Thoughts on politics, religion, violence, inequality, social control, change, and random other things from an autonomous, analytical, adopted, abolitionist, anarchist who likes the letter A

Archive for September, 2010

Owning the Edges

September 30, 2010 By: Mel Category: Anarchism, Religion

A few weeks ago, I attended a Busboys and Poets A.C.T.O.R. on Islamaphobia.  Six local Muslim panelists talked about their personal experiences.  Inevitably, the subject of what to do in the face of extremism came up.

As an atheist who keeps a toe in the atheist blogosphere, I have read quite a few posts challenging believers on extremism.  Believers say that they should not be judged by the extremists within their religion.  Many atheist bloggers have made the case that believers shouldn’t be able to get off so easily, that they do need to be held to account for what is done in the name of their ideology.  At least they need to respond to it.

As an atheist, it is easy for me to agree with that.  I don’t have anything invested in religion.  I don’t get anything out of it.  I just don’t get it.  But as an anarchist, I somewhat understand the position that religious folks find themselves in.  I very often find myself explaining that anarchists are not just molotov cocktail throwing tweens.  I have to explain that people whom many would consider extremists are not the beginning and end of anarchism.  And I find myself and my fellow anarchists are often at a loss as to how to respond to actions we find counterproductive.

Now I am not trying to compare the situation for Muslims in this country (and around the world) with that of anarchists.  And I am certainly not trying to compare the people who flew into the twin towers with people who throw rocks through Starbucks windows.  The differences are profound and, I hope, obvious.  But Muslims and Anarchists do find ourselves in a few of the same conundrums.

Few people understand our beliefs or have any interest in learning about them.  The media rarely speaks about us except when something destructive happens.  We have very little voice to combat mainstream portrayals of us.  And we don’t often do a very good job of using what voice we do have.  Perhaps most importantly, the panelists indicated that Muslims have also been neglecting some badly needed internal discussions about divisions, rifts, conflicts, privileges, and prejudices.

For the most part, the panelists talked about being a good person, following their path, and demonstrating by their actions that Muslims are not all violent extremists.  I get that.  I often say that – as a middle aged, peaceful, dorky, woman – I just try to be an anarchist that defies stereotypes.  But that doesn’t seem a sufficient response to the edges, the radicals, the fringe, the people whose actions make you cringe because you know your whole group will be judged by them.

None of the panelists were explicit about distancing themselves from extremists, but that was essentially what was meant by presenting a different image.  Mazi Mutafa of Words Beats Life; however, did not distance himself completely.  He said essentially that, while he may not agree with certain tactics, he will not disown people within his community just because he disagreed.  People do things in desperation, he said.  They are still a part of my community.

He owned the edges. And perhaps all communities need to own the edges, whether it is Muslims owning extremists, a southern town owning the KKK, or anarchists owning BANA (a racist, anarchist group that I will not link to).

Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to delve into what that means in practice.  So perhaps we can have that discussion here.  Does a believer have a responsibility to own all the people who say they identify with their ideology?  What does that look like?  If not, how do you avoid it when people will just lump you together anyway?  Do we have a responsibility to discuss the divisions and rifts and factions?  Should those discussions be public?

Things You Might Have Missed

September 28, 2010 By: Mel Category: Misc

Every time I see the amount of money SEIU has put into politics, it makes me want to cry.

In news of the creepy –  They are training children to be cops in Argentina, using eye scanners on the U.S. Mexico border, and giving overzealous parents easy access to home drug testing kits.  What kind of sci fi hell am I living in?

In happier news, the IWW in Chicago is trying to take public transportation into their own hands.  Good for them.  I hope they can pull it off.

Turns out that the people who know the most about religion are atheists and agnostics.  Is it that we are avidly looking for anti-religious ammo.  Or is it a case of, the more you know…

Speaking of anti-religious ammo, this piece by Kevin Carson sums up why I don’t think we have a chance in hell of breaking away from authoritarianism without breaking away from religion.

