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?

I’m more comfortable being openly atheist than openly against the US military

I’ve never been shy about being an atheist. It’s not something I bring up among coworkers or acquaintances. But, if asked, I’m very comfortable talking about it. People close to me know and are respectful. There are other things I believe, however, that I don’t really like talking about.

Four American soldiers were killed in Niger, a country most Americans never heard of and even fewer could point out on a map. Many probably weren’t aware we were there in the first place, but it shouldn’t be too surprising. In 2015, the US had more than 800 bases in 70 countries. Somewhat hilariously, the senate has little idea of where and what our benevolent global police force is doing:

“Senator McCain is frustrated, rightly so, we don’t know exactly where we’re at in the world militarily and what we’re doing,” Graham said, adding that with McCain’s system: “We’ll know how many soldiers are there, and if somebody gets killed there, that we won’t find out about it in the paper.”

Dead soldiers rarely warrant more than a few days of media coverage. However, the dumpster president fucking up what should have been a simple condolence call has kept the story in public eye much longer than normal. Not that anyone really cares about what the US is doing in Niger. The media (damn you MSM!) isn’t particularly interested in giving us a nuanced, comprehensive look at the recent and historical geopolitical ramifications of US intervention in the Sahel:

The media’s efforts should have been devoted to exploring — really exploring — why Rangers (and drones) are in Niger at all. (This is typical of the establishment media’s explanation.)

That subject is apparently of little interest to media companies that see themselves merely as cheerleaders for the American Empire. For them, it’s all so simple: a U.S president (even one they despise) has put or left military forces in a foreign country — no justification required; therefore, those forces are serving their country; and that in turn means that if they die, they die as heroes who were protecting our way of life. End of story.

But maybe we should just accept the obvious reason we’re in Niger: to teach them “how to respect human rights.” I, for one, can’t think of a better teacher.

The first paragraph was written to contrast my religious beliefs (or lack thereof) with my feelings about the military. While I’m fine being an open atheist, I go out of my way to not bring up my feelings about the US military, specifically the people that eagerly join. Most people I associate with on a regular basis, very generally-speaking, fall somewhere on the left side of the spectrum, somewhere between Clinton and Sanders. But most would not take kindly to questioning the valor, sacrifice, and altruism of the troops. Critiquing US hegemony is mostly fine, but that’s where it ends. Criticism of the humans who provide the muscle is not socially acceptable. I get why this is. So many people have friends or relatives in the military. It would be pretty shitty telling them that their loved ones shouldn’t have joined. Only a monster would tell someone dealing with the loss of a loved one that the dead soldier “knew what he signed up for,” even if it’s kind of true.

It’s easy to blame the leaders of the American military-industrial complex, but soldiers are a huge part of the problem. They are not a force for good in the world. There is no causal relationship between a person joining the military and my or anyone else’s right to free speech. Dead soldiers are not automatically heroes. Maybe some have unequivocally done heroic things outside of their role in US hegemony, but anything in the service of it is not heroic. Our collective deification of the troops is infantile, and made even more pathetic by how the US government treats them when their service is ended.

I’ve had a few friends serve. I hoped very much that they would be safe and not do anything shitty to the war-ravaged inhabitants of the places we conduct unwinnable wars. But I always kept those feelings to myself. At any rate, I’m glad I have this blog to serve as an outlet for expressing something I’m uncomfortable talking about verbally.

As I wrote above, it’d be pretty fucking rude to give my spiel to anyone that’s been negatively affected by a loved one’s service by death or PTSD. Maybe some of you read this and think I’m an asshole for impugning individual soldiers. That’s fine. I would point out, though, that I support soldiers remaining alive by wishing them to not be in the military.

 

 

 

A confession

Last fall, shortly after starting this blog, I became a theist. It’s a secret I feel I must now reveal.

