xenologer: (human monsters)
Solitary in Iran Nearly Broke Me. Then I Went Inside America's Prisons: We throw thousands of men in the hole for the books they read, the company they keep, the beliefs they hold. Here's why. -By Shane Bauer

Solitary confinement is ruinous for human sanity, which makes it a crappy rehabilitation tool. Additionally, you can end up in solitary for pretty shady reasons.

As warden of San Quentin Prison in the 1980s, Daniel Vasquez oversaw what was then the country's largest SHU. He's now a corrections consultant and has testified on behalf of inmates seeking to reverse their validations. As we sat in his suburban Bay Area home, he told me it is "very common" for African American prisoners who display leadership qualities or radical political views to end up in the SHU. (...)

[A] judge ruled that "a prisoner has no constitutionally guaranteed immunity from being falsely or wrongfully accused of conduct which may result in the deprivation of a protected liberty interest." In other words, it is not illegal for prison authorities to lie in order to lock somebody away in solitary.


Read the whole article before you come say something in the comments. Yes, all four pages.
xenologer: (objection!)
Okay, I have yet again had "this country was intended to function like X and we need to put it back like that" thrown at me, this time by a Ron Paul supporter but eh. It's too pervasive for me to just point at them and say it's their argument, though I'll get to him when I've picked apart that little highly-polished ball of shit.

Here's my feeling.

I am a lot less reverent of "the way things were intended to be" than I am "how things would need to be so that privileged and currently-marginalized people can have equality of opportunity."

The country we create means a lot more to me than the degree to which it matches someone else's idea of sufficient faithfulness to the ideological orthodoxy of a group of social contract theorists two centuries ago who had no more experience with the kind of culture I want to live in now than anybody else did at the time.

So rather than spending the rest of my life building a political theory around slavish obedience to the ideals of men who owned black people and mostly didn't think women were qualified to vote, I'm going to look at politics and government as a problem-solving exercise, not a test of my loyalty to "the founders."

Some of the same people who'd never argue that we should do whatever the Bible says (or seems to say) because it's a book written by people will nonetheless kill and die to demonstrate their unwillingness to depart from centuries-old ideas about what America should be like. I don't get it.

I don't think "the founders" were necessarily any wiser men than we have today. They had great ideas (though a lot of that was just them having the sense to identify ideas worth copying from other cultures), but they gave us a starting point. The Constitution they wrote is a great place to start, but it's not perfect enough as a place to finish.

That's why I can't join the libertarian party's devotional cult dedicated to "the founders" or their ideals. I am fairly familiar with what they wanted, where they differed with one another, and with whom I'd likely have agreed if I'd been around then.

Fact remains, though, that we're further along in this experiment than they were. We know things now that they didn't then, and if we're more concerned about orthodoxy than which policies will actually create a nation of equal opportunity... then I feel like that's way more of a betrayal of their legacy than anything I'm arguing for.

Read more... )

What.

Sep. 21st, 2010 01:23 am
xenologer: (objection!)
Why is the city of Montgomery condemning the property of African-Americans along a civil rights trail?
Over the last decade or so, dozens—perhaps hundreds—of homes in Montgomery have been declared blighted and razed in a similar manner. The owners tend to be disproportionately poor and black, and with little means to fight back. And here's the kicker: Many of the homes fall along a federally funded civil rights trail in the neighborhood where Rosa Parks lived. Activists say the weird pattern may not be coincidence. (...)

Montgomery Mayor Todd Strange didn't respond to my request for an interview, but he has insisted in other outlets that the reaction from Jones, Beito, and other critics is overblown. "I want property owners to act responsibly," Strange told an Atlanta Fox News affiliate last month. "If they don't care about their property then I want them to sell it to somebody that does care."

And yet one city resident, Jimmy McCall, was in the process of building a home when the city declared his property a public nuisance in 2008. When the city said the construction wasn't moving fast enough, McCall got restraining orders from both state and federal courts to prevent the city from destroying the building. The city tore it down anyway, then sent McCall a bill for the destruction. McCall won a court judgment for damages. The city is appealing.

