mere anarchy is loosed upon the world
Sunday 14 April 2013
UPDATED: During Ladies’ Hack Day we did a Minecraft workshop in which the demo gremlins were hard at work. I didn’t even get an appropriate moment to use my “I’m not saying she’s a gold digger, but she ain’t messin’ with no stone pickaxe” joke. Nonetheless, we were able to cover a lot of the resources in my intial blog post. I’m updating it now with a few more resources for your edification and delight.
Recently at meetings of the Nashville Women’s STEAM group, @marthakelly has been teaching @lauriekalmanson’s daughter how to play and hack on Minecraft. The resulting Twitter chatter raised some questions from other parents interested in doing the same things with their kids. Here are some resources:
1. Why Minecraft?
In case you need some convincing, here are a couple posts from an unschooling mother on what her kids are learning from Minecraft and an excellent list of activities for younger children in Minecraft. One of Minecraft’s strengths as a game either for kids or adults is its versatility; it can be about killing monsters, going on quests, and slaying the dragon, or it can be a peaceful place where the quest is creativity instead of heroics. If you know nothing about Minecraft and want to get up to speed quickly, I’d recommend spending the $6 on Minecraft for Dummies. It was written by a high school kid, so I think it belongs in this guide anyway, and it’s a good way to get an overview of everything the game offers in one place.
2. Is it educational?
Some of us only feel good about games for our kids when there’s some educational benefit involved, so let’s get the lesson plans out of the way so the kids can get back to playing. Middle School Minecraft, Minecraft in School, and the Minecraft Teacher are all producing some interesting resources to use Minecraft as a teaching tool. Minecraft Teacher has even designed a custom map for teaching the kids. There are also some Minecraft children’s books set to be published in September which might be fun to check out if your kids are a fan. Speaking of books, the three volume recipe books for using Redstone by Bradley Clemens are an excellent way to get into circuitry building in the game (which is Turing complete, for those of you who are impressed by such things).
3. Where do we play?
If you chose to play in Single-Player mode, you don’t have to worry about a server. Just fire up the game and start chopping wood. However, if you want to take advantage of the game’s massively multi-player, social aspects, you’re probably going to want to join a family-friendly server. There are more than a few servers out there, but here are some popular examples specifically for kids: Massively @ jokaydia, Sandlot, and Win Family Survival. I also highly recommend checking out the community built by Minecraft Dad first for playing with his own kids. His YouTube Minecraft guides are instructive and entertaining. A forthcoming Minecraft Realms service has also been announced which should give kids an easier way to administer their own servers. Not that administering their own server is such a difficult thing; a bright middle schooler can do it, particularly under the guidance of a hacker parent. If all else fails, starting your own server with a group of young padawans might be the way to go. I specifically recommend using a free Amazon micro server instead of hosting the server on your home network. You can install the regular Minecraft server, or install a mod server like Bukkit. You might even want to install a mod server on your own computer for your own single-player use if you want to hack the game. Which leads us to…
4. How do we hack?
May your pickaxe be bright and your emeralds plentiful.
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Wednesday 5 December 2012
Toward the end of my undergraduate career I interned with two other students at the district attorney’s office in a semi-urban county of Tennessee. We were there to help out in whatever ways the district attorney thought we’d be useful, and being chosen for the internship was a privilege. All of us either had aspirations of going to law school or were seriously considering it. Some days we would help out with the General Sessions docket. Most days we spent preparing for a significant cold case murder trial. At one point, I spent two days cleaning and organizing the attorney’s office because I was tired of hearing, “I know I’ve got that somewhere…”. About a third of the way into my internship, a conversation between me and the district attorney about a police investigation ended in a disagreement. He was a former police officer (in fact he had served with my cousin who had molested so many of the women in my family and used his position to cover it up) and he didn’t appreciate my defense-oriented perspective. The next day I was moved to chaperoning the junior attorneys during interviews with alleged rape victims.
I call it “chaperoning” because my role was to sit quietly and take notes, offer sympathy when appropriate, and be a witness for the attorney to the General about what happened during the interview. It was explained to me that especially since all the attorneys working on rape cases were men and the victims were always women, it was desirable (though not required) that there be a woman in the room for these conversations. There was only one woman attorney in the office, and she worked exclusively on DCS cases. I rarely even saw her while I was there, except when I happened to walk by her office and the door was open. Her caseload made the criminal court look like a vacation. There were a few women working as administrators and receptionists, but there were several good reasons why it wasn’t desirable to drag them in to chaperone on rape interviews.
The interviews were difficult for everyone involved. There were usually several with each victim, spread out over time, during which they were asked to recount in detail their experiences. Occasionally the attorney would stop and ask questions, either to call out indiscrepancies with other accounts or to pose the sorts of questions you hear from defense attorneys in cross examination of rape victims at trial to test their responses. After that was finished, the attorney would give the same “I’m not trying to discourage you, but…” speech he gave to every other woman who walked through the door. In fairness, nothing he told them was false. Justice, if it ever came, would take a year or more, and during that time the trial would consume their life. They might lose friends, partners, jobs. They would certainly be put through the emotional wringer. If at any point they decided it was all too much and they changed their story, they could be charged with a crime of false reporting. BUT! If they were certain that a crime had been committed, the attorney would work right by their side the entire way and they would either win or lose together.
