Friday, April 20, 2007
Truth and turning one's back
Oh, right. Silly me. President Bush ordered the troops to do something as impossible (for them) to do as making water in to wine. He told them to conquer Iraq and create a peaceful democracy. Troops can't do that. It depends upon a huge number of factors.
But the rest of the story was accurate. Yes, Reid declared that Bush's folly was, well, folly. The war is lost.
And it is; can you call a war that has gone on this long and cost so much anything other than a failure, a loss?
What, if Iraq stabilized tomorrow, would it bring back the hundreds of thousands of civilians who've died, or undo the suffering of millions? Would over three thousand of our soldiers regain their lives, or the many thousands more regain their wholeness? Would we gain back the hundreds of billions of dollars we've thrown away to create an Iraq in the middle of a civil war?
The war in Iraq was a failure. Bush lost the war in Iraq.
Telling that truth is not turning one's back on the troops. Denying it, saying that the soldiers deserve "victory", which is to say, the soldiers deserve to be kept in the meat grinder until they can be withdrawn without making Bush look bad, is turning one's back on the troops.
They deserve to be brought home. They deserve to be honored for their brave service and sacrifice, and they deserve to have politicians stop asking them to do the impossible.
That's what you'd tell soldiers if you could look them in the eye, and see how hard they're working towards an impossible task.
I'm getting increasingly sick and tired of these rhetorical tricks the Republicans are playing. I can only hope the rest of the nation is, as well.
Thursday, April 19, 2007
Healing is good, rage is not
Really. I couldn't make that up if I tried.
See, you have to allow time for rage and grief. Don't you dare start healing until you've had time to rage and grieve! And you should listen to Papa Prager, who knows better than you do about when to start the healing process.
Oh, heh, grieving is a healing process. And anger is part of it. So Prager's an idiot.
But we knew that. What bothers me is the deeper illness that he represents. He wants "rage". Why?
What, precisely, does rage buy us?
I'm not saying we should deny rage, or refuse to feel rage; that's the same kind of stupidity that Prager's falling into, trying to set a mold for "proper" emotions at the proper time. It's perfectly natural to feel rage, but it's extremely foolish to try to make it into a good thing. It doesn't buy us anything. There is nothing that rage buys us that can't be had more cheaply by simply demanding justice.
Rage can hurt us if it's uncontrolled; it might, in some cases, help us in some ways, but there are other, less dangerous ways to obtain the same benefits. Its risks outweigh the benefits.
And the idea that rage is a proper and moral, response to ill treatment is even more dangerous. If we, as a society, say that it's good to feel rage when you're treated badly, well, that's exactly how the killer felt. He felt ill-treated, and he considered rage to be an appropriate response, and used that rage to slaughter people.
It is normal to feel anger, and yes, rage... but to embrace them, to view them as more moral than their lack, is to take on some tiny part of the same sick mindset as Cho Seung-hui.
Feeling rage is part of being human, and accepting that one might feel rage is necessary... but worshiping rage, viewing it as moral, that's optional.
And thank god for that. We need a better path than someone like Prager might show us.
Wednesday, April 18, 2007
Regarding the decision to allow a ban on an abortion technique
And that is all you need to hear from a sad story by the Supreme Court today.
The ban on intact dilation and extraction does not prevent abortions. It simply says that, even if this is the safest way to perform the abortion, it can not be done.
It is the first time in history that our nation has said that one person must potentially undergo greater medical risk to prevent some other person from being bothered by the performance of a procedure.
Intact D&E is ugly-looking, make no mistake about that. A lot of medical procedures are ugly. Nevertheless, if a pregnancy is going to be terminated, it should be done in as safe a manner as possible. It is foolish to argue that it's immoral to terminate a pregnancy in a particularly ugly-appearing manner, but okay to use another, potentially less safe, method.
This law is inherently bad. A law that flat out forbade abortion would be be a better law than this, because at least such a law, however unconstitutional, would at least make sense.
This law is simple pandering, and an attempt to get a decision like this from the court, where a woman's health is considered secondary to a pro-lifer's moral outrage over the how, not whether, to perform an abortion.
