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.
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:

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":
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:

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.
alexandra_thorn: 2009, taken by Underwatercolor (Default)
Recent discussions have reminded me of this (2010) post by somebody who describes himself as "opposed to regulating the ownership of firearms beyond prohibiting their ownership by minors, convicts, and those declared incompetent to use them."

Content note: The commentary doesn't say the nicest things about conservatives and Republicans, but then, it also compares Democrats to "wet noodles" and questions to what degree the policies of recent Democratic presidents are actually in line with liberal ideology.
alexandra_thorn: 2009, taken by Underwatercolor (Default)
For anybody who hasn't seen this article yet, I think it's a really important one to read:

I'd seen this article a while back, but thought of it again last night after a conversation about the "physician-assisted suicide" question that was on the Massachusetts ballot this election (it didn't quite pass). I posted the link to Facebook and among other positive responses, the idea was brought up that this article should be posted in hospitals. I completely understand the sentiment, but I also think we should be careful about making that kind of suggestion.

The person I'd been talking to about the ballot question said that she was in favor of patients and doctors being able to make these decisions in principle, but was really scared that insurance companies or (in cases of government financed insurance) would try to coerce people into ending their lives to save money. This was unfamiliar thinking to me because I've lived for so long with the absolute terror of dying in a hospital bed. After thinking for a bit about my own experiences, and remembering this article, I realized that I really don't find that particular corruption scenario plausible given our current system.

Here's why: you'd think that insurance companies would already be motivated to save money, but between pressure from Big Pharma and terror of malpractice lawsuit (and perhaps some other factors as well), it's really really hard to convince a doctor to withhold treatment. And that doesn't even touch the extremely controversial issue of deliberately ending one's own life. I have a really hard time imagining getting from this state of affairs to the corruption scenario that my friend was worried about.

However, given that there are concerns that this type of corruption does (or could in the future) exist, I think it could be dangerous for institutions such as hospitals to promote this powerful piece directly. Some people would interpret it as an effort at manipulation. Instead, I think we should be pushing for more discussion of these issues in the media and elsewhere.

What do you think?
alexandra_thorn: 2009, taken by Underwatercolor (Default)
I'll start by admitting that I am a liberal democrat, and that I am tremendously relieved by the outcome of the 2012 United States elections. But I'm resisting the temptation to let my relief spill over into elation.

Here are some reminders.

Like many recent elections, the split of the popular vote was very close to a tie. Which party got the actual majority doesn't matter so much when the majority numbers we're talking about are 50.1%, 51%, or even 53%. For every voter who's feeling good right now, there's probably another voter somewhere who is feeling like crud. I don't know that that's how republican voters are feeling, but it's definitely how I'd feel if the election had gone the other way.

This campaign season has been expensive. One of the reasons that I'd feel particularly let down if things had gone the other way is the amount of money that I've donated to political campaigns and action groups this election. In fact, from what I hear, this has been the most expensive election in history. Honestly, I didn't like donating as much as I did, but confronted with the threat of huge spending by corporate lobbyists and the hyperwealthy in support of the republicans, I felt compelled to give what I could. And I hate to think where the democrats would be right now if not for their larger contributors.

Passion isn't enough. True, it isn't *just* about cash. A lot of people put in a lot of sweat and tears too. Canvassing door-to-door, helping folks get registered to vote, holding phone-call parties to "get out the vote." I don't think Obama would have been re-elected without the blood, sweat, and tears of people who believe he's the better choice. We have a representative government, and if elections aren't influenced by passionate people willing to invest their labor and love, then I'm really not sure what we're doing. But I also don't think that Obama would have been re-elected without big donors. And that's a problem: it means that candidates can't get elected without corporate support. They become accountable to big businesses (which are driven by profits), when they are supposed to be representing the interests of human beings (who are driven by many things).