There were women who I believed with all certainty had been raped who walked away from that initial interview without bringing formal charges and never came back. There were women who I believed with all certainty had been raped who went to trial, who suffered mightily all over again for trying to stop it from happening to someone else in the future, whose accusers nonetheless were not convicted. There were women who I had my doubts were telling the truth and had some compelling motives for lying (covering up an indiscretion, revenge, etc.), who nonetheless ignored the attorney’s warnings and filed charges (these women made me just as angry as they probably do most men). Regardless of the facts, the thing that struck me most was how no one really wanted to do the rape cases. If someone walked through the door with an accusation of any other type of assault, it was handled with the fervor of the righteous crusader fighting for truth and justice. Prosecuting a rape case felt more like making a defense, and no one in the district attorney’s office seemed excited about doing that. In fact, the district attorney with whom I disagreed made it clear that he considered my assignment to the rape cases a punishment designed to inspire my gratitude once I was moved back to the cold case murder trial.
After this and other subsequent experiences working in criminal law, it irritates me when people extrapolate broad policy positions from individual criminal cases. I can understand the fascination with celebrity trials. Even though it’s dumb we focus so much on individuals because they act in movies or play sports, as long as these individuals are idolized by the public, then it’s natural we will also care about their crimes. The thing I don’t understand is the Nancy Grace-style elevation of other alleged criminals to the point of celebrity. Why are we focusing on THAT child abuse case? Why are we focusing on THAT murder? These things happen every day in most every community, to the point we’ve developed an entire industry or “system” to deal with it, and the facts in most of these cases are not as weird as many other crimes. So why the particular fascination?
Anyone who’s ever worked on a criminal case will tell you that trials are pageants. It’s not like you see on TV. There are rarely, if ever, any dramatic reveals from the perspective of the prosecution or defense unless the attorneys involved are just particularly incompetent. Not only has the investigation taken place in advance, the information that will be presented has been analyzed and exchanged and negotiated and strategized, because the details of fact and law and procedure matter a great deal when we’re deciding whether or not to take all or a portion of another person’s life away for some misdeed. Anyone who has doubts about the infallibility of the government should be able to appreciate when it’s difficult to convict a criminal. I believe the judge and jurors are the only members of the public with a close enough seat to the totality of this evidence to make a proper assessment (and even so, they can get it wrong). Unfortunately, not only are we as a society more than willing to suppose we know how a conviction should go based on what we hear on cable news, but we also decide to pass laws based on our outrage over a case we probably don’t really understand. The experience of one person is extrapolated to be applicable to several hundred million, even though the moral of the crime (if any exists) probably isn’t what the storytellers on CNN or Fox have represented it to be for the purpose of driving up ratings.
Journalism has a tradition of balance, almost to a fault. For example, when presenting a story on teaching evolution in schools, an ethical journalist must present both a con and pro viewpoint without any bias for either one, even though the con viewpoint is held by a relatively tiny portion of the scientific community. Ironically, that often leads readers to believe evolution and creationism are equally legitimate scientific ideas instead of conveying a more accurate presentation of reality. It’s not just the way information is presented that is a problem, however. It’s also the presentation itself. What do journalists chose to report on? There’s only so much paper to read or air time to watch or blogs to link. Journalists are mediators of our attention, and are therefore deciding for us what’s most important in our community. If that’s not a bias, it is certainly power.
This morning our local news station reported on this story. Since they don’t report on every single crime of false reporting to the police, and since I’d never heard of this particular rape allegation in the news before, I was left to wonder what about it was newsworthy. “Woman claims allegation of rape was merely punishment for a bad online date” might seem humorous to some people, I suppose, and our local news media is certainly not above spending time on stories because they enjoy irony more than substance. When I read that headline, though, I couldn’t help but think of the women who I believed had been raped who nonetheless decided that the pursuit of justice was a more terrible burden than letting their attacker go free. Was she one of those, or was she merely someone who is now reaping the consequences of dishonesty and bad judgment? If the latter, is the purpose of the story to make men who are unjustly accused of rape feel better? Is it a warning to other women who might dishonestly throw around allegations of rape? Is it yet another example of how our local culture tells rape victims to just drop it and move on, to the point of criminalization of rape reporting? Maybe there is no moral intended. Maybe there is, and I’ve missed it completely. WKRN used their voice to help shame a woman who had sex and regretted it, though, and that makes me wonder.
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Thursday 5 April 2012
Today was the filing deadline for candidates intending to run for the Tennessee House and Senate in 2012. This has been a particularly brutal year in the Legislature given that GOP-dominated redistricting has focused on getting rid of as many Democrats as possible, and most particularly Democratic women. This, combined with a legislative agenda that mirrored a national attack against women’s health, only made the loss of the few representatives who might speak for the interests of women in Tennessee even more threatening.
State elections are not typically well-promoted affairs. The average voter might be able to tell you who they’re voting for as President and why, but not enough coverage is given to State representatives, considering our votes are more likely to sway those races and those elected will likely have more of an impact on our lives once they are voted into office (State laws matter!). Particularly for Tennessee Democrats in 2012, they do not even have a strong State-level Party apparatus to direct interested voters their way. For example, during the 2010 midterms when the GOP took overwhelming control of the Legislature, the TNDP failed to provide a comprehensive list of Democrats running for House and Senate seats on their website, much less accurate contact information for their campaigns. Finding these candidates and giving them support was much more difficult than it should have been (if not impossible!) even at the State Party level. Furthermore, the TNDP leadership have threatened the seats of several strong progressive women after redistricting by primarying them against Democratic men.