Tuesday, April 17, 2007
About death and life
Is there anyone out there who doesn't wish there was something to do?
I do; there's nothing more frustrating than to face up to the idea that there's nothing I can do. But I've learned, slowly, and painfully, to accept it. There isn't anything to do. Not yet, at least.
Oh, there might be things we can do in the future. We might have a lot of information, and recognize that certain specific actions will help, and not cause harm. We should always go over these incidents and think carefully about them.
But the urge to act can overcome common sense. After Columbine there were issues being discussed that made folks like me (and a lot of other harmless loners) worry that teenaged angst would soon be considered conspiracy to commit violence.
Someday, maybe we'll have a way of finding people who are about to snap, and do something crazy and senseless like this. But that day isn't today, and it's not going to be tomorrow.
But there is something you can do.
Look around you for the next couple of days. Think about everyone you see. Think about the tragedy if that person's life was cut short. Think about how all of the world is diminished when any one of us is lost.
Learn to care about those people. If you see one of them smiling, let it brighten your day a bit, to think there's a bit more happiness in the world. And if you can do something that makes one of them smile, that makes the world a little brighter, well, give it a shot.
Always remember to keep in mind that, if you try to make someone happy, it's a gift you're offering, and you shouldn't try to force a gift on anyone who's unwilling (and maybe nervous if not expecting it). But try reaching out, if it seems like you can.
This isn't going to prevent any shootings... certainly not directly. I could be wrong, but I don't think any would-be shooter stopped and said "that stranger offered to buy me a cup of coffee on a cold day when the bus was delayed; hell, I guess it's too nice a day to go on a shooting rampage, anyway."
But then, we don't know how to prevent shootings. We don't know who is going to snap, we don't know why. All this does is cause us to value, and celebrate, life.
And maybe, just maybe, if we do that, if we reach out enough, we can find a way to reach those folks who might snap,and maybe, just maybe, we'll find a way to stop them.
In the meantime, we'll be making all people's lives a little better, a little brighter, and a little more meaningful.
Because one of the most tragic things about this kind of thing is, that it; it's too late to do anything for the murder victims. They're dead, they're gone, and maybe prayers or rituals or who-knows-what can help them, but even if so, we'll never know.
We've lost any chance to show them love, to make their lives better, or brighter. We can't make them laugh, or smile, or comfort them when they cry.
Do you want to do something? Do you want to make a difference? Then go out there, and try to make the world a better place for your presence. Try to sow happiness, even if you won't be around to watch it blossom.
We can't prevent the shooting victims of yesterday, any more than we can prevent the car crash victims or falling victims, or disease victims of yesterday. All we can do is make the world brighter, today, for the people around us, fully aware that today might be the only chance we have.
It's not very heroic seeming. It's not very powerful feeling. And yet, it's only by reaching out, by caring about each other, by trying to understand each other, that we have any chance of figuring out what makes people do these things. It's the foundation of learning what goes wrong and how to fix it.
And even if I'm completely and horribly wrong about this, if you do this, you'll have made a few lives brighter, and the world a little bit better than your presence.
Friday, April 13, 2007
About the Duke case
It's like when you're writing a story; if the character's motivations aren't believable by the end of the story, it's a bad story. And the recent situation involving the lacrosse team at Duke university creates a lot of problems for me.
From the beginning, with a few facts on the table, I was sure something nasty happened between the Duke lacrosse team, and the exotic dancer that three of them were accused of raping.
She left behind her handbag, with a good chunk of money in it.
Tell me that she was treated respectfully and in a non-frightening manner, but she bolted without her money, and it just doesn't compute. Of course, we know that she wasn't treated respectfully. She and her partner left because there was a suggestion that a broom might be used in lieu of sex toys... not quite a threat, but not a safe situation.
Still, she was coaxed back into the house, and it seems impossible to believe that she wasn't frightened by something. And it wouldn't be just a guy going "boo!" because she was an experienced exotic dancer; she knew how men reacted and what they were like when they were rowdy. If she spooked easily, she wouldn't be able to do that job.
Her partner reported that she left the house and seemed drugged, or drunk, but folks who know trauma know that some traumatized people appear drunk, drugged, or otherwise out of it. This is another indication that something had happened, something that frightened her.
