Aziz Ansari and the plight of Good Men

The striking thing about the Aziz Ansari situation is how familiar it feels. If the story, as relayed by his accuser were to have extended over a period of a few days, it could very well have been an episode of Master of None – a meet-cute centered on a shared interest in photography leads to several dates, which include the main character clumsily trying to get laid. I’ve little doubt Ansari would’ve treated it with the nuance fans of the show, of which I am one, have been accustomed to.

Of course, this fictionalized version would include the woman, you know, actually wanting it, despite initial misgivings. This basic narrative can be found in any number of examples from the entertainment industry in the last 30 years. Women are prizes to be won by plucky male protagonists. But in the specific real-world example referenced above, it’s pretty obvious the woman didn’t actually want it, and was worn down by persistent and coercive attempts by Ansari.

That Ansari is a powerful multi-millionaire is almost, though not entirely, besides the point. This situation, a first date between a man and a woman who don’t really know each other has to be more applicable to women than Harvey Weinstein-esque situations. Anecdotally, I know far more women that have experienced the latter than the former. Within the context of the perils of dating, it’s both ironic and fucked up that Louis CK so adequately summed it up:

A woman saying yes to a date with a man is literally insane and ill-advised, and the whole species’ existence counts on them doing it. I don’t know how they…how do women still go out with guys, when you consider the fact that there is no greater threat to women than men? We’re the number one threat to women. Globally and historically, we’re the number one cause of injury and mayhem to women.

It’s a harrowing and, despite the source, completely valid thought that I’m not sure I considered or understood until I was in my 30’s, married, and blessedly done with dating. To me, dating was mostly horrible, largely because I didn’t particularly like myself, and was a bit socially awkward. Any reticence on the part of someone I was interested in entailed an immediate cessation of efforts, followed by varying degrees of pitiful self-loathing.

I can’t imagine doing anything like Ansari did and not coming away with the thought that, no, this person is not into me. I would be mortified. But apparently he wasn’t able to comprehend that a woman could possibly not want a handsome, culturally relevant, “woke” multi-millionaire. But again, this type of situation goes beyond the numerically privileged and powerful few and extends across class lines in terms of cishet female/male dating.

(The vast majority of people who read this have not and will never meet me. You are right to consider that perhaps I’m not being completely forthright in the broad description of my personal experiences and may want to extend that line of thinking to any asshole like myself who moralizes on the internet. I know I do. On a related note, I’ve wrestled with writing about #metoo and its adjacent topics for a while now. If you think the last thing anyone needs is another cishet male meditating on it, that’s perfectly understandable and I’m aware this is a valid criticism.)

***

Men are scared. “How,” they wonder, “can I navigate this changing landscape? Everything I say can be put under a microscope – not all men are serial harassing rapists!” they whine. I’m of the opinion that it shouldn’t be too difficult. If you’re interacting with a woman, ask yourself if what you’re going to say might be interpreted as something that may make the recipient uncomfortable. If the answer is yes, don’t say it. Even if the answer is no, maybe still don’t say it. That flirting is now fraught with more peril than in the past should be the least of anyone’s concerns within the overarching discussion of contemporary and historical gender violence. If anything, it should make one do a little self-introspection and consider how they approach those they are sexually interested in.

Good Men are accustomed to being granted the right to be judged on their own actions. A priori judgment is unconscionable. Such Good Men don’t do such things – after all, we live in a post-race, post-gender meritocracy where everyone should be, and generally is, judged on the basis of their character and actions. Perhaps that hasn’t always been the case, but surely in 2018, we have arrived. After all, there’s been a black president and a woman won the popular vote, despite not winning. Why should the Good Men have to answer for the behavior of Bad Men?

In all seriousness, I can’t imagine a group of people (cishet males) less deserving of a privilege so long denied to other groups, especially given the disproportionate amount of violence and destruction they’ve wrought over the past few millennia. When they perceive they are not getting the benefit of the doubt, or *gasp* persecuted, they lash out and cry “not all men!”

It’s here that I leave “they” as a pronoun” and turn it into “we.” I identify more with a man wrongfully accused than a woman being raped/assaulted/harassed. This is an extreme privilege: at no point in my life have I ever been concerned with being the victim of rape/assault/harassment. And this process of identification is where many stop in their stunted quasi-analysis. I know of no evidence to back this up, but I think most (certainly not all) cishet men think along these lines – we’re just not concerned with being victims.

Take, for example, TJ Miller, a shitty comedy person and even shittier human. He is alleged to have raped a former girlfriend, something he vehemently denies. We will never know for certain whether or not Miller did what he’s accused of. We weren’t there. Due to this, Good Men will claim to be agnostic to what actually occurred. Unless there’s a conviction, the only supposedly objective way of knowing for sure, there’s no reason to ruin this man’s life with slanderous accusations. Hell, this could happen to any one of us!

These Good Men are deserving of scorn for not using an essential tool, one of our few saving graces as a species – empathy. They are only able to put themselves in the shoes of those they identify with. They think of how fucked up their life would be if they were falsely accused. This is easy to do. However, they are unable or unwilling to extend that consideration to those they have a hard time identifying with. Any reason for doubt will immediately seized upon. Moreover, they are able to creatively ascribe any number of nefarious motivations to reporters of rape/assault/harassment, in an exercise that can roughly be described as an inverted type of empathy.

