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?

Cross-posted.

Posted in Iran, Writing | 5 Comments  

You Won’t Believe How This New York Observer Article about Vox Media Taking On @SavedYouAClick Over Sopranos Spoiler Gave Freddie deBoer Cardiac Arrest

More! More!

Posted in Whatever | 7 Comments  

MRAs and Anti-Feminists Have Ruined Complaining About Being Single

marty

Remember the 1955 movie “Marty”? It was a respected oldie when I was a kid (it’s one of only two films to win both the Best Picture Oscar and the Cannes Palme d’Or), but it’s now pretty obscure. I saw the movie in the 1980s as part of a screenwriting class.1

“Marty’s” title character, plain-faced, chubby, and not great at talking to women, despairs that no woman will ever love him. The screenwriter, Paddy Chayefsky, thought of the “Marty” story after he saw a sign posted in a ballroom, which said “Girls, Dance With the Man Who Asks You. Remember, Men Have Feelings, Too.”

Marty eventually meets a wonderful woman and begins a relationship, although he has to overcome the resistance of his jealous mother, and of friends who mock him for dating a “dogface.”2 In pop culture, everyone – or at least, everyone who isn’t a terrible human being – eventually meets someone wonderful and falls in love.

But in real life, that’s not how things always work. Some people don’t want romantic love at all. Others want romantic love but will never find it. That’s life. I’m beginning to accept, at age 45, that probably “true love” will never happen for me. I have a bunch of factors working against me – I’m physically conventionally unattractive, I badly lack confidence, I’m sort of a weirdo, as I get older I meet new people less often, etc..

To tell you the truth, I resent the situation. It’s not an all-consuming bitterness or anything – on the whole, I’m a happy guy3 – but I irrationally feel cheated of a fundamental human experience.4 And although I’m happy for my friends who are in great relationships, there’s also some ugly jealousy in me on the subject. And I’m really fucking sick of movies and TV about the sad troubles of stunningly attractive people who somehow can’t find love until they meet some other stunningly attractive person, blah blah blah complications ensue and are overcome happy ending credits roll.

I don’t bring this up to ask people to feel sorry for me, or to ask for dating advice. (GOD NO!!! Please don’t give me any dating or romantic advice, folks; if I haven’t specifically asked you for it, I don’t want to hear it.) I bring this up because I feel my ability to enjoy complaining about my single state has been ruined by MRAs and anti-feminists.

Because in human culture, we do something called “signaling” a lot. And, on the internet, men complaining that they don’t have the romantic success they want, that they feel they should be more attractive to woman then they actually are in practice, etc., have all become signals used to indicate alliance with the manosphere.

When I read someone from the manosphere talking about their lack of dating success, I always emphasize empathize. How could I not? They’re pretty much describing my life story. Except then they keep on talking, and suddenly the repulsive bitterness towards women or feminists (or both) comes out. And the empathy is now accompanied by a strong desire for a shower.

I don’t want to be even momentarily mistaken for part of the manosphere. Because while not everyone in the manosphere is a bitter, angry woman-hater, lots of them are. And those who aren’t overtly woman-hating seem to find the misogyny among their comrades either invisible, unobjectionable, or excusable.

Those hatebags have directed abuse at me personally – fat jokes, “you’re just trying to get laid,” name-calling like “Mangina,” and so on. I’m not bothered by such insults, but it sure hasn’t endeared their community to me.5 I get off relatively easily; the abuse directed at well-known female internet feminists (Amanda Marcotte, Jessica Valenti, and Anita Sarkeesian are the most obvious examples, but the ever-moving hatefest is always seeking new victims) is stunning in quantity and vileness.

