The Edge and Beyond

Ellen Kushner’s Swordspoint came out while I was in high school. I didn’t read it then, although I rather wish I had. Although I loved it on reading it, it didn’t immediately become my favorite book. It has, however, stayed in that place through to the present.

Why? Well, there are a few things. It is a plot-driven novel, by which I mean, not the usual, but that there are schemes and politics propelling the events of the books. It’s all about the intersection of identity and social roles, with a subtle helping of what it means to be family. And it is a fantasy book that relies not one tiny bit on magic to tell its story.

If you haven’t read, go find a copy. If you have read it (and The Privilege of the Sword), you can now find out the ending to Richard and Alec’s story in “The Man with the Knives.” Be warned. It is an ending. It is other things as well, but it is decidedly an ending.

And if someone hasn’t already, you may still be able to get me a copy for Christmas.

Nothing to Hide

Do you know how many people were killed on the four hijacked flights on September 11, 2001? The answer is 266, including the 19 hijackers. Two months later, 260 people died when a single plane broke apart in the air due to pilot error. None of them were hijackers.

Yes, there were thousands on the ground who died. I am not forgetting them. I am very happy to report that the U.S. government and airlines quickly took measures to securely separate passengers from flight controls.

I’m also happy to say that the U.S. quickly took some measures to tighten up what was some of the industrialized world’s sloppiest airport security. Before the hijackings, I was on a trip to Scotland that involved the transportation of large amounts of camera equipment and a lead-lined bag containing film. I thanked the security scanners in the Glasgow airport for being the only people who bothered to look in the bag to make sure it was film. Things were incredibly lax before the hijackings. They did not stay that way.

In the nine years that have followed the hijackings, how many people have died in terrorist attacks on planes with passengers screened by the TSA? Of the attacks that happened and failed, how many were not carried out by fanatics who were willing to die? Or to put the same question in terms of relevance today: How many of them were less motivated than your average drug mule, who won’t be discovered by anything less than a cavity search?

The answer to that last question is important. That is the number of attacks that will be prevented by the new, highly invasive screening measures the TSA has recently implemented.

I don’t know the answer to that question. Neither do you, but we can both make pretty good estimates. I’m going with zero. Your answer may be different, but it won’t be wildly different. We have taken effective measures to increase our security since the hijackings. I don’t see any way that this new measure can even incrementally increase our current level of airline security. This is pure security theater.

Anil Dash wrote a couple of weeks ago about the value of security theater. I recommend reading his post. If nothing else, he lays out the maximum value we obtain from measures like these. It is the value of an illusion, but it is a value. And given that we won’t obtain any safety increases from allowing subjecting ourselves to this sort of search, it is the total value we will receive. Please keep that value fixed firmly in your mind as you keep reading.

I also have Fibromyalgia. There are points on my body that fire up an amazing amount of pain in response to the slightest pressure. I educate new lovers with brightly-colored disc bandages or stickers. Somehow I doubt the airport authorities will comply with the sticker game.

So… okay. I’ll just dodge the freak-out and the pain by sucking in my lumpy bits and walking through the scanner. I’m generally not shy with my body, I don’t travel often, and I’m not on a first-name basis with the x-ray/MRI tech at the local clinic, so there shouldn’t be an issue.

But wait! There’s more!

I have a genital piercing (a vertical clitoral-hood bar to be specific), and the horror stories have already begun circulating among the metallically-infused about pat-downs, hassles, and fucking strip-searches following these scans. Is it possible these stories are just stories? Urban legends for the new era? Sure. Does it matter to the lizard-brain nested in my head? Absofuckinglutely not.

I am a transexual man. Being “caught” by TSA as a person of transexual past could literally mean my death. Transgender people have the highest rate of hate-crime and the highest rate as murder victims in the USA.

I don’t fly. And I won’t at any point in the foreseeable future. I haven’t for several years due to the invasive screening I had in 2004 that left me with nightmares.