People who think she was seeking revenge for something said or done to her, remember this: she didn't go out and make those accusations. The police were called because of her condition (seeming to be drunk), and it was only after the officer hassled her a bit (the report I found said he used a hold that would be painful if she didn't move as he directed) that she broke out of her shell and said she'd been raped.
This, to me, does not sound like a person trying to get revenge and making up lies. It sounds exactly like a traumatized person coming out of a daze, and reporting what she believed happened.
But the prosecutor has said that they believe "no attack occurred"... certainly not the attack she claimed. How could this be?
To some people, this says she's a liar, but it just doesn't fit.
She said she was raped by men who weren't wearing a condom. Isn't that a stupid thing to make part of your lie, knowing about DNA evidence? She described a rape lasting 30 minutes, when, if nothing had happened to her, she'd have known that 30 minutes couldn't be accounted for. Remember, her partner said the accuser was only in the house for a few minutes, five or ten, before coming back out.
She would have to be awfully stupid to make up such a transparant lie, and stick to it.
But then another piece of the puzzle dropped into place, and suddenly, I realized I might have the answer.
The woman reported being raped earlier. Years before the Duke incident, she reported to the police that she had been raped. The incident she was reporting then had happened a long time in the past (a long time before she made the report, that is). According to the article I read, the police declined to investigate, citing lack of evidence.
What does this suggest to me?
What kind of story can I write from these that puts all the pieces together?
I feel bad writing about this, because it involves mental health issues. I don't know her, I'm not competent to evaluate her if I did know her, I'm not a doctor, don't play one on TV, and refuse to play one on the internet. However, I've seen a lot of people who suffered a lot of different painful situations, and I know what a lot of mental health issues look like.
And people are calling her a liar, people are publishing her name, people are saying all kinds of terrible things about her, and I don't think it's fair.
The only way I can explain why I think that's not fair is to explain what I think happened, and why.
So, let's take this as a working hypothesis. Her report of being gang-raped (the one that she reported to the police, a long time before the Duke incident) was true. She'd been gang-raped.
You don't go through a trauma like that without scars; it's certainly traumatic enough to cause PTSD, or something similar.
At the Duke party, it's known that the guys were getting nasty and rowdy. She and her partner were going to leave, but somehow, she got coaxed back inside, and then something happened that was caused her to flee without her handbag and her money.
What is the simplest explanation? The lacrosse players did something that scared her, and she was in such fear for her safety that she had a traumatic flashback.
I'm not going to speculate about what the lacrosse players did. Given the circumstances, I'll assume that it was merely something nasty, but legal. I doubt that it was something meaningless, because, as I've said, you can't keep the job if you get spooked too easily.
But whatever it was, I'm suggesting it triggered a flashback. A flashback can seem real, as if it's happening right now. Even if it's not that bad, it's something you can't ignore; it fills your mind. It's exactly the kind of thing that could confuse her, and leave her unable to remember what, precisely, had happened when. She would be remembering the previous gang rape, and it would be mixing the the memories of what had happened in the house with the lacrosse players.
And then, later that night, she then reported to the police what she remembered, as best as she could.
Let me say that again and emphasize it: as best as she could.
It is not a "lie" or a "false accusation" or "revenge" if, having been traumatized once, she was scared, and had a flashback, and couldn't keep the two events separate in her mind. It is the responsibility of the authorities, the police and the prosecutors, to investigate the accusations. Crime victims often misremember the details of what, exactly happened.
So, my hypothesis, my guess, my "story that would make this all make sense", is that she had a flashback, and reported what she could to the police, but much of it was confused, because of the earlier gang-rape.
What she described was horrific.
I'm not going to excuse DA Nifong for what he did, but I will suggest that his motives - not his actions, but his motives - were better than most people believe. I believe that Nifong took her report, and was furious that the lacrosse players would cover up such an atrocity.
I understand his fury, and I think most people would, if they would simply put themselves in his place. Nifong believed the woman was raped, with a bunch of witnesses nearby, and none of them would come forward. Of course he would be angry; any prosecutor would be!
However, what this case proves is that a prosecutor must not over-reach the evidence.
