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, 2013

Things You Might Have Missed

January 30, 2013 By: Mel Category: Misc

I really loved this essay on joy by Zadie Smith. The pursuit of joy may actually explain a lot of the ridiculous shit I do.  Though I don’t know if it now seems more or less sensical.

Fascinating article on Why Anti-Authoritarians are Diagnosed as Mentally Ill.

Our friends at Red Emmas are still trying to raise money for their new space. They are about halfway to their goal.  Pitch in a bit if you can.

There is a new movie coming out about anarchists called The East. I’m not holding my breath that it will be in any way thoughtful. But I am going to go see it.

More evidence that laws change long after people start ignoring them. “Shacking Up” May Soon Be Legal in Virginia.

Four days in jail over an $85 court fine and a 22 year old warrant related to stealing a carton of cigarettes. Seems reasonable.

But that is a walk in the park compared to what happened to this mentally ill woman in prison.

A juvenile judge in Georgia testified that approximately one-third of their cases were school related and mostly misdemeanors, the result of police in schools. Story here.

The Catholic Church is in full damage control mode. First, there is this amazing piece of investigative journalism in the Guardian showing How the Vatican built a secret property empire using Mussolini’s millions. But they don’t want to use any of those millions to settle a malpractice suit related to childbirth. Nope, for that they will do a 180 and claim a fetus is not a person with legal rights. And then, of course, they will 180 right back again and turn away rape victims so that the Catholic hospital doesn’t risk having to recommend a morning after pill. Charming. Charming people.

Ok. I hate the anti-abortion protesters too. I’m sure this guy is vile. But banning? I mean if we let those dregs go in and out of the congressional building every day, I don’t think we have much of a case banning anyone else.

I stole that graphic up top from Facebook, but I can’t remember from who. Oops. Anyway, a good illustration of how confrontational tactics are wildly unpopular until they work.

Legality, Morality, and Dehumanization

January 25, 2013 By: Mel Category: Anarchism, Core, Criminalization, Drugs, Sex, Stratification

According to Oliver Willis, some of us on the left are dumb because we aren’t ready to declare that a woman arrested for prostitution with her son present is an open and shut case of wrongness. He claims it isn’t about whether or not we think prostitution should be legal. It is illegal. She brought her kid. She involved “her child in what is very clearly illegal activity.” End of story.

But does Willis really think that people should never do anything illegal? Back in November, Willis claimed that Martin Luther King was one of the most important figures in black American history. And in this piece, he asked “Do people on the left think that Martin Luther King simply held one protest and those in power immediately rushed to pass the Civil Rights Act?”

I certainly don’t think that MLK held one protest. I know that he held many protests. I also know that he spent quite a bit of time in jail for breaking the law, as did a whole lot of other people in the civil rights movement. It was, after all, MLK who said “Never forget that everything Hitler did in Germany was legal.”

But perhaps Willis just meant that children should never be involved in illegal activity, even the illegal activity he might find moral. It so happens that I am currently reading Freedom’s Children, interviews of people who were children during the civil rights movement. Kids were actively recruited by MLK and others to participate in protests and nonviolent disobedience. They integrated movie theaters and restaurants. They went to jail. They got their asses kicked. Does Willis think that shouldn’t have happened? I doubt it.

What about immigration, Oliver. You said Romney lost because he “embraced in a bear hug the most fringe anti-immigrant position out there.” You seem to support immigration reform and scoff at Republicans who use the term “amnesty” to refer to legalizing those who crossed our borders without papers. Do you think immigrants who crossed the border illegally with their children should be strung up from the nearest lamppost?

No. I don’t believe that this is really about legal or illegal. I think Willis would agree that disobeying unjust, immoral laws is perfectly acceptable. If not, he has some explaining to do about his love of MLK. This is about Willis’s opinion of sex work and the people who do it. It is about his willingness to dismiss and dehumanize someone because they did something he finds icky.

Back when I took my first class on the drug war, I had this click moment in my head. Even though I had never been in favor of the drug laws, even though I knew many people who were caught up in the injustice system, I never really recognized the scheme for what it was. How I never saw the process of dehumanization is incredible to me. I mean, I had been reading about Nazi Germany’s laws against Jews since grade school. I knew how vagrancy laws were used during Jim Crow. I understood how laws were enacted to criminalize certain groups and justify their oppression. But somehow I never saw it clearly when it came to the drug laws.

And it wasn’t until relatively recently that I really gave a lot of thought to the laws against sex work. Who are they meant to control? Where did they come from? Who is getting their freedom taken away? What is the result of the War on Sex Workers?