Perhaps it’s not that simple (though I think it generally is). One could suppose that a man may have an adequate amount of empathy, but isn’t persuaded that patriarchy or rampant rape/assault/harassment is a huge issue or just isn’t pervasive enough to be a big deal. If this is the case, the gap is intellectual and not necessarily empathetic. They could be presented with statistics, but unable or uncaring to sufficiently comprehend the methodology and results. Of course, it doesn’t have to be any one particular thing. Lack of empathy and dismissal of research are mere strands in a larger web of ignorance, myopia and selfishness.

***

Shitty men are finally getting a small bit of reckoning. Honestly, it’s pretty benign. Dave Chappelle accused Louis CK’s victims of taking “everything from him,” which is fucking nonsense. Sure it might be hard for him to work right now, but none of his wealth, possessions or ability to maintain a privileged lifestyle was “taken.” He’ll probably be back in a few years with a triumphant return to Netflix.

Ansari will probably get to do a third Season of Master of None, though he may want to wait a few dozen news cycles for his story to get buried under the unending avalanche of bullshit that is our culture. His situation has enough of a grey area that it likely won’t affect him too much. A Google search will show just how polarizing it’s been across various media outlets, blogs and social media. He’ll be back sooner or later, none the worse for wear.

If you’re consuming the various stories and thinkpieces related to #metoo, and your first instinct, how this will affect you, is followed by hand-wringing over potentially innocent male victims and fear of interacting with females within a new and scary social landscape, you suck. Stop being a fucking child. Do better.

Revolutionary Left Radio and anticapitalist sectarianism

I love the Revolutionary Left Radio podcast, whose subject matter is what the name implies. Their approach allows for an incredibly diverse amount of voices within the broad landscape of leftist thought to explicate their ideologies, ideas, and research.

The host does a great job of giving his guests room to talk about their area of expertise in a non-confrontational manner. Of course, such leeway can lead to times where the listener may wish for some push-back (for example, I couldn’t help but roll my eyes a bunch during a recent Marxist-Leninist episode). But debate is not the point. The point is to learn about the various strands that comprise political thought far to the left of mainstream liberalism. I transcribed the host’s overarching message from the last podcast, which perfectly sums up the podcast’s mission:

We’re pan-leftists, we’re non-sectarian precisely because at this moment in history there’s a material need for leftists of all stripes to put our petty differences aside for now and figure out how we’re going to fight these very real threats on the other side. Because the far right and the capitalists have no qualms about teaming up when push comes to shove. And if we’re arguing “you’re this type of leftist,” or “you’re a Trotskyist,” I’m a Leninist,” “you’re a democratic socialist” “I’m an anarchist,” we are going to weaken and divide and break ourselves down into smaller and smaller groups. We’re going to be impotent in the face of this onslaught of late capitalism.

Their approach mirrors my own, philosophically. I take bits and pieces here and there from countless political ideologies, philosophies, religions, etc. I tend to look askance at those who proclaim their adherence to one specific belief. But I get why people do so. I guess I’m just not wired that way.

While the podcast is great, I can’t say it gives me too much hope. Sectarianism in the far left is endemic and, to me, a bit silly. So much time is spent arguing about what comes AFTER capitalism and/or widespread nation-state collapse that the generally agreed-upon institutional enemies are largely left unscathed. Is socialism (insert any number of hyphenated varieties) a threat? Is anarchism (insert any number of hyphenated varieties) a threat? Perhaps Antifa is. But from the perspective of the state, no far left ideology is even close to the threat level of, say, radical Islamic terrorism.

The made-up term “alt-left” is perhaps too kind – at least the diarrhea menagerie that is the alt-right were able to partially coalesce and exert their influence in the service of electing a veritable garbage person as president of the most powerful country in the world. I’m not sure what the corollary would even be in terms of real world effects wrought by the “alt-left.”

Anyways, here are some episodes I thoroughly enjoyed:

  • Black Feminism and Queer Theory w/ Zoe Samudzi
  • Leftist Podcasts, New Atheism, and the October Revolution w/ Dan Arel
  • Anarcho-Primitivism: Civilization, Symbolic Culture, and Rewilding w/ Layla AbdelRahim
  • The Mexican Revolution and The Zapatistas w/ Alexander Avina
  • From Diplomat to Anarchist: The State, War, and the Fight for a Better World w/ Carne Ross
  • Gothic Marxism: The Horror Genre and the Monsters of Neoliberalism w/ TheLitCritGuy
  • Caliban and the Witch: An Interview with Silvia Federici

Should the far left ever unite, this podcast (available on iTunes and Stitcher) will probably play some kind of a role. We should probably hurry.

Dave Chappelle continues to make bad trans jokes

It’s becoming pretty clear that many comedians will cling to their bad trans jokes until the bitter end. The latest prominent example is, once again, Dave Chappelle. I’m not going to link to any of it (but will include an example, seen below). A google search will suffice, if interested. Or you could watch his Netflix special, hoping in vain to catch a glimmer of what made him so great.

