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Wife-Beaters Welcome!

12 Oct

Topeka, Kansas is now officially the best place in the U.S. to beat your wife. The city council decided to repeal the local law that makes domestic violence a crime there by a vote of 7 to 3. Thanks guys! Their reasoning is not that they hate women, but that it’s just too darn expensive to prosecute the hordes of wife-beaters (and girlfriend-beaters, and various other beaters) out there, and therefore easier to decriminalize domestic violence.

One of the damn funniest legal writers out there, Elie Mystal, has a commendable piece on the Above the Law blog:

The Topeka City Council] wouldn’t have repealed misdemeanor ordinances about robbery. The(y) wouldn’t have decriminalized drugs. They wouldn’t have messed around with funding the prosecution of something that they really cared about.

But women, and the beating thereof? Oh, let’s make a political point about fiscal responsibility with that. They would have seen the problems with headlines claiming Topeka was a drug haven or the storefront robbery capital of the world. But when they contemplated becoming Disneyland for wife-beaters, they were cool with it.(via)

I know a lot of people who think of themselves as “socially liberal, but fiscally conservative,” and here’s an example of of that philosophy failing to the utmost. It’s hard to fathom anyone thinking, “Ehhh, what’s a few bruised ladies in comparison to all that moolah?!” but that’s exactly what the Topeka City Council (elected officials, respected pillars of society) thought when they decriminalized domestic violence.

On a scale of 1 to 10, how disgusted are you? Tell me what you think in the comments.

Workplace discrimination in vignette

7 Mar

Me: “Hey guys, check out this timely piece of information that critically changes the way we do our jobs.”
Coworkers: “…”
Me: “Guys?”
Coworkers: *…*
Me: “Sooo…. Anything I can do to make this information easier to digest for you, just let me know.”
Coworkers: *sound of crickets*
…………..ONE HOUR LATER…………..
Male (junior) coworker: “Hey guys, check out this timely piece of information that critically changes the way we do our jobs.”
Coworkers: “Wow, great information! Thanks for finding this – you must scour news sources all DAY for this kind of thing! You certainly did not rip it from an email sent earlier in the day by your underpaid colleague! What would we do without you and your Great White Penis?”
Male (junior) coworker:  “I know, I’m pretty great. I can tell you value my Great White Penis more than the original source of this information because I have six months of work experience, but I’m paid about 50 percent more than that one chick in the corner, who’s been doing this for ten years! You know the one, always mouthing off about ‘timely information,’ whatever the hell that means.”
Coworkers: “Chuckle! Chuckle! Backslaps all around!”

Media: Find a new dead horse

18 Dec

If you hang out long enough with lefties, eventually someone will repeat an old saw as if it were a new blade: The Evils of Media Consolidation. This memetic concept has spawned a whole cottage industry of conspiracy theorist-journalists, infographics and vitriolic discussions, both off and online.

Self-styled investigative journalists write their pieces about media consolidation as if they were the first to discover – horror of horrors – that an entire industry is run by only a handful of corporate giants. They are, of course, telling us this tale for the VERY FIRST TIME, and we should all be shocked, SHOCKED, I tell you! not to mention appalled, that we’re being spoon-fed drivel that turns our minds into oatmeal by Evil Men in Grey Flannel Suits. They lurk in the shadows, forcing Sarah Palin news upon the unsuspecting populace, and using man-bites-dog-stories to cover up What’s Really Happening.

If only media and news were the ONLY industries run this way. You better believe that every industry that reaches any point of maturation will consolidate. Central management allows for reduced operating costs – and it’s join or die for most companies, media or not.

Let’s make a cool infographic like this that shows how
class mobility is a lie your parents told you.

So OK. We get it. The media is owned by a very small number of corporations, and the variation we think we’re getting with six gazilion channels and 7 trillion newspapers and 800 bajillion news blogs isn’t actually that varied. But it’s time to stop blaming corporate consolidation (at least, stop blaming it solely) for the  monochromatic messages. Culture itself, not just corporate ownership, plays a pretty big part in media influence.

Think about it: We’re talking about hundreds of thousands of information workers, here – all with their own backgrounds and worldviews – work for tiny tiny subsidiaries and focus on itsy bitsy niche topic areas and interest groups. Not every single reporter is hell-bent on serving his or her corporate overlords, peddling the Faux News message and pulling the wool over the eyes of Joe America. At least not any more than your average every day Joe is hell-bent on achieving those same goals by parroting Faux News talking points, or mindlessly perpetuating the patriarchy.

