Required Reading

A few items worthy of some serious thought.

This one is older, but I’ve been thinking about it since it was posted, so it’s definitely worth sharing. The Gates arrest and the chatter afterward prompted my friend Naomi to some serious comparison of policing styles and outcomes.

Even at the time, even as a snotty teenager, I had to respect the way the police handled this. This is what I’m talking about when I say Couper used Judo principles. This approach will not work in every situation, but running in and cracking heads rarely defuses things either. In Minneapolis, years ago, PETA ran a protest where they sent attractive young women to strip naked and lock themselves to public signs while chanting “I’d rather go naked than wear fur!” In January. Minneapolis dealt with this by sending about two dozen officers to cut the locks, rough up the protestors, and arrest them. I thought, “It’s January in the upper midwest. Isn’t this likely to be self-limiting behavior?” It would have worked just as well to send a couple of cops to direct traffic and wait until they got bored. And cold. Nudity is not a major public menace, you know? (They may have done just that in Madison. I can’t remember for sure.)

Instead of just focusing on what might or might not be in a future health care bill, Mike is talking about the current health care situation with the help of the experts.

After two years with the smaller employer, the private insurer boosted the premiums by a factor of two. The premiums doubled because in the prior coverage year, one employee’s spouse was treated for an advanced cancer. We didn’t get any raises from our employer, and my own take home dropped because of the increase in my coverage. I guess I could have raged that it “Wasn’t fair! It isn’t my fault she had cancer!” The thing is I knew that it could have been me or my kids who had been sick or needed treatment for an expensive medical condition. Sure enough, my daughter in the next year needed expensive brain surgery and new meds; none of which her mother nor I could have paid out of pocket.

Sara Robinson at AlterNet is taking a hard look at whether the U.S. is stepping away from fascism now that we’ve gotten rid of Bush–and not liking the answer. (via the Chimp Refuge)

In a 1998 paper published in The Journal of Modern History, Paxton argued that the best way to recognize emerging fascist movements isn’t by their rhetoric, their politics, or their aesthetics. Rather, he said, mature democracies turn fascist by a recognizable process, a set of five stages that may be the most important family resemblance that links all the whole motley collection of 20th Century fascisms together. According to our reading of Paxton’s stages, we weren’t there yet. There were certain signs — one in particular — we were keeping an eye out for, and we just weren’t seeing it.

And now we are. In fact, if you know what you’re looking for, it’s suddenly everywhere.

And finally, Greg has had enough of the idea that pointing to obvious racism in politics is off-limits. The rant itself is tasty, but the comments on the original post and at ScienceBlogs are a stunning display of missing the point that really, really need to be read.

Join me, if you will, in a moment of utter, deep cynicism. That would mean you thinking, for just a moment, exactly like I think every second of the day. This will be painful for you, unless you are already where I am….

Quick and Easy Advocacy

Something happened today that was cool enough to share. It happened at work, so the details will be almost nonexistent, but I think the idea will come through.

We have periodic office-wide meetings in which we talk about the various things different parts of the company are doing for our clients. They’re about being able to cross-sell and about staying engaged in the business and the office despite being so busy we can go weeks without seeing even the people in our own line of business.

Given that, it wasn’t too surprising when an email came out saying we’d be doing something at the next meeting that would require some action on our part. In order to demonstrate the efficacy of a targeted communication strategy, we would take a little survey about where we stood on an issue. The survey would sort us into groups, and we’d put our group name on a tag when we got to the meeting and sit with others in our group while we learned about the strategy.

It felt like one of those games you play at a party where no one really knows anybody else, but whatever. I know not everybody is as weird about manufactured group cohesion as I am. I took the survey.

Then I looked at the questions that were being asked. Then I looked at the category it put me in (“there are no bad categories,” said the email). Then there was this little roaring in my ears. I didn’t disagree with the category, but what it said about where I stand was no one’s business but my own. No, I thought, you can’t make me reveal that.

I knew there was another person in the office who was going to end up in the same category and was going to be just as reluctant to talk about it. I could have gone to them and commiserated. It was tempting. A steam valve would have been useful. But this person wasn’t in a position to fix this any more than I was.

Instead, I wrote back to the person who sent the email. I didn’t tell them I was upset personally. That wasn’t any of their business either. I didn’t say, “You can’t do that.” It was true, but it wasn’t specific enough to point to the outcome I wanted.

