Current Events

Consequences and the Right Things

Nope. No catchy photo for this one. Seeing this man’s face just makes me mourn the loss of the last shreds of civil society.

Brock Turner. That’s a name prominently displayed in the headlines over the last week. Unless you’ve been somehow tucked off comfortably on a secluded island somewhere in the South Pacific, you’ve heard the name and know why it’s so relevant right now.

Brock was someone who had a promising future ahead of him. He was someone who has been put in positions to do well in the world. And he’s someone who has been put in those positions thanks to a family, society, and culture designed to allow people like him to succeed.

He’s 20 years old. He’s a college swimmer–apparently a standout–, attended Stanford, and clearly has led a protected, middle-class life.

And every time he or his family or friends attempt to explain or defend him, it just keeps getting worse. It wasn’t rape, it was “action.” He’s not a rapist–sorry, but a jury and judge disagree, and their opinion is the only one that actually counts–or a monster. And, actually, one of my favorite assertions by his father says that Brock just isn’t his upbeat, happy-go-lucky self anymore.

Why not? Because he was caught. And convicted. It’s as simple as that.

Let’s check in with the rape victim here: a woman who wan’t planning on going out, but did so to spend time with her sister. Her life has been changed forever.

Would he be sulking around if he got away with the assault? If he hadn’t been charged, or convicted, or kicked out of school or banned from campus forever? I’d bet his appetite for steaks would still be there if he hadn’t been caught. God knows he’d still be pursuing that promising career as a college swimmer.

He’s privileged enough to make his way through an obviously very comfortable life. And privileged enough to convince a judge that even after sexually attacking an unconscious woman behind a dumpster (because that’s where every couple goes for a quick hook up) he isn’t enough of a threat to society to merit anything more than six months in prison. And he’s privileged enough to not take a shred of responsibility for his actions, because it’s not his fault that he was underage at a party drinking alcohol: it’s the campus and swim team’s culture that made him do that…You know, so he could be cool like them. Remember the talk you had with your parents about not giving in to peer pressure, Brock? That was what, like 10-12 years ago, right? Geez, don’t you remember anything?

Fortunately, most of the world sees this guy (and his father, for that matter) as the dipshits that they are. Both of them have managed to take an event that clearly should never have happened and turned it inside out by treating it like it’s something normal. They’re focused solely on themselves, and really have yet to acknowledge that there is only one true victim here, and that Brock himself is a victim only of himself.

Let me say that again here on it’s own: Brock is his own victim. It’s not the party culture of Stanford that made him do anything that night. It’s not the party culture that forced the rape victim to the hospital for treatment and a sickening list of specimen gathering, probing, and picture-taking on top of the indignity of the act itself.

Brock Turner is a victim of his own belief, obviously perpetuated by his father at the very least, that actions have absolutely no consequence. He can ponder that one while staring at the walls of his cell for six months.

Now…shall we move on to discuss the judge? There are some more consequences to be had…(I’m not going to drive it into the ground, since basically I think we can all agree that even with a reelection coming, this guy’s career is probably over).

I think we all know what the judge was trying to do. But let’s stop for a minute and acknowledge a couple of things: this was a violent crime (as all rape is), and the fact that nearly every single impact statement that the judge had available to him seems to point to the fact that Brock Turner clearly doesn’t feel like he should be held responsible for his actions. As much as he deserves punishment for the crime itself, he deserves punishment for his obvious inability to do the right thing and recognize his responsibility for what happened that night.

That’s what this all boils down to: Brock Turner doesn’t have remorse for what he did. He has remorse for how it’s impacting him.


Current Events

An Uncivilized Discourse

Whatever happened to respectful disagreements?

Apparently, when it comes to political rallies, policy discussions, or even within the walls of our political institutions, respectfully disagreeing with someone has gone the way of the dodo.

Eggs are getting tossed by protesters outside political rallies. Journalists are being roughed up at rallies. Names are being called. Insults are being hurled. In short, humans are doing something they’re very good at, but like to think is an exception to the rule: they’re being assholes.

Let’s face it: historically, people have gone out of their way to be jerks to those who aren’t like them or hold different opinions. I mean, even the British House of Commons has two white lines on the floor so that the politicians are more than two sword lengths apart from each other. But you’ve got to believe that we’re closer than ever to a pistol duel between two members of congress than we have been since Aaron Burr killed Alexander Hamilton.

Can’t we all just get along?

We all know what the problem is: rhetoric regarding political, economic, and social issues has escalated, especially in the last 10-20 years. And as the rhetoric has escalated, there has been a corresponding increase in the level of vitriol aimed at individuals and the opposing sides of the issues. Now this shouldn’t be a big problem, because we’re all reasonable, rational humans who can carry on discussions on such issues with some degree of respect for those with opposing views. But lately, it seems as though we just can’t keep our abject hatred in check, where it belongs. So when someone hears something they don’t agree with, they take offense, and vilify the person who said the offending phrase.

