.

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Thursday, June 15, 2017

FIRE Seeks Sponsors for Its Student Interns

The following message came the other day from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education. Please help if you can.

_

Niklas Vakil
Good morning,
I’m excited to introduce you to Niklas Vakil. Nik joined
the FIRE team this week as part of our annual Internship
Program. Along with eight other undergraduate students
and three law school students, Nik will spend his summer
learning about free speech, due process, religious liberty,
free thought, and legal equality from FIRE staff and other
First Amendment experts and free speech advocates.
Back on campus, at the University of Wisconsin-Madison,
Nik is the solicitor General for the Associated Students of
Madison. In this role, Nik has represented fellow students
in numerous cases in front of the Student Judiciary,
including the defense of two student council members who,
after voicing criticism of affirmative action policies and
university sponsored “safe spaces,” were charged with
malfeasance in office and subject to removal from their
positions. In both of these cases, Nik won unanimous
verdicts!
Nik also serves on the Student Misconduct Panel on
campus. Participating in misconduct cases, Nik has
gotten a close-up look into the troubling lack of pro-
cedural protections for accused students. For example,
at UW-Madison — and most other institutions of higher
education nationwide — students’ cases are decided
using the low “preponderance of the evidence” standard.
(An unlawful mandate by the Department of Education
that nearly all colleges and universities use this standard
in adjudicating sexual misconduct cases is currently
being challenged in court through a lawsuit sponsored
by FIRE.)
These experiences have ignited Nik’s passion for civil
liberties and brought him to intern at FIRE. By completing
an internship at FIRE, Nik will get the hands-on training
he needs to better address free speech and due process
concerns on his campus. In total, it will cost $5,120 to
host Nik all summer. This cost completely covers his
stipend, books, materials, fees to attend our activism-
focused summer conference, and more, like a tour of the
National Constitution Center.
Would you consider sponsoring Nik?
You can sponsor Nik by making a donation to FIRE’s
Internship Program today. Our Internship Program lies
at the heart of our efforts to empower student activists.
It is one of our longest-standing and most successful
programs, and in a time when so many of today’s college
students are demanding “protective” speech codes, “safe
spaces,” and trigger warnings, it is also one of our most
important. Now more than ever, we need to make sure
that students who care about free speech and due process
rights are given the opportunity to gain the knowledge and
tools needed to fight for them on campus. This summer,
FIRE has 12 brilliant and dedicated students who want
that opportunity. Our interns are committed to the free and
robust exchange of ideas and have each chosen to spend
the summer learning strategies to change the culture on
campus.
Given your help, Nik and his fellow interns can become
effective advocates for liberty back on campus. Your
donation affords them the unique opportunity to gain the
experience they need to translate their passion into action.
It will also give them a lifelong appreciation for the First
Amendment, which they will carry into careers in law, public
policy, service, and education!
I hope you will think about this request and consider saying
yes! Thank you in advance for supporting this important
program.
FIRE’s 2017 intern class
Kendall Burchard, University of Virginia
School of Law
Sam Foer, University of Rhode Island
Michael Frazier, University of Kentucky
Ethan Greist, Johns Hopkins University
Jacob Hill, The College of William &
Mary
Katherine Hung, Harvard College
Veronica Joyce, Pennsylvania State
University
Julia Kothmann, University of Virginia
Isaac Smith, University of Cincinnati College
of Law
Niklas Vakil, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Qi Xu, Swarthmore College
Lyndsey Wajert, Boston University School
of Law
FIRE Summer 2017 Interns
Sincerely,
Molly Nocheck
Director of Campus Outreach, Internship Coordinator
Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE)
510 Walnut Street | Suite 1250 | Philadelphia, PA 19106

Friday, June 09, 2017

Quote of the Day

The most common justification for studying women without studying men is that "history is men's studies." True? No.... To a boy, history is pressure to perform, not relief from that pressure. Feminism is relief from the pressure to be confined to only the traditional female role. To a boy, then, history is not the equivalent of women's studies; it is the opposite of women's studies.

       --- Warren Farrell, The Myth of Male Power, Introduction

Today I completed a video interview for a position as a freelance math tutor. As qualifications, I cited my bachelor's degree in physics as well as favorable reviews as a personal or volunteer tutor in various subjects, and having several articles published.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Manchester and the Problem of Social Homelessness

I get rather aggravated with all the focus in the news on the question of whether Salman Abedi "acted alone" or in coordination with ISIS. I mean, it's pretty obvious that he acted under their social influence, whether or not there was practical coordination.

Okay, I understand there's a short-term concern that there might be more incidents, and understanding whether there was an actual conspiracy in this case could help prevent them. But I feel this is distracting people from the more important question. Someone's practically coordinating with ISIS isn't a prerequisite to their committing highly destructive acts like this; but their being under its social influence is. So, could we please have some discussion of how and why some people come under the influence of a group like this, and how it might be prevented?

For BBC listeners, there was a story this morning about the Prevent program in the UK, which is aimed at preventing Muslim youth from being fanaticized (a term I prefer to "radicalized," since one can be socially and politically radical without being violent). It was claimed that this has been successful in many cases, but also that some think such a program can make people in the targeted community feel stigmatized.