Jim Peera, an Atlanta real estate developer, fought the city for six years over eight acres of low-income housing he owned that the city declared a public nuisance. After he won two court victories, two of his buildings mysteriously caught fire. He says the fire department never investigated, though a city official publicly suggested Peera set the fires himself to collect insurance. Peera eventually broke down and sold his land rather than fight the city's appeals. The property now belongs to Summit Housing Group, one of the country's largest developers of subsidized housing. Mayor Strange told ABC News last month that the city of Montgomery's involvement with these properties ends once the rubble is cleared—that the city isn't taking land from residents and selling it to developers. But in Peera's case, the city of Montgomery, not Summit, wrote the check for his land. (...)

Jim Peera filed an open records request for all of Montgomery's demolitions in 2008, then plotted them on a map, which he presented at a rally earlier this month sponsored by the libertarian public interest firm the Institute for Justice. The first thing you notice about Peera's map is that the vast majority of 2008 demolitions were west of Court Street, a part of the city that's mostly black. Within this area, the demolitions seem to fall rather consistently along the Selma to Montgomery Trail route. Hurst speculates that the city is trying to condemn and seize properties along the trail instead of buying them at fair market value—as eminent domain would require. I wasn't able to substantiate that claim (and short of a smoking gun document, I'm not sure how I could). But even if the demolitions are more generally about keeping eyesores out of a tourist area, it's hard to ignore the context: The city of Montgomery is destroying the homes of low-income, African-American residents along a trail commissioned to celebrate the civil rights movement.
xenologer: (creator destroyer)
I'm reading discussions about the idea of a communist "vanguard" for the working class, and trying to sort out my feelings about the whole thing.

The bare bones idea seems to be that you can't wait for a group of people who've been marginalized, denied educational opportunities, and denied opportunity for political expression to figure out how to start a revolution and then do it effectively (since all that crap piled on them seems aimed at preventing precisely that). The solution some people have come up with (if I'm understanding what I'm reading correctly) is that what's needed is for a "vanguard" of intellectual working-class-allies to agitate the working class, get them all riled up and carve out some room for them to express themselves and start exercising the power they were always told they didn't have or deserve.

This sounds fairly reasonable, especially because it's speaking to the part of me that gets very frustrated with low-income self-identified conservatives who repeatedly vote against their own self-interest (oddly, in the name of protecting the sanctity of self-interest itself). However, I feel like I have to check that part of me. That part of me also says that these low-income self-destructive conservatives are obviously too stupid to know what's good for them, and clearly a bunch of educated elites like me (since, though it seems odd to me, an education is kind of an "elite" quality, for good or ill) to come in and take their whole lives and all their problems out of their hands so that someone who knows what to do can make it all better.

How fucking disempowering is that logic? That's why I resist it. If I look at people who disagree with me as though they must be saved from their own decisions, I stop being the person who's trying to help them realize their own power.

Seems to me that's the power and the danger of the "vanguard" notion as well. Obviously not all corners of middle- or working- or lower-class society are going to be class-conscious enough (or have the energy to spare, or have safe enough conditions, though those are obstacles I don't see mentioned much in leftist discussions) to go out and kick patriarchal classist capitalist ass. Obviously those people who have a better idea should lend those skills to something useful instead of using them to further their own power.

But they can use this to further their own power. We've seen this with TEA Parties organized by multi-billion dollar insurance companies that are agitating less-conscious working-class people to give their power over from working for their own welfare to working for the welfare of their oh-so-helpful-and-sympathetic new corporate masters. That's the really nasty thing about astroturf organizing like this; it uses people's suffering and gets them all riled up to diffuse that bitterness and hope in a direction that accomplishes nothing and is therefore "safe" for the companies holding their leashes.

How to organize without doing that? How is it possible to get people interested in a cause without taking their energy and directing it as a commodity belonging to whomever can take it?

I think it comes down to something I learned in a women's empowerment circle (and yes, I attended one for a little while, and still would be if my work schedule allowed it). There is a huge difference between offering support to someone while she works through her problems, and taking her problems out of her hands to solve them for her. One of these affirms her right and ability to control her own life, and one undermines it even as it attempts to assist.

It seems to me there's a place for a "vanguard," but the term makes it sound cohesive enough to worry me. The only reason I'm even conceding the term is that--should the seemingly-impossible occur and a revolution come or... or something--these people will have power. They will. Since I am firmly against power being wielded in secret (since power that is openly named can be more easily held accountable), naming this kinda-sorta-group of people is okay with me right now.

