David Harris: Give Ukraine A Chance 2014-04-24
The Ukraine crisis continues. At this stage, no one can safely predict where the country will be a month from now, let alone a year down the road.
Nonetheless, a few things appear crystal-clear.
First, history will record this as a high-stakes, even defining, crisis. What happens in Ukraine matters -- first and foremost, of course, to the Ukrainian people -- but it doesn't stop there. The reverberations can already be felt across the region and beyond.
No, 2014 is not 1938, and Russia today is not Germany then. But that doesn't mean there aren't echoes of the past in the present -- Crimea as Sudetenland? Ukraine as Czechoslovakia? Other Russian-speaking areas, such as Transnistria, to follow, based on assertions they are being persecuted by "neo-Nazi" regimes wielding power in capitals from Kiev to Chisinau to who knows where, and whose residents allegedly clamor for salvation from Moscow?
Second, this is a test of America's global leadership. From what I learned on my visit to Kiev earlier this week, which overlapped with the arrival of U.S. Vice President Joe Biden and a Congressional delegation, it is abundantly clear that Ukraine is looking to Washington for significant help.
This includes direct assistance to bolster the country's perilous economic condition, reduce its vulnerability to Russian energy dependence, and strengthen its security capabilities.
And it means standing up unflinchingly to Russia, something that only the U.S. has the capacity to do.
Third, this is a critical test for the European Union.
The EU may not have America's hard power, but it has no shortage of soft power that, in its political, economic, and moral weight, is not inconsequential.
Ukraine borders on four EU countries -- Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, and Romania -- which together effectively constitute the regional bloc's eastern border. Moreover, the Maidan protests, lasting months and costing the lives of over 100 Ukrainians, were triggered by popular anger at the policy u-turn of President Yanukovych, who, at the last minute, spurned an historic deal with the EU that his own government had pursued, and turned instead to Moscow. Will the EU stand by those Ukrainians who aspire to a pro-European future for their nation?
The fourth key point has to do with Ukraine itself.
Here is the chance for the country to prove it can pull itself together, even in the midst of the crises in its southern and eastern districts, and create a "new" Ukraine -- anchored in democratic values, tackling endemic corruption and the need for administrative reform, affording equal opportunity and protection to all its citizens within its multi-ethnic society, and winning the battle against the lingering demons of anti-Semitism and xenophobia.
To be sure, Ukraine has a painful history of anti-Semitism that dates back centuries.
But, and this is a big but, since the rebirth of Ukrainian independence in 1991, many have struggled to create a receptive new environment for the hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian Jews -- and there's much to show for the effort up the present day.
Anti-Semitism hasn't totally disappeared, especially among ultra-nationalist, far-right groups (and also, it must be said, among those outside the country who currently seek to destabilize it by cynically playing the anti-Semitism "card").
At the same time, Jewish life in Ukraine has been revitalized, Jewish groups abound, relations with Israel are excellent, and, currently, a Deputy Prime Minister is Jewish, one of the 450 members of Parliament wears a kippah, and a few governors and mayors are also Jewish.
Many Jews outside Ukraine may find it difficult to acknowledge these changes. Their views of Ukraine are essentially frozen in time, based on their own, or their families', tragic experiences. While entirely understandable, it would nonetheless be a mistake to fail to recognize the changes that have occurred, the opportunities that have been created, and the potential that exists for still more progress.
Indeed, there are certain similarities here to the positive evolution, or perhaps even revolution, in the relations of Jews with Germany, Poland, the Baltic states, and the Catholic Church.
A few in the Jewish world, including AJC, saw the opportunities early on and pursued them relentlessly; others opposed their every move; and still others were, shall we say, asleep at the wheel.
More broadly, there are those who argue that Ukraine isn't worth a confrontation with Russia. It's too risky. It's the wrong time. It's much ado about very little.
I beg to differ.
While no one should seek diplomatic confrontation for its own sake, and Russia remains an absolutely key country in many important respects, if we don't stand up now we almost inevitably risk having to do so later -- and at a still higher price. No, it's never the right time, but such moments are rarely of our choosing. And no, it's not about very little, but actually about quite a lot.
Like other countries, Ukraine and its people should have the right to choose their own destiny as a sovereign, democratic nation. Their borders should not be violated, their land annexed, and their government intimidated by a saber-rattling neighbor. That's not the kind of 21st-century world we want to live in, and Moscow needs to understand that it will pay an escalating diplomatic, political, and economic cost if it insists on playing by its own rules.
We either make that point now, convincingly, or take our chances. Here's hoping we make the right choice.
Foodbeast: 10 Mind-blowing Food Trends Already Dominating 2014 2014-04-24
Quite a few new food trends have made the news over the last year. Between deep-frying your spam into fries and shot glasses made from chocolate chip cookies, this is truly a time to enjoy food. Our friends over at PopSugar compiled a list of 10 of the top mouthwatering food items you absolutely need to try. We couldn't agree more with the list.
10. The Monkey Style Burger
Animal Style Fries stuffed into your In-N-Out burger. A Monkey Style Burger is loaded with gooey gooey deliciousness and totally real. Savvy food lovers may remember this from 2013, but it's quickly gaining popularity as more die-hard In-N-Out fans get word.
9. The Everything Bacon Burger
A burger that utilizes an excess of bacon in every single aspect from the pure bacon patties to the onions.
8. Spam Fries
Fried sticks of glorious Spam are the perfect snack for those watching their carb intake. Pretty sure it's protein, right?
7. Ramen-Crusted Wings
If I could only choose a handful of foods to eat for the rest of my life, ramen and chicken wings would be at the top of that list. Thankfully these ramen-crusted wings could narrow that down.
6. Cheese-Stuffed Doritos
Cheese-stuffed into Doritos. Nuff said.
5. Waffle Tacos
Nothing says breakfast this year more than the waffle taco. Filled with breakfast goodies, you can literally eat a well-balance breakfast while driving. Not that I'd condone eating and driving...
4. Movie Theater Popcorn Cake
An ingenious conception that combines all movie theater snacks into one glorious bite. Definitely saves time fumbling through the different candy containers.
3. Chocolate Chip Cookie Milk Shot
Why waste both hands enjoying your cookies and milk when you can do it all in one? Cookie shots for the house!
2. Chocolate Chip Cookie Cinnamon Roll
The best of two desserts, Dude Foods combined a cookie with a cinnamon rolls. Sweetness overload.
1. The Milky Bun
Possibly the biggest thing to happen to ice cream since Magic Shell, the milky bun combines donuts and ice cream in one melty fried pocket of pure dairy-gasm.
Savannah Badalich: The Student Government Leader Who Sexually Assaulted Me 2014-04-24
Trigger warning: This post contains description of sexual violence.
Two weeks into my second year at UCLA, I was sexually assaulted by a friend and fellow Bruin during a student government retreat.
I was a director within the group, and he held one of the highest positions in the office. We had been drinking, and I excused myself early to walk downstairs and fall asleep on one of the beds. Wearing my father's old t-shirt and a pair of pajama bottoms, I was awoken roughly an hour later with my bottoms pulled down, his hand in my underwear, and him breathing into my ear.