This year, it is more important than ever that we rally our support behind the candidates willing to run, sometimes in very difficult Districts, so that they can provide us a voice in the political process during the elections and beyond in defeating bad laws and perhaps even making some good ones. It’s not enough that we merely vote for the best candidates in our Districts. Frankly, many of us no longer have that option as progressive Tennesseans. In addition to exercising our franchise we can, though, give our support to Tennessee candidates outside of our Districts who will nonetheless cast their votes in agreement with our values. Different candidates will have different needs (ask them how you can help the most if you’re unsure) but even if it’s as simple as a small donation, we can help our kindred lead our State to a better place in the coming years.
To this end, I’m providing the following list of Democratic women candidates (there were no Independents) with the best background information I could find. Why only women and not also the men? Because women are grossly under-represented, for starters, and that needs to change, but also because so many Democratic men tend to vote with the Republicans when it comes to issues particularly important to women. I do not call these “women’s issues” because there is no such thing. Laws for equal compensation and access to effective birth control, to name a couple examples, should be equally important to men, but are unfortunately quite frequently NOT. It’s even worse when Republican women betray their sex in order to garner the approval of Republican men. I cannot guarantee every woman on this list is pro-choice, for example, but I plan on writing to them to find out before I offer them my direct support. In the meantime, I’ll be glad to also support any male candidates who align themselves with progressive values, but my first concern is getting more women – who I can rely on to protect other women – into elected office.
The world is run by those who show up, and decisions are made by the people in the room. Tennessee holds the proud distinction of being the state which ratified the 19th Amendment, recognizing the right of women to be in that room. It is important during this time when women are under a coordinated political attack that we come together as women to defend ourselves. I hope this list will be a jumping-off point for many of us to coordinate our efforts as we facilitate getting and keeping more of our sisters in the Legislature. If we cannot rely on the Democratic Party to get it done, we must do it for ourselves at the grassroots level. We are women. We are already very good at this.
The Gentlewomen of Tennessee:
House D03 – Leah R. Kirk of Bristol in Sullivan County
House D07 – Nancy Fischman of Johnson City in Washington Co
(running against Rep. Matthew Hill)
House D11 – Marjorie Ramsey of Newport in Cocke County
House D13 – Gloria Johnson of Knoxville in Knox Co
House D23 – Peggy Hall Wall of Niota in McMinn Co
House D25 – Flo Matheson of Crossville in Cumberland Co
House D28 – JoAnne Favors of Chattanooga in Hamilton Co
(running against a Democratic man)
House D30 – Sandy Norris Smith of East Ridge in Hamilton Co
(running against two Democratic men)
House D40 – Sarah Marie Smith of Carthage in Smith Co
(running against a Democratic man)
House D45 – Jeanette Jackson of Hendersonville in Sumner Co
(running against Rep. Debra Maggart)
House D54 – Brenda Gilmore of Nashville in Davidson Co
House D58 – Mary Pruitt of Nashville in Davidson Co
(running against Steven Turner)
House D59 – Sherry Jones of Nashville in Davidson Co
(running against Councilman Bob Duvall)
House D78 – Linda Hayes of White Bluff in Dickson Co
House D78 – Jane Crisp of Pegram in Cheatham Co
(ten total candidates in this race)
House D81 – Conneye Albright of Millington in Tipton Co
(school librarian; running against a Democratic man)
House D86 – Barbara Cooper of Memphis in Shelby Co
House D87 – Karen Camper of Memphis in Shelby Co
House D90 – Jeanne Richardson of Memphis in Shelby Co
(running against two Democratic men)
House D91 – Lois M DeBerry of Memphis in Shelby Co
House D92 – Ann Bankston of Fayetteville in Lincoln Co
House D92 – Anita Tipton of South Pittsburgh in Marion Co
House D92 – Vicki Cain of Lewisburg in Marshall Co
House D92 – Mary Rene Baxter of Lewisburg in Marshall Co
Senate D06 – Evelyn Gill of Knoxville in Knox Co
(running against a Republican woman)
Senate D18 – Maria A. Brewer of Hendersonville in Sumner Co
Senate D26 – Meryl Rice of Whiteville in Hardeman Co
(running against Sen. Delores Gresham)
Senate D30 – Beverly Marrero of Memphis in Shelby Co
(Running against Sen. Jim Kyle)
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Wednesday 22 February 2012
Here’s the story of a handsome hustler,
Who was pimping out three very lovely girls.
All of them had hair of gold, like their mommas,
The youngest one in curls.
Here’s the story, of a man named Brady,
Who was busy with campaigns of his own.
He was married, with a newborn family,
Yet he was still alone.
Till the one day when the pimp man met this fellow,
And they knew that it was much more than a hunch.
That this group would somehow break the law together.
That’s the way it all became the Brady Bust.
The Brady Bust, The Brady Bust.
That’s the way it became the Brady Bust.
