alexandra_thorn: 2009, taken by Underwatercolor (Default)
It's redwinged-blackbird o'calendar!

It's also the first day of Spring, but I'm sure that's just coincidence.

MLK Day

Jan. 21st, 2014 12:48 pm
alexandra_thorn: 2009, taken by Underwatercolor (Default)
Yesterday, after Arisia was over and the panels were done, I hopped on my bicycle and rode three miles to a gathering to celebrate Dr. Rev. Martin Luther King. The evening started with a reading of King's "Letter from a Birmingham Jail."

As a slow reader and auditory learner, I found this to be a special and powerful opportunity to hear King's words. Lots of power there. Made even more powerful by the fact that the reading was done in a large group, where each person read a paragraph.

One of my favorite passages was a bit dealing with time and change:
'I had also hoped that the white moderate would reject the myth concerning time in relation to the struggle for freedom. I have just received a letter from a white brother in Texas. He writes: "All Christians know that the colored people will receive equal rights eventually, but it is possible that you are in too great a religious hurry. It has taken Christianity almost two thousand years to accomplish what it has. The teachings of Christ take time to come to earth." Such an attitude stems from a tragic misconception of time, from the strangely irrational notion that there is something in the very flow of time that will inevitably cure all ills. Actually, time itself is neutral; it can be used either destructively or constructively. More and more I feel that the people of ill will have used time much more effectively than have the people of good will. We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people. Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of men willing to be co workers with God, and without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation. We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right.'

[Emphasis mine]

So powerful, and so true, for so many things.
alexandra_thorn: 2009, taken by Underwatercolor (Default)
Last night at Magical Traditions: A Review, I posed the question of what is the relationship between real world magic and magic as portrayed in fantasy.

Starwolf had a response ready: "I only wish it were so easy... Swish-a-Flick!"

I think he may have a point, and further pondering leads me to the tentative conclusion that sufficiently poorly-written magic is indistinguishable from technology.
alexandra_thorn: 2009, taken by Underwatercolor (Default)
If you'd like to catch me on any panels at Arisia, here's my schedule:

Friday
5:30PM Magickal Traditions: A Review (moderating)

Saturday
11:30AM Science—Diversity Needed (moderating)

Sunday
5:30PM How to Disagree Better
8:30PM Computers, Internet, and Human Memory

Monday
10:00AM Water in Our Future (moderating)
11:30AM Fear of Science—On the Rise?
2:30PM Are Magic and Vampires Good for Science? (moderating)
alexandra_thorn: 2009, taken by Underwatercolor (Default)
Back in 2010, I was attended a symposium at Tufts University entitled "Morality
and the Mind," a symposium that brought scientists of cognition into the same
room with policy people, in an effort to set up a dialog on what science has to
say about morality. One of the speakers there made a remark that has kind of
stuck with me. He complained of a "creeping dualism" that causes people to say
very strange things such as "my brain made me do it." He noted the obvious
problem with this statement: "There ain't nobody in here but us chickens." He
has a point, and it's a good one. If you take away my brain, there's no "me"
there to talk about, so pretending that I would behave differently if I had a
different brain doesn't make any sense. If I had a different brain, I wouldn't
be me at all.

But lately I've been thinking about things a bit differently. Sure, without my
brain, there'd be no "me, but the entity that I think of as "me" doesn't really
take up my whole brain. In fact, at any given moment, I'm only aware of a tiny
fraction of all of the memories and ideas that are somehow stored inside my
skull. There's also a lot of active processing by my brain that "I" don't
even know about. I can tell that this processing happens because ideas (like
the idea for this essay) just pop into my head out of nowhere. "I" didn't
do any work for these ideas, yet somehow I'm happy enough to take credit.

Similarly, I've got all these skills and abilities that I'm proud of, even
though the only reason I have them at all is the combination of my genetic
makeup, my upbringing, and the time I've put in to practicing these skills
until I don't have to think about them. A lot of people tell me I'm a pretty
good writer, and I always feel a kind of warm glow when I hear that, even
though I don't really know how to compose a sentence any more than I know
exactly which muscles I need to move in order to walk across the room.

