What Do You Do When Your Student Tells You Her Father Threatened Her Life? 2

In my last post, I told you about a former student who came to my office distraught because her father had threatened her life. It’s now more than two weeks since I walked her over to the counseling center on my campus, and I hope the fact that she has not contacted me since then means that she is somewhere safe, where she can start to figure out how to live the rest of her life. What struck me most about this student’s situation, I said, was less her father’s threat, which was of course bad enough, than the network of men he was able to enlist, or simply count on, to help him keep his daughter in line. Those men, I went on, made me think of these lines from Sa’di’s Golestan:

To please the king who eats a sin­gle apple
from a subject’s gar­den, his slaves will pull
the tree up whole to plant in the palace yard;
and if he lets five eggs be taken by force,
his army will put to the spit a thou­sand birds.

“There’s always someone willing to ride the coattails of someone else’s power and authority,” I wrote, but what makes these lines particularly powerful for me is the story that gives them their full context. Here it is:

The hunting party had stopped to eat, but there was no salt to season the meat they were roasting for [King] Nushirvan, and no one wanted to serve him an improperly seasoned meal. So they sent one of the boys who was with them to get some salt from a nearby village. Before the boy left, however, Nushirvan told him, “Make sure you pay for what you take. Otherwise, the village will be ruined.” Surprised and more than a little incredulous, those who were standing nearby asked how such a simple thing as bringing some salt to the king could have such profound consequences. Nushirvan replied, “When the world began, oppression was a small hut that few people entered, but as more and more people chose to go inside, they built it up, and look how high it reaches now.”

To please the king who eats a single apple
from a subject’s garden, his slaves will pull
the tree up whole to plant in the palace yard;
and if he lets five eggs be taken by force,
his army will put to the spit a thousand birds.

As the king, Nushirvan was very aware that he could have ordered the boy to take the salt without paying for it, and he understood well the dire consequences such privilege could have for those he ruled, if he allowed it to be taken to its logical conclusion. By telling the boy to pay, Nushirvan was taking responsibility for that privilege. What interests me is whether the boy would have paid for the salt even if Nushirvan had said nothing. If not, he would have turned the king’s privilege into an admittedly minor but nonetheless naked display of power. More to the point, by refusing in the name of the king to pay for that salt, the boy would have been claiming some of that power for himself, and he would have been doing so by choice. In other words, he would have done so knowing full well he could’ve done otherwise.

The men who spied on my student for her father, whether he asked them to or not, were in the same position as that boy was before Nushirvan told him to make sure he paid. They knew full well that they could have chosen not to inform on her, but they did so anyway. Similarly, in the wake of the recent nude-celebrity-photo hacking scandal, we were all in that position. Every single person who looked at those photos, tweeted about them, linked to them, posted them on Reddit, or otherwise treated them as anything other than the stolen private property they were, could have chosen to do otherwise, but didn’t. On the other hand, those of us who didn’t chose not to enforce an idea about women’s place in society that is, in its essence, no different from the one my student’s father was enforcing when he beat her for being (in his estimation) inappropriately alone with a young male acquaintance.

I have no doubt that few of the people who looked at those pictures would openly declare themselves that father’s ally. Nonetheles, just like he valued his idea of family, and particularly women’s honor more than the flesh-and-blood woman his daughter is, the people who looked at those pictures chose their salacious value, and the power they could feel in viewing them, over the human value of the flesh-and-blood people whose pictures they were. Neither of which is very much different from the dynamic Sa’di describes, in which people who work for the king value the slice of the king’s power that they are licensed to exercise more than the humanity, to use the examples in Sa’di’s verse, of the people whose trees they are uprooting or whose chickens they are stealing.

Pick your cause. Whether it’s in the context of racism or environmentalism, militarism or poverty, sexism (including heterosexism), transphobia, Islamophobia, homophobia, unionism, or antisemitism, we all face this kind of choice every day, in ways both big and small. Do we value the human beings whose lives are materially at stake or do we value the power that creates the imbalance that turns these issues into causes in the first place? No one makes the right choice all the time. I certainly don’t, but understanding that the choice is, first and always, mine to make has made my life a lot more meaningful.


