WBC has announced that they will be protesting at ReasonFest, a gathering for atheists and agnostics at the University of Kansas on May 6th, and it sounds like a counter-protest is planned.  I'm betting that means people will show up in support of ReasonFest, of the right to be an atheist or agnostic, and to repudiate everything the WBC stands for. And I'm betting that means they will hold signs, shout things, and attempt to have conversations with WBC protesters if possible, which is what a counter-protest is supposed to be: the use of free speech to condemn the content of someone else's free speech.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

National debt blamed on pussification of America

From Mother Jones:
Freshman Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.) has been known to say some pretty outlandish things from time to time. He's told constituents that "Islam is not a religion," called the President of the United States a "low-level socialist agitator," and asked supporters to "grab your muskets!" Now, he's outdone himself. Late last week, West spoke to the conservative group Women Impacting the Nation, and after West alleged that 33 percent of the federal budget goes to Planned Parenthood, the discussion wandered—as discussions usually do!—to the subject of the increasing sissification of America's men. No, really, that's what West talked about. Via Tanya Somander:
We need you to come in and lock shields, and strengthen up the men who are going to fight for you. To let these other women know on the other side—these Planned Parenthood women, the Code Pink women, and all of these women that have been neutering American men and bringing us to the point of this incredible weakness—to let them know what we are not going to have our men become subservient. That's what we need you to do. Because if you don't, then the debt will continue to grow.
Right, that's it. America's financial weakness, our burgeoning national debt, exists because men simply aren't manly enough. They have been hoodwinked by America's liberal women into blowing loads of government cash on reproductive services ($317 million total per year), rather than doing something more masculine...like, you know, spending it on the military ($680 billion for 2010).  But since military spending is contributing to the national debt in such a huge way, and the debt has grown to such an extent because America's men have been neutered....then that means...*gasp* War is for pussies!  Or to be more accurate, War is for men without testicles!

I will be eager to hear West, who served in the army in Iraq and acted as a civilian advisor in Afghanistan, announce this stunning conclusion at every speaking engagement henceforth.  I also hope he will correct his apparent misunderstanding of the reproductive services offered by Planned Parenthood, as I'm pretty sure neutering is not one of them. At least 58 U.S. soldiers have, by contrast, had their testicles blown off in the last year in Afghanistan.

Just to be clear, I am not making light of the work done by U.S. soldiers or the suffering they have experienced. Rather, I declaim it by pointing out that in telling these lies, Rep. Allen West is not doing them-- or the rest of us-- any favors.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Have we evolved to reject evolution?

Following on the Pope post, there are various theories about whether people might reject evolutionary theory because it contradicts their intuitions. One was described by developmental psychologist Paul Bloom in an article he wrote for Natural History magazine entitled "In Science We Trust." Bloom, who lays out a theory of intuitive mind/body dualism in his book Descartes' Baby, believes that we have intuitive "theories" about physics and agency which cause us to operate as though they're inherently separate things. Following from that, he basically argues that we may reject or misunderstand evolution because we have a hard time imagining something conscious being made out of non-conscious things (that is, consciousness as an emergent property), or that evolutionary change could happen without conscious guidance. This doesn't make it impossible to understand and accept evolution-- of course, since plenty of us do just that-- but it would suggest that we have some built-in biases in our thinking which predispose us against doing so. Bloom writes:
A minority of Americans subscribe to an unusual theory about the origin of people and other animals. They are often adamant about the truth of this theory, and believe that it is the only one that should be taught to children. But if you press them on the theory's details, their answers are muddled. It turns out that these people understand little of what they are defending; they are just parroting back what they have heard from others. Who are they?  
They are Darwinians--people who claim to believe in evolution by natural selection. . .  
Psychologist Deborah Kelemen of Boston University, for instance, finds that children insist that everything has a purpose. Educated Western adults believe that human-made artifacts have purposes (cars are to drive around in) and that body parts have purposes (eyes are for seeing), but young children take this further, saying the same for animals (lions ate for being in the zoo) and for natural entities (clouds are for raining).  
And psychologist Margaret Evans of the University of Michigan found the most direct evidence for natural-born creationism. She carried out a series of studies in which she asked children flat out where they believe animals come from. Their favorite answer is God. That is true of children whose parents are fundamentalist Christians--no surprise--but it is also true for children whose parents accept the theory of natural selection! Evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins was right to complain, then, that it seems "as if the human brain were specifically designed to misunderstand Darwinism." . . .   
Looking within the United States, the difference between Darwinians and creationists does not reduce to smarts or education: studies of college students found no difference in how well (or poorly) they understood the theory of evolution, whether they believed it was true of not and no matter how much biology they'd studied. When researchers asked the students who endorsed Darwinian beliefs to explain the theory of natural selection, their answers were on average no more accurate than those of the students that rejected evolution. Many in each group misunderstood the theory, coming up with something closer to Lamarck's view than Darwin's.   
So while an evolutionary biologist might argue that giraffes evolved long necks because the ones with longer-than-usual necks got more food from trees and hence tended to have more offspring, many students would say that it is useful to have a long neck and so (somehow) giraffes will have longer-necked children. They believe, as Lamarck did, that there is some mysterious force that causes animals to become better adapted to their environments, and they confuse this with modern evolutionary biology.  
Those are just a few excerpts; you can read the whole thing for free at the link above. I don't find it at all surprising to think that there are plenty of people who profess to accept evolution but don't actually understand evolutionary theory. I wouldn't be surprised, for that matter, if such people constitute the majority of evolution-accepters. The idea of inheritance of acquired characteristics which Lamarck advocated just seems to be easier for people to grasp whether they are pro-evolution or not. The matter of why some people find this misunderstanding of evolution perfectly okay and others abhorrent does not seem to be about who is more educated or who thinks more critically per se, but very likely more about religious and/or political affiliation. That's my thought, but I don't have the research to back it up...yet.

In the meantime, people advocating that evolution should be taught in public school science classrooms and never creationism should sit down with a cup of tea and a copy of Darwin's Dangerous Idea if they've never done so. Consider it an intellectual gift to yourself.