When I focus on this perspective, the thing that I think of as "me" shrinks
away into this tiny little entity riding a much larger creature. It's almost
like horseback riding, where I might be able to direct the animal, but
ultimately it has a mind of its own. A rider has some control over the
performance of a particular horse on a particular day, but the rider can't
change how old or healthy the horse is, its genetic heritage, or how it has
been trained in the past. Except that a horseback rider is huge compared to
the tiny little self that I find myself visualizing, and the mind-body that I'm
not currently aware of has an enormous breadth of abilities beyond what a horse
can do. It's really more like riding a magical, flying, firebreathing dragon.

So I'm this tiny little something riding on this incredibly powerful entity,
which I have some ability to direct, but on some level I really can't control.
My emotional state is intimately tied to what my dragon does, but on a certain
level I don't have much control over it. Sometimes my dragon gets excited and
talks in a too-loud voice. I didn't ask it to do that, but it happens, and
when people around me (or perhaps their dragons?) ask me to quiet down, I, as
the rider, feel guilty. If I tell my dragon to bicycle me to the supermarket,
it'll generally do it without complaining, and I, as the rider, take credit for
the physical feat, even though I know that I have the benefit of having a young
dragon with good knees that has already been conditioned to bicycle 20+ miles a
week.

And if I tell my dragon that it was a pretty cute idea it came up with for
analogizing consciousness as a person riding a dragon, and that maybe it'd be
cool to write up as a blog post, I'm more or less at the dragon's mercy as to
whether this thing actually happens, let alone how well written the post ends
up being. In fact, the last time I asked it to do exactly that, it balked
after making a very minimal start and hasn't been willing to make another
effort for over 2 months.

What good is this analogy? There are actually probably a bunch of applications
and probably a fair number of misapplications. One thing I like is that this
framework helps me to be humble. Another is that it helps me to not beat
myself up too much when I find myself unable to do a thing, either from lack
of motivation or because I haven't developed the relevant skill. It also
gives a different framework for thinking about why other people approach
things differently. We each have only limited control over exactly what our
mind-body dragon is like.
alexandra_thorn: 2009, taken by Underwatercolor (Default)
Over in Facebook land today, there was a heated debate on the subject of whether or not it is sexist/unequal/whathaveyou to say that it's less okay for men to say "Real women have curves" than for a woman to say "Real women have curves."

My general response to this is as follows:

When a woman says "real women have curves," she is probably saying it because she sees herself as curvaceous and is building herself up after a lifetime of verbal abuse and microaggressions. It isn't a good framing, because it expresses a nasty contempt for women she sees as skinny, but the bitterness is at least understandable. When a cis man says it, he isn't going to be speaking from having experienced those microaggressions personally, and so I find it harder to forgive. Now, he may be expressing it in alliance with a woman in his life who fits the exact same profile that I've described above, which makes it less about his libido and more about compassion, but that doesn't alter my point that it's bad from everybody but sounds worse coming from a man.


One response I got back was that this is exactly the type of unequal treatment that gives feminists a bad rap, and that it's totally unacceptable to say that different people should be treated differently.

Here's an analogy that I hope might clarify where I'm coming from on this. How well do you guys think this works?

* * *

Imagine the following: last night two of Cindy's housemates, Andy and Beatrice, held a big dinner party, and left a massive pile of dirty dishes sitting in the sink making it impossible for Cindy to cook breakfast the way you normally do without first cleaning up some of their dishes. Cindy's really super angry about this.

Sometime that day Cindy gets series of text messages from Andy, saying "Drunk driver totalled my car." "Stuck in emergency room 3 hours." and "Worst day ever."

That evening, Cindy gets home first, Beatrice second, and Andy third. Cindy goes to Beatrice and says, "Hey, I had to clean up your dishes from last night before I could have breakfast. That was super inconsiderate."

Beatrice apologizes profusely and immediately gets to work cleaning up the rest of the dishes.

Then Andy gets home.

Cindy says, "Hey, I had to clean up your dishes from last night before I could have breakfast. That was super inconsiderate."

Andy is nowhere near as polite. He says "Chr*st, do you have any idea what kind of day I've had?" Then stomps off into his room and slams the door.

Cindy turns to Beatrice and says "Well, geez, that was totally inappropriate of him."

Beatrice says, "You know he was stuck in the emergency room for 3 hours after having his car totalled, right?"

Cindy responds, "I don't see how that's relevant. It's not like *I'm* the one who totalled his car. He had no right to lash out at me."

