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. | 133 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 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 burn 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.)



Posted in Bob Behind Bars | 12 Comments  

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  

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


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 | 131 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!


  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 | 70 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