The Pope misrepresents evolution

Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him
as an Australopithecine.
Apparently in his Easter address last night, the Pope had some unflattering words for evolution:
Pope Benedict XVI marked the holiest night of the year for Christians by stressing that humanity isn't a random product of evolution.  
Benedict emphasized the Biblical account of creation in his Easter Vigil homily Saturday, saying it was wrong to think at some point "in some tiny corner of the cosmos there evolved randomly some species of living being capable of reasoning and of trying to find rationality within creation, or to bring rationality into it."  
"If man were merely a random product of evolution in some place on the margins of the universe, then his life would make no sense or might even be a chance of nature," he said. "But no, reason is there at the beginning: creative, divine reason."  
Church teaching holds that Roman Catholicism and evolutionary theory are not necessarily at odds: A Christian can, for example, accept the theory of evolution to help explain developments, but is taught to believe that God, not random chance, is the origin of the world. The Vatican, however, warns against creationism, or the overly literal interpretation of the Bibilical account of creation.
...which is kind of like saying that enjoying a thick, juicy steak every now and then doesn't conflict with vegetarianism because hey, steak is the only meat you eat. Just a technicality here, Pope, but I don't think you can really claim to accept evolution if you a) don't understand it, and b) firmly exclude humans from it.  As Jerry Coyne says sardonically on his blog, "Hey, Pope! Haven’t you heard about natural selection? Human evolution isn’t all mutation and genetic drift, you know." I'm guessing that the Pope actually doesn't have the foggiest idea how much randomness has to do with evolution; he's just using it to mean "not guided by God." Because who cares about causality if God isn't the cause?

One of Coyne's readers notes the irony in the fact that (if you ignore the word "randomly") the statement "in some tiny corner of the cosmos there evolved randomly some species of living being capable of reasoning and of trying to find rationality within creation, or to bring rationality into it" is quite beautiful, touching, and humbling. He/she says
I actually think that is a lovely poetic passage. We are bits of the universe that have evolved to bring rationality into the world — what a beautiful sentiment! It sounds rather like Sagan. 
I’m amused that, for me at least, it had precisely the opposite of its intended effect.
That's the thing, isn't it? I'm sure it's possible to understand evolution and still find it depressing and threatening, but it's remarkable how many people who find it depressing and threatening do not understand it.  A hard-liner could quibble about the idea that we evolved "to" do anything at all, but in the context of simple order of events it is quite true that we evolved rationality into the world, in the same way that Daniel Dennett wrote that we evolved free will into the world. At least our version of it, in our world. Richard Dawkins, probably the greatest proponent of evolutionary theory alive today, likes to dwell on the unlikelihood of each of our personal existences, however significant they are to us. In Unweaving the Rainbow he wrote:
We are going to die, and that makes us the lucky ones. Most people are never going to die because they are never going to be born. The potential people who could have been here in my place but who will in fact never see the light of day outnumber the sand grains of Arabia. Certainly those unborn ghosts include greater poets than Keats, scientists greater than Newton. We know this because the set of possible people allowed by our DNA so massively exceeds the set of actual people. In the teeth of these stupefying odds it is you and I, in our ordinariness, that are here.
The reaction I have to such thoughts is awe and wonder. The reaction that people like the Pope have is apparently revulsion and fear-- we, you and I, could not have come into this world without an act of special creation. Life has no meaning otherwise.  Yet here all of us evolution-believers are, comfortably denying ourselves to be the product of a design independent of the process of natural selection, and yet somehow managing to not commit mass suicide in a fit of despair. Some of us believe that there is a god behind the whole process and others don't, but the simple idea of being evolved individuals doesn't shake any existential pillars and cause our sense of teleology to come crashing down. How is that?

I know, by the way, that the Pope wasn't announcing anything new-- that the Church's doctrine has long been that evolution can be accepted but that the human soul was a special creation. But Benedict chose this Easter to reiterate that doctrine in a way that betrays a clear willingness to see understanding (much less accepting) evolution as optional, whereas drawing inferences about its existential significance is not. In that sense he was pretty much promoting willful ignorance as ordained by God. And that I find depressing.

Update

The ACLU of Michigan has filed a brief on behalf of Terry Jones:
The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan has weighed in on the Terry Jones saga, filing a brief supporting the controversial pastor's right to protest this afternoon in front of a mosque.  
In the eight-page brief to the 19th District Court, the ACLU argued that efforts to make Jones pay a peace bond to protest outside the Islamic Center of America constitute prior restraint of his rights to free speech and assembly.  
"The ACLU vehemently disagrees with the content of Pastor Jones' speech, but we feel equally strongly that if the First Amendment is tohave any meaning, it must mean that the government cannot suppress free speech because it, or anyone else, disagrees with that speech," ACLU Staff Attorney Jessie Rossman told The Detroit News today. "While we are not representing Pastor Jones, we filed this friend of court brief to help provide additional analysis with respect to the critical constitutional issues at stake here." . . .   
The ACLU's brief argued that the government cannot suppress speech by making Jones pay a bond based on the cost of police services necessary for anticipated actions of others, calling it an "unconstitutional prior restraint of free speech." The group also cites a 1992 Supreme Court ruling that said it's unconstitutional to have a group bear the cost of police protection due to the content of their message.
Radley Balko comments "Count on this to be forgotten next time a conservative uses the they-never-help-out-Christians version of the tired 'Where’s the ACLU?' mantra."

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Some thoughts on religious anthropomorphism for Easter

Michael Blume writes concerning the "personification of the universe" model of religion:
Religious traditions seem to derive their motivational, cooperative and then reproductive potentials from the belief in superempirical agents - ranging from deceased ancestors to various spirits, angels and demons to gods, bodhisatvas and alien visitors from outer space to God. . .   
In fact, non-personal systems such as early Buddhism, Jainism, Taoism (etc.) had to adopt superempirical agents (such as bodhisatvas, khami, tirthankaras, the Lord Tao and many more) in order to survive demographically. The underlying logic is rooted into evolutionary theory itself: As human beings, we might be ready to accept commandments from supreme "personalities"- but not from abstract and non-living objects or principles.  
As Friedrich August von Hayek rightfully observed: A theistic commandment such as "Be fruiftul and multiply" (Genesis 1, 28) may be accepted by religious believers as authoritative and even beneficial, although it cannot be verified empirically. By personification, religion is able to attribute value to forming families and having children.  
In contrast, to accept empirically tested hypotheses as "teaching" normative commandments would constitute a natural fallacy contradicting our evolved feelings as well as philosophical lore. Although modern definitions of Darwinian or Evolutionary Fitness agree on the importance of reproductive success in evolutionary processes, we are simply not ready to accept any "commandments" thereof.
I'm pretty well convinced myself that when it comes to religion, agency is where it's at-- even when official theology says otherwise. If you want to read a good defense of that point, I would highly recommend Jason Slone's book Theological Correctness: Why Religious People Believe What They Shouldn't.  He marshals a great deal of evidence from experimental psychology to show that people who are thinking religiously are thinking in terms of agency, and that they think of supernatural agents (gods, spirits, bodhisattvas, and so on) as essentially being like humans with some superpowers tacked on.