I'm just trying to sort out my feelings on the whole thing, and trying to figure out just what it is that people are advocating when they talk about a "vanguard." I guess it might just be like any "ally" out there. White allies to POC are good, but shouldn't use their advantages to take over anti-racist work. Same with hetero and cis allies to LGBT people, men who support feminism, etc.

Maybe this is a case of an archaic word being jammed into a discussion which has moved beyond it. I'm still not sure what I think; I'm just rambling here and hoping it goes somewhere useful.

Control

Aug. 1st, 2009 05:30 pm
xenologer: (thoughtful)
Now and again when I'm canvassing for CAC, I'll have someone tell me that The Government wants to control health care so that they can control me. Seriously, they will wag a finger at me and say, "Because they want to control you! People need to realize that votes have consequences, and this government takeover of health care? They're just taking more and more control."

Leaving aside the facts (since people who fear what'll happen if the government provides health care to people who aren't elderly, veterans, active duty military, government employees, or really poor, or any of the other groups that already get it from the government are seldom actually looking at what works, but are instead obsessed with a dogmatic devotion to ideological purity and a standard of Constitutional orthodoxy about as well-informed as any obsessive attention to Biblical orthodoxy), here's what I damn near said to a guy yesterday.

Him: "Because the government wants to control you!"

Me: *thinking* "Yeah. They're always telling me that government officials have a right to make decisions for my body, they want to tell me when I'm gonna have kids and whom I can marry... Those liberals, man. When are they going to learn to let adults control their own lives?"

Do you think they'd get the sarcasm? 

Noooo, of course not. You can't tell a social conservative that there's any connection between how they feel when the government threatens to take their guns away and how I feel when the government tells me the state owns my body, or that they're the final arbiter on which partnerships are "real." 

Because that's different. They're worried about the government controlling the lives of people. Women? Gays? 

Not people. 

Iran.

Jun. 16th, 2009 11:26 am
xenologer: (stronger loving world)
People are asking me why I haven't put something up about Iran yet. I've been concentrating on Twitter (check the #IranElection tag) and Facebook, but I need to get LJ, too.

Dowlat-eh Koodeta, Estefa, Estefa!

Sad to say, I found out about this when it tricked through to my LJ friends page and on the news (which I can now watch on TV). This means I was days behind, because all the news was on Twitter. The Iranian election results--a wide margin of victory for the incumbent, with every geographic region voting in the identical proportions--are shady as fuck.

Iranians are not. Fucking. Happy.

There is a really excellent account over here, for those of you who haven't heard this from the news or Neil Gaiman's Twitter page.

In short: Once people started getting upset, the Iranian government began shutting down communication infrastructure. They blocked cell phone service, they blocked major websites, removed protest videos from Youtube, and lauched DDoS attacks on protesting websites to shut them up. The Iranians are getting around it, and doing their best to make themselves heard.

Yesterday there were proxies being circulated to help Iranians get around government bans, and hackers were launching DDoS attacks of their own on pro-Ahmadinejad sites so that the protesters could control the flow of information. They seem to have done a decent job of keeping Ahmadinejad's propaganda to the outside at a minimum, and Obama has made a statement that while the USA respects Iranian sovereignty and their right to choose their own leaders, he is disturbed by the violence he's seen and supports the right of the Iranian people to have their voices heard.

This is being called a revolution, and it isn't ours; it isn't even about us. Making it about us is the worst thing we can possibly do. The best thing we can do is make it clear that these people are heard, that efforts at silencing them are not going to work. It's far too late.

It's a little thing to do, and I don't know if it helps. But it makes me feel good, so I'll be doing it. People are wearing green as a show of solidarity with the revolutionaries, as a simple acknowledgment that we heard them and we know they're there. I don't get out much, so I don't think anyone will even see me. But someone might see you.

And in case there was any confusion, How to Tell Who the Good Guys Are.
xenologer: (your symbol)
Link is here, but you know what they say. People who aren't basing their decisions on facts can't be dissuaded with facts.

However, I still thought this was a good article. This is the trope I always hear from people who care less about numbers and facts than they do about adhering with all proper fanaticism to their superstitious devotion to the unregulated market.

Myth: Canada's government decides who gets health care and when they get it.