I am a rape survivor. And I know that if I am forced to have the kind of circle jerk that I’ve seen on video–where a bunch of TSA screeners surround me and one of them touches me in very private places–there is a real chance I’m going to freak out. Traveling is always very stressful, in part because I have visual processing issues and epilepsy (see above; i.e, fractured head). Add onto that reliving a painful part of my past–someone touching me and I have no ability to say “I don’t consent“–I am not a happy traveler.

I’m getting ready for a business trip right now. I’m on the job hunt too, since I’ll be laid off next May. I’m hoping to make some important connections with these meetings.

Am I worried that I won’t make a good impression on the bigwigs that I’m going to meet? Am I spending time crunching data to make a good impression when I present my TPS reports?

Nope.
I’m freaking out about just getting on the fucking plane. That’s what I’m spending all my energy on. And that’s not right.

For my friend with a colostomy bag. For my sister with a partial breast reconstruction. For the oh-so-many other women who have been raped or molested.

There has to be a better way.

I’m completely with Bug Girl. There has to be a better, less-invasive way to make people feel a little better. More importantly, there has to be a way to do this that doesn’t step all over–by design–those who have something real to worry about.

Yes, by design. We don’t know where the next attack will come from. We don’t know what it will look like. What we do know is that it will almost certainly look different than any previous attack. And what that means is that screeners have to look for the different. At least, they need to do that if they’re going to do a proper job of things instead of assuming a terrorist has no creativity.

That means that anything a standard-issue government employee doesn’t recognize or understand is cause for suspicion. Really, that’s always been the case, but now there’s a new twist. Instead of looking at our luggage, the TSA is looking at us. They’re turning their attention from what we’re carrying to what we are.

That is the unconscionable problem with this new scheme. Being different, under this scheme, is exactly what will get you treated with suspicion, with disdain, with aggression–treated like a terrorist. Being different. Having nothing you need to hide is an amazing privilege, and it is a very different thing than not being a threat.

Want to see who has that privilege? Take a look at Jay Rosen’s list of people in the media who have decided that the appropriate response to everyone’s concerns is to tell us to “grow up.” The funny thing about that list is that these are the people who have so much privilege they’ve never needed to grow up. They’ve never had to figure out how to deal with the stigma and loss of opportunity that comes with being a sexual minority, surviving sexual assault, or presenting a visible disability. They live in a society where they’ve never needed to figure out how to love and desire despite being heaped with shame for the very shapes of their bodies. Their happy childhoods, at least in this respect, continue to this day, but they tell us to grow up.

They tell us that the costs are small (although they fail to note the lack of benefits from this new program), and they are–to them. They’re being borne by others
(who include, of course, the traditionally visible ethnic minorities). The quotes I listed above are from those describing their fears, but those fears are proving prescient.

I went through the body scan first,” she said. “And after I went through the body scan, a bunch of officers came over, took my bags and basically put me in a private room and I had no idea what was going on.”

Alyssa is diabetic and wears a small wireless insulin pump, which was noticed in the body scan.

“I had a sweat suit on and had to lift parts of my sweat suit up and parts of my sweat suit down for them to check,” she said. “They basically patted me down in my private parts from head to toe.”

“I was so upset. I tried to remain as calm as I could through this process. I was treated like a criminal and I was afraid anything I would have said or done maybe would not have allowed me to get back to Austin.”

She continued, “And after I was finally cleared to go to the gate, I just started crying. In my whole life I’ve never felt like such a victim before.”

The 3-year-breast cancer survivor agreed, but was then asked by two female Charlotte TSA agents to go to a private room for further screening, and they began what Ms Bossi described as an aggressive pat down.

She said they stopped when they got around to feeling her right breast – the one she had lost through her illness.

Ms Bossi said: ‘She put her full hand on my breast and said, ‘What is this?’. And I said, ‘It’s my prosthesis because I’ve had breast cancer.’ And she said, ‘Well, you’ll need to show me that’.’

She was then apparently asked to remove the prosthetic breast from her bra and show it to the TSA agents.