Gore Vidal once groused that the once-useful word “turgid” now belongs to the porn writers, because it has become impossible to use the word without sounding like a porn writer. The manosphere has done something similar to unattractive men’s romantic problems. They’ve flooded the discourse with misogyny and anti-feminism, and it’s nearly impossible to rescue discussion of being male and unwanted from their bitter waters.6

  1. Actually, I’m not positive I’ve ever seen the movie – I may have seen the 1953 television play that the movie was based on. []
  2. Marty’s love interest, played by Betsy Blair, was too pretty to be plausible as someone men would label “dogface” at a glance. But nearly all “ugly” female characters are played by pretty actresses because Hollywood. []
  3. Seriously, don’t worry about me, folks. I’m not lonely, I’ve got lots of good friends, I’ve got a great job. My life is good. []
  4. What’s irrational about it is feeling “cheated,” rather than merely “lacking.” []
  5. Actually, one time my feelings were hurt. I attended a blogger dinner, where I was seated next to an anti-feminist who had clashed with me online. We had, I thought, a terrific conversation. He offered me a ride home after the dinner, and we agreed that we should meet again sometime. The next day, in a forum he didn’t know I read, he wrote that I clearly wasn’t into feminism to get laid, because I was (he said) so fat no woman would ever have sex with me. The insult was too pathetic to hurt, but that he was so extraordinarily two-faced stung. []
  6. Said waters are no doubt made up of male tears.
    To tell you the truth, I don’t feel natural making that joke – see Ally Fogg – but I’m making it anyway, because I hope it’ll get the goats of people who had vapors over Jessica’s sweatshirt, while remaining silent about the immeasurably worse comments Jessica receives from anti-feminists on a daily basis. []
Posted in Anti-feminists and their pals, Sex | 23 Comments  

Would We Be Living in a Better World if the Tyrants of the Past Had Never Existed?

When Someone is Driven to Murder, Where Does the Responsibility Lie?

It’s been a very long time since someone called me a bleeding-heart liberal, a label that was never complimentary and always carried with it a connotation not simply of weakness, but of cowardice as well. To be called a bleeding-heart liberal was to be accused of a moral failure, an unwillingness to hold the line between right and wrong, good and evil. It was to be dismissed as someone who thought personal accountability for wrongdoing was trumped by the sociological or psychological explanation for why that wrongdoing occurred. I do not think this is true, and I wrote about it back in 2010, in a blog post called Killing Rage, which takes its title from a book by bell hooks and deals with the story of Omar S. Thornton, who killed himself after killing eight people in Manchester, Connecticut.

Thornton drove a truck delivering beers for Hartford Distributors. He’d been called into a disciplinary hearing on the morning of the shooting, Tuesday, August 3rd, after having been accused by company officials of stealing beers. They offered him a choice between resigning or being fired. Instead, he opened fire. When he was done shooting, eight people were dead, two were wounded, and he placed a call to 911 because he wanted “to tell my story, so you can play it back.” He’d been, he said, racially harassed at his workplace to such an extent that he’d had no choice but “to take [things] into my own hands and handle the problem.”

In my post, I tried to draw a distinction between the need to understand Thornton–assuming his account of racial harassment was true–and the need to hold him accountable for the murders he’d committed. As I did then, I recognize now the difficulty in making this distinction, since acknowledging that someone like Thornton might also have been a victim can make it feel like we are placing him on the same level as his victims. It can make it feel like we are forgetting the fact that the people he killed no longer exist because of him, and so I will say again what I said back in 2010. Since I do not want to lose sight of the fact that those eight people are gone, I would like everyone reading this to pause here and go read “Remembering Lives Lost in a Warehouse Rampage,” an article in The New York Times that memorializes their lives.

Nature VS. Nurture

That act of remembering, however, important as it is, is not an adequate response to the question raised by the fact that Thornton’s actions may have their own internal logic. For if the murders he committed are at least one logical consequence of the depredations of racism; if, to put it another way, the racism he experienced turned him into a man capable of committing such murders; if, in other words, the racial hatred he could not escape made him the enraged and murderous Black man our racist stereotypes teach us to fear, then how responsible is he really for the fact that he became that man and what does it say about us if we are unwilling even to ask that question? (Which, I would add, is a very different question from asking how responsible he is for the lives he took.)

