Category: Politics and Government

Like Drinking Poison

I remember watching the Truth and Reconciliation Commission hearings broadcast back in 1996. It was my first exposure to the idea of restorative justice, and an incredible lesson in forgiveness. Do I consider the slight against me more heinous than murder and rape that withholding forgiveness might be justified? The weekly broadcast was a reminder of how powerful forgiveness can be.

Juxtaposing those hearings with the Ford/Kavanaugh debacle yesterday highlights a failing in the guilt/punishment driven “justice” system.  There are certain crimes where it makes sense to ascribe guilt and mete out punishment — financial reparations when someone has caused monetary loss, removing a person from society when they are apt to continue harming others. I doubt that is the case here. I know what I wanted from the guy who assaulted me — for him to own it and to learn from it. Had Kavanaugh admitted to terrible behavior as a young man, said that there were occasions when he was so drunk he does not recall his actions (thus cannot confidently recall or deny assaulting Ford), been truly remorseful for both his behavior and how his behavior impacted other people, and acknowledged that he is aware of his faults and has stopped drinking (or ceased drinking to excess) and acting in a domineering/privileged way … but, no. We get a belligerent assertion that he is not, well, belligerent. And never drank to excess.

I’d still object to a SCoTUS nominee who thinks it’s debatable whether a president can be indicted while in office. Or that criminal investigations into a president should be deferred until he is out of office. Or that George W approach to torture, extrajudicial detention, and war was a bit of all right. But I would at least get the desire to forgive someone for their decades-old actions if they owned those actions, regretted those actions, and changed.

Why *I* Didn’t Report

I tried to report, but I could not get anyone to TAKE my report. When I was in University, I had an undergrad assistant-ship. One of my responsibilities was overseeing work-study students who helped out in a computer lab. General management stuff – scheduling, sorting out coverage when someone couldn’t make their shift, determining when the lab was available to students, approving time cards. One kid falsified his time card — he’d clock in, leave, and come back a few hours later to clock out. Not making a shift wouldn’t be a problem, I dealt with that quite regularly and generally covered shifts myself if I couldn’t find someone looking to pick up a few extra hours. But asking to get paid for not working was unreasonable (also a crime. It wasn’t just defrauding the University, it was defrauding the Federal Work Study Program). My mental parade of horrors went something like this: chap gets charged with fraud, loses work-study funding, has to leave school, entire life is ruined over a stupid thing he’s done as a 19 year old kid. I wanted to help the guy, so I decided to be in my office before he clocked in. Check the lab every fifteen minutes or so and confirm that he didn’t just step out for a minute. Leave a note on his time card to see me in my office. And TALK to him about it — I know what you’re doing, it’s not right nor is it legal, and there are real ramifications if you persist and I have to report you. The kid was a big guy. Over six foot tall, built like a footballer. I asked a friend of mine to hang out in my office with me.

A few hours later, and I had evidence the dude was falsifying his time card: he came back to punch out. And came into my office as requested — all innocent-like with no idea what I could possibly have wanted to discuss. My friend, unfortunately, had gotten bored and decided to ring her sister about ten minutes before his shift was over.

My office had been a dark room — an important thing, when developing negatives, is to avoid exposure to light. Darkrooms have two rooms — open the first door, enter into the antechamber, kick on the red lights, close the outer door, then open the door to the processing room. I used the antechamber as a storage area, but there were tables and chairs out there too. The inner room was my actual office – desk, chairs, coffee maker. My friend took her call out to the antechamber because my discussion with the work-study student was going to interrupt her call. And closed the door.

So here I am, in a closed room, alone with the guy (a) that intimidated me and (b) with whom I had to have an unpleasant conversation. I explain that we’ve been checking the lab every few minutes and know that he never actually worked his shift. He could call it an emergency and say he came back to cross out the “in” time now that the emergency was sorted. Or he could clock out, and I’d have to report the fraud to administration.