* * *

So there's my little allegory. The question is, is this useful? Does the analogy break down anywhere? If so, where?
alexandra_thorn: 2009, taken by Underwatercolor (Default)
Today I drove myself from Allston to Harvard Forest and back. Alone. Saturday I went on a practice run with my husband as chaperone. This time I went alone.

I don't drive.

Learned enough to get my license at 16. With the exception of ~10 years ago when I trained up to get myself to a family gathering, I basically haven't driven since.

I travelled via Massachusetts Avenue and Route 2. The only time somebody honked at me was when I took too long at the stop sign out of our neighborhood because I realized I really did need to take some time to figure out how to more properly de-fog the windows. Mass Ave was crowded stop-and-go as expected, but everybody was civil to me.

Then it occurred to me: "Here I am, a non-driver, an invader in this territory, but NOBODY KNOWS!" I was suddenly put to mind of a Live Action Role Playing game I played years ago in which I was cast as The Master from _Dr. Who_... who in that game had chameleoned his TARDIS as a young woman and was using it to walk around all innocent like and interact with other characters who had no idea. Definitely reminiscent.

I may have experienced some internal demonic laughter when I made this realization.

Route 2 was okay too. Aside from a bit of inevitable tailgating nobody gave me problems for driving slowly.

* * *

On a related (but different) note, later on, when I was returning through Harvard Square, I made a point of being nice to pedestrians. I thought "Heheheh... I'm driving a car. And I'm being nice to pedestrians. And nobody can do anything about it!"

Next, the world.
alexandra_thorn: 2009, taken by Underwatercolor (Default)
Followup to the question I asked in my previous post (http://alexandra-thorn.dreamwidth.org/48698.html):
In the same hypothetical post-mortality simulated universe scenario, what sort of world do you imagine you'd end up creating for yourself?

Something like your current existence only a bit better (maybe by removing physical ailments, unpleasant surprises, or similar)? Something different but still engaging with a simulation of a physical world (superpowers, maybe)? A disembodied existence where you deal only with abstractions, or directly interface with other minds? Something else entirely?
alexandra_thorn: 2009, taken by Underwatercolor (Default)
Here's a science-fictiony hypothetical I'd like to play with. If you're interested in playing along, please read the following and respond...

Suppose when you die you wake up and discover that you're now living in a Matrix-style simulated universe, run by a benevolent AI that does everything it can to ensure that all of the inhabitants are as comfortable as happy as possible. Which aspect of your new reality do you think you'd find more appealing: 1) you can now be alone whenever you want to, or 2) there is now the possibility of mind-melding anytime you want with anyone you want, assuming that consent is mutual?
alexandra_thorn: 2009, taken by Underwatercolor (Default)
Recently I spent an evening flipping back through my past few years of public blog posts. I'd known that I write a fair amount about civil liberties, but I was nevertheless startled by the degree to which they dominate the other themes I talk about here.

Paging back, what I mostly find are posts about democracy (http://alexandra-thorn.dreamwidth.org/45063.html), civil disobedience (http://alexandra-thorn.dreamwidth.org/43117.html), patriotism (http://alexandra-thorn.dreamwidth.org/34698.html). And it's not just blogging. Letters I've written to newspaper editors: one (and only one), imploring President G. W. Bush to nominate a Supreme Court Justice who would place a high value on the Bill of Rights. Times I've been out with a clipboard collecting signatures: twice, once to petition against the Patriot Act and once on behalf of Public Citizen's "Democracy is for People" campaign against the Citizen's United decision.

Of course these are all important issues to me, but the trend nevertheless feels incongruous. Why? Because my most defining alignment is environmental combined with a spiritual attraction to living intimately with the land.

It's who I am in face-to-face interactions. I bicycle everywhere, and prefer to use train and bus when bicycling won't work. I used to drive my college classmates crazy by turning off the lights of unoccupied (or what I imagined to be unoccupied) rooms, or suggesting that people turn the water off while they're brushing their teeth. My Bachelors, Masters, and Doctorate are in Biology, Horticulture and Agronomy, and Biology, respectively. For my current job I build computer models of ecosystem processes, and I'm looking forward to working on more applied projects forecasting how alternative development trajectories might affect the future of ecosystem services in New England.