Broadly speaking, of course, this question is part of our ongoing debate about nature versus nurture. In other words, was Thornton-the-murderer primarily a product of his environment or was the choice that he made to kill something to which he was predisposed by the genetic facts of his birth? Or was it a combination of both? The answer you choose will have broad implications for the laws and policies you establish to deal with people like Thornton.

Sa’di Says

You might not think a 13th century Iranian Muslim poet would have much to say about this, but there is a religious version of the nature versus nurture debate, which might be called divine omnipotence versus the free will of human beings. Are we, in these terms, as moral people, the sum of our choices, responsible and accountable to God and other people for each and every one? Or are we what God has made and knows us to be, already and inescapably destined to live out the logic of our creation? Few if any people who believe in the monotheistic god stake out the extreme position on either side of this discussion–it’s not much of an issue for polytheists–which means that all monotheistic believers ultimately confront the same dilemma. On the one hand, and perhaps most obviously, if human beings really have free will, then it is logically impossible for God to be omniscient. On the other hand, if God’s omniscience in any way impinges on free will, then it is God, not us, who is ultimately guilty of the evil we do. Not only could we not help it, but God knew it was going to happen and did nothing to prevent it.

Sa’di captures this dilemma in a story:

An unjust king asked a pious man’s advice about the best way to worship God. “For you,” the man replied, “it would be best to sleep half the day, reducing by half the harm you do to your people.”

I saw a tyrant sleeping half the day.
“If sleep can clear his mind,” I said, “it’s good;
but if his slumber only keeps us safe,
he’s being lazy. His death is safer still.

On the surface, Sa’di sounds here like he’s writing a stand-up routine. The pious man’s response is precisely the kind of truth-speaking that the best comics use to make us laugh at ourselves while he or she exposes a serious social issue. Underneath that truth-speaking, however, is the assumption that the unjust king will always be unjust, that he is the way he is because God made him that way. So it’s not so much that he won’t change, but that he can’t. The pious man prescribes sin-reduction as the form of worship to which this king should aspire because he doesn’t think anything else will make a difference, not in the king’s life and not in the lives of his subjects.

Sa’di, however, then pushes the joke even further. Imagining a tyrant who does indeed sleep half the day, Sa’di suggests that if “sleep can clear [that tyrant’s] mind,” if it represents the possibility of real change, of true repentance–or, to put it another way, if it represents evidence that the king is exercising his free will in order to change–then the sleep is a good thing, an authentic form of worship. On the other hand, if the tyrant’s half-day sleep is only a preventive measure, if it does not result in the kind of change that would end the tyrant’s tyranny, then what, Sa’di asks, is the point? Why should he, or we, be satisfied with half measures?

These days, we confront this question, though we rarely put God at the center of it, when we debate the relative merits of, for example, life in prison versus the death penalty, or when we perform thought experiments that ask if the world would be a better place if someone like Hitler had never existed. The whole Terminator series of movies was predicated on this question, as was Minority Report. I don’t have an authoritative answer–I don’t think anyone does–but I know that we do ourselves an injustice if we fail to respect the full complexity of the question.

Cross posted.

Posted in Iran, Religion, Writing | 5 Comments  

Open Thread And Link Farm, Cop Cams And Healthy Trees Edition

Post what you want, as you want it. Self-linking is like chocolate being half-price the day after Valentine’s Day, and who doesn’t love that?

By the way, a couple of you know each other in real life. But I don’t know if both of you know about the “Alas” connection. Intrigue!