Posted in Feminism, sexism, etc, Iran, Rape, intimate violence, & related issues | 17 Comments  

Embarrassments – Trans People and Surgery

Not too long ago, I went through a series of surgeries involving intercontinental travel to an unfamiliar country, general anaesthesia, significant trauma, and extended recovery time, including the usual post-anaesthesia depression. I was out of work for over a month. At work, I let it be known that the purpose of my absence was surgeries, but I did not specify what they were, or give any other details. A small number of my coworkers have not acted well toward me since the start of my transition, passing misinformation amongst themselves, a process which later bit me in the rear. I did not want to fuel that dynamic.

I am blessed with a tight and supportive family, and with many superbly good friends whom I have accumulated over the years. Most of them reached out with supportive messages. Some rendered assistance with travel and out-of-the-blue expenses.

None of my co-workers contacted me. 1

During my time out of the country, while I was in early convalescence, I corresponded with friends, one of whom was another trans woman, older and wiser than I, who transitioned a couple of decades ago. I mentioned at one point that I felt down that none of my co-workers had contacted me. Her response, paraphrased: “You expected them to? Kids these days. We’re an embarrassment, hon. That’s why we stick together and help each other out. No one else is going to do it. Support from your co-workers? As if.” She told me a story about another woman she met when she, herself, was recovering from similar surgeries, a trans woman who had scrimped and saved and travelled alone to a city she didn’t know to go under the knife of a doctor she had met maybe once before, a woman who planned to recover alone, doling out her pain medications alone, mashing up her food alone so that she could slip it past her healing gums and nourish her healing body, getting up to do her clot-preventing walks down the hall of her rented single-room apartment alone, working through the post-anaesthesia depression and despair and “what have I done?” alone.

Except that it turned out that she wasn’t alone, because my friend was there, then, and afterward, for months, when the daily e-mails my friend sent were the only communications this woman received from another human being.

It was a familiar story. Almost every trans woman I know who has had significant surgery has a friend she met in the hospital, a friend whom she still touches base with regularly.

What are the ODDS?

Pretty good, actually, that you’re going to form bonds like that when you find that there there is one other person who understands, who knows, and you find that there are no other bonds, when you discover that no one in your life can find it in themselves to send you an e-mail to say that they hope you’re okay.

I’m more fortunate than most. I have my entire family, and all of my close friends. So I didn’t need a hospital friend like that, which turned out to be a good thing, since I ended up not sharing a recovery room with anyone.

Sometimes I wonder: what about the people like me who didn’t meet anyone in the hospital, but who, unlike me, had no one else? We don’t hear about them. Partly, obviously, because they don’t have a friend to tell the story about how they met in the surgery suite. But I suspect that a lot of them die in the post-anaesthesia depression, which can rear up and bite you weeks after the actual surgery, long after you’ve flown home and the surgeon is busy with other patients and chalks you up as a success. Some probably kill themselves deliberately, having made it that far but having hit their limit. Some probably just… fade. It would be easy. Just get home, collapse behind your front door, and … don’t follow the post-surgical instructions well.

My friend is right. We are an embarrassment. People don’t know what to do with us, even sometimes people who would seem to be close to us, and so rather than risk the wrong thing, they do nothing. At the same time, she’s wrong. Times are changing. People still screw up a lot toward trans people, but there has never been a better time in modern Western society to be trans; the general population is learning. And, theoretically, police organizations are supposed to be tight and self-supportive, a result which flows from the simple fact that we get critiqued, constantly, from all sides, and so we look to each other for understanding. In theory, this is particularly true of tactical teams, which tend to be very tight.

And, despite my professional calling, I’m an optimist. I want to be able to say, “Yes, people did the right thing. On their own.”

But, of course, in order to be able to say that truthfully, you have to make room for it to be true, which means that you also have to give people the opportunity to demonstrate that it’s false.