An easy maxim to follow in comedy is to punch up and not down. Chappelle continues to punch down with regards to the trans community. The root of this appears to be that he thinks no one would ever give a fuck about trans people if it weren’t for white people, and it’s not something he’s willing to get past:

And I cannot shake this awful suspicion that the only reason everybody is talking about transgenders is because white men want to do it. That’s right, I just said that.

Right. Because white “transgenders” only started existing once Caitlyn Jenner “wanted” to do it. It gets worse from there, even going so far as to include “man-pussy” in a gut-busting punchline. So fucking edgy!

The topic obviously has an effect on him, or else he wouldn’t keep returning to it. But he has no interest in learning about contemporary/historical trans issues. He becomes aware of criticism and rejects it out of hand. There is no introspection, no empathy, no attempt at understanding. He gets to make his bad jokes with an impish smile, and his adoring audience erupts with laughter and applause. It’s all the validation, to the extent it’s even desired, he needs. Well, that and the millions of dollars Netflix keeps giving him.

Within the context of comedy that discusses social/political issues, the best of it is able to inch up to the shadowy line of good taste without crossing over into “problematic” territory. Such comedians that are able to effectively navigate this ever-changing realm are heralded as unafraid truth-tellers.

But crossing that line leads to people complaining on Twitter and thinkpieces. In response, the thin-skinned comedian, upset over critics daring to utilize their free speech, lashes out. Many of the comedian’s fans will circle the wagons which, at the end of the day, are the only class of consumers that matter. Their continued adoration serves as vindication.

To me, worse than the actual jokes was the laughter. It didn’t seem like many in the audience had an issue with his blatant transphobia. It’s hard not to think that such people agreed with the overall sentiment, and to some extent felt that Chappelle was saying things they wish they could.

I’m not publishing bad comments (except for the one I’m writing about in this post)

When I first started blogging, I considered establishing a commenting policy. I decided against it because I thought it was a bit presumptuous to assume anyone would want to comment on anything I wrote. Not that many do, but it’s enough for me to write about.

Awhile back I wrote about effective ways to conceptualize and deal with sexual violence. Almost a month later I received a bad comment, which I ignored and chose not to publish, until today – billoreillysloofah, here is your bad comment, with my response in bold.

[Quoted from my blog post] “It is well established in feminist legal critique that female complainants are discredited if they fail to conform to an archaic stereotype”

In this section you list one of these stereotypes as being “consistent”. Surely in any crime if the alleged victims’ story is inconsistent this is a red flag, no? [Not necessarily. Memory can be unreliable, fickle and impacted by trauma. It’s usually exculpatory enough for almost any alleged perpetrator to walk even if there is evidence pointing to guilt, which is a problem.] It’s hardly a “stereotype” in any case. [It is. You didn’t present evidence that it’s not a stereotype. The quote is from a peer-reviewed paper in an academic journal written by a law professor.] Imagine one is accused of a crime and the accuser changes their story to suit new facts every time they are presented with them. Is this to be ignored by the defence council? [Of course not. That’s not the argument]

I would wager it is also ‘established’ in these particular feminist legal critiques from whence you draw your quotation, that all men are guilty of something and that false rape allegations do not exist – so juries can safely disregard the possibility. [This is exactly what I think. Men are trash. Go die in a fire.]

The first paragraph isn’t terrible. The extent to which a victim is consistent is worthy of consideration. But the second paragraph is utter garbage. So, billoreillysloofah, don’t bother responding to this. I couldn’t care less what you have to say. Life is way too short to deal with the likes of you.

Part of my annoyance is due to the lag time. Within a few days of a post, I’d probably approve it and respond. During that time span other readers of the site may see it and add their two cents. But when too much time passes and an argumentative comment is left I’ll probably deny it, unless I think it’s interesting or worthy of a back-and-forth discussion that only myself and the commenter will see. The above comment is neither of those things.

Anyways, here are some other “rules:”

  • It should probably go without saying that I will not allow any bigoted comments.
  • If I reject your comment and it’s not bigoted, that means I think what you’ve written is wrong, illogical, not pertinent to what I’ve written, or any combination of the aforementioned. Perhaps there is also a taint of bigotry, such as using “feminist legal critiques” as a pejorative. Overall, it’s not something I want to see on my blog and I don’t wish to waste my time responding. You are totally free to think that I’m a , libtard, cuck, soy boy (my body is probably 3/4’s soy at this point) or any number of epithets used for fragile snowflakes such as myself. You can rest assured that I don’t have the mental faculties to go toe-to-toe with your impeccable logic. You’ll have triggered me, and my rejection of your comment will preserve the sanctity of my safe space. Or, deep down, maybe you’ll consider the possibility that you’re a piece of shit.

That’s really about it. I don’t mind people disagreeing with me – almost everyone except for this commenter has done so in a way I have no problem with.

 

Thoughts about The Last Jedi (SPOILERS)

Because this is why you come to FtB. Read no further if you haven’t already seen it.

.

.

.

.

.

.

Ok. Hi again.