There could be some truth to both of these statements. But, even allowing that it may have done some good, I think focusing only on one community is a mistake, for two reasons. First, acts of mass violence come from people of all backgrounds, for various (stated) ideological motives or none at all. Think Sandy Hook, or abortion clinic bombers. Although they may seem to have little to do with Manchester, there's evidence that people who commit such acts tend to have similar psychological profiles. In many cases, even when an act is committed in the name of Islam, it's done by a convert who appears to have a sketchy knowledge of the religion. This suggests that, rather than being the actual cause of such actions, religious beliefs are often an ad hoc explanation latched onto by someone driven by demons they don't understand themselves. So, if you have a program aimed exclusively at preventing Muslim youth from becoming fanaticized, you're failing to protect non-Muslims who are equally at risk of recruitment by cults (Islamic or otherwise) and, for that matter, probably failing to help Muslim youth resist recruitment by non-Islamic cults as well.

And, of course, the other problem is that such a program may in fact make someone feel stigmatized based on their cultural and religious background and have a boomerang effect.

Let's instead recognize that cultism fundamentally isn't about doctrine, but social psychology. Especially under certain sorts of life circumstances, people become susceptible to psychological manipulation by whichever abusive group they're unlucky enough to come across. This is mainly a matter of situation rather than innate disposition; saying there must be something wrong with someone because they joined a cult is like saying there must be something wrong with someone because they stepped in quicksand. Cults can reference any religious tradition, be theologically orthodox or heterodox, or may reference a non-religious ideology (my own adolescent experience was with a political cult, for instance).

The life circumstances that are conducive to cult recruitment are typically those in which a person has limited social ties, such as because of a life transition. Much as outreach efforts are sometimes made to people who are visibly homeless, it would behoove us similarly to try and identify and reach out to those who are socially homeless, so to speak.

There's the cliche of rural communities' bringing pies to newcomers, but this kind of thing doesn't seem to usually happen any more, at least where I've lived. I learned about my neighborhood association from signs posted in advance of the annual Memorial Day potluck; at the potluck, which always includes a membership meeting, various activities are mentioned, but welcoming new neighbors with a visit hasn't been one of them.

What if every neighborhood or block association regularly visited every resident and tried to engage them in community activities that are meaningful as well as fun? If people who have difficulty making social connections on their own initiative are approached proactively in this way, it might greatly reduce the dange rof their being drawn into a manipulative group that will at best exploit them and keep them isolated, and at worst may lead them to engage in (self-)destructive violence. This is something that government could actively promote and even subsidize where necessary.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Green Party of Philadelphia's Statement on Primary Election Results

Friday, May 19, 2017 

Green Party of Philadelphia's Statement on Primary Election Results


Philly-Greens-On-Primary-Results.jpg
      With preliminary results of the 2017 Primary Election now in, and given the Democratic Party's stranglehold on our city's politics, it is clear that Larry Krasner will be Philadelphia's next District Attorney. It is the Green Party of Philadelphia's hope that Krasner will abandon the longstanding pattern of corruption established by our city's elected officials, as most recently exemplified by our present District Attorney, Seth Williams.

      The Green Party of Philadelphia (GPOP) calls upon Krasner, if elected District Attorney, to bring an end to a criminal justice system that criminalizes poverty and race while letting white-collar corporate crimes go unpunished. The Green Party recognizes that Krasner's platform includes many reforms which are in line with our party's key values, and we hope that he honors these pledges in office, specifically:

***   In a city that is 43% African American, the Green Party calls for a District Attorney who reflects the truth that "Black lives matter" not only in his rhetoric, but also in his actions.
***   In a city where (according to the ACLU of Pennsylvania) 25% of pedestrian stops by police are made without reasonable suspicion and 80% of those pedestrians are people of color, the Green Party calls for a District Attorney who will push for an end to stop-and-frisk and who will refuse to bring cases resulting from these illegal, racist practices.
***   Only a few weeks after Philadelphia police arrested 22 people in Frankford for marijuana, the Green Party calls for an end to the failed War on Drugs and for the legalization of drug possession.
***   Only days after Philadelphians raised nearly $58,000 for the "Mama's Bail Out Day" campaign, the Green Party calls for the elimination of a cash bail system that is designed to keep low-income people behind bars.
***   Finally, the Green Party calls for a District Attorney who will never pursue the death penalty – a barbaric practice that brings neither closure nor healing, but only more pain and victims.

      In addition to restoring the idea of "justice" to our criminal justice system, Philadelphia's next District Attorney must guarantee voters' right to fair elections. We witnessed an astonishing attack of this right in March's special election in PA House District 197, which was rampant with election fraud and voter intimidation.The Green Party demands that the next District Attorney continues the investigation into the special election and takes concrete steps to ensure election integrity.

      Finally, we must highlight the urgent need for electoral reform as demonstrated by this election.
***   Krasner won the primary with 38% of the vote, representing only 6% of the city's registered voters. A system where a candidate can win office, despite only a minority of voters casting their ballots for him, is an insult to democracy. Therefore, the Green Party calls for Instant Runoff Voting (IRV), where voters rank candidates in their order of preference and a candidate only wins if they obtain majority support.
***   We must also acknowledge the legalized bribery that is our campaign finance system. Total spending in this election is expected to double what was spent in Philadelphia's last competitive primary for District Attorney. Indeed, Krasner's campaign was supported both by grassroots efforts and by a super PAC funded by George Soros; we hope that his actions as District Attorney will be influenced by the people of Philadelphia and not by an outside billionaire. Therefore, the Green Party calls for the full public financing of elections and for stricter limits on campaign spending and contributions.