I stood there, an American citizen, a mom traveling with a baby with special needs formula, sexually assaulted by a government official. I began shaking and felt completely violated, abused and assaulted by the TSA agent. I shook for several hours, and woke up the next day shaking.

Here is why I was sexually assaulted. She never told me the new body search policy. She never told me that she was going to touch my private parts. She never told me when or where she was going to touch me. She did not inform me that a private screening was available. She did not inform me of my rights that were a part of these new enhanced patdown procedures.

When I booked my ticket, I was given no information that the TSA had changed their wand and unintrusive patdown procedures to “enhanced” patdown procedures that involved the touching of all parts of your body, including breasts and vagina on women and testicles and penis on men. I was not informed by any signs on the front side of security about the new procedures. I had not seen any media coverage about the issue, so I had no idea that this was a new government sanctioned policy.

Another important piece in this story, the Dayton airport does not have the new body scanners. I was not given any other search options. It was enhanced patdown, or nothing. (And I would have opted for the body scanner, if I were going to be subject to a sexual assault.)

Read all too much more at ACLU’s site.

This is why, as I go through airport security this morning (right about the time this posts), I won’t be going through any scanner. It isn’t because I have anything to hide. It’s because I don’t. It’s because the invasive search can’t really hurt me. I know what will happen. I don’t have any medical equipment that can be dislodged or touch triggers or body shame.

What I do have is time and the right to demand that if someone wants to get that personal with me, they look me in the eyes. What I have is the willingness to talk to the TSA agent about what kind of job satisfaction they’re feeling these days.

Now We’re Just Haggling

The charges against Julian Assange were read out in a British court on Tuesday:

She said the first complainant, Miss A, said she was victim of “unlawful coercion” on the night of 14 August in Stockholm.

The court heard Assange is accused of using his body weight to hold her down in a sexual manner.

The second charge alleged Assange “sexually molested” Miss A by having sex with her without a condom when it was her “express wish” one should be used.

The third charge claimed Assange “deliberately molested” Miss A on 18 August “in a way designed to violate her sexual integrity”.

The fourth charge accused Assange of having sex with a second woman, Miss W, on 17 August without a condom while she was asleep at her Stockholm home.

Yes, “charges” is the appropriate word, used in both the applicable British and EU policies around extradition. Despite this, we continue to see people who insist, due to ignorance or some even less savory mental process, that no one should use that word until those charges are filed somewhere in Sweden other than the extradition warrant.

With all the rules-lawyering I’m seeing around what rape is, I kind of expected that. What I didn’t quite expect, maybe because it was so early in the morning, was this:

A careful reading of the charges…would cause some people to conclude that, with the exception of the last, this is an argument about contraceptive methods during a one-night stand which has now achieved an international judicial dimension.

The last, if it occurred, would be rape.

I pointed out that if consent is dependent on use of a particular type of contraception, and that contraception is not used, there is no consent and asked whether he (of course it’s a he) would care to explain why that’s not rape?

As I thought about it more, though, I realized that it reminded me of an old, ugly joke. I retell it here in its modern form.

Him: Would you please sleep with me? I’ll shower and treat you well. I’ll make sure you enjoy it too, and I’ll wear a condom to protect you. What do you say?

Her: Sure, why not.

Him: Let’s do it without the condom?

Her: What? No! What kind of idiot do you think I am?

Him: Well, we’ve already established that you’re a slut. Now we’re just haggling over how I get to use you.

I don’t think I’ve heard a bit of apologetics over the charges, including those indulged in by Assange’s Australian attorney, that didn’t amount to that in the end. Sums up the whole attitude toward women’s sexuality pretty well.

A Conversation About Wikileaks

Men attempting to smear the accusers in the Assange rape case are simply watching their governments attack Wikileaks, then taking out their frustration at their own helplessness on those whom they view to be more powerless than them. A phenomenon easily viewed in animals and children is made disgustingly visible in adults as well. Discuss.