What follows is a “review” only loosely organized by bullet points:

  • The opening crawl has the First Order conquering the New Republic almost immediately after the events of The Force Awakens. Which, what? How? At the end of The Force Awakens, they used their dumb planet death star to blow up the capital or whatever. But that shouldn’t entail the rest of the republic falling like a house of cards. It had DECADES to create some kind of a military infrastructure that should survive the destruction of one planet. That leads to what I think is my main problem with TFA and TLJ. The scaffolding that holds up the various narratives is rickety. In a galaxy with tens of thousands of star systems, hundreds of thousands of sentient species, and trillions (quadrillions?) of inhabitants, everything just seems so small. Canto Bight and Maz Kanata’s place were the only times it felt like there was a larger universe that the stories occur in.
  • One of the few things the prequel trilogy did well was give a sense of scale to the enormity of the Star Wars galaxy. Perhaps it’s just too difficult to tell a good story this way and that’s why these new movies are moving back towards more localized narratives. Fortunately, the localized narratives of TFA and TLJ are, for the most part, compelling and well done.
  • You may not be surprised to learn that I am the type of nerd whose read almost all of the recently decanonized Expanded Universe novels, many of the comic books, and other random SW ephemera. I just love the size and scale of an entire universe (spanning thousands of years) to fuck around in. When I see a weird looking alien I think “What species is that? What planet are they from? Why aren’t there any more of them? Why the hell is the Resistance so human-centric (I’m aware this is not a real word)?”
  • The first scene after the crawl saw Poe and Hux reenacting that awful “can you hear me now” commercial, and the forced, gimmicky attempts at humor continued for most of the movie. Not all of the humor was terrible, but it should’ve been dialed back.
  • Probably the funniest part of the movie was Leia, seemingly dead, flying through space back to safety. I think I was the only one in the theater laughing out loud. It was terrible.
  • The writing wasn’t always great, but overall, the acting was phenomenal.
  • Rey and Ren were great together. Their chemistry is amazing. It almost makes me want to ship them, but I’m ride or die for Rey and Finn
  • Finn and Rose’s detour to the casino planet was meh. I liked Rose lecturing bright-eyed Finn about the amoral capitalist scum in their midst (to be honest, this should be enough to group this blog post under the “Politics or “Social Justice” categories). I fucking loved that they went animal liberation front on their asses while escaping. The entire plot proved to be a red herring, as the plan ultimately failed. I’m conflicted as to whether or not I liked it. On the one hand, not all the plans of the protagonists should work, but on the other, an opportunity was missed to develop Finn and Rose’s characters.
  • Speaking of Rose, she stopped Finn from leaving to find Rey, calling him selfish. Then later on, she selfishly saves him, compromising a suicide mission that could’ve bought the Resistance much-needed time. I guess it’s supposed to be character growth, rather than acting out of character
  • After saving Finn, she says she loves him. I don’t think their storyline was developed enough for that, as mentioned above. Exchange care for love and it’s much more palatable. Then again, I’m not exactly impartial given my preference for Rey/Finn. Rose is great though.
  • Poe was kind of annoying. Hot of course, but annoying. He was salty as fuck because he wasn’t given command in Leia’s stead. Shit like that sucks.
  • I had similar issues with Finn. He had a bit too many unfunny one-liners which is more galling due to his character’s unexplored background and motivations. Unlike Rey, whose backstory is blessedly uncomplicated (see below), he was a goddamn stormtrooper who defected. It’s a good thing John Boyega is awesome or his character would be almost c
  • Captain Phasma continued to be useless. It looked like she died after once again failing. Which is basically her arc in TFA, though with even less screen time. It’s an absolutely criminal misuse of the fantastic Gwendoline Christie
  • Speaking of underutilized characters, the most notable thing Chewie did was eat a porg, which I believe was supposed to be funny – because eating a creature as that creature’s relatives look on sadly is funny I guess.
  • Luke was way more excited to see Artoo than Chewie. Kinda shitty, especially since Chewie’s bff just died.
  • Speaking of Artoo, playing the Princess’s message to Obi-Wan definitely hit me in the feels
  • Speaking of feels, Yoda’s reintroduction into the saga gave me legit chills
  • There were other callbacks, most of which I can’t remember off the top of my head. They were both subtle and effective, and evoked just the right amount of nostalgia.
  • Two of the biggest questions, Rey’s parentage and what the deal is with Snoke turned out to be enormous red herrings:
    • Leaving the theatre after I saw TFA, I wasn’t even thinking about who Rey’s parents were. She was awesome and it wasn’t something I was interested in. After a friend brought it up, I thought “god fucking dammit, her parents will matter and that blows.” The internet endlessly debating this only solidified what I thought was inevitable. However, I did have some hope, as none of the theories were very convincing. It was baggage that the character didn’t need. And so Rey’s parents are nobodies! That’s awesome! There’s a small chance that Ren is lying, but it would severely undercut the last scene of the movie, which I liked quite a lot (a child slave practicing jedi moves against a starlit backdrop)
    • To me, Snoke requires more of a backstory, despite his awful name. His age made it clear that he was around during Palpatine’s empire. What was he doing during this time? Did Palpatine know? What’s his deal? There should be interesting stories about this. Also, how did he ensnare Ren? That’s not to say I didn’t like that he died. It was completely (to me) unexpected, gutsy, and I respect the decision.
  • Luke and Ren’s differing perceptions of their falling out was artfully done and effectively revealed to the audience. In short, Ren had every reason to believe Luke was going to kill him. I do wonder, though, how much Leia knows of this. Luke wasn’t very forthcoming with Rey at first.
  • I liked Luke apparently achieving nirvana (unless he comes back as a force ghost, which wouldn’t really make it nirvana). I was annoyed when he appeared unscathed after getting shot with enough lasers to blow him to bits, and cut through with a light saber. The fact that he wasn’t physically present was a good enough justification for me, even if it necessitated an absurd and nonsensical amount of force power. But there was a consequence to using all that power. I think it was a cool death.
  • Overall, it was good, but too long. A lot of the humor was bad. It appears I didn’t like it as much as some, and am one of the few that like TFA better. But that could change – my thoughts are definitely fungible when it comes to this. For example, TFA lost a bit of luster when I became aware of it’s numerous similarities to A New Hope, which I didn’t realize on my own. But it was still good (despite the awful planet death star thing). All of the post prequel trilogy movies have been good. And that’s good – after the prequel debacle, there was ample reason for concern. (Though I do think the prequels are somewhat defensible – in a nutshell, I think of them more as the Rise of Palapatine, rather than the Fall of Anakin Skywalker (because Anakin was terrible and Palaptine ruled))
  • As for what’s next, it’s hard to see The Resistance, apparently consisting of one ship, being any kind of threat to The First Order. Perhaps they’ll do a several year time jump. I think Rey kills Ren and the saga of the Skywalkers and Solos comes to an end. TFA was pure nostalgia; TLJ threw a bunch of that nostalgic baggage in the trash; and episode 9 will set the course for the next series. Not bad.

