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This place matters

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Come ye thankful people come

I don't know much about Native Americans, other than to know that most things I know about them are nothing but fairy tales. I know I didn't learn in school the population of America may have been larger than the population of Europe at the time, but that in the decades between Columbus' voyage and the pilgrims' landing, over 90% of the native people of our country were gone; victims of the most successful genocide in history; the first weaponized plague. 
I know I learned in school that Indians were a noble people who lived as one with the earth, primitive, pagan. I didn't learn that they had cities that Europeans took over, that they had monuments that Europeans tore down.
I learned in school that the atrocities committed against Native Americans were history. 
I didn't learn that, statistically, Native Americans are more likely than any other group to be shot by cops; statistically more likely to experience police brutality. I didn't learn in school about starlight tours, the non-sanctioned police practice of taking an Indian troublemaker out into the wilderness and leaving him there to find their own way home, if hypothermia doesn't kill him first. I didn't learn that many folks on Indian reservations don't have access to water in their homes - the infrastructure isn't there. I didn't learn that the federal government owns Native American lands, making it hard for Indians to mortgage their properties to get business loans. 
I didn't learn that the process of energy development on Native American lands requires four federal agencies and 49 steps, far more than energy development off-reservation. Shawn Regan writing for Forbes.com says:
It’s not uncommon for years to pass before the necessary approvals are acquired to begin energy development on Indian lands—a process that takes only a few months on private lands. At any time, an agency may demand more information or shut down development. Simply completing a title search can cause delays. Indians have waited six years to receive title search reports that other Americans can get in just a few days.
I didn't learn that federal regulations make it much harder for Indians to use or sell the natural resources on their own land.
Right now, many Indian tribes whose land might be affected by the construction of the planned Dakota Access Pipeline say that the pipeline is a threat to their land, their water, and their safety. They say that the pipeline will harm land that is sacred to them, will destroy sacred religious and cultural sites.There's a whole lot of science and legal and engineering stuff at play here that I just don't understand, but I do understand that the government's response to the Indians protesting the pipeline has been brutal. Hundreds of peaceful water protectors have been arrested and hundreds more have been doused with water in freezing temperatures, leaving many with serious hypothermia. There have been tear gas attacks, rubber bullets, and concussion grenades. The cops say they're quelling a riot, but there are hours upon hours of videotape recordings showing police attacking peaceful citizens. The evidence of police brutality here is so concrete that the UN has condemned it. 
Look, our government is using our tax dollars to brutally attack our fellow Americans, and they say they're doing it on our behalf. I can't live with that. Here are some ways you can help. Here are some more. I chose to donate to the Standing Rock Medic + Healer council's Amazon Wish List. Plus I was able to use reward points and gift cards to make my donation go further. 
Even if you think the water protectors are wrong, that the government is telling the truth and the pipeline is as safe as a baby kitten; even if you think the government is telling the truth when they claim the protectors at Standing Rock are rioting; even then it is still the case that injured people deserve adequate treatment. It is still the case that our fellow Americans are suffering. It is still the case that we should help however we can.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

On empty gestures and impotent guilt

Within a day of Trump's election, articles and social media posts went up urging people to wear safety pins as a show of solidarity and to demonstrate that marginalized people can feel safe around you.
And about fifteen minutes later, articles and social media posts went up telling people that their safety pins are empty gestures that make them look like idiots. The Huffington Post published an article called "Dear White People, Your Safety Pins Are Embarrassing" by Chris "More-Woke-Than-Thou" Keelty. Keelty, who is white, points out that white people are responsible for Trump's election. He says "You need to sit in your guilt right now. You need to feel bad. So do I, so do all of us."
You know what? Screw you, buddy, and the sanctimonious, condescending horse you rode in on. Safety pins are not an embarrassment, and here's why. 
Following Brexit, reports of racist and anti-immigrant hate crimes soared in England, making many folks feel scared and helpless. A Twitter user who goes by @cheeahs, an immigrant herself, suggested that people who oppose the hatred wear safety pins to let members of marginalized groups know "you're safe with me." She picked safety pins because she wanted something that most people already had on hand, something simple. She didn't men the safety pin as an end unto itself; without actions, the pin alone means "jack shit." The pin is a way to reach out, to bridge gaps, start a conversation - and serve as a reminder for people to listen to each other and speak out together.
Now, since the whole pin thing started, I've seen a number of blog posts and editorials from people, both Black and white, making really good points about the hollowness of the gesture. And I've seen a bunch of white people get super self-congratulatory about their decision to put a pin on it, like that in itself made them freedom fighters. I read one article, which I unfortunately can't find now, from a woman of color who questioned the sincerity of pin wearers on Facebook and faced a tidal wave of hatred from offended white people. White people telling her she was part of the problem, white people telling her she should be grateful; one white lady even tried to get the writer fired from her job for her comment and then bragged about doing so on social media. So obviously, there are a lot of people running around with safety pins who wouldn't know a real ally if one pinned them in the ass. 
But it simply isn't fair to paint everybody who finds the symbol meaningful the same way. Especially since this isn't just about Black and white. I've noticed a lot of folks in the queer community have really taken to the symbol. Our current administration is the first to ever fully recognize gay rights. Our incoming Vice President doesn't even believe that gay people have the right to exist. Members of the queer community are feeling super scared and marginalized too. 
So here's my take. People shouldn't wear a pin unless they're willing to earn it. If you haven't done a single other thing to stamp out hatred or oppression, then you're not a real ally and have no business proclaiming yourself one. If you expect people to be impressed, be grateful that you're wearing a pin, then you've got no business wearing it. And, this one is really important, if you think all Black people should feel the same way about your gesture, you need to put that pin back in the drawer until you figure out exactly why that's a terrible thing for you to think. I've got a hint for you: you're going to kick yourself once you've figured it out.