But Willis doesn’t want to ask those questions. He doesn’t want to ask why a person might do sex work. He doesn’t want to ask why sex work is looked down upon more than working for Goldman Sachs. He doesn’t want to ask why someone might have to bring their kid to work with them. To ask those questions would mean seeing that woman as a human being and not a “criminal” – that classification which justifies taking someone’s freedom, taking their children, marking them for life.

When someone dared suggest that perhaps the woman’s choices were limited and that we should try to understand more about her circumstances before we judge, Willis chose to get butthurt that people had lower standards for the poor. Apparently, he thinks that following the rules and working hard will eventually pay off for everyone – despite all the evidence to the contrary.

No, Willis. Asking questions, refusing to completely dehumanize that woman, is not a “degrading” assumption that “a poor person must break the law to eat and that that’s somehow okay.” It is an understanding that some human beings have more limited choices than others. It is an understanding that laws are often made for the purpose of controlling certain groups of people. It is the unwillingness to dehumanize and degrade.

Willis believes in “absolutes, ” by which he means that laws are laws and should be followed by all. Nobody gets a break. The guy who stole millions in mortgage fraud schemes is exactly the same as the starving guy who stole bread.  For him, anything else means “no moral guidance, no right and wrong… anarchy.”

Except that “no moral guidance” is not what anarchy means. Anarchy means no rulers. It means no hierarchies that allow a few powerful people to make laws that oppress the rest. It means understanding that moral and legal are not the same.  It means freedom, mutual aid, and respect. It means trying to understand what your fellow human beings are experiencing and not assuming that your morals and choices are universal.

Laws against sodomy, laws against miscegenation, laws against drugs, and laws against sex work have all been used to target marginalized people. And even when some of the people who support those laws have good intentions – like those who know how destructive drug abuse can be – they cannot just close their eyes to how the laws are used. That is immoral.

Schools Teach Shame and Bullying

January 23, 2013 By: Mel Category: Education, Sex, Stratification

I came across this news story yesterday. Some school official told a girl’s mother that, if her daughter wanted to end the harassment she was subjected to, she should get a breast reduction. Because, you know, how dare you have a body that might make people think of sex.

And then there is the video posted up at Womanist Musings a little while back.  Teens were shown the story of Amanda Todd – the girl who was harassed, stalked, slut-shamed, abandoned by her friends, and eventually killed herself. Because god forbid you show your tits or have sex. And if you don’t have anything to show, you will get shamed for that too, as one of the girls in that video tearfully describes.

The school official that suggested a breast reduction isn’t some anomaly. @Pliny_theElder put it perfectly.

@ "shouldn't have dressed that way" reaches its logical conclusion: "shouldn't have been born that way"
Eugene V. Dubstep

School is all about control and shaming. And the kids learn to shame and bully just like the adults. Look at some of the tweets that went out yesterday with the tag #IGoToASchoolWhere

#igotoaschoolwhere the dress code is more important than the education. DON'T SHOW YOUR SHOULDER IT DISTURBS OTHER CHILDREN TRYIN TO LEARN
MarioPerez Jr
#IGoToASchoolWhere the teachers care more about what trousers/skirt you're wearing, than what grades you get.
#igotoaschoolwhere the uniform being worn properly is more important then the education
Kristen Shepley

Is it really a shock that, when a school spends all their time monitoring how much skin you are showing, you end up with comments like:

#igotoaschoolwhere some girls walk around half naked but demand respect from guys. #no
sami bourjas

(92 retweets last I looked. The number of girls who retweeted that makes me want to vomit.)

People hear about Amanda Todd and ask what we should do about bullies in school. Administrators need to crack down. Parents need to get involved.  We better do away with free speech because of bullies. We should put students in jail for filming a fight, because that is cyberbullying. Kids are so mean and out of control. How can we better control them?

Kids are mean. They are mean precisely because parents, administrators, teachers, and every other adult they grow up around teaches them shame, shaming, and bullying every day of their lives. They are mean precisely because people are constantly trying to control them – their sexuality, their thoughts, their appearance, their dreams.

And the tinier the box we push kids into, the more nasty they will be in trying to keep other kids smashed into those same boxes. You want to know how adults can stop bullying? Stop being bullies.

P.S. That pic is from a story by Dick Gregory about how he learned shame in school.  Read it.

Things You Might Have Missed

January 16, 2013 By: Mel Category: Misc

The internets are rapidly finishing the job Aaron Swartz started.

Must read article on what is happening to women who are pregnant. Arrests. Deaths. Involuntary commitment. Medical tests.

I am so glad my parents did not have access to microchipping technology. Though I suspect I would have gotten extremely tech savvy. By now I’d probably be programming ankle bracelets to say people are home when they are actually slamming beers at a bar and planning the next occupation.