I don't know how to describe what I felt in that moment. It was a combination of confusion, fear, and shock. I didn't realize it was him, until I went to move his hand and he said, "Shit, you're awake? Sshhhh, it's okay." But it was not okay. And, I was not okay. I elbowed him, but he held tighter, gripping my arm so roughly it left a bruise the next day. I said no, but he never stopped. This wasn't the stranger in the bushes. There were no self defense moves I could do in my state. There was no screaming for help -- everyone else was still upstairs and drinking, so no one could hear me. I was powerless, and all I could do was close my eyes, cry to myself, and try to imagine I was somewhere else. Anywhere but there.
The next day, I confronted him. I told him I remembered everything. I was a mess of emotion, but never let myself cry. I used two words I had never thought would apply to me: sexual assault. I told him what he did was sexual assault, and he told me -- and I remember it as clear as day -- "I'm not that kind of guy. No one will believe you."
And, I knew he was right. I knew immediately in that moment that he was completely and utterly right. I was a new director to the office, and his credibility was solid. I had no witness to the event. I had been drinking. I didn't lock the door to the room. All these things I didn't do to prevent my own assault rushed to me, and I knew in that moment that reporting this would be the worst thing to happen to me, and quite possibly could ruin my time at UCLA.
If that's not rape culture, I don't know what is.
I spent the rest of the year remaining silent, telling only a few close friends. I busied myself with extracurriculars and schoolwork. I overworked myself to exhaustion. It wasn't until a -- luckily -- failed suicide attempt mid-year that I received help. I started going to a free counseling center I was referred to by RAINN's National Sexual Assault Hotline, because I had no idea about the sexual assault resources on my own campus or who to ask to find out more.
My experience is not "hysteria" (thanks TIME Magazine). In fact, it's not all that unique. Most students don't know where to go for help, where to look for help, how to report, or don't believe they will ever find justice. Like me, most survivors never report.
Later that same year, I was given the chance to be Student Wellness Commissioner at UCLA, the health representative of roughly 28,000 undergraduates, with a seat on our student council. As Commissioner, I decided to make addressing sexual and gender-based violence on our campus a primary goal. Soon after,7,000 in Solidarity: A Campaign Against Sexual Assault was born.
The campaign started with a pledge card, asking students to ask for consent and more, but it soon evolved into something greater. We started putting on sexual assault prevention workshops, educational poster campaigns, asking for changes to our student code of conduct, and even passed a resolution through our student government asking for administration to be explicit with how they will educate students on their resources and more, in accordance with the Campus SaVE Act. I even came out to our student newspaper, The Daily Bruin, as a sexual assault survivor and the response was beautiful.
7,000 in Solidarity has been my healing process. I've been able talk openly and unapologetically about my own sexual assault, for example, through our Bruins Unbreakable photography campaign, based off of Project Unbreakable. Even more, we've rallied student survivors and allies from across campus to talk about the relationship between sexual assault and alcohol (hint: there is none) in our #AlcoholIsNotConsent photography series. We've even received exposure from BuzzFeed and feedback through social media from survivors across the world.
For the most part, I don't regret not reporting, though sometimes I still struggle with guilt over my own assault. I very often feel re-triggered and traumatized, but at the same time I feel validated and empowered. If this campaign prevents one survivor from being assaulted or gives one survivor the tools they need in the wake of an assault, that is peace enough for me.
This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post in conjunction with Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Read all posts in the series here.
Need help? In the U.S., visit the National Sexual Assault Online Hotline operated by RAINN. For more resources, visit the National Sexual Violence Resource Center's website.
Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
Mike Heenan: An Open Letter To Rap Music (for My Daughters) 2014-04-24
Dear Rap Music,
I've been known to "throw my hands in the air and wave 'em like I just don't care." I used to hit up your shows and you could often "find me in the club, bottle full of bub," where, if your beat thumped enough and your hook looped just right, I could be enticed to "jump motherf*cker, jump motherf*cker jump." And while I've never really been "down with O.P.P.," I do "like big butts and I cannot lie..." And man, those days were the days.
But now that I have two daughters, two centers of the Universe, these are not those days.
I am breaking up with you, Rap Music, and it's not you, it's me. And it's also, kind of, you.
It's your rampant misogyny, homie. It is an epidemic. Your unapologetic sexism is a scourge on an otherwise exceptional cultural phenomenon. A movement I used to wear proudly on the sleeve of my Turbo/Ozone parachute suit while spinning on my back on the cardboard refrigerator boxes my mom brought home for the neighborhood kids to krush grooves and bust a move on. But the game has changed. Since falling headspins-over-heelkicks for the love of my life, that life is no longer about "getting my freak on." And since becoming a SAHD of daughters, cash no longer "rules everything around me." Frozen does. Dora does.
My oldest daughter is only 3, but she is a rosebud. Every day she grows closer to womanhood and every day I am made aware of another biological anomaly or aspect of gender-nature. Just last month, at the playground by our house, a little boy approached and in some brief but instantaneous fit of glee, my daughter turned to me, face a-bloom, and said,
"Dada, he's noiiiiiiice!"
Probably a benign assertion, but thought-provoking none the less. And I've gotta worry about this little boy in his Dada's car, radio cranked up to the tune of "I I I I could BEEP you all the tiiii-i-i-iime." Sure, it all comes down to individual parental responsibility, but that's what I'm doing here, taking responsibility for my music choices. I will NOT have my daughters subconsciously, or euphoniously, convinced that "b*tches ain't sh*t but hoes and tricks."
And to all the young suitors who will undoubtedly cross my daughters' paths, I will have you know a few things:I don't care if it's her birthday or "yo birfday"; "shawty" will not be "go go going" anywhere but the jumpy house in our own backyard, for now, and if you choose to forgo "Happy Birthday" for crooning about your "Magic Stick," you'd better be the guy in the Gandalf getup passing goodies out to the party-goers. My girls are golden, and must be cherished accordingly. You will NOT be "making it rain" around my girls unless you are a sprinkler technician. No offense to the woman that do it for art or necessity, but there will be no pole dancing in this family unless it is this kind. My girls are pillars of spirit and character and must be endeared accordingly. And when my girls grow into those bright beacons of kindness and compassion that I know they will be and the suitors undoubtedly come a-knockin, just know that my daughters will NOT be "riding dirty" with you. Especially if you are "on that good kush and alcohol," in which case they will NOT be one of your "down b*thes [you] can call." My girls shine and must be appreciated accordingly.
You feel me, rap music? Believe me, I appreciatecha as an art form, but how about showing a little respect for the majesty and wonder of the opposite sex? Sure, you "ball so hard," I get it. But, "you need to crawl 'fore you ball/come and meet me in the bathroom stall?" You said it yourself, "that sh*t cray!"
To be clear, there are several distinctions to be made between rap music with its ignorant, lazy and egregious use of the B-word (and other disparaging, anti-female language) to color titles and lyrics (rappers using their Mama-given talents to degrade and endanger those very same mamas) and the highly creative, often educational, occasionally brilliant and sometimes soul-moving storytelling that is true hip-hop music, a genre that I have championed. A culture that I've held close to my heart for decades.