In 2013, the Milwaukee Bucks selected Giannis Antetokounmpo with the 15th pick of that year’s draft. At the time He was largely unknown. He had only recently took up basketball, while His family scraped to get by as illegal immigrants in Greece. Bucks fans only had grainy video footage from high school-sized gyms to go on. Since then, His meteoric rise has felt simultaneously improbable, though in retrospect inexorable. He’s become a darkhorse MVP candidate at the very young age of 22. It was only last year that casual fans became aware of the latest stage of His metamorphosis – no longer were basketblogger nerds and Bucks fans the only groups to joyously witness His continuing ascension.

I know, I know – you could not care less. But the Cult of Giannis is an evangelizing faith. It is my duty to speak of the Good News:

Someday, someone will take he and his family’s story and make it into a shitty movie. I can’t wait.

I apologize to those inadvertently subjected to an irreverent sports post, with nary a whisper of the problematic social issues roiling beneath the surface (i.e. the refugee/illegal immigrant experience in Europe, another Horatio Alger story as a supposed example of how exemplary the meritocratic West is, etc.)  .

Anyways, let us pray:

On child welfare

Jezebel has been posting stories over the past several weeks from parents of children that have been involved in the child welfare system. They’ve been both interesting and heartbreaking, while providing narratives to situations most are only vaguely aware of. I’ve noticed in the comments that there are disagreements where, generally-speaking, some feel that the stories told do not mitigate what they see as the fact that children are placed in danger. Others highlight the odious effects of state involvement in underprivileged populations. Both sides make valid points.

It’s really important to note that the posts thus far are incredibly one-sided. In none of them are the various child welfare entities going to offer their side of the story even if asked, as that is highly confidential. Neither will you hear from children, though the comments section contains some of their stories and responses.

I’ve been aware of a couple local stories where I’ve personally known about a lot more beneath the surface, where if the public knew they’d probably have a different opinion than solely having read a sensationalized account in the local media. But lacking that confidential context, the public, when they are aware of it, are free to excoriate the system for continuing to fuck up. In instances such as the ones referenced in Jezebel, I can’t help but find myself rhetorically asking “what the fuck? Should we as a society just turn a blind eye and not err on the side of caution if there’s strong evidence of child endangerment?”

On the other hand, I cannot deny that the following is abundantly true:

But recent reporting has captured the opposite reality – that child welfare investigations and removals are a constant, terrifying presence in the lives of poor parents. Citywide, one in five children comes to the attention of the child welfare system. The majority of investigations are concentrated in just eight neighborhoods. Most allegations are not abuse but neglect, often driven by the stressors of poverty, not the character of the parent. And the negative press may have heightened disparate treatment of poor families; in the first quarter of 2017, after the coverage of Zymere Perkins’ death, requests for removals by the agency were up significantly over the same time last year.

I guess what I’m saying is it’s important to consider what’s missing from the stories. Unless you are directly affected, or work in the bowels of the system, it’s hard to get a grasp of the magnitude of what’s faced. But one is able to get a tenuous grasp if they choose to look.

***

Wisconsin, my home state, publishes certain statistics regarding child welfare. Other states do as well, though it varies in terms of what information types are accessible and how it is collected and presented. If Wisconsin’s website is any indication, most aren’t very user user-friendly. But before digging into some of those statistics, I’m going to sketch a brief outline of how a family becomes involved in child welfare.

A person believes an incident or child abuse or neglect has taken place. They call the appropriate hotline in their area. A decision is made to investigate (Screen In), or to file the information away and not investigate (Screen Out). A majority of calls are Screened Out. This usually happens due to a dearth of information. For example, if you see a parent physically abusing a child in a parking lot and call it in and have only that information, it’s likely to be screened out.

Calls that are Screened In are investigated. For this, Social Workers are sent out in a time-frame that is determined by the possible danger the kids are judged to be in. This could happen immediately or over the course of a month. Most investigations will yield a result of unsubstantiated. Typically, this is due to lack of evidence, or the allegations not turning out to rise to the level of actual abuse and neglect. These cases are either closed or kept open while services are given with the children remaining in the home. Though it’s obvious, it should be pointed out that though an allegation may not be substantiated, it doesn’t mean that it didn’t happen. The same goes for uninvestigated Screen Outs.