And on that note, guys, let's try to be nice to each other. It has been a shitty year and a shittier month, and we're all angry and scared and grieving and exhausted. I know I haven't been my best self for the past week, and I think a lot of others would say the same. But we who are standing on the side of love need to stick together now more than ever. We need to listen to each other more and talk at each other less. We (I'm looking at you, fellow white people) need to not unleash a tsunami of righteous indignation whenever someone tells us we could be doing better. And we (I'm looking at you, Chris "I'm-a-better-helper-whitey-than-you-are" Keelty) can tell other people to do better without being sanctimonious assholes about it. 
Behold! The 10,000th stock image of a safety pin you've seen this week.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

In defense of fear

When Jeremy woke up Wednesday morning, I told him Trump had won. He didn't swear or rant or curse. He just put his arms around me and held me.
It was cold and rainy in Ohio. Everyone at work was walking around looking shell-shocked, like they couldn't believe it had come to this; even the people who voted for this travesty were somber, like they were at a funeral. I felt like I was on the verge of tears all day. It reminded me of the mood on 9/11. I felt gutted, devastated. Guilty because I hadn't done enough, enraged at the people who were too lazy to get off their couch and vote, but mostly just helpless and scared.
After a couple days, cooler heads on social media began to emerge. It is what it is, they said. There's nothing we can do about it now. We have to roll with it. It will be all right. Fear won't solve anything. We should not be afraid.
I beg to differ. When white supremacists are literally out celebrating in the streets, we should  all be afraid. 
Fear's an underrated emotion. Fear is what tells the zebra to run from the lion. Fear keeps us from playing in traffic or setting our hair on fire. And fear is what's gonna keep us from rolling over and letting a racist demagogue and his army of hateful drones have their way with our country.
I'm afraid because Trump won't take office for months but already racists feel emboldened and empowered. They've crawled out of the holes where they've been hiding, started acting out their hatred. Social media is overflowing with stories from people of color telling stories of violence and harassment. Black people being told that Trump's going to send them back to Africa, Latinos/as report being physically intimidated. Muslim women report having their hijabs violently ripped from their heads.
Folks will say that these stories are made up, are exaggerations. But we have pictures, videos, corroboration. Schools admitting, against their own interests, to racist incidents in the hallways. People of color, non-Christians, queer folks are threatened and those of us with privilege don't get to tell them how to feel about it. 


I'm afraid because the Southern Poverty Law Center reports that leaders of racial hate groups are actively encouraging their members to harass minorities. As Neo-Nazi leader Andrew Anglin has said, “Our Glorious Leader has ascended to God Emperor. Make no mistake about it: we did this.” 
I'm afraid because women I care about depend on Planned Parenthood for their health care. I'm afraid because if Trump and congressional Republicans succeed in de-funding Planned Parenthood, it will mean fewer women with access to affordable birth control, fewer women with access to STD testing, fewer women with access to cancer screenings, fewer women with access to low-cost prenatal care. 
I'm afraid for my queer friends, who feel less safe, who are already being harassed by bigots. I'm afraid because the the vice president and many of the folks whose names Trump has dropped for cabinet positions are rabidly anti-gay, have promised to strip away every right queer folk have fought and died for. I don't know how much success they'll have, but I do know that our country will be in the hands of folks who want to strip our rights away and that's reason to be afraid.
I'm afraid for the planet. Trump probably doesn't have the power to dismantle the EPA, but he can sure as hell appoint people who will try to tear it apart from the inside, who will fight environmental regulations as long as they have breath.

I am afraid. But fear is a call to action, after all. Fear is useless if we don't run from the lion, if we play in traffic anyway, if we do nothing in the face of a government conceived in hate and dedicated to the proposition that that some people's rights are more important than others. 