For my tiny corner of the world, my optimism turned out to be misplaced. My friend was right. Even though my transition in police work was wildly successful when measured against most previous such transitions… it turns out that I’m an embarrassment. 2

I have another friend, a teenager (call her Teena). We met her when her mother read about my transition in social media and reached out, saying, “Can I talk to you? My kid is trans, and I need information and advice.” Teena is already socially transitioned and needs to access medical care, but her family is overextended handling other, unrelated, emergencies. I offered to help Teena get access to the puberty-blockers she so badly needs, and the therapy which is probably useful in itself and definitely required to access cross-hormone therapy eventually. Her mother accepted. I met with Teena to find out exactly what she wanted to do. She told me. I digested, and then suggested a plan of action. She agreed to it. At the end, she hugged me and said, “Thank you.”

“You bet, hon,” I said. “We have to watch out for each other. No one else is going to. We’re an embarrassment.”

She smiled, safe in a moment of support. Sixteen years old with her body going wrong on her and inexpensive treatment extant which she had not been able to access. There was not a trace of surprise on her face. “Yeah,” she said. “We are.”


[edited to correct a generalization]

  1. Contact methods available to all of my co-workers included work email, personal email, texting, cell phone, home phone, Google Voice mail which gets transcribed to my e-mail address, and of course, a letter to my home address. This was not a problem of access. In the end, technically, one did contact me, though not one I am close with. He sent me a single text, which I did not receive until I landed again in the US, and 99% of the expense, travel, recovery and general terror were done. []
  2. With that one belated exception. []
Posted in Transsexual and Transgender related issues | 3 Comments  

Steve Salaida’s Controversial Tweets About Anti-Semitism, With Context

Posted in Anti-Semitism, Free speech, censorship, copyright law, etc. | 53 Comments  

What do you do when your student tells you her father threatened her life?

Well, if you’re a K–12 teacher and you believe the student is at all credible (or maybe her credibility doesn’t matter), you have very specific reporting requirements, and there are protocols for that reporting that you have to follow, and there are individuals and agencies that will–all else being equal–respond to what you report, and, if all goes well, all the different components of this protective infrastructure will work together seamlessly so that student ends up safe and sound. If you’re a college teacher like I am, however, that infrastructure is not available to you. All you can do is what I did: talk with the student, find out as much as you can, be as supportive as you can, and try to persuade her to go to the counseling center, where she can talk to people who are trained to handle, and who have access to relevant resources in, situations like this. That last part doesn’t always work, but, thankfully, this time it did, because I have every reason to believe that the threat my student’s father made was credible.

For just that reason, obviously, and for others that will become clear in a minute, I don’t want to give here any potentially identifying details, and those details I do give are at least blurred, if not changed outright. So I will just say that this student is not enrolled in any of my classes this semester and that, when she was in my class several semesters ago, she told me enough of her story for me to know that her father’s threat fit a pattern of abuse that she’d been dealing with for years. In this particular instance, the way she described it, her father became enraged because he found out she’d been (non-sexually, non-romantically, not even as part of an ongoing friendship) alone in an enclosed space with a young male acquaintance. When her father found out about this, he started beating her, and it was during that beating that he made his death threat. I have to leave the specific details of the threat unstated because they could be used to identify her, so I will simply say that this woman comes from a country where so-called “honor killings”–a misnomer if there ever was one, since there is nothing honorable about them–are all too common, and that her father made clear to her that he was perfectly willing to murder her under that pretext.

Once the student had calmed down enough that she could talk about something other than the specifics of what she had been through, I suggested she go to counseling and she agreed. I walked her over with her and then went about the rest of my day, going to meetings, teaching my classes, and somehow it all seemed not exactly trivial, but a little bit beside the point. When I got back to my office, there was a voicemail from my student. She and the counselors, she said, had figured the situation out. She thanked me for my help and hung up. That’s it. I have neither seen nor heard from her since. I hope that means she and the counselors figured out a way for her not to go back home and that it is better, therefore, for me not to know anything that might give even the slightest hint about where she is. I hope, but there’s no way I can know for sure.