While HMOs and other private medical insurers in the U.S. do indeed make such decisions, the only people in Canada to do so are physicians. In Canada, the government has absolutely no say in who gets care or how they get it. Medical decisions are left entirely up to doctors, as they should be.

There are no requirements for pre-authorization whatsoever. If your family doctor says you need an MRI, you get one. In the U.S., if an insurance administrator says you are not getting an MRI, you don't get one no matter what your doctor thinks - unless, of course, you have the money to cover the cost.

 

And you know what? Here's why private health insurance companies are scared of what it will mean to be competing with a government health care plan (because you can bet they're not opposing it for your benefit):

Myth: Canada's health care system is a cumbersome bureaucracy.

The U.S. has the most bureaucratic health care system in the world. More than 31 percent of every dollar spent on health care in the U.S. goes to paperwork, overhead, CEO salaries, profits, etc. The provincial single-payer system in Canada operates with just a 1 percent overhead. Think about it. It is not necessary to spend a huge amount of money to decide who gets care and who doesn't when everybody is covered.

The last thing private insurance companies want is for our health care system to look like Canada's. And do you know why? Because it'll put them out of business. Because they don't love "free market" competition as much as they persuade their prostrate worshipers to love it.

But that seems to be how it goes. That's where blind faith in the "invisible hand" of the "free market" gets you. It gets you working your ass off to help people screw you over, all the while congratulating them on managing to be so much more worthy of your money (or your rights, in many cases) than you are.
xenologer: (your symbol)
Link is here, but you know what they say. People who aren't basing their decisions on facts can't be dissuaded with facts.

However, I still thought this was a good article. This is the trope I always hear from people who care less about numbers and facts than they do about adhering with all proper fanaticism to their superstitious devotion to the unregulated market.

Myth: Canada's government decides who gets health care and when they get it.

While HMOs and other private medical insurers in the U.S. do indeed make such decisions, the only people in Canada to do so are physicians. In Canada, the government has absolutely no say in who gets care or how they get it. Medical decisions are left entirely up to doctors, as they should be.

There are no requirements for pre-authorization whatsoever. If your family doctor says you need an MRI, you get one. In the U.S., if an insurance administrator says you are not getting an MRI, you don't get one no matter what your doctor thinks - unless, of course, you have the money to cover the cost.

 

And you know what? Here's why private health insurance companies are scared of what it will mean to be competing with a government health care plan (because you can bet they're not opposing it for your benefit):

Myth: Canada's health care system is a cumbersome bureaucracy.

The U.S. has the most bureaucratic health care system in the world. More than 31 percent of every dollar spent on health care in the U.S. goes to paperwork, overhead, CEO salaries, profits, etc. The provincial single-payer system in Canada operates with just a 1 percent overhead. Think about it. It is not necessary to spend a huge amount of money to decide who gets care and who doesn't when everybody is covered.

The last thing private insurance companies want is for our health care system to look like Canada's. And do you know why? Because it'll put them out of business. Because they don't love "free market" competition as much as they persuade their prostrate worshipers to love it.

But that seems to be how it goes. That's where blind faith in the "invisible hand" of the "free market" gets you. It gets you working your ass off to help people screw you over, all the while congratulating them on managing to be so much more worthy of your money (or your rights, in many cases) than you are.
xenologer: (your symbol)
Link is here, but you know what they say. People who aren't basing their decisions on facts can't be dissuaded with facts.

However, I still thought this was a good article. This is the trope I always hear from people who care less about numbers and facts than they do about adhering with all proper fanaticism to their superstitious devotion to the unregulated market.

Myth: Canada's government decides who gets health care and when they get it.

While HMOs and other private medical insurers in the U.S. do indeed make such decisions, the only people in Canada to do so are physicians. In Canada, the government has absolutely no say in who gets care or how they get it. Medical decisions are left entirely up to doctors, as they should be.

There are no requirements for pre-authorization whatsoever. If your family doctor says you need an MRI, you get one. In the U.S., if an insurance administrator says you are not getting an MRI, you don't get one no matter what your doctor thinks - unless, of course, you have the money to cover the cost.

 

And you know what? Here's why private health insurance companies are scared of what it will mean to be competing with a government health care plan (because you can bet they're not opposing it for your benefit):

Myth: Canada's health care system is a cumbersome bureaucracy.