The question, of course, is why is this happening now?

The thing is that political change and social movements have always had some degree of activism and some of that activism has gotten violent. Sadly, sometimes, that’s the only way to get a point across. And it’s always extremists who foment that violence. Who are these extremists?

I hear all of you pointing fingers at some specific individuals. Or groups. Or religions. And you’re right. But you’re wrong, too. Think about it: sure, Adolf Hitler fanned the flames of violent support for his views. But Mahatma Gandhi did not, and yet, some of his supporters did turn to violence to help affect the change they were going for.

It’s easy to point at Donald Trump and assign blame there because his campaign rhetoric is so inflammatory. And again, you’re partially correct. Bernie Sanders hasn’t advocated for those violent protests by his supporters and has actually condemned it. But it happens because Trump goes out of his way to insult people on a personal level. And some believe that he encourages it in his supporters. And some people, identifying themselves as Sanders supporters respond forcefully.

But as much as Trump needs to stop his rhetoric and speak respectfully about other people, there’s also an equal responsibility by his supporters and detractors to not escalate things to a level that even comes close to violence. No, I’m not suggesting giving him a free pass, mainly because he is running for President of the United States, but I am suggesting that those who don’t agree with him stop attacking his supporters. Or reducing their responses to his level by calling him some equally vile name.

If we’re going to truly support the idea of freedom of speech and expression, then we need to allow speech like that. We can counter it and discuss it, but do not hurl eggs at another human being because Donald Trump’s way of attacking people is calling them stupid names. After all, in the event that you said something equally stupid on a public stage, you wouldn’t want to find yourself, or someone you loved pelted by eggs. Or worse…

Now yes, I’ll agree that there is a very fine line between inflammatory speech and hate speech. And I can even grant you that in some cases, the hateful words spoken do not necessarily reflect the actual thoughts or beliefs of the person who said them. But we also need to recognize that an individual is not necessarily representative of the group of people he or she is a part of–Adolf Hitler was no more representative of white Americans than the Donner Party was of foodies. The reality is that our constitution protects speech, even if it is stupid and ignorant. As long as it isn’t actually hurtful, we need to stand in support of our system and the constitution and politely disagree with it. And even still, responding to speech that is hateful with violence is wrong. Period. We have justice system that we need to place our trust in.

So let’s all pause and consider our own actions when we hear things we don’t agree with. And leave the eggs at home.


The Occasional TV Review

I was cleaning up in the kitchen tonight, and as I often do, the TV was on in the background, just to keep me occupied. And after Wheel of Fortune ended for the evening, the CBS prime-time slate kicked in with the reality show The Briefcase.

Ordinarily, I avoid reality television like the plague. At its worst, it caters to people’s need to see other people often at their worst, and at its best, it’s really just a vehicle for people to make money by making some statement that isn’t that valuable in the first place. Either way, most reality TV amounts to nothing more than an hour’s worth of societal navel-gazing.

The Briefcase laid out it’s premise pretty quickly in the show: you have two families, both middle class, both struggling financially for a variety of reasons, and the producers introduce a briefcase containing $101,000 to each family. Then the families are given a simple set of instructions: keep all of the money to use as they wish, or give none, some, or all of the money to another family who they will learn about through text messages gradually over the next 72 hours. At the end of those three days, they need to make a decision, but at the end of that time, they will be flown to Los Angeles to meet the other family and will present their final decision to the other family in that meeting. Oh…the first $1,000 is for them to spend however they want, just to have fun, because the next three days will be hell, and the whole country can watch their agony for no good reason other than it fills an hour of television time.

My God, that’s a horrible concept for a TV show.

Okay, so you can search the interwebs for other commentary on the show, and you’ll find a mixed bag of reaction, but most of it is negative and loud about how it’s class warfare taken to the airwaves. And it is that, surely. But not for many of the reasons I’ve seen in these online reviews.

Let’s begin with the obvious: the producers and creators of the show have no idea what it’s like to be in the same position as any of the families they have or will present. They’ve never struggled to the degree these people have struggled. They’ve never spent a minute worrying about how they’ll dig their way out of whatever financial crisis is afflicting them this time. And because of that, they don’t understand that their entire concept for the show is flawed.

I’m pretty sure that their thought is that somehow, both families end up with $100,000. And I’m thinking the money is pretty irrelevant to the bigger hope by the producers that there will be deep, emotional discussions about the family struggles, but also the larger need to be kind to one’s fellow man. And I’m sure there will be huge amounts of angst and sleepless nights. And for this, there will be spectators because someone decided it’s good TV…

I just threw up in my mouth a little…

Here’s the thing, and I’m sure the creators/producers don’t understand this because they’ve never been in that position, but if you’ve ever struggled financially–and I don’t mean falling behind on a couple of bills; I mean thinking you’ve hit rock bottom, and then finding that the pit keeps on going–you know the feeling every single one of these families has. You know the thoughts every single one of them will have all the way through the show. And frankly, none of it is entertaining.