So, as for the former, as a new dad of daughters, Rap Music, I just can't do you no more.
Ciao for now,
P.S. This may not be forever. Hopefully, someday, you will realize the error of your ways, or the pop culture scales will tip and start to favor a more enlightened approach to hit making. I will still check in on you from time to time. I'll be forever curious to see how you are doing. Might even meet you in the car some late night to rehash old memories and get our head-knock on together. But till then, adieu old friend. For the sake of my daughters, I've got to kick you to the curb.
Craig Aaron: Wake Up, Internet -- Time To Save Yourself 2014-04-24
What if you had only three weeks before the Internet you know and love was about to disappear?
Would you spend your time binging on listicles or the final season of Breaking Bad? Or would you do something about it?
Would you email all your friends with the news? Blast your social media networks? Demand that Congress and the president keep this amazing invention from going away?
If the Internet had only three weeks left, would you take to the streets and raise hell?
I bet you would.
And here's your chance to prove it: Because three weeks from today the Internet as we know it may not disappear, but it could be a lot closer to the precipice.
On May 15, the Federal Communications Commission will propose a new set of rules that are supposed to stop big phone and cable companies from blocking websites or discriminating against apps and services they don't like. Only as written the rules would do pretty much the opposite.
According to numerous sources, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler's proposal would allow Internet service providers like Verizon or Time Warner Cable to charge extra fees to content companies like Google and Netflix for preferential treatment, guaranteeing their content reaches end-users ahead of those that don't pay.
In other words: Goodbye, open Internet. Hello, payola Schminternet.
Of course, big Internet service providers like AT&T and Comcast love the idea of a pay-to-prioritize Internet. Instead of having to invest in upgrading their networks or responding to their customers' needs, they can profit from unnecessary congestion and artificial scarcity. Think about it: No one will pay for a spot in the express lane unless the main road is always jammed up.
Such pay-for-priority schemes would be a disaster for startups, nonprofits, independent content creators and everyday Internet users who tbe able to pay these unnecessary tolls. And the stifling of future competitors and disruptive innovators would be a fringe benefit for the big ISPs as they line their pockets. The FCC proposal would even allow ISPs to favor their own content over all others.
This is not what Net Neutrality looks like. It's what the end of Net Neutrality looks like.
The FCC's latest botched attempt to make rules for the open Internet is the result of a federal court decision earlier this year. That ruling threw out the FCC's existing open Internet rules and sent the agency back to the drawing board. Wheeler insists the new rules "will restore the concepts of Net Neutrality consistent with the court's ruling in January."
But contrary to Wheeler's claims, the court didn't force the FCC to choose this path. After the ruling, the FCC had a chance to reverse its failures and pursue real Net Neutrality. Instead, in a moment of extreme shortsightedness, it opened the door to greater discrimination while taking a convoluted, case-by-case approach that likely won't survive a future legal challenge.
The court clearly told the FCC that if it wishes to ensure Internet users can send and receive information free from ISP interference, then the agency must classify ISPs as telecom carriers under Title II of the Communications Act.
While reclassifying broadband wouldn't be easy politically given the clout of the big cable and phone companies (the same companies Wheeler used to lobby for, by the way), it would put the agency on much stronger legal footing. It's also the right thing to do -- really, the only thing to do -- to protect the public and safeguard the Internet's future.
Wheeler's draft is not the last word on the issue. He needs at least two more votes on the Commission before he can put the rules out for public comment. And final rules won't be issued until late summer at the earliest (and likely not until after Election Day).
But now is the time for action. The next three weeks are absolutely crucial to building the public pressure it will take to get the FCC to scrap this wreck and do what it should have done in the first place: reclassify broadband.
So sign a petition and spread the word. Call Tom Wheeler right now and remind him he works for you -- and that you won't settle for anything less than real Net Neutrality.
Start making plans to be in Washington, D.C., on May 15 to stand up for the open Internet. FCC commissioners spend too much time staring at lobbyists: They need to see our faces.
What if you had only three weeks to save the Internet? What would you do?
Whatever it is, you should drop everything and do it right now.
John Tirman: The Usual Suspects Aim To Spoil Iran Nuclear Deal 2014-04-24
As the negotiations over Iran's nuclear program proceed -- apparently with steady progress toward a comprehensive agreement -- and Iran demonstrates to the world it is abiding by the interim agreement signed last fall, the usual suspects who hope to derail this progress have been relatively quiet. But we can expect the calm to end soon. That's the longtime pattern of the U.S.-Iran relationship: spoilers never go away, they just regroup and try to despoil again and again.
The attempt by the Israel Lobby in particular to scuttle the negotiations at the behest of Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu failed earlier this year. The gambit was to intimidate Congress into passing crippling conditions on the talks and indeed new sanctions, even as Iran was complying with the interim deal. The most powerful pro-sanctions group, American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or AIPAC, finally backed off, seeing that several Democratic leaders in the Senate were not going to be coerced.
So the last three months have been quiet as the P5+1 (the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, plus Germany) negotiate with Iran to reach a comprehensive -- that is to say, final -- deal that will constrain Iran's capacity to "weaponize" its civil nuclear power program, to which it's entitled under the terms of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
The high probability is that a final deal will permit Iran some capacity for enrichment of uranium, also permitted under the NPT, but at levels so low that there is no danger of weaponizing. The interim deal implicitly has that provision, and Iran would not accept anything less. (Israel, not so incidentally, is not a signatory of the NPT and has up to 200 nuclear weapons.) It will be this aspect of the final agreement that will provoke the spoilers yet again, even though airtight inspection and monitoring provisions will prevent breakout toward a weapon.
But the spoilers are gearing up using a different tactic, which is to undermine the legitimacy of Hassan Rouhani, the reform-minded president elected nearly one year ago. The Wall Street Journal, owned by right-wing majordomo Rupert Murdoch, chimed in this week with an attack on Rouhani for the treatment of some prisoners in a Tehran lockup. In a piece entitled "Rouhani's Republic of Fear" (recalling Kanan Makiya's book about Saddam Hussein), the Journal opined:"Perhaps a regime, and a president, that can brutalize political dissidents as a matter of routine can prove reasonable at the nuclear negotiating table. We wouldn't count on it, and neither should the West."
Coming from a country that has the highest number of imprisoned citizens and a shameful system of racial bias in sentencing, that's a bit much. But the strategy is clear: disparage and delegitimize the popular Rouhani, who has pushed for more openness in society and is, by all accounts, adhering to nuclear obligations.
The Heritage Foundation has similarly been at work. In a forum last week, it raised not only the human rights issue, but Iran's alleged support for terrorism. The longstanding protocols of arms control have always excluded extraneous issues, not because they're unimportant, but because the challenge of nuclear restraint -- filled with technical details and political compromises -- is complicated enough without entering into a rhetorical contest over who is worse on other issues.
