Today Abbie Hoffman Would Have been 81 Years Old

I met Abbie on several occasions in the years between 1967 and 1969.

The world would be a better place if he, Jerry Rubin, Huey Newton, John Lennon and other 1960s leaders were still around instead of the Frat Boy Draft Dodging Scum like Trump.

From Kinky Friedman,  Texas singer, song writer, author and former gubernatorial candidate

A special message from the Kinkster:

I’ve always had a special place in my heart for Jewish troublemakers. And Abbie Hoffman was one of the best! I got to know him during the years of 1974 to 1980, when he was a fugitive on the run from the feds, often topping the FBI’s most wanted list. I’ve always believed that the drug charges against Abbie were totally trumped-up. In truth, he was only guilty of one crime, but it was the crime that is never forgiven: poking fun at authority.

Abbie was a colorful, fun-loving, political prankster, highly adept at skewering the establishment, which, God knows, seems forever in need of being skewered. Abbie hid out at my place in Chappaqua long before Bill and Hillary got there. We shot about a million games of pool, with Abbie losing very few indeed. Later, I harbored my famous fugitive at our family’s ranch, a summer camp for kids, in Texas. We spent the winter playing chess, riding donkeys, and trying to figure out how the world had gotten so screwed-up. A year later, Abbie crashed with me in Hollywood and introduced me to another guy whom he sometimes hid out with, Jack Nicholson.

In the end it seemed as if Abbie had become like the character in the Billy Joe Shaver song, “Cursed to be born a serious soul/ Nobody takes seriously.” The question remains, of course, why would anybody harbor a high-level fugitive in the first place? Perhaps it was the way of my people. Perhaps I liked living dangerously. Perhaps I just liked Abbie. Perhaps I was following Charles Bukowski’s advice, “Run with the hunted.” Perhaps.

I’m writing this today on Abbie’s birthday, November 30th. He would’ve been eighty-one years old if life had been just a little bit different. But it never is. If you want to know more about Abbie, I suppose you could google him. While you’re at it, you could also google Moses and Jesus. After all, they were three good Jewish boys who got in a little trouble with the government.

Happy birthday, Dear Abbie. Wherever you are.

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Ken Burns’ New Vietnam War Series Teaches a Flawed, Misleading Lesson

From Alternet:  https://www.alternet.org/burns-wrong-lessons

The new film distorts what scholars, veterans and antiwar activists alike know about the war and its aftermath.

By Jerry Lembcke
September 19, 2017

When Karl Marlantes takes the screen during the new PBS film series The Vietnam War, he says coming home was nearly as traumatic as the war itself. Later, he describes being assaulted by protesters at the airport, invoking the image of spat-on Vietnam veterans, an image that Los Angeles Times editorial writer Michael McGough said in 2012 was based on a myth. An edifying myth, McGough called it, but still a myth.

With The Vietnam War, Ken Burns and Lynn Novick have created a film that rehashes some old, tired tropes. In doing so, they distort what soldiers, veterans, and antiwar activists alike know about the war and its aftermath, especially inside the United States.

In their May 29 New York Times op-ed advertisement for the series, Burns and Novick give a lofty rationale for their film. Succumbing to another cliché, they claim it is about healing. But the discourse of healing misleads as much as it informs, presupposing a prewar America that was a seamless unity, where everyone got along. As sociologist Keith Beattie showed in his 1998 book The Scar That Binds: American Culture and the Vietnam War, that America was mythical. The real one was already torn by racism and McCarthyism, and frayed by modern technology. Domestic class conflict and racial and gender anxieties, too, continued right through the war, as the historian Milton Bates pointed out in his 1996 book The Wars We Took to Vietnam.

That fractured America was complicit in its going to war, not simply a passive victim of it. Burns and Novick intentionally exclude scholars like Beattie and Bates, however. “No historians or other expert talking heads” mar their film, they told the Times’s reviewer Jennifer Schuessler. “Instead,” Schuessler reports matter-of-factly, their “79 onscreen interviews give the ground-up view of the war from the mostly ordinary people who lived through it.”

Ground-up views are susceptible, especially after 40 years, to the very myths they are supposed to belie. Memories that are 40 years old are too influenced by movies, novels, newspapers, and television—or those dreaded historians—to count for documentation. Lawyers, judges, and courts concluded years ago that eyewitness accounts of crimes that are only hours old are unreliable—so, 40 years? Or 50? In the hands of filmmakers, however, such accounts are too easily and too often used as a veneer to manage viewer perceptions.1 Here Burns and Novick offer false equivalences, or “balance” in journalistic parlance. In promoting healing instead of the search for truth, The Vietnam War offers misleading comforts.

The contradictions of The Vietnam War pile up from the start. Its creators might claim a ground-up view—and the film does give us lot of grunt-level footage, like Marines in rice paddies and GIs jumping out of helicopters—but the prevailing interpretations of these scenes come from elites. Some of these notables would be better cast into confessional booths than onto PBS screens, too. For example, John Negroponte, a prominent interpreter in the film, used diplomatic appointments as cover for covert activities over a half-century of US-engineered (or –attempted) regime-change operations.

