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?

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.