The U.S. has the most bureaucratic health care system in the world. More than 31 percent of every dollar spent on health care in the U.S. goes to paperwork, overhead, CEO salaries, profits, etc. The provincial single-payer system in Canada operates with just a 1 percent overhead. Think about it. It is not necessary to spend a huge amount of money to decide who gets care and who doesn't when everybody is covered.

The last thing private insurance companies want is for our health care system to look like Canada's. And do you know why? Because it'll put them out of business. Because they don't love "free market" competition as much as they persuade their prostrate worshipers to love it.

But that seems to be how it goes. That's where blind faith in the "invisible hand" of the "free market" gets you. It gets you working your ass off to help people screw you over, all the while congratulating them on managing to be so much more worthy of your money (or your rights, in many cases) than you are.
xenologer: (it are fact)

So, in New Mexico, there's a death penalty discussion going on.

The fact that the death penalty system is one of the most glaring and most tragic examples of institutionalized racism around wasn't enough to get people talking about getting rid of it. The fact that it reduces reporting of sex crimes by discouraging molestation victims from turning in criminals, and provides an incentive to rapists to kill their victims isn't enough to bother too many folk. No, the problem is that it's expensive!

Many of the costs are built into the system and cannot be changed. They include the costs of specially trained defense lawyers, mental health and mitigation experts, and a longer course of appeals. And there are the many added costs of housing death row prisoners.

"As long as you have a death penalty system, you'll have regular expenses. And those expenses aren't getting cheaper," Dieter said. "There's a maintenance cost to the death penalty."

Death penalty cases can have an outsized effect in smaller counties, which tend to have smaller budgets. There, a case can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars -- close to $1 million if the issues are particularly complicated -- and force officials to cut programs to fund the prosecution.
So... merely having the option of the death penalty is a drain on other programs that aren't oriented toward killing people. But the death penalty is seldom even used! So it's not even good for killing people. So it's a ridiculous and farcical miscarriage of justice at worst, and a waste of money at best.

Sounds great!

The governor of New Mexico is considering whether he's going to sign or veto a death penalty ban that's going to come across his desk. Evidently in previous years he'd have vetoed it flat-out, but now he's looking for an idea of public opinion. There's a poll at The Albuquerque Journal right now, and unfortunately the people who believe Richardson should not sign the ban are winning.

I know that I haven't historically made a big issue out of the death penalty in the past, but this really is important. To recap! Capital punishment is a grossly-racist establishment overall, disproportionately condemning non-whites. Capital punishment doesn't help victims because it doesn't act as a deterrent. What it does do is harm the victims of many crimes of exploitation (such as child rape) for the sake of feeding a need to punish--even at the expense of those victimized. And it's expensive as hell, for a program that doesn't do what it's intended to do (provide a deterrent to violent crime).

It doesn't do what it's supposed to do. Instead it does all this other terrible shit. Encourage Gov. Richardson to sign the death penalty ban in his state. The legislature already passed it, so please tell him not to negate their work. There's some analysis suggesting that Gov. Richardson might listen. Let's just vote to be safe.

Thanks for your time, and hopefully we can get some work done here.

-Ashley
xenologer: (it are fact)

So, in New Mexico, there's a death penalty discussion going on.

The fact that the death penalty system is one of the most glaring and most tragic examples of institutionalized racism around wasn't enough to get people talking about getting rid of it. The fact that it reduces reporting of sex crimes by discouraging molestation victims from turning in criminals, and provides an incentive to rapists to kill their victims isn't enough to bother too many folk. No, the problem is that it's expensive!

Many of the costs are built into the system and cannot be changed. They include the costs of specially trained defense lawyers, mental health and mitigation experts, and a longer course of appeals. And there are the many added costs of housing death row prisoners.

"As long as you have a death penalty system, you'll have regular expenses. And those expenses aren't getting cheaper," Dieter said. "There's a maintenance cost to the death penalty."

Death penalty cases can have an outsized effect in smaller counties, which tend to have smaller budgets. There, a case can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars -- close to $1 million if the issues are particularly complicated -- and force officials to cut programs to fund the prosecution.
So... merely having the option of the death penalty is a drain on other programs that aren't oriented toward killing people. But the death penalty is seldom even used! So it's not even good for killing people. So it's a ridiculous and farcical miscarriage of justice at worst, and a waste of money at best.