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Tuesday 10 January 2012
At first we started out real cool,(cool)
Writing some good laws i ain’t never seen
But now your getting comfortable
Ain’t telling that truth that you did no more
Your slowly makin me read your print
Your Bills they all are captioning
And now you ask me for my vote (vote)
Call me all day and leave recorded messages
And you have the audacity
To even come and step to me
And ask to take some money from me
Until you get your seat next week
You triflin’,good for nothing State Senator
Silly me,why haven’t I found another
A baller, when times get hard he’s the one to help me out
insted of, a scrub like you who don’t know what he’s about
you read my bills
can you read my captioning bills
can you read my amended’bills
then maybe we can chill
I don’t think you do
so you and me are through
now you been talking off point(point)
give me no living, taking favors with my own ends
haven’t wrote that first Bill
but you steady heading to the press
going on nightly news
perpetrating to your friends that you be ballin’
and then you draw my new District(District)
takin who ever that you think won’t call
and when the Bills filed all of a sudden you be acting dumb
don’t know where none of these laws come from
when Koch brothers numbers here more than once
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Wednesday 26 October 2011
As I tend to warn people a lot: I was raised Mormon. You might not realize it, but Mormons have a dress code. It’s based on the standard of modesty set by wearing temple garments (those “magic Mormon underwear”), although pre-garment wearing youth are also encouraged to follow it as preparation for being endowed in the temple. It’s very similar to what many orthodox Jews might require: nothing tight-fighting, nothing above the knee, no sleeveless shirts, absolutely no cleavage under any circumstances, etc. While I was Mormon I was strict about adhering to these standards even through my teen years. There were girls in my Ward who were not. I remember slut-shaming Jody with a vengeance for wearing a mini-skirt to church one Sunday (although in all honesty that was just as much in retribution for Jody once bullying me as it was in defense of her modesty). My strict adherence came to an end when I was about 18 years old, but not because I wanted to wear a mini-skirt too.
I was attending a Bishop’s Night co-hosted by our Patriarch, which was a somber gathering of all the young people in the Ward where we were lectured on things like the Law of Chastity and Word of Wisdom and other serious commandments we were all presumably under great pressure to break. That night, Patriarch Blair spoke on the subject of modesty, particularly the dress code. It wasn’t any new material for me. I had it memorized at that point. The problem came when he got to bathing suits. The dress code dictated that women should only wear one piece bathing suits. The point was that two piece suits were typically bikinis, and that was showing way too much skin. I agreed. However, one of the other young women named Meg who was about fourteen at the time timidly raised her hand during the Q&A after the lecture and explained that although she completely agreed with the standards and really wanted to obey them, it was often difficult to find a one piece bathing suit that could actually be described as modest. The style at that point favored high cuts on the hips and low cuts on the chest. On the other hand, designers had recently introduced the tankinis, which although were technically two-piece, actually covered a lot more skin. “I feel much more covered and modest in those two piece suits than in any one piece suit I can find,” said Meg, “but when I wore it to the swimming party we had a couple months ago I was told I had to change or go home.”
I knew exactly what Meg was talking about and agreed with her assessment of the bathing suits. I owned a tankini for that very reason, although I hadn’t gone to the swimming party and didn’t know she’d been sent home over it. I was a little appalled that she had been, and I expected the Patriarch (who had long been a respected mentor of mine, besides being an extraordinarily well-respected member of our regional church community) to see her reason. Instead, he told her that her suit was in violation of the dress code and she needed to buy another suit, especially for church events. In that moment, something in my head finally clicked. I realized for the first time that eighty and ninety year old “Apostles,” who had never in their lives shopped for a woman’s bathing suit much less had to comfortably dress a woman’s body, were telling me what modesty was. I raised my hand, then told the Patriarch that perhaps we as young women who wanted to dress modestly out of our own sense of dignity might have the best idea of what covers our bodies appropriately. The Patriarch paused for a moment, then in one of the most infuriating things he had ever said to me replied, “We as men are the viewers and audience for women’s fashion. I think we have a better idea of what suits your modesty best. We only want to protect you.”
People who know me can probably guess what happened next. I might have still been a Mormon girl back then, and I hadn’t quite earned my raging feminist badge yet, but there was enough of an argument that my long-beloved mentor went cold to me from that day forward, and I lost a lot of respect for him. Shortly after that exchange, I intentionally broke my first religious rule: I started wearing sleeveless shirts. Not very revealing ones, mind you. They simply didn’t have sleeves. They didn’t grab men’s attention anymore than the ones I already wore, but that was the point. I had finally seen the hypocrisy of the letter of the law and wearing those shirts was a way for me to keep pointing it out. It was another decade (and long after I had both emotionally and actually left the church) before I was ready to break the spirit of it. Although I understood on an intellectual level how wrong it was, my conditioning still led me to feel in my bones that showing real skin was dangerous. I was afraid of my own body, or more specifically how men would react to me if I revealed more of it. I’m not sure why I finally decided to face that fear, but one day I got in the mood and bought some new sundresses for summer. They weren’t particularly slutty, but at least there was cleavage. I wore them. Men paid attention. I enjoyed the attention. I was not raped. I started thinking more and more about why I wear the clothes that I do. Was it because I wanted to wear them, or because that’s what I felt I had to wear for my own protection?
The issue here is really one of self-determination. Of course people should be allowed to dress however they please, without threat of degradation or violence. Not wearing a headscarf or wearing a mini-skirt shouldn’t get a woman burned alive or raped. This is a simple matter of human dignity and tolerance. The feminist problem results from the fact that people often dress not just for ourselves but for what my Patriarch called “the audience.” Men are in the habit of considering themselves the primary audience when it comes to women’s clothing, and they are wrong in that regard about as often as they are right. Women dress for men in everything from burkas to tassels. Sometimes this is because women are forced to wear such attire in an effort by men to control women’s bodies. This is just as true for men who want to keep women virginal until marriage as it is for men who want to be serviced in a strip club. Sometimes this is because women choose to wear those clothes in an effort to use their bodies to please and control and compete for men. Both attitudes use fashion as a means to power instead of expression, both treat women as objects subject to the desires of men, both encourage men to interpret a woman’s sexual intentions based solely on what she is wearing (and abdicate their own responsibility to control themselves), and therefore neither scenario is exactly comfortable for feminists.