      The Green Party is an independent political party founded on the four pillars of grassroots democracy, nonviolence, ecological wisdom, and social justice. For information about the Green Party of Philadelphia, please call 215-843-4256 or emailgpop@gpop.org. Follow us on Twitter at @GreenPartyofPHL and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/GreenPartyOfPhiladelphia.
______

Tuesday, May 09, 2017

Quantico Scaremongers Against Popular Sovereignty

This week's season-penultimate episode of Quantico promulgated a typical elitist dread of radical democracy by painting a Constitutional Convention as something scary that an authoritarian villain would use to get his way. I posted this to their Facebook page:

Very disappointed at your antidemocratic scaremongering about a Constitutional Convention. The Framers had the unprecedented wisdom to realize they couldn't anticipate the needs of future generations, and so incorporated procedures for amendment into their document -- piecemeal through submission by Congress but also, when time came for a thorough overhaul, through submission by a Convention called by Congress. Your script falsely suggests such a Convention might change the Constitution behind the country's back, when in reality nothing it proposes would become law unless ratified by three-fourths of the states, making majority popular support a prerequisite. Further, while Congress -- not the President -- is charged with setting the rules, it's politically inevitable they would call fresh elections for the delegates to such a convention. The whole procedure concretizes the principle stated in the Declaration of Independence: "Whenever any form of government becomes destructive of [life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness], it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundations on such principles, and organizing its powers in such forms, as shall to them seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness." This is the revolutionary-democratic idea at the founding of our country -- yet you find it not inspiring, but scary? And it's noteworthy that, while you portray this mechanism of popular sovereignty as the machination of a Trump-manquee villain, in real life it's not Trump, but the left-wing Justice Democrats who are calling for it in their platform. (If you haven't heard of them, they're the faction seeking to primary all corporatist Democrats in Congress and replace them with progressives.) For more information on the Article V Convention and why it's not only politically but legally overdue, check out Friends of the Article V Convention.

Thursday, May 04, 2017

As a Survivor of a Political Cult Myself, I Had to Watch This Video

As a survivor of a political cult myself, I had to watch this video when I saw it on YouTube: BAMN Are A Violent Cult


The descriptions are chillingly reminiscent of what I've heard about other groups, and some of what I experienced in my own. (In fact I'd already heard of the cult-within-the-cult, the RWL, and knew it was ultra-sectarian, so the connection came as no surprise.) There's a private website on WordPress called Secret Survivors of BAMN, and I've submitted a request for access to its administrator. Below is the written version of the video, which includes a link to the private group:



As is quoted from one of the ex-members, like other political cults BAMN either turns people into "drones" incapable of autonomous political thought or action, or tends to burn them out and make them give up on activism altogether. Hence it is both personally and politically destructive.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Visibility, Disruptiveness, and Effectiveness: What Actually Counts in a Demonstration

NPR ran this story the other day about research on which intuitions are correct about what makes a demonstration effective:

http://www.npr.org/2017/04/18/524473948/researchers-examine-the-psychology-of-protest-movements

A couple notes: while this research shows the importance of protesters' not putting themselves in a negative light, it doesn't mean they should never do anything that could make people uncomfortable. As Nick Cooney points out in his book Change of Heart: What Psychology Can Teach Us About Spreading Social Change, disturbing images (as of animal abuse, for instance) may move people to action more effectively than warm-and-fuzzy ones. The key is whether the context makes viewers associate the unpleasant images with what's being protested or with those doing the protesting.

Another point: it's stated in the interview that sometimes there's a trade-off between visibility and effectiveness, with the latter being the bottom line that should determine protesters' choice of tactics. But there's also a sense in which they correlate, since the expectation of disruptive or violent tactics can reduce participation in an action. And, all other things being equal, a smaller action is a less visible one, as well as probably less effective.

Monday, April 17, 2017

An Unfunny Satire on "the MRA" Is Taken Down


After also reading the original written version of the piece, and the post on r/exredpill it was largely based on -- and as someone who has a particular interest owing to my adolescent involvement with a political cult -- I think it's important to make a distinction. People in the cultic studies field say there as many groups as there are people in the group; one member may have a cultic relationship with it while another doesn't at all. And the groups themselves are on a continuum. This is why those in the cult awareness field prefer to speak of cultic processes rather than of "cults" as a discrete category of groups.

The r/exredpill poster in question evidently developed a relationship with r/redpill (which, by the way, has basically nothing to do with actual MRAs or men's rights activists -- a common conflation in the feminist milieu) that had significantly cultic characteristics. But, as Alison and Karen point out here, this wasn't because anyone at r/redpill was using deceptive/manipulative recruitment tactics -- as are characteristic of "cults" in the strong , distinctly negative sense of that term -- but simply because he was desperate to find something that would make him feel like less of a loser. The cultic aspect of the relationship came mostly from him and not from conscious, covert manipulation by the group, as you would find in something more deserving of being called a destructive cult.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OFEvB3C-YVA

Friday, April 14, 2017

Greens Play by Our Rules, Not the Establishment's

There's a story in the most recent Public Record on how some people are pushing the city Democratic Party to devolve endorsements from ward leaders to committee people, among other reforms, to address endemic corruption. I sent this letter in response:

As part of his exercise in denial about Democratic Party dysfunction, Bob Brady made this false statement: "The Republicans have the same rules, the Greens have the same rules."
In fact the Green Party does not have the same rules. Unlike Democrats and Republicans, the Green Party has no ward leaders, only a City Committee, which as a matter of policy does not endorse candidates for party nomination. The party's philosophy is that the individual Greens who attend monthly membership meetings are capable of deciding on nominations for themselves, without any need for "guidance" from party officers. All the City Committee does is inform the members in attendance of who is seeking nomination, as well as invite the candidates to appear and make their own case.
If you're a progressive who doesn't think party apparatchiks are entitled to be protected from competition with grassroots activists, as former DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz openly stated, then you should consider joining the Greens.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Save Dina Ali Lasloom!