The state of Wisconsin received 52,100 allegations of child abuse or neglect in the first eight months of 2017. About 35% were Screened In and investigated [1]. The rest were not. Milwaukee County accounted for about 20% of all calls, and were investigated more than the statewide average, around 45% of the time.

In any given month, around 7000-8000 children are in out of home care. Roughly around 400 children enter care, and 300 leave care in the same time span. Children are placed with relatives, family friends, foster homes, or at higher level of care facilities such as group homes, or residential care centers. Efforts are extended, especially when a child enters care, to place with relatives. Very anecdotally, about half of all cases involve relatives willing to help out. Unfortunately, most of these relatives have at least some history of involvement in child welfare in many different contexts. If one of the contexts is a substantiation for abuse or neglect, they will be ruled out as a viable option [2].

I noted above that most allegations are unsubstantiated, but prior to looking into this more in depth, it was an anecdotal opinion based on my work. In short, I’ve read hundreds of reports and most are unsubstantiated. This is borne out by data, though perhaps not as much as I had thought. From 2004-2015 the substantiation rate has been consistently lowering from a high in 2004 of 20.3% to 12.0% in 2015. Reasons are not given or hypothesized for the drop and it can’t be said that it is due to a lowering in the amount of CPS reports (the combination of Screen Ins and Screen Outs).

The year 2015 was the most recent year I found a complete report for, and the following data is culled from it. For that year, a majority of the CPS reports were for neglect (similar to NYC, as described in the Jezebel post), as can be seen below:

However, neglect allegations weren’t as likely to be substantiated as allegations for sexual abuse. This came as a surprise to me due to preconceived notions, largely due to reading so many horrifying sexual abuse allegations that were unable to be verified for various reasons. Often, this was in the form of a child recanting their prior allegation.

The report also breaks down the victims by race. Unsurprisingly to anyone with a modicum of knowledge about the systemic race-based hurdles placed in front black families, they are disproportionately affected:

I could keep going, as there is a wealth of other information on topics like child fatalities, the breakdown of relations to abusers, caregiver maltreatment, placement outcomes and stability, etc. But I think the above suffices to paint a general picture of what occurs in a standard calendar year. The same graphs and tables in previous annual reports are relatively consistent in terms of trends.

There are no statistics about income level, but anecdotally, just about all families, at least from Milwaukee County and probably the rural parts of the state, are economically disadvantaged. This should not be interpreted as concrete evidence that poorer families are definitively predisposed to child abuse and neglect. It’s more accurate to say that families are, through no fault of their own, stuck in generational cycles of poverty and its associated risk factors, such as substance abuse and depression. The research is pretty clear.

Here I’d like to step back and note how it feels almost inhuman to reduce families and children to data points presented in a bar graph or pie chart. These are actual human beings experiencing many forms of trauma. Every situation is different, though many themes may be similar. The sheer volume may not surprise everyone, but it should. I’m pessimistic as fuck and have long had somewhat of a grasp on child welfare in my state and still I’m pretty shocked – 52,100 allegations over seven months is quite a lot.

***

Social services workers are almost always overworked, underpaid, and very unappreciated. There are no TV shows or movies celebrating what they do. If they’re ever portrayed it’s usually as exhausted and mildly incompetent, with the latter usually being a direct consequence of the former. Compared to other public servants, such as the police, firemen, nurses, and even teachers, they’re largely invisible, little thought of, and certainly not worthy of fetishization by popular culture, as opposed to the aforementioned.

Generally, the only time the general public is aware of anything relating to child welfare is when something horrible happens – a child dying in foster care, or a social worker clearing a family for child abuse or neglect only for one or more children dying. At the same time there is a nagging, and not entirely undeserved perception of child welfare workers breaking apart and ruining families – after all, they are paid representatives of sociopolitical structures that have historically oppressed people unluckily born into bad situations not of their making [3].