I split my time between living in a group house in the Boston Area, and living in another group house on a big piece of land in New Hampshire. Tonight for dinner I ate a bison meat patty and a pile of greens I'd picked from my New Hampshire garden combined with some yard weeds I know to be edible. One of the things I love most about my husband is that he truly appreciates small creatures in the landscape, and he induces me to slow down my pace, making time to really look at my surroundings.

Back when Barack Obama was running for president the first time, and those Shepard Fairey "Hope" posters were everywhere, my mother came upon a website that would posterize photographs in a similar style. She sent me one of me with, instead of "hope", the words "think green" below my face.

Yet somehow, despite a smattering of posts on topics like global warming (e.g. http://alexandra-thorn.dreamwidth.org/35641.html), this very large aspect of who I am doesn't seem to quite come through here. I confess I'm not entirely certain why this is so.

Sometimes when I introduce myself at a discussion group I'll say "I'm interested in environmental issues and sustainability, but lately I've been thinking a lot about civil liberties because if we don't have freedom of speech, we can't talk about the issues that matter." That's part of it, I'm sure, but I don't think it's the whole story.

On some level I suspect that the bigger issue might be that, for me, environmental issues are messy where civil liberties issues are clear cut. I've gotten into environmental arguments that have put friendships on the line. In practical terms, I know that my yearning for wide open spaces is in tension, sometimes even conflict, with my desire to live a low-impact lifestyle. I have a lot of friends who rely on automobiles for their a rural lifestyles. And that doesn't even begin to open up the complications that arise when conservation agendas collide with sustainable food production or indigenous land use.

If I talk too much about environmentally conscious lifestyles, there's always the risk of offending someone. There's a lot of status attached to various forms of consumption, even the vaguely hippie-ish communities I frequently inhabit. A very large number of people see consumption as good because it creates jobs and fuels the economy. And we all have creature comforts that we'd be reluctant to give up. I myself take a hot shower every morning.

So the social side is a mess, and in some cases I think the that the science is arguably even worse. There's a great deal that we don't understand about the natural world and our fellow organisms (a fact that, in itself, is one of the big reasons I believe it's so important to minimize our impact on global life support systems - we don't know what we're doing), and it's easy to make an intuitive leaps onto shaky scientific footing, and sometimes even widely held scientific consensuses on best practices can be overturned.

Civil liberties feels safer. There, I'm more confident in my own positions, and the terrain is less fraught with contradictions.
alexandra_thorn: 2009, taken by Underwatercolor (Default)
This post follows an intro post on the topic (http://alexandra-thorn.dreamwidth.org/46848.html) and a post on where I'm coming from (http://alexandra-thorn.dreamwidth.org/47198.html). Additional posts are pending.

The firearm safety class was extremely informative, though a bit overwhelming for me as a rank novice. Sitting next to me was a grad student from Louisiana who was generally annoyed about having to take the course and who didn't understand my anticipation of information deluge. “It's pretty basic stuff, like driver's ed,” he said. Well... I found some parts of driver's ed overwhelming too. Perhaps this has something to do with information being “basic” if you already know it.

We sat and watched a video that went over general safety guidelines as well as the parts and functioning of pistols and revolvers. The pacing was slow and clear but it was nevertheless a lot of information to take in a short span of time. I'd brought a notebook with me but quickly realized that taking notes would be a mistake because I would miss things. About 60% of the way through the time we spent watching the video, I was getting the type of mental fatigue I get in, e.g. a 2 hour conference session with no breaks. I stuck with it, though.

Eventually they interrupted the video and had us go into another room for the “real” portion of the class: physical demonstrations and drills working with real guns and fake bullets (inert “dummy rounds”, not to be confused with blanks, see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dummy_round).

The Boston Firearms instructor is a *very* good teacher. He demanded audience participation, and despite extremely limited time (it's a one evening class that covers how a gun works, how to handle one safely, recommendations for safe gun storage, and the legal restrictions on transporting firearms) he actually managed to instill a little bit of muscle memory. He started the hands-on portion of the class with a short explanation of how most of the courses you can take to get Massachusetts license to carry do not have a hands-on portion, and that he thinks it's basically worthless to sit people in front of a video and expect them to learn anything.