Finally, I settled on, “What are you doing to protect the privacy of those people who don’t want to reveal information on this issue to their coworkers?”

The answer came back, rather quickly, “Oh, thank you. I wasn’t thinking about that, but I see how people could be concerned. I’ll make sure everyone knows they can opt out when I send out the reminder.”

Bingo.

Then I talked to the other person I knew would be upset at the idea of sharing and told them the second email would be coming. This person told me how they’d gone back into the survey and lied to see what other group they might end up in–and thanked me three or four times for doing something about it. Made me pretty happy for the rest of the day.

Turns out, sometimes all you need to do is know how to ask.

This Is About Sex, Right?

No, this isn’t a story about sex trafficking. This is a story about immigrant women working in factories in fields all across the country. And [Southern Poverty Law Center's] response is not to criminalize their work, thus penalizing the victims, but rather to help them file lawsuits against their employers and attackers. You can read about one such case, U.S. EEOC, et al. vs. Tuscarora Yarns, here.

It struck me as a stark and important contrast to the antiprostitution activists who claim to be working to help victims of exploitation but who are really further victimizing them by criminalizing their livelihood instead of prosecuting abusers. SPLC’s strategy makes it clear that they understand the issues: All people have a right to earn a living. No person should be subject to abuse, violence, or exploitation at work. Workers in many industries put their bodies at risk to do their work, but those risks should be minimized and worker safety is everybody’s concern.

This is a lesson that feminists who claim they want to protect women in the sex industry ought to learn.

If you’re not already reading Sex in the Public Square, you really should, and articles like the one quoted above are why. In a society that can’t seem to refer to sex without heaping loads of shame, it’s good to have people who expose that shame to the bleaching power of a little sunlight. Even I–whose circle includes burlesque artists, former strippers, sex-shop owners, erotica writers, nude models and photographers, customers of all the above and prostitutes as well, and people who have engaged in sexual relationships that one would have to stretch to call something other than prostitution–even I find challenges to my understanding of sex work at SitPS.

Here’s a recent example: Did you know that “indoor” (non-street) prostitution is currently legal in Rhode Island? I had no idea until SitPS started covering efforts to make it illegal, efforts which in turn shed some light on the people who claimed they were trying to protect women from exploitation by making criminalizing their jobs. The longer this process goes on, the harder it is to believe the most vocal supporters of criminalization are anything but deeply disturbed by the very notion of sex.

In this piece on myths of the sex trade:

Despite what some activists claim, most of those working indoors in the U.S. have not been trafficked against their will.

Many indoor workers made conscious decisions to enter the trade, and a significant number actually like their work. A recent New York City study found that indoor workers expressed “a surprisingly high degree of enjoyment” of their work, and several other studies also find that indoor workers have fairly high job satisfaction and believe they provide a valuable service. This is not an exceptional finding; it is confirmed by a growing body of research. The media often ignore it, and prefer to do feature stories on the abused and exploited.

This is not to romanticize indoor prostitution. Some indoor workers work under oppressive conditions or dislike their work for other reasons. At the same time, there is plenty of evidence to challenge the myths that most prostitutes are coerced into the sex trade, experience frequent abuse and want to be rescued. This syndrome is more characteristic of street workers, but it’s important to point out that the vast majority of American sex providers work indoors.

SitPS included a link to an opinion piece by Donna Hughes of Citizens Against Trafficking, one of the main forces pushing for criminalization. She described the testimony of those who willingly work in the sex industry (i.e., those who would be made criminals under the new law) as “a sordid circus, with pimps and prostitutes coming forward to oppose the legislation.” She complained about hearing testimony from a smoker and from people who were camera-shy. And she used scare quotes wherever the topic of sex came up.

Then a man reeking of cigarette smoke and other odors came forward. He was identified to me by Hurley as a pimp. He claimed credit for the growth of the spa-brothels in Rhode Island for his now-deceased wife. Another Korean woman came forward and said she did “it” for depressed, shy guys who needed stress relief. She implicated construction workers, judges and lawyers. She proudly exclaimed that she does “it” to make money.

Then a tattooed woman, calling herself a “sexologist and sex educator,” spoke against the bill. She is also a reporter for a prostitutes’ magazine called $pread. (I couldn’t make this stuff up!)

