Cover Yourself

Did you know there were demonstrations all over the U.S. yesterday for two different causes? Well, actually, there’s a fair chance you do, that you were at one of these marches or demonstrations. There’s even a good chance you had to choose between showing your support for Wisconsin’s public unions and telling Congress that the services offered by Planned Parenthood are hugely important because people in your city did both. In February. Outside.

If you were watching TV, you probably had no idea. If you spent your morning reading a Sunday paper that has national coverage, you might still be in the dark. Our national media is falling down, again, on covering grassroots activism.

If they could be voted out of office, I think we’d have the energy and the numbers required to make that happen. Enough of us have had quite enough of making more sense with more style than the usual talking heads. Enough of us have had quite enough of gathering large groups of people behind serious ideas and being treated like the fringe. Enough of us have had enough of being ignored.

All right, so we can’t vote them out, but we can stop waiting for them to pay attention. We can report our own events, print our own pictures, tell our own stories. We can demonstrate our own legitimacy to others, but even more than that, we can demonstrate it to ourselves. It’s all too easy to think we didn’t make a difference when the big guys don’t look at us, but we need–oh, do we need–to not let that happen. That way lies disengagement.

We’re already doing some of what we need to do. We are taking pictures and video as we act en masse. In a very brief moment of searching, on the day after the rallies, I found Flickr sets of photos for the Walk for Choice in New York, Seattle, and Birmingham, AL and for the Wisconsin solidarity protests from Los Angeles, Santa Fe, and St. Paul. There is much more out there. People were and still are tweeting about their participation on #walk4choice and #WeAreWI. People are blogging their pictures and videos.

Between the Flickr sets, a Tumblr that is collecting “the best pics, vids & stories I can find from every walk,” and collections of local coverage of events, we’re figuring out how to curate our participation. I particularly like the Tumblr for this application. The ongoing update structure means that our participation stays “news.” It gives room for those who make time for participation in busy schedules or stop to process before sharing their views or go on to take further action to be part of the story as well.

Now we just need to figure out how to filter all this information in a way that adds to the story instead of leaving out the individual participants. We need to create stories that fit in a link or two or three that can be digested in an attention-deficit world. This is what more traditional media has often done for us, what we would hope they would continue to do for us. At their best, they distilled large-scale events into manageable chunks without making the events smaller than they actually are.

We’re working on this, I think, aided by those who write the press-releases that get ignored. But we can get better. We have to get better, because unlike the old mainstream media, we’re going to have to earn every set of eyes we get, particularly the unconverted ones.

Once we do that, however, the old media can go hang. We won’t need them anymore.

Saturday Storytime: White Charles

Sarah Monette is the author of the Melusine series of novels and much, much more, including several short stories available online. From Clarkesworld Magazine, we have “White Charles”:

I accepted the mug he offered; the tea was hot and sweet and very strong. He watched, and when I had met whatever his criteria were, he said, “Me and Hob, we reckon maybe it ain’t rats.”

This was Fiske, then; I was relieved not to have to ask. “No?”

“No, sir. Y’see, Hob has a dog what is a champion ratter. Very well known, is Mingus. And me and Hob brought Mingus in, sir, quiet-like, feeling that what His Nibs don’t know, he won’t lose sleep over . . .”

“Quite,” I said, perceiving that Fiske would not continue until he had been reassured on that point.

“Thank you, sir. So Hob brought Mingus in, and the dog, sir, did not rat.”

“He didn’t?”

“No, sir. We took him all over the museum, and not a peep out of him. And before you ask, sir, that dratted scratching noise seemed like it was following us about. Mingus heard it, sure enough, but he wouldn’t go after it. Just whined and kind of cringed when Hob tried him. So we figured, Hob and myself, that it ain’t rats.”

“What do, er, you and Mr. Hobden think it is?”

Mr. Fiske looked at me solemnly and said, “As to that, sir, we ain’t got the least idea.”

Keep reading.

Of Politics and Pizzas

I love Keith Ellison, my congressional representative.

It isn’t that he was one of the few new candidates for national office in the last few years who I heard campaign on what he had already accomplished for people as part of the government rather than on what he would do if given the chance. It isn’t that he’s actively sought chances to help others for as long as he’s been on my radar.