This is not the first time I’ve written about students of mine in similar, or potentially similar situations. In one case, I helped a woman escape from her husband and, in another, a student confided in me that she was thinking of running away so that she wouldn’t have to marry the man, or the kind of man, her parents wanted her to marry, but she wanted to go in such a way that her parents would think she was dead. What struck me in this case, however, was the way my student’s father openly used a network of other men to try to “keep his daughter in line.” She told me about one instance from a while back when she and a young man from her neighborhood were sitting together in a nearby park. The situation was, again, according to her, absolutely non-romantic and non-sexual, but a male acquaintance of the family saw them, took a picture with his phone, and sent it to her father. When she got home, her father confronted her with it and would not let her leave the house for two weeks. On this more recent occasion, when he threatened her life, he told her there would be people watching her every move, that he would know if she did anything “inappropriate.”

Those other people, the watchers, the informants, put me in mind of these lines from Sa’di’s Golestan:

To please the king who eats a single apple
from a subject’s garden, his slaves will pull
the tree up whole to plant in the palace yard;
and if he lets five eggs be taken by force,
his army will put to the spit a thousand birds.

There’s always someone willing to ride the coattails of someone else’s power and authority, but it’s the text that precedes these lines that gives them their real significance: “When the world began, oppression was a small hut that few people entered, but as more and more people chose to go inside, they built it up, and look how high it reaches now.” People choose, in ways both big and small, to become oppressors. Next week, I want to share with you the story these lines come from and talk about what it means to make that choice, or not.


Posted in Iran, Rape, intimate violence, & related issues, Writing | 1 Comment  

Why I doubt that “63 percent of young men between the ages of 11 and 20 who are imprisoned for homicide have killed their mothers’ batterers.”

I’m posting this here on “Alas” so that, two or three years from now, when I run into this statistic again and think “oh, yeah, I wrote a thing on that, didn’t I?” I can search for here it and find it.

“An estimated 63 percent of young men between the ages of 11 and 20 who are imprisoned for homicide have killed their mothers’ batterers.”
— Kimberle Crenshaw, in her article Intersectionality and Identity Politics: Learning from Violence Against Women of Color.

Someone posted this on a Tumblr blog I read and asked if there were any sources for that statistic.

Someone else posted a link to the 1997 book in which Crenshaw said that; Crenshaw did not include a citation.

I found two older sources, neither of which I have any confidence in.

In this 1994 academic article, the 63% statistic is cited to a 1991 resolution voted for by the Texas Senate.1

And in another academic article, also from 1994, the 63% figure is cited to the 1991 testimony of Susan Kelly-Dreiss, who is a feminist activist (now retired) but was never, as far as I know, someone who did original research.2

I really doubt that this statistic is reliable.

1) At best, it comes from data gathered in the 1980s, so it’s of questionable relevance nowadays.

2) But also, although some congressional reports are very conscientious when they use statistics, many just grab any statistics that support whatever point they want to make, without any attention paid to quality.

3) I also think it’s unlikely to be true because the 1980s was a peak for drug gang violence in the USA (it leveled off in the 1990s and has dropped enormously since). In a decade famous for gangs hiring young men to shoot each other, it seems implausible that the majority of murders committed by young men and boys were about abuse in their family. [Deleted for being wrong wrong wrong, see comments.]

4) Also, the Bureau of Justice Statistics divides its age groups, when it releases statistics, into “under 14,” “14-17,” and “18-24.” Most researchers follow suit. So the age range given in this statistic – “11-20” – is extremely oddball, and would require either an original data source, or doing a lot of extra work.

5) It just doesn’t seem likely, and it’s reasonable to treat unlikely claims with skepticism until they are proven.

Maybe this is a true statistic, but I won’t believe it until I can read the original source and see how the numbers were gathered and calculated.

  1. The citation says “Tex. S. Con. Res. 26, 72d Leg., 1st Sess. 1 (1991)” []
  2. The citation: “See Women and Violence: Hearings Before the Senate Comm. on the Judiciary on Legislation to Reduce the Growing Problem of Violence Crime Against Women, 101st Cong. 131 (1991) (statement of Susan Kelly-Dreiss).” []
Posted in Prisons and Justice and Police, Rape, intimate violence, & related issues | 12 Comments  

Dear The Stranger, Free Speech Is A Thing (UPDATED)

Dear The Stranger, Free Speech is a thing – even for off-duty cops.

