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 January, 2011

Things You Might Have Missed

January 25, 2011 By: Mel Category: Misc

First Tunisia and now Egypt.  Let’s hope this game of dominoes goes on for a while.  By the looks of it, the young people are feeling it.

The Haiti news has been fascinating this last week.  Baby Doc has the nerve to return to Haiti.  Michele Montas (maybe you saw her in the Agronomist) is suing him.  Libertarian Bob Barr is going to be Baby Doc’s PR rep.  Even more disgusting than Barr are the people who have been trying to Christianize Haiti with your tax dollars.  And meanwhile, Aristide is trying like hell to get home.

Here in the U.S., they are testing middle school kids for drugs.  Meanwhile, in The Netherlands where they don’t freak out over drug use, they are closing prisons because they just don’t have enough criminals to fill them.

Also in prison news, The Gobernator released a couple women from prison who were there for defending themselves from abusers.  So I guess he did one thing sorta right.

I haven’t read this whole report on illicit financial flows, but I found some of the stats interesting. It’s too bad they jumble up money stolen by politicians with tax evasion.  Maybe they break it down inside somewhere that I haven’t seen.  In any case, if you let people like Baby Doc walk off with all their people’s money and go live in France, then what the hell is the point of aid exactly?

This new funding mechanism to support collaborative consumption is interesting.

Can I just say again how much I love The Pervocracy.  Holly takes down Natasha Vargas-Cooper and her all “porn is grim and nasty because male sexuality is grim and nasty” horseshit.

And finally, please read this piece on Stuff White People Do about passively accepting racist commentary.

Borders, Scale and Mental Boxes

January 20, 2011 By: Mel Category: Politics

Michael Lind recently put out a piece in Slate called Let’s Stop Pretending the Constitution is Sacred.  He won’t get any lip from me on that.  I don’t think anything is sacred.  But in making his argument, he ends up undermining one of the key understandings central to his argument.  And I’m not sure he even realizes it.

Lind writes about how certain people in the U.S. venerate the constitution and then he connects that veneration to southern slavery and Jim Crow.  He goes on to make a case for seeing constitutions as something in need of updating or even changing completely once in a while.  But here is where the irony comes in.  One of the things he uses to prop up his argument is the fact that the individual states do not treat their constitutions like sacred text. In fact, many states do exactly what he thinks should be done.

Most states in the Union have gone through several constitutions, with no apparent harm. Many of today’s state constitutions in the Northeast and West Coast date back only a few generations to the Progressive era, and show the influence of belief in apolitical, technocratic executives in the number of state officials appointed by a strong governor.

On the one hand, Lind adopts the very common belief that the ideas of states’ rights and limited federal government are only supported by backwards, hateful racists who wish they could still have slaves. And on the other hand, he shows how much more reasonable and progressive state politics can be.  Kinda makes you go hmmmm.

Don’t get me wrong.  I am not saying that Lind is wrong to make the connection.  The connection is there. Much of the time (most of the time) the people who talk about states’ rights are reactionary and, if not white supremacist, not exactly informed anti-racists either.  But what I have come to understand is that the automatic conflation of states’ rights with the KKK is equally as reactionary and does us all a huge disservice.

The drug war has been going strong for a century.  And in the last 30 or 40 years it really ramped itself up, with horrible consequences.  But lately there has been a lot of progress on changing drug policy in the U.S.  Much of that progress has come because drug law reformers took a states’ rights approach to reform.  They targeted certain states where there was decent support and started advocating for change, especially to medical marijuana laws.  The result has been a domino effect. They were able to do state by state what they could not do on a federal level.

I’m not trying to argue for state’s rights here.  I don’t give a crap about state’s rights.  I don’t give a crap about any arbitrary borders – country, state, or otherwise.  The only legitimate use for any kind of delineation is purely practical.  When we are figuring out how to deal with an issue, we should be looking at all possible ways to confront the issue and not just, for example, forfeiting the state by state option just because of how state’s rights has been used in the past.  It shouldn’t matter what boundaries we have used in the past at all. What is important is what boundaries are realistic considering the people effected by that issue and the number of people that can be coordinated without resorting to authoritarian structures and “representative” systems that don’t really represent anyone.