The argument is basically that religion is ultimately about intuitions-- that theology is something believers accept to signal that they are part of their own particular religious community, but their reflexive reactions suggest that there are more deeply-rooted, fundamental ways of thinking about agency which are applied when thinking about the supernatural.  In other words, that given the right circumstances you can "tease out" convictions in people about how supernatural agents think and behave that rely more on ordinary intuitions about how humans think and behave than on the particular dogma that defines one's faith.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Quote of the day

From Glenn Greenwald, via Ed Brayton of Dispatches who says it's true for him as well:
I always tell people who want to start blogs, it's a great way to have an outlet. I don't think I'd be able to pay attention to political issues if I didn't have the outlet of my blog, like if I just had to keep all that anger and frustration inside and read about lies and have no means of addressing them and exposing them. It's a healthy way, ultimately, to expunge these negative emotions.
I wouldn't be surprised if this is the case for everyone who blogs about politics. It certainly is for me when I write about politics. But blogging is also about pointing to things in the world that are cool or uplifting or fascinating and saying "Hey, this is cool/uplifting/fascinating, check it out." I suspect that it's hard to maintain sanity without having a least a little bit of the latter to go along with the former. Some people only point out the good stuff, the cute stuff, the funny stuff, and that's okay too. But others of us have to, as Greenwald says, expunge the negative emotions. Insofar as Greenwald does it he's helping the world by criticizing things that very much need to be criticized, so I'm grateful he has those emotions to expunge. Ed, too. For me it might be a little more about personal therapy. ;-)

Friday, April 22, 2011

"That Was A Man....He Was Dressed Lik A Woman"

On Monday the 18th a trans-woman attempted to use the womens' restroom at a McDonald's in Baltimore, MD and was beaten by at least two women. From the video (taken by a McDonald's employee) it looks like a manager tried to prevent the attack for a while, but then disappeared as it continued.  The other McDonald's employees can be heard laughing at the situation and doing nothing to help.



The video-taker himself doesn't appear to be at all sympathetic:


The Smoking Gun reports:
A McDonald’s worker has taken credit for filming and uploading to YouTube the latest viral video to capture a brutal assault at a fast food restaurant. 
The employee, identified as Vernon Hackett on social network accounts, posted the video clip to his YouTube page earlier this week. According to his Facebook page, the 22-year-old Hackett, pictured at right, has worked for McDonald's since September 2009. 
The April 18 assault . . . took place at a McDonald’s location on Kenwood Avenue in Rosedale, Maryland, a Baltimore suburb. According to the Baltimore County Police Department, a 14-year-old girl has been charged as a juvenile in connection with the assault, while charges are pending against an 18-year-old woman. “The incident remains under investigation and the State’s Attorney’s Office is reviewing the case,” added investigators. 
Police have identified the assault victim as a 22-year-old woman "who appeared to be having a seizure" when officers arrived at the McDonald's at around 8 PM. 
A manager at the Rosedale McDonald’s said she was “not allowed to speak to a reporter." In a corporate statement this afternoon, McDonald’s said it was “shocked by the video from a Baltimore franchise,” and called the incident “unacceptable, disturbing and troubling.” The firm added, “We are working with the franchisee and the local authorities to investigate this matter.”
Who knows what will come of this? Our dubious videographer might have recorded it for his own (and Youtube's) jollies, but hopefully this will count against all responsible parties. The downside of people recording their own crimes is that it can become fodder for the entertainment of conscience-less people on a Friday night; the upside is that it can become evidence.

Update

Terry Jones is on trial this morning by a Michigan jury which is going to decide whether or not he can protest at the Islamic Center of America in Dearborn without having paid a $100,000 "peace bond."  If that makes you do a double-take and say "Whaa?" I'm right there with you.

If it doesn't, here's why it should: the content of Jones' speech is irrelevant to the matter of whether he should be allowed to protest. The Supreme Court has determined this time and time again. So long as his protest is peaceful he has a right to do it, and you cannot attempt to prevent someone from exercising their rights by charging them an enormous amount of money to do so. Ed at Dispatches writes:
All of this is blatantly unconstitutional. The boundaries of the First Amendment are not determined by juries. And the practice of requiring those who wish to protest to put up bonds before holding controversial protests was declared unconstitutional decades ago by federal courts. 
This principle goes back to the civil rights era, when cities run by racist leaders who wanted to prevent legitimate civil rights marches would try to charge those who organized those protests for the extra police protection needed to keep them safe from the KKK and others who might react violently to them. 
That it now involves someone who preaches against civil rights for Muslims is not a legally relevant difference; the government must protect the right to protest and protect those who engage in protest from violent reaction no matter how heinous the message of the protest may be. . .  
No matter what the jury decides tomorrow, the state court's ruling is baffling and almost certain to be struck down by a higher court if challenged.
The ACLU supports Jones' right to protest, and so do more Dearbon Muslims:
Majed Moughni, a Dearborn attorney, agrees that Jones has the right to protest. Moughni is not a fan of Jones, having burned him in effigy last year outside his Dearborn home because he had threatened to burn the Quran. Jones later oversaw the burning of a Quran last month. 
But Moughni says it's wrong for the city and county to try to hinder Jones' rights. Moughni added that this is turning Jones into a hero. 
"Instead of him being the bad guy, now he's the hero," Moughni said. "They've turned him into a hero of the First Amendment." 
"The prosecutors should withdraw their demands and let him speak as he wishes, which is his right under the Constitution." 
Update: According to the Detroit Free Press,
A Dearborn jury just sided with prosecutors, ruling that Terry Jones and Wayne Sapp would breach the peace if they rallied at the Islamic Center of America in Dearborn 