What should a woman wear? The simple answer is, whatever fashion is her honest expression. It’s difficult to say what this would look like because women haven’t been given much of an opportunity to do so. We’ve come pretty close in modern Western societies but it’s still not there yet. I venture to guess that, despite what critics of feminism say, once women get to decide what they’re going to wear without worrying about how men will treat them because of it, women will still appear attractive to men. We are their mates, after all. Frankly it’s surprised me how much of what I like about fashion men like in the end, too. Maybe it’s just that when I’m being myself, they’re attracted to the joy and confidence of it, or maybe my choices are still being defined by the “patriarchy” despite my best intentions to overcome my programming. I don’t really worry about it too much because when I think about fashion for too long I get bored.
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Saturday 10 September 2011
I love mail. Real mail, that is, the type made out of paper and delivered to your box by a uniformed, oath-sworn mail carrier. Even before I could explain why I loved mail, I loved it so much that in elementary school I volunteered for the job of collecting it from our box and sorting it for my mother’s review. This was a job of some responsibility at the time, since our mailbox was on the other side of our apartment complex and often involved a harrowing bike ride across several through-ways and parking lots. Along the way, I would recite to myself, “neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stops me from the swift completion of my appointed rounds!” I knew a lot of missionaries and had family in the military serving for years overseas without ready access to a phone, so that gave me practice at letter writing that a lot of modern kids don’t experience. I collected stamps. I even had a stamp collecting board game produced by the United States Postal Service. I was an odd child.
I was also a writer very early on, which I think is part of what made the mail so magical. I remember sitting and marveling at books as a kid, as the realization dawned on me that these words I was reading in The Secret Garden had been written by someone who had been dead for quite a long time, someone who had wanted to communicate with a reader but had probably never even imagined my existence. Nonetheless, I knew this person. Perhaps not well, but better than I knew most strangers living in my own time. I was having a conversation with them every time I picked up the book and read their words. Writing was a means to immortality, or maybe just time travel, but either way it was something mystical. It is more or less the first way humans devised to communicate with someone who was nowhere in sight, and letter writing formed the basis of ideas for everything from Christian religion to American government. Time and distance are no longer concrete values once writing enters into the equation. The mail makes that happen for those of us still living. Of course, so does the telephone, but the problem with spoken words is that once they are released, they’re gone. Letters can outlive those who wrote them. Some might say this is also a curse, since we don’t always want what we wrote down to survive that long. Indeed, this is why it was customary to burn the correspondence of a person after they died, and why we have so little of Jane Austen’s prolific letters (her sister Cassandra dutifully burned them after Jane’s death).
For the first twelve years of my life the Internet hadn’t been invented yet as far as I knew, but of course I fell in love with it as soon as I found it. Email and Usenet and even chat seemed like an improvement over the regular post, at least at first. It was faster and cheaper and easier to meet others online, even if only in a (sometimes beneficially) anonymous way. As I got older, however, I started to miss the gift of epistolary more and more. The Internet certainly wasn’t the same, and although I wasn’t sure if it was actually worse, I wasn’t sure it was better, either. Unfortunately, most of the people I knew weren’t interested in writing me letters even if I sent them my own, which takes a lot of the fun out of it. I didn’t know any more missionaries, and my family in the service could communicate easily enough over the Internet even while they were in Iraq and Afghanistan. I decided to seek out the same sort of new social connections I had learned to embrace online, but in the form of the older technology. I went looking for pen pals.
It might be a dying art (letter-writing has been on the way out for at least a couple hundreds years, as every new generation of writers has lamented), but there is still a subculture who embraces the open exchange of letters and postcards. Most of these exchanges operate under some degree of anonymity. In the interests of safety, it’s not necessarily a good idea to give out your mailing address to strangers all willy-nilly, so exchanges have been setup that will assign you a number to identify your correspondence and the mail is forwarded by the exchange who is the only one with your address unless you willfully choose to share it with your new correspondent(s). The Letter Exchange operates in this way. Postcrossing is different in that it focuses solely on postcards and provides real addresses, although you still get an ID# that enables a “round robin” type exchange where you receive a postcard from a different person than you sent your postcard to.
The Letter Exchange was started in the early 80′s, although its present incarnation has only been around since 2003, but they haven’t gone online yet except for their website where you can subscribe to their triannual newsletter. The newsletter includes a few articles along with the ads from writers requesting letters. Subscribers get a 20 word ad for free, but you don’t have to submit a listing, you can just answer the ads in the newsletter and see what arrives in response. Many of the ads explicitly promise a reply, most make a point to respond even if it doesn’t turn into a long-term correspondence. I recently purchased the Summer 2011 newsletter (they don’t expire; you could get back issues and answer ads from years ago and the exchange will faithfully forward your letters). I was quickly intrigued by so many of the listings that I started to wonder if I could find the time to answer them all. Here are some examples:
12359. Know thyself? Forget Socrates. Those with the most Facebook friends and Twitter followers are the luckiest people in the world.
12664. Hayek. Mises. Friedman. Sowell. Woods. DiLorenzo.
7887. I am a retired Christian missionary to 4 continents, and at the same time I am gay. I have tried many cures to cure my “gayness”, but none of them worked. So I have finally accepted myself as a gay Christian male. Your comments, please.