Unless you have real evidence that this person is letting his politics interfere with his work, or spending time on Facebook when he’s on the public clock, then this really shouldn’t be a story.

The idea of employers – or the press – monitoring worker’s Facebook pages for “wrong” political opinions is far more horrifying, and far more of a threat to freedom, then anything some jerk cop writes on Facebook.


Let me note that in this post, when I refer to “freedom of speech” I’m referring not to First Amendment law, but to what I’d call a “free speech culture,” by which I mean a culture in which people can feel free to speak out on controversial issues without facing unreasonable and disproportionate reprisals. I worry that in our current culture – in which partisan hatred and fury has become so ordinary (on both sides) – only those with the thick skins and secure positions will feel comfortable speaking out.

Although there’s no government censorship going on here, we can and should want more for free speech than just “no one was thrown in jail.”

An example of what I mean by a “unreasonable and disproportionate reprisal” is having a well-known newspaper comb through your Facebook feed in order to cherry-pick the worst-sounding quotes.1 This reporting includes calling your bosses to inform them of what you’ve been writing on your Facebook page, and getting them to “consider… a formal investigation into” you.

Suddenly your Facebook activity is exposed to thousands of people you never expected to be scrutinizing your words, the pages you’ve linked, and what you “liked.” Total strangers on social media and in the Stranger’s comments are questioning your intelligence, your competence, and your worth as a human being.

It’s a seriously unkind thing to do, and newspapers like the Stranger shouldn’t do this lightly. There are obviously cases where someone is enough of a public figure so that any political opinion they express, regardless of context, is a reasonable news story. But “police Sergeant”simply isn’t in that category.

Now, there are cases in which reporting on the political opinions of a police officer might be important because they directly call into question if Hall is a suitable person to be a police officer. For example, if Sergeant Hall had called for police to engage in illegal beatdowns of civilians. But Hall didn’t say anything of the sort; he just spouted the typical opinions one hears every day from law-and-order Republicans. And just being a right-winger is not enough to mean someone can’t be a cop.

I really can’t think of any reason why it’s the public’s business to know what Hall’s opinion of Obama is (a point the Stranger emphasized in the headline). I don’t want that sort of thing reported about right-wing cops in newspapers, any more than I want that a left-wing cop hates George Bush to be reported in the National Review.

I’m not saying that free speech can or should mean freedom from consequence. But the consequences should be proportional. If the people who read Hall’s Facebook feed criticize him, think less of him, argue with him, or even decide they don’t want to be friends with him anymore, that’s fine. I’ve seen conservatives treat criticism as if it were censorship, and that’s ridiculous.

But when ordinary citizens – including midlevel cops – can’t yak about politics on Facebook without worrying that reporters will be searching for cherry-picked quotes or calling their bosses, that’s unreasonable. It’s disproportionate. And it’s not helpful to a free speech society.

  1. For example, reporter Ansel Herz highlighted two ugly-sounding quotes from a Facebook comment Hall wrote, but didn’t highlight this much more reasonable quote, although it’s in the same comment: “If it turns out that Officer Darren Wilson shot Michel Brown while he was surrendering, then he should be prosecuted for murder. I don’t think that will be the case, but I’m willing to see it as a possibility.” []
Posted in Free speech, censorship, copyright law, etc. | 130 Comments  

Female Comic Book Store Employee Fired After Complaining About Rape Jokes

Window display at Harrison's Comics in Salem, MA

Window display at Harrison’s Comics in Salem, MA

Ick. What a horrible situation. And if the information we have now is accurate – and obviously, it’s possible we don’t have the complete story – it so needlessly escalated. (Bleeding Cool has a bunch of the tweets, mostly from Jennifer Williams, the fired employee).