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Demonstration denied in Dearborn; Dawud declares doubts

Dawud Walid
Anti-Islam pastor Terry Jones takes his show to Michigan...or at least attempts to. In a bid to become to Muslims what Fred Phelps has been to gays and the military, Jones announced that he and his church would be protesting at the Islamic Center of America in Dearborn, the largest mosque in North America. But city officials in Dearborn are not keen to allow that:
Concerned about a potential outbreak of violence, Wayne County prosecutors have filed a complaint in court that seeks to compel Florida pastor Terry Jones -- who oversaw the burning of a Quran last month -- not to rally outside an Islamic center in Dearborn this week. . . 
Filed Friday in 19th district court in Dearborn, prosecutors say that if Jones shows up outside the center, "the greatest danger is the likelihood of a riot ensuing complete with the discharge of firearms."  
 Maybe they should have asked local Muslims first what they thought:
Not everyone shares the Wayne County Prosecutor's concern that Dearborn will be unable to constrain its passions in the face of Terry Jones' planned protest Friday.  
Dawud Walid, Executive Director of the Council on American Islamic Relations - Michigan says he's doesn't support the legal effort to thwart Jones' event.  
He told the [Detroit] Free Press that "their action innocently played into Jones' objectives, which is to paint Dearborn as a pro-sharia city that's oppressing Christians, which is, of course, not true."  
Walid also said the court filing inaccurately tries to "equate the actions of zealots in Afghanistan with Muslim Americans in Dearborn." He described the Dearborn community as a peaceful one that would not harm Jones.  
Terry Jones
If you're going to let the KKK march in Skokie, you have to let Islamophobes with odd mustaches demonstrate in Dearborn. In addition to it being a violation of the First Amendment to prevent Jones' demonstration, it is also as Walid points out a kind of slap in the face to American Muslims to assume that they will be provoked to violence. Normal, sane people will not interpret banning the protest as having pro-sharia motivations, but extreme right-wingers who like to talk about "creeping sharia" and have successfully (and redundantly) banned its implementation in Oklahoma will. In reality, it is a well-intentioned but deeply misguided violation of a bigoted group's right to freedom of speech. Jones' demonstration permit has been denied pending a court appearance:
Jones is due in 19th District Court in Dearborn on Thursday to answer prosecutors' claims that his demonstration could cause a riot and demands he post a "peace bond" to cover police costs.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Threadless photography

Here's a video on how Threadless does their seemingly endless t-shirt photo shoots, featuring photographers Sean Dorgan and Sean Donohue. If you shop at Threadless (and I do, more than I should) you're probably familiar with how they give each shirt a style of photography and setting to complement its design, and they're often very specific, complex, artistic, and fun.


Inside the Threadless Photo Department from PhotoShelter.com on Vimeo.

Don't dress your children provocatively...or major news sites will call them "tramps"

I find it difficult to imagine how someone could read this without being creeped out by the author rather than the subject of his own disturbance:
I saw someone at the airport the other day who really caught my eye.  
Her beautiful, long blond hair was braided back a la Bo Derek in the movie "10" (or for the younger set, Christina Aguilera during her "Xtina" phase). Her lips were pink and shiny from the gloss, and her earrings dangled playfully from her lobes.  
You can tell she had been vacationing somewhere warm, because you could see her deep tan around her midriff thanks to the halter top and the tight sweatpants that rested just a little low on her waist. The icing on the cake? The word "Juicy" was written on her backside.  
Yeah, that 8-year-old girl was something to see alright [sic] ... I hope her parents are proud. Their daughter was the sexiest girl in the terminal, and she's not even in middle school yet.
This is a CNN columnist, LZ Granderson, attempting to shame parents for the fact that he looked at their prepubescent daughter and found her sexually attractive. Oh wait, he didn't find her sexually attractive...he's just pointing out that some other adult might, and therefore they shouldn't dress their daughter like a "tramp." That's the take-home lesson-- it is the responsibility of parents not to allow their daughters to dress in a way that connotes sexual attractiveness in adults, because...adults apparently can't handle themselves? The sight of an eight-year-old's midriff is just too much to take? Really?

Strange how uncannily that sounds like the comments that residents of Cleveland, Texas made only recently about an 11-year-old girl who was gang-raped: "she dressed older than her age, wearing makeup and fashions more appropriate to a woman in her 20s." Ergo, we can dance right up to the edge of saying She was asking to be raped, that little whore without actually doing so.

Hypothesis: The general resistance to the idea of young girls dressing "sexy" is almost entirely an attempt to protect adults, not children. And it is done by transferring the blame of adults finding themselves attracted to children, to the children themselves and to their parents. Don't dress in a way that might cause me to look at you inappropriately, little girl, and I (probably) won't. But if you do and I do, it's your fault. That's how we get a grown man reacting with horror to the fact that a little girl is dressed in a way that almost certainly isn't remotely sexual to her. She thinks she looks pretty and is dressed comfortably. That's it.

The column goes on:
Abercrombie & Fitch came under fire this spring for introducing the "Ashley," a push-up bra for girls who normally are too young to have anything to push up. Originally it was marketed for girls as young as 7, but after public outcry, it raised its intended audience to the wise old age of 12. I wonder how do people initiate a conversation in the office about the undeveloped chest of elementary school girls without someone nearby thinking they're pedophiles? 
Answer: they don't. Someone like you will always think it, without any sense of irony.