I hope somebody out there has skills like that. As it seems our injustice system will now be using some bullshit program to determine who will commit crimes in the future. Probation and parole will be judged accordingly.

Sending people to prison for things they have not yet done is not new.  I highly recommend reading this New Yorker piece on sex offenders. It is so disturbing.

Great that the ACLU is pointing out what happens when you put cops in schools. But good luck getting people to listen.

I knew John Kiriakou’s prosecution was bullshit, but I did not know he has basically been convicted of sharing a business card.

Anybody have the details on the bombing of journalists in Greece? Supposedly some of ours who did this dumbass shit.

Cliff at The Pervocracy on how we screw up kid’s heads about sex.

Many of you give me a hard time for living in DC. But there are some things we can be proud of. Like we watch more porn than anybody.

Of course, we also have cops in the DMV who drive women to secluded areas to rape them. And one that decided to murder his mistress and then leave their baby in a car to die.

Also, it seems we have decided to go the Texas route and “get tough” on truancy. Cause that went so well in Texas.

Sigh.  Home sweet home.

Pregnancy, Coercion, and Responsibility

January 14, 2013 By: Mel Category: Core, Politics, Religion, Seeking, Sex, Stratification

I was reading about this abortion restricting bill in Michigan. While I realize that it is another attempt to regulate abortion out of existence under the guise of safety and regulations, something in that article struck me.

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R) has approved a controversial package of abortion restrictions that will limit abortion access for women who live in rural areas, require doctors to prove that mentally competent women haven’t been “coerced” into their decision to have the procedure, and enact unnecessary, complicated rules for abortion clinics and providers.

Why those quotes around “coerced”? I know young women who were coerced into having abortions because their parents were embarrassed, because they said they would refuse to help take care of the child, because the father would not take any responsibility, because the community would not take any responsibility, because they had no other place to turn to.

I also know many women who were coerced into having children. Women have their contraception tampered with. They are pressured by their husbands and families to reproduce when they don’t want to, even though the primary responsibility for the kids will fall on them. They are pressured by their community and religious institutions not to abort. They are pressured by the social assumption that everybody “should” have kids.

If you read The Girls Who Went Away, you will read story after heartbreaking story of young women prior to Roe v. Wade who did not have the option to abort and who were coerced into giving their children up for adoption. When I say coerced, I don’t just mean the shame and social pressure. I mean that actual force was used to get them to sign adoption papers. Sometimes the papers were even forged.

And what about all those women around the world who have no access to birth control, much less abortion, and who are poor? Some wealthy couple from the U.S. or Europe sweeps in and pays an attorney tens of thousands of dollars to adopt the child. They take the child away from their mother and community and we are supposed to think that it is a happy ending. Meanwhile, if the mother received the money that went to the attorney, she might have been able to keep the child. Isn’t that a form of coercion?

Nobody should be coerced into having children and nobody should be coerced into not having children. But it is more complicated than not telling women what to do with their bodies. It is also about economics and social support.

And here is where it gets even more complicated. Whether or not other people have kids affects us. I sincerely wish that wasn’t true. I wish my decision not to have kids meant that I would never have to deal with the responsibility of children. But much as I hate to admit it, it just isn’t the case, not even in the best of circumstances. But it is especially true when really damaged people decide to bring kids into the world.

It may be tempting to say that some people should not be allowed to have children. But as much as I may cringe at the prospect of certain people being parents, even more cringe-worthy is the idea that there is anyone out there who has the right or the impeccable/superhuman/prejudice-free judgment to determine who is worthy to have children. We can’t have judges ordering women not to reproduce. We can’t let governments decide to sterilize people because they are trans or poor or disabled.

Other people’s lives and decisions affect us – even people we don’t know. Sometimes that really sucks. Sometimes people make horrible, irrational, and irresponsible decisions that we all have to live with – and that includes people who lived long before we were born. But sometimes people also do things that we all benefit from without having had to make any effort or sacrifice. While we are quick to condemn those whose bad decisions cause us inconvenience, nobody wakes up in the morning feeling guilty that they don’t have polio because some other person’s kid invented a vaccine.

I have written before about how I think the nuclear family is a failure, that it is really a mechanism for limiting our responsibility. It has also been used to control and shame women, especially poor women. Some of those Girls Who Went Away later found out that the only real difference between them and the adopted mother was a husband and a slightly larger bank account. But those two things are significant when we live in a society that likes the benefits without the responsibilities.