Sounds great!

The governor of New Mexico is considering whether he's going to sign or veto a death penalty ban that's going to come across his desk. Evidently in previous years he'd have vetoed it flat-out, but now he's looking for an idea of public opinion. There's a poll at The Albuquerque Journal right now, and unfortunately the people who believe Richardson should not sign the ban are winning.

I know that I haven't historically made a big issue out of the death penalty in the past, but this really is important. To recap! Capital punishment is a grossly-racist establishment overall, disproportionately condemning non-whites. Capital punishment doesn't help victims because it doesn't act as a deterrent. What it does do is harm the victims of many crimes of exploitation (such as child rape) for the sake of feeding a need to punish--even at the expense of those victimized. And it's expensive as hell, for a program that doesn't do what it's intended to do (provide a deterrent to violent crime).

It doesn't do what it's supposed to do. Instead it does all this other terrible shit. Encourage Gov. Richardson to sign the death penalty ban in his state. The legislature already passed it, so please tell him not to negate their work. There's some analysis suggesting that Gov. Richardson might listen. Let's just vote to be safe.

Thanks for your time, and hopefully we can get some work done here.

-Ashley
xenologer: (it are fact)

So, in New Mexico, there's a death penalty discussion going on.

The fact that the death penalty system is one of the most glaring and most tragic examples of institutionalized racism around wasn't enough to get people talking about getting rid of it. The fact that it reduces reporting of sex crimes by discouraging molestation victims from turning in criminals, and provides an incentive to rapists to kill their victims isn't enough to bother too many folk. No, the problem is that it's expensive!

Many of the costs are built into the system and cannot be changed. They include the costs of specially trained defense lawyers, mental health and mitigation experts, and a longer course of appeals. And there are the many added costs of housing death row prisoners.

"As long as you have a death penalty system, you'll have regular expenses. And those expenses aren't getting cheaper," Dieter said. "There's a maintenance cost to the death penalty."

Death penalty cases can have an outsized effect in smaller counties, which tend to have smaller budgets. There, a case can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars -- close to $1 million if the issues are particularly complicated -- and force officials to cut programs to fund the prosecution.
So... merely having the option of the death penalty is a drain on other programs that aren't oriented toward killing people. But the death penalty is seldom even used! So it's not even good for killing people. So it's a ridiculous and farcical miscarriage of justice at worst, and a waste of money at best.

Sounds great!

The governor of New Mexico is considering whether he's going to sign or veto a death penalty ban that's going to come across his desk. Evidently in previous years he'd have vetoed it flat-out, but now he's looking for an idea of public opinion. There's a poll at The Albuquerque Journal right now, and unfortunately the people who believe Richardson should not sign the ban are winning.

I know that I haven't historically made a big issue out of the death penalty in the past, but this really is important. To recap! Capital punishment is a grossly-racist establishment overall, disproportionately condemning non-whites. Capital punishment doesn't help victims because it doesn't act as a deterrent. What it does do is harm the victims of many crimes of exploitation (such as child rape) for the sake of feeding a need to punish--even at the expense of those victimized. And it's expensive as hell, for a program that doesn't do what it's intended to do (provide a deterrent to violent crime).

It doesn't do what it's supposed to do. Instead it does all this other terrible shit. Encourage Gov. Richardson to sign the death penalty ban in his state. The legislature already passed it, so please tell him not to negate their work. There's some analysis suggesting that Gov. Richardson might listen. Let's just vote to be safe.

Thanks for your time, and hopefully we can get some work done here.

-Ashley
xenologer: (Speak)

Send Your Comments on the “Conscience” Rule to HHS

I recently wrote that President Obama was planning to overturn Bush’s last minute HHS “conscience” rule that prevents health care providers from “discriminating” against all levels of anti-choice employees who literally refuse to do their jobs, and is intended to not only restrict access to abortion, but also birth control and reproductive health care in general.

Well he’s gone and begun the process to do exactly that.  The 30 day comment period for the public to send in their thoughts on the proposed change opened earlier this week.  Which means that just like it was important for you to send in your opposition to the rule when Bush proposed it, it’s important to send in your support for its repeal now.  Not because we have reason to believe that Obama will back out of his promise, but because pro-choice causes, women’s health, and access to services needs all of the public support that they can get.