12604. BBC sitcoms.
10030. Any songwriters?
12181. Do you grow/cook with foods that are native to your area? Willing to share tips, failures, and successes?
11690. How can we defeat Planned Parenthood?
12150. Love words? Love politics– even though…? Liberal not “progressive”? Let’s write.
423D. Laptop or upright screen monitor and printer?
12644. There are millions of stories to tell, and I’d like to hear some of those stories.
12617. Atheist misses ritual and the mystical. Interests: ukeleles, skepticism, travel, sarcasm, politics, current events, religion, writing, crime procedurals, lists, letters.
8650. Cats, reading, sports, container gardening – would love to hear from other females with any/some of the same interests. Busy people preferred, as I’m not the world’s speediest correspondent.
11401. No frills living. Getting by on less. The best things in life are invisible.
What struck me about the listings is that each one could be a blog topic, or a Twitter conversation, or a new Facebook friend. I could write a “letter” in response to every one of these, post it on my blog, and (hopefully) get responses back in the comments. If it’s very interesting, a discussion might ensue. More likely is that I’d be shouting into the ether of the Internet and the only responses I’d get back would be spam. Alternatively, I could write my response on paper and mail it to the requesting party and be nearly guaranteed a lively exchange with someone who is actually interested. Granted, it would only be one person instead of open to the potential community of a blog or Twitter, but just as speed and less cost aren’t necessarily virtues, the quality of a few deeper relationships are often more desirable than a quantity of shallow ones. There, you see? I’ve practically written my response to #12359 already.
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Wednesday 18 May 2011
The Rev. Steven S. Nelson seems to be under the misapprehension that the Metro non-discrimination ordinance dictates to private businesses what they can or cannot do. That’s not true. Private businesses in Tennessee will still be free to fire people for being homosexual or being suspected of being homosexual, according to the religious beliefs of those business owners. No one is being forced to be accepting, forgiving, or tolerant. Christian business owners need not fear any forced changes to their human relations policies even if the Metro ordinance stands.
However, the Metro non-discrimination ordinance does forbid the GOVERNMENT from firing people based on their sexual orientation. This is added to a list of other protected categories, including race, age, disability, and religion, all of which were controversial among some groups at the times they were added, but none of which were catastrophic once implemented. Protecting such categories of minorities from government discrimination serves two primary purposes in the interests of all Americans.
First, we live in a country where each citizen is recognized as equal before the law. That principle is basic both to our Declaration of Independence and the various federal and state constitutions, and although we don’t always get it right in practice, it is in everyone’s best interests that we continue to strive to meet that ideal. We don’t want the government deciding who can participate in our democracy based on personal traits that cannot be changed (like skin color) or on matters of personal, conscionable choice (like religion). No matter which of these two categories you think sexual orientation falls under, the government has no business forbiding you a job as a law-abiding citizen based merely on some personal trait.
This is to stop the proverbial camel in the tent moreso than anything, since once the government starts advocating a particular group over any other, they are free to discriminate against ANY group of its citizens. Just because your religion is in good with the government today doesn’t mean it will be tomorrow. The government is required to include everyone – even the people we might not approve of, personally – because if we do not, someday it might just be our turn.
The second purpose of the Metro non-discrimination ordinance is to preserve the principle of free market competition. America is supposedly a meritocracy where our business success is ultimately determined by our skill and work ethic, not because we were born with the right skin color or into the right religion. In reality, our success is still strongly influenced by a number of factors we inherit due to no merit of our own, but in our capitalist society we still work according to the principle that the most skilled, intelligent, and hardest-working among us will ultimately succeed. We might be born with all the advantages in the world and squander them due to laziness, or we might be born without any significant advantages and overcome every obstacle to realize the fullness of the American dream.
When we allow our government to fire someone based on a personal trait like sexual orientation, we abandon these free market principles. We fail to evaluate workers based on their job performance, and instead demand that our group (heterosexuals) be placed at an unfair market advantage by the government. Heterosexuals that deny homosexuals jobs based on sexual orientation betray a deep sense of entitlement. Not only do they want to be recognized as better than homosexuals and given an artificial advantage over them, but they betray the fact that they are not better than homosexuals, since if they were better they wouldn’t need the government granting them this artificial advantage to successfully compete.
Of course, I’m being slightly disingenous here. The reality is, business owners who want to discriminate against homosexuals will not be able to work as government contractors if the Metro ordinance stands. This could mean a loss of business for them. Other contractors who are at least willing to work with homosexuals will step up to take their place. Frankly, I’m surprised that they object to such terms being dictated to them, since if they are entitled to decide who works for their company, surely the citizens of Nashville-Davidson should be allowed to decide who works for our own government. Our Council voted the law into place fairly and democratically and it should stand as the will of the people without outsiders with different values trying to impose different laws on us to suit themselves.
The real problem isn’t the hypocrisy of their position, though. These “Christian” businesses will have to decide if they truly believe their success is based on the values of their faith, or if they want to actually compete based on performance in the free market without any government-imposed advantages for their beliefs. Do they trust in the arm of man, or do they trust in the providence of God? If it is truly in God they trust, and God has truly commanded them to discriminate against homosexuals, then losing these government contracts shouldn’t be any hardship for them. God will bless them for standing for their principles and will pour out a blessing so large on their businesses that they will not have room enough to receive it. The rest of us will wish them all the best as they truly become private businesses instead of suckling off the teat of government contracts.