He distributed several different types of revolvers, gave a short speech on the operation and pedigree of each one, then walked us through loading, unloading, aiming, dry-firing, and de-cocking. Which gun you ended up working with for the drills was basically a matter of chance, but he gave people time after the drills to try out one or two of the other revolvers if they wanted. Then did the same with a similarly diverse assemblage of semi-automatic pistols. He asked the paying members of the class to try loading and unloading with their eyes closed. He drilled us repeatedly throughout the class on assuming that a gun is loaded if you can't see that it is unloaded (“Which hand do you shoot with? Let me see how you take this gun.” “Here, feel the weight of this one.” “Isn't this a beauty? Take a look.” [each time presenting the grip to a student with the barrel pointed at his own chest]).

The diversity of revolvers and pistols seemed to do a lot to maintain the interest of the more experienced members of the class. These included a revolver with a 10-pound trigger resistance (a safety measure meant to keep children from firing them), a semi-automatic with no safety, and another semi-automatic on which the safety had been deliberately broken for teaching purposes. He didn't tell us this when he picked up that weapon, put on the safety, and said “The safety is on. That means it won't fire, right?” I got that one right because out of the barrage of information in the video, I did manage to pick up: “never trust the safety.”

After the hands-on demos and drills, he talked to us about gun storage and laws for a bit. This included demonstrating a couple of types of locks for storage, and the legal requirements for storing ammunition separately from firearms, and laws dealing with transporting guns. He mentioned the gun safe depicted in the video and said that he strongly recommended getting one. He also showed us maps of the states that would accept a Massachusetts license to carry (some but not many), and put in a plug for a course he offers that you can use to get license to carry in Florida and Utah. With those three licenses, you can legally carry a gun in most states (*not* in “Live Free or Die” New Hampshire, though, interestingly enough).

Then he distributed certificates and study materials to the people who had paid for the course and gave us directions to the firing range for the “live fire” session.
alexandra_thorn: 2009, taken by Underwatercolor (Default)
As some of you know, Tim and I are in the process of looking for a new home. Yesterday we took a look at a beautiful eco-home in Roslindale. We also met with some very cool people who are looking to set up a multi-family co-op in Somerville. And we have open conversations going with an existing co-op in Allston, and with a couple of other groups looking to start co-ops in Somerville.

The Roslindale place is beautiful and quiet, has bees and chickens, and is adjacent to the beautiful parkland of Stony Brook Reservation. At two miles beyond the Forest Hills end of the Orange Line, is also rather remote from our preferred stomping grounds and most of the Boston people we love. Comparing it to our other options reifies an intense ambivalence I've been living with for a long time: striking the right balance between my love for urban living (intensified by the wonderful second family we've developed in the Boston Area) and my strong desire for intimacy with the land.

No matter what we decide, I think there is going to be some heartache.
alexandra_thorn: 2009, taken by Underwatercolor (Default)
Before I get into talking about the course (see previous post: http://alexandra-thorn.dreamwidth.org/46848.html) I attended, I'd like to give a little background on where I'm coming from.

I was raised by liberal Democrats, and generally share the values of my parents. I grew up with an assumption (I don't even know whether it was a spoken assumption) that firearms should definitely be regulated and probably a lot of them should be outlawed. Somewhere along the line I picked up the view that hunting was definitely okay, at least if you're hunting for food, and that guns should be permitted for hunting.

These days I'm generally agnostic about gun rights and gun control. I've heard a lot of arguments for protecting gun rights that make sense to me. I've heard a lot of arguments as to why the arguments against gun control distort the issue. As a scientist, I don't have the impression that the empirical evidence is very clear in any particular direction. And my training in evolutionary biology leads me to believe that to whatever extent properly controlled studies have (or will) provide evidence in one direction or another, it is very difficult to draw conclusions about how well the results would translate to other contexts. I believe that we live in a dynamically changing world: for better or worse, tomorrow will inevitably be different from today, and the answer to the question of “what is best” will change accordingly.

My friends span most perspectives on the gun debate. Some of my friends have more nuanced perspectives than others. To me, the level of nuance does not seem to be particularly correlated with the conclusions drawn. Most (if not all) of the people I know who are vocally “pro gun rights” have put a lot of thought into the issue. The quality of that thought varies considerably. The “pro gun control” people seem to be more of a mixed bag. Some of them don't seem to have thought about the issue at all. Some have put a *lot* of thought in. Again, the quality of thought is quite variable.

