Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Fundamentally Different

"Promising equal treatment to some is fundamentally different from promising equal treatment for all," Moreno said. "Promising treatment that is almost equal is fundamentally different from ensuring truly equal treatment."

Far and away the best commentary I've seen on this has been from rm. Excerpt:

The entire situation, that this is even something we're debating as a nation, is so completely irrational, I kinda can't deal with it. It is only rational if the debate is framed thusly: "are gay people human?" and until people who are anti-equal marriage are willing to make the assertion that gay people are not, in fact, human and as such should not be allowed to enter into any legal contract or business relationship, I have even less than zero patience for their arguments.

Say what you mean and mean what you say. Even if I find your personal "deeply held beliefs" bigoted and offensive, I'm peripherally willing to acknowledge you as a thinking person if you at least have the nerve and the intellect to stand by what you really mean.
Exactly. Exactly that.

Monday, May 25, 2009


A friend of mine pointed out a website about Vedanta over our listserv, and while I was going to reply to the list itself... it occurred to me that the reply was far more about what I'm comfortable with and what I'm not than about any feedback I might have as far as her choices for herself. So since this has basically nothing to do with her, I'm going to post it here instead in a space that can be as much about me as I ruddy well please.

It's interesting, definitely. Looks like they're trying really hard to have all the foreigner-friendly bits of Hinduism without actually including all the distinctively-Indian bits. They've done a decent job of this, but it includes a lot of the same social structuring (even without caste)--mainly the whole notion of karma and reincarnation. While it's certainly appealing to think that we can make good things happen for ourselves by doing good things, and while it's even more appealing to think that any good which happens to us is deserved, and just, and otherwise Totally Rightfully Ours... I'm not sure how comfortable I am with it because of the other implications.

Obviously, I don't have to be comfortable with a tradition that isn't mine, and I wanted to state clearly that I'm aware of this. I just think that the notion of karma is more or less entirely there to reinforce inequality. Here's what I mean. On this page: http://www.vedanta.org/wiv/philosophy/karma.html they say:

"Nothing happens to us by the whim of some outside agency: we ourselves are responsible for what life brings us; all of us are reaping the results of our own previous actions in this life or in previous lives."

If all they mean by this is that no divine power is affecting human fates--that only humans are doing this to each other--then I can't really argue. However, if they're arguing that it's a natural law that nothing comes to an INDIVIDUAL person undeserved... then I start to take issue. It means that rich people have all that money because they're better than poor people, that sick people are sick because they lack piety or virtue, and there is no injustice anywhere because justice is cosmically assured.

That's where I'm seeing the cultural trappings here that they haven't gotten rid of. In a cosmology like Hinduism where social inequality is quite explicitly ordained by the gods, they introduced karma to explain why certain people have certain places, and why it's just plain silly to try to be any place other than what you were born into (see Krishna's urgings to Arjuna in the Bhagvad-Gita). You're there because you deserve to be, and so your qualities were arranged in such a way that the place you deserve is the best place for you at the time and everybody stays where they "belong," in their proper place.

So while this is certainly a very cool way to try and universalize Hinduism, I thought their claims to making it effectively no longer an Indian thing are sort of disingenuous--except to the extent that privileged people in all cultures like to believe their privilege is some kind of manifestation of divine justice. Of course, the alternative is to take karma as a very good and very personal reason to take an interest in the fates of others (since alleviating even their justly-earned suffering is still a pretty swell thing to try and do). But any time a religion says, "Everybody is, on some level, exactly where and what they deserve to be to the exact extent that they deserve," is going to throw up red flags for me.

But then, I guess that's why I don't identify as Hindu or Vedanta or really anything close. It just doesn't mesh with what I believe is true about the human experience, so it doesn't fit with me personally. If this makes more sense for my friend than it does for me, I'm glad she found it. I'm just uncertain about their claims that this isn't Indian Hinduism anymore... because to a dalit it would probably sure as hell still look like it.

Holy shit. That was long.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Fight or Flight

Odd dilemma. I'm trying to convince some guy on a forum that it's not cool to blame POC when they get--disproportionately, to a white person--angry about being marginalized. Saying, "I would have more sympathy if the guy weren't so angry/hostile/etc." has never really done wonders for civilized discourse.

My problem is that I want to vent about this, and the most socially-conscious people I know (the people who will intuitively know what I'm getting at without me having to explain all over again why victim-blaming is shitty) are POC. And, quite frankly, I don't want them to feel like they have to deal with this guy. A couple of them stepped in on their own to say, "wtf no," but the last thing I want them to feel I'm doing to them is saying "HEY COME HELP ME FIGHT RACISM! *bounce bounce* =D IT'LL BE FUN AND THEN YOU CAN GIVE ME A COOKIE AND I'LL BE ONE OF THE GOOD WHITE PEOPLE." This is a stupid thing to do.