Throwing services at people is analogous to putting bandages on gaping wounds. The child welfare system is a reactionary multifaceted entity that does not, and indeed cannot address and rectify the deep underlying issues relating to institutionalized racism and income inequality. Until these issues are meaningfully addressed, we should expect little to change. The best we as a society can hope for is the ongoing refinement of what works, and the ceasing of what doesn’t.

At its root, the goal of child welfare is protecting children. While the people who work in this field need to be cognizant of the underlying socioeconomic issues affecting families, it does not change the fact that some children are in need of protection from their parents, no matter how oppressed by the system they may be. The stories referenced in Jezebel are important, and deserving of filtering into the general consciousness. But I feel it paints an incomplete picture (as does this blog post).

I think child welfare is something you should learn about in your area, outside of local media reporting terrible tragedies. Your state probably has statistics to look though. And there are many things you can do to help out. Failing that, at the very least, you can become aware.


[1] I don’t want to get too lost in the weeds, but this doesn’t include reports relating to child welfare in which families request services. Over the same time span there were 17,772 such requests. Most of these, around 80%, are Screened In since it is usually deemed appropriate to investigate whether or not the request is warranted.

[2] They can also be ruled out for certain violence-related felonies, arrest warrants or pending criminal charges. Anecdotally (an overused term in this post) half of all potential caregivers are ruled out.

[3] The two preceding paragraphs are lightly edited from an earlier blog post. A lot is changing “we” to “they” and “we’re” to “they’re,” since I’m no longer directly in the field.

What about the Catalan anarchists?

It doesn’t seem like violent state repression of the Catalan independence referendum is that great an idea. If I were an undecided resident, I can’t fathom desiring to remain a part of Spain after the events of the past weekend.

In an area steeped in the romantic ideals of early 20th century anticapitalist movements, I found myself wondering how contemporary Catalan anarchists perceived the independence movement. It’s certainly not intuitive that they would support the secession from one state and the creation of another. Thankfully Crimethinc has it covered:

Anarchists hadn’t thought about what to do in relation to this movement until the referendum was approaching and the Spanish state began to crack down on civil liberties. Faced with the censorship imposed by the state, a large number of anarchist groups from different parts of Barcelona, who have already been organized in their own neighborhood assemblies and social centers, decided to give support to the local independentista movements.

Within the anarchist movement, there are people who support the referendum itself, and also people who don’t. Independentist people are demanding basic democratic rights and civil liberties, such as the right to vote, and some anarchists believe that anarchists should be out there with them. There are also people involved in the independence movement who we lost track of years ago when the political parties like CUP and Podemos that gained momentum after the 15M movement in 2011 institutionalized the energy from the streets. Now, with the referendum, people are returning to the streets, so we decided it was an important moment for us to be out there too. But this has created a good deal of debate within and between anarchist collectives, because we are definitely not coming from the same place politically as many of the independentistas.

For us, it has been really complicated. For me personally, sure, I hold contradictory positions all the time, like supporting certain reformist campaigns or engaging with single issue movements… but to defend a democratic process towards national dependence… it’s very hard to figure out where I stand. Many of the comrades in our neighborhood are trying to figure it out too.

Many of us went home yesterday very annoyed, because we had a lot of differences with what was happening. About two weeks ago, the anarchist collective here in my neighborhood had a discussion about whether or not to defend the process of national “self-determination.” There were many people close to us, with whom we share a lot of political affinity, who said it was better to struggle against the institutions of a Catalan state because it would be a smaller state. Many people also supported the process in hopes of destabilizing the Spanish state, because at the moment the Spanish state is very weakened. It’s a moment that could tip either way.

Personally, I don’t like either of the options. We can’t lose track of where we stand as anarchists. I think we should be supporting people in the streets, but I truly believe the worst thing that could happen to us would be if a Catalan state gained independence. In the end, it’s just a way to legitimize the social and political exclusions that exist today to believe that we’d have more control over them in a smaller state. But it’s hard for people to see a Catalan state as something other than their own, especially after struggling for years to achieve it.