He proceeded to sit on me and kiss me. I could not get up. I was stuck in a rolling office chair, where attempts to push with my feet just scooted the chair around the tile floor. I wasn’t a terribly weak girl, I could bench about 30 kg which was about average for my size. But there was no shoving this guy off of the chair. I was terrified, and in my mind a little angry that my friend — who really only needed to be there for like the last half hour of the guy’s shift — had decided to stay for the full three hours and didn’t care enough to actually help me during the period of time I actually wanted help. I was kissed and groped at for minutes before I was able to injure the guy enough that he fell off the chair. And I ran out to the antechamber. The guy was furious, but he wasn’t going to do anything with my friend standing right there, or with the antechamber door opened to the hallway. He stormed off.

But I was still terrified. I rang the police — even leaving aside sexual component of the assault, false imprisonment is a crime. Assault is a crime. I reported. And was directed to campus security because, for the price of a few new police cruisers and other “support” … evidently the city police do not respond to on campus crimes. Noise complaint, ring campus security. A flaming sofa out in the public street, ring campus security (although the fire department will eventually respond). Some kid assaults you and prevents you from leaving a room, ring campus security.

Well, you know what campus security has to say about sexual assault? There’s no evidence, I have no witness, it’s he said/she said. And it’s important that we be able to tell prospective freshman about the low level of on-campus crime. Including the zero rate of sexual crimes. So in addition to abject terror, humiliation, and eeeeewwwwww that I felt, I got to add in a heap of betrayal because, about a year ago, I was one of those prospective freshman getting the sales pitch. I remember hearing about the zero on-campus sex crime stat and wondering how that was possible. The students were still kids. You could find a keg party any night of the week. And whilst neither youth nor inebriation exonerate criminal action … they are certainly factors that contribute to it.

I told several friends — primarily because I did not ever want to be left alone with the guy, and I needed them to understand why. I’m telling the Internet 23 years later because of Trump’s comments about Dr. Ford not reporting. There are millions of different reasons assault victims haven’t reported the crime. None of those reasons mean the attack didn’t happen. None of those reasons mean the attack was anything other than horrifying. And sure I managed to move on. But I will never forget how the guy looked, or smelled, or the feeling of being restrained and assaulted.

So, Trump, #WhyIDidn’tReport … why I don’t have a police report to back up my assault is that the University paid off local law enforcement to ignore on-campus crime, and campus security had a vested interest in maintaining low crime stats. Doesn’t mean it didn’t happen, just means that the so-called justice system fails a lot of people. And, hey, isn’t that the sort of thing a the head of the Executive branch should be fixing?


Red Herrings

To everyone discussing whether a 17 year old kid who sexually assaults someone at a party (whilst high/drunk/whatever) should have said event preclude them from [promotions, government service, appointment to the Supreme Court] … that’s a red herring. The question is if someone who lies to Congress under oath (possibly repeatedly) should be confirmed to the Court. And that would be a resounding NO regardless of the individual’s politics.

There’s a big difference between elusive “I do not recall X” testimony where you’re not denying the action itself but rather recollection of said action and “I did not do X”. When someone pretty convincingly testifies that you did do X. Be X receiving stolen e-mails or sexually assaulting a woman … well, there are *lots* of things I’ve done but do not recall (although I’m not sure what kind of life you lead when stolen e-mails to advance judicial nominations are so every day that they simply slip your mind). But outright denying it happened?!?

Search engines as bias algorithms

Sigh! Once again, Trump is the most lamentable victim of any persecution in history (including actual people who were bloody well burned alive as witches). Anyone remember people google-bombing Bush2 to link moron and “miserable failure” over to him? Algorithms can be used against themselves.
Singling out a specific feedback cycle that is damaging *to you* is a whole heap of hypocrisy (and thus neo-presidential). But Google’s “personalized” news seems to be just as much a victim of commercialization as cable news. I don’t get many articles that are complimentary of Trump. My husband does. Seeing information that substantiates your point of view is not a good thing for personal growth and awareness, but this is not a conspiracy. Just Google’s profile of us — we’re getting news that Google thinks we’ll like. I know search results are personalized in an attempt to deliver what *you* want … so it’s quite possible my search results will skew toward Trump-negative content (although as a matter of business, I would expect my husband’s to skew toward Trump-positive content). I guess we all know what Trump clicks on and what he doesn’t if *his* results aren’t just a summary of the Fox News homepage.
And thinking about search engines logically — the “secret sauce” is a bias algorithm. Back in 1994, there was an “Internet Directory” — a alphabetized listing (maybe categorized by subject … don’t recall) of web sites. It missed some. More importantly, though, there were not millions of web sites with new ones popping up every day, so I’m thinking the phone book approach to web sites might not work. If search engines crawled the Internet and returned a newest to oldest list of everything that contains the word … or a list alphabetized by author, page title, etc, … would you use a search engine??? Someone would have to write a bias search algorithm to work against search engine results. Oh, wait.