Conservatives want everyone to be in the supposedly perfect and stable nuclear family where the father and mother take care of everything and nobody else (supposedly) has to get involved. Maybe your church or neighborhood might pitch in. Liberals want to get involved (entirely too much) by legislating, taxing, or sending in some (hopefully) well-meaning civil servant who is getting paid to kinda care. Because paying a tax and sending in a social worker takes a lot less effort than actually getting involved in a kid’s life. Neither way is working very well.

All of which is to say that, when it comes to pregnancy and children, there are a lot of tensions that cannot be resolved. They can only be managed. The question is how to manage those tensions in a way that is not coercive or authoritarian. How to accept that we cannot seal ourselves off from others decisions, but also not leave us constantly cleaning up other people’s messes. How to get out of these intractable and unhelpful debates where we just grab onto a platitude and refuse to listen to anyone else.

Not easy.

Book Review – 33 Revolutions Per Minute

January 11, 2013 By: Mel Category: Book

33 Revolutions per Minute: A History of Protest Songs, from Billie Holiday to Green Day33 Revolutions per Minute: A History of Protest Songs, from Billie Holiday to Green Day by Dorian Lynskey

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The subtitle of this book is “A History of Protest Songs, From Billie Holiday to Green Day.” But it should really say that it is a history of (mostly) the U.S. and U.K. through protest songs. I don’t say that as a criticism. The book actually turned out to be more interesting than I thought it would be.

I have some gripes here and there, but overall Lynskey did an admirable job of smashing 100 years of history and hundreds (thousands?) of musicians into one book. Whatever details I wish he would have put in or taken out, his ability to weave a readable narrative from so much information makes up for any flaws.

I expected a lot of fascinating factoids and was not disappointed. You’ll read about how FDR raged when the Almanacs released Songs for John Doe. How Paul Robeson was confronted by a lynch mob when he showed up for an outdoor concert in Peekskill in 1949. How Johnny Cash pissed off Nixon by playing What is Truth instead of the requested Okie from Muskogee at a White House Concert. How FBI informants infiltrated black arts groups like the Watts Prophets. How Marvin Gaye fought to make political music and what the recording session for What’s Going On was like. (Hint: It involved lots of weed, booze, and masturbation.)

As interesting as the historical details are, what I love most about the book is how it delves into the tensions that artists confront. Is art self expression or should it have a purpose? How do you make music with a message that isn’t trite and preachy? What is your responsibility to your audience? What do you do when people misinterpret your work or co-opt it for things you never intended? How can a radical artist stay motivated to keep fighting when you lose more often than not? How do you stay focused in the face of repression or popularity?

In other words, the book deals with tensions that many of us face. It shows how fleeting those moments are when everything comes together. Sometimes people worked their asses off trying to make inspirational music or radical organizations and it fell flat. Sometimes a song written in twenty minutes would take off and start something huge. But even those twenty minute wonders had a million different happy accidents leading up to them.

A history through music turns out to be an ideal way to look at those tensions and to see how moments that seem to come out of nowhere never really do. History buffs and music nerds will like this book. But so, I think, will anyone who does art or activism.

View all my reviews

Things You Might Have Missed

January 09, 2013 By: Mel Category: Misc

Must listen talk by Ashanti Alston over on the AK Press site called Anarchism, Zapatismo & the Black Panthers.

More cops and cab driver impersonators out raping women. Charming.

Holy crap. 75% of West Virginia teens don’t use any birth control?! Can somebody rent a crop duster and drop-bomb some condoms please? And lest you think that is a Southern thing, a California school district is saying that getting plenty of rest prevents STDs.

I doubt any of you missed the MoJo article on the connection between lead and crime, but just in case.

Fuck Yeah to Trickle-Down Feminism.

Listen anarchists. If you are going to throw molotovs, could you at least represent us better than throwing a PBR? It is embarrassing.

I finally checked out The Central Park Five this weekend. Go see it before it leaves theaters. It is infuriating. Just keep in mind that this shit happens all the time.

More locksmiths refusing to participate in foreclosures please.

“It’s tough to find out who’s responsible for the action as the cat doesn’t speak.” Best quote by a spokesperson ever. And also more proof that cats are anarchists. Somebody needs to break that compañero out of kitty prison.

That comic strip is from Anarchy in Your Head. You can see more Anarkitty on the website. You can also buy Anarkitty swag on Cafepress.

Victor Jara, Solitude, Justice, and the USA

January 07, 2013 By: Mel Category: Politics

It looks like Victor Jara’s murderers have some small chance of being brought to justice. Jara, if you are unfamiliar, was a musician and activist in Chile during the dirty war. He was tortured and killed by Pinochet’s thugs. Now Chile is prosecuting his murderers and it turns out one of them is hiding out in the US. Jara’s widow is calling for his extradition.