A Saudi woman who sought asylum in Australia was taken off her plane in the Philippines and is now being returned to Saudi Arabia where she faces execution for traveling without a male companion. Please join me in signing the petition to stop this!
https://secure.avaaz.org/ar/petition/mnZm_lfw_ldwly_Amnesty_nqdhw_dyn_ly_save_Dina_ali/?aQeaOjb
http://newsinfo.inquirer.net/888504/saudi-woman-seeking-asylum-in-australia-repatriated-from-ph

You only need to put your email address in the circled area.


Wednesday, April 05, 2017

Pinky Agrees with Me

No, not the mouse. I just watched this video by Steven Pinker on why some fear the rise of Artificial Intelligence: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gimu5nXWaWU

This is pretty much identical to what I wrote on my blog a couple years ago: http://stripey7.blogspot.com/2015/09/extant-has-gotten-entirely-too-silly.html One criticism: it's too sweeping a generalization to say women are a counterexample to the idea that high intelligence goes along with megalomania. I'm not even sure that it's statistically true, and there are certainly counterexamples: female cult leaders like Marlene Dixon and Elizabeth Clare Prophet, for instance.

Friday, March 31, 2017

I Try -- and Fail -- to Get a Straight Answer from My State Representative

Last night my state representative, Stephen Kinsey, held a town hall meeting featuring representatives of various government departments and agencies.

For the past couple months I've been researching the question of whether there are any shelters for battered men in Pennsylvania. A public assistance form I filled out last summer made reference to "a state program for abused women and children," but made no mention of abused men. This was not long after I had confirmed that PA has an equal rights amendment, so the failure to provide for some victims based on their sex would clearly be unconstitutional as well as unfair.

I brought a clipboard and sign-up sheet to the Philadelphia-area premiere of  The Red Pill, Cassie Jaye's documentary on the men's rights movement, on which several people supplied their contact info to stay in touch. By the first ensuing group meeting in January, I had decided the apparently non-existent services for battered men would be a good issue around which to organize, if I could confirm my suspicions about it.

What I had ascertained by last night's town hall is that, of the four agencies listed by the PA Coalition Against Domestic Violence as providing services in Philadelphia county, only two provide shelter, and in both cases it's only for women and children. At this point I should compare what's provided to the level of need: according to data published by the Centers for Disease Control and the Psychological Bulletin, over half of those experiencing domestic violence in a given year, and about a third of those requiring medical attention, are male. So, even if Philly had only three shelter beds, one of these ought to be for a man. And Philly is the most populous county in the state, so even if services aren't evenly distributed, we should expect to find at least some of those for men here.

So, I related these concerns to the person speaking when I arrived at the town hall, a police captain. Her response was that shelter exists that moves from place to place, but locations aren't disclosed out of safety considerations. I explained I didn't need to know locations, but would just like to know how many of these shelters there are. She said they wouldn't tell me that either.

Rep. Kinsey spoke up at this point to explain that he didn't know that he wanted to engage his staff in looking into this if it was only for research as opposed to constituent service, and also repeated the point about safety considerations. My repeatedly pointing out that safety considerations obviously weren't preventing the existence of shelters for women from being publicized on the Web seemingly didn't register with them; they just repeated the same language without acknowledging the logical inconsistency of their statements.

A moment later, when the captain had moved on to another constituent's question, a staffer handed me a note saying, "The federal Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) protects information not being disclosed regarding shelters." While she was still within earshot I commented, "Inconsistently, it would appear. They're not hiding the existence of shelters for women." She offered no reply.

It appears overwhelmingly likely to me that the reason they wouldn't give me any information about the purported shelters for battered men is that they actually don't exist. Even assuming, for the sake of argument, that they do, the rationale for not publicizing their existence makes no sense; you're not going to convince me that they're actually more careful about men's safety than women's. Rather, the only practical effect hiding the existence of such shelters could have is to make it less likely those who need them would know to look for them -- especially when combined with how all the advertising about this issue relentlessly frames it in terms of male perpetrators and female victims. The message an abused man gets in these circumstances can only be that he doesn't exist, or doesn't count. It's invalidating.

I will want to spend a little time checking on whether there are men's shelters in other counties than Philadelphia. If not, that makes it a statewide issue. But even if there are, it's a serious misallocation of resources to have none of them here.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Ottawa SheForHe: Four Women Discuss Men and Boys' Issues

Real-life gender privilege, heard on a playground and related by panelist Meg Warren: "I can punch you, and you can't punch me back!"

Something that particularly interested me as someone who's had personal experience with a cultic group was her observation, as someone who's experienced both psychological and physical domestic abuse herself, that many women exert subtle, incremental control over their male partners in a way that wouldn't be tolerated if a man tried to do it to a woman. This gradual process of entrapment sounds remarkably like the brainwashing of a high-control group.

One criticism: here, as in many other egalitarian/men's rights forums, I hear some participants describe what they're up against as "cultural Marxism." This is the sheerest nonsense and only tells me that these people know nothing about Marxism. Radical feminism is based on a kind of ahistorical, idealist sociology that has nothing in common with Marxist dialectical materialism. In terms of program, they advocate treating people as representatives of a group assumed to have a uniform experience, whereas the Marxist dictum, "From each according to their ability, to each according to their need," starts from the understanding that everyone is an individual. I hope that more Marxists will get involved in groups like this not only on the merits of their issues, but to educate the activists in a better understanding of what Marxism is; the current faulty usage is doubtless putting off some people on the left who would otherwise be open to the information they're discussing.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dh4XP_KeZ2E&t=1203s

Thursday, March 09, 2017

Gender as Moloch?