It is completely nonsensical to think that people in New York and people in Omaha would need exactly the same things.  It is also nonsensical that people in San Diego and people in Tijuana would not need to work together to deal with some issues.  Those simple facts seem to be really hard to grasp within our political context.  People either live in denial, thinking we can cut off our borders and not have to negotiate with people in other countries, or people think that we can have social welfare systems similar to Northern Europe without considering the massive difference between the size of Sweden and the size of the United States.

Many of the most seemingly intractable issues actually boil down to our inability to see them through a different lens. How different does an analysis of Afghanistan or Somalia look once you accept the fact that it makes no sense to see those disparate communities as countries at all?  The next time someone suggests that we should be emulating the social safety nets like those in the countries that continuously show up on indexes of the most peaceful, economically equal, and happy places on earth; point out to them that Denmark has 5 1/2 million people or so.  That is about 15% of the population of California.

The United States is huge.  It is almost impossible to get 300 million people, spread out over 3,536,294 square miles, to agree on anything.  The scale of the operation is enormous.  And the larger an organization is, the more difficult it is for the little people (that’s us) to have any real influence.  I have worked for both small organizations and large, bureaucratic ones.  You have a lot more influence when you can walk into your bosses office and talk to them (as opposed to the boss not even knowing your name).

Boundaries may be necessary, but they need to be fluid.  We need to recognize that boundaries are a means to an ends, not an end in and of itself.  We should be asking ourselves who is affected by the problem?  By the solution?  What is the smallest group that can deal with this issue?  The largest?  Is it a problem constrained by geography?  Or do geographical boundaries not apply at all?  And whatever boundaries we do use shouldn’t be written in stone.  They should always be up for changing once they stop serving our needs.  And it shouldn’t require a civil war to accomplish it.

Things You Might Have Missed

January 18, 2011 By: Mel Category: Misc

Looks like Baby Doc got picked up by the police in Haiti today. Some people are wondering why he was allowed to fly in. Some people are wondering if they are really going to prosecute him. I’m wondering why the fuck that murdering bastard has been drinking wine and eating baguettes in France all this time. When the hell are we going to stop letting these thugs destroy their countries and then retire in Europe or the U.S. with all the money they stole?

Here is an article on the consequences of treating all men as predators. (HT @jeremy6d). And on a related note, here is a post on the Pervocracy about how hospital staff reacted to a male assault victim. That’s fucked up.

In light of the Safeway shooting, I find fascinating these statistics on the prevalence of personality disorders by country. What kind of social/environmental forces are putting us at the top of the list? Also on the shooting, read the inaugural post at Agreeable Anarchism (Gene’s new blog).  Good stuff.

Two great pieces on coops are floating around this week.  Keith has a hopeful piece on Common Ground. And on GEO there is a first hand account on cooperative schooling.

Womanist Musings had two posts up about disability.  One is a video of Judith Butler and Sunaura Taylor.  The other is a post by Renee on Disability, Dependence and Belonging.  Important things that we all need to be talking about.

This post over at Blag Hag got me thinking. She is wondering why women seem to be more attached to religion and asks women if they had a hard time walking away from it. I didn’t have a hard time walking away at all, but I do often find myself in religious spaces because there are so few public spaces that are secular and free or cheap.  Here in DC, anarchists do not have a space.  We also don’t have much money. Usually, we end up doing things at churches.  I wonder if we teamed up with the non-anarchist, atheist community if we could pool together a lot more resources for a secular community space.  Thoughts?

This article on the murders of trans people in Honduras is really depressing.

So how would you feel if you gave money to your church or local nonprofit and then they turned around and gave it to the government? I’m not a fan of religion and so not a fan of religious tax exemptions. But I don’t know.

Next time someone bitches about affirmative action, show them the stats on how much being a legacy improves your chances of getting into a college.

Finally, I don’t know why I found this urinating cop art piece so hilarious. Maybe I was high. You be the judge.

On Speech

January 13, 2011 By: Mel Category: Change, Politics

I can’t believe the number of articles I have seen about the violent rhetoric of the right and how it is responsible for the Safeway shooting.  (I’m not going to call it the Gifford shooting, because a hell of a lot of people got shot that day and they count too.)   And now rumor has it that people are talking about criminalizing speech.