Too soon

Why is it always too soon to discuss how gun control (or precluding those with mental illnesses from possessing guns) might have averted a mass shooting but it isn’t too soon to discuss how rounding up foreigners for mass deportation might have saved Mollie Tibbetts life?

The Spoils System

How a company, political organization, or non-profit spends their money doesn’t bother me that much — it’s a factor I consider when donating to “the cause” or purchasing from a company. I can appreciate that one feels betrayed when, say, some of your University tuition is used to pay off women and pizza delivery people who have been attacked by the school’s hockey team, thus suppressing reporting and criminal charges (then bragging to prospective students about the ZERO on-campus crime rate). Or the quasi-celebrity fronted charity uses donations to settle legal disputes involving the quasi-celebrity. Or your political party offers a decent salary to someone they simultaneously claim is a terrible employee who needed to be fired. *But* those were all choices you made. And you’re free to make new choices next time around based on new information. I can even see how it would really suck to believe the Republican party has the right way of things, and you *want* to provide financial support, but you also have to accept that some percent of your contributions are going to salary for unqualified individuals who they want to keep quiet.

What bothers *me* is that Trump has essentially admitted he handed a 179,700$ per year job to an utterly unqualified individual because of their personal relationship.

*I* didn’t chose the grifter-in-chief, but it’s still my tax money going to his friends (at that, to his “racist dude’s obligatory non-white, I cannot be a racist because Bob’s my friend” friend … although there are *whole binders full* of unqualified old white dudes grifting in Trump’s administration too.)

Our tax money going to political supporters who are unqualified for the job? That’s why we’ve got the Pendleton Act and the subsequent civil service system — every politician could find somewhere for their friends and supporters to suck up taxpayer money for a few years. And the inverse: a politician could garner key supporters by offering them cushy government positions. And an unlucky politician could garner a supporter who considered himself key, anger the chap by not giving him one of those cushy jobs, and get shot. Maybe it’s time to eliminate the remaining “at the pleasure of the president” job appointments.

Just say the word

It worries me — the did he / didn’t he “say the n word” question once again surrounding Trump. Not because I think he did or did not use the term, but because the discussion is meaningless. Trump will deny saying it — hell, he denies writing things that are archived in his Twitter account. He denies saying things that even when told there is a publicly available recording of him saying it. The racists among his supporters will see a wink with that denial. Some willfully blind supports will believe the denial. Opponents will assume the tape exists. Whatever.

Words are powerful, but not in the way this debate seems to imply. Not saying a specific word does not magically cure the social, political, and economic problems in this country any more than having a president say radical Islamic terrorism magically solved the real social, political, and economic problems that lead to terrorist attacks.

But what makes a single word the arbiter of racism? I had a physical education instructor who was sexist. The fact he called every girl in his class “chick” didn’t make him sexist. His belief that we were less capable because of our gender, that our time in physical education would best be spent sitting on the bleachers fixing up our nails, that we did not have the mental capacity to be taught. That made him racist. Had the man respectfully called me by my proper name every single time … he would still have been a sexist asshole who had no business teaching school children.

Someone who made his political name demanding a president show him some ID, who knowingly called Mexican emigrants a bunch of rapists, who thinks shutting down Mosques bears consideration, who refers to hut-dwellers from shit-hole countries … words are powerful, but refraining from uttering a specific word does not negate his racism. Maybe the dude was not a racist (discrimination against tenants and such says otherwise, but just pretend). Maybe Trump’s political persona is a role he’s playing. Willing injuring others by inciting racist violence. Scapegoating others for serious economic problems. Fomenting a social environment where racist actions are acceptable. Maybe that’s not racist. It’s still horrendous behavior.