Click here to send your comments to the Department of Health and Human Services. And then, make sure to spread the word and ensure that all of your friends do the same!

xenologer: (wabbit)
Just started my new job today. Tried to write a post about it and when I was almost done my Firefox backspaced seemingly of its own accord and deleted the entry.

So I'll tell you stuff later.
xenologer: (wabbit)
Just started my new job today. Tried to write a post about it and when I was almost done my Firefox backspaced seemingly of its own accord and deleted the entry.

So I'll tell you stuff later.
xenologer: (wabbit)
Just started my new job today. Tried to write a post about it and when I was almost done my Firefox backspaced seemingly of its own accord and deleted the entry.

So I'll tell you stuff later.
xenologer: (prophet)
So. I hear a lot about "activist judges" who "legislate from the bench" and take away the right of The People to take charge of the laws of the land. "Activist" judges are gonna be the downfall of our system if you ask the right people.

Trouble is, I'm not sure what these people want the judiciary to do instead.

So let's go through a very basic remedial civics lesson. There are people I know online who have a much deeper knowledge base than I've got at my command, so if they come in and say I'm wrong, you should listen to them. But based on what I learned in high school, this is how things work. The legislature (that means the House of Representatives and the Senate) makes law. The executive branch (that's the President and the people working under him) enforce the law. The judicial branch (courts and judges) interprets law and legal precedents. Since 1803 this has included doublechecking them against the Constitution to make sure they're okay laws in the first place. This, along with what scraps I remember from my high school government course, is the core of my knowledge here.

Now let's take an example and see what happens... )
xenologer: (prophet)
So. I hear a lot about "activist judges" who "legislate from the bench" and take away the right of The People to take charge of the laws of the land. "Activist" judges are gonna be the downfall of our system if you ask the right people.

Trouble is, I'm not sure what these people want the judiciary to do instead.

So let's go through a very basic remedial civics lesson. There are people I know online who have a much deeper knowledge base than I've got at my command, so if they come in and say I'm wrong, you should listen to them. But based on what I learned in high school, this is how things work. The legislature (that means the House of Representatives and the Senate) makes law. The executive branch (that's the President and the people working under him) enforce the law. The judicial branch (courts and judges) interprets law and legal precedents. Since 1803 this has included doublechecking them against the Constitution to make sure they're okay laws in the first place. This, along with what scraps I remember from my high school government course, is the core of my knowledge here.

Now let's take an example and see what happens... )
xenologer: (prophet)
So. I hear a lot about "activist judges" who "legislate from the bench" and take away the right of The People to take charge of the laws of the land. "Activist" judges are gonna be the downfall of our system if you ask the right people.

Trouble is, I'm not sure what these people want the judiciary to do instead.

So let's go through a very basic remedial civics lesson. There are people I know online who have a much deeper knowledge base than I've got at my command, so if they come in and say I'm wrong, you should listen to them. But based on what I learned in high school, this is how things work. The legislature (that means the House of Representatives and the Senate) makes law. The executive branch (that's the President and the people working under him) enforce the law. The judicial branch (courts and judges) interprets law and legal precedents. Since 1803 this has included doublechecking them against the Constitution to make sure they're okay laws in the first place. This, along with what scraps I remember from my high school government course, is the core of my knowledge here.

Now let's take an example and see what happens... )
xenologer: (Speak)
I was sent an email by the American Anthropological Association about proposed revisions to their ethics guidelines. Check here for specific revisions they're looking at making. Anthropologists have worked with the military before, but it's becoming a more and more pressing concern. I can't give any better a run-down than this article, so I refer you there if you're curious. I'll probably refer back to this latter article a bunch of times because it's great.

I'm just putting down my opinion on the matter.

I was very interested at first to learn about the Human Terrain System. The idea is to have experts in culture on the ground to inform the military about the people they're dealing with. On the surface this sounds fantastic, and my first thought was, "Great. Maybe now our military can stop acting like total ignorant boobs everywhere they go. They'll have someone around who actually cares about understanding culture. What could go wrong?"

Well, I hadn't thought it through.