Instant Popularity Polling

I’ve been enjoying myself watching the comments sections on Minneapolis Star Tribune articles about the recount in the Minnesota gubernatorial race. Normally, conservatives leave more comments, but liberals and conservatives have a fairly even hold on “like” and “dislike” ratings. Not so much at the moment. If the votes here determined the outcome of the election, there would no question of a recount.

Let’s just say Republicans should be really happy that there’s no statewide election for another couple of years. Nor are their cries of “voter fraud!!!” getting much play. I don’t think it would be wise for our new Republican-dominated state legislature to try to make too much of this particular nonissue.

Still, far and away, this is my favorite comment on this article.

Heh.

How Must She Behave to Have Been Raped?

I don’t know whether the rape charges against Julian Assange are valid. I do know, however, that they are rape charges. It doesn’t matter whether a woman consented to have sex with you. If she tells you to stop, and you don’t stop, that is still sexual assault. I don’t care how frustrating it is or whether you hate her for the rest of your life for it. Sex you have with someone without their permission is rape.

Let’s say that again: Sex you have with someone without their permission is rape.

One more time just for clarity: Sex you have with someone without their permission is rape.

Does that tell me whether Assange did what he’s accused of doing? Nope. I just don’t know. And neither do you.

There is one more thing I do know, though. This guy shouldn’t be allowed near a single traumatized rape victim, much less in a professional capacity, if he believes that the alleged victim’s behavior tells us she wasn’t raped. Here’s his evidence:

I’ve spent much of my professional life as a psychiatrist helping women (and men) who are survivors of sexual violence. Rape is a hideous crime. Yet in Assange’s case his alleged victim – the gender equity officer at Uppsula University – chose to throw a party for her alleged assailant – after they’d had the sex that even Swedish prosecutors concede was consensual.

Even ignoring the fact that the way to characterize the sex as consensual is to claim that consent, once given, cannot be revoked for any reason (which I think we’ve dealt with above; let me know if I need to repeat myself again), this is bullshit and he should know it’s bullshit. There isn’t one damned thing that all rape victims do or don’t do in common. They don’t all get scared. They don’t all get angry. They don’t even all show that they’re upset.

What did I do when I was sexually assaulted? I went on with my plans for the evening, which were to lose my virginity. Yep, that’s right. Within hours of being sexually assaulted, I had consensual sex.

Why? Hell if I know that either. I do know it doesn’t make any sense, but that’s because I wasn’t rational. I’ll remind you that I’d just been assaulted (and suffered another type of betrayal right alongside it). I had no idea what to do. I did the easiest thing, which was to go along as though it hadn’t happened. Pretending didn’t make it go away, but it was so much simpler than figuring out how to behave in a changed world.

If Assange did rape the alleged victim, why did she behave as she did? Maybe she was in denial. Maybe she wanted to show herself she could be that strong. Maybe she was reasserting her claim to the world they both shared. Maybe she was even pissed that Assange took control from her but not particularly traumatized. I don’t know and neither do you.

Neither does Kirk James Murphy, M.D., but that didn’t stop him from weighing in on the matter in a professional capacity (something he really ought to stop to give some serious thought). It didn’t stop him from perpetuating rape myths. Hell, it didn’t even stop him from writing a post that is one long exercise in “bad girls can’t be raped.”

Who is Julian Assange’s chief accuser in Sweden? She’s a gender equity officer at Uppsula University – who chose to associate with a US funded group openly supported by a convicted terrorist and mass murderer. She just happens to have her work published by a very well funded group connected with Union Liberal Cubana – whose leader, Carlos Alberto Montaner, in turn just happened to pop up on right wing Colombian TV a few hours after the right-wing coup in Honduras. Where he joined the leader of the failed coup in Ecuador to savage Correa, the target of the coup. Montnaner also just happened to vociferously support the violent coup in Honduras, and chose to show up to sing the praises of the Honduran junta.

Well, after all that, I guess the matter’s closed. Except I still have one little question. What the fuck has that got to do with anything? Oh, wait. He explains.