Facts Develop

Back when John Kerry was running for President, the “flip flopper” charge was a epitomized by his Marshall University statement “I actually did vote for the $87 billion, before I voted against it” regarding the Iraq war. Which quickly became “I was for the war before I was against it” — a charge that implies one’s beliefs have changed as a matter of political expediency.

It amazed me that no one ever responded to such criticism with “yes, given the information we were presented in 2003, I supported the war. With the new information that has come to light in the past year (or fifteen)? I believe the pretense was false, and as such have reconsidered my support. As president here’s what I would do to ensure intelligence is not tainted by politics.” Which (a) admits to being a person who is capable of analyzing new evidence and changing their opinion when new information invalidates previous “knowledge” and (b) focuses the question on something most people agree is a bad thing.

In the intervening decade, I’ve almost gotten to the point I’d be willing to vote for an individual who would just admit that they’ve changed their mind when new information was discovered over someone with whom I share ideological beliefs. Aaaaand then there’s Trump. Whose former lawyer, Jay Sekulow, announced that facts develop.

It’s an ironic turn of phrase, given my mental association with the innocent party (i.e. person who had no way to know otherwise) being able to discover new facts and changing their mind. Facts don’t develop when you are the person with the facts. What you tell everyone is developing … and somehow you are hoping we fear being labeled a flip-flopper enough to avoid changing our opinion as these new facts are revealed. You hope cognitive bias keeps our beliefs entrenched when hundreds of little revisions are made to “facts”.

Alternative Fact: The Darknet Market

Alternative Fact: From Trump @ one of this continual campaign rallies, this time in Florida: “You know, if you go out and you want to buy groceries, you need a picture on a card, you need ID.”

“The only time you don’t need it, in many cases, is when you want to vote for a president, when you want to vote for a senator, when you want to vote for a governor or a congressman. It’s crazy.”
Real Fact: Unless the grocery stores, home improvement centers, general merchandise retailers, and coffee shops around me have joined up to create a dark non-web to protest this crazy requirement to show ID before purchasing anything, there are limited situations in which one needs to present ID to make a purchase (hell, they don’t even require a signature for a 200$ grocery purchase anymore). And groceries are not one of those cases (barring, possibly, those using government support to make said purchase … but that’s fraud prevention {i.e. making sure SNAP recipient Fred is the one purchasing this stuff} and not an attempt to check out your awesome drivers license photo before you can purchase green beans. Maybe beer (verifying age restriction). Maybe smokes (again, age restriction). Guns, probably. Maybe even ammo. Occasionally for a high-value purchase. Frequently if you are asking for a discount — senior, student, military.
The worst part about his argument is that the same example could have been presented factually to support his desired outcome. Who cares who you are if you want to fork over some cash to purchase some oranges. Go right ahead. If you want the military discount, we need to see some ID that proves you are were in the military. If you want to use Fred’s SNAP benefits to purchase those oranges, you need to prove you are Fred. ID is required to ensure honesty. To prevent fraud. And shouldn’t we demand honesty in our elections? Shouldn’t we try to eliminate fraudulent voting?
Now I think the argument is a bunch of rubbish – unless the dude with an ID printing machine is going to set up shop at local employers and print out free IDs on people’s lunch breaks, unless the ID office is going to be open 24×7 so people don’t have to take a day off work to renew their free ID, unless they’re going to cruise around rural America printing IDs on farms … requiring an ID seems more like disqualifying eager voters than ensuring the sanctity of the election process.

Today In Hyperbole

Overuse of hyperbole is an ineffective method of communicating. Our relationship with Russia is currently worse than, say, the Cuban Missile Crisis?!? Kids are not being run through fallout drills because they’re out of school for the summer, and duck-and-cover drills will resume in August?

Additionally “U.S. foolishness and stupidity” was, what, objecting to the occupation in the Crimea? Objecting to Russia supporting the gassing of Syrians? Oh, maybe imposing economic penalties on a bunch of what I assume to be old, rich, white dudes for Magnitsky’s death.