But don’t forget, her goal is to help those in the industry. She isn’t doing this because talking about sex gives her the squeems. Not her. It’s everybody else who’s working from a place of irrationality.

The State Senate’s obstructionism has been aided by the silence of many who should be speaking out. Some local and national anti-trafficking organizations have actually worked behind the scenes to oppose the desperately needed reforms. They blame the lack of trafficking prosecutions on lack of political will and inadequate police training. In reality, trafficking laws work only where law enforcement is empowered to fight prostitution.

Other groups, such as the Rhode Island chapter of the ACLU and Rhode Island NOW, have opposed passage of a prostitution law for ideological reasons. They support the decriminalization of prostitution and mistakenly believe that good trafficking laws make prostitution laws unnecessary. The Rhode Island experience demonstrates that it is long past time to lay that utopian hope aside. The truth is that these very groups are to blame for obstructing efforts to equip police to protect victims of trafficking.

But it’s Citizens Against Trafficking’s most recent salvo that really lays their anti-sex opinions wide open for everyone to see. It came in response to a letter signed by 50 academics don’t believe the evidence supports the assertion that criminalization of prostitution is a solution to the problem of human trafficking. Citizens Against Trafficking responded, not to the substance of the letter, but by, well, the title of their letter is “International Sex Radicals Campaign to Keep Prostitution Decriminalized in Rhode Island.” Some highlights:

Citizens Against Trafficking has learned that their letter is not an isolated action, but part of a larger “Rhode Island Campaign.” Citizens Against Trafficking is working on a multi-part analysis of the authors and signers of the letter, the statements they make in the letter, and their campaign methods.

Part 1 focuses on initial discoveries made by Citizens Against Trafficking researchers about some of the authors and signers of the letter. We found shocking information about what they stand for and the goals of their international campaign. We will describe how members of this group are using sophisticated communications technologies to rapidly mobilize other sex radicals from around the world and how they are targeting Rhode Island legislators and media.

Translation: We’re going after them personally, and not only are they sex-positive, but they blog. And Tweet!

The leading signers of the letter call
themselves “sex radicals,” meaning they oppose any limits on any sexual behavior as long as it has the superficial appearance of being consensual.

Translation: People don’t really know what kind(s) of sex they want to have.

For years, Wood has struggled with feeling “invisible.” During her sabbatical leave she started to feel “more like herself, more free,” which led her to start acting out her latent exhibitionism. “During my sabbatical I had some … exhibitionistic urges that I allowed myself to explore.” Earlier this summer, she stripped on a dock and swam naked in the Mystic River, within sight of a restaurant and boats passing by. She said she wanted to declare her independence from society’s rules, but she also wondered if anyone saw her and might complain.5 The exhibitionist’s intention is to shock and force unsuspecting people to view their nudity. Citizens Against Trafficking wonders if the administration at SUNY is aware that one of their faculty members is crossing the line into sex offender territory.

Translation: Eeeeek, skinny-dipping!!!! Lock her up!

The sex radicals have now moved on to the second phase of their campaign; they are organizing a second letter, written by the same people, but to be presented as coming from “sex workers.”

Translation: Prostitutes and strippers aren’t competent to decide which petitions to sign.

The sex radicals think their letter has had a persuasive impact on Rhode Islanders’ views. Citizens Against Trafficking thinks the letter has got an inordinate amount of attention considering what these sex radicals advocate and defend. Their supporters on the Mix Tapes for Hookers web site are planning a party in Providence for late September. They’re inviting “hookers, strippers, rentboys, sex educators, porn stars, burlesque performers, dominatrices, go-go boys, and more.”

Translation: They’re listening to those people?

If you want to help those in the sex industry, who else would you listen to? Well, besides the academics who have actually studied problems, solutions and the status quo? Answer: Not the people who are trying to turn all the “victims” into criminals.

Instead, I recommend the following reading:

Don’t let personal attacks distract us
Letter from Norma Jean Almodovar to RI Lawmakers
Finding common ground for rational discussion
Being a Powerful Advocate: The Rhode Island Case
Stop, Look, Listen – what is really being done to stop human trafficking? (petition)

Destroy Ferris

He didn’t flinch from geekdom. It wasn’t prettied up, Hollywood geekdom in his movies, or at least, not all of it. Hughes’s geekdom was awkward and painful. It was played for laughs, but they were always at least half-sympathetic laughs, which was rare at the time.