It isn’t because he fights loudly and passionately for rational, compassionate causes. It isn’t because he refuses to start from a position of “compromise” in a climate where compromise means surrender.

It isn’t that he defies those who would rule by intimidation and makes it easy for all those he represents to participate in their own governance. It’s isn’t that his response to the shooting at Rep. Gifford’s Congress on the Corner event was to schedule his own less than a week later–and move it to a more hospitable venue when not all who wanted to could attend.

It isn’t because he understands intimately that ours is not a “Christian nation.” It isn’t that he knows and demands that there must be a place for religious minorities in public life.

It isn’t that he is able to represent us in parts of the world where few others can because he refuses to demonize the inhabitants based on their religious views. It isn’t because he insists that peace, security, and prosperity aren’t issues unique to one religion, one country, or one racial designation.

Well, okay, it is all those things, but it’s also a lot more.

This week, I love my congressional representative for one of those silly little reasons that are much larger than they might appear. Sharing a border with Wisconsin, Minnesotans are particularly aware of the turmoil going on in our neighbor’s capitol. Being politically active, I am on email lists for several organizations of variously progressive leanings, local and national.

As you can imagine, I’ve received a lot of email about the Wisconsin union-busting bill and about the protesters. They have uniformly condemned Governor Walker and praised those who went to Madison when their voices were being otherwise ignored. They have also, almost universally, urged me to help out by donating to whatever organization sent the email.

Some of these organizations have been more specific about what they’d do with the money, and some of them have asked me to donate in the name of “solidarity” without telling me what they’ve done for union causes or what they’d do with the money to help organized labor. The vaguest, not surprisingly, have come from Democratic Party organizations.

I also received an email from Rep. Ellison. He also wanted me to donate money…to buy pizzas for the protesters. Of all the people who sent emails to tell me to spend money, he was the only one to tell me I should directly support the people doing the work, who were standing in the cold, who were maintaining against tedium, media misrepresentation, and discouraging odds. Only him.

And that’s why I love my congressional representative.

Fit to Speak

Rush Limbaugh has, as usual, been saying some incredibly stupid things. In this case, he’s suggesting that Michelle Obama is a hypocrite for suggesting people try to improve their eating habits because she doesn’t look like a supermodel or starlet.

There’s plenty of idiocy here that should be noted. However, there are good and bad ways to go about it. Dana Milbank gets it all wrong in the Washington Post:

Limbaugh is in an excellent position to make this observation, being perhaps the finest example of the male form since Michelangelo sculpted David. In 2009, he went on a fad diet, full of controversial supplements but little exercise, and lost 90 pounds. Such crash diets are dangerous – and, sure enough, Limbaugh wound up in the hospital at the end of the year with chest pains. Judging from recent video footage, he has regained most of the bulk.

The problem, of course, it that Limbaugh’s attractiveness is not the reason he’s wrong. His personal history with diets and weight loss and gain are not the reason.

He’s wrong because he can’t be bothered to say (or perhaps know) what Obama’s message regarding food actually is. She’s trying to help Americans make healthier choices about food. She’s trying to encourage them, not to stop indulging, but to indulge less often.

Neither of these messages needs to be delivered by a supermodel. In fact, they may well be better delivered by someone the average American can identify with. A person doesn’t have to be “pure” in their relationship to food (where “pure” somehow equals skinny) in order to talk about it. Limbaugh is dead wrong on this point.

And despite Milbank’s digression, Limbaugh’s message would be just as wrong if it were delivered by the very thin Ann Coulter. It would be just as wrong if Limbaugh were to say that he could never deliver an effective message on food and nutrition.

All Milbank is doing is adding to the chorus of people saying we have to be skinny to be heard on this issue. He’s contributing to the problem he’s calling out. That doesn’t help anyone.

Let’s stay focused on the real issues in this situation. If you need some help figuring out how to talk about it, check out Mike Bruno’s post for Entertainment Weekly. If he can get this right while working for a traditionally image-obsessed industry, I think we all can.

Sex, Science, and Social Policy

ResearchBlogging.orgWhen it comes to the politicization of scientific topics and science denialism, everyone knows about the forces opposing our understanding evolution and global warming. Would it surprise you to see similar tactics on display when the subject is sex?