A push-up bra on a twelve-year-old is silly.  It is not a threat to society, the psychology of the girl in question, or that of everyone around her. I started wearing a bra of necessity when I was in the fourth grade, about age ten. That should tell you that I had no need of a push-up bra at that age or any other, but it's not like millions of girls that age don't experience anxiety regarding the size of their chests. Although honestly, being caught using a push-up bra sounds like a liability as much as being caught stuffing your bra was when I was in school. You accepted your fate, or you got mocked...but most likely it was a certain amount of both. It's hard to imagine that ever changing.
The way I see it, my son can go to therapy later if my strict rules have scarred him. But I have peace knowing he'll be able to afford therapy as an adult because I didn't allow him to wear or do whatever he wanted as a kid. 
Maybe I'm a Tiger Dad. 
Maybe I should mind my own business. 
Or maybe I'm just a concerned parent worried about little girls like the one I saw at the airport.
In 2007, the American Psychological Association's Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls issued a report linking early sexualization with three of the most common mental-health problems of girls and women: eating disorders, low self-esteem and depression. There's nothing inherently wrong with parents wanting to appease their daughters by buying them the latest fashions. But is getting cool points today worth the harm dressing little girls like prostitutes could cause tomorrow?
And dressing little girls "like prostitutes" means..what?  And the harm it causes is...what?  I'm not willing to daydream the answers to those questions into existence. A few points:
  1. You can suggest that certain things are for adults but not children without suggesting that they are nasty, tawdry, or otherwise disreputable.  A high-end prostitute (not that there's anything wrong with being one) dresses similarly to any other attractive well-to-do woman going out on a date. There is no guaranteed way to distinguish between the two.  
  2. If you're concerned about your daughter becoming a low-end prostitute, a street walker (my mother's favorite term for what I was emulating when my skirt was a bit high or shirt too tight for her liking), her apparel is probably the last thing that should dominate your attention. Try focusing on her grades. Or her general sense of well-being. A good way to prevent other people from defining your daughter by her appearance is not to do so yourself, don't you think?
  3. An eight-year-old only understands that there is something wrong with going topless because her parents tell her so. And there is nothing inherently wrong with going topless; it's simply a social convention. Sooner or later every woman-- every human being, if they have a spark of intellect and creativity-- will come to challenge social conventions, and it doesn't mean he or she is less of a person. Quite the opposite, actually.  
Full disclosure: I'm not a parent, and don't intend to ever become one. To a lot of people that renders my opinion of anything at all related to children invalid. But I am a female, have been a girl child, and have experienced the complete bewilderment that comes when people insist that you're doing something wrong, that there is something wrong with you, simply because of how you've chosen to dress. When you grow up you realize that there is actually something wrong with them. They want you to dress a certain way because otherwise they will be unable to refrain from judging you, raping you, or both.  

I realize that there is such a thing as propriety. The little girl described in this column probably shouldn't show up at a funeral in her halter top and Juicy sweatpants. There is also such a thing as legitimate concern about your child's sexual choices-- nobody wants their daughter to become accidentally pregnant, or their son to accidentally impregnate someone's daughter. But clothing styles and sexual practices are two different things. Really, it's true. If we insist on pretending otherwise, we are giving credence to the victim-blamers and feeding the pervasive bias that suggests someone's personal worth can be determined by how she dresses.  Prostitutes and promiscuous women are lesser, the thinking goes, therefore people who dress like prostitutes and promiscuous women (or more accurately, how I imagine such people dress) are lesser by association. That is how a grown man writing for CNN gets to apply the word "tramp" to a little girl.   

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Tuesday links

  • New Hampshire Tea Partiers' opinions of gay marriage range from apathetic to vaguely supportive.  I wonder how many of those people are members of the Free State Project.  Check out the guy at 42 seconds in.
  • Iowa, Florida, and Minnesota are trying to ban covert photography of factory farm operations. I would've thought that unauthorized documentation was already against the law, but these measures will apparently also criminalize the possession and distribution of images. On the one hand, these farms are private property and footage taken of them is often used by groups like PETA to make wild and unverifiable claims about how they operate. On the other hand, opacity is the means by which industrial farming survives unquestioned. We need to see this stuff in order to make informed choices, and agribusinesses sure aren't going to offer it voluntarily. Sigh.  
  • Homophobia in hip-hop: three academics comment on combating it in their classrooms.  
  • So far as I'm aware, the term "contempt of cop" was coined by Radley Balko to describe situations in which a person was hassled, arrested, or worse simply because a police officer didn't like his/her attitude. It describes this interaction between a bicyclist, a joker, and four NYPD officers.  
  • An article on the life of Glenn Greenwald in Out magazine. Greenwald is one of the most insightful and informed critics of American politics today, and he lives in Brazil because their laws are more accommodating to him and his boyfriend are those of his home country, the so-called "land of the free."

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Pouncing on privilege, smack talking in/on sports

A commenter at Dispatches From the Culture Wars remarks, in response to conversation about Kobe Bryant's recent $100,000 fine for calling a referee a "fucking faggot":
Most people who fight for 'equal rights' do it because they, or people close to them, are members of the group being discriminated against. They fight - and this is tremendously cynical, I know, but probably accurate - they fight not for an end to discrimination as a concept, or for equal rights for everyone, but to gain the privilege for their group that other groups already possess. 
The civil rights movement of the 1960s was not about equal rights for everyone, black or white, male or female, gay, straight, or transgender - it was about giving straight black males the same privilege that straight white males possessed. And those straight black males (in, for example, black Christian churches) strongly fight against gay marriage, and are irritated by attempts to compare gay rights to the struggle for black civil rights, because they see, in the elevation of gay men and women from their underprivileged position, a threat to the privilege they have gained for themselves.
Cynical, yes, but I think true-- well, except that I think he's overstating the last part.  I don't think black men need be guarding privilege to be against elevating gays or women. They just need to not care. If it's true that most people everywhere don't care about equal rights unless it directly affects them personally or those they love, that's enough. It allows for a kind of tacit, rather than active, bigotry...the kind practiced by people who "don't care" about gay marriage because they haven't been slapped in the face by the lack of privilege confronted by gays. Fighting to protect a privilege requires awareness of that privilege, and one of the trademark qualities of privilege is that people aren't aware of it. Because they don't have to be.

I'm not going to really comment on the "As an athlete Kobe Bryant has a responsibility to be a good role model for the kids" thing. So far as I'm concerned professional sports amounts to paying a bunch of muscle-heads millions of dollars a year to wage a regular facsimile of tribal warfare. Then we are surprised and outraged every time when, instead of being models of decency for children, they engage in leisure-time activities such as dog-fighting, beating/raping women, and casual bigotry. 

Saturday, April 16, 2011

What color is the skin in your world?