Recently, my Less Wrong meetup group (affiliated with the "community blog dedicated to cultivating the arts of human rationality") used as a discussion prompt Scott Alexander's "Meditations on Moloch." That essay uses a section of Allen Ginsberg's poem "Howl" -- in which the demon Moloch serves as a personification of industrial capitalism -- as the takeoff point for a consideration of  how competition between agents to maximize some single value results in the inevitable ultimate sacrifice of all other values.

It occurs to me now that the same kind of analysis might be applied to the social system of gender. Notwithstanding variation between cultures, a similar sexual division of labor can be seen in all human societies, and many before me have cogently argued that this division reflects the interest, over evolutionary time, of each community in maximizing its reproductive fitness by putting priority on protecting females as the limiting factor of reproduction, and on a willingness to sacrifice the relatively overabundant males to this end.

This can be seen as an example of Scott Alexander's generalization of Moloch: the end result of the competition for communal reproductive fitness is, averaged over all societies, a wash with respect to their relative position, but a reduction of their absolute well-being in the sense that everyone's options are limited by the gender role to which they're assigned based on their sex.

One weakness I see in Alexander's essay is that he doesn't reckon with the way evolutionary competition has favored the growth of cooperation; the rise of eukaryotes, then multicellular organisms, then ever-higher levels of social organization as ways one aggregate of replicators (genes/memes) gains an advantage over others. In fact the beginning of consciousness, whereby our ancestors transitioned from experiencing mere pain, to suffering, is what makes it possible for us to conceive and coordinate strategies to overcome it, ultimately by evolving a unitary consciousness transcending internecine competition, as previously occurred on lower biological levels.

In the same way, we can imagine that the conscious awareness we are now starting to develop, of gender as a system that developed unconsciously in conditions of intercommunal competition, will allow us to collectively decide to transcend it through a cooperative project to that end -- that is, if we consciously decide to do so. I hope this essay may serve as part of that process.

A friend to whom I sent the above objected that sex roles have been around for a long time and so we should expect to have genetically adapted to them. I replied as follows:

I'm not claiming there's no organic basis for sex differences in behavior. But since memes can evolve much faster than genes -- and especially since we've been through a bottleneck or two -- I posit that we've developed socially/legally enforced norms that are often more extreme and rigid than is comfortable for many individuals. Now that we're in a period of relative abundance and safety, and especially with the much freer and more abundant flow of information apprising people of the existence of more than one way of life, people acquire growing consciousness of the ways gender roles act as fetters on their individual aspirations, and start acting individually and collectively to break out of those fetters. I think that's precisely why we now see men's and women's rights movements.

Thursday, March 02, 2017

The "ATO Incident" Revisited

At a candidates' forum in Fishtown last night, I met Councilwoman Helen Gym, whose campaign I had supported. I expressed my appreciation for her role in initiating the protests at the Philadelphia airport, but also my disagreement with the fact that one of her criticisms of Betsy DeVos was for supporting FIRE's advocacy for due process in university adjudication of sexual assault allegations. She cited former Penn President Sheldon Hackney's conduct in a case while she was there as an example of why changes in procedure had been necessary. Here's the rejoinder that I've posted to her Facebook page:


In our conversation yesterday at the Fishtown candidates' forum, you cited the so-called "ATO incident" at Penn as an example of what motivated policies like the "Dear Colleague letter," which has skewed adjudication in campus sexual assault cases against the accused. You claimed that President Hackney "sided with" the alleged rapists in that case.

Well, I was an undergrad at the time and I clearly remember that claim's being made. I wrote a letter to the Daily Pennsylvanian explaining why it was nonsense: Hackney didn't ask the accused to his mansion; they came uninvited, and all he did was make himself accessible. And all he told them was that he would assure they'd be treated fairly. There's no reason to think he'd have done any differently if their accuser had shown up at his doorstep.

And, by the way, he didn't even keep his promise: they were punished despite the faculty adjudicator's NOT finding them guilty of rape, simply based on his paternalistic judgment that "multiple seriatim sexual intercourse" wasn't "appropriate conduct" -- applying the concept of in loco parentis quite literally by treating those involved, including the accuser, like children who couldn't decide for themselves what sexual activities they wanted to engage in.

What the "ATO incident" actually shows is that many universities were running roughshod over due process rights even back then [in 1983]; the "Dear Colleague letter" has only made it worse.

Wednesday, March 01, 2017

Disability Rights Protest Requested

My friend Deborah Kosak has been facing repeated denial of service to her as a disabled person by SEPTA at their Swarthmore regional rail station. It's supposed to be a handicap-accessible stop, yet trains persistently fail to stop where a person can board from the handicap platform -- even, in the most recent case, when she was accompanied by a reporter. She's been on WPEB's Jasper Jones show twice and hopes people and groups concerned about disability rights will organize a protest at the Swarthmore station.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Ask Secretary DeVos to Restore Due Process Protections for College Students

Stop Abusive and Violent Environments (SAVE) is asking its supporters to urge the new Secretary of Education to rescind the "Dear Colleague letter" issued in 2011 by her predecessor. I've already written her and I hope that you'll join me.