So I'm ranting here. What the fuck, humanity. The fact that it still needs to be explained that, "No, you shouldn't punish a child of color for punching a kid who threw racist insults at him and who hit him first," in any social setting at all... it's just sad. When a relatively-privileged white girl can look at what you're saying and tell you, "Please stop placing further barriers to POC defending the legitimacy of their personhood," then you know it's glaringly obvious.

I'm not an expert at this shit. Quite frankly, as a white person, I think the best that I can do is say that the experience of being that marginalized is so huge and so comprehensively awful that I'm just not gonna get it. And as a result, the fact that I or this other guy or whoever else wouldn't have been upset enough to give a violent racist who attacked him a bloody nose? Doesn't mean shit. We don't know enough to be upset to a realistic degree. The best we can do is know we don't know, and try to have a little fucking empathy if we can.

Again. If a white person is calling you out on the implications of what you're saying, you've probably already gone so far over the line that people who've experienced real discrimination noticed loooong ago, and long ago wrote you off entirely as beyond redemption--at least redemption by them.

I don't want a cookie. Not wanting victims to be shit on for defending themselves doesn't make me awesome. It means I have half a damn conscience. I want people to stop failing so hard that it takes a member of the privileged race to tell them they're out of line. But that's not going to happen. So now I want a nap and a vacation from other people.

What pisses me off most, I think, is knowing that I can walk away from this whenever I want because I'm white. I can choose not to engage in this, and whether I'll even pay attention to it is completely optional. So I don't feel like I deserve to walk away just because I'm tired of it and getting angrier than I want to be right now. What gives me the right?

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Reconstruction and Appropriation

Dear Pagan Reconstructionists:

Unless you belong to an isolated enclave of (Norse/Celtic/Hellenic/Roman/Sumerian/etc.)-practicing people who have been sufficiently isolated from the rest of the world that we have not yet found them, the culture you are reconstructing still does not belong to you. You're just grabbing bits and pieces of it that make your life just exotic enough without actually making it unfamiliar or foreign.

This is okay. Eclectic Pagans deal with this problem all the time. "I find this a helpful metaphor," or "this ritual was very powerful for me," but they don't make the mistake of saying, "I am following in the Footsteps of the Ancients and my religion is Their Religion" the same way that recons do.

And they do make it. Discussions between eclectics and recons are notorious for the same kind of endlessly-repeated vitriol that we've come to expect from discussions of Mac vs. PC.

Eclectic: So, I was wondering what kind of altar I should put together for Baal. Opinions?

Recon: You don't deserve to worship Baal. I have a personal connection with him that entitles me to an ownership of his traditions, and you are bastardizing our god.

Eclectic: I didn't realize he was your god.

Recon: Well. I mean, he's Canaanite storm god. But I'm a reconstructionist, and I take their traditions very seriously! That means they're mine!

Eclectic: Except that you're just picking and choosing, too. Unless you have a great big child-incinerating oven in your basement to show that your dedication to him surpasses all other loyalties. Or I guess you could also offer yourself as a prostitute for religious reasons. I assume you've got all that covered?


Christian: You're all wrong, but don't worry about that now. You'll find out someday when my God throws you in a lake of fire.

Eclectic and Recon: SHUT UP!

You see what I did there? PC, Mac, PC, Mac, Linux, RAAAAAAAGE.

Seriously. We have a term for this. It's called "cultural appropriation." It's what we call the practice of pulling a cultural artifact out of its cultural context and deciding it's yours now. Pagans who treat Kali like she's just the Wiccan Crone with a dot on her forehead? They're appropriating her from her native context, either out of ignorance where that context is concerned, or out of disinterest in it altogether. Pagans who treat Artemis like just another face of the Virgin are appropriating her from her "home culture."

The difference is, they don't call that "reconstruction," because they're not rebuilding anything. They're building something new, and they're comfortable with that.

So recons, please. Stop using the phrase "bastardizing our god" at the drop of a hat. I get sick of reading it, because odds are that your claim to that deity is no better than anyone else's who is also not a part of the cultural context from which the deity came.

Best regards, and let's hope we don't have to go over this again.


Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Troy Anthony Davis

I wanted to talk to some of you about Troy Anthony Davis. Today is Troy's Global Day of Action through Amnesty International, and in that spirit I wanted to tell you a bit about what's going on. I wanted to tell you how you can do very small and easy things that could save a man's life, just like it has been saved before by people doing exactly what many of you are about to do.

Many of you received an email, saw a blog post, or read a thread on a forum from me about the then-pending ban on capital punishment in New Mexico. A lot of you helped out, and sent a strong message to New Mexico's Governor. And we made it happen. I need you again. Troy needs you.

Many of you may feel that there is no excuse or appropriate situation in which the state should have the power to kill its citizens. That's fine. I am not one of you. I am one of those people who believes that there are some crimes for which death may be an acceptable response from the justice system. However, people have to have actually committed a crime. I mean, ideally, right?

Among many wrongful convictions is included Troy Anthony Davis. There is no physical evidence against him. The case is based entirely on eyewitness testimony, but seven of the nine witnesses recanted or contradicted their testimony. Some of those who've recanted stated that they originally testified under police coercion, and one of the two people who hasn't... is the prime alternative suspect (and whom nine people have already implicated in signed affidavits).

So Troy Davis is set to be executed because the alternative suspect and one other person are pointing the finger at him. That's it. Seriously.

Multiple times his date of execution has been called off. Georgia has decided--more than once--that there is insufficient evidence to execute Troy, and yet… this isn't sufficient evidence for them to grant him a new trial. Thanks, Georgia. His request for a new trial (that’s right, his appeal for an appeal) has been refused and an execution date is going to be set (again).

For more information about his case, check out the info Amnesty International has pulled together: http://www.amnestyusa.org/uploads/file/TroyDavisfactsandtimeline_2(1).pdf

I got involved in Troy's fight because a friend of mine who worked with me for the House of Representatives at the State House knows Troy personally, and has personally combed through the documentation of his legal battles. It was talking with her that got me interested.

When word came that his life was in danger (again), a lot of people got ready for another round of fighting. I didn't think I'd be involved until I read the letter that Troy sent my friend, dated March 10, 2009:

Hello Ashley,

Thank you so much for your lovely letter. It was nice to hear from you. I pray that you, family and friends are all doing well despite the stress from the Economy.

Personally, I'm holding up okay. They have another execution tonight for Bob Newland. The Parole Board refused to hear his case.

How did your finals turn out? I'm sure you did well. Are you still having bad dreams about being in my situation?

Maybe you're worried too much about my situation. Read Mark 11:22-24. Positive thinking can increase your faith. Don't dwell on the things you pray for, just give them to God and believe He'll take care of them.

Congratulations of getting a perfect grade doing your paper about my case. Say hi to your classmates and Professors for me.

The biggest problem with my case is the Anti-Terrorism/Death Penalty law prevents my new evidence from being heard. I htink the Judges know I'm innocent but decided to hide behind the law instead of helping correct this injustice.

As long as people are willing to stand up and fight, changes will be made to right every wrong. You'll be one of those people who force a change and soon. Keep learning, keep praying, keep believing and never stop fighting for True Justice.

I'm proud of you being a Straight A student. Your parents have done a great job and I know they are proud as well.

Don't let the road blocks of this System slow you down. Just push them out of the way. Fighting for what you believe in isn't easy and some of those close to you may disagree. Stand firm Ashley.

Your friend,

Troy D.

Troy may be about to die, and people like you are the ones on his mind. People like you are the ones he believes need encouragement. So here's your encouragement.

Do something.

Here is a link to Amnesty International.

It'll take half a minute to do what they ask you to do. Just sign your name to tell Governor Perdue that people outside his state are watching. Use Amnesty's words, use your own, sign your name, whatever.

But do something. You think this won't work. But it has worked, and for Troy specifically. He is alive right now because people like you know his name, know his case, and care what happens to him.

Do it again. Do it now.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Yay, science!

Fossil Discovery Is Heralded

In what could prove to be a landmark discovery, a leading paleontologist said scientists have dug up the 47 million-year-old fossil of an ancient primate whose features suggest it could be the common ancestor of all later monkeys, apes and humans.

Anthropologists have long believed that humans evolved from ancient ape-like ancestors. Some 50 million years ago, two ape-like groups walked the Earth. One is known as the tarsidae, a precursor of the tarsier, a tiny, large-eyed creature that lives in Asia. Another group is known as the adapidae, a precursor of today's lemurs in Madagascar.

Based on previously limited fossil evidence, one big debate had been whether the tarsidae or adapidae group gave rise to monkeys, apes and humans. The latest discovery bolsters the less common position that our ancient ape-like ancestor was an adapid, the believed precursor of lemurs.