I don't know who did what to the accuser... but, as I said, the one thing I won't believe is that an experienced exotic dancer panicked, left her money and handbag inside, and was dazed and confused afterwards, when "nothing" happened.
I don't know what happened that night. I don't know if any laws were broken, but I assume there weren't. It's a terrible thing that anyone was charged with anything (much less rape) when there wasn't enough evidence to support the charges.
But that doesn't make the woman a liar, a revenge-seeker, or a false accuser, and she should be left in peace.
Rape and bullying - further thoughts
I don't remember much of the discussion, and too much ego-googling is bad for the head. Whether it causes swelling, or grey clouds of despair, it's best not to check up too much on what other people think of you. So, I'm not going to try to find it again, so I can check my memory or link to it. If I'm misparaphrasing, the participants have my apologies.
Anyway, I was thinking about that, because, you know, it is a danger. Why, exactly, am I trying to hammer this metaphor? Could I, in hammering this metaphor, end up making it seem as if rape was "merely" bullying?
So let me talk for a bit about why I found this metaphor so appealing.
Words are tricky little buggers. While a lot of our thinking and communication is done through words, words are inherently inexact. They can end up having too little meaning, or too much. Back when rape was viewed as being a stranger in a dark alley (or similar location) grabbing a woman, and using a gun or knife or simply overwhelming physical force, it was easy for people to despise rape.
But then it changed, and not that long ago, within my lifetime.
I think, before the 70s, rape was viewed more as a perversion than as an act of violence. Before the 70s, it was frequently impossible for a man to rape his wife under the law. Think about that... rape is a terrible act of violence involving parts of one's body, mind, and spirit that should never be touched by that kind of violence. A man raping his wife is one of the most horrible betrayals imaginable, but, if rape is seen as some kind of perversion, some kind of weird sex, well, how could a sex act be weird or perverse if it's "ordinary" sex between a man and his wife?
We had to change the word rape, and make folks understand that it wasn't some stranger hiding in dark alleys, it was sex without consent.
For some folks, that's enough. They understand the horror without having to go any further.
But for a lot of folks, it's not. To these people, consent seems like an invisible thing. What exactly does it mean to consent? Or to not consent? Consent is just a word to them, because they don't think it all through. The words "sex without consent" just don't have enough meaning to them. They don't drive home the implications.
By discussing rape as "sexual bullying", I think some of that barrier can be broken, that the implications can be driven home.
More importantly, I know that a lot of guys ask questions about a rape situation they hear described, and they start to wonder if, from the description, they could have done the same thing. And the answer is, "only if they were bullies, willing to ignore obvious, real distress, while close enough to have sex with a person".
Until I saw the suggestion that rape could be viewed as bullying, I simply hadn't thought to raise that super-obvious issue: that a rapist is right there, doing something terrible that takes time. It's not like rape happens in the blink of an eye, and it can be missed by one of the participants! By looking at rapists as bullies who are ignoring the many signs of a lack of consent, we bring forward the idea that those signs are there, and are clear, for anyone who is looking for them (or who can stop and ask a question, if there isn't absolute certainty).
Anyway, the long and the short of this is, I see it as a way to educate folks about rape in a manner that I believe is more accessible and more illustrative of the problem.
Tuesday, April 10, 2007
Rape and Bullying, Part IV
My first thoughts upon exploring that metaphor were about how it could be an excellent teaching device. Here is how we can draw the line between hedonistic sex-seeking behavior and harassment or rape. It also helps express what rape is like... all too often, I've seen guys (especially guys) feel some sympathy or identification with a rapist, wondering if maybe there was some big misunderstanding or something.
When you look at it from a perspective of bullying, you realize that such worries are unfounded. Neither a bully nor a bullying victim are misunderstanding what's going on.
I think there's another, more valuable reason to use this perspective... I think it can help illustrate what rape is really like.
Who out there has been bullied, and put into a painful and humiliating position? Made to eat dirt? Given a swirley? Been held helpless while folks do something painful or degrading to you?