Mural-by-Mr-Thoms-in-Ferentino-Italy

  1. Getting Control of Your Life in Five Easy Steps | Ludum Dare This is more of a game than a self-improvement program.
  2. “The comments on any article about feminism justify feminism.”
  3. An excellent overview of Frank Miller’s career (from an artistic perspective, not a political perspective)«
  4. Black feminists respond to Ferguson
  5. Should we do more to help paedophiles? | Practical Ethics
  6. The cost of raising a child: $245,000, according to the government.
  7. Are Men’s Rights Activists incapable of understanding irony — or are they just pretending? | we hunted the mammoth
  8. Black People Are Not Ignoring ‘Black on Black’ Crime – The Atlantic
  9. The Health Benefits of Trees – The Atlantic
  10. Why We Don’t Avoid Mission Creep | The American Conservative
  11. Amy Reeder • Spider-woman and Sexual Portrayals of Women
  12. Manara Responds to Criticism of His “Spider-Woman” #1 Cover – Comic Book Resources
  13. Is the ‘Orphan Black’ World One Big Metaphor For the Patriarchy?
  14. Men are more violent than women, and we shouldn’t treat that as natural
  15. Harassing feminists for expressing their condolences for Robin Williams: Men’s Rights Activism at its finest | we hunted the mammoth
  16. The US Trailer For Studio Ghibli’s Princess Kaguya Is, Of Course, Beautiful | The Mary Sue
  17. Me and my #MaleTears: Facing the consequences of ironic hatred
  18. Nekima Levy-Pounds | Our Silence on the War on Drugs & Mass Incarceration Lead to the Insanity in #Ferguson
  19. Not Sorry Feminism: The Harassment of Zoe Quinn is About Hatred of Women
  20. Even When Police Do Wear Cameras, Don’t Count on Seeing the Footage – CityLab
  21. Will the Panopticon Save Us From the Police? | The American Conservative
  22. Forcing America’s Weaponized Police to Wear Cameras – The Atlantic
  23. Watch London Cops Subdue, Not Kill, a Man Yelling and Swinging a Machete » Sociological Images
  24. Self-Segregation: Why It’s So Hard for Whites to Understand Ferguson – The Atlantic
  25. By the Numbers: How Dangerous Is It to Be a Cop? : The Freeman : Foundation for Economic Education
  26. How Do You Fix A Police Department? « The Dish
  27. Michelle Duggar Goes Full Anita Bryant
  28. Ferguson and the Urban-Suburban Race Conflict – The Daily Beast
  29. How Uber Helps Women Break Into the Taxi Industry – The Atlantic
  30. To the atheist tone police: stop telling me how to discuss my abuse
  31. Ousted chief accuses border agency of shooting cover-ups, corruption
  32. Reclaiming ‘Jewish-Looking’ « The Dish
  33. Scheduling software: Starbucks promises to do better, but low-wage workers need legal protections.
  34. One Nation, under SWAT: The undemocratic Militarization of the Police | Informed Comment
  35. Ferguson Missouri government: Why is it so white?
  36. #IfTheyGunnedMeDown Attacks Portrayals of Black Men Killed by Police » Sociological Images
  37. The surprising link between lead and teen pregnancy – Vox I wasn’t all that surprised. But still interesting.
  38. The data on white anxiety over Hispanic immigration – The Washington Post
  39. Here’s a list of potentially unconstitutional things that police in Ferguson are doing – The Washington Post
  40. A brief guide to defending your favorite politically offensive pop culture – The Washington Post This. So much this.
  41. Why Obama has the power to stop millions of deportations without Congress.
  42. The Civil Rights Movement Is Going in Reverse in Alabama | New Republic
  43. A Deserved Downgrade of Kansas’ Bonds. Hey, it turns out that radically cutting taxes doesn’t increase revenue; it just makes your state bankrupt. I am shocked, shocked.


Posted in Link farms | 20 Comments  

Nine thoughts about the police shooting of Kajieme Powell

Huffington Post reports:

St. Louis officials have identified the 25-year-old man shot dead yesterday in an officer-involved shooting that happened only a few miles from where Michael Brown was killed by police earlier this month.

Authorities said Kajieme Powell stole donuts and energy drinks from a store yesterday afternoon, which prompted the owner to call police, according to KSDK. When two officers arrived shortly before 1 p.m., they said they observed Powell acting erratically. He refused to put down a knife when commanded to do so, police said. [...]

In a statement delivered yesterday before a crowd near the scene of the shooting, St. Louis Police Chief Sam Dotson said that both officers opened fire on Powell after the suspect came within three or four feet of police while holding the knife in an “overhand grip.”