Hello,

Since the release of the infamous Dear Colleague Letter in 2011, the federal government, through the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights (OCR), has eliminated procedural protections. Through their guidance letters, OCR has made the campus disciplinary process unreliable, thereby undermining the seriousness of sexual assault allegations on our college campuses.
Now, with a new Secretary of Education, we have a chance to drain the swamp at the OCR and restore due process and fairness to campus procedures. This week, we are asking you to reach out to Secretary DeVos and urge her to make meaningful changes at the OCR. Some suggested requests:
  • Allow students to have active attorneys during their hearings;
  • Use justice centered investigations;
  • Raise the standard of proof to "clear and convincing"
You can contact the Secretary at her direct email:
Betsy.Devos@ed.govor
You can call the Department of Education at: 
1-800-872-5327
Thank you for your continued support,
Jonathon P Andrews
Project Coordinator
Stop Abusive and Violent Environments (SAVE)


Wednesday, February 22, 2017

What Real Integrity Looks Like

The Daily Pennsylvanian, Penn's student-run newspaper, ran an editorial today expressing dissatisfaction with the fact that one person chosen for an upcoming panel, a patient ambassador named Lori Alf, has been accused of ethnic discrimination. I submitted this comment:


To the editor:

The DP's opinion board writes, "We merely wish to attend a university which institutionally and consistently places accountability and integrity over reputation and expedience." But they have a strange way of showing it.

The fact is, it would be more expedient for Penn Medicine to have chosen someone other than Lori Alf as an ambassador and as a panelist. Obviously it makes things easier if you don't have to be distracted by questions about a representative who has had allegations leveled against her. It's easier to protect one's reputation that way.  Easier, more expedient -- but wrong.

The presumption of innocence isn't just a legal principle, but a moral one. Just as the father of liberalism, John Stuart Mill, argued that unpopular opinion, no matter how odious some may find it, must be free not only from legal, but also social and economic sanction -- lest an unpopular truth be suppressed, and society left unable to benefit from knowing it -- so, likewise, it's not enough that the legal system doesn't penalize someone until they've been proven guilty of a crime. It's also necessary that social penalties not be imposed until guilt is proven. Otherwise, anyone with an ax to grind has an incentive to make false allegations against another, since they could expect this to hurt the person even if they're eventually found to be false.

Such perverse incentives are to be avoided wherever possible. And it's easy to do so: just establish as policy that unproven allegations will not be a consideration in assigning any benefit, honor, etc. Only in this way are those with malicious intent denied any payoff for defaming others. And only through such a policy can Penn consistently place accountability and integrity over reputation and expedience.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Paternal Responsibility and Class Privilege

In one of her recent videos presenting her unique and thought-provoking ideas on where we are in history, Alison Tieman made one statement I thought was seriously off, which provided a good occasion for putting down some thoughts I'd had for a while about the relation between gender and class. I won't claim they're original -- to a large extent they're probably just a rewording of things I've read in Marxist texts. But that was long enough ago that I no longer remember with certainty which texts they were. Anyway, here's what I posted in the comments under the video:

Your characterization of the "left" position -- as completely socializing the support of women -- is inaccurate. The mainstream left combines the worst of both: men are denied access to their children while still having to pay for them. That's exactly what's brought so many men into the MHRM [men's human rights movement]. The radical., i.e., fringe left -- revolutionary socialists -- is for completely socializing the support of children. But that's not taking from men as a group except insofar as we less often elect to take personal responsibility for them -- in which case it's our own free choice.

The bourgeois-feminist position isn't "inconsistent" or "halfway" -- it corresponds perfectly to the class standpoint it reflects. Capitalists may no longer see any need for intact heterosexual families in the working class, but they absolutely won't give up on the principle of paternal responsibility. To do so -- especially given that women earn less on average on account of taking time out of the paid labor force to raise children -- would by default shift the discourse toward the idea of collective responsibility for the young through the political process, where democracy would create pressures for progressive taxation to pay for it in an equitable fashion. By contrast, as long as children remain their parents' private responsibility, capitalists must pay for workers' children only to the extent they're compelled to through the private bargaining process with mostly unorganized individual employees. Hence, even the most liberal bourgeois ideologues will fiercely resist any abandonment of the concept of paternal responsibility -- to permit that would threaten the very foundations of hereditary class privilege.

Good to see you acknowledging the classical Marxist formula -- "from each according to their ability, to each according to their need" -- as individualizing and nondiscriminatory. It's what some of us still believe in. And for those who don't know, it's worth pointing out that the author of the most brilliant punking of postmodernism ever, Alan Sokal, is neither conservative nor libertarian, but rather a self-described "old-fashioned rational leftist," a phrase I loved as soon as heard it.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Male-Shaming on WBEZ's _Sound Opinions_

The latest edition of Sound Opinions, WBEZ's talk show about popular music, was on the theme of "First Impressions," and one of the picks in this category was The Doors' "Hello, I Love You." Yet at least one of the hosts felt compelled to describe it as "objectifying" and "very silly," and to call Jim Morrison a "male chauvinist pig." I left this on their comment line:

Hi. Enjoy your show, but I have a bone to pick with your discussion of Jim Morrison's "Hello, I Love You." There's nothing "silly" about honestly portraying sexual desire, and nothing "chauvinist" (which, need I remind you? means supremacist) about responding to someone's visual characteristics, especially when that's all you know about them. In fact the one desired holds the power, especially if the other doesn't hide his desire. At the same time, I never hear you criticize female singers who sing similar lyrics. So, let's stop with the shaming of male sexuality, and let's stop with the double standard. Thank you.