First off, anthropology started out as a component of colonialism. Imperialists brought experts on the local savages with them, so that they could better subjugate them. I assumed this kind of thing doesn't happen anymore until I realized one day into my Religions of the World 101 course that 2/3 of my classmates were there so that they could be better missionaries. That's right. They wanted to understand local religions better so they'd be more effective in supplanting local culture.

This is disrespectful. Imperialism kinda makes you a dick. I shouldn't have to point out that disrespect of one's informants (the people you're studying) is also unethical. They're helping you with your research, your career. If you can't actually give them something in return (other than the great gift of your superior culture), at least try not to hurt them.

Hurting your informants sucks for many reasons. First is obviously that it makes you a dick. You're hurting people who helped you. The second is that it hurts your field. If you give anthropologists a reputation for being dicks in a discipline that depends heavily on establishing trust with informants, you are hurting your colleagues' chances of doing research as well. If your colleagues are doing research in dangerous areas, it becomes even more important that they have the trust and esteem of their informants, because their informants are also protecting them. So you're also potentially compromising the safety of your colleagues, just because you had to go and be a dick.

The upshot of having anthropologists involved with the military is that whatever credibility anthropologists bring is going to reflect well on the military. They'll look better with us than without us, because at least for a while they'll have people around to tell them how to do stuff right. The downside of this is that their ignorance and destructiveness combined with the imperialist mode of our foreign policy makes anthropologists look worse, which means the credibility we're lending troops probably won't last forever. They'll look better for a while, but they'll drag us down and then we won't be able to do our work without building our reputation all over again.

These are all ethical considerations anthropologists have to figure out for themselves, of course. The AAA Ethics Code doesn't have rules so much as what you'd call guidelines. Each individual scholar has to decide whether their work is ethical or unethical given these guidelines, and there's always room for debate. Debate is too much fun (and far too important) to ever get rid of.

Here's another problem with working for the military: Anthropologists need the freedom (and the power) to make decisions about their own work. When an anthropologist is doing fieldwork for any entity (whether a corporation or a government or a foundation, whatever), we give up some of our autonomy. We lose a little of our room to veto things that we view as unethical. However, if we're working for some academic body or other, odds are we're working with and for other scholars who have some idea of why anthropological ethics are important.

You cannot do this as well with the military. If you're working for them, you're working for them. End of line. It's a much more authoritarian structure in which people with power command people with less. If you're a civilian anthropologist, this means you. This is a problem in any situation where you have experts under the thumb of non-experts, and most of the time it's merely annoying or counterproductive. But in the military, anthropologists can get people hurt if we don't have the ability to enforce our own ethics on our own work. As the article I mentioned above states, "Some scholars have been deeply alarmed by reports that social science work has been used by the military to figure out how to degrade or humiliate prisoners from Muslim nations."

I've already explained why hurting your informants is bad. Now I've established that the military can force you to participate in the harm of your informants. This is bad. It's bad for your ethical obligation to your informants, it's bad for your credibility as a scholar (and the credibility of everyone in your discipline), and in the end it's even bad for the military, since once they've squandered all the credibility you once had, they lose you as a resource to bolster their own poor reputation.

"But Ashley," you say. "Not all anthropologists are working in Muslim nations. This isn't just about the Middle East." Quite right. Just because Iraq is the big troublesome example doesn't mean it's the only one that matters. Any country with a foreign military presence is likely to be experiencing a great deal of political pressure. Political pressure from the military power on the local powers creates social and cultural pressure, and this causes problems with informed consent. The more social and cultural pressure your informant is under to accomodate and even obey you as a member of an occupying force, the more careful you need to be in getting their consent lest you inadvertently use your position to coerce them into doing what you want. This makes you a dick, and being a dick is generally unethical.

This means that even an anthropologist who is working with the military to ensure greater access to vaccinations and other medical services needs to be wary of whether their ties to power are pressuring their informants to do things they wouldn't do otherwise. Coercion is bad, mmkay?

I think in light of all this that work with the military is generally going to entail compromising a scholar's ethics. There are individual cases where it won't, in which case the opportunity to educate military leaders and help inform their decisions is absolutely worth taking. If anthropology can be done ethically with the US military, it's probably our responsibility as scholars to do it. However, it's so frighteningly likely that military work will compromise a scholar's ethics that I think the AAA is right to warn their people against it.

April 2016

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