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Monday 24 January 2011
Why would rape victims not want to pursue prosecution? As I once heard the Assistant DA explain to victim after victim, justice takes years, and often even the victims and prosecutors who do everything right don’t get justice at all. The investigation and trial will be consuming. You’ll have to give up work, you’ll have to relive the events of your rape over and over again, and your loved ones will be witness to it all. You’ll be treated like the criminal. The most intimate details of your life will be laid bare before the public. If your attacker makes bail or is acquitted, the fear of reprisal may be even worse than the fear they’ll do it again if they remain unprosecuted. In the face of that, who wants “justice?” Who wants to be exposed and ridiculed in front of strangers, when you’ve already been exposed and humiliated by your attacker? Who wants to give up that much more of your time and effort and emotional investment, after everything that was already taken from you, and all the effort you’ll have to make just to recover from it? Many victims feel it would be better to drop it and move on and heal the best they can. Can you blame them?
Despite the victim’s rights enumerated under Article I, Section 35 of the Tennessee Constitution, crimes ultimately aren’t against victims. Crimes are against the State. Or as our indictment says, “against the peace and dignity of the State of Tennessee.” When a person is murdered, for instance, there may not be a victim to approach the police or the District Attorney looking for justice. Sometimes the community is outraged to learn of the crime. Many times, the public isn’t even aware the crime took place. Murder victims often have friends or family, but even if they do not, our law dictates that murder is an offense against the public good and should be punished even if there’s no one alive personally injured by the death. It’s the job of the District Attorney to convince a jury even in the absence of a victim to take the stand, and frankly, that’s getting easier and easier to do with the development of modern forensics.
The point is this: criminal law isn’t about exacting personal vengeance. It’s about maintaining public safety. For the purposes of reporting crime, it doesn’t matter that the victim doesn’t want to pursue prosecution. It doesn’t matter if there’s a solid case or not. If a rape took place then a rape took place, and that must be investigated and reported in the interests of public safety. It might not make the police department or the prosecutor look good to have all those unpunished crimes in their jurisdiction, but hey, if you want your jurisdiction to look safe you should do more to actually prevent rape and prosecute it when it happens, not cover up the crimes that are taking place.
It’s interesting to me that just after this Metro story broke – and critics of Serpas started laying blame at his feet for pursuing traffic stops instead of cleaning up the underreporting of sex crimes – a New Orleans paper runs a story indicating that Serpas is working with their District Attorney to direct the focus away from traffic stops in order to have more resources for finding violent criminals. He also fired their sex crimes division commander for underreporting sex crimes. I have a hard time believing that Serpas did these things in response to criticism back here in Nashville, but it’s also hard to ignore the symmetry of the two stories. So, if Serpas is willing to do those things in New Orleans now, why wasn’t he willing to do them when he was in Nashville?
The simple answer is that he was willing to do them here, but something else in our city prevented him. Perhaps he didn’t know about the problem, or if he did, perhaps he didn’t have the cooperation of the Metro District Attorney in addressing it? Perhaps the backlash against his efforts to shake up the existing MNPD structure left him with too little political capital to effect that kind of change? Blaming Serpas for a practice that went on before, during, and after his tenure here sounds remarkably like “passing the buck” to me. It’s a time-honored tradition within Metro to blame the guy who just left (and who therefore can’t be held accountable) for the mistakes of the organization, in order for those who are still here and in authority to avoid taking responsibility.
Placing blame is a useless exercise when it doesn’t result in actual change. As far as I know, no one in the MNPD has been fired for underreporting these crimes. No resources have been taken away from issuing traffic tickets and harassing petty vagrants in order to prevent, investigate, and prosecute sex crimes. The MNPD continues to insist they did everything right in investigating these crimes. I don’t believe it. Classifying crimes as a “matter of record” because they would be difficult to prosecute makes the police and the District Attorney look better superficially, but it doesn’t serve victims, and it ultimately doesn’t serve the peace and dignity of the State of Tennessee.
Police must investigate crimes regardless of their prosecutorial merit because that’s how you build a case in the first place. Many of the police officers I’ve known – some of them on the MNPD – have often explained to me how pursuing suspects relentlessly pays off because if they’ve committed one crime you can’t prosecute them for, they’ll commit another crime later on that will put them behind bars. One clue about this crime leads to another clue about that crime that leads to a case. It’s the karmic law of policing. The fact that officers are dropping investigations because a witness doesn’t want to take the stand tells me they’re not taking pursuit of these criminals seriously. When the police immediately drop a rape investigation because the victim is unwilling to testify that’s not protecting the public, that’s serving the District Attorney.
The MNPD might believe it’s their job to build prosecutable cases, and perhaps that’s what they’ve been told, but any police department worth its salary places protecting the public before prosecuting criminals. That means sympathetically listening to victims, investigating crimes, and hunting down the bad guys. The better they do this, the better their cases will be, but no one but the District Attorney expects them to be more concerned with building cases than with harassing criminals. There are minimum legal standards within which they must perform their work – not violating anyone’s Constitutional rights is important – but it’s not their job to decide if a victim will be a good witness or if they have enough evidence to convict beyond a reasonable doubt.
Yes, rape is difficult to prosecute. It shouldn’t be as difficult as it is, but as it stands it’s nearly impossible to convict without the testimony of a victim. That’s no good reason to stop investigating a crime, though, and we should be taking a good hard look at how victims are treated and their cases are handled when apparently so many of them don’t want to pursue justice so early on in the investigation. It’s hard enough on rape victims to face the challenges of our criminal justice system without the police and the prosecutors abandoning their cases at the first opportunity. These victims have already had to fight an attacker once, if not physically during the attack, psychologically for perhaps the rest of their lives. If they take the stand, they will have to fight him there again. They shouldn’t be expected to fight the system, too, but for as long as they must, the police and the prosecutors should be their strongest allies in that fight.