In the well-known cases, political actors band together with researchers who continually produce results favoring the politicos pet topics. It’s not that hard to produce the desired results, even when the mass of evidence doesn’t support your side. It simply requires that these researchers restrict themselves to dealing with tiny slivers of the available information on their topic. Global warming deniers look at temperatures in only one location or across one short period of time. Evolution deniers focus on unanswered questions and stay far away from the genetic evidence.

The results are what you would expect. They see what they want to see. They support what they want to support. If I were to do what they do, I could declare downtown Minneapolis to be a residential district–based on only looking at the condo high-rises.

Someone would come along very quickly and point out how badly I had bungled my research, but by then, the damage might be done. A politician could still push through a zoning decision using my study (or one slightly less obviously biased). And if I wanted to make it easier for the politician, I could do another study focused on riverfront condos to support my original bad research. Two studies! The “evidence” mounts!

It shouldn’t be a surprise that more groups than just global warming and evolution deniers use this strategy of designing bad studies and legislating from them. They might be the best known, however, because their motivations are so easily understood. They’re downright transparent. A few scattered cranks (there are always stray cranks) aside, the political forces behind evolution denial are religious. Those behind global warming denial represent economic interests that are threatened by our need to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels. These groups are easy to spot because we understand their motivations for winnowing information down to only what they want to believe.

There are topics, however, where the deniers are less obvious, even when they engage in similar tactics. Their motivations are subtle or complex, or they form unlikely coalitions, bound together only by their views on a single subject. The strict marginalization of sex-oriented businesses is one of those topics. It unites pro-business conservatives who are appalled by sex and pro-sex liberals who consider profit equal to exploitation, plus a lot of people whose reasons are as varied as their sexual interests.

Whatever their motivation, those who argue that the presence of adult businesses has a detrimental effect on crime rates and property values are still engaging in the same kind of denialism. They’re relying on just a small portion of the available information to make their case.

Why would anyone feel the need to produce anti-sex-business research? At least within the U.S., sex-related expression is protected under the First Amendment, with a few exceptions. Expression for profit falls under those protections. Those who would prefer such things not happen where they can see them have to find another reason to ban stripping, purveyors of pornography, and toys stores for grown-ups. They need a legal basis that amounts to more than “Ew.”

Rising crime rates and declining property values can provide that basis. Want to say, “Not in my town/neighborhood”? Just produce a few studies saying bad things happened in other communities when they allowed adult businesses, and you have a non-speech-related reason for putting your foot down. Plenty of other communities have already done it. (I’m simplifying this drastically. For a really in-depth discussion of the legal standard, called the Secondary Effects Doctrine, check out this article. Pdf available here.)

There’s just one little problem: The studies themselves. In 2001, Paul, Linz, and Shafer took a look at what kind of evidence was being used by those who wanted to marginalize sex-related businesses. What they found was impressive…but not in the way one would hope.

The researchers started with a list of four requirements that would need to be met for a study on the topic to be considered scientific. In situations like this, where laws and regulations may be challenged in court, scientific evidence isn’t just a good idea. It’s the legal standard, so meeting these scientific criteria is important.

  1. The control areas (areas without sex-related businesses used to measure the effects of everything else happening during the study period) must be, well, comparable to the areas with new sex-related businesses. Because we can’t just randomly assign adult businesses to various areas and see what happens, these studies should use a matched control approach when possible. That means the study and control areas should match in factors known to affect crime, if crime rate is the topic of interest, or factors known to affect property values, if that’s what’s being studied. This means they should be comparable in things like population density, traffic, median income, land use, industry mix, etc.
  2. The study should cover as much time as possible both before and after the adult business is established. Crime rates and home values both have a seasonal component that can make short-term studies nonrepresentative of longer trends. Crime rates, particularly for individual types of crimes with low overall rates, can fluctuate wildly in the short term. As an example, at this time last year, Minneapolitans were flipping out over the murder rate. In the first eight days of January, we’d had five murders, after a total of 19 in 2009. Our city was falling apart. However, checking again at the end of January, we’d had only two more. By the end of June, we stood at 24. In all of 2010, we had 39. That’s still more than twice the count in 2009, but it’s the same as in 2008, which makes it the second lowest rate in the last decade, with 2009 being the lowest. The study period matters.
  3. The source of the data must be valid and comparable across study areas and times. The second part of this is simple. If you use one type of report or source of data to measure crime or property values, use the same measurement everywhere. That’s standard research methodology. So is the first part, validity, but in the context of these studies, it deserves a special mention. Why? Because despite crime rates, property tax valuations, and sale prices being public information, many of the “studies” cited didn’t use this information. They relied instead on asking people what they thought their exposure to crime would be or what property values in the area would do if a sex-related business opened. In other words, in order to show that they weren’t exercising bias against sex-related businesses, communities were relying on studies that measured people’s biases.
  4. Survey data that is used should come from properly conducted surveys. The authors mention this benchmark as something of an afterthought. While they didn’t find circumstances in which surveys would
    be appropriate, they did note several surveys that didn’t clear this hurdle.