Herman and Chomsky’s propaganda model says that the internalization of the biases and values of corporate owners of the media leads to self-censorship by journalists, but that’s not the whole truth. It’s not just reporters and editors submitting to the wills of their corporate overlords – it’s all of us. We have all, to some degree, internalized the values of corporate owners – whether we work for the media or not. Journalists fall prey to systemic and cognitive biases no more and no less than your average accountant, pro athlete or sous chef.

Yes, corporate consolidation is a problem (as it is in many other industries). But so is our culture – the one that’s built several gajilion support structures to ensure the propagation of a ruling class and dominant culture. Media is just one column supporting a monolithic superstructure that includes patriarchy, capitalism, nuclear families, the legal system, class hierarchies, office jobs and deep-fried Oreos.

One word can make a difference

11 Nov

A recent NYTimes piece by Karen Zraick brought iHollaback, a nifty web site that now has its very own smartphone apps for the low low price of whatever it is those things cost these days, to my attention. According to the story, iHollaback “is a Web site that encourages women to post their accounts of harassment and abuse as part of a campaign to end practices that are seldom discussed but that many women say are pervasive.”

What’s interesting about this article, other than iHollaback itself, which satisfies an obvious need and looks kind of fun (if anything related to street harassment can be fun), is the way Zraick chose to phrase the above sentence. But before we get into that, a little background:

Journalists understand the power of words. Particularly words like “say,” “claim” and “allege.” At first blush these words look like nothing more than synonyms for “speak.” But seasoned professionals have the ability to wield them in ways that can slant a story without making it seem slanted at all – many may even do it completely unconsciously.

Any of the aforementioned words, when used as modifiers for a statement that, alone, would be taken at face value, have immense power. With that in mind, take a look at the article excerpt again:

“[iHollaback] is a Web site that encourages women to post their accounts of harassment and abuse as part of a campaign to end practices that are seldom discussed but that many women say are pervasive.” (emphasis mine)

Use these infinitive-prefacing verbs sparingly.

Note the difference in the way the two assertions in the sentence are presented. The practice of harassment lacks a “says/alleges/claims” modifier: “practices are seldom discussed.” This leads the reader to take it as an empirically verifiable fact. In contrast, harassment’s pervasiveness requires a modifier: “many women say the practice is pervasive.” Here’s a clue that the author doesn’t think this fact is supported by any evidence other than the claims of a party, in this case “many women.”

There are two main flaws with this syntax and its implications. Firstly, these “practices are seldom discussed.” Says who? Was there a study? I don’t know about you, but I discuss these practices all the time. I’m not refuting the statement – in mainstream Amerikuh, I don’t doubt that street harassment, and women’s rights in general, come up in conversation with disturbing infrequency, but it’s in no way more well-supported than the second statement.

Secondly, the subject matter of the article itself would suggest that the second statement does not require a “says” modifier. iHollaback is a Web site that sprung up to address a practice that is so pervasive that the site has regional and global variations, viral participation, at least one bajillion press mentions, an iPhone app and an Android app in development. This should be enough to, if not present pervasive street harassment as an irrefutable fact, at least qualify the statement for a modifier bye.

Modifiers are equally powerful when included or omitted, serving the opposite purposes of discrediting when included, and supporting when omitted. Thus, they can be used strategically to make a point. By modifying “these practices are pervasive” with “says” but not doing so with the previous statement, the author skewed the “truthiness” playing field – leaving readers to assume that while harassment is certainly rarely discussed, it may not actually be as common as “some women” would lead you to believe.

While this may be considered nitpicking, it’s important to realize that these people are professionals – they understand the impact a single word can have, and so choose (or should choose) them carefully. Journalists are the gatekeepers of information, and the filter through which millions of people see the world. One word can make a difference.

Top ten reasons to work in journalism

19 Aug

10. The Swearing

Only in a newsroom does one get congratulated by one’s boss for using the word “fuck” during a meeting.

9. The Drinking

Newsies can drink average humans under a mesa, and newsrooms have lots of good places to nurse a hangover: Decommissioned darkrooms, for one, are cool, dark and private, and often have couches for reasons that will remain unexplored here.

8. The Sarcasm

The Fake AP Stylebook. Overheard in the Newsroom. This stuff doesn’t write itself, people. We started the whole sarcasm/irony trend before those hipsters co-opted it, and journalists remain sarcastic, lovable assholes to this day.

7. The Liberals

There’s something sweetly safe in knowing that most of your coworkers are, like you, bleeding-heart liberals.*

6. The Misanthropy

Newsroom humor, like emergency room humor, is dark. It comes from a place of finely tuned cynicism, and grants its practitioners the permission to wield dry, cutting wit at the expense of the rabble with nary a thought to the politically correct.