I realize that I could dedicate this entire blog to making fun of stupid things on Fox and Friends and have more than enough material every day. I don't want to do that, because a) there are other things to talk about, and b) doing so would require actually watching more Fox and Friends. So I'm going to comment on this and then leave them alone for a while:



Yes, apparently there is a problem with the fact that Crayola offers a marker set which includes colors intended to represent the skin tones of different races.  Because the word "multicultural" is right there on the box, someone like Michelle Malkin (who acknowledges that her own skin is not the "peach" color that was formerly called "flesh" and had to use burnt sienna as a child instead) can accuse Crayola of "pandering to liberal parents." Because the only people who would like to represent different skin tones accurately are liberals. And they do it out of PC guilt. Steve Doocy points out that when he was a kid he had to draw himself in yellow, which made him look like "that jaundiced guy from Kansas" (what?) and Malkin replies that in spite of all that, "we survived."

Well, yes Michelle...you did. I'm pretty sure you would have survived just fine without any crayons or markers at all. If you wanted to create an image of something, by golly you could just use a pencil, chalk, pen, or lipstick stolen from Mom and you'd like it. Or hell, scratching in the dirt should be good enough. Actual mark-making utensils are for liberal pansies. They're the only ones who would want to do something sissy like sit around and draw anyway.

I half-hope that some kid who worships Michelle Malkin (yes, that's a stretch) decides to draw a picture of her and send it in, having used these markers because he/she wanted to make sure and get the color of her skin as accurate as possible. What would she do-- toss the thing out? Pretend it doesn't exist?  Assume a conspiracy?  An 8 pack can be purchased from Amazon for $5.99. Here's my favorite user review, and note that it's from 2006:

Friday, April 15, 2011

Three Hindus in Switzerland acquitted of destroying holy texts

...but only because they didn't actually go through with it:
Three men who announced their intention to burn copies of the Koran and the Bible on Bern’s Parliament Square last November have been acquitted by a Swiss court. 
The book burnings never took place but the three, two Indians and a Swiss, were charged with violating laws on freedom of faith and religious practice. 
The judge ruled that the men could not be prosecuted for simply announcing their intention to burn the religious texts. However the three were asked to pay half of the costs on the grounds that they had overstepped the boundaries of personal freedom and injured the religious feelings of others.
You could, I assume, feel free to burn a Spiderman comic if you wanted to. Even in the presence of someone who had read every one, collects them all, and has seen every movie and cartoon ever made. In order to get that changed, Spiderman aficionados would presumably have to declare their allegiance a faith, accumulate sufficient numbers, and get their religion recognized as such by the government. Then it would be against the law to hurt the feelings of someone who worships yet another supernatural figure. Because feelings about supernatural entities are special and deserve punishment if they are denigrated in any way.

As is often the case, the men in question were not themselves big proponents of freedom of speech either:
The trio first publicly called for a ban on young people reading the Koran and the Bible.
I'm so glad for the First Amendment. A government which punishes people for speech which hurts religious feelings out of concern that a rabid mob will rise up in violence against it otherwise has not actually prevented violence-- it has simply taken the mob's job.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

I say toenails; you say battleground of cultural warfare. Potato, potahto.

Another example of why we must never be without Jon Stewart:


Sigh.

I would just leave it there, but there are a few elements to this that managed to slip by un-skewered in Stewart's commentary:

  1. If the son had been a daughter and photo showed the two of them playing with G.I. Joe action figures or building a fort, I doubt anyone would have raised an eyebrow. Girls do get shamed for being interested in stereotypical "boy" things, but that seems to come a little later and from the direction of their peers rather than talking heads on television who think they are psychologically damaged. I grew up wearing a lot of my brothers' hand-me-down clothes and there was no issue, but can't imagine that would have been the case if our genders had been reversed.  
  2. Nail polish, like makeup and clothing styles, is not part of our biological legacy. It's not as though two million years ago a female homo habilis crushed some berries and painted her nails a festive neon pink because her hormones told her to, and the practice became a phenotypic trait of females of the species. Every woman in the world could stop wearing nail polish tomorrow. Though honestly I'd prefer that to be the case with high heels.  
  3. There is no evidence that J. Crew creative director Jenna Lyons is forcing her son to wear toenail polish, in neon pink or any other color. Every time something like this comes up, people immediately start talking about how the parent of the gender-bending kid shouldn't force him/her to fight a cultural battle for them. Fine, that's true. Kids shouldn't be made to pretend that they are advocating for cultural change that supports the ideology of their parents which they couldn't possibly understand. But if a boy wants to wear toenail polish, then let him fucking wear toenail polish. And makeup. And a dress, if he feels like it. By the time he's old enough that his friends start using peer pressure to invoke the cultural gender norms inflicted by their parents on him about what being a boy means (which, by the way, none of them will understand either), he'll stop of his own accord.  Or maybe he won't.  
  4. Following from that -- who cares if he doesn't? Maybe he is gay or trans. Maybe he's a trans woman who happens to be a lipstick lesbian. Maybe he likes breaking the rules. Maybe he's Eddie Izzard. Maybe he thinks his friends are being jerks and he wants to stand up to them. Maybe he just likes wearing toenail polish. Sure, we could point to example after example of men who liked stereotypically feminine things as children and then turned out "just fine"-- aka, stereotypically straight. But that's kinda missing the point that there's nothing wrong with them if they don't. 
 "This is a dramatic example of the way that our culture is being encouraged to abandon all trappings of gender identity," psychiatrist Dr. Keith Ablow wrote in a FOXNews.com health column about the ad. 
This is as likely to happen as everybody deciding to give homosexuality a go if we stop literally and metaphorically beating the crap out of people for being gay. Which is, not. We couldn't abandon all trappings of gender identify if we tried, and most people have no interest at all in trying. What they want is the ability to not have people like like Dr. Ablow calling them deranged if they do something contrary to traditional gender roles. Like a guy who wants to be a stay-at-home dad, doesn't care for sports, and/or has opinions about fashion. Or a woman who works as an engineer, doesn't want kids, and/or tears it up in Killzone 3. Or, god forbid, a boy who likes wearing pink toenail polish.

1,000 facepalms to Fox News for this idiocy, and 500 each to CNN, ABC, NBC, and whoever else for doing anything other than pointing and laughing at them for it.

Glenn Beck vs. lady parts

When a man and a woman love each other very
much, her happy pink ghost has grapes. Pretty sure
this is how many right-wingers understand reproduction
By the way...I'm a hooker who is planning on having 400 abortions. There, I've outed myself. Whew! It feels good to get that off my chest. Or out of my womb. Or something.