TRIGGER WARNING: This is a cell phone video of the police officers shooting Kajieme Powell. It shows some context both before and after the shooting. The shooting itself is filmed at a significant distance from the camera and cannot be seen in graphic detail. Nonetheless, the video shows a young man being shot to death, and is disturbing to watch.

A few comments:

1) The video shows that some of what Chief Dotson claimed was not true; Powell was not within four feet of the police when shooting began, nor did he appear to be using an “overhand grip” (which to me indicates a knife raised as if to stab downward, like an overhand throwing motion).

2) Nonetheless, I think the shooting was legal. Powell had a weapon (a steak knife), he didn’t drop it when ordered to, and he moving towards the police officers. As I understand it, police have a legal right to defend themselves, with deadly force, under that circumstance.

3) Nonetheless (again), I think the way the police acted here, while legal, was horribly wrong. Powell wasn’t an immediate threat to anyone until the police arrived; this was not a violent life-or-death situation until the police arrived. If the police make everything worse by showing up, then something is wrong with their policing.

4) For example, why did the police get out of their car so quickly, or at all? They obviously perceived getting out of their car as dangerous, since they drew their guns as they got out, and police aren’t supposed to draw and point their guns if there’s no danger. But when they pulled up, no one was in immediate danger. There was no need to force an immediate confrontation. A slower, calmer assessment of the situation from within the car, or from a greater distance, might have been better.

5) If the police are justified in using deadly force in response to any level of physical threat to police, then police have a huge moral responsibility never to knowingly put themselves in that situation, unless it’s already a life-or-death matter.

6) I’m sure someone will say “what if it had been you there, with only seconds to make a decision?” I have a lot of sympathy for officers forced to make split-second decisions; it’s a terrible burden. But sympathy shouldn’t exempt police decision-making from criticism or skeptical examination.

7) If, instead of a couple of American cops, Powell had been facing a couple of British Bobbies, who do not typically use guns when carrying out their duties, odds are overwhelming that both the police and Powell would have survived the encounter.

8) Impossible not to suspect that a white suspect might have been given more of a chance.

9) Ezra Klein writes:

It is impossible not to wonder what would have happened if the police didn’t have deadly force on their hips, if all they had were tasers or batons. It is impossible not to wonder what would have happened if the police had simply never shown up at all.

It is easy to criticize. It is easy to watch a cell phone video and think of all the ways it could have gone differently. It is easy to forget that the police saw a mentally unbalanced man with a knife advancing on them. It is easy to forget that 20 seconds only takes 20 seconds. It is easy to forget that police get scared. It is easy not to ask yourself what you might have done if you had a gun and a man came at you with a knife.

But there is still something wrong with that video. There is something wrong that the video seems obviously exculpatory to the police and obviously damning to so many who watch it. The dispute over the facts in the Michael Brown case offers the hope that there is a right answer — that Wilson either did clearly the right thing or clearly the wrong thing. The video of the Powell case delivers a harder reality: what the police believe to be the right thing and what the people they serve believe to be the right thing may be very different.

This man needed help. He had a knife, but he also, clearly, had an illness. After watching the video, Vox’s Amanda Taub said, “I keep thinking about the times when I have called 911 because I have encountered a mentally ill person in public who seems unsafe. I don’t know how I would live with it if this had been the result.” There has to have been a way for the police to have protected Kajieme Powell rather than killed him.

Posted in In the news, police brutality | 18 Comments  

Must-Read Jamelle Bouie Article On The Decades-Old Context For Ferguson

ferguson-police-dog

Ferguson protests over Michael Brown won’t end soon: The black community’s anger is rooted in a history of racism.

This longish (well, longer than a blog post) article by Jamelle Bouie, about the long history of official racism in Ferguson, does the most to supply context for the protests (and even the looting) in Ferguson of any article I’ve seen.

Somewhat related: Nobody Knows How Many Americans The Police Kill Each Year | FiveThirtyEight. The fact that we don’t even have an effective system to track deaths caused by police is appalling.

Both links via Obsidian Wings.