I'd like to learn to hunt some day, and that is the only circumstance under which I think it's probable that I would want to own or regularly fire a gun. My housemate said that if I wanted to learn hunting while I was in Massachusetts, I was going to have to take this firearm safety course at some point. That was part of why I decided to come along. I don't think it was my main reason, though. What was my main reason? I think the best I can explain for why I decided to come along was “just to see.”

I've participated in a lot of friendly debates and conversations about gun control over the years. I suppose that it's an issue that interests me, even though I don't have strong opinions on most aspects of the issue. The fact that I'm not invested in a specific position probably makes it easier for me to listen to the various sides.

Prior to the course two weeks ago I had only touched guns once in my life, many years ago. They belonged to a friend of mine (in fact, this was the same housemate who brought me along to the class). He showed them to me when we were visiting his family in Pennsylvania. One handgun and one rifle. I don't really remember any details other than being startled by how heavy they were.
alexandra_thorn: 2009, taken by Underwatercolor (Default)
A month or two ago my housemate came home and announced that he was going to be taking a Massachusetts firearm safety class. I'm not specifically interested in guns, but firing a gun has been one of those things that I'd like to do at some point in my life for a while now, and someday I'd like to learn to hunt, so I expressed interest in coming along.

It turns out that Boston Firearms (http://www.bostonfirearms.com/) permits guests to participate in their safety classes for free, which is what I ended up doing. If, hypothetically, I were to decide that I wanted the certificate of completion (one of the prerequisites for a Massachusetts License to Carry), I can pay them $100 later. (I did have to pay $30 to participate in their live fire session. More on that later.)

So, two weeks ago Thursday, I met with my housemate after work, and he gave me a ride to the martial arts studio in Revere where the safety class is taught. This is the first of several posts on the topic. In future posts I will talk about why I decided to take the course (now posted: http://alexandra-thorn.dreamwidth.org/47198.html), what I learned (http://alexandra-thorn.dreamwidth.org/47651.html), and other impressions.

Safe

Apr. 15th, 2013 05:29 pm
alexandra_thorn: 2009, taken by Underwatercolor (Default)
We are safe in Somerville, nowhere near the explosions at the Boston Marathon.

Only feeling a bit pit-of-the-stomach ill.

Been watching the news slowly roll in on Facebook.
alexandra_thorn: 2009, taken by Underwatercolor (Default)
*If* this building proves popular, and *if* its construction is durable and reliable, I can't see how this won't end up being a huge economic, as well as environmental, win. I would, however, like to know *how* they are going to be disinfecting the rainwater from the cistern.
http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/03/realestate/commercial/the-bullitt-center-in-seattle-goes-well-beyond-green.html?pagewanted=2&ref=general&src=me
alexandra_thorn: 2009, taken by Underwatercolor (Default)
The topic has been on the discussion for a while now, but seems to have come to a head in a couple of places in response to this article:
http://www.thenation.com/blog/173298/rape-not-inevitable-zerlina-maxwell-men-and-hope

A common reaction (largely, but not exclusively among men) to Zerlina Maxwell's quote, "If you train men not to grow up to become rapists, you prevent rape," is to point out the obvious fact that no amount of education is going to completely eliminate rape from society. That's certainly true, but I think that emphasizing that line of argument completely misses the point that Ms. Maxwell and many others have been trying to drive home.

Here's the the issue as I see it:

There are huge problems with how conversations on sexual violence are normally conducted. Women are not treated as autonomous adults, are discouraged, e.g. from walking alone at night, or in the day time, or with a female-only group, all because of the terror bogeyman of an imagined rapist. Women are also discouraged from trusting male friends because they are all potential rapists. Meanwhile, if you dress in a feminine fashion, you get treated as property, and if you dress in a masculine fashion you get sneered at as a lesbian. Women are expected to modify their bodies, paint their faces, and dress in uncomfortable clothes all toward the end of titillating men, and then when they are the victim of sexual violence they're asked "well, what did you expect?" Women need to stop being bullied into being scared of their own shadows.