The manager who made the “we call this the rape room” joke could have apologized. Or the owner of the story could have been taken the manager aside and told him very firmly that jokes about rape are never acceptable in the workplace, and extra-double aren’t appropriate for a nervous new female employee on her first day. Either way, the new employee could have walked away with a feeling that her objection had been taken seriously and there would be no more rape jokes.

No need to fire anyone. The manager could have learned some basic etiquette that he should already have known, and Jennifer Williams could have felt like the store’s owner will support her and be willing to listen if harassment occurs. And Harrison’s Comics would not now be known as that comic book store where the manager jokes about a rape room.

Instead, Jennifer Williams was fired for no clear reason – which sure looks like she was fired for reporting a hostile workplace environment. And not only this store but all of comics culture looks – not for the first time – like a misogynist boy’s club culture full of guys who don’t have the basic social skills needed to understand “maybe I shouldn’t be telling rape jokes to the brand-new female employee who I barely even know.”

Aaargh. So much fail.

In the comments of the Jezebel story, a reader related a similar story about racism in a comic book store:

Shared this with a friend from across the country who actually works at a comics shop and also happens to be black, and has many amusing stories about casual nerd racism. He had a pretty good comment I’m going to paraphrase here.

Him: “Okay, so if my shop had a room that everyone called ‘dead nigger storage’, think they’d fire me if I complained? No. Because that’s fucked up if you have employees dropping n-bombs casually. Nobody cares if its just a Pulp Fiction reference, you don’t say that shit casually, especially around a black dude who’s a co-worker you don’t really know that well. This kind of the same idea.”

Me: “Did that actually happen to you?”

Him: “Yup.”

Posted in Cartooning & comics, Feminism, sexism, etc | Leave a comment  

Texas Kindergarden Sends Five-Year-Old Home Because He Has Awesome Hair


This story is sort of an intesectionality jackpot, combining as it does elements of racism, religious bigotry, and sexism.

For five-year-old Malachi Wilson, the first day of kindergarten will always be one he remembers. As it turns out, Monday, which was the first day of school for students at F.J. Young Elementary School in Seminole, Texas, was not Malachi’s first day of school because he was sent home because of the length of his hair.

School principal Sherrie Warren informed April Wilson, Malachi’s mother, that Malachi’s hair is too long since he is a boy; therefore, he would not be able to attend classes until he got a haircut.[...]

She explained to the principal that for religious beliefs Native Americans consider hair sacred and spiritual. The principal then asked Wilson if she could prove Malachi is Native American.

After Malachi and his mother left the school, Wilson called the Navajo Nation to assist in the documentation process. She also called a member of the American Indian Movement, who called the school district’s superintendent.

As the photo shows, Malachi’s hair is neat and well groomed. This wasn’t about cleanliness, or tidiness; it was the school forcing its gender ideology on a helpless little boy.

The school district’s rules (pdf link) include an exemption to the dress code for religious reasons, and Malachi was allowed to attend school the next day (after the American Indian Movement and the Navajo Nation interceded on Malachi’s behalf). But he never should have been sent home in the first place, and no religious exemption should be required. Why are the people who write rules like these so small-minded, so intolerant of any difference, and so eager to force their gender ideology down other people’s throats?

Colorlines notes that “The school district is ostensibly named for the Seminole people. The district’s schools use various Native mascots, and refer to their students as ‘Indians and Maidens.’”

Posted in In the news, Race, racism and related issues, Religion, Sexism hurts men | 9 Comments  

A Letter From Robert

This post is a transcription of a handwritten letter I received from Robert. All typos I made should be blamed on Robert, because that’s what so cool about him not being here to defend himself. As with last time, I’ll forward any comments people leave in this thread onto Robert. –Amp


A typical day in prison.


Dear Barry -

Thank you so much for your gracious letter of 8/13. I read it with a beaming smile on my face. It’s very easy to get “closed up” in prison, to forget that you have friends and loved ones on the outside. Letters like yours break that illusion, and do a lot of good.