Speaking of passion, I'd like to take a moment to send kudos to the guy who spent half the day yesterday standing in the middle of hyper-liberal Davis Square, in freezing temperatures, holding up the Scott Brown sign. That kind of energy should be what our elections run on.

Not all states are created equal. Most of the money -- and most of the volunteer efforts -- were concentrated in a small number of largish states that happen to contain roughly equal numbers of voters from the two major parties and/or a lot of independent voters. Something is wrong with a system that drives people in one state to organize phone call parties in order to drum up electoral enthusiasm on the other side of the country. The only silver lining to this is that I feel like maybe my dollars went further by being concentrated in a few key places. It still doesn't feel right, though.

I think part of the problem is that we've gotten so caught up in political identification. Sometimes we forget what unifies us. I spent the latter portion of Election Day collecting signatures to demonstrate popular support for a constitutional amendment to overturn the Citizens United v. The Federal Election Commission supreme court decision. I did this because I am deeply frustrated with the degree to which our politics have become dominated by large financial interests.

I am not alone. There is strong bipartisan opposition to the Citizens United decision. In fact, one poll showed that 85% of Democrats, 76% of Republicans, and 81% of independent voters oppose the ruling (

There is similar (though somewhat more partisan) support for doing away with the Electoral College (

I don't know what all of the answers are. I do think going after the Citizens United decision is a good start, though. With 70% of the public already opposed to the decision, a constitutional amendment begins to look plausible. I also know that it won't happen if we convince ourselves it can't be done.
alexandra_thorn: 2009, taken by Underwatercolor (Default)
My husband and I are about to bicycle up to Middlesex Fells Reservation to walk around and hang out for a bit. Anybody who'd like to meet us there is welcome. We'll be heading for the Bellevue Pond entrance, probably arriving there around 1PM:,-71.107646&spn=0.002665,0.004302&client=ubuntu&channel=fs&oe=utf-8&fb=1&gl=us&hq=middlesex+fells+reservation&hnear=middlesex+fells+reservation&cid=0,0,1240768309429859153&t=h&z=18

If you'd like to meet up with us, please give a call, or just look for us...
alexandra_thorn: 2009, taken by Underwatercolor (Default)
Recently I started to actively think about investments. I use Scottrade for stock market transactions because of their low transaction fees and otherwise not trying to sell me products I don't need.

Some of their research functions are useful too, though I'm starting to learn that Yahoo finances is more informative for a lot of purposes. In any case, one amusing situation that I find myself in is I'll notice that a stock price has just gone up (or down) dramatically, and I'll wonder what's driving the change. Short term changes in stock prices might not be predictable or say anything about performance, but the big ones generally reflect some sort of change in public perception of the company.

So, what do I do? Since there's a link right there on Scottrade or Yahoo Finances, the first thing I do is check the news headlines. More than half the time, the top headline is something like this:
"MasTec is Among the Companies in the Construction & Engineering Industry with the Best Relative Performance (MTZ, URS, JEC, FLR, KBR)
2 hours 21 minutes ago - Financial News Network Online - News Corner via Comtex

Below are the top five companies in the Construction & Engineering industry as measured by relative performance. This analysis was compiled based on yesterday's trading activity as we search for stocks that have the potential to outperform. ..."

This information is virtually useless to me. I already know that MasTec's share price is going up rapidly. I can see that by looking at the graph. If I saw a headline like this, I might be interested to see what the graph looked like, but probably not the other way around. Now, this type of headline does serve a purpose. E.g., if you own MasTec but don't follow its prices, a headline like this might be a useful cue that it's a good time to sell.

But when it comes to financial news, the behavior of the market often seems to get more attention than the processes that should theoretically be driving these changes. And I can't help wondering what the consequences of this type of reporting are. What happens when the behavior of the market becomes the major driver for market transactions?