Posted in In the news, police brutality, Prisons and Justice and Police, Race, racism and related issues | 1 Comment  

A quick note on Michael Brown’s death and “plausibility”

ferguson-protestor

Dorian Johnson was walking with Michael Brown when they were stopped by Officer Darren Wilson. According to Johnson’s eyewitness account:

…a police car pulled up alongside Brown and him, and the officer—who has been identified as Darren Wilson—allegedly told Johnson and Brown to “get the f–k on the sidewalk.”

The two men told the officer that they were only minutes away from their destination. Johnson said that Wilson backed up his car and asked Brown and Johnson what they just said. Johnson claimed that Wilson then tried to open his car door but the door ricocheted off of Brown’s body and closed again.

Johnson said that Wilson pulled Brown through the car window by his neck, and Brown began to try to pull away. Johnson said that Wilson shot Brown during the scuffle, and Brown managed to break away from Wilson’s grip. Brown and Johnson then began to run away from the police vehicle.

Johnson said that Wilson got out of his car and began to shoot at Brown while Brown was running away. Brown then stopped, put his hands in the air, turned around and pleaded with the officer to stop shooting, since he didn’t have a gun.

Johnson said that Wilson continued to fire several more shots before Brown’s body fell to the ground.

That account is from The Root. The article there includes four other eyewitnesses collaborating parts or all of Johnson’s account.

Some right-wingers have doubted those accounts. On The 700 Club, Pat Robinson discussed the Michael Brown shooting:

“The facts aren’t totally clear,” he admitted. “But this great big guy — this gentle giant, they call him — went into a convenience store where he wanted some cigars. So, he stole some cigars. And when the clerk tried to stop him, he pushed the clerk aside, pushed him down, walked out into the middle of the street.”

“Now, was he high on some kind of drugs?” Robertson asked. “That hasn’t come out yet… But the next thing we understand was he was walking down the middle of the street and obstructing traffic, which says to me he probably was high on something.”

The televangelist speculated that Brown “knew he committed a crime,” but “the police maybe didn’t know about it yet.”

“So then, did this giant man charge the police officer, and the police officer tried to defend himself?” he wondered. “It doesn’t seem like there was some kind of wonton act of assassination or execution. That just doesn’t fit the pattern.”

Over on Ethics Alarms, Jack Marshall makes a similar case:

The witness accounts of the death of Mike Brown that have received all of the publicity suggest that the unarmed teen, after being shot in a police cruiser while resisting arrest, bolted from the car and was shot dead by Officer Darren Wilson as he tried to escape, even after the victim stopped and appeared to surrender.[...]

To those who are convinced that the police are evil, jack-booted racists and that a police officer with no record of equivalent misconduct would shoot down an unarmed and surrendering teen in public, this undoubtedly seems like a plausible scenario. It sure doesn’t to me. I can see one way it might have happened this way: After Brown, who was huge, hurt and frightened Wilson in the car when they fought, Wilson lost his composure, and fired in rage. If that was the case, then he should be prosecuted for murder. Nothing in even that scenario proves or even suggests racism, but Brown was black and the officer was white, and for too many in the African-American community, that is proof enough.

Now another account has surfaced, on that might support Wilson’s account. It is also more plausible, because it both explains and even justifies the shooting. That account suggests that rather than turning from his flight and surrendering, Brown charged Wilson, placing him in legitimate fear of bodily harm.

In both Robertson’s and Marshall’s accounts, that the police officer Wilson might have been the aggressor and acted irrationally is dismissed as not fitting “the pattern” and not a “plausible scenario.” However, neither of them comments on how implausible it seems that Michael Brown, suddenly and for no apparent reason, decided to essentially commit suicide by cop.

Someone claiming to be a friend of Officer Wilson has been telling what she says is Wilson’s side of the story. CNN somewhat confirms this, saying “A source with detailed knowledge of the investigation later told CNN the caller’s account is ‘accurate,’ in that it matches what Wilson has told investigators.”