Jon Stewart deserves this delicious piece of sarcasm.

This prose is poetry.  And it really gets to the heart of the conflict between holding people responsible for their actions and understanding the social circumstances that limit their perceived choices.  (HT @womanistmusings)

One version of an old joke features a shipwrecked economist on a deserted island who, when asked by his fellow survivors what expertise he can offer on how they can be rescued, replies, “Assume we have a boat.”

LOL.  Who knew economists were funny?!  The article that came from, on small scale farming, describes so well why economists make the rest of us want to bang our head on a wall.

And as long as I’m on economics, any of you out there familiar with the work of Marcel Mauss?

Any writers out there?  A new series on anarchism is looking for book proposals.

What is Pornography?

September 23, 2010 By: Mel Category: Art, Sex

I was getting all ready to write a long diatribe in response to another one of those anti-porn feminists who claims that all porn is rape.  You know, the people who refer to those of us who disagree as male-identified, “fun feminists.”  This “feminist” was particularly irritating me.  It’s bad enough when we women judge each other, but this feminist was a man.  And I really don’t appreciate some man labeling women as victims or oppressors because we don’t excoriate anyone who participates in porn.

But then I decided that, if I’m going to dive into the porn fray, I need to get a little more basic first.  I need a good definition of pornography.  So what is it?  According to, it means writings, drawings, photographs, films, etc. that are

  1. obscene
  2. designed to stimulate sexual excitement
  3. of little or no artistic merit

Well shit.  Now I have to define obscene, evaluate the artistic merit of a work, and crawl into the mind of the creator.  I guess I’ll start with defining obscene.  Back to  Looks like obscene means disgusting, offensive, indecent, immodest, depraved, corrupting, repulsive, repellent, unacceptable, and causing uncontrolled sexual desire.

I think I’m beginning to get it.  If a whole bunch of people think it’s yucky, then it’s obscene and nobody should be able to do it or watch anyone else do it.  And if society thinks it’s yucky, but the person watching it can’t help but get turned on anyways, well then it is triply as bad and they should probably be put on a sex offender list somewhere.

O.k.  Let me give this a go.  I think the first half of Monsters Ball had artistic merit, but the second half was crap.  I don’t think the whole movie was designed to stimulate sexual excitement, but the sex scene between Billy Bob and Halle Berry probably was.  I find watching Billy Bob have sex really yucky.  Which means it’s obscene, right?

Crap.  I thought I had it.  But I’m just confused all over again.  Do we ban Monsters Ball or not?

Things You Might Have Missed

September 21, 2010 By: Mel Category: Misc

Remember the woman in Vancouver who had acid thrown in her face.  Turns out it was all a hoax.  The nut threw acid in her own face.  I had to comb through a few different versions of the story to find one that mentioned who she originally blamed for the attack – a random African American woman.  Hey wait, I though it was blame the black guy.  Guess most news people didn’t think that was so interesting. (Warning, annoying sound on that link.)

Replacing adverts with art pieces.  I heart this.  Anybody in DC want to copy Toronto?

So here is something you don’t read every day.  General Roger Brady wants to start closing military bases.  Hell yes, General.  Let’s do it.  Are there any organizations out there working on this issue?  If we really want to cut defense spending (and I know I do) targeting certain bases could be one of the few winnable ways to do it.  Many of those bases are way unpopular with the locals.

September 22nd (that’s tomorrow) is car free day.   I’ve been car free year-round for about 15 years.  For any of you that don’t live in the country or have to drive for your job, I would highly recommend it.  Life is so much better without one of those headaches.

The most disturbing story of the week goes to this post about a radioactive flood on the Navajo reservation.  I had never even heard of that incident before.

Happiest story I heard this week is that Sarah Shourd was released.  Naturally, she is now going on Oprah.  I have a no Oprah rule (second only to my no baseball rule), so I will not be watching.  If she says anything interesting, let me know.