I too have mixed thoughts. I’m totally all for a group of people leaving their nation-state if they so choose. But is what follows going to be better? Of course, as someone who doesn’t reside in the area, my opinion is completely irrelevant. However, in cases like this, one should always be cognizant of the odious themes of nationalism, and its associated bigotries of xenophobia and racism.

Catalonia, Kurdistan, Rojava, Scotland, Palestine, the Donbass, Transnistria, Nagorno-Karabakh, Abkhazia, Tibet, Xinjiang, Chiapas – these are only a few of many examples of unease within sovereign countries that are decades, if not centuries in the making. Many of these are bound to come to a head sooner than later. Though each situation is contextually different and related to their geopolitical particulars, they are associated thematically with the ongoing death spasms of neoliberalism, and the very real possibility of fracturing nation-states on the horizon. As to what comes next, and whether or not it will be for the better, who can say?

 

No refuge could save the hireling and slave: a post about the sports weekend

The sports world had a pretty eventful weekend. The slate of NFL games was actually good for once, the Knicks finally traded Melo, and Dwyane Wade was bought out freeing him to sign with a contender. Oh, and the president took time off from goading North Korea into nuclear war to castigate uppity black athletes. His racist word salad led to an avalanche of athletes losing their shit on social media.

Imagine that: the white supremacist president telling sport team owners to fire their largely black workforce for daring to impugn the self-evident majesty of the USA [1]. But it backfired, because the usually spineless league management and owners correctly determined which way the wind was blowing. Their public relations team no doubt informed them of the developing shitstorm, and they predictably realized that they would have to issue their own mealy-mouthed condemnations against a president whose candidacy many of them supported. To say they were going after low hanging fruit is an insult to low hanging fruit.

This is yet another example of Trump taking right wing talking points to their logical conclusion: if players not standing for the anthem is unpatriotic, and unpatriotic acts are unconscionably bad, then owners of any entity should be able to fire their employees for their heinous acts. Because fuck the first amendment: it shouldn’t even count for egregious acts like disrespecting America/military/flag/president. Love America or leave it. Maybe even be forced to leave it.

It’s a virtual certainty that Trump is both unwilling and unable to understand the reasons for the protests which go back to Colin Kaepernick last year. He has essentially co-opted the, for lack of a better word, movement and made it all about himself and by extension, racism. No one should forget that the protests began during his predecessor’s reign. Kaepernick’s cause, at its root was confronting systemic racism as manifested in police violence. Obviously Trump is a piece that fits snugly into the larger puzzle of historical and especially contemporary US racism.

***

The anthem protests were dying. The past two years have seen many players do it for a game or two, decide that was sufficient to get the point across, and cease. Sunday was different as players decided en masse to act. A lot went into the optics: should one sit on the bench, kneel, raise a fist, clasp arms with teammates, stay in the locker room, or stretch? And then, how does one explain their rationale to the media afterwards? Grossest of all was scumbag Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones kneeling with his team BEFORE the anthem, and then standing. What a wonderful show of unity in these divided times.

One NFL writer (I forget who unfortunately) stated on Twitter that players told him off the record that team management were ordering players to stand going back to last year. In a league where there are no guaranteed contracts, careers lasting around 3 years, and players being one injury away from unemployment and a lifetime of physical pain, it should surprise no one that so few players indulge in symbolic protest. Especially if the protest can be seen as disrespecting the totemic representations (flag and anthem) of the childish narrative of America being the greatest country in the history of the world [2]. And especially if the league they work for has wrapped itself in a cloak of unrelenting support for the American military industrial complex. If one isn’t good enough, the risks taken can be career-ending, as Kaepernick has learned.

It’s ironic that Trump’s tantrum might be the catalyst for Kaepernick’s return. Despite being unofficially blacklisted from the league, this is a very good time for a quarterback-needy team to sign him. Or not. One dipshit owner used the outpouring of negative fan mail as the reason for not signing him as a backup in the offseason, funny since they had no problems employing a serial domestic abuser. One can only imagine the renewed vitriol owners will receive from their bigoted fan base, egged on by their messiah. At any rate, Kaepernick may remain a sacrificial lamb, but perhaps for not much longer.