Once Paul, Linz, and Shafer had laid out their requirements, they turned a critical eye to the studies that various governmental bodies (generally cities and towns) had used as evidence that sex-related businesses needed to be marginalized. They pulled together a list of 107 reports, which most, if not all, the reports on the topic available at the time.

The results were dismal by scientific standards. A full 73% of these reports were records of political discussions on the topic, not studies of any sort. Removing these, and anecdotes such as reports of arrests that happened near sex-related businesses, the authors were left with 29 studies of any sort.

They rated the ten most frequently cited reports on whether they met the four requirements above, as well as how clearly their results demonstrated secondary effects (click to enlarge the table).


None of these ten reports met all of the applicable requirements. Two were not even studies. One study, with its flaws, showed positive evidence of undesirable secondary effects. Four of the remainder showed mixed evidence for and against negative secondary effects, and fully half of the top ten most-cited reports completely failed to support the idea that sex-related businesses lead to higher crime rates or lower property values.

In other words, towns and cities that were using these reports to justify marginalizing sex-related businesses were relying on poorly produced information. Beyond that, they were using only the bits of information that supported what they already wanted to do, and misrepresenting much of it at that.

That was 2001. Has the situation changed since the Paul, Linz, and Shafer paper? It’s not easy to say. I wasn’t able to find a summary of recent use of secondary effects reports in zoning or other government decisions, so I can’t say whether the bad reports are successfully being challenged.

In the peer-reviewed literature, the situation is a little brighter. Studies are addressing the scientific requirements above. McCleary and Weinstein’s 2009 study on secondary effects in Sioux Falls, SD (pdf here) reports what it did to match its study and control areas, covers a substantial period of time, and reports an estimated error rate. McCleary’s 2008 study on the crime rates before, during, and after the operation of a rural porn and adult toy store (pdf here) does no matching to a control, and it has some other problems with drawing conclusions that aren’t supported by the data as presented, but it does cover an extended period of time and report error rates.

These two studies found evidence for secondary effects. However, that doesn’t mean the post-2001 peer-reviewed literature unambiguously supports the idea that sex-related businesses lead to higher crime rates. Linz, Land, Ezell, Paul & Williams found in 2004 (pdf here) that, when sites in Charlotte, NC were closely matched to controls on variables already known to be related (statistically) to crime, there were largely no significant differences between the sex-related and other businesses. Where there were significant differences, there was less crime surrounding the sex-related businesses. Linz, Paul & Yao also failed to find any higher crime rates surrounding sex-related businesses in San Diego in a 2006 study (pdf here).

The picture is neither clear nor simple, unless care is taken to only look at the evidence that tells you what you want to hear. Unfortunately, that does still seem to be happening.

I don’t know what the legal status of sex-related businesses is in Britain. I’m sure the topic is just as complicated and nuanced as it is here in the U.S. What I do know is that I am seeing a picking and choosing of evidence on the relationship, if any, of sex-related businesses and crime.

Dr. Brooke Magnanti (yes, aka Belle de Jour) recently published a green paper on the topic, a report meant to stimulate public and governmental discussion of a topic. The topic at hand? A reanalysis of a 2003 study suggesting a link between the addition of a lap-dancing club in Camden and increased rates of sexual assault.