My favorite headline of the week has to be Marijuana Growers Join the Teamsters Union.  I have extremely mixed feelings about most unions, but that’s just awesome.

I’m sure you have probably heard by now that the Daily Show and Colbert Report are coming to DC for a march.  I agree with some of the criticisms about the “moderate” bs.  But I’ll still be there.  Cause it’s gonna be funny.  If anyone has ideas for catchy phrases for t-shirts or signage, send them along.

In other Daily Show news, and for more on why I have such mixed feelings about unions, this clip is just priceless.

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
Working Stiffed
Daily Show Full Episodes Political Humor Tea Party

The Limits of Blogging

September 16, 2010 By: Mel Category: Seeking

I set up my first blog in a couple of minutes. It was mostly to keep people updated on our marathon trip through Latin America (all ten people who were interested).  Eventually, the travel blogging died out and made way for BroadSnark.  Finally, I had somewhere to write down all those conversations that usually only happened in my head.  (O.k., sometimes they happened with me talking to myself out loud or to some poor soul cornered at a bar.)

When I clicked on the stats one day and saw hundreds of hits from Iran, it made it seem like I could reach the whole world on the internet.  It made it seem like the whole world could reach me.  And it felt so accessible.  I didn’t need to submit to some editor and wait for the powers-that-be to approve.

The internet has opened up the world to anyone with a computer, a bit of time, and the ability to read and write.  Unfortunately, it’s easy to forget just what a small percentage of the world that is.

If you ever looked at your blog readership stats and wondered why there are almost no hits from Africa, it is because only about 9% of Africans use the internet.  Worldwide, only about 25% of us are using the internet.  If you are reading this from your home computer, you are part of a small and relatively privileged minority.

I have a 36 hour a week job.  I work at a desk where I can check my emails, make notes, get on twitter. I don’t need a second job anymore.  I’m not going to school anymore.  I have no kids, no aging parent that needs care, and a bfriend who pulls his weight around the house.  I have time that few people I know have.  When is someone with two kids and three jobs going to blog?  Never.

And what about all the people in the world who are illiterate?  The definition of literacy changes and is notoriously hard to measure.  (Just what is a functional level of literacy in the United States?  How about in Guatemala?)  But UNESCO “estimates that 771 million people—one-fifth of world’s adult population—do not know how to read or write; women make up two-thirds of this number.”

While blogging is nice, it is limited.  We all need to get out from behind the computer sometimes.  So let me go do that.

Things You Might Have Missed

September 14, 2010 By: Mel Category: Misc

Lately, I’ve been coming across a lot of articles on the effects of inequality.  This one is quite good.  I’m particularly interested in how he relates inequality, status seeking, consumerism, and crime.  I’ve read a bit of the crime research he is referring to.  Good stuff.  And it relates to a series they are doing on Slate about America’s growing inequality.

This chart on middle school suspension rates doesn’t surprise me in the least.  As someone who was suspended quite a few times, and who eventually got kicked out of school for “ruining the attendance record,” I have firsthand experience with how schools try to improve their stats by dumping kids.  Happened to a lot of my friends too.  (Course, I’m not sure I actually suffered for having missed those years.)

I am surrounded by vegans, vegetarians, pescatarians, ovo-lacto – whatever.  I’m surrounded by people who don’t eat animals on moral grounds and think nobody else should either.  And none of those people seem to get up in arms about the outrageous number of pets that are shot by beltway cops.  There is a story like this every week lately.  WTF people.

Related to last Thursday’s post, a comparison of religious giving finds that Jews and Christians give about the same amount of money to their church/synagogue – $2,100 to $2,700 per year on average.  That’s like eight months wages for a secretary in Guatemala.  Salvation is pricey.

You might think that the mainstream news is a war between Glenn Beck and Rachel Maddow, but think again.  Looks like Jorge Ramos, the slick newscaster on Univision, may be the one to watch.

Taibbi’s piece on the NFL collective bargaining show of solidarity gave me a good chuckle, especially the part about reality t.v.