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Friday 14 January 2011
This is the first week of business in the 107th General Assembly of Tennessee, and I’ve been observing intently. Granted, there’s still time for the overall course to change (thankfully), but so far it’s looking like business as usual, which isn’t a good thing given their usual way of doing business (and the fact that such a massive changing of the guard in the last election should logically make things different). Our government’s first duty is to do no harm to its citizens. More laws and regulations are not necessarily the best solution to every problem. In other situations, they are exactly what is needed. The first quality we should look for in our politicians is the discernment to judge when they can help with the problems of their constituents and when it is best for them to exercise legislative restraint. The ability to listen to their constituents and the intelligence to understand the issues then guides them in making the right choices in those instances where new laws are the best solution. Ultimately, however, a particular political ideology is less important to look for in our leaders than loyalty to the integrity of our political system. Every American’s first oath is to uphold the Constitution, not their party platform, and the Tennessee Constitution holds a similar place for the people of Tennessee. Everyone has ideas for new laws we could pass. Few of us are cautious enough to question how those ideas might have unintended consequences. Even fewer of us are wise enough to exercise their power appropriately.
Tennessee has a long tradition of abhoring government meddling while standing in desperate need of government assistance. We want to be left alone to live the way we prefer to live, but we are also a very poor people statewide who cannot afford to meet their own needs without mutual assistance. Even those of us who are seeking independence are still dependent, as was demonstrated by the membership of the Tea Party being composed significantly of people on government entitlement programs. The louder people scream that they are being held down by the government, the more it is evidence that the government should be doing more of the right things (building infrastructure), not less of the wrong things (lowering taxes). The results of the last election told us this is still the case loud and clear, but it’s looking like the people we elected were still too deaf to hear it.
There are basically four kinds of legislation: 1) unnecessary laws that do no harm, 2) unnecessary laws that do harm, 3) necessary laws that do unintended harm, and 4) necessary laws that do good. Necessary laws that do good are the only laws that our politicians should be passing. Necessary laws that do unintended harm shouldn’t be passed, but proposed and discussed, so better solutions can be worked out. Most new criminal law falls under this third category. We hear about some heinous act and immediately want to legislate against it generally, even when it might unintentionally do more harm to the public good to treat it as more than a rare outrage. The members of the Tennessee General Assembly have an unfortunate tendency to focus on passing laws from categories #1 and #3 with occasional flirting with #2 (their preoccupation with outlawing gay marriage springs to mind, for example), and only a rare foray into #4. For example, take a look at the recent Constitutional amendments they’ve proposed. In terms of lawmaking, it doesn’t get much more serious than amending the Constitution, but they only want to do it to knock down straw men and protect us from imaginary dangers. Was the right to hunt and fish seriously under attack? No. Does our Constitution currently allow an income tax, and will adding language that forbids it make any difference at all? No. It’s much ado about nothing. It’s vanity and talking points and campaign commercials. It’s tilting at windmills. They’re looking busy passing unnecessary, feel-good measures while Tennesseans need food and jobs and public infrastructure. They fiddle while we burn.
Sen. Brian Kelsey seems to believe that amending our Constitution to eliminate the possibility of an income tax that is already not a possibility under our Constitution will encourage employers to bring new jobs to Tennessee. Sure, okay. Everyone likes the sound of lower taxes even when it’s not in our overall best interests. Given what’s already in the Tennessee Constitution, it’s a pointless, feel-good measure. But you know what corporations also look for when evaluating potential locations for new business? Public infrastructure. Transportation, education, energy, communications, all of which are areas Tennessee has become woefully inadequate to provide in large part because our government does not have the revenue to build it and the free market doesn’t yet have a customer to justify it (or is inadequate to meet the needs of those customers). If we build it, they will come, but we have to invest in it first. Experts would suggest that an income tax is the most fair and efficient way to do this, and will pay off for taxpayers in the long run, but instead of advocating sacrifice for the common good the Tennessee GOP would rather cannibalize our children’s future for lower taxes now. Nevermind that you’re probably paying a higher percentage of your income under the sales tax scheme, anyway. They’d rather give you fewer services for more of your money without you noticing.
Sen. Andy Berke had some really good ideas to help stimulate the economy. It’d be great if he’d, you know, file some Bills based on those ideas. Or any Democratic Senator, for that matter, I don’t mean to just pick on him. I realize that the Tennessee Democrats don’t have enough votes to pass gas at this point, but show some life, people. If you can’t make them lose, make them kill your best ideas. Those ideas deserve to be heard, and they deserve a fighting chance to eventually become law. When they’re killed, I promise we’ll scream about it. When the time comes, we’ll make the people remember who was trying to do good things and who was hurting Tennessee by playing politics. There will be another election someday. The only thing worse than the Republicans doing meaningless shit in the face of suffering is the Democrats doing nothing at all. You’re the Minority party now, so start acting like it. Nip at Ramsey’s bootheels, or better yet get together and chase him day and night like a pack of rabid wolves. There’s freedom in having nothing left to lose. Learn from the example of the Tennessee GOP. Be as annoying to them as they’ve been to us. Don’t shy away from the fight just because you’re going to lose. We expect you to lose. Most people in Tennessee are losing right now. But we still expect you to fight. Most people in Tennessee are still fighting. Show us what you’re made of, and maybe Tennesseans will give you a comeback. The people love an underdog.
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