***

The events of this past weekend has led to the renewal of infantile arguments over what is and isn’t patriotic: “protesting is patriotic!” kneeling for the anthem is unpatriotic!” Both sides accuse the other of fundamentally misunderstanding their viewpoint. How nice it would be for a player to say, “you know what? How about fuck patriotism, fuck the flag, and fuck the national anthem“[3]. Which is kind of funny in a way, because the bigots screaming at traitorous black athletes assume this is what they’re specifically protesting. And the protesters reiterate that no, that’s not why.

What’s particularly striking is how this is breaking down upon racial lines amongst the players. I only know of one white player, Seth DeValve of the Cleveland Browns, who has kneeled or sat prior to yesterday. This is despite requests for solidarity from white players. One can only imagine if it has more to do with cowardice or misguided, simplistic patriotism. Surely it’s a mixture that varies from player to player [4].

This week, some locked arms with teammates (this isn’t really new) or placed a hand on a shoulder in solidarity. And even after what transpired over the weekend, I don’t believe more than a handful of white players chose not to stand. Annoying but unsurprising.

***

The larger question is how much this shit even matters. It likely won’t change too much. It seems we’ve run up against an impenetrable wall in the fight for true social justice. Solutions need to confront the systemic problems we face and I’m not convinced change will come from within the system, however one wants to define it politically and economically.

In regards to police violence, the catalyst for Kaepernick’s protest, shootings in 2017 are roughly on pace to match the total from 2016 [5]. It should surprise no one that sitting down for the national anthem has failed to solve this enormous problem. Moreover, there were ACTUAL PROTESTS about a cop shooting in St. Louis this past week. I don’t believe I heard one word about it from the direction of the NFL or NBA.

Such is the gravity of Trump that he is able to turn the narrative into a broader response to racism and white supremacy simply by injecting himself into the discussion. That pivot away from police violence may not be the worst thing in the world because actual racists and white supremacists are having a bit of a moment right now.

As noted, when this style of protest occurs on game day it is mostly symbolic. This should not be taken to denigrate the good work athletes such as Kaepernick do off the field. I really do think it’s important to stand up to racist assholes. Especially the one sitting in the White House and his adoring base. I can quibble about it not going far enough, but at this moment we need to keep screaming about racism’s prevalence and resurgence. Athletes likely are feeling a sense of catharsis that accompanies confronting injustice. Hopefully they keep it up, as the hummingbird-like attention span of the president shifts elsewhere.


[1] This is, of course, on the heels of not inviting the Golden State Warriors to the WH, and calling for Jemele Hill to be fired. I sense a pattern here but it’s so hard to put my finger on it.

[2] This is a narrative that the players almost unanimously subscribe to. No one, aside from perhaps Kaepernick, has really questioned American exceptionalism.

[3] “No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave,
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.”

[4] I’m a huge Packer fan and I was pretty bummed Aaron Rodgers stood, especially after a post on Instagram that was interpreted by some as a sign he’d kneel. I’m very biased and believe him to be far more thoughtful than brand-bots like Russell Wilson, good ‘ol boys like Drew Brees, and quasi-literate rapists like Ben Roethlisberger:

I ask him [Rodgers] what he thinks about that battle — the actual subject of Kaepernick’s protest. As always, he pauses to collect his thoughts. “I think the best way I can say this is: I don’t understand what it’s like to be in that situation. What it is to be pulled over, or profiled, or any number of issues that have happened, that Colin was referencing — or any of my teammates have talked to me about.” He adds that he believes it’s an area the country needs to “remedy and improve” and one he’s striving to better understand. “But I know it’s a real thing my black teammates have to deal with.”

All of that said, I’m pretty disappointed he chose to stand and not support three of his teammates that didn’t.

[5] See here and here

The complicity of establishment Republicans in the rescinding of DACA

Trump is ending DACA, as you likely already know.