The fascination with the market reminds me a different but related phenomenon when it comes to reporting on electoral politics. There's a big emphasis on polling numbers. It's not clear how this type of information is supposed to affect Joanne Citizen. Is this supposed to change how we vote? How does it change our perceptions of partisanship?
alexandra_thorn: 2009, taken by Underwatercolor (Default)
Does anybody have any words of wisdom on purchasing folding bicycles?
alexandra_thorn: 2009, taken by Underwatercolor (Default)
All the data:

Unfortunately, it's pretty hard to read. I'd also like more accessible source annotations. Hum.
alexandra_thorn: 2009, taken by Underwatercolor (Default)
Is anyone else reading this planning to spend some time there tomorrow?
alexandra_thorn: 2009, taken by Underwatercolor (Default)
* The Occupy movement is built on the principles of civil disobedience.

* Civil disobedience is fundamentally about defying authority, but doing so in a peaceful way. Since authority is often maintained through physical force, civil disobedience means being willing to subject yourself to physical violence without fighting back.

* Someone engaging in civil disobedience does so with the understanding that violence might be used against them. They do it because they believe in their cause strongly enough to be willing to be arrested or beaten or have tear gas thrown in their faces.

* Being willing to face something scary for something you believe in is (more or less) the definition of what it means to be brave. Soldiers are brave when they risk their lives for their countries. Firefighters are brave when they run into burning buildings in order to save lives. Peaceful protesters are brave when they keep doing what they are doing, even when they are being beaten or seeing their friends beaten.

* When someone engaging in civil disobedience gets beaten by a police officer, it is not the protester who is losing the fight. This is what the protester signed up for.

* This does not mean that it's okay or good for police officers to beat peaceful protesters. It's a shameful thing. They represent a basic failure in a society that sees itself as humane.

* I want to live in a humane society (don't you?).

* The worse the beating is, the worse the police officer looks.

* The worse the beating is, the worse the person who ordered the police officer to do it looks.

* It's worth noting that police officers (and members of the military, etc.), always have the option of disobeying orders. If they were to do this when their orders were to move peaceful protesters by any means possible, this would be another form of civil disobedience.

* Disobeying orders is *not* an easy thing to do. It may not even always be the moral thing to do, since the moral value of obeying orders must be weighed against the moral value of not obeying orders you see as immoral. (Human behavior is complicated, etc.)

* In any case, authorities tend to look bad when they pit cops with billy clubs and tear gas against unarmed protesters.

* Authorities generally don't want to look bad.

* Using a violence against an unarmed person who refuses to fight back looks better if you can come up with a really good reason to be in them. If you don't have a good reason, then you have a motive to lie.

* This doesn't mean that everything we hear from the mainstream media are lies, but it does mean that there's more reason than usual to question the truth of the stories you hear.

* It's especially important to be skeptical of stories that make the authorities look like the good guys.

* I think a case can be made that if the authorities genuinely are good guys (assuming they understand what civil disobedience is about), they shouldn't object to this skepticism, even if they were honest about their intentions.
alexandra_thorn: 2009, taken by Underwatercolor (Default)
I posted this link to Facebook yesterday. I think it's worth a read. I'd be interested to hear whether folks agree or disagree with the thesis:
alexandra_thorn: 2009, taken by Underwatercolor (Default)
I just installed "Better Facebook" ( as a Firefox extension. No, it doesn't keep Facebook from trying to use all of my data for advertising purposes, nor does it fix the various other privacy problems with Facebook. But my reasons for installing it are nevertheless political.

Let me explain.

* * *

In which there is stuff about internet Balkanization and the Occupy movement. )

* * *

So, how to get a more representative angle on what my friends and family are thinking about? I installed Better Facebook and turned on the chronological order function. Boom: perspective restored. Yes, some of my acquaintances are indeed talking about the "Occupy" movement, but not everybody. Not even most people. Like magic, my Facebook page instantly returns to being a place with diverse perspectives and priorities.

I feel a lot better.


alexandra_thorn: 2009, taken by Underwatercolor (Default)

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