It really is time to turn the conversation around and treat rape like the violent crime that it is. Part of that is being more serious about enforcement. Part of that is also communicating to boys and men that certain behaviors are completely socially inappropriate, educating them about how to negotiate boundaries in a healthy fashion, and (importantly) *not to condone sexually predatory behavior by other men*. And I think that saying that it's women who need to change their behavior to protect themselves does exactly that.

Am I saying that there's no place for self-defense and situational awareness? Of course not. But the conversation really does need to change.
alexandra_thorn: 2009, taken by Underwatercolor (Default)
Hugo Chavez died today.

I don't normally feel much when public figures die, but I find myself feeling somber. No, I'm not going to sing his praises. I don't know who he was. Instead, I want to talk about him as a symbol.

I don't know if he was a good man or a bad man. I heard good things about what he was doing in the early 2000s. I heard bad things later on. I remember when BBC reported on how upper middle class Venezuelans felt betrayed that George W. Bush did not provide military support for their coup. I mentioned that story to a well-informed friend who said not to trust the news because there has been a major smear campaign against Chavez in the United States media. But could the United States really control the BBC, I wondered?

All I really have are snapshots, and the snapshots don't tell a coherent story. I have some impressions of Chavez as symbol. He was a symbol of the long-standing struggle in Latin American countries for autonomy from the United States. He was a symbol for the Left, an alternative story to tell.

Here's what I remember:

When I was in college someone posted a link to a Wellesley forum to an article about a Latin American capital city that had gone car-free. I quickly read the article in excitement. I dreamed of an eco-eutopia where we are all less reliant on automobiles. I still do. What really grabbed my attention about the article, though, was the clear message from the leader: this policy had nothing to do with reducing oil consumption. The two reasons that were highlighted were first that the policy would reduce wear and tear on the roads, and second that it would remove a barrier between rich and poor.

I had never thought about reasons to reduce automobile use other than environmental concerns or public health concerns dealing with the consequences of our sedentary lifestyle. I found this alternative vision fascinating and compelling. It was an open window to another perspective I'd never considered: the automobile as enabling class warfare by keeping the rich from seeing the humanity of the poor. Mentioning the story months later, not remembering the name of the country or the city or the leader, I was told that this was almost certainly Hugo Chavez in Venezuela.

Years passed.

A day came when I was sifting through David Rovics' website, in search of the songs "Minimum Wage Strike" and the "Song for the Biotic Baking Brigade," and came across "Sing a Song for Chavez":
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Do2mAXeU9Zw
Is that song truth? I'm sure it's a distortion. It's just a song. Certainly no reason to take it as any more accurate than anything else we hear about Chavez, but it's a facet of the story that we don't normally get in the American news media; a story of what he symbolized to the international Left: hope for an alternative story, a story kinder to the world's poor, less beholden to oil companies.

I don't tend to follow the mainstream media, and certainly not the television news, so I don't know how Chavez normally gets painted, but skimming New York Times items today, it seems clear that the story is pretty one-sided. I do remember catching an item during a presidential campaign (2008??) in which some Republicans disparaging the Democratic candidate by saying that he would invite monsters like Hugo Chavez to the diplomatic table. The Democrat responded that no, of course he would never do anything like that.

So Chavez was also a symbol of evil. I imagine it's probably true that he's done some bad things that I would not want the leader of my own country to do, ever. But Chavez as a major symbol of evil? The whole thing seems bizarrely out of proportion. We have a long-standing history of positive diplomatic relations with all kinds of tyrants. Certainly a lot of them worse than Chavez. Some of them we put into power. Some of them we trained to *be* tyrants. No, seriously. Look up "School of the Americas" sometime if you don't know what I'm talking about. (Here's a relevant article: https://targetedindividualscanada.wordpress.com/2012/07/06/us-training-manuals-declassified-by-lisa-haugaard/)

Chavez may have been incorrect in imagining that the United States planned to assassinate him, but such a narrative is very understandable given the history of 20th century relations in this hemisphere.

And perhaps that's what I feel the most: Chavez's death feels like the end of an era carried over from the Cold War. The era of Eva Peron, Salvador Allende, Che Guevero, and Fidel Castro. All of them symbols... of hope, of fear, of the dreams of autonomy and equality, of the despair of ever really having them, and yes, of corruption, and of imagined threats to the American Dream.

The story isn't over, of course. Many of the threads are alive and well, but this feels to me like the end of a chapter.

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alexandra_thorn

March 2014

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