Holy shit awesome.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Stuff I've Been Reading!

Okay! My Firefox window is full of open tabs, and I'm going to drop a bunch of links here so that I can get rid of them. Yay? Yay!


Gay Kentucky Students: "You Can't Pee Here"

Fifteen students protested outside a Frankfort, Ky., high school on Friday after an official allegedly sent a notification to teachers advising them to bar gay students from leaving class to use the restroom.

The reported e-mail was sent by Franklin County High School assistant principal Karen Buzard after two female students were reportedly seen kissing in a bathroom, according to the Kentucky Equality Federation.


Letter from a slave freed in the Civil War, responding to his former master's promise to pay him if he'll return. Read this. Now. Two word summary: "Oh, snap."

Womanism and Feminism: The Difference?
When we look at social justice movements across the western world they all have one thing in common, they are led by whiteness. Despite a claim that said movements are about equality, the racial dynamics are positioned in such a way as to reaffirm our dissonance in worth and value. This purposeful erasure, or more specifically absence of power, is a result of the social belief that whiteness is not only naturally fit to lead but ordained to do so.

How many times have blacks and whites worked together in various organizations only to find that our voices are silenced? We continually make suggestions for activism only to have it denied and then later accepted when it is rephrased by a white member of the organization. The racism in this activity is never acknowledged and the white person is given the credit for the idea. When we make a comment as to how race interacts with an issue, we are again silenced and told that we “are imagining racism”, as though whiteness is any position to decide what is and isn’t racist.

Police Brutality and the National Political Agenda Great analysis on the original page, as always from these guys.
Just how systemic the police harassment and brutality is can be seen in polls and in social science research. For example, one 2001 Gallup poll found 83 percent of black respondents had experienced racial profiling in the last year. In addition, in a 2007 Gallup poll a fifth of the black respondents reported that had suffered discrimination at the hands of police officers, a proportion that has increased in recent years.

Lest some think that we are ignoring lots of white victims of police brutality here, we might note that one social science study back in the 1990s analyzed 130 police-brutality accounts in several cities across the country. In that reviews of cases, criminologist Kim Lersch discovered that the targets of this type of police malpractice are almost always black or Latino. The latter made up 97 percent of the victims of police brutality, while the overwhelming majority (93 percent) of officers involved were white. Police brutality overwhelmingly involves white-on-black or other white-on-minority violence.

Remedying Racism: The Supreme Court and Affirmative Action This is an issue I'm still deeply ambivalent about, but the people whose voices and judgment I've come to trust the most are making some very good arguments, and I'm doing my damndest to give them a fair hearing. Check out this article.
What would the reverse of this centuries-old anti-black discrimination and other oppression look like? The reverse of the institutionalized discrimination by whites against blacks would mean reversing the power and resource inequalities for several hundred years. In the past and today, most organizations in major institutional areas such as housing, education, and employment would be run at the top and middle-levels by a disproportionate number of powerful black managers and officials. These powerful black officials would have aimed much racial discrimination at whites, including many years of slavery and legal segregation. Millions of whites would have suffered—and still suffer—trillions in economic losses such as lower wages, as well as high rates of unemployment and political disenfranchisement, widespread housing segregation, inferior school facilities, and violent lynchings. That societal condition would be something one could reasonably call a condition that significantly “reversed the discrimination” against African Americans.

What is usually termed reverse discrimination is something much different from this fictional anti-white scenario. The usual reference is to affirmative action programs that, for a limited time or in certain places, have used racial screening criteria to overcome a small part of past and present discrimination that targets racially oppressed people.

Anti-Latino Racism: SPLC Report on Discrimination
We might note that the principal discriminators are not named as white in any sentence in the 64-page report. Indeed, the world “whites” never appears in the report, and the only place “white” appears is in a few references to “white supremacist” groups. Even in critical research reports like this there seems to be an etiquette of not offending white dsciminators explicitly, but leaving the elite and ordinary white actors as “implicit” in the commentaries, unless they are part of supremacist groups.


State-by-State Recovery Breakdown. Check the page and hover over your state to see what your area is getting.

California Appeal Court Declares Life Without Parole Sentence Unconstitutional for 14-Year-Old
EJI attorney Bryan Stevenson represents Antonio Nunez and argued his case at the Court of Appeal last October. “We’re very encouraged by the Court’s thoughtful and careful analysis of the issue presented by this case," Stevenson said today. "Young children who commit serious crimes may need punishment but those punishments must be reasonable and thoughtful. Hopelessly condemning 14-year-old children to die in prison is at odds with everything our constitutional norms and values are designed to protect.”