Because you see, I rely on Planned Parenthood currently for reproductive services and have done so, off and on, for the past few years. And that's the only kind of woman who would do such a thing.

There is no other reason that a normal, healthy person would need Planned Parenthood on a regular basis for something other than abortion, which can be seen in the other 97% of the pie chart on the left below. No sirree bob. None at all.

You can listen to the recording of Glenn Beck at the above link, but I wouldn't recommend it as it might inspire spewing of your last meal. I don't watch or listen to Beck normally and my opportunity to do so has decreased significantly now that his show on Fox has been canceled, but he does still have a nationally syndicated radio show that runs for three hours daily, which is what that clip is from. Three hours a day is a lot of time to dispense complete bullshit, so it's really not surprising that gems like this should come out of his mouth on a regular basis..accompanied, of course, by mockery of people like Lawrence O'Donnell for thinking about the effect that budget cuts for Planned Parenthood would have for women he knows who depend on it.

I can't be one of those people who regularly dissect the nonsense of Beck, Rush Limbaugh, and Bill O'Reilly, because it almost literally pains me to listen to it. There's something inside me that shrivels up and dies when I hear them, and it seems to be directly tied to the sensation I get when witnessing someone embarrassing or hurting himself. It's really not pleasant. So if it's ever important to know what they have to say (which is itself in doubt), I generally rely on transcripts. It's just that with the quote above, I genuinely could not believe that Glenn Beck said those words without hearing them for myself. Beck is the guy who rambles on about conspiracies and imminent Armageddon. Limbaugh is the guy who says nasty things about women. That's what I thought, anyway, but apparently I was wrong-- that, or Beck's branching out. Lucky us!

Between Beck and that guy on Fox and Friends who thinks you can get a pap smear at Walgreens, I sometimes wonder if the loudest conservative men have ever even met a woman.  Because honestly, they have this disturbing tendency of speaking about us as if we're something they have only read of a children's book.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Can I choose d) Jainism? How about e) pantheism?

Are you by chance a directionless hipster? Someone who is into the body mods, but doesn't much care what he/she gets or what ideology lies behind it? Then this might just be the product for you: a random religion-choosing tattoo machine.
The strongest indication of a person’s religion is geography. You are born into your religion. That doesn’t make it irrelevant or incorrect–religion provides a framework for basic morality that’s very powerful and it gives people a cultural identity that spans borders. I’ve attended mass in Dutch, German, French, and Spanish and I’ve always felt like I belonged. While my personal experience with religion is one of inclusion, a system that unites people from different regions and cultures, the public face of religion is often one of exclusion. Muslim, Christian, and Jewish zealots who know what God wants. More specifically they know what God doesn’t want and apparently God does not want me...or you. This public face of religion is always so certain, self-confident, even arrogant. That anyone could possibly know the “truth” when that truth is randomly assigned at birth is just funny.  
Auto Ink is a three axis numerically controlled sculpture. Once the main switch is triggered, the operator is assigned a religion and its corresponding symbol is tattooed onto the persons arm. The operator does not have control over the assigned symbol. It is assigned either randomly or through divine intervention, depending on your personal beliefs.
Darn Abrahamic-centrism.

Shape

You know what the absolute worst part of not working out for a long time is?
The first time back. That's when you're slapped in the face with the fact of how utterly out of shape you are, and how far you have to go until you're back at a point more closely resembling where you were a few years ago, when you worked out almost religiously--no fooling-- and still didn't consider yourself to be in good shape.

Yeah.

I went swimming this morning, because that's my exercise of choice. And I started to feel like I was actually doing something, like my body was actually cooperating, toward the end. Tomorrow I'll go earlier and do more.

Damnit.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Perspectives on the Huffington Post suit

A group of volunteer bloggers who have written for the Huffington Post have come together in a class-action lawsuit against the newly AOL-owned site to the tune of $105 million, headed by a journalist called Jon Tasini. Their argument is that HuffPo has taken advantage of them and owes them back pay for all of the work they've done with no contract for payment and from which the site made a profit. HuffPo is going to respond, I assume, by pointing out that a) there was no promise to pay them, b) they knew this, c) could leave at any point if this agreement was not satisfactory, and e) they nevertheless benefited from the arrangement through gained exposure.  But here are some opinions from people who are more informed on the matter than I:

Tasini himself:
"Arianna Huffington is pursuing the Wal-Martization of creative content and a Third World class of creative people," Tasini said in a press release. "Actually, that is unfair to Wal-Mart because at least Wal-Mart pays its workers something for the value those workers create. In Arianna Huffington's business model, economic gain is only reserved for her. Everyone else, apparently, is expected to work for free regardless of the value they create. Greed and selfishness is the order of the day."
David Goldstein, former HuffPo contributor:
I wouldn't mind getting a share of the $105 million class action lawsuit Jonathan Tasini is filing on behalf of exploited, unpaid bloggers like me. I mean, The Stranger only pays marginally more than Huffington Post, so, well, I could really use the money.  
That said, I agree with Eli, in that as a writer giving away my work for free, I knew exactly what I was getting. Nothing. Zilch. Nada. At least in direct monetary compensation.  
But it wasn't exactly a one-way street. Arianna Huffington got free content from folks like me, and in exchange I got a larger audience and a slightly enhanced national profile. Furthermore, the bulk of my eighty-some posts at HuffPo were cross-posts, so they didn't take much extra work, and they all linked back to HA, both bumping my traffic, and more importantly, my Google ranking.  
All in all, not an entirely bad deal for me, and no hard feelings. It would have been nice if Arianna had shared the wealth of her AOL windfall with those of us who helped make it possible, if only a token gesture. You know, like a buck or two a post. Or maybe a gift certificate to Olive Garden. But I wasn't expecting it.  
In fact, if I have any ambivalence (if not downright regrets) over my career as a blogger, it's got more to do with the way I sold myself cheap at my own blog, rather than the eyes-wide-open arrangement I had at HuffPo. For six years I obsessively covered Washington state and local politics for free, mostly full-time. How could that not help but contribute to the devaluation of the profession, negatively impacting not only my own finances, but those of my colleagues in the legacy press? 
 Radley Balko, criminal justice journalist newly hired by HuffPo, on his blog:
I realize this is going to look like I’m just shilling for my future employer, but really, what the hell am I missing about this Huffington Post controversy?  
A bunch of people agreed to write for Huffington Post for free. Or rather, in exchange for a platform that gave them access to a pretty large audience. They did this knowing full well that the goal of Huffington Post has always been to eventually become profitable. If they agreed to sit behind their keyboards and voluntarily churn out free content, how exactly have they been exploited? And on what basis could they possibly argue that those prior agreements should change now that the site has been purchased by AOL?  
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve written for free over the years. It’s how you get a foot in the door. It has never occurred to me to go back and sue all of those publications. Come to think of it, I’ve been writing for all of you for free for the last nine years. Expect a visit from my process server soon. 
Although I can sympathize with Tasini's issue and Goldstein's complaints, this can't be about "fair." If things were fair, all good writers would get paid well for their work and poor writers wouldn't get hired for anything. But since contracts are what matter here and HuffPo made no agreement to pay these writers for their work (so far as I understand), there shouldn't be any way for them to demand payment after the fact regardless of how much work they did. If they're not happy about that, they're free (again, so far as I know) to refuse to do any more writing without pay, and to bitterly condemn the HuffPo's business model to anyone who will listen. Which is what they have been doing.