Small world, isn’t it? Julian Assange is the human face of Wikileaks – the organization that’s enabled whistle-blowers to reveal hideous war crimes and expose much of America’s foreign policy to the world.

He just happens to meet a Swedish woman who just happens to have been publishing her work in a well-funded anti-Castro group that just happens to have links with a group led by a man at least one journalist describes as an agent of the CIA: the violent secret arm of America’s foreign policy.

And she just happens to have been expelled from Cuba, which just happens to be the global symbol of successful defiance of American foreign policy.

And – despite her work in Sweden upholding the human right of gender equity – in Cuba she just happens to end up associating with a group openly supported by an admitted CIA agent who himself committed mass murder when he actively participated in the terrorist bombing of a jetliner carrying a Cuban sports team…an act that was of a piece with America’s secret foreign policy of violent attacks against Cuban state interests.

Yeah…nope. Not even an accusation that a CIA agent put her up to anything–or that they ever met. Or maybe it was supposed to be the terrorists who wanted Assange arrested. Keeping state secrets hidden is right up their alley, right? Or was it supposed to be the feminists? I can’t figure out why else her job merits multiple mentions in a smear piece, and that’s all this amounts to.

Call me back when you’ve got something other than your dislike of this woman’s politics or her party planning. In the meantime, I’ll be figuring out whether this particular post reaches the level of unprofessionalism that merits lodging complaints with the appropriate oversight board.

Nonapologies, Whatever Edition

I’m guessing you’re aware of the concept of the nonapology, the thing that is phrased as an apology, often even contain the words “I’m sorry,” and expresses an utter lack of responsibility for any actions. “I’m sorry if you were offended.” “I’m sorry you feel that way about it.” I heard a new one today.

“I’m sorry for whatever happened between us.”

Really? You’re sorry for…whatever? You don’t know what happened because, frankly, I haven’t bothered to tell you, but you’re sorry?

No, I don’t think so. If you were sorry about what happened between us, you’d at least want to know what part you played in it. What you’re sorry about is my reaction only. You’re sorry I don’t want to hang out. Sorry I don’t want to talk. Not sorry enough to find out why. Not sorry enough to find out whether it’s fixable. Just kind of…well…sorry.

Tells the whole story, really.

Things You May Not Know About Wikileaks

More specifically, this post is things you may not have picked up from the general reporting over Wikileaks release of U.S. diplomatic correspondence.

From the NY Times explanation of their decision to post material related to the correspondence and their later elaboration in response to reader questions (and condemnations):

  • The U.S. government did have the opportunity to review this material and make a case that parts of it shouldn’t be shared. Where there was a disagreement between the Times and the government, the Times made a decision about what to share.
  • This information is part of the larger trove of information believed to have been stolen by U.S. intelligence analyst Bradley Manning.
  • There are revelations within the correspondence, but it largely has to do with how sausage is made. That is, there are few Earth-shattering pieces of news, but the material provides a look into the interior of U.S. diplomacy that many may not enjoy.

From the Times explanation of the Swedish charges against Assange:

  • Assange has been charged with failing to stop sex with two women after condoms came off or broke, despite requests of the women. This differs from statements made by the Australian attorney who represented Wikileak’s Assange in the sex-crimes charges (whose teeth I’d like to kick in after reading this post) in the important detail that Assange is alleged to have continued having sex despite consent being clearly revoked.

From an interview with Ethan Zuckerman on Amazon’s dropping Wikileaks as a customer:

  • The legal situation regarding a hosting company’s responsibilities for material hosted on their site is not clear.
  • Nonetheless, Amazon was not hosting any of the correspondence. They were hosting a list of pointers to the files on torrent sites. Yes, they’re not just for piracy anymore.
  • This makes it unclear whether Wikileaks violated Amazon’s terms of service, as Amazon claims, by posting information they didn’t have a right to post.
  • Amazon did not violate anyone’s First Amendment rights. It’s possible that the government did, but that would require Amazon to have waited to get a notice from the government before taking material down.
  • You’re not necessarily in any better position with your hosts if you post anything online than Wikileaks was.