He didn’t do issue films or bright, fluffy teen romances. He captured the pain of trivialities and the lack of perspective of teenagers. His parents weren’t monsters, just caught up in their own lives. Still and all, I never watched a John Hughes film that didn’t make me uncomfortable for all the wrong reasons.

Find out why at Quiche Moraine.

Bring Bing Back Home!

Bing Haubrich has made new friends in Japan, but they want to keep him there. In fact, they have threatened to hold him for ransom unless his American friends and family do two things:

1. Answer questions about Japan/Nippon culture and cuisine.

2. Donate money to help his mother pay the plane fare for his trip.

It’s tempting for a young man to stay in Japan, because so far he has found the food to be awesome and the shopping (even in vending machines) to be, let’s say, “unique.” In fact, the Japanese students think that if he stays long enough he could use his ninja powers to be Emperor someday. I don’t think that this would be a good thing for world peace, as Bing has not worked out his “megalomania” issues and bad things could happen.

In a Japanese restaurant which serves “family style” what is the polite way to move the food from your platter to the plate when dining with close friends?

a. Using your fingers after washing them in the finger bowl.
b. Using a scoop.
c. Using the back end of your chopsticks.
d. Using the front, sharp end of your chopsticks.

Not the Dolphins!!!

I know they’re bad. You know they’re bad. But try explaining to your friends who make more emotion-based decisions why they shouldn’t use antibacterial products for normal, daily applications.

Actually, now you can.

Dolphins are swimming in waters tainted with germ-killing soaps, but they aren’t winding up squeaky clean.

Triclosan, an antibacterial chemical found in everyday bathroom and kitchen products, is accumulating in dolphins at concentrations known to disrupt the hormones and growth and development of other animals.

Scientists have found that one-third of the bottlenose dolphins tested off South Carolina and almost one-quarter of those tested off Florida carried traces of triclosan in their blood. It is the first time the chemical has been reported in a wild marine mammal – a worrisome finding, researchers say, because it shows it is building up in the ocean’s food web.

Thanks to Ana for the link.

Reality-Based Politics

Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson has no quarrel with publicly funded treatment for alcoholics. But he said he struggles with taxpayer money going to housing for chronic alcoholics that offer no treatment at all.

Not only that, he was surprised to learn, the so-called “wet houses” don’t even require their homeless residents to stay sober.

“I understand these people are very sick, but I don’t think that means you should expect absolutely nothing out of them,” Johnson said. “If we’re going to provide you housing, you should figure out how to stop being drunk all the time.”

[sigh]

Jeff is a nice guy, generally. I used to work with his wife, so I’ve met him and the kids, and a cuter family you’re not likely to meet. But this….

According to the American Indian Community Development Corp., which operates the home with Project for Pride in Living, Wakiagun saves taxpayers more than $500,000 a year by reducing detox admissions, emergency room visits and jail bookings.

In the JAMA study, published in April, University of Washington public health researchers monitored 95 homeless chronic alcoholics before and after they moved into a wet house, and compared them with 39 others waiting to get in.

Before the wet house, the median cost of each of the 95 was $4,000 a month. After a year in the wet house the cost per person dropped to $960, mostly for housing.

This works. It cuts down on crime, both those perpetrated by the residents and those with the residents as victims. It cuts down on drinking. Several of the people interviewed for the story had quit while residents, even though sobriety wasn’t a requirement of residence.

Still, Johnson isn’t persuaded. “If what you’re doing isn’t right, the fact that it might be cheaper in the long run doesn’t mean it’s the best outcome. … It seems to be spending money to help people give up on themselves,” he says. That would indeed be terrible–if it were true.

The only way Johnson’s point of view would be valid is if alcoholism were the vice the Victorians and Edwardians thought it was instead of the disease we now know it to be. Like any disease, what the JAMA study shows is that treating the symptoms of alcoholism, the homelessness and victimization, leads to a better outcome for the patient. Acting as though those symptoms are a visitation from God for a life of sin does not. It just adds a burden of stress for a patient whose disease is worsened by stress.

This is why I want my politics to be reality-based.