Just over 30 years old when he began his Vietnam assignment, Negroponte developed a reputation as a “hardliner” in negotiations to end the war in Vietnam, once breaking with his superior officer Henry Kissinger for making too many concessions to communist North Vietnam. Later in his life, he took lessons from Vietnam to America’s adventures across the world. As ambassador to Honduras between 1981 and 1985, Negroponte built the small and friendly nation into a bustling military platform for cross-border operations against the leftist Sandinista government in Nicaragua; when popular opposition to the US military presence in Honduras arose, he enabled and covered for the murderous death squads of General Gustavo Álvarez Martínez, a graduate of the U.S. Army School of the Americas. As a delegate to the United Nations in the early 2000s, he helped sell the invasion of Iraq on the false claims that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. Once characterized by journalist Stephen Kinzer as “a great fabulist,” Negroponte’s prominence in The Vietnam War will have viewers of many political stripes scratching their heads.

Continue reading at:  https://www.alternet.org/burns-wrong-lessons

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Fresh trans myths of 2017: “rapid onset gender dysphoria”

From Gender Analysis:  https://genderanalysis.net/2017/07/fresh-trans-myths-of-2017-rapid-onset-gender-dysphoria/

Zinnia Jones
July 1, 2017

If, like me, you make a habit of trawling through the darker side of opinion pieces on trans issues, you might have come across a peculiar new term: “rapid onset gender dysphoria”. This supposedly recent occurrence is described by the National Review, the right-wing Alliance Defending Freedom, Robert Stacy McCain, and others as a phenomenon of teenagers “suddenly” coming out, sometimes “in groups”, after “total immersion” in social media related to transitioning. Even a recent article in The Stranger made reference to this alleged trend:

Increased visibility and societal acceptance are also logical explanations for the perceived growth in the trans population: More people are aware it’s an option now. But, as a study published this year in the Journal of Adolescent Health notes, parents have begun reporting “a rapid onset of gender dysphoria” in adolescents and teens who are “part of a peer group where one, multiple, or even all friends have developed gender dysphoria and come out as transgender during the same time frame.”

If researchers have potentially discovered a previously unknown type of gender dysphoria, this would certainly be a fascinating development. There’s just one problem: there is no evidence to suggest that this is any kind of distinct clinical entity. The various features of this purported phenomenon can already be explained within existing models and currently available evidence. And more than that, it appears that the very concept could have originated with a specific group of transphobic activists.

Let’s take a closer look at the “study published this year in the Journal of Adolescent Health”. As the full study does not appear to have been released yet, only a poster abstract is available in the February 2017 issue (Littman, 2017). The study is introduced as follows:

Parents online are observed reporting their children experiencing a rapid onset of gender dysphoria appearing for the first time during or after puberty. They describe this development occurring in the context of being part of a peer group where one, multiple, or even all friends have developed gender dysphoria and come out as transgender during the same timeframe and/or an increase in social media/internet use.

Obviously, “parents online” encompasses a rather large portion of the population, and further details on what distinguishes this particular group of parents and their online activity would certainly help to clarify this phenomenon. However, the occurrence of “gender dysphoria appearing for the first time during or after puberty”, as well as the surprise of parents, is already widely recognized in literature, to the extent that it is explicitly mentioned in the DSM-5’s description of gender dysphoria (American Psychiatric Association, 2013):

Late-onset gender dysphoria occurs around puberty or much later in life. Some of these individuals report having had a desire to be of the other gender in childhood that was not expressed verbally to others. Others do not recall any signs of childhood gender dysphoria. For adolescent males with late-onset gender dysphoria, parents often report surprise because they did not see signs of gender dysphoria during childhood.

The study’s abstract also does not provide definitions that would delineate a “rapid” appearance of gender dysphoria from a “non-rapid” appearance: how fast is rapid? Its methods have an additional weakness – only parents were surveyed, and not the children allegedly experiencing this “rapid onset”.

Continue reading at:  https://genderanalysis.net/2017/07/fresh-trans-myths-of-2017-rapid-onset-gender-dysphoria/

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Trump is Finished | The Resistance with Keith Olbermann

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All-Out Assault on LGBTQ People by Trump, Pence, Sessions

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‘Our minds can be hijacked’: the tech insiders who fear a smartphone dystopia

From The Guardian UK:  https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2017/oct/05/smartphone-addiction-silicon-valley-dystopia

Google, Twitter and Facebook workers who helped make technology so addictive are disconnecting themselves from the internet. Paul Lewis reports on the Silicon Valley refuseniks alarmed by a race for human attention

by in San Francisco
Friday 6 October 2017

Justin Rosenstein had tweaked his laptop’s operating system to block Reddit, banned himself from Snapchat, which he compares to heroin, and imposed limits on his use of Facebook. But even that wasn’t enough. In August, the 34-year-old tech executive took a more radical step to restrict his use of social media and other addictive technologies.

Rosenstein purchased a new iPhone and instructed his assistant to set up a parental-control feature to prevent him from downloading any apps.

He was particularly aware of the allure of Facebook “likes”, which he describes as “bright dings of pseudo-pleasure” that can be as hollow as they are seductive. And Rosenstein should know: he was the Facebook engineer who created the “like” button in the first place.

A decade after he stayed up all night coding a prototype of what was then called an “awesome” button, Rosenstein belongs to a small but growing band of Silicon Valley heretics who complain about the rise of the so-called “attention economy”: an internet shaped around the demands of an advertising economy.

These refuseniks are rarely founders or chief executives, who have little incentive to deviate from the mantra that their companies are making the world a better place. Instead, they tend to have worked a rung or two down the corporate ladder: designers, engineers and product managers who, like