Coincidentally, I’ve been thinking about a Jara quote I just read in 33 Revolutions Per Minute.

It seems nobody dares to be themselves. They are afraid of solitude and because of that, everyone is alone in a mass of lonely people

He was talking about us estadounidenses. I always assumed that fear of being yourself was a universal human trait, but maybe we in the U.S. have taken it to a whole new level.

It is ironic that people aren’t themselves because they fear others won’t like them. If people don’t really know us, how can they like us? Besides, isn’t it partly sharing faults, secrets, doubts, fears, and fuckedupedness that connects us. Makes sense that the less we are willing to do that, the more isolated we all feel.

So if Jara was right, what is it about our culture that walls us off so thoroughly? Are the boxes we put each other in even smaller than in other places? Is it connected to how punitive we are, how unforgiving? How do we break that? How can we change anything if we don’t break it?

Course, as punitive as we are when it comes to minor drug offenses, we have a history of refusing to extradite thugs like Luis Posada Carriles and Emmanuel Constant. Given that we supported the government that killed Jara, I won’t hold my breath.

Here you can listen to Jara’s singing one of his last songs. The words and an English translation are here. I kind of prefer Francesca Ancarola’s version on that site and below.


Nothing Should Last Forever

January 04, 2013 By: Mel Category: Misc

This might be the creepiest thing I have ever read.

Many engineers, including me, think that some time around 2050, we will be able to make very high quality links between the brains and machines. To such an extent that it will thereafter be possible (albeit expensive for some years) to arrange that most of your mind – your thinking, memories, even sensations and emotions, could reside mainly in the machine world…The main aim of this research area is to design electronic solutions to immortality.

Just in case those links between brains and machines seem completely beyond possibility, you might want to check out the research that may soon lead to mind-controlled prosthetics. Those prosthetics would be amazing. But immortality? Trying to keep your thoughts, memories, and emotions alive forever?


Perhaps you think it would be useful to tap into the memories of generations of people. As a history nerd, I can see the appeal. But do we really need to tap into the emotions and damage forever? I’m glad that the generational memory of the pogroms and holocaust are not fresh wounds for me like they are for previous generations. It is hard enough to get over the damage.

I get not wanting to die. I get not wanting to lose the people you love. But the fact that nothing lasts forever is the most hopeful fact we have in life and, painful as loss and death are, we should embrace it.

Think about what the alternative would be. If the good things lasted forever, the bad things would have to also. Forever wars. Forever genocides. Forever tyrants. Do you want Hitler or Lloyd Blankfein or Charles Manson to live forever?

Things need to end to make room for new things. People need to move on to make room for new people. You never know what wonderful thing you may be missing out on by trying to hold on to things that need to be let go of. Besides, what kind of megalomaniac would actually think they should live forever?

Things You Might Have Missed

January 02, 2013 By: Mel Category: Misc

HRW has a new report out called Sex Workers at Risk. If you don’t have time to read the whole report, skim through some of the testimonies. How cops treat sex workers and trans people is disgusting.

Of course cops treat a lot of other people like shit too as this kickass kid managed to record during a stop and frisk.

And what about this dickhead 911 operator who hung up on and then arrested a girl trying to get help for her collapsed father. Unbelievable.

Some interesting short videos about the drug war in Latin America over at TNI, this one from Ecuador in particular.

Hey, remember when Obama said he was going to close Gitmo? Psych!  Turns out “Prison conditions and legal constraints have only gotten tougher, not easier, under the Democratic president.”

A good overview of solitary confinement from one of the prisoners at Corcoran. It looks like there may be another hunger strike.

What happens when you lose your hands while making flat screens in Mexico? You are screwed.

I haven’t actually looked at the research, but apparently liberals are more prone to stereotypes than conservatives.

Can someone explain to me why this GEO exec and his son are not in one of their abusive private prisons instead of say undocumented immigrants who haven’t done shit?

Guess we are too busy arresting kids for doodling.

Any of you have recent info about ankle bracelets on truant students?

So in India, if you are raped, they will stick two fingers up your crotch to make sure you aren’t a slut. In Swaziland, if you wear a miniskirt, you will be sent to jail for six months for provoking rape. And in Italy, a Catholic priest said women are being killed by their husbands because they are too confident. Nice world.

Finally got around to watching this interview of David Graeber. I need to read his debt book. Any of you gotten to it yet?

P.S. When I was looking for a Gitmo image for this post, I came across so many horrifying political cartoons supporting indefinite detention without trial or just plain murdering those prisoners. WTF!