Remember the gulf oil spill?

In 2010, I completed a second degree in Environmental Science and was hopelessly looking for a full time job. Fortunately for me, and unfortunately for the planet, the Deepwater Horizon oil spill happened. A hydrogeology professor put me in touch with a colleague that worked for a company hired by BP to perform a Natural Resources Damage Assessment. Next to no interview was necessary – they were basically looking for warm bodies.

I worked two and a half weeks on, and two and a half weeks off for 3 months. Each cycle began with my arrival to New Orleans. I would then rent a car and drive an hour west to the de facto command center. There were hundreds (maybe thousands?) of people everywhere representing dozens of different entities, a hive of activity buzzing 24/7. Once I received my gear and list of tasks, I headed out to the hotel, guest house, or bed and breakfast owned by an old racist [1] that was booked by the company’s logistics team. The following days would send me all over south central Louisiana, and Lake Pontchartrain looking for oil and taking various samples (water, oil, vegetation, beach sediment, etc.) at predetermined locations.

The days were long, usually 14-18 hours. The heat was unconscionable to a northerner such as myself. I ate greasy, unhealthy food, and decided to stop being vegetarian due to the lack of options, fatigue and a general “fuck it” attitude. And there was loneliness. I’m not a phone person in the best of circumstances, and this being my primary means of communication with my wife put a strain on the marriage.

All the while, I was obsessing over how long the job would last, how to find a full-time job back home, and what the hell I was going to do if I didn’t find one. In retrospect, it would’ve been a great situation if I were younger and single. But edging closer to 30, it was not something I was able to deal with psychologically and emotionally.

The boat captains and crew (usually charter fishermen) that I worked with were understandably not happy. While they were compensated by BP in the short term, there was considerable apprehension as to what the future would hold. What would the oil to do the resources they depend on? Would tourists, their source of income, still come? How long until they get to stop driving in circles in the service of remediation and monitoring of a tragedy they had no part in creating? It made my personal anxiety seem cheap by comparison.

On the other hand, I knew the Gulf was big, but seeing it first-hand was awe-inspiring. Flying around on fishing boats, seeing dolphins leaping and pelicans diving, one could easily forget the catastrophe that led to my being there in the first place. Once I got over being seasick, it was pretty cool.

During my time, I have to say I didn’t see very much oil. That was good for my psyche – witnessing oiled wildlife definitely would’ve haunted me for the rest of my life.

To my knowledge, the NRDA I participated in has not been released, either because it’s not ready or because it’s not intended to be released to the public. Probably the latter. However, the government released their NRDA a little under two years ago.

***

A few weeks back, my wife and I visited her parents in New Orleans. The final day of the trip we went on a tour of the marshes south of Houma, the general area of where my first stint was. It’s pretty crazy that the tour we went on is the only one in the area. Most tours are in the bayous north of the salt marshes. The primary tourist activity in and south of them is charter fishing. Perusing some of the rates, it’s no wonder that none of the boat captains are willing to explore mere sightseeing.

The tour was great, but served as a reminder of the negative effects of offshore drilling. The guide didn’t bring up the oil spill, and I didn’t press the issue – I thought it might be a touchy subject. But she had some choice words for the ample consequences of canal-making and maintenance by the oil industry. The chief concerns are flooding and saltwater intrusion. The wetlands have been crucial in limiting both, but “the local cuts and nicks, one acre at a time” are continuing to wreak devastation.

There are other effects as well, some that we could see. Any time one spends time in nature, they are usually blissfully unaware that things might not be great. There could be invasive species, endangered native species, or unseen pollution. To the untrained or uneducated eye, it’s hard to know.

In the salt marshes, as the tour guide helpfully pointed out, the deciduous vegetation lining some of the canals is not native to the area. The excavations, dumped onto the adjacent riparian areas, exposed the dredged muck which allowed long dormant but still viable seeds from upstream to germinate. Obviously I wouldn’t have known this if it weren’t pointed out to me, but the tepid autumn colors of the deciduous trees look very out of place in this region and serve as visual evidence that things aren’t right.