And finally, the internets seem to think I’m a cranky old lady.  I’d love to know how they come up with that.  I mean I’m definitely cranky, but most people think I’m also rather immature.

Growing Up Jewish – High Holiday Edition

September 09, 2010 By: Mel Category: Religion

Happy New Year!!!!! L’Shanah Tovah !!!!!*

Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur are the big deal Jewish holidays.  If you work for a law firm, you might get those days off.  If not, you’ll be working, but the token Jew in your office might not.  (Note: If they are anything like me, they are not going to temple or observing in any way.)

As Jewish holidays go, Rosh Hashana isn’t too bad.  They make a special round challah bread that is extra delicious.  You dip it in honey for a sweet new year.  You wash it down with wine.  (Wine is pretty much ubiquitous for Jewish holidays.  It’s about the only Jewish tradition I’ve held on to.)

If you are an observant Jew, you will want to go to temple.  Of course, you might not be able to go to temple if you are broke.  That’s because you have to buy tickets for services on the high holidays.  (I’ll give you a moment to re-read that……)

Yes, you read correctly.  You have to buy tickets to pray.  I was trying to recall how much they cost when I was a kid.  I think it was something like $100 a pop and I’m pretty sure you got to hang out all day (oh, goody).  I checked around in DC and tickets seem to be running about $150 per person, per service.  So if you want to get your god on all day, you are going to shell out serious dough.

Of course, there are added expenses.  Perhaps you want to purchase a memorial book or child care.  That’ll be extra.  And the pressure to make an additional “voluntary” contribution is huge.  At the temple I grew up in, they used to pre-print donation cards with your name and leave them on your $100 seat.  You could fold over tabs to indicate how much you were giving – $50, $100, $500…  The next week, a list of donors would be handed out, grouped by their donation amounts, so everyone could see.  (You Catholics with your collection plates.  Pishaw.  Amateurs!)

The cash my family shelled out for tickets was a complete waste for my father and I.  (I would argue a waste for all of us, but at least my mother used them.)  My dad would last about an hour in his seat and then head out to the hallway to smoke cigarettes.  I would, of course, follow him.  About another hour of smoking in the hallway and he would announce to my mother that he was leaving.  Those who wished to escape had to take the opportunity or be stuck there with her all day.  For some reason, my sister often opted to stay.  (Why, Sister?!  Why?!)

The temple escape routine was pretty much the same for Yom Kippur as Rosh Hashana.  But Yom Kippur had some extra special tortures added to it.  Yom Kipper, the Jewish day of atonement, is when you ask forgiveness for all your sins.  Unlike Catholics, we like to save it all up for once a year.  We’re efficient like that.

You are supposed to fast on Yom Kippur (beginning at sunset the evening before and ending at Sunset on that day).  They even covered the water fountains at the temple.  My mother sometimes made it.  Sometimes she used her low blood sugar excuse to have a couple peanuts.  My sister said she used to bust my father sneaking things out of the kitchen cabinets.

As for me, once I was old enough, I used Yom Kippur as an excuse to fill my closet with junk food.  I distinctly remember a large box of Little Debbies and some Doritos.  “What, Dad?  No.  You don’t smell popcorn.”

And that’s basically it.  Tell that token Jew in your office to bring you back some round challah bread.  You’ll thank me.


* To all the silly people who stockpiled goods into their bomb shelters at the end of 1999.  Not everyone uses your calendar.  2000 passed us by a loooooong time ago by many counts.


Things You Might Have Missed

September 07, 2010 By: Mel Category: Misc

Hope you all had a lovely long weekend.  The weather here in DC is gorgeous.  Hopefully, it will stay nice for the radical book fair in Baltimore this weekend on the 24th.  (Oops.  Wishful thinking.  This weekend is the Baltimore Tattoo Festival.  At least I was right about the city I’m gonna be in.)