Rather than go into a great deal of detail about the study or the reanalysis, I’ll let the paper do the talking. The original 2003 results:

In 2003, a report was released by Lilith Research and Development, a subsidiary project of Eaves Women’s Aid, a London women’s housing agency. The report examined the phenomenon of lap-dancing clubs in the north London borough of Camden and its effects on crime rates from the late 1990s onward. One conclusion that received considerable attention was the statement that following the introduction of lap-dancing clubs, rape in Camden rose by 50%. In 2009, corrections to the statistics were reported in the Guardian stating that the change between 1999 and 2002 was a somewhat lower increase of 33% (Bell 2008). It still however implies evidence of a cause-and-effect relationship between lap dancing clubs and rape. The uncorrected claims that rapes rose by 50% after lap dancing clubs opened and that Camden’s incidence of rape is three time the national average are still reported in national and international media (Hunt 2009, Guest 2010).

In this paper, Magnanti added a longer time-frame, adjusted for population increases, and added other rates (all of England and Wales, plus two other boroughs) for comparison. Islington was included in the original report and has lap-dancing clubs. Lambeth was chosen by Magnanti as being of a similar size and ethnic makeup to Camden but without the clubs. The same information presented visually after the additional information is incorporated (red added to show the information from the original report):


As the graph shows, adding information changes the picture considerably. It no longer appears that adding lap-dancing clubs leads to an increase in rapes. The original study is shown for the artifact it likely was.

However, just as with the citations presented under the U.S. secondary effects doctrine, the reaction to Magnanti’s green paper suggests that finding out the truth about the societal impact of sex-related businesses is not the point for many people. The Lilith report she examined received lots of press. It was cited repeatedly
in the shaping of public policy. Her analysis has…not.

Picking and choosing the studies that support your existing position. Picking and choosing the data within studies that do the same. What is that but scientific denialism?

Citations:
Paul, B., Shafer, B., & Linz, D. (2001). Government Regulation of “Adult” Businesses Through Zoning and Anti-Nudity Ordinances: Debunking the Legal Myth of Negative Secondary Effects Communication Law and Policy, 6 (2), 355-391 DOI: 10.1207/S15326926CLP0602_4

Linz, D., Paul, B., Land, K., Williams, J., & Ezell, M. (2004). An Examination of the Assumption that Adult Businesses Are Associated with Crime in Surrounding Areas: A Secondary Effects Study in Charlotte, North Carolina Law Society Review, 38 (1), 69-104 DOI: 10.1111/j.0023-9216.2004.03801003.x

Linz, D., Paul, B., & Yao, M. (2006). Peep show establishments, police activity, public place, and time: A study of secondary effects in San Diego, California Journal of Sex Research, 43 (2), 182-193 DOI: 10.1080/00224490609552313

McCleary, R. (2008). Rural Hotspots: The Case of Adult Businesses Criminal Justice Policy Review, 19 (2), 153-163 DOI: 10.1177/0887403408315111

McCleary, R., & Weinstein, A. (2009). Do “Off-Site” Adult Businesses Have Secondary Effects? Legal Doctrine, Social Theory, and Empirical Evidence Law & Policy, 31 (2), 217-235 DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-9930.2009.00295.x

Get Over It

In today’s Observer, writer and poker champion Victoria Coren shared a story about the reaction of some guy (apparently some sort of celebrity in Britain) to a suggestion that he follow her on Twitter. To keep it brief:

“IT suggests I follow Victoria Coren. Who the hell is she? Y should I follow her? Her tweets read dull.”

“VICTORIA ALL MY TWEETERS RIVETED BY YOUR BOSOMS.”

He wrote to someone else: “NOW I KNOW SHE HAS LARGE BOSOMS.” To another: “If you’re not clear if Victoria’s bosom are firm, go there and get a hold on the situation.”

He sent a direct private message, just to me, saying: “You have enlived my tweeters who discovered your breasts when I knew 0 about them.” He put up four more public posts about my breasts and chatted about them with all who passed by – wheezing happily to one follower: “How naughty of Uto suggest Victoria shows us a piccy-poo of her boobs.”

In response, her column has received all the unoriginal, unhelpful comments. Among the milder ones:

i think the answer is…………….

Don’t do twitter, don’t look at other people’s tweets.

It’s just self-obsessed people (“celebrities”) shrieking at each other. We might as well let them get on with it.