***

The relationship between the petroleum industry is, as it is everywhere oil can be found in the US, complicated. To distill the complications to their essence, it provides jobs but wrecks the environment (profound, I know). Those obtaining monetary rewards care only as much as it affects their bottom line (again, very profound).

Louisiana, as opposed to other locales, has a different relationship with the oil industry [2]. Offshore drilling in California, for example, has been met with widespread protest over the last century. Other areas of the country with shorelines that can be used for amenities (or picturesque enough for private ownership by the obscenely wealthy) are less likely to view offshore drilling as desirable. But in Louisiana, this hasn’t been the case for several reasons:

  • Louisiana’s southern coast contains the most extensive coastal marshlands in the US. Most Louisianans live miles from the coast, and much of it is only accessible by boat. Many have never even seen it.
  • Louisiana has historically been an area of the country where extractive industries reign supreme. In the middle part of the last century when offshore drilling was ramping up, locals were more likely to see it as just another type of industry they were already familiar with – after all, nature is a gift from God to do with as we please.
  • The ubiquity of the oil industry has ensured that just about every family contains one or more members that are employed directly or tangentially. It is a vital component of their local economy.

What brought on the spill, simplistically speaking, was pure hubris. Safety measures were ignored. Federal oversight was lax. The lack of recent catastrophes encouraged personnel to rest on their laurels, exacerbated by the fact that doing so saves money in the short term. Astoundingly, the means of dealing with the spill when it occurred were virtually the same as those used decades ago:

  • Capturing oil via containment booms. They are every bit as pathetic as they look. I recall seeing many a ship drive around aimlessly with their boom up and wondering how the hell they would be of any use.

https://www.csmonitor.com/USA/2010/0611/Containment-boom-effort-comes-up-short-in-BP-oil-spill

BP had the foolish belief that nothing bad will ever happen, and they’re certainly not the only oil company who has this point of view. It is endemic to extractive, environmentally destructive entities. Problems can be dealt with when they happen. Hopefully the state of remediation is better now than it was then – especially with Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge edging closer to being opened for drilling.

***

Obviously the oil spill was bad in the short term. But 7-8 years on, how are things? The most recent comprehensive paper I could find was from last year. From it’s abstract:

Research demonstrates that oiling caused a wide range of biological effects, although worst-case impact scenarios did not materialize. Biomarkers in individual organisms were more informative about oiling stress than population and community indices. Salt marshes and seabird populations were hard hit, but were also quite resilient to oiling effects. Monitoring demonstrated little contamination of seafood. Certain impacts are still understudied, such as effects on seagrass communities. Concerns of long-term impacts remain for large fish species, deep-sea corals, sea turtles and cetaceans. These species and their habitats should continue to receive attention (monitoring and research) for years to come.

So the best that can be said is the worst case scenario was avoided. Hooray! That’s good PR for BP – they should use it in their marketing. And so we march on, racing inexorably towards exhausting a nonrenewable resource that, while making lives easier and more convenient for some, is wrecking our planet in so many different ways. On a lighter note, consider seeing the salt marshes of Louisiana. You won’t be disappointed.


[1] The casual, open racism was quite a shock compared to the thinly-veiled Midwestern variety I’m used to.

[2] The following information in the section comes from Blowout in the Gulf: The BP Oil Spill Disaster and the Future of Energy in America by William R. Freudenburg and Robert Gramling. It came out within a year of the spill and the title is extremely misleading. The “future of energy” takes up around 10 pages, with the bulk of the book providing the historical and sociological contexts that led to and even predicted a spill like this to occur. It was a worthwhile read, though it contained numerous grammatical errors – pretty obvious is the fact they were in a rush to publish. Nevertheless, I would’ve thought MIT Press wouldn’t be so lax in their editing.

This is the best Jesus

Behold:

“And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe cat wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying chilling in a manger like he owns the place.”

Maybe had I learned about this Jesus in my formative years I would’ve stuck around longer.

h/t: The Dodo

 

This seems like a big deal

The folks at Big Science are again putting humanity on blast. Twenty-five years ago, they issued a dire warning, one that hasn’t resulted in sustained, meaningful results:

Twenty-five years ago, the Union of Concerned Scientists and more than 1700 independent scientists, including the majority of living Nobel laureates in the sciences, penned the 1992 “World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity” (see supplemental file S1). These concerned professionals called on humankind to curtail environmental destruction and cautioned that “a great change in our stewardship of the Earth and the life on it is required, if vast human misery is to be avoided.”

On the twenty-fifth anniversary of their call, we look back at their warning and evaluate the human response by exploring available time-series data. Since 1992, with the exception of stabilizing the stratospheric ozone layer, humanity has failed to make sufficient progress in generally solving these foreseen environmental challenges, and alarmingly, most of them are getting far worse.