I can tell you from personal experience that being bullied in that way is one of the worst feelings in the world. Deep down, you know this isn't supposed to be happening. You know it's not supposed to be possible for this to happen. You're angry, or scared, but definitely feeling humiliated, and you can easily start hating yourself for not being able to stop it.
That last part really touches on the core of the matter. You can't stop it. You've lost control of a fundamental part of your destiny. You don't know when it will end; you don't know what will be done to you before the end.
It'd be one of the worst feelings in the world even if what was done to you wasn't really all that bad. Everything is worse when you don't have any control over it, when you can't slow it down or stop it.
Think about that, imagine that, imagine feeling the pain of that situation, and you have an idea of what rape can be like. Except... you don't. Not yet.
Because rape isn't someone making you eat dirt. It's someone violating the most private parts of your body. You should have control over your fate; you shouldn't have to be forced into a painful or humiliating situation, but it goes double for our sex organs. Sex matters, and having a choice matters more than you could believe up until the point that a rapist rips that choice away from you.
And we're still not through yet. Most women who are raped are raped by men they know. Many are raped on dates, in which they perhaps felt some measure of attraction and trust for the rapist. All of their lives, women in this country are taught to protect their "virtue", and told that men will try to do things like this, and I know many a rape victim thinks that she made a terrible msitake in trusting the rapist, and wondering what she should have done differently to protect herself.
And we're still not done. Rape is accepted as one of the most heinous crimes on the books; once he's done with the rape, what else might he do?
And now, let's add the cherry on the top of this shit sundae, if you'll pardon my French.
The rapist is getting off on what he's doing.
Maybe he's getting off on the pain and the humiliation; maybe he's just getting off. It doesn't really matter to the victim, does it? She's being hurt and humiliated and torn apart emotionally in a dozen different ways, and on top of that, her attacker is enjoying himself. From her perspective, he is getting off on her pain and her humiliation.
When people make excuses, that's the kind of thing they're excusing.
When people suggest maybe it didn't happen, that's the kind of thing they're trying to deny.
When people bring up false rape accusations (which are extremely rare), that is what they're trying to equate that rare event to.
When you hear people angrily talking about rape, that is why they're angry.
They have really good reason to be.
Saturday, April 07, 2007
Joe Scarborough asks a question....
If I had a litmus test for intellectual honesty, that would be one of them, and he failed it gloriously. No one wanted Terri to die... it was a tragic outcome that would result from doing what Terri had said, repeatedly, to multiple witnesses, she would have wanted. Wanting her wishes to be carried out has nothing to do with wanting her to die.
But even if a person didn't know that the courts had found Terri's wishes would have been to stop treatment, even if a person thought it was a family argument between a husband and his in-laws, no one wanted her to die. They wanted her to live a normal life... but that wasn't going to happen.
Maybe they wanted her husband - her court-appointed guardian - to be free to make decisions about her care. Maybe they thought that they wouldn't want to live in a persistent vegetative state, and figured no one could. It doesn't matter. No one wanted Terri Schiavo to die. But those who were okay with the cessation of treatment accepted that the tragedy of her death might be the best of bad outcomes.
It doesn't take a lot of brainpower to understand the difference between "I don't like this, but it's the way it has to be" and "I want this". So, anyone asking why liberals wanted Terri Schiavo to die is either stupid, or not being intellectually honest, and Joe Scarborough isn't stupid.
So I generally ignore what he has to say; he's willing to peddle hate. But recently, he asked a question that I'd like to answer.
Why is it okay to attack God, and Christians?
He cites The Da Vinchi Code as an example of attacks on Christians, and that really tells us all we need to know.
He's not asking "why is it acceptable and happy making to attack Christians and Christianity?"
He's asking "why isn't it more dangerous to attack Christians and Christianity? Why can people do things that annoy some Christians and make money doing so?" and the answer to that is "because we live in a free country!" But that's not the end of it.
Look, I sometimes feel bad for Christians; the world is changing, and they were caught gobsmacked by the changes. No, we don't live in a country where Christianity is given automatic reverence any more. If Christianity wants to make itself out to be a force for good, it has to earn it.
Is it doing so? What do you hear Christians doing? Bashing gay folks, denouncing the idea that gay folks can love each other enough to deserve to form a family, fighting sex education, trying to fight abortion, and trying to do things that were forbidden by Jesus, who they claim to revere.