Experiment IV

I read about Republicans getting stupid over NSF grants and shook my head. I’d prefer to not believe it, but….

Then I read that one of these grants studied sounds for video games, and I sat up. Sure, I thought. Sure that’s what they’re studying. Uh, huh.

Experiment IV

We won’t be there to be blamed.
We won’t be there to snitch.

No, I know better.

Catch-Up

Oh. Hi.

Let’s just go through a few of the highlights since my last blog post, shall we? Let’s start with that day.

Sunday

  • Having spent the last three weeks in the middle of fall housecleaning, the past two while our main staircase is being finished, I have about an hour’s more work to do before I start my planned pre-Thanksgiving days of relaxation.
  • My mother calls. My grandfather is in the hospital with pneumonia. The nurse isn’t telling her to go visit him right at that moment, but…well, he is 96.
  • I get in about 20 minutes of work before my mother calls again. My brother, who spent the night at our place on Thursday on his way out of town needs a place to stay again that night. He, of course, didn’t mention this on Thursday so I could have planned.
  • I get in about another 10 minutes of work before my husband comes upstairs. He’s just talked to the roommate, who is supposed to be moving out by the end of November. The roommate has just announced that he’s staying through December. Announced.
  • I discover through non-standard means (i.e., not via the roommate) that his girlfriend is staying all week (through Thanksgiving), not just for the weekend.
  • After finishing my cleaning and giving up on the day, I come out of seclusion to discover that the washing machine has exploded, or at least sounds like it. I, of course, have left the laundry out of my cleaning equation, since I usually manage it in the mornings and evenings around work. I identify one pair of clean, work-friendly pants.
  • I go back into seclusion.

Monday

  • The attempt to get the washer repaired does not go well.
  • I work 10-1/2 hours, with multiple deadlines hanging over my head.
  • Once I’ve made it home, I bake the very large batch of banana bread that will use up all the bananas we pulled out of the freezer before all hell broke loose.
  • While the banana bread is baking, I hand wash a load of work clothes in water approximately the temperature of the snow on the ground outside.

Tuesday

  • While I’m at work, my mother calls to let me know my brother had just been arrested. No, really. Oh, and I should make another dish for Thanksgiving, since he won’t be bringing his contribution.
  • I put in another 10+ hour day of racing against deadlines.
  • I don’t remember much else of the day. I can’t guarantee that’s a good sign. Oh, wait. I got a margarita…on the second try, but it was on the way to shopping for washing machines.

Wednesday

  • My mother calls again. I answer, “Now what?” Just another change of plans. They don’t want to keep my brother over the holidays after all.
  • I give up on work early.
  • While I’m washing cranberries in preparation for making relish, the roommate and girlfriend are eating their lunch, thus slightly decreasing the amount of leftovers they had taking up space in the fridge. Then the roommate asks whether he can get into the sink to rinse out his dish. I point out that he doesn’t need to do that if he’s putting it in the dishwasher. Only after he’s out of the kitchen do I realize he’s put it in with the load of clean dishes.
  • Later, the roommate sends me a text message, from within the house, to ask whether it’s okay to use the oven. When I say it is as long as it happens soon, he tells me that’s okay…since he started preheating it before asking.
  • Once again, I remember very little of the day.

Thursday

  • Ah, Thanksgiving. Prep is to start early. However, the roommate and girlfriend manage to be using both the stove and the shower. I get no bacon with my breakfast, and the turkey starts late.
  • Cooking goes fairly smoothly…except for the borosilicate pan that explodes in the oven.
  • The roommate and girlfriend leave five minutes after the first guests arrive and get back fifteen minutes before the last guests leave, thus ensuring that we are not alone once during the day.
  • Otherwise? Not so bad. Having family over is literally the simplest part of the week.

Friday-Now
Yeah, I’m still working on resting and recuperating. The fact that the washer that was supposed to be delivered today not only didn’t show up but also exists in an order status that no one’s ever heard of doesn’t exactly help, but at least I’m mostly caught up at work. Oy.