Then there's the tempest-in-a-teapot over Iran's naming an envoy to the U.N. who had served as a translator in the 1979-80 U.S. embassy hostage crisis. This appointment of a reformer who has long served as a diplomat was turned absurdly into a virtual new 9/11 threat. From this thin reed the right-wing Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin went ballistic:"Iran remains a terrorist state and will manipulate international institutions to its advantage with no intention of changing the underlying nature of the regime," she wrote on April 3. This view, she avers, "is so obviously true, one wonders why any responsible lawmaker would indulge the administration in its folly."
So, you see, Rouhani is an abuser of human rights and a terrorist. Iran is hence beyond redemption and should not be treated as a "normal" state. The implication, of course, is that a nuclear deal of any kind -- no matter how much in keeping with the NPT and how tightly regulated Iran's nuclear program would be -- is not worth pursuing.
This is classic spoiler behavior. Just about everyone sees a nuclear deal as a godsend to a region in perpetual turmoil. Such an agreement could have powerful, salutary effects on Iran's relations with its Gulf neighbors, on possible diplomatic approaches to the Syria crisis, and other nettlesome problems. And one suspects that because it has such potentially positive effects, the deal is opposed by Israel, which has fed off the specter of a nuclear Iran for many years.
We will see more of this hysteria as an agreement between Iran and the P5+1 draws near. It would be a small miracle if the United States and Iran, who have nourished each other's misperceptions of the other for 35 years, could ignore the spoilers and write a new narrative of a new relationship.
John Tirman is coauthor and coeditor, most recently, of U.S.-Iran Misperceptions: A Dialogue (Bloombury).
Peter Diamandis: Drones Overhead, Seeing Everything, Always: Inside Google And Facebook's Latest Acquisitions 2014-04-24
Imagine a fleet of drones, overhead, out of sight, tens of thousands of feet in the sky. Imagine those drones being powered by sunlight -- effectively aerial satellites that are orbiting constantly, never having to touch down for fuel. Now imagine thousands of them, perhaps tens of thousands of them, with cameras and radio repeaters on board.
Such a fleet could image everything, all the time, everywhere, at high-resolution. They could also provide low-cost communications -- effectively cellphone towers 60,000 feet tall.
This vision of the future, is why both Google and Facebook are fighting to buy the technology.
Last week, Google (outbid Facebook and) purchased Titan Aerospace -- a drone company -- for $60 million. Titan makes solar-powered drones, which are capable of beaming Internet to parts of the world that are not yet connected. This purchase was announced on the heels of Facebook's acquisition of competing drone company Ascenta for $20 million.
As we've discussed at Abundance 360, there are two key trends emerging:
(1) Global Connectivity: We are heading from a world of 2 billion connected to the internet (in 2010) to at least 5 billion by 2020. But this drone technology, perhaps in combination with Google's stratospheric balloons (called Project Loon) has the potential to take it to 7 billion by 2020.
This is perhaps one reason why, in April 2013, Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt made the surprising pronouncement that, "by the end of the decade (2020), everyone on Earth will be connected to the Internet." This addition of another 3 billion to 5 billion new consumers on Earth is HUGE. If these people are not your customers, then they are your customer's customers. They represent tens of trillions of dollars of new economic buying power entering the global economy. Don't ignore this. This is a huge opportunity.
(2) Perfect Knowledge -- Know Anything, Anytime, Anywhere: Also at Abundance 360, I described where we're heading with the explosion of a trillion sensors, drones, private orbital constellations, Google Glass, etc... basically everything, everywhere will be constantly imaged. How does the ability to follow your competition's supply chain via video change your landscape? How would you data mine all of the available images?
Where else can autonomous high- and low-altitude drones cause disruption beside with Internet access and global imaging? I discuss these answers with the members of the A360 community throughout the year and in person every January at the Abundance 360 Summit.
Hope this insight about the future is useful to you.
Amy L. Freeman: The Moment Lost In A Smile Withheld 2014-04-24
You know that horrible, awkward feeling...when you go somewhere, public or private, and feel like you are underdressed, overdressed or just stand out like a sore thumb? Maybe you've escaped that particular misery, but I've felt it and can assure you it is uncomfortable. The outsider's perception as to whether you actually are inappropriately dressed doesn't matter; it's just how you feel, and it's very hard to shake.
I was thinking about that feeling, the other day, when I was half-listening to an exchange at Bethesda Cares' Drop-In Center. A slim, African-American woman I've seen once or twice before was standing at our coffee station, looking into a small container. She then approached our front-desk volunteer, and asked her if there was any sugar left; she wanted some for her coffee. Flustered, the volunteer jumped up.
"Oh! I'm so sorry, I didn't realize we'd run out, let me get you some!" The volunteer went to the closet, refilled the container from a 10-pound bag, put a serving spoon back in the container and set it on the table in front of the woman. "Here you go!" she smiled.
But the woman didn't reach for the sugar right away. She just stood there, staring at the little container. Then she looked up at the volunteer, and said, "Thank you. Thank you for treating me with dignity."
The volunteer's smile got even brighter. "Why, heavens! Of course! You deserve to be treated with dignity, we all do!"
I watched the woman out of the corner of my eye; she said something, but I couldn't make out her reply.
The thing is, reader, that this woman was dressed in clean, matching clothing, totally appropriate for both the season and for walking around downtown Bethesda. She carried a large tote bag, but nothing of the sort that I haven't lugged around myself on occasion.
I don't know this woman's name, much less her current situation. But if she was at our Drop-In Center, especially if she came in more than once, odds are high that she is at least temporarily without a home.
To me, nothing about her appearance, neither her clothing, nor her posture nor her general comportment gave any external clue as to her predicament. Yet there she stood, bearing the invisible weight of humiliations so deep that she felt grateful for a kind word and a few grains of sugar. I wondered what has happened to her, what people have said (or not said) to or near her, words or glances that have torn at her soul so deeply that she expects nothing but scorn.
As I sat trying to draw a lesson from this moment, the Bible flashed through my mind, "Judge not, lest ye be judged." True, although in this case I'd probably say, "Judge not, because don't think for a minute that you know what burdens anyone else is carrying."
But that wasn't all that I was I was feeling. I was thinking more about the people I've walked by whose burdens were visible, people around whom I have stepped knowing full well they needed some help, and I did not offer them even the dignity of a smile. I finally found the Biblical quotation that hit the mark: 'Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.'
Geoffrey R. Stone: The National Review, Justice Sonia Sotomayor, And Affirmative Action 2014-04-24
In a stunningly insulting editorial, the National Review attacked Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor for her opinion dissenting from the Supreme Court's recent decision upholding the constitutionality of a state's ban on affirmative action. The National Review decried Sotomayor's opinion as "Orwellian," as "legally illiterate and logically indefensible," and as "a case study in . . . moral and legal corrosion." It accused her of "elevating ethnic-identity politics over the law" and of being "a naked and bare-knuckled political activist with barely even a pretense of attending to the law," and it mocked her as a "self-described 'wise Latina.'"
Of course, the National Review has every right under the First Amendment to say all of these things, and I would defend to the death, in Voltaire's words, its right to say them. But that does not make them any less offensive -- or ignorant of the law.