Is it too much to ask our beloved leaders to respond to this in a meaningful way? Let’s say the media actually does this. In this dream scenario, they could really hold their feet to the fire – be tenacious, refuse to accept non-answers, point out conflicts of interest, refute illogic, etc. It seems pretty important:

To prevent widespread misery and catastrophic biodiversity loss, humanity must practice a more environmentally sustainable alternative to business as usual. This prescription was well articulated by the world’s leading scientists 25 years ago, but in most respects, we have not heeded their warning. Soon it will be too late to shift course away from our failing trajectory, and time is running out. We must recognize, in our day-to-day lives and in our governing institutions, that Earth with all its life is our only home.

None of this should be news to readers of this site. But the paper appears to be exceptionally noteworthy:

We have been overwhelmed with the support for our article and thank the more than 15,000 signatories from all ends of the Earth (see supplemental file S2 for list of signatories). As far as we know, this is the most scientists to ever co-sign and formally support a published journal article.

Worth pondering is what to do when legal means of halting our death march continue to fail. Sure there are small victories here and there – for example, the article notes the decline in the manufacturing of ozone depleting substances. But the overall narrative of impending doom hasn’t changed. Collectively, we’re not listening. Or, put another way, those who are okay with destroying the biosphere, and those who profit off it directly and indirectly, haven’t listened. There doesn’t seem to be many good reasons to think they’ll start now.

Solutions to the sexual violence epidemic

Before I begin, this post is about sexual violence, as the title implies.

Even if the current paradigm is shifting towards believing victims of sexual violence, which may or may not be true, it doesn’t alter the fact that justice for victims is rare. When I learned that Harvey Weinstein (whom I’d never even heard of prior to a few weeks ago) was being investigated by the NYPD I was stunned. I didn’t even consider that there would be legal ramifications, and obviously there still may not be. Though disgusted, I was satisfied that he is probably miserable due to losing his career and prestige. It’s not nearly enough but at least it’s something.

Some time back, Aeon had two thought-provoking articles on actually solving this persistent, endemic problem: one describes boosting conviction rates via better funding and systemic tinkering, the other pushes for radical legal changes.

Sandra Newman suggests that men may chose not to rape if they have reason to expect consequences. Currently, to say nothing of the last few millennia, there aren’t sufficient reasons to expect meaningful consequences. Sure accusations may accrue and cause discomfort or annoyance, maybe even prompting acquaintances to look askance at alleged perpetrators, but the minuscule chance of legal punishment is a huge reason victims don’t come forward:

[T]he overwhelming majority of the men assumed that they would never be punished. As one rapist said: ‘I knew I was doing wrong. But I also knew most women don’t report rape, and I didn’t think she would either.’ As Scully put it, her subjects saw rape as ‘a rewarding, low-risk act’.

It’s worth pausing here to underscore just what this implies. For a man to commit sexual assault, he must be a relatively, but not strikingly, antisocial person – enough that he isn’t too constrained by empathy for his victims. These seem like preconditions for any crime that has a victim; and indeed, the measured character traits of convicted rapists are identical to those of muggers and burglars. But a man who is capable of rape generally commits the crime only if he believes it will be excused by his peers, and that punishment can be evaded. There seem to be a remarkable number of men who meet these criteria; most of the college-age rapists studied were not only unafraid of punishment, but blissfully unaware that what they did was criminal. Looking at this general picture, Scully concluded that most rapes are the result of a ‘rape culture’ that tells men that, in many situations, raping women is not only normal behaviour, but completely safe.

This is an excellent explanation of what I think most would regard as intuitive (and, to me, is the most important part of the article). Thus, while victims may not explicate it in this manner, they are abundantly aware that consequences are rare. The posited solution is, as mentioned above, increasing conviction rates:

We can give police and prosecutors more funding for sexual-assault investigations, which are still woefully likely to be dropped in the early stages. We can monitor their efforts to ensure they follow best practices. We can fund the testing of forensic evidence, which is currently subject to long backlogs, and often simply lost or abandoned. Most of all, we can make it easier for victims to approach police; of all violent crimes, rape is the least likely to be reported. What we must not do is pretend it’s a different, easier problem, or act as if the solution for rape is a profound and unfathomable mystery.

Perhaps this is nothing earth-shattering to FtB readers, but the lack of meaningful consequences is crucial to understanding the magnitude of what we face as a society. The conclusion is okay, but I don’t think it goes far enough. This leads to the second article, by Christopher Wareham and James Vos. They argue persuasively that sexual violence accusations should not be subject to reasonable doubt as the standard of evidence.

While certain segments of the population (i.e. shitty men) are likely to empathize more with the accused, they tend to neglect the manifold ramifications of false acquittal. The authors make an elegant argument comparing the relative harm suffered by the different parties and why reasonable doubt is worthy of being reexamined within the context of sexual violence:

In considering whether or not a standard of proof is justified, we should consider not just the harm done to the one man wrongly convicted, but also the harm done by the 10 men wrongly released. This means that the justification for a standard of proof should also consider the accrued harms of false acquittal to the initial victim, to future victims of those criminals and to society.

In the case of sexual assault, these harms are extraordinarily severe. The victim suffers horrendously through the trial and is often badgered into reliving disturbing details of the incident. When the false acquittal is reached, all this is for nothing. Worse than this, she is falsely branded a liar, with all the psychological trauma this entails.

The harms of false acquittal to future victims and their loved ones amplify and extend this harm. Indeed it has been suggested that the trauma of sexual assault is greater than that experienced by war veterans.