Interestingly, another song discussed on the same show was The Exciters' (girl group) original rendition of "Do-Wah-Diddy," which arguably describes more aggressive behavior (touching without asking permission first, as opposed to merely verbalizing) Yet, because it's sung from a female point of view, they don't criticize it.

Thursday, February 09, 2017

Review: The Red Pill

Surely the most important documentary released last year is Cassie Jaye's The Red Pill. I mentioned before seeing it that I'd write a review, and now I've seen it twice.

I learned of it two years ago, while it was still being made, after some of the online comments under an NPR story pointed me toward the website A Voice for Men. The story was about the "red zone," a period early in a college semester in which freshmen women are allegedly especially vulnerable to sexual assault. The emphasis on the role of alcohol particularly drew my attention and desire to comment, since I'd noticed logical inconsistencies in the most prevalent feminist narrative about this for decades, since the notorious "ATO incident" that occurred at Penn in 1983, while I was attending school there.

While my initial reaction to reports about this alleged gang rape was the intended queasiness, after a few months of coverage in the campus paper I was wondering: why did (most) everyone seem to think that drunkenness, while still conscious, made a woman unable to judge whether she wanted sex -- but didn't make a man unable to judge whether a woman was too drunk? For that matter, I wondered why a person's desire in the moment, even if influenced by a substance they'd knowingly ingested possibly for the precise purpose of becoming less inhibited, should be considered less important than how they might feel about it later, or even whether they would remember it.

It was even more disturbing that -- when the faculty member appointed to adjudicate the matter ruled there wasn't proof of rape but only of "multiple seriatim sexual intercourse," yet still penalized the fraternity with expulsion because he found this to be "inappropriate conduct" -- campus "liberals" objected only to the fact that the sanctions weren't heavier and not to the fact that the university was treating its students like children (quite literally, invoking the in loco parentis doctrine).

Such thoughts were amplified a few years later after I got back in touch with a slightly older woman I'd known while I was in the Young Socialist Alliance; we'd been pretty close, talking at length on the phone most days about this and that, particularly what was going on in the group. When I brought up my thoughts about the ATO case, Amy (who, by the way, identified quite strongly as a feminist) shared her opinion that "many women just aren't willing to take responsibility for their own sexuality." She proceeded to describe a few incidents from her personal experience. In one, a couple had been on the other side of a thin wall, allowing her to hear their hot and heavy lovemaking very clearly; in another, a couple had been in the back seat of a car while she was in the front seat, able to see as well as hear what was happening. (This was during a period when she was doing a lot of partying.) When I asked if it was clear the sex was consensual in these cases, she said it was "enthusiastically" consensual --  and this conversation was long before that became a catch phrase. The kicker was that in both cases, on the following day the female half of the couple complained to Amy about how she'd been "raped."

In a third instance, the boyfriend of a woman who went to the same class as Amy approached her out of concern over his girlfriend's having been raped by a man in the same class. Amy hadn't heard about this from the woman and asked him for details. He gave a description of the assailant that didn't correspond to anyone taking the class. Amy's opinion in this case was that the woman had invented the story to evoke a protective response from the boyfriend and thereby secure his attachment to her. (It's interesting that the primary assailant described by Jackie Coakley in her UVA rape hoax appears to have originally been invented for a very similar purpose.)

In the intervening years, I'd noticed some other seeming inconsistencies and hypocrisies exhibited by feminists, but was never focused on them because my own activism was in different areas. Still, this made me receptive when for the first time I actually visited a men's rights site, and soon discovered that it seemed to offer a pretty coherent alternative view about gender relations that was more consistently opposed to sexism regardless of whose ox was gored, and also articulated better with evolutionary theory. And, as it happened, the very first article I saw on AVfM, when I first visited it, was about this movie that was still being made called The Red Pill, which would be the first documentary ever on the men's rights movement. I was favorably impressed by the fact that the author, Paul Elam, seemed willing to believe that Jaye was trying to make an honest, even-handed documentary, notwithstanding her identification as a feminist (although some commenters were certain she wasn't).

So I started paying a lot of attention to the men's rights movement, particularly as represented by AVfM and the Honey Badger Brigade, and soon was starting to think of myself as an MRA and not so comfortable with the label "feminist," although for a while I was still thinking it might be possible to salvage a consistently anti-sexist version of it. I learned about other issues than those I mentioned above, such as the ideologically motivated belittling and "disappearing" of male victims of domestic and sexual violence, and the double standards concerning genital mutilation. And so it was saddening, though none too surprising, when about a year after first hearing of it, I learned the film was in jeopardy of not being completed because foundations that had previously supported Jaye's work had demanded she concede creative control if she wanted funding -- something they hadn't done for any of her previous works. I read on the Honey Badgers' website that a Kickstarter had been launched, but it looked unlikely that she'd reach the goal by her deadline. And I didn't feel I could afford to contribute anything myself, which made me even sadder. It was with great happiness that I learned several days later that the film had been saved by a sympathetic article by blogger Milo Yiannopoulos and a flood of donations from his readers and others that followed, literally overnight taking the Kickstarter from something like 27% to over the goal.

With this backdrop, you can understand my eagerness when I learned the film was completed and a world premiere announced, on 7 October in Greenwich Village. Although I'd never left the Philadelphia area just to attend a movie before, I felt that I absolutely had to be at this historic event --  and the possibility there might be disruptive protests, as by now I well knew from things I'd seen on Youtube, only made it more essential that I be there, to help defend the public's right to see it.