What was the issue in Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action? In 2003, the Supreme Court, in Grutter v. Bollinger, held that the University of Michigan could constitutionally take race into account in its admissions policies in order to increase the diversity of its student body if it did so in a careful and precise manner. Thereafter, the state of Michigan enacted Proposal 2, which prohibited all public educational institutions in the state from using preferences based on race, gender, or national origin in their admissions policies.
The question in Schuette was whether Proposal 2 violated the Equal Protection Clause of the United States Constitution. The argument in defense of Proposal 2 was straightforward: Nothing in the Constitution requires a state to use affirmative action; therefore, the University of Michigan could constitutionally choose not to use affirmative action; therefore, the state of Michigan could constitutionally prohibit the University of Michigan from using affirmative action. That seems simple enough.
But in a series of decisions in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, the Supreme Court held that when a state places special barriers in the way of racial minorities receiving equal treatment, it violates the Equal Protection Clause. To give a simple example, suppose a city enacts a law prohibiting private discrimination on the basis of race, religion, gender, or national origin. Now, suppose the state enacts a law prohibiting any city from prohibiting private discrimination on the basis of race. In effect, the state law allows cities to forbid private discrimination on the basis of religion, gender, and national origin, but not on the basis of race.
Although neither the city nor the state is under any constitutional obligation to have laws prohibiting private discrimination on the basis of race, the Supreme Court in those earlier decisions held that, by making it more difficult for racial minorities to obtain legal protection against private discrimination than other groups in society, the state law violated the Equal Protection Clause. That is, although Jews, Italian-Americans, and women had the freedom to persuade cities to pass ordinances protecting them against discrimination, African-Americans were denied the same freedom. For African-Americans to get a city to pass such an ordinance, they would first have to persuade the state itself to change its law. The Court in these earlier decisions held that this inequality violated the American Constitution.
Michigan's Proposal 2 created a similar situation. Before Proposal 2 was enacted, the University of Michigan was free to adopt affirmative actions programs in the admissions process for African-Americans, football players, violinists, the children of alumni, in-state residents, residents of rural communities, history majors, etc. After Proposal 2, the University of Michigan could adopt affirmative action programs for football players, violinists, the children of alumni, in-state residents, residents of rural communities, and history majors, but not for African-Americans.
Based on the earlier precedents, a pretty good case could be made for the conclusion that the issue in Schuette is properly controlled by the earlier decisions. That was essentially Justice Sotomayor's argument. Moreover, in a concurring opinion, Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas agreed that the prior decisions controlled, which is why they argued that, in order to uphold the Michigan law, the earlier precedents should be overruled. In his plurality opinion, Justice Kennedy tried -- not very convincingly -- to distinguish the earlier decisions.
In short, Justice Sotomayor's opinion was in no way radical. To the contrary, it was a fairly straightforward application of the Court's traditional approach to this sort of issue. For the National Review to characterize it as "Orwellian," as "legally illiterate," as "logically indefensible," as "a case study in . . . moral and legal corrosion," and as elevating "ethnic-identity politics over the law,"is nothing short of ignorant. In fact, the specific legal issue posed in these cases is a difficult one. It has vexed the members of the Supreme Court for more than four decades now, and generations of justices have quite reasonably disagreed about how best to think about this problem. The only way the National Review can characterize this issue as simple and straightforward is by blinding itself to the legitimate complexites of a genuinely complicated legal question and simply assuming that it own political preferences must self-evidently be what the Constitution commands.
Brian Rooney: The Absurdity Of Everest 2014-04-24
Climbing Mt. Everest is no longer a noble pursuit and the people who do it are not heroes. Everest has become a magnet not for the best among us expanding boundaries of the known world, but for the worst, the people with time and money to seek a personal challenge and examine their inner space at the risk of other peoples' lives. They are up there to put a checkmark on their bucket list. May on Everest, Christmas in Thailand.
It's been 90 years since the British climber George Mallory died trying to conquer Everest, "Because it's there." In his time, Mallory's quest was like putting a man on the moon. Back then you could only look up at a mountain like Everest. Now anyone can buy a plane ticket and look down.
Since Mallory, about 300 climbers have followed to their deaths. Today's climbers step over bodies left where they dropped, frozen in ice and their own ambition. The causes of death: falls, heart attacks, altitude sickness, avalanche, stroke, cerebral edema, and even a snowboarding accident. Marco Siffredi of France died trying to snowboard down Everest after making it to the top. No one is listed as having died of foolishness, although many should be.
Last Friday a chunk of ice the size of a building dropped into the Khumbu Icefall, a feature with pieces of ice like cargo containers standing on end waiting to tip. The resulting avalanche hit 25 climbers, killing 16 Sherpa climbing assistants without whom few white men would reach the top. It's the worst disaster in the history of the mountain.
Western guides have suspected for years that global warming is loosening the Khumbu, and still they sent in the Sherpas first to face the hardest work and danger. Those Sherpas killed in the avalanche were setting ropes and ladders to make it easy for the paying customers to follow. It's the mountaineering equivalent of "Tonto, go to town." Tonto always took a beating. For a few thousand dollars on an expedition, the Sherpas risk their lives and often lose them because it's one of the few good ways to make money in the mountains where they live.
Climbing Everest is deadly, but still safe enough for thousands of people to have made it to the top. They pay anywhere up to $90,000 for the tour. With no meaningful records left to set, now they try to be the youngest, the oldest, or the first from their country. Two years ago a man hauled his bicycle up the mountain because he takes it everywhere he goes.
The expeditions carry computers and communications gear so they can report the glory and travails of their climb. They don't talk much about the intra-expedition rivalries and "summit fever" in which partners, and sometimes guides, abandon fellow climbers to get to the top.
They don't dwell on environmental trashing of Everest. Sixty years of expeditions have left 50 tons of trash on the mountain; empty oxygen tanks, shredded tents, food containers, and assorted human detritus imported to one of the world's most remote and beautiful places.
It all happens on the backs of Sherpas. Edmund Hillary is credited with being the first man to the top in 1953, but the Sherpa Tenzing Norgay was right there with him. Following last week's accident the Sherpas are making demands. They want a $100,000 death benefit paid to their families if they die, and the same amount for a career-ending injury. The Nepalese government, which collects millions of dollars a year in climbing fees, has offered $400 for funeral costs. It's less than the cost of the boots they died in.
The Sherpas took a vote to go home in honor of their dead colleagues, which could end this year's season. NBC and Discovery cancelled a live special they intended to do in which a climber was going to fly off the summit in a wing suit. Several of the Sherpas who died in that avalanche were part of that effort. It seems terribly wrong that men should die for an athletic stunt to be watched on television thousands of miles away by Americans on their sofa.
On the website for Peak Freaks, a guide service that offers the option of a "personal sherpa," the guide Tim Rippel wrote, "We are not here to kill people." Maybe they should all consider the possibility that, yeah, really, they are.
Two years ago a 33-year-old Canadian woman died of altitude sickness after refusing to turn back at the danger hour of 2 p.m. Her last words were "save me," but it was too late to save her from her own judgment.