Because that is what we do when something horrible happens.  We immediately say, “somebody has got to do something.”  And that something always seems to be pass a new law.

Don’t get me wrong.  It isn’t that I disagree that words matter.  Language, culture, and social context effect our reality.  What we see as possible is shaped by all those things.  Who we pay attention to is shaped by those things.  Speech can incite people, especially people who are not completely in touch with reality.  But even if Sarah Palin’s target graphic is found to be hanging on Jared Lee Loughner’s bedroom wall, it would be a catastrophe to make that graphic criminal.

This week I happened to read The Dakar Declaration of the African Regional Preparatory Conference for the World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance from January of 2001. One of the declarations recommendations was,

States should ensure the enactment of legislation declaring illegal and prohibiting all political platforms, organizations and propaganda activities which promote and incite racial discrimination and recognizing that participation in such organizations is an offense punishable by law.

I’m sympathetic.  I really am.  It is tempting to pass laws that would, theoretically, outlaw the KKK or the Nazi party.  This is not sympathy or self-righteousness talking.  It is self preservation.

But the next thing to think about, once you want to make something illegal, is how far you are going to go with the punishment.  Are we going to put people in prison for words?  For how long?  How about the death penalty?  Is that on the table too?

Even more troubling is that people who want to pass laws like that, out of genuine concern for social justice, don’t look at the current system and think about how those laws would be enforced.  There is virtually no difference in use rates for illegal drugs between white people and black people.  But black people are far more likely to be prosecuted and imprisoned for their use.

Does anybody think that enforcement of speech laws would be different? Do you think Sarah Palin would be more likely to go to prison for hate speech than Louis Farrakhan? Do you not realize what kinds of groups could be designated as “reverse racist,” criminalized, and prosecuted?  That is how laws work. They are used by the powerful against the powerless.  Always.

We cannot legislate our way out of our problems. We cannot criminalize all the loathsome people in the world.

The best we can do is to make speech by people like Sarah Palin irrelevant. And we do that by curing our discourse by proxy syndrome.  No more talking to each other through politicians and pundits.  We don’t need them.

Things You Might Have Missed

January 11, 2011 By: Mel Category: Misc

I feel like I should say something about the anniversary of the Haiti earthquake, but it is just a silent scream at this point.  Haitians are gathering all over Haiti to commemorate, grieve, and try to figure out what the hell to do.  I sincerely hope all white knights will get the hell out of the way so they can do it.

The Justice Policy Institute put out a new report on the proposed jail for women in Baltimore.  The stats on the current jail population are depressing.  What really stuck out for me was the prevalence of mental illness – 33% bipolar, 28% with anxiety disorders, 9% schizophrenic.  And mostly they are pretrial and just sitting in there because they are poor and got picked up for BS “crimes.”

In more encouraging news, a rather clever nonprofit in Michigan raised some money and then contacted locals who had lost their homes.  They encouraged them to bid on their former homes at auction.  “One woman bid $500 on her house, which was being held for a $5,500 tax arrears and got it when no one else bid.”  Love it.

Great paper on porn from the University of Hawaii.  The gist is that as pornography becomes more available sex crimes decrease.  Most interesting info:

  • rapists were more likely than non-rapists in the prison population to having been punished for looking at pornography while a youngster
  • rapists and child molesters use less pornography than a control group of “normal” males
  • sex offenders requesting treatment commonly disclose that pornography helps them contain their abnormal sexuality within imagination as a fantasy instead of their aggressively acting out in real life
  • what does correlate highly with sex offense is a strict, repressive religious upbringing

In short, if you want less rape and child molestation, you would be better off banning religion than porn.

This is a fairly long debate between Gary L. Gregg II and Bill Kauffman on whether or not the anti-federalists were right.  Really interesting quotes, especially given the Constitution mania that has taken over congress.  (HT Gene)

Mira Luna linked to a fascinating talk by Charles Eisenstein on time banks and the gift economy.  The woo woo quotient gets a bit high at the end, but the first half hour is really good.

Really liked this post about accountability in the anarchist community.

Also thought this post on the phases of anarchist history was interesting.

Clay Shirky thinks women should be lying, egocentric, narcissists (just like men) so they can become rich and famous.  He makes some interesting points, but I think his recommendations mostly go in the wrong direction.