I expect to read about how coops fair better in economic crisis from Dominion.  But I don’t expect to read a plug for coops from The Wall Street Journal.

This story about a man who spent 29 years in solitary was depressing.  But his creative enterprises – toilet paper chess boards and prison candy – are incredible.  People are amazing.

Speaking of chess, this video of a Dupont chess player was put together by a DC org called Words Beats Life.  Dupont Circle has some serious players.  There is often a crowd watching.  You might catch me taking a peek on occasion.

Last week I linked to the results of the anarchist survey, the one where 85% of respondents were men.  Here’s one hint about why.

And, on a related note, here’s a great post from a couple years back addressing “diversity of tactics” vs. strategic nonviolent action.  It’s called Let’s Support Winning Instead of Witness and it’s a good read.  (HT to Collective to Open a Radical Space peeps who circulated it before Saturday’s event.)

Bad enough that most people think of black clad, window breakers when they think of anarchism.  Now they’ll think of machete wielding white supremacist shitbags.

I believe I’ve posted links before about the men who try to trap women by sabotaging their birth control or otherwise coercing them into having children.  Apparently, a little education goes a long way.

I can’t wait to read this month’s issue of Sexualities.  It is anarchism infused goodness.

And finally, a teacher in France is actually suspended for using the term holocaust instead of massacre to talk about The Holocaust.  Maybe renaming french fries to freedom fries wasn’t such a nutty idea after all.

Is Universal Possible?

September 02, 2010 By: Mel Category: Anarchism, Politics

A couple weeks ago, I went to a forum at Cato called Are Liberty and Equality Compatible?.  (Cato, meh.  Free lunch, score!)  The short story is that James P. Sterba was trying to find a way to squeeze a liberal philosophy into a libertarian mold.  What he came up with was this:

1.  Libertarians believe in negative liberty.  Nobody should be aggressed against/interfered with.

2.  If the rich should have the liberty to enjoy their excess without being interfered with, then the poor should have the liberty to take what they need from the rich without being interfered with.

And presto chango, a positive liberty becomes a negative liberty.

Clearly, nobody at Cato was buying this, not even the leftists in the room. But if anyone had been buying it, Sterba would then have tried to convince them that what we are really talking about is a conflict between different equal liberty principles.

The rebuttal was from Jan Narveson.  I’m not going to go into the whole back and forth.  You can watch it on Cato’s site if you are interested.  I just want to talk about one of the core elements of Narveson’s (common) argument.  He believes that we need to look for principles that all people can agree to, based on their rational self interest.  And he thinks the non-aggression principle is the bees knees.

But can everyone really agree to that principle?

In the context of our argument of rich v. poor, non-aggression only goes so far.  At some point, non-aggression no longer serves the rational self interest of the poor.  Non-aggression against United Fruit Company was an absurd prospect for a land-starved Guatemalan.  Sterba could have made a stronger case that a certain amount of equality (or at least basic needs being met) is a prerequisite to widespread adoption of the non-aggression principle.

More importantly for this discussion, define aggression.  There are some people who think it is aggression to break a bank window (even though the only consequence is a few hundred dollars from the bank’s coffers).  But some of those same people don’t think it is aggression to pay off corrupt officials in order to buy huge swaths of productive farmland in Africa and then ship the products to Dubai while the Africans in that country starve.

And there are people who think the exact opposite.

Of course, the six hundred pound elephant in the room during that discussion was property.  One of the reasons we can’t agree on a definition of aggression is that we can’t agree on who gets to use what resources.  Land is one of the most contentious issues in the world, as is what lies below it.  Those conflicts are not going away any time soon.  Maybe never.

I like principles.  I spend a lot of time trying to root out what principles people are operating from.  But I’m not sure we are going to get very far if the plan is to convince 7 billion people to define aggression the same way and agree not to do it.  And while I pick on the core libertarian principle here, I could write this post about universal human rights and come up with an equally skeptical conclusion about universality.

Universal may not be possible.  And if it is true that universal is not possible, then what?