The list of dead gets longer every year, as do the lines of climbers, without any of them adding to the sum total of human knowledge, wisdom or dignity. This week there are about 400 climbers on Everest, and an equal number of Sherpas. On summit days, sometimes hundreds of climbers are lined up to use the ropes and ladders laid by the Sherpas. George Mallory died trying to go where no man had been. Today's Everest adventurers are just tourists following the crowd.
Kate C. Prickett: State Firearm Laws Could Reduce Gun-related Injuries In Children 2014-04-24
Regardless of where one comes down on the debates about gun control, everyone seems to agree that keeping firearms out of the hands of unattended children is a good idea. After all, firearm-related injuries remain one of the leading causes of death among U.S. children, with close to 3,500 killed a year. The small and seemingly simple step of securing firearms in a locked cabinet makes a huge difference in protecting young children. By our estimates, approximately 5 percent of preschool age children live in homes in which their parents reported that they owned guns but did not store them in a secure and locked place. To address this problem, many states have implemented Child Access Prevention (CAP) laws. This collection of legislative approaches range from suggestive guidelines for storage behaviors in families with minors to more stringent requirements and harsher penalties for noncompliance, holding gun owners criminally liable regardless of whether someone gets hurt.
Unfortunately, little research exists to test whether these laws are actually associated with family firearm safety behaviors. A primary goal of our study, just published in the American Journal of Public Health, was to understand how gun storage behavior in families with young children varied across states with different CAP laws, controlling for a wide range of parent, family, and state-level factors that are often associated with gun ownership, generally, and gun safety behaviors, specifically. We found that the efficacy of state CAP laws seemed to rely on the general firearm legislative climate in each state. CAP laws were only associated with decreased likelihood of unsafe gun storage behaviors in states that had strong firearm legislation overall. Although we cannot infer causation from these findings, we hypothesize that parents may not be aware of the specific laws in their states but are more generally aware that their state has many laws that regulate gun use, prompting them to be more careful about the purchase and storage of firearms. We also think that having stronger general state laws could potentially affect which families own firearms -- parents who own guns in a state without any regulation may constitute a very different pool of people than those who own firearms in a state in which they have to jump through hoops, such as a background check, to get them.
Overall, these findings highlight that a significant proportion of children in the U.S. are living in homes where they can potentially access firearms, and these estimates are likely conservative due to underreporting arising from not wanting to share private or potentially embarrassing information or from parents' loose interpretation of what constitutes a 'safe' or 'locked' gun. Moreover, even laws that do not directly target the types of behaviors that result in young children accidentally accessing firearms could have potential spillover effects for the safety of children.
This is why comprehensive firearm legislation -- even legislation that doesn't seem to necessarily solve the immediate public health issue that politicians are responding to (such as a school massacre) -- could potentially be important.
Take, for example, proposed federal legislation on background checks that would have closed loopholes in firearm purchases at gun shows. Recent polls show broad bipartisan public support for this type of legislation, and, although it likely won't stop school massacres, it has potential spillover effects that may affect minors' access to firearms. Parents who do not keep their guns safe at home probably will not show up in a database of people with a diagnosed serious mental health illness, but having a mandated background check or waiting several days to return to a store to purchase a gun may create enough friction that could stop some parents who may be less able or inclined to take heed of their pediatrician's recommendations or abide by their state's CAP laws.
Ms. Kate C. Prickett is a PhD candidate with the Population Research Center and the Department of Sociology at the University of Texas at Austin.
Dr. Alexa Martin-Storey is an assistant professor with the Département de Psychoéducation, Université de Sherbrooke, Quebec, Canada.
Michael Roth: Supreme Court Decision Undermines Education And Opportunity 2014-04-24
Ever since the founding of this country, we have recognized that education is indispensable to our vision of a democratic society. All men may be created equal in the abstract, but education provides people concrete opportunities to overcome real circumstances of poverty or oppression. Thomas Jefferson argued that the talented poor should be educated at public expense so that inherited wealth would not doom us to rule by an "unnatural aristocracy" of wealth. As I describe in Beyond the University: Why Liberal Education Matters, a few years after Jefferson's death, African American shopkeeper David Walker penned a blistering manifesto pointing out that "the bare name of educating the coloured people, scares our cruel oppressors almost to death." Some years later the young slave Frederick Douglass received a "new and special revelation," namely, that learning "unfits" a person for being a slave.
Promoting access to a high-quality education has been key to turning the American rhetoric of equality into genuine opportunity. And throughout our history elites threatened by equality, or just by social mobility, have often joined together to block access for groups striving to improve their prospects in life. In the 20th century, policies were enacted to keep immigrants out of universities and to limit the number of Jews who enrolled. And in 2006, the citizens of Michigan passed an amendment to the state constitution banning consideration of race at their universities, undermining opportunity for minorities in the state.
This week the Supreme Court voted to uphold the rights of these citizens to forbid race-sensitive admissions policies. Previous Court decisions had allowed schools to consider race among other factors, but this judgment affirms the voters' right to overrule university policies. Under the guise of democracy and supporting the political process, the Court has allowed States to close off opportunities for those who would benefit from them the most.
As Justice Sotomayor argued in her dissent, in Michigan you can now lobby those who control admissions to pay more attention to how many alumni relatives applicants have, and you can urge the deans to recognize how much money these relatives might give the school after applicants graduate. But you can no longer successfully advocate making the universities in Michigan more racially diverse -- even if the governing boards recognized that a more diverse campus benefits everyone on campus.
Residential colleges and universities have for many years emphasized creating a diverse student body because we believe this results in a deeper educational experience. In the late 1960s many schools steered away from cultivated homogeneity and toward creating a campus community in which people can learn from their differences while forming new modes of commonality. This had nothing to do with what would later be called political correctness or even identity politics. It had to do with preparing students to become lifelong learners who could navigate in and contribute to a heterogeneous world after graduation.
At residential universities, homogeneity in the student body undermines our mission of helping students develop personal autonomy within a dynamic community. That's why we are eager to welcome students from various parts of the United States and the rest of the world to our campuses. That's why we ask our donors to support robust financial aid programs so as to ensure that our students come from a variety of economic backgrounds. A "dynamic community" is one in which members have to navigate difference -- and racial and ethnic differences are certainly parts of the mix. All the students we admit have intellectual capacity, but we also want them to have different sorts of capacities. Their interests, modes of learning, and perspectives on the world should be sufficiently different from one another so as to promote active learning in and outside the classroom.
Creating a racially diverse campus is in the interest of all students, and it offers those from racial minorities opportunities that have historically been denied them. That's why governing boards and admissions deans have crafted policies to find students from under-represented groups for whom a strong education will have a transformative, even liberating effect. Education, as Douglass said, makes you unfit for slavery.
The federal government has often had to step in to ensure that states provide access to political and economic opportunity. As Justice Sotomayor put it in her dissent, in the past the court ruled that the equal protection clause of the Constitution, "guarantees that the majority may not win by stacking the political process against minority groups permanently, forcing the minority alone to surmount unique obstacles in pursuit of its goals -- here, educational diversity that cannot reasonably be accomplished through race-neutral measures."