Does the average Christian who's holding a press conference resemble the gentle rabbi who healed the sick at every opportunity, who insisted that his followers must help the poor, must love one another as he loved them (meaning enough to die for them, if the need is sufficient), and must feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and visit the sick and imprisoned?
Or do the people who speak the loudest and hog the spotlight look like people who want power and glory and wealth for themselves and other members of their salvation club? Don't those who seek special privileges and unearned reverence for Christianity seem like the kind of people that Jesus preached against?
It's a nasty thing, you know? Jesus told his followers to do good quietly... don't seek the approval of man, because if you do, you'll end up doing good works solely for the approval of man. Otherwise, you'll end up doing them to make yourself look good, and to receive praise and other rewards, not because they're good things to do.
So Christianity might deserve more respect, and more reverence than it receives.
But how do people like Joe Scarborough deal with this? By pushing the good things that Christianity does? Or by attacking those who won't look away from the bad things done in the name of Christianity?
Jesus had two things to say about this.
First, he showed us that love and faith are stronger than anything, stronger even than death. A true Christian should feel no need to go on the attack to protect Christianity.
And second, Jesus told us to look to the fruits of those who spoke in his name. What do they do? What happens because of their actions? Do the hungry get fed, the sick taken care of, etc.? Or do they seek power and glory and wealth?
Right now, the biggest, most powerful bloc of people who claim to speak for Jesus are more concerned with rewards of this earth, without concern for who gets trampled along the way.
How can it bother honest, faithful Christians that these people have drawn the anger of others?
Friday, April 06, 2007
Evolution of prejudice
I brought that up on another blog recently; someone mentioned that power structures are built to favor the powerful, and I said I always felt uncomfortable talking about these things as if they had any intent. And then someone pointed out to me that no one says that there was specific intent... when people talk about how these things came about, they're thinking about it like evolution.
We can say that "evolution built the human eye in such a way as to grant a decent balance of color vision with low-light vision", for example. That doesn't mean that some entity decided to give us vision of that nature. Our eyes can be seen as having developed through a process, where certain types of vision lead to an advantage in survival and/or reproduction.
Yes, it's also possible that there was a creator who designed the human eye. Frankly, if there was a creator, I don't think the human eye was designed; I think it was allowed to evolve a certain way. Nevertheless, the point is, we can posit the existence of an eye being a certain way due to a process, not due to design.
And as scary as it is to think about it, a lot of racism, sexism, heterosexism, etc., can happen the same way... and yes, it will be shaped in a way that benefits those in power. After all, it's the powerful who can reward obedience and punish disobedience.
That makes it sound a lot bigger and more planned than it is, but I'd like you to take a gander at this post, on Pandagon. It shows one of those places where the double negative (black and female) comes together.
No one decided that a black woman's hair in its natural state would lead to a danger of her being called a nappy-headed (w)ho(re), or a ghetto slut who doesn't respect the House of Representatives by daring to show up with her hair not looking sufficiently like a white woman's. No one decided that black wasn't beautiful; no one chose to make the world one where people would hate their natural hair or skin.
But that's how it happened, because if you don't do up your hair to some ridiculous, artificial standard, or if your skin is too dark for someone else's tastes, you can get hurt... not hired for a job, passed over for a promotion, or even just mocked as a ghetto slut.
So people try to conform, and a hurtful standard is set, and calcifies, and reinforces oppression without anyone recognizing it.
Why should a black woman suffer hot combs or chemical relaxers? Yet many do, and recommend others do, because it's just a given that if you can't put your hair into a select set of styles, you won't be considered attractive, or professional-looking.
Still, let's keep one thing straight: this did not arise in a vaccuum. This didn't just happen. This happened because people decided that black women looked awful because they didn't look like white women. The more they looked like white women, the more accepted they were.
No one planned this out; no one made it happen. But it's a direct result of that kind of racism, and it's clearly not gone. It's still there, and it's still deep, deep enough that two men who wouldn't want to appear racist (it could hurt ratings, after all) could throw off commments like that without even thinking about the implications.