Antonio Nunez spent his childhood in a dangerous South Central Los Angeles neighborhood. Shortly after his 13th birthday, Antonio was riding a bicycle near his home when he was shot multiple times in a drive-by shooting. His brother, who was 14 years old, ran to help Antonio and was shot in the head and killed. Antonio was critically injured and underwent emergency surgery to repair his intestines.

In the wake of his brother's murder, Antonio suffered severe trauma and depression. After he was released from the hospital, Antonio left South Central and spent over six months with family in Nevada before he had to return to Los Angeles.

Within weeks of his return to his home in South Central, 14-year-old Antonio got into a car with two older men who picked him up at a party. One of the men later claimed to be a kidnap victim. When their car was chased by the police and shots were fired, Antonio was arrested and charged with, among other offenses, aggravated kidnapping.

No one was injured during the chase, but Antonio was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment without parole.

Britain's Youngest Female Funeral Director There may be hope for me yet! Also, check out this woman's amazing style. She wins at fashion.
Louise Ryan never wanted to be stuck in any ordinary job - so she figured it was only natural to follow in her father's footsteps and work with the dead.

Miss Ryan, who is already leading funeral processions, has undertaken 12 months of training, and at 20 years old is believed to be Britain's youngest female funeral director.

The teenager admits leading funeral processions and escorting coffins to churchyards is a far cry from her previous two jobs as a hairdresser and call centre worker.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Obligatory Swine Flu Post (Or: Why I don't want to make a big deal of it)

Someone else here must have noticed how it only became something to worry about when there was one American casualty. The 152 Mexicans just didn't seem to have the same impact, but one baby in America and the news goes nuts.

And what good is it to them to go nuts right now, at this particular time? Other than the obvious benefits of sensationalism to news networks, swine flu is being used to stoke the white supremacist anti-immigration crazies, which is my main objection to the hysteria. I was reading about it the other day and the top story on my Google news search starts with the following: "311 Swine Flu Deaths! Close the Mexico Border!"

Because, you see, brown people are filthy and diseased. Contact with them will kill you. Never mind that it was white tourists who brought the disease across the border.

For a further rundown of the highly-racialized discussion on this topic, check my acquaintance's blog over here, where she's made a good compilation of examples.

See also here:

With swine flu now hitting the United States, I figured it was only a matter of time before someone started to blame Mexican people. But this is an impressive turn-around, even for Michael Savage and Neil Boortz. Plus they get the "OMG terrorizm!" aspect in there too:

Neil Boortz claims that Mexico doesn't have a CDC, so from the perspective of someone who wants to commit an act of bioterrorism against U.S. citizens, "What better way to sneak a virus into this country than to give it to Mexicans?"

At least one better way comes immediately to mind.

One would think that if terrorists were going to release a virus with the intent of killing Americans, they would do it on, say, the New York City subway system and not on a Mexican pig farm. But there are no lengths to which these guys won't go in order to convince us that we're constantly on high Terror Alert in the face of threats from any passing brown people.

It's phenomenal how easily these guys can fit anything - including a potential global health pandemic - into a one-size-fits-all racist narrative about Mexicans being dirty and sneaky mules. It's phenomenal that they can get away with it even in a situation like this, where the virus was spread outside of Mexico in large part because of tourists. And it's particularly appalling in its victim-blaming - is it so easy to forget that 150 people have died in Mexico, and thousands more are living in fear?

I'm just trying not to participate in something that is becoming so irrational, y'know? All we can do about this is the same thing we do about any illness, unfortunately. It's just that the consequences are worse if we don't*. That's my critique on the whole thing. If I talk a whole lot on my blog or on my forums about this, I feel like I'm feeding this great nasty racist side of it no matter what I say.

So I haven't been encouraging the alarm for that reason, even though I agree it's troubling that it's going after those with healthy immune systems (with the exception of the infant casualty). With that, I leave you with this important website, relevant to your interests:


*The consequences are also notable when you consider that our government's phobic avoidance of regulating businesses has created a situation in which citizens are being urged to stay home if they're sick to avoid the spread of infection, but cannot afford to do so because employers are not actually required to give employees paid sick time.

If you actually want to do something to help prevent the further spread of diseases like this one--though likely change won't come in time to significantly affect this outbreak--please consider using this tool to send your Congressperson an email supporting the Healthy Families Act, which will allow workers to care for their health and the health of their families without having to choose between forgoing needed pay and spreading deadly diseases.

This sucks, so to the Americans reading: Do something. Something besides hate on brown people, okay?