But this week's ruling allows states to forbid university officials from considering race when determining access to higher education. When seen in the context of recent decisions undermining voting rights, it's hard not to think that we are witnessing elites, "scared almost to death," holding onto their privileges by limiting access to social mobility and economic opportunity.
Jefferson's "unnatural aristocracy" is working hard to increase its advantages, but at universities we must recognize our responsibility to provide real opportunity to those groups who historically have been most marginalized. University admissions programs are not the place to promote partisan visions of social justice, but they are the place to produce the most dynamic and profound learning environments.
It would be an enormous step backward to force our admissions offices to retreat to a homogeneity that stifles creative, broad-based education. We must find ways to protect the diversity (racial, economic, cultural) that has become absolutely crucial to the dynamism of our universities, and to lives of learning and opportunity.
Bryan Stevenson: Celebrating The Power Of Forgiveness 2014-04-24
On a June evening in 1988, Robert Cushing, a retired schoolteacher who had raised seven children heard a knock at the door. When he opened the door in his peaceful New Hamphire neighborhood, a deranged man leveled a shotgun at him at shot him twice in the chest. Mr. Cushing died in front of his wife. Last week in New Hampshire, the state senate voted 12-12 on a bill that would have abolished capital punishment. The legislation had already overwhelmingly passed the House of Representatives, and many believed that abolition will soon come to New Hampshire. The legislation is sponsored by Renny Cushing, the son of that murdered former schoolteacher. Rep. Cushing founded Murder Victims' Family Members for Human Rights in 2004 and has been a leading voice for resisting the impulse to respond to violence and murder with revenge and excessive punishment. He is a living witness to the power of transcending the harm we do to one other in search of reconciliation.
I have spent nearly 30 years trying to help people who have seriously hurt, injured or killed other people. I recognize that this community of offenders with whom I work is an unusual choice. That's especially true since I hate violence. It breaks my heart when I see people abuse others, mistreat others or even disrespect others. Living in the United States, I see too much abuse, too much violence and too much disrespect. It might seem odd to want to help those who have offended, injured or hurt others, but I'm persuaded that simply condemning and persecuting those who offend, those who fail, is not a healthy way forward. I believe there is something important, possibly even transformational, in helping people recover from their worst mistakes.
In too many places, fear and anger shape the way we act and the way we treat each other. Americans buy over four million guns each year despite the fact that over 30,000 people die every year from gun injuries in this country. Some politicians and leaders exploit fear while gun makers describe owning weapons of violence and destruction as an essential, inalienable right. We arm ourselves and resist meaningful efforts at understanding the sources of our fear. We don't want to discuss or question whether our anger is justified or legitimate.
America now has the highest rate of incarceration in the world. We have five percent of the world's population but 25 percent of its prisoners. Today, one in three black male babies born in the U.S. is expected to go to jail or prison at some point during their lifetime. The percentage of women sent to prison has increased 640 percent in the last 20 years. We have condemned nearly 3000 children to die in prison. We send people with drug problems to prison for decades, some non-violent offenders are sentenced to life imprisonment for petty crimes. The mentally ill and disabled have been imprisoned for lengthy sentences because we won't help them treat their illnesses. In one of the world's greatest democracies, we hurt each other constantly and punish each other severely with very little concern about forgiveness or understanding.
We have a history of racial injustice and inequality in America that has left deep wounds and untreated injuries. African Americans have been enslaved, terrorized, traumatized, subjected to racial subordination and presumed guilty, dangerous and inadequate in hundreds of ways. Native Americans have been slaughtered and confined into spaces where poverty and dysfunction have become epidemic with serious, continuing challenges. We have responded to some immigrants by ignoring their humanity and focusing only on the fact that they are undocumented, reducing them to fugitives and creating enormous suffering and despair in many communities of color.
Even our families can be torn apart by the forces around us that push us to abuse trust and minimize our obligations to care for one another. Our lives have been undermined by fear and anger and an unwillingness to talk about the importance of reconciliation and restoration in big and small ways.
Yet, there are many among us who are determined to find a better way. There are family members of murder victims who have organized themselves to seek reconciliation rather than capital punishment. There are gang members that have laid down their arms in pursuit of peace and less violence. There are places where black people and white people have come together to promote truth and reconciliation and racial healing and justice. There are family members who have made their love for one another strong enough to overcome abuse and hurtful misconduct.
We are living at a time when talking about forgiveness and how we must value each other more dearly is critically important. There is a limit to how much we can recover from our mistakes, our transgressions, our abuse of one another by adopting solutions that are rooted in anger, fear and more violence. There must come a time when we seek to understand more, to recover more. We have to value reconciliation over revenge, restoration over retribution, rehabilitation instead of resistance to the idea that we are all no more than our worst acts. I work with offenders because I've learned that there is justice in compassion. There is power in forgiveness, hope when we seek more than condemnation.
We need more hope, more forgiveness, more justice. But it only happens when each of us is more hopeful, more forgiving and more just.
Renny Cushing has responded to people who question why after having lost a family member to murder he chooses to seek reconciliation. "Not only would my father have been taken from me, but so too would my values ... I think it is the same for all of us as a society. If we let those who kill turn us into killers and evoke violence and evil from us, we are much the worse for it."
It is not easy, it is not obvious. There are real dangers in the way some of us behave. We have an endless capacity to hurt and do violence to one another that can't be oversimplified or ignored. We have a legitimate need to want to be safe and protected from reckless and destructive forces. But ultimately our freedom, our humanity and our peace abides not in our capacity to condemn, to hate and to fear, rather it turns on our willingness to forgive, to understand and to seek reconciliation.
This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post and the Tutu Global Forgiveness Challenge, which is a free 30-day online program developed by Desmond and Mpho Tutu to teach the practical steps to forgiveness they share in their new book, The Book of Forgiving: The Fourfold Path for Healing Ourselves and Our World. Learn about the campaign here, and sign up to participate yourself. Read all posts in the series here.
Winnie M Li: From Westeros To White Ribbon: Examining The Male Reaction To Rape 2014-04-24
Feminists this week have been writing furiously about the representation of rape in the HBO series Game of Thrones, specifically that creepy scene (*spoiler alert*) in Episode 3, involving a brother-sister rape next to the corpse of their incest-born son.
A rape survivor myself, I wasn't so furious. In fact, I found it telling that Cersei Lannister -- arguably the most powerful woman in the fantasy kingdom of Westeros -- could still be subjected to rape at the hand(s) of her own brother and former lover. (Reason No. 57 why the Lannisters are the worst family in Westeros.) Personally, I think that's a potent statement from the show's creators, reminding us that sexual assault can affect anyone regardless of how high you sit in a fictional society or in the real world.
What I did find odd is that journalists seemed more eager to discuss the complexities of a fictional rape than one involving real people. Laura Hudson on Wired.com exposed the unwillingness of the episode's director to see the scene as rape. On Salon.com, Roxane Gay's article "Game of Thrones Glamorizes Rape" cited this as another example of TV using rape as a narrative device, "used to create drama and ratchet up ratings." Sonia Saraiya on The A.V. Club similarly considered the frequent depiction of rape on the television show as a turn towards misogyny. For her, Game of Thrones uses female nudity and sex (both consensual and non-consensual) to draw in male viewers, with little regard for the ethical implications.