It is only the latest in a sequence of taking conservative talking points to their logical endgame. Years and years of Mitt Romney and Marco Rubio-types pandering to callous bigots have led to this. And yet, these same assholes are not happy with this. House speaker and weasel-faced fuck Paul Ryan had this to say:

I actually don’t think he should do that [ending DACA]. I believe that this is something that Congress has to fix.

These are kids who know no other country, who were brought here by their parents and don’t know another home. And so I really do believe there that there needs to be a legislative solution.

This is only one of many mealy-mouthed condemnations by cowards, but no need to belabor the point.

I’m reminded of Trump’s early campaign-era stance on abortion. He went from pro-life to advocating “some form of punishment” for women who have abortions. It was walked backed after he was almost universally condemned. He sounded like someone who was grasping for what pro-life rhetoric actually entails: if abortion really does equal murder, then the murderers deserve punishment. I’m surprised establishment Republicans aren’t willing to go that far. Oh to be a fly on the wall of the meeting the day after the comments. I can hear his execrable voice in my head: “I thought this is what you people fucking wanted?!?!?

And here we are with the rollback of DACA. After years and years of his party inflaming xenophobic sentiment, the new administration is enacting some of its more cruel directives. It makes sense: if children are in America illegally, they should be made to leave. Fuck compassion. Compassion is for the downtrodden, white, working class.

As noted above, establishment Republicans are perplexingly aghast and I don’t really understand why – except from the standpoint that they hope to project a timid empathy to their slightly less shitty constituents that have the merest semblance of a heart.

Again, this is only the latest realization of one part of the right’s garbage ideology. Can’t wait to see what’s next.

At any rate, fuck them forever.

[ETA, right before posting I noticed Ryan has already changed his mind and congratulated Trump for courageously beginning the process of kicking vulnerable children out of the country:

Congress writes laws, not the president, and ending this program fulfills a promise that President Trump made to restore the proper role of the executive and legislative branches.

The fact we’re from the same state makes me sick]

Cool new study suggests the poor have shittier brains

The Life You Can Save’s [1] Facebook page recently shared an article that asks the question: does poverty show up in children’s brains? Because who among us haven’t been aware of the plight of the less fortunate and wondered if, in addition to being less fortunate, or also mentally inferior?

From the article:

Children from households below the federal poverty line ($24,250 for a family of four in 2015) had 8 to 10% less grey matter in these critical regions [frontal lobe, temporal lobe and hippocampus]. And even kids whose families were slightly better off – incomes of one-and-a-half times the federal poverty level – had 3 to 4% less grey matter than the developmental norm. In Pollak’s study, many of the poor parents were highly educated, indicating the “maturational lags” their children suffered from were a direct result of the circumstances of poverty.

The policy implications are immense. If the data holds, simply moving a family’s income out of poverty might be enough to get that child much closer to cognitive developmental norms [IT’S SO SIMPLE!]. And while we don’t yet know whether, or how much, these brain disparities persist into adulthood, this research – combined with past work demonstrating that people raised in poverty end up doing worse financially and suffering greater health problems than their more-affluent contemporaries over the course of their lifetimes – suggests they probably have lifelong effects.

These studies indicate it isn’t one specific factor that’s solely responsible for diminishing brain growth and intellectual potential, but rather the larger environment of poverty.

You did it, oh benevolent scientists! I think we now can definitively state that poverty is bad! Pop the fucking champagne! [2]

There is an ocean of research and literature pertaining to the causes and effects of poverty. To my knowledge, I don’t think any studies have been done to discover just how much money and resources have been put into this. What a fucking myopic waste of time, all to satisfy the curiosity of certain sections of academia. In regards to the above referenced research, what do they even tell they’re subjects? “Sorry, you’re brain kinda sucks. Good luck with that – try to get more money before you have kids.”

Maybe all of these researchers think their work will be the catalyst for the large-scale changes needed to actually confront the massive problems related to income inequality. And that’s a noble pursuit, snark aside. Perhaps I shouldn’t be so rude and dismissive of their career choices – after all, we’re all just wasting time until we die 🙂

***

Matthew Desmond studied my home city, Milwaukee, in his critically acclaimed book about the crushing repercussions of eviction. I found it profound and heartbreaking. It shone a light on a relatively unknown aspect of poverty.