So I purchased a ticket for the very first screening (1:15), on the first day they became available.(That day was 26 August, also known as Women's Equality Day; I don't know if this was intentional.) As the date approached I learned there'd be a Q&A after the 6:15 screening, too late to get a ticket for that; fortunately the management said they'd let me in for it once the film itself was over. In the meantime, the small crowd (of five) for the 1:15 (unlike the 6:15, which was packed) meant I actually got to meet the producer, Nena Jaye, before even seeing the film.

So, for the film itself: I definitely think director Cassie Jaye made the right choice by framing the film with her own journey into the subject. Especially for those with a feminist background, this should make it easier to open their minds to a different perspective on current gender relations. It shows her going back and forth between MRAs and feminists, hearing unfamiliar (but well-documented) information about all kinds of issues from the former, and little more than summary dismissals from the latter, usually in a way that conveyed they knew nothing at all about the actual MRM, instead basing their statements on negative stereotypes. And we're not talking "coffee shop feminists" here -- we're talking prominent, presumably informed figures like scholar Michael Kimmel and Feminist Majority leader Katherine Spillar. And the information from the MRAs isn't just dry data -- there are also several individual cases of outrageous injustice, some of which she learns about directly from the men affected. (As well, there's a clip from an instructional video about circumcision that may have some averting their eyes.)

And since Cassie Jaye had identified strongly with feminism for many years, this means we also see her struggling with great difficulty to absorb the new information, and with the quandary of her own resistance to it. Again, showing that this can be a challenging thing to confront, but also that it's possible to own that difficulty and work through it, should make it easier for others to do the same. She models real strength by wrestling with what challenges her instead of shrinking back into a comfortable ideological shell.

It's no longer a spoiler to mention that, at the close of the film, Jaye announces that she no longer calls herself a feminist, because she finds that that ideology is incapable of looking at gender issues as they really are in a balanced and intellectually honest way. Given the chronology, my evolution on this was probably over approximately the same period, although mostly just from reading and hearing MRAs online, not traveling to interview them in person. When I started preferring the designation gender-egalitarian over feminist, I explained it purely in terms of wishing not to be misunderstood: I no more wanted to be thought an endorser of "affirmative consent" laws or Twitter mobs against someone for a shirt his woman friend made for his birthday, by calling myself feminist; than to be presumed an opponent of abortion rights or employment opportunities for women, by calling myself anti-feminist.

But a few weeks before seeing this film, I learned a Meetup group I belong to called the Greater Philadelphia Thinking Society was going to have a meeting on the topic, "We should all be feminists." This forced me to think a bit harder in preparation for defending my position, and I came to this understanding: it doesn't do merely to insist that feminism live up to the dictionary definition it always trots out in self-defense, the gender-neutral "equality of the sexes." Even if someone who self-identifies as a feminist sincerely believes that that's what they're supporting, the very fact that it's called feminism will get in the way of their being consistent about it. To say you have a movement for gender equality, and then name it "feminism," is to imply that being for gender equality is fully satisfied by "carrying a brief for F," as I saw it defined once in a philosophy journal. And that would be true if and only if the gender system were really all about one group having supremacy and across-the-board advantages over the other, as is more or less true for some other categories such as class and caste.

But that's actually not true at all about gender, and so to name a movement that purports to simply be for gender equality after just one gender, is to mentally blind oneself to all the information that contradicts that one-sided view of things. One can very much, in other words, be both "an MRA and a WRA," as a fellow attendee at the world premiere put it. But one ultimately cannot be both an MRA and a feminist -- to which it should be added that one can't really be a feminist and a consistent WRA either, since feminism has a systematic tendency toward infantilizing women rather than really freeing them. So, by the time I heard Cassie Jaye saying she no longer calls herself a feminist, I was on the same page with her on that.

To summarize: The Red Pill is a powerful film that I strongly recommend to anyone who cares about the state of our society.

A Civil Rights Bill for Georgia Students

A bill has been introduced in the Georgia house of representatives that would restore constitutional protections to students in the state's universities. This would correct the current lack of due process protections that has not only damaged or ruined the careers of some students, but also has a chilling effect on consensual relations by imposing on them an insuperable burden of second-guessing. I've just sent a note of support to the five sponsors as follows:

Dear Rep.-----,

I'm very pleased to learn of your sponsorship of H.B. 51, which will help restore fundamental constitutional rights to Georgia students. It's refreshing to see that some elected officials still care about them.

Support GA House Bill 51 to secure due process in universities



You can find contact information for the sponsors, whose names appear at the top of the bill linked from the above article, at http://www.house.ga.gov/Representatives/en-US/HouseMembersList.aspx.

An Anti-Death-Penalty Candidate Is Now Challenging Seth Williams for Philadelphia District Attorney

A defense attorney who's represented many protesters has joined the Democratic primary for DA:




None of the other challengers is a clear progressive alternative. I hope people will get behind him.

Sunday, February 05, 2017

Justice Democrats Announce a Push to Take Their Party Back from the Corporatists

This certainly looks like a worthy effort. I'm going to suggest they run Sherrie Joyce Cohen​ for Congress.


Friday, January 06, 2017

Run, Frederica!



I'm pleased to read that friends of Hon. Frederica Massiah-Jackson are leaning on her to join the contenders for District Attorney. In addition to already having my sympathy after her coming under unfair right-wing attack in the past is the fact her entering the race would considerably reduce the chances of another contender whose actions I've protested in the past.