This post about videos of disabled women being raped in nursing homes, sometimes by other patients, is so fucking disturbing.

And finally, I suppose I will say a few words about the Giffords/Safeway shooting.  First, I think it is ridiculous that people start pontificating not five seconds after something happens when they don’t know shit.  That’s how you have people lionizing Sheriff Dupnick when his department may have actually royally fucked up.  But heaven forbid people can wait two seconds before trying to squeeze a tragedy into some preconceived box they have.

I’ve read a lot of posts on the shooting, most of them horrible.  He was a right wing nut. Sara Palin made him do it.  He listened to black flag and smoked pot, must be an anarchist. We shouldn’t give a shit about this because she was a politician. We should lock up all the mentally unstable, or anyone who kinda creeps us out. It’s the parents fault. It’s the friends fault. It’s his schools fault.  Blah blah blah.  Some of them may have some points, but all of them should wait until they actually know something.  I think the only person who actually took a moment for a bit of self reflection was Matt Taibbi.  Kudos to him.

And finally, I will leave you with a rather amusing post weighing the pros and cons of having children.

Things You Might Have Missed

January 04, 2011 By: Mel Category: Misc

I’m sure you all know what a clusterfuck it is in Northern Mexico right now. I wonder if a student movement, or any kind of people movement, can turn it around. (HT @maymaym)

As long as we are on southern border issues, the Penn and Teller video in this post on Colorlines is hilarious.

And on the other border, the Northern Border Counternarcotics Strategy Act of 2010 has been presented to the president for signature.  It is all disturbing, but especially the part about setting “forth a strategy to end illegal drug trafficking through Indian reservations on or near such border.”  That is not going to go well.

I gotta give a hat tip to George Clooney for his idea to pop a satellite up over Sudan to monitor troop movements and get info out about violence.  Now if he could just get his people to sponsor some private satellites so we can watch troop movements in Afghanistan…

Alternatively, do any of you know how to hack into the computers that control the drones – soon coming to a neighborhood near you?

Maybe I’m being incredibly paranoid, but when I start reading about anarchists detained in Israel and about Greek police (in response to the recent bombing) saying that they are going “to continue cracking down on the anti-establishment sources that feed this kind of terrorist activity,” it gets me wondering.  My wondering was not helped by reading about Operation Gladio.

Some interesting stuff on anonymity is floating around the internets this week. Naomi Wolf wrote a piece making the case that rape victims should not be anonymous accusers.  In the NYT, Stanley Fish writes about Martha Nussbaum’s new book wherein the authors suggest making internet publishers responsible for “irresponsible information.”  Read it.  Scary stuff.  And finally, Maymay writes about transparency, privacy, and accountability like someone who actually gives a crap about all of those things.  Methinks Martha should read Maymay’s blog.

The maddening elitism of the establishment left is nicely called out on LadyPoverty. And the elitism of the non-establishment left is called out a bit in this piece in Lenin’s Tomb.  Now I disagree with probably 90% of the article, including the main idea.  But it is dead on accurate to call Penny out for looking down on print papers.  Not everyone has a computer and internet access, ya know.

I have to admit that Chris Hedges’s piece did inspire me a bit.  But then the cynic in me tried to imagine Code Pink being held up as suffering martyrs sometime in the free future and the whole thing cracked.

Is there really a housing crisis?  Isn’t it just artificial scarcity?  I agree that it is ridiculous to have empty or underused buildings while people need space.  I’m a big fan of squatter and landless movements.  Lots of states in the U.S. still have pretty strong squatter and homesteader laws.  We should be updating that to the needs of the modern world.  As my father used to say, possession is nine tenths of the law.  And my father was no revolutionary.  I suspect more people would support it than we might at first think.

I really liked this piece on Emma Goldman’s nursing career.

Also liked this piece on food.  It’s nice to find people who are aware of issues and can still manage not to be fundamentalist.  Why is that so hard?

Hey, guess what?  Some hapless victims don’t want to be saved.

I really hated reading that “97.5% of Brazilian women with HIV have suffered some type of violence throughout their lives.”

More pointless and heartbreaking deaths in my town.

And finally, who says potheads aren’t motivated.