If you’ve been there, you know that you are working your ass off just to keep what you have together and to not fall any further down that pit. You’re focused on keeping your family healthy and happy. You’re doing what you need to to keep some food on the table, a roof over everyone’s heads, and clothes on everyone’s backs. And deep down, you keep hoping and dreaming about that moment–everyone who’s been there knows that moment–that turns everything around: a windfall, that job offer that pays what you need to make ends meet, or that opportunity that gives you the push to get over the barrier that’s keeping you down right now. In that position, everyone dreams about that. And it’s an emotional thing to be in that position. You’re tense, sad, nervous, anxious, but also happy and glad to have what you do have. And you’re hopeful. Always hopeful for that dream.

So imagine the thoughts and feeling when you open a briefcase holding $101,000. It’s the break, the windfall, the answer to every prayer and dream you’ve had for months or years. Then comes the caveat: the other family who’s in just as much trouble as you. And it’s all thrown at these families within the first few minutes of the show.

What the creators of the show almost certainly didn’t realize is that all of the families they think they’re helping have been living in this hole for so long that they’ve found that comfortable place. As long as things don’t get worse, they can get by. They provide for the basic needs of the family and they are comfortable in what they have. Having been there, I always new that there were those worse off than me and my family. So as much as having the opportunity to take the money is uplifting, the anguish over what to do with it is mean, especially since these families don’t know that the other family is in the exact same position. The “game,” if it can be called that, is rigged because both sides have the money. And while the producers say that it’s a win for both families because of that, it’s a horrible thing to do to another human being.

In short, the showrunners are inflicting three days of anguish and hell on these families in the name of entertainment, and it’s only costing them $200,000. Even though the producers have gone to great lengths to say in the show and in interviews that these families are not poor (they’re emphatically “middle class”) it’s still a form of class warfare because the middle class families shown are being emotionally manipulated by those who are clearly not middle class.

Sadly, this smacks a bit like some sci-fi story, where in the dystopian future, people are offered money to have the most emotional parts of their lives displayed on TV. It is the case of someone waving a reward while saying “dance, monkey, dance!”

I don’t know whether I’m pleased or sad to say I watched 10 minutes of this televised train wreck before I just physically couldn’t take it any longer.

Social Justice

Eggs of Justice

I can never complain that my family lacks passion for causes they support. They get angry, voice their opinions quite eloquently, and generally have strong, deeply held, well-reasoned views on those causes.

And as each of them has grown up, they’ve adopted more and more causes. Which ultimately is a good thing: apathy is crap. It makes me proud that they’re able to form these opinions so well on their own. And that they’re willing to support their causes in spite of what kind of social headwinds the world might through at them.

So now that the girls are in high school, I suppose I should have realized that one or both of them would find some cause that spoke to them. And I suppose I should have known that cause would affect me in some concrete way.

The latest is the result of a video Hannah saw in class. It talked about conditions at chicken and egg farms. And it grabbed her attention.

The upshot is this: I am now buying, whenever possible, cage-free and antibiotic-free eggs and chicken products. And I’ve pushed that to include similarly raised beef. All because it’s an important issue to Hannah and I want to let her know that I support her views and the issue itself.

Now, I’m not complaining (at least about Hannah’s stand on the issue), but for those who haven’t strolled down aisle of the meat section of their grocery store or haven’t looked at the comparative prices for, say, a family pack of “normal” chicken breasts and a similar pack of cage-free and antibiotic-free organic chicken breasts (hereafter referred to as “happy chicken”), you won’t realize that it’s close to twice as expensive for the happy chicken as it is for the non-happy chicken.

And I’m still trying to figure out whether the organic chicken packs I can get at Costco comply with the requirements of the diet. Because nothing is as confusing as food labeling.

As I’ve learned with the gluten-free diet, food labeling is a morass of confusion and stupidity, all wrapped in an incoherent shell of hyperbole. It is the perfect intersection of marketing speak and governmental regulation.

I’m discovering that I’m just starting to learn this whole new language…

Like organic means that the chickens are feed organic feed and don’t get antibiotics unless medically necessary starting the day after they hatch. It also means that they aren’t necessarily cage-free or free range, rather that they have to be provided with access to the outdoors, though there aren’t any regulations for how much access they should have and how big the space outdoors needs to be.

Cage-free apparently isn’t a thing, as all chickens are cage-free. At least the ones raised for meat.

Free range means the chickens can go outside. Like for a walk, or to watch this week’s solar eclipse.

So, I get to read more labels when shopping. I already read for gluten-free products, I read for diabetic-friendly products. And now I’ll read for free range cage-free happy chicken.