In this version of the story, which has been widely reproduced by conservative news sources, Brown literally dares Wilson to shoot him:

And then Michael just bum-rushes him [Darren] and shoves him back into his car, punches him in the face. And then Darren grabs for his gun. Michael grabbed for the gun. At one point he got the gun entirely turned against his hip. And he shoves it away. And the gun goes off.

Well, then Michael takes off with his friend and gets to be about 35 feet away. And Darren’s first protocol is to pursue. So he stands up and yells, “Freeze!” Michael and his friend turn around. And Michael was taunting him, ‘Oh what you’re gonna do about it. You’re not going to shoot me.’

And then all of a sudden he [Michael] just started to bumrush him [Darren]. He just started coming at him full speed. And, so he [Darren] just started shooting. And he [Michael] just kept coming. So he [Darren] really thinks he [Michael] was on something because he just kept coming. It was unbelievable. So he finally ended up, the final shot was to the forehead. And then he [Michaelo] fell about two, three feet in front of the officer.

To suggest that a cop would suddenly and for no apparent reason shoot an unarmed teenager is, right-wingers like Robertson and Marshall say, outside “the pattern” and not “plausible.” But somehow, they don’t find it implausible that an unarmed black teenage boy for no apparent reason charges an armed cop, virtually (and in some accounts literally) begging to be shot.

I don’t know what the truth is. It’s possible that Brown irrationally attacked Wilson (and the witnesses to the contrary misunderstood events); it’s possible that Wilson irrationally shot Brown; we just don’t know for sure, and maybe we won’t ever know. But to say shucks golly, it’s just plain implausible that any cop would ever act like that, while not finding anything at all implausible in thinking that a college-bound black kid suddenly decided to attack an armed cop, is an obvious double-standard.

Of course, a similar double-standard was in play after George Zimmerman shot Trayvon Martin. We were told over and over again that it was ridiculous to suggest that Zimmerman started a fight with Martin (even though Zimmerman was the one stalking Martin in the dark with a gun), but the same people had no problem accepting that Martin attacked Zimmerman for no apparent reason. For young black men to suddenly and for no reason commit irrational attacks is never seen as “implausible.”

* * *

Some more Ferguson-related links:

Missouri GOP: Michael Brown Voting Registration Booths ‘Disgusting’ The person objecting to voter registration is Missouri RNC executive director Matt Wills. Nice.

Michael Brown and the Danger of the Perfect Victim Frame – COLORLINES

When it comes to police mistreatment and harassment, Blacks and whites live in entirely different universes. Which relates to my post above: The white conservatives who declare what stories are and aren’t “plausible” believe that they’re speaking from a neutral, unbiased view. But actually they’re speaking from the perspective of white people who aren’t in a position to be aware of even a small fraction of the irrational police harassment Blacks face.

A comment on “Black-on-Black crime”

Here is a list of donations, protests, and petitions that you can do to help the people in #Ferguson…

The Ferguson Police Department’s Top 10 Tips For Protester Relations

Documenting the arrests of journalists in Ferguson – Boing Boing

Police are operating with total impunity in Ferguson – Vox

Trayvon Martin’s Mom writes an open letter to Michael Brown’s family: ‘If They Refuse to Hear Us, We Will Make Them Feel Us’ | TIME

A local public defender on the deeply dysfunctional Ferguson court system – Vox

Say What?: On Speechlessness, Racism and Respectability in #Ferguson | The Crunk Feminist Collective

The Timing of Elections Matters (Ferguson Edition)

Ferguson: Survey says white people in US have way more confidence in police than black people – Boing Boing

[Post later edited to add in Dorian Johnson's account. --Amp]

Posted in In the news, police brutality, Prisons and Justice and Police, Race, racism and related issues | 32 Comments  

Sa’di’s Most Famous Lines Hang on the Wall of the United Nations

I am a few days late with this post because we had some renovation issues to deal with in my house last week and they left me no time at all to write. The extra time, however, did help me understand better what I want to say about this week’s Sa’di Says, which contains Sa’di’s most famous lines. Here is my translation:

All men and women are to each other
the limbs of a single body, each of us drawn
from life’s shimmering essence, God’s perfect pearl;
and when this life we share wounds one of us,
all share the hurt as if it were our own.
You, who will not feel another’s pain,
you forfeit the right to be called human.