You are correct that my robbery was unarmed – no gun involved. (“I just don’t see the point of those things.” -Buffy) Also, that I could be out in a year. Actually, I could be out on “community corrections” (i.e., a halfway home with supervised living and work release – not freedom, but a damn sight better than prison) right now – but that process can take up to 6 months. So I’m expecting quasi-freedom by February 2015 and actual freedom (though with parole) around July 2015.

“Expecting” is too strong a word. “Hoping and planning,” perhaps. Because they don’t have to give community corrections, or parole. They generally do but these are grants of privilege, not rights. So, bird in the hand and all that.

If anyone would like to write me, their letters would be most welcome. My DOC # is 165970 and my current status and mailing address can be seen at the Colorado Department of Corrections website. Note that parole eligibility and release dates are listed there, but these dates are “worst-case” dates that do not account good time, earned time, etc.

For those who have progressed past the material plane and communicate only electronically, there is a website called Jpay.com that allows you to send an e-mail message to me. I receive the message as a letter – they print it out here at the facility. There is a charge for the service but I believe it is competitive with postal rates. All you need is my DOC number.

JPay can also be used to put funds on an inmate’s account, for the purpose of hygiene items, food, and other lifestyle items. Far be it from em to solicit in my own behalf, but I feel obliged to note that as left-liberal dupes, you are all morally bound to support convicts in unearned, undeserved luxury. I’m just sayin’. (Come on, convict-hugging suckers! Daddy needs that flatscreen TV!)

In seriousness, though, I have recognized that my behavior was unacceptable, and my thinking prior to my crime had spiraled into a very dark place. Barry’s preferred cartoon, the “I’m already hurt” one, did not spark a smile on this end because the joke isn’t a joke; it’s reality. Robbery puts a human being in fear. One can rail against the banks 24/7 and get no argument from me; banks are the devil. But tellers are not the devil, they are young men or women who have done nothing wrong other than going to work one morning. And tellers have no way of knowing that a given robber has no actual intention to harm them. I made no threat or show of force; I was at pains to be polite. But Ms. Prudhomme (the teller) was trembling in fear the entire time.

That is indefensible. That is monstrous. I should be, and am, ashamed of that. The bank will get its money back; where does Ms. Prudhomme go to get her sense of safety, her security, her ability to go to work unconcerned, back?

She can’t, and that is 100% on me. So, fuck me. Fuck that guy.

Not self-blaming or self-hatred, just recognition of where the moral responsibility for outcomes lies. Right here.

Well, that got heavy. Let’s go to the mailbox and respond to the comments.

G&W: Incorrect. Tellers are under instructions per bank policy to give money to anyone vaguely engaged in robber-like conduct. They make no assessment or assumptions about the threat. The robbery statutes in Colorado do make that assessment; robbery requires force, threat of force, or intimidation. Use of a weapon is an aggravating factor. that makes it a more serious felony.

Thank you beyond words for giving me the opportunity to be a pedantic lecturer with a 0% chance that a 240-pound man named “Crush” will become aggrieved and destroy me. I’ve missed it.

Brian: I do in fact remember you. Thank you for the good and wise advice, even if stolen. If you’re going to steal, steal from the best.

Elusis: It’s the “incredibly handsome” one. Please make a note of it.

Ben: People who are as wrong as you as often as you should learn to be grateful for correction, not ticked. You keep that up, you’ll wind up in prison.

Jake: Laugh while you can, lackey of the Pop-Tart fascist movement. One day the people will stand up to your imperialist running-dog false state and then it will be your turn against the wall.

True fact: in El Paso County Jail you can get Pop-Tarts on the commissary ordering system. The only available flavor: blueberry.


Grace: I remember that exchange. Damn it, if we can’t apologize when we fuck up, what good are we to anyone? I’m glad you cot value out of the the conversation. I did too, as I always do from you.

Well, that sums up my comment responses. Again, thank you all for taken a moment to brighten my day.

One last word. I plan on getting my life together, starting with my thinking. As a wise fellow inmate told me, “this is the department of CORRECTIONS.” I appreciate all of your honesty and kind wishes, and look forward to returning to Alas in a year or so, to explain to you all once more how you’re wrong etc. I love you guys.