These are all interesting arguments, and as both a film producer and a rape survivor, I certainly have my views on the representation of rape in popular culture (which I'll explore in the weeks to come). But today, I'd rather link this recent debate about a fictional rape with things that have been happening in the real world.
The above journalists imply that by portraying rape so frequently as a narrative device, television desensitizes viewers (specifically male viewers) to the emotional horror of rape and the devastating impact it can have on victims. Rape is no longer a real crime; it becomes the stuff of fiction. Whether or not this desensitization happens, I do believe there is vacuum of open public discussion about rape as a real experience and a real crime. We know feminists and rape survivors will always be concerned about issues of sexual assault. The main question is: can we get the rest of the people in society out there to care about the issue? More importantly, can we get unaffected men to care about the issue?
A few days before Episode 3 of Game of Thrones aired, Tom Meagher's compelling article ran in The Guardian. A widower whose wife had been raped and murdered in Australia by a convicted serial rapist on parole, Meagher argued against the myth of seeing all rapists as monsters.
This is something I very much agree with. My own assault in 2008 was by a 15-year-old stranger who followed me in a park. When I was interviewed on the radio some years later, a BBC journalist referred to a psychological report on my convicted assailant and repeatedly asked me: "Is he a monster?"
I could sense that journalist's hunger for a sensationalized headline: "Rape Victim Calls Her Rapist a Monster." But frankly, I don't think we should be using that word for anyone, regardless of what their actions are.
Last time I checked, we weren't living in a sci-fi/fantasy world. Our world is populated by human beings, not monsters. A number of psychological and sociological factors can lead to a human committing monstrous crimes. But to say that a rapist is, by nature, a monster is denying the accountability of our own society in encouraging boys to become rapists, in ignoring the seriousness of rape and allowing it to be committed again and again -- and never really addressed.
Not all rapists are lurking strangers like my own attacker or the man who killed Jill Meagher. In fact, most rapists are someone the victim knows -- a colleague, a supposed friend, or -- as Game of Thrones has just reminded us -- even your former lover or brother. By failing to acknowledge the familiarity of our rapists, by obscuring the facts with the popular myth of the outcast monster, we are hampering our own ability to address the issue.
Meagher headlines the Ireland chapter of the White Ribbon Campaign, "the world's largest men's organization dedicated to combating harmful social norms that perpetuate men's violence against women." I believe one of the most harmful social norms is the male unwillingness to discuss rape. While the majority of men respect the notion of sexual consent, too many are embarrassed to talk about rape. The word itself seems to kill conversation. Filmmaker Jessie Kahnweiler, in her article this week, described how her dating life has suffered since her short film "Meet My Rapist." Men react strangely to her identity as a rape victim and avoid approaching her sexually. But what would have been her other option -- to keep quiet about it and perpetuate the silence? To bring in the Game of Thrones debate, is it a problem that men constantly see dramatized rape scenes on screen, and yet so few can discuss the reality of rape when it affects people they actually know?
My own male friends had a range of reactions to the news of my rape. Some were immediately supportive. Others froze up and took weeks to say anything to me. And many were also full of anger towards my attacker, even expressing hopes that he himself would be raped in prison. Tom Meagher heard similar sentiments directed towards his wife's murderer, yet he argues for a more nuanced view of the issue. Rape is not a form of punishment. And further violence is not the answer. That's not a response they would like in Westeros, but then again, this is the real world. And our world is populated by human beings.
Lincoln Mitchell: Why Would Paul Ryan Think About Race? 2014-04-24
It is not clear whether Paul Ryan's comments last month about poverty and African Americans were intended to be racist, but it is difficult not to interpret them that way. Perhaps Ryan did not realize that "inner-city" is racial code for African American or that Charles Murray is seen by many as a racist psuedo-scholar rather than an authority on poverty. It is also possible that Ryan does not understand that poverty and unemployment are hardly problems limited to the inner cities or to African Americans.
Ryan's true intentions may not be knowable, but the comments themselves are revealing, but not because of their substance. We already know that Ryan's views on economics lean toward lowering taxes cutting programs that might help poor people and relying on the magic of the market. Anybody with those beliefs will naturally support any argument that suggests the way to solve poverty problems is not through increased social spending, so there is no surprise there.
Ryan, however, is not just another conservative member of Congress. He has spent several years trying to establish his bona fides as deep conservative economic thinker, largely by pouring old supply side wine into new powerpoint bottles. He is also a past, and very likely future, candidate for national office. Ryan may have made these comments deliberately, knowing the anger it would precipitate from African Americans, as a way to signal to the Republican base that he could be trusted to be sufficiently conservative. If that is the case, then Ryan was indeed speaking in a racist way.
There is another, perhaps more plausible, but equally disturbing explanation. Perhaps Ryan believes that cultural issues contribute to poverty, and meaning to speak about poverty generally, unwittingly used racially coded language and invoked the name of a writer who has been accused of being a racist. If this is true, it reveals that a national Republican figure has thought so little about race in American that he does not know the very basics of how to speak about poverty without stumbling into accusations of racism.
This, is unfortunately a reasonably plausible scenario, but one that underscores that in a country that is more racially diverse every day, the Republican Party, Ryan after all is generally presented as one of the smarter and more thoughtful nationally prominent Republicans, does not understand the very basics of how to speak about race and poverty.
To some extent this is to be expected given not only that African Americans vote heavily Democratic, but that Republicans rarely even seek African American votes anymore. In this regard Ryan is simply a representative of his party and his time. The impact this has had and will continue to have on the US is nonetheless significant. Because Republicans do not seek African American votes, there is no need for them to have a lot of contact with African Americans at all. Therefore, Republicans do not need to, and generally do not, understand the problems, challenges and concerns that are particularly distinct for African Americans. For example, for inner city African Americans, the absence of good jobs, predatory lending, the prison-industrial complex and bad schools are considerably more serious issues than Ryan's amorphous cultural explanations.
A Republican Party that has over a period of decades removed itself from any close political contact with African Americans not only will naturally have a very poor understanding of that group, but will be committed to the belief that race is no longer an important issue in the US. If race is not an important issue, it is much easier for Republicans to explain away their lack of success with or interest in African Americans. This contributes to the Republican insistence that racism is a thing of the past and that any suggestion that race or racism is driving a policy or campaign tactics is dismissed as somebody else is playing the race card.
Ryan's comments last month reflect a political climate where Republicans not only do not meaningfully speak to African American citizens, but they tell themselves and their supporters stories about politics and economics that will ensure that they do not have to speak to African American voters in the future. This is, in the short term, bad for the Republican Party as it means that in order to win elections in many states, they have to run up margins among white voters that are increasingly difficult to attain. More significantly it institutionalizes a political environment where denying the enduring effects of racism becomes a political and psychological survival strategy for almost half of the polity.