5. Sportswriting

I don’t like sports (except boxing, ‘course), but I love sportswriting. Oh, the action verbs! The wordplay! The ability to experiment with nigh-obscenity due to the sports’ section placement deeep inside the paper!

4. Sportswriters

For some inexplicable reason, I get along famously with sportswriters. I don’t understand their interests, but you have to love a person who can conduct an interview with a high school softball star, hammer out a lead story, and design a front page all while drinking a 40 of 211 out of a MegaGulp cup and keeping an eye on “Striptease,” streaming on the laptop brought from home.

3.The camaraderie

There’s nothing like being on a sinking ship to bring on that tingly “sense of brotherhood” feeling.

2. Schadenfreude

As a journalist, you get to be secretly, or not-so-secretly pleased when disaster strikes other people’s lives. All the better if it strikes on your news cycle. You get to say things like, “Way to die on deadline, Reagan,” or “I need to see the carnage! Find me a shot of the carnage.”

1. Grammar jokes

If this isn’t good enough reason for you, you’re probably a business analyst anyway.

* Yep, it’s true, we media types really are damn dirty pinko Jesus-hating fags. Or rather, journalists tend to have more education than the general population, and therefore wind up more liberal than the majority. Take unsubstantiated theory any way you want.

Gay nerds unite! XBox hates you a little less

6 Mar

Or maybe they hate you more? From their PR, it’s kind of hard to tell, but the gist of the news is this: Gamers can now use the word “gay” in their username if they so choose. Gay, yay! In a press release, Xbox Live General Manager Marc Whitten tells gamers:

“The Xbox LIVE Terms of Use and Code of Conduct are designed to create a place where people can safely enjoy all of the ways to interact on our service … without fear of discrimination or harassment…

[We’ve] update[d] the Xbox LIVE Terms of Use and Code of Conduct which will allow our members to more freely express their race, nationality, religion and sexual orientation in Gamertags and profiles. Under our previous policy, some of these expressions of self identification were not allowed in Gamertags or profiles to prevent the use of these terms as insults or slurs. … it inadvertently excluded a part of our Xbox LIVE community.”

Typically most corporate PR is horribly executed, but the above manages to paint the company in a positive light after what could’ve been a PR disaster. It manages to make me feel warm and fuzzy feelings for XBox when my first reaction was set to stun.

They’ve made an important distinction in admitting that gamers often use the word “gay” (and all its hatefully misspelled derivations) as an insult, and positioning themselves as simply trying to protect that demographic. Whether it’s true or not we’ll never know, but I kind of want to shake the hand of whatever PR flak actually wrote that letter, because we all know it wasn’t Marc Whitten.

To put this whole thing in context, here’s a PSA from Wanda Sykes waaaaaaay back in 2008:

What do you think, fellow nerds? Was it just an oversight on XBox’s part? Were they really trying to protect their gay players’ feelers? Or were they just being what most companies are: Juggernauts of social mores, laser-focused on the bottom line, and way behind the times?

*Photo from the wonderful Consumerist blog.

Today in Animal Rights

24 Feb

UPDATE! This afternoon I learned of a most curious incident: A whale named Tilikum at SeaWorld in Orlando killed a female trainer today. I know that I’m not supposed to say this (and I’m equally sure it needs to be said): Capturing wild animals, “training” them to do tricks for an audience using motivational tools like pain, hunger and fear is bound to lead to tragedy. As horrible as this is for the trainer, her friends and her family, it’s far from the first incident of its kind. I hope it will be a wake-up call to people that using animals for entertainment is just not right.

This morning I spied a really groovy piece of street art: The word “Vegan” scrawled on the side of a building in fancy graffitti font*:


I smiled to myself and began wondering why I don’t know any people that go around drawing dietary diatribes on Division Street. Then I remembered that many vegan activists identify as such merely so they can lord their holier-than-thou attitude over everyone else. Either that or they’re just college students still gifted with the charming delusion that their stupid little opinions matter, who’ll grow up to inherit Daddy’s money, join the corporate world and in all likelihood begin plowing their SUVs through flocks of endangered seabirds for fun.

Which is what Charles Belgard did, as reported by NPR this morning in connection with his too-light-in-my-opinion sentence of 45 days in jail and a $1,000 fine. My hope is that, for 21-year-old Belgard, who is the sort of person that breaks speed limits on the beach and thinks killing is AWESOME, $1,000 is a LOT of money. That and an angry seabird or 400 peck his squinty little eyeballs out a la Hitchcock’s “The Birds.”

*Portland people: It’s on 39th and Division.

Related posts: The Rogue Vegan Strikes Again; Vegan Vandalism Pandemic

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