These lines are woven into a Persian carpet created by Mohammed Seirafian, which the government of Iran gave to the United Nations as a gift. There’s a picture of it at the top if this post. Unfortunately, I have not been able to find a larger image that I could use to show you where on the carpet the verses are. The carpet originally hung in the main hall in the UN building, but, according to the UN Visitor’s Center Facebook page, renovations have made it necessary to hang the carpet in the entrance of the temporary building on the North Lawn. In 2009, President Obama quoted an older translation of these lines in the first off his Noruz messages to the people of Iran:

You can read some other, more contemporary translations of these lines here–mine is among them–and listen to a lovely musical setting of the original Persian here.

While it would be an exaggeration to say that Sa’di’s reputation rests on the strength of these lines alone, it would not be inaccurate to say that the sentiment they contain, which is found throughout his work, is why people all over the world have been celebrating his work for centuries. Indeed, who would disagree that we are all–or at least that we ought to see each other as all–part of the same body, possessing the same innate humanity, and therefore worthy of the same compassion. Given the ways in which the US and Iran have been dehumanizing each other since the Islamic Revolution of 1979-80, you can understand why President Obama chose to use these lines in the first conciliatory message a sitting United States president had sent to the people and government of Iran in thirty years. Had President Obama placed these lines in their original context, however, while his message might still have been appropriate, it would have appeared far less conciliatory. In his Golestan, Sa’di places these in the context of the following narrative:

An Arab king notorious for his cruelty came on pilgrimage to the cathedral mosque of Damascus, where I was immersed in prayer at John the Baptist’s tomb. The king prayed nearby, clearly seeking God’s assistance in a matter of some urgency:

The dervish, poor, owning nothing, the man
whose money buys him anything he wants,
here, on this floor, enslaved, we are equals.
Nonetheless, the man who has the most
comes before You bearing the greater need.

When his prayer was finished, the monarch turned to me, “I know that God favors you dervishes because you are passionate in your worship and honest in the way you live your lives. I fear a powerful enemy, but if you add your prayers to mine, I am sure that God will protect me for your sake.”

“Have mercy on the weak among your own people,” I replied, “and no one will be able to defeat you.”

Sa’di, in other words, did not write the lines President Obama quoted as a gentle admonition to all people to remember the humanity that connects us all. Rather, he put them in the mouth of a fictionalized version of himself speaking truth to a tyrant trying to use religion to escape the consequences of his own tyranny. The next two stanzas make that truth more explicit:

To break each finger on a poor man’s hands
just because you have the strength offends God.
Show compassion to those who fall before you
and others will extend their hands when you fall down.

The man who plants bad seed hallucinates
if he expects sweet fruit at harvest time.
Take the cotton from your ears! Give
your people justice, or justice will find you.

It’s almost too easy to make a list of people in power here in the US and around the world to whom these lines could apply. What is not so easy is to be responsible and accountable for what those lines mean, not just because it can be dangerous to speak truth to power, but–and this is why the real power of Sa’di’s most famous lines only becomes evident when they are read in context–because it means a commitment to human equality based not on some abstract, intellectual argument, but on the fact that we each have a body that is more or less the same body and that any politics not rooted in this shared physical reality represents, by definition, both a failure of imagination and a failed humanity:

All men and women are to each other
the limbs of a single body, each of us drawn
from life’s shimmering essence, God’s perfect pearl;
and when this life we share wounds one of us,
all share the hurt as if it were our own.
You, who will not feel another’s pain,
you forfeit the right to be called human.

Posted in Iran, Writing | 9 Comments  

Robin Williams, 1951-2014

robin-williams

Oscar-winning actor and comic Robin Williams died Monday at 63 of an apparent suicide, the Marin County Sheriff’s Office confirmed.

Posted in In the news | 10 Comments