It's as if they're trying to give Colbert material...


Colbert has been tweeting all sorts of non-factual statements about Kyl today. A sampling:
Jon Kyl calls the underside of his Senate seat: "The Booger Graveyard." 
Jon Kyl sponsored S.410, which would ban happiness.
Jon Kyl has the world's most extensive catalogue of snuff films.
Jon Kyl once ate a badger he hit with his car.

On being "gender atypical"

I've written before about how LGBT issues are ultimately about gender role conformity in general, and Dan Savage posted on that topic today in relation to the It Gets Better Project:
Got this question last night at Cornell University... 
Cornell professor Ritch Savin-Williams said in the New York Times that he's concerned that it's not about gay youth, but about gender-atypical kids. Is the "It Gets Better" campaign too narrowly focused?
The kids who suffer the most from anti-gay bullying—the prime targets—are the gender-nonconforming kids, i.e. the sissies and the tomboys, the kids who can't pass for straight. And some of the kids who can't pass for straight are straight. Most kids who are gender nonconforming, or gender atypical, are lesbian, gay, bi, or trans, and the IGBP was created to reach out to these queer kids. But the messages at the IGBP are relevant to straight gender-atypical kids, and we know that straight-but-gender-nonconforming kids are watching the videos, commenting on them, taking hope from them, and contributing their own videos. 
But, yes, we have to address issues around gender—gender expectations and stereotypes—to truly address anti-gay bullying. We can learn to recognize rough gender norms without stigmatizing or punishing kids who depart from those norms. 
Homophobia doesn't just punish people who are actually gay, bi, or trans. It punishes everyone who doesn't match a traditional idea of what maleness and femaleness are.  I was a tree-climbing short-haired tomboy through most of elementary and middle school, and was called a dyke more times than I'd care to remember by the same straight guys who punished each other regularly for deviating from a rigid standard of machismo in the slightest. I feel sorry for them in retrospect, because they were victims of the same rigid, idiotic standards of gender that they inflicted on me.

Jen McCreight channels her 13-year-old self to reply to Savage:
I like boys, and I have a huuuuge crush on one who I think likes me back. But I'm a tomboy and I always have been. . .  
And that's why everyone thinks I'm a lesbian. I don't care if people are gay, but the way they say the word hurts so much. They whisper it like I'm dirty or broken. Girls don't like changing by me in gym class, even though I'm more concerned that my underwear is dorky than what they look like in their underwear. I know it'll probably stop when I get a boyfriend (if that ever happens, sigh) but that just makes me feel worse, knowing that the kids who really are gay can't hide like that and have to put up with this forever. 
But when I'm feeling down, I can watch the It Gets Better Project videos and know I'm not alone. So this big letter was to say "thank you."

Monday, April 11, 2011

"I have a suicide"

In Colorado Springs yesterday, an elderly man called police to report his own suicide:
At about 8:15 a.m. the 74-year-old man called 911 to report "he had a suicide," according to the police report.  
When a dispatcher asked for more information, he replied, "Hold your ears," then the dispatcher heard a gun discharge, according to the report.  
Police rushed to the home and found the man dead with a .38-caliber pistol in his hand, "along with several notes indicating funeral arrangements and desired disposition of his property," according to the report.

There isn't any information in the brief article about his mental history, but it does note that he had been treated for "several medical conditions." Whether those conditions were the ultimate reason for his suicide, we just don't know.

Dr. X recently posted about witnessing the reaction after someone had committed suicide by train-- perhaps purposefully holding up a final metaphorical middle finger to strangers by opting to step in front of the train during Friday rush hour on a commuter track, thus traumatizing a lot of people, particularly the train's unfortunate engineer. As I remarked there, I think it's pretty easy to acknowledge that in a society where suicide and assisted suicide are illegal, there will inevitably be some inconvenience (at the very least) caused to others by a person who decides to go ahead and do it anyway. But people who do make that choice seem to exist on a continuum of concern. This man in Colorado Springs clearly put a good deal of thought into the decision to end his life, not just about whether or not to do it but how to do it...well, considerately. As much as that is possible, anyway.

Historical tweets

Scott Johnson at Extralife imagines what might have happened if Twitter had always been around:

I love this idea. I also love the fact that they're all "tweeting" on whatever communication device might have been available at the time.

It made me immediately start to imagine tweets that could have been made by famous historical figures:
@Wilkesy: Lincoln’s totes going down tonight. 
@Wilkesy: Oops, my account is public, isn’t it? Omigod I hear knocking at the door. GTG
@marie_curie: Stupid professor gave me a drawer full of salt to analyze. Sigh, busy work. Not sure why it’s glowing, or why I feel so odd. LOL
@RFranklin: That bastard Watson GOT INTO MY DNA PHOTOS!!!111!! Wilkins is SO gonna pay. #younocanhasdoublehelix
@FCrick: RT @JWatson Hahahaha @RFranklin we’ll get the Nobel Prize and u won’t. #ownage