Would have been best to just ignore him as to be honest there are a lot more important things to be getting on with and fighting for as witnessed on those other users of twitter whether they be disability campaigners or Middle Eastern nationals whose futures I would have thought are far more important than a spat about some breasts and a couple of so called celebrities. Move on Victoria and spend your time on more worthwhile pursuits. There are many out there.

interesting.

we all have interactions that go badly, usually with someone we don’t know very well, or at all. but then we go home and fret about them for a bit, but then they are forgotten.

but on twitter is it the same, or is it different, i suppose its a magnified version of what happens in real life. but then as there are so many interactions on it, they are proably as meaningless as a conversation that went badly on the street.

just llok on it as being a bit like one of those miserable people you meet every so often who says something nasty, and forget about him.

I enjoyed the article, as always the lady’s wit & wisdom is a pleasant addition to a Suynday morning, but I have to agree (as nearly always!) with lightacandle: there’s a hell of a lot of more interesting & important topics to spend time on than an aging sexist.

Twitter’s not really the best place to expect good manners, thoughtful comment or liberal attitudes. And – going purely by the films he’s made which I’ve seen- Michael Winner’s not really a man to expect these things from either.

Pointless, z-list ‘celebrity’ has futile social media war with other pointless z-list ‘celebrity’…..yawn

Aside from demonstrating that the average commenter can neither spell nor punctuate, these folks seem to be working very hard to suggest that this is all a boring little commonplace happening that deserves no attention at all. It even seems to be a popular argument, but it leaves me with one question.

Are all these people leaving their comments, then turning their attention to the offensive twit in question and saying, “Dude! They’re breasts! You’ve got to learn to expect those on women. Get over it!”?

Are any of them?

Saturday Storytime: Moonlighting

I occasionally link to free short fiction from this blog. I think it’s time to start doing it in a more organized fashion. Welcome to the inaugural edition of Saturday Storytime. Today’s author is my friend Doug Hulick, with his short story, “Moonlighting.” An excerpt:

Ayshin cleared his throat as he placed both of his hands on the table. “We are alone and unheard?”

I nodded. “Of course, my lord. None shall know what takes place here.”

He relaxed somewhat, his broad shoulders sagging with relief. Still, I noticed that his fingers picked nervously at the multi-colored cloth that covered the table.

“Excellent. I am about to undertake an important venture. I would like to know if the signs of the heavens are favorable.”

I chuckled inside the shadow of my hood. “And the nature of this venture?”

“I cannot say.”

“But it does involve another’s death.”

Ayshin sat up straight, his face pale. “Yes.”

It was fortunate that my face was in shadow, for if noble Lord Ayshin had seen my expression at that moment, he would have surely fled. That would not have been desirable.

“Very well. I will read the ether for death.”

Keep reading.

While you’re reading Doug’s work, check out the excerpt from his forthcoming novel, Among Thieves, as well. If you like that, you have a couple more days to try to win a copy from Library Thing.

Should Have Known

I want to return to one of those stupid things that people are saying about the sexual assault of Lara Logan. It’s the idea that “I’m not saying she deserved to be assaulted, but she should have known that her hair/her clothes/traveling to a country where (insert Middle Eastern or Muslim stereotype here) would make it more likely that she’d get raped.”

Of course she knew.

We all know. Women can’t avoid being aware of any of the standard trappings of rape, real or fictional. That’s what living in a rape culture is all about. There’s no escaping this.

We know when we wander away from friendly faces.

We know when we’re alone with a guy.

We know when we’re with a group of guys.

We know when we’re alone–probably.

We know when we get close to a strange guy.

We know when we’re near a man more likely than we are to be listened to and believed.

We know when we step into roles and situations traditionally reserved for guys.

We know when we break any of the rules that “other” us and make us “fair game” for inhumane treatment.

We know when we admit to any history of victimization.

We know when we express any kind of weakness.

We know when we express any kind of strength.

We know when we acknowledge ourselves as sexual beings.

We know when we’re near a powerful guy.

We know when we’re near a powerless guy who may see us as weak representatives of those who deny him what he wants.

We know when we accept a ride or other favor from a friend of a friend.

We know when we make a guy angry.

We know when we deny a guy something he wants.

We know when we defy a guy.

We know when we allow ourselves to become intoxicated.

We know when the guys around us are becoming intoxicated.

We know when we get dressed.

We know when we decide we want to look our best.

We know when we’re in the presence of a guy who has decided he knows why we’ve chosen to look good.

We know when we accept a date.

We know when we ask a guy on a date.