Consider checking here for Planned Parenthood volunteer opportunities, or calling your local Planned Parenthood to thank them for what they do and ask how you can help. Preventing pregnancy is the best way to prevent abortion. If you don't have time to volunteer, maybe donate? Fun fact: you can make your donation in honor of Mike Pence and they'll send him a lovely certificate :).
Consider visiting the RAINN website to look in to volunteer opportunities; you could volunteer to work sexual assault hotlines or help the organization educate folks in your community about sexual assaults.
You could become a member of the Sierra Club, in hopes of helping combat the rising tide of motivated climate change deniers who will fight tooth and nail to prevent further research into renewable/sustainable energy.
Here's a list of other anti-hate, pro-planet charities you can give to or volunteer for if you want to harness your fear.
But mostly, listen. Listen to folks who say they're scared and let them know you've got their back. An artist called Maeril has made some awesome comics describing how you can be an ally without making a bad situation worse. You should share them all the hell over social media. Follow folks like Ta-Nehisi Coates, Feminista Jones, and Kimberly Ellis on social media, and answer their calls to action. 
I am scared for my country. I'm more scared than I can ever remember being. I'm scared because racists are out in the open and they're less afraid than ever to preach their message of hate. I'm afraid. And I'm not going to stop being afraid. And it's that fear that's going to keep me from just sitting by while bigots and demagogues try to tear our country away from us.
And for the love of God, people, please don't call it "Trump's America." This is our America. We have to fight to keep it.


Also, can I just say that preparing and singing Hallelujah live with literally a day's notice when you're not a professional musician is just ridiculous? Is there anything Kate McKinnon can't do?

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Head in the clouds

You may have read recently that scientists have uncovered new evidence in Amelia Earhart. Scientists have compared an arm bone from a skeleton found on the tiny island of Nikumaroro with a photograph of Earhart's arm and determined they match. 
This adds more evidence to the compelling case that Earhart and her navigator Fred Noonan got off course and crash landed on Nikumaroro where one or both survived for a few days. A distress signal emanated from the island immediately following Earhart's disappearance, but rescuers were unable to locate the pair. However, just three years after the disappearance, a partial skeleton belonging to a woman of European descent, about Earhart's height. Found nearby were a buck knife, a woman's shoe, a sextant box, and bits of an airplane. All signs point to this being Earhart's fate, and CNN, the Discovery Channel, and tons of major news outlets are reporting this all as fact. 
But not so fast. Back when the skeleton was found in 1940, Dr. David Hoodless, principal of the Central Medical School of the South Pacific on Fiji, examined it. He stated that the pelvis "definitely" belonged to a man. The skeleton then promptly disappeared, and all subsequent study of it has been based on Hoodless' notes and drawings of it. 
As for the detritus found on the island? There's no good reason to believe that the stuff belonged to Earhart. Pearl divers frequently used the island as a base of operations, and the island was home to a British colony just a couple years after Earhart's disappearance. The assorted bits and bobs floating around the island could easily have come from any of those individuals, or have washed up on shore from nearby islands and ships.
Then there's the matter of the distance. Shortly before the disappearance, Earhart was in radio contact with the island she meant to land on, Howland. We know she was very close to Howland because the radio wasn't that strong. It is almost certain that as of her last transmission, she was in the immediate vicinity of Howland, but unable to land due to equipment malfunction.
Nikumaroro is 400 some miles from Howland, and Earhart's last transmission mentioned they were nearly out of fuel. She simply would not have had enough fuel to make fly that distance; in fact, to make it from Lae in Papua New Guinea, where they last took off, to Nikumaroro would have taken every last drop of fuel her plane could hold, and she'd have had to fly directly there - she could not have flown to within radio contact of Howland, then taken a sharp turn and flown hundreds of miles in the wrong direction - there simply was not enough fuel. 
As for the radio transmissions? The last transmission anyone is sure of came at 8:43 AM. There were subsequent signals, some of which came from near Nikumaroro, but there's no evidence those signals came from Earhart or Noonan. In fact, the captain of the USS Colorado, one of the battleships out looking for Earhart, says "There was no doubt many stations were calling the Earhart plane on the plane's frequency, some by voice and others by signals. All of these added to the confusion and doubtfulness of the authenticity of the reports."
On top of which, in order for the plane to transmit signal from Nikumaroro, the radio couldn't be submerged, meaning that the plane would have to have crash landed on the island, and the Navy didn't find any plane when they searched the island just days after the disappearance. 
Nature abhors a vacuum and humans abhor loose ends. That's why it's so much easier to believe the Nikumaroro theory than to believe what the vast majority of researchers do: that Earhart and Noonan ran out of gas and ditched at sea. But that conclusion is well supported by her last transitions alone - she knew she was on the island, she knew there was an equipment failure, she knew they were almost out of gas. Where's the plane now? At the bottom of the ocean somewhere near Howland. It's not a satisfying theory, to be sure. And searches for the plane in the area have turned up nothing. But the plane is small and the ocean is big and the ocean is deep, and the fact that the plane isn't easily found in one place doesn't mean it's somewhere else hundreds of miles away.
The Nikumororo theory is championed primarily by one guy, Ric Gillespie, principal of the The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery. And he really, really wants his theory to be true. Gillespie's really good at taking a few scraps of evidence that aren't very strong and weaving this really satisfying story, one he wholeheartedly believes. Every couple of years, he'll put out press releases or do an interview with "new" evidence, such as this whole arm bone thing, but the evidence isn't new at all. Gillespie, or one of his adherents, found a picture of Earhart in which her arm looks like it might possibly be the same length as the sketch of the arm of a skeleton that probably belonged to a man and has been missing for three quarters of a century. 

Sources
https://skeptoid.com/episodes/4295
https://skeptoid.com/blog/2012/03/20/more-amelia-earhart-nonsense/
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amelia_Earhart

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