Upon further reflection, asking the question if eviction can have astoundingly negative consequences for the evictees should be answered “yes, no shit.” Research like this filters out into the general populace, and the well-to-do can sadly nod at yet another previously unseen side of the mountain of bullshit that the less fortunate are forced to ascend if they want any semblance of comfort and stability in their lives.

During last summer’s unrest in Milwaukee, I recall seeing a video of a young man angrily lamenting those who come into his neighborhood looking to study them, like animals in a zoo. He asks the very relevant question of “what good does that do for us? They come here, leave, and nothing changes” [3]. It’s a salient point.

Which study will be the one to actually incite meaningful action?

***

The elite, and their sycophants (simultaneously worshiping and jealously coveting the status of their societal betters) have always scorned the less well off. History is replete with uncountable anecdotes, from Mesopotamian city-states to the contemporary West. I don’t think it necessary to belabor the point with endless examples

Evidence of superiority is eagerly sought out, though it’s hard to see why it’s even necessary. To pick one, easy, example, white Europeans were obviously superior to their colonial subjects. However, that self-evident knowledge was insufficient and reasons why needed to be sought out. Superior religion and intelligence proved to be the best justifications, enabling them to revel in their paternalistic mastery over their new domains.

Unfortunately, science has also been a useful tool for the dominant classes to use as a quasi-intellectual cudgel (surely this has been adequately covered on FtB). Recently, a Google employee’s anti-diversity screed went viral. I highly recommend not reading it and won’t even attempt to summarize it. As Rae Paoletta at Gizmodo points out, this is merely another example of the usage of science to reify the status of a dominant class (in this case, men):

Of course, using “science” to justify male superiority is much older than anything espoused by evolutionary psychologists. The idea that women are less psychologically stable—or more, bluntly, “hysterical”—has been around at least since Hippocrates wrote about it in the 5th century BCE. As Freud and his contemporaries later posited, women’s biology explained their “inherent” insanity. Or, as this particular Google employee called it, their neuroticism.

Through this lens, it’s not hard to see research about brain-inferiority being used by terrible people.

***

But maybe this is the research that will lead to change on a large-scale. I can see it now: Senator Bleeding Heart, Democrat from the Northeast/Northwest, introduces legislation (already passed by the House) citing it. Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan both shed tears in shame for the evil they’ve done. Party lines are dissolved as the legislation is passed in a remarkable show of bipartisan solidarity. The 1% is to be heavily taxed and that money is transferred to the poor. A rider halves the military budget, freeing up even more money. A chastened, somber President Trump recognizes the gravity of the moment and the thick layers of bile that constitute his fetid interior disintegrates. He signs the bill. Truly, America is finally starting on the road to Becoming Great Again.  (Please excuse both my childlike understanding of how a bill becomes a law and simplistic methods to confront mass poverty).

More seriously, this is manna for the Sam Harris’s of the world. Just think: if poor Americans have less gray matter, just imagine how much less Muslim refugees have. Especially if they spend their formative years in camps. Harris can continue to laud himself for the courage he has to stand up to the regressive left using this evidence for his loathsome beliefs. So brave, always speaking truth to the vast power of the cowardly PC elites.

Let’s be honest, we are nowhere near ready to willing as a society to confront the systemic natures of the problem of inequality. This isn’t to say that all research into the causes of poverty is without utility. If it leads to increased donations to worthy organizations then that’s good. But it was truly disheartening to see TLYC, as well as one of their featured charities, GiveDirectly, sharing this. All in all, performing research to investigate brain differences serves to further stigmatize the less fortunate. It does not help.


[1]  TLYCS studies which charities do the best, most effective work. I wrote about it here

[2] I’ll leave scrutinizing the actual research to those more knowledgeable than I about the brain sciences

[3] Unfortunately I haven’t been able to locate this video