Moreover, sexual offenders are likely to offend multiple times. In one study, rapists self-reported an average of 10 violent crimes, even before their ‘careers’ had ended. Consequently, to paraphrase Blackstone’s ratio with reference to sexual violence would mean saying it’s better to have the harm of 100 sexual assaults than the harm of one false conviction – a conclusion that is untenable.

The solution, they conclude, is the following:

As it stands, the legal system is weighted unfairly in favour of perpetrators of sexual assault. In addition to sending out a powerful expression of intolerance for gender violence, a lower standard of proof can decrease these harms by reducing the likelihood of false acquittal. Reasonable doubt is inappropriate, but what standard would do better?

Of the standards commonly employed in law, only the ‘preponderance of the evidence’ standard has been used on a consistent basis to decide cases of sexual violence, albeit in civil trials. Indeed, given the high probability of false acquittal, civil trials have increasingly become a first port of call for female victims of sexual violence in the US. Rather than calling for the absence of doubt, this standard judges a case on what the evidence leads one to believe most strongly. If a woman’s testimony provides a stronger reason to believe that she did not give consent, this should be enough.

In addition to increasing the likelihood of conviction, this could halt the accusation of greed levied against victims of sexual violence opting for civil court. Such apparent greed for monetary compensation is supposed evidence that the victim isn’t behaving in an appropriate manner. The stigma associated is a powerful one and ammunition for those already predisposed to not believing accusers. The idea is prevalent enough that one or more of these assholes who think this way are likely to end up on a jury. Any deviation from the Platonic ideal of a rape victim [1] and they morph into vindictive liars. Most defense attorneys are more than adept at discrediting plaintiffs along these lines. As a recent Cracked post states “justice is vague, while the promise of more pain is concrete.”

So are we (by we I mean America) close to implementing something similar to what the authors suggest? The articles are almost a year old and surely the ideas aren’t new. I’d also add that the solutions aren’t mutually exclusive.

It’s hard to what extent police departments are attempting to maximize the likelihood that an accuser will receive justice. Progress is both hard to determine and hard to quantify. If the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network’s (RAINN) findings are any indication, we have a long, long way to go. Research may be able to discern which institutional changes correlate to more convictions and how replicable it is spatially, but obtaining actual justice will continue to be an uphill battle in the short term.

As for overhauling the legal system to make sexual violence allegations subject to “preponderance of the evidence” standards, googling doesn’t really yield any evidence that this kind of transformation is on the horizon. And, unfortunately, the authors do not discuss mechanisms that could produce such a radical shift in our code of law.

The articles discuss the aftermath of sexual violence, both in terms of what does and doesn’t happen to the perpetrator, and how those consequences will effect potential perpetrators in the future. Of course, none of this precludes the idea that men shouldn’t rape, regardless of whether or not there are consequences. From a young age, they need to be taught about consent and how they can play a role in ending rape culture. It’s deeply shitty, though, that large amounts of people, many of them in positions of power, do not even think it’s a problem that needs solving.


[1] “It is well established in feminist legal critique that female complainants are discredited if they fail to conform to an archaic stereotype of the genuine or ‘real’ rape victim. This victim is not only morally and sexually virtuous she is also cautious, unprovocative, and consistent. Defence tactics for discrediting rape testimony involve exposing the complainant’s alleged failure to comply with the sexual and behavioural standards of the normative victim.”

What are you reading?

Hey you, what are you reading?

Currently I’m reading The Silk Roads: A New History of the World, by Peter Frankopan. It’s one of those “big picture” history books that were in vogue so very long ago. As such, it’s pretty messy, jumping all over the globe and moving back and forth through time within and between chapters. The broad theme is one of long distance trade and shifting centers of economic power, but at times it’s hard to discern any sort of consistent narrative. At times fascinating, at times boring. I’m halfway through and running out of steam.

The last two books I read are:

  • The Creation of Feminist Consciousness: From the Middle Ages to Eighteen-seventy, by Gerda Lerner. Did you know that many libraries hold book sales? And not only that, some of those book sales fall on a day where you can fill a huge bag with books for $5? It’s pretty amazing, and might be the most informative thing I’ll ever write on here. Anyways, I found this book at one of those sales. It’s the second part of Lerner’s Women and History series (the first being The Creation of Patriarchy). Particularly striking and sad was learning about individual women rising above the suffocating patriarchy of their time, but not having the means to build on feminist thought that came before them. Before the modern era, such thinkers were so isolated through space and time that the same ideas recurred over and over. It’s fucked up that books like this aren’t mandatory reading. It’s one thing to have a broad idea that women have been subject to oppression historically, and another to, you know, actually try to learn about it.
  • The Animals’ Agenda: Freedom, Compassion, and Coexistence in the Human Age, by Marc Bekoff and Jessica Pierce. The authors meticulously excoriate the science of animal welfare and its inherent ethical issues. They utilize a wealth of research to back their claims. There are a few things I take issue with. For example, their section on zoos should have included an outline of zoos in history, as well as where the animals come from and how they are accumulated. The section on hunting also should have had a discussion on the different cultural contexts in which people hunt. But overall it’s great, and its science-driven approach might be persuasive to those not typically inclined to regard nonhuman animals that aren’t cats or dogs with empathy.

So what about you? What are you reading? What have you recently read?