Except for Jake. Jake will b urn forever in the special Hell reserved for Pop-Tart sinners and heretics. (You burn for 30 seconds, then pop into the air, flip around, and descend back into the Hell for 30 seconds on the other side. Repeat until you acknowledge the divine suzerainty of strawberry.)



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Workplace Politics: Is the Risk Worth the Danger?

In “Story 16” in “Padeshahan,” or “Kings,” the first chapter of Sa’di’s Golestan—the stories are simply numbered; they are not given titles—the protagonist is having a hard time earning enough money to support his family. He has become so poor, in fact, that he’s begun to think about trying to find work in another country, where no one would know him and he could take whatever job might along, no matter how shameful the work might be. Before taking that last step, however, he asks the story’s narrator, who has royal connections–he is a fictionalized version of Sa’di–to get him a job in the king’s palace.

“Listen,” the narrator replies, “working for the king is a mixed blessing at best.” On the one hand, he goes on, “You will earn more money than you could otherwise hope for. On the other hand, the politics of the royal palace can cost you your life.” The risk, he concludes, is not worth the money.

What follows is a debate between the two friends about who will win out in a place like the king’s palace, someone with a clear conscience, who does his or her work honestly and with integrity, or the enemies and competitors the person with a clear conscience doesn’t yet know she or he has, the schemers who are waiting to sabotage anyone who threatens their standing even before that person starts doing her or his job.

The protagonist thinks the narrator’s cynicism is unwarranted. He says,

If you want to see your enemies embarrassed
by every slur they’ve tried to taint you with,
wear the mantle of your office modestly
and carry out your duties pure of heart.
Do this and you’ll have nothing to fear when you leave.
The king’s launderers beat against stones
only his most deeply stained garments.

In response, the narrator tells “the story of the fox who, when people asked him why he was running away from the palace, explained, “I have heard that camels are being forced into the king’s service.”

“Don’t be foolish!” they replied. “You are not a camel; you don’t look anything like a camel; how could anyone possibly mistake you for a camel?”

“Shh! Keep your voices down!” The fox looked warily from side to side, as if he might have been followed. “If my enemies tell the king’s guard that I am a camel, and the king’s guard catches me, who will dare to speak in my defense? Which guard will have the courage to trust his own eyes an release me? I would be like the man who was bitten by a cobra, waiting, while the poison worked through him, for the antidote to come from Iraq. I’d die before it reached me.”

“Stop thinking about a career in government,” the narrator concludes. “You’re better off accepting your situation as it is.”

The protagonist rejects the narrator’s advice and, as you might expect, in the end, things transpire just as the narrator predicted. One of the protagonist’s enemies accuses him of treason before the king, who does not order an investigation because he chooses to believe the accusation. Once the king’s position becomes clear, everyone who had supported the protagonist turns their backs on him and he is left even more destitute than he was when the story started.

I doubt that anyone reading this works in a royal palace, but I have no doubt that we all recognize the workplace politics that Sa’di describes. As well, I am sure we all work with people who are more like the fox than the protagonist, that we all have colleagues who could be any one of the enemies mentioned in this story, and that we’ve all had bosses like the king whose capriciousness ended the protagonist’s career. The past few years at my own job have been trying ones for a whole range of reasons, but each one would seem to bear out Sa’di’s cynicism when it comes to workplace politics. Nonetheless, despite evidence to the contrary that I have seen with my own eyes, I remain, like Sa’di’s protagonist, an optimist, though I admit this optimism might come more easily to me than to others, given that I am a tenured full-professor.

At the end of the story, Sa’di’s narrator says, basically, I told you so. “You should have listened to me when I compared working for the king to traveling the ocean [in search of treasure]. Each is simultaneously profitable and dangerous.”

Either you’ll walk to the shore with gold-filled hands
or the waves will deposit you there, dead as gold.

The protagonist took that risk and lost. What about you? Do you share his optimism? Are you a risk-taker at work? Why? Why not? Under what circumstances?


Posted in Iran, Writing | 11 Comments