We know when we show provisional interest in a guy.

We know when we express interest in information or assistance a guy can give us.

We know when we express polite curiosity.

We always know. Always. All of us.

That doesn’t mean we always look at the knowledge straight on. It’s a hell of a thing to know, and it is, as is the point, oppressive knowledge. But we all know and we all deal with the knowledge in our own way.

Some of us tell ourselves we can control whether or not we’re raped and avoid…well, everything. Some take a more moderate approach but still try to diminish the risk. Some of us side with the powerful people in the equation and hope that means they’ll be liked well enough to avoid being raped. Some of us say that the chances of being raped in any particular circumstance will never be 0% and will never be 100%, no matter what we do, so we’ll do what we do while spending as little time as possible worrying about how that affects our chances.

None of these choices are perfect. They can’t be, given the massively messed-up circumstances. But we all face the constant threat of rape and make our choice, assuming we have the luxury of choices at all.

Lara Logan appears to have made a choice very much like the last one I described. That doesn’t make her assault inevitable. It doesn’t make the assault her choice. It doesn’t mean she could have avoided being assaulted by making other choices.

It does, however, make her a role model for people who want to make a similar choice. As it should.

Of course she knew. She just didn’t let that keep her from her life and the work she had to do.

Shut Up Already

I’m a fairly quiet person. I don’t talk a lot.

It isn’t because my brain is empty. It certainly isn’t because sitting back and listening gets you an audience in return. Like any woman, I get ignored and talked over all the time. In fact, I have a three-strikes rule. Interrupt or talk over me three times, and you don’t get to hear what I have to say.

And when I say, “Your loss,” I mean it. That’s because I don’t bother to talk, or write, unless I have something to add. It may not be original. It may not even be right. But it had better supply something that’s missing in the current conversation, or I won’t bother.

You don’t see anything on this blog about the revolution in Egypt. Why? The only thing I had to add was the observation that “Second Amendment remedies” yahoos could learn a thing or two about what was actually required for a revolution. That fit in a Tweet, and it was all I really had to say.

Until now. Because today it was announced that a U.S. reporter was sexually assaulted covering the revolution. And everybody appears to have felt a need to say something about it, even though the vast majority of people have…not just nothing intelligent to say about rape, but a lot of actively stupid, hurtful shit to spew. It’s bad enough that it took a very tiny number of hours for Mary Elizabeth Williams of Salon to have enough material to write “What not to say about Lara Logan“. Some examples:

Perhaps Wilson was going for some postmodern commentary on the media’s obsession with attractive reporters. She did cite in her post how Mofo Politics commented, when Logan was detained in Egypt earlier this month, that “I would totally rape her,” and she noted the New York Post’s chronicling of Logan’s robust sex life. That’s the kindest explanation for a hideously twisted bit of commentary on an assault victim, one that repulsively mingles the woman’s attractiveness and sexual history with a violent crime, and ends with the brutally off-key observation that “nobody’s invincible.”

Wilson wasn’t the only person out there to be wildly tone-deaf in response, either. When the news broke, Nir Rosen, a fellow at the New York University Center for Law and Security, promptly whined to Twitter, “It’s always wrong, that’s obvious, but I’m rolling my eyes at all the attention she’ll get,” adding, “She’s so bad that I ran out of sympathy for her.” He soon backpedaled, deleting the posts and tweeting, “I apologize and take it back. joking with friends got out of line when i didnt want to back down. forgot twitter is not exactly private.” Apparently he still hasn’t remembered that sexual assault isn’t great joking around material.

What in any of that needed to be said? What in all the crap at Reddit on the topic (At least it wasn’t penetrative rape. She could have dressed differently. The men there are just like that. Hey, look, fap material.) would ever need to be said?

Yeah, whee, I get it. This is the internet. Barriers to communication have never been lower. Everybody can produce content.

So what?

You don’t need to have an opinion about everything. You don’t need to show off your ignorance. You don’t need to flaunt your antisocial tendencies. You don’t need to put your id and your words on display where other people have to see them. You don’t need to make this kind of stupid mess.

Yay for the option to get out there and get heard, but there’s a reason it doesn’t come with any requirements for frequency or word count. The option to sit down and shut up is every bit as important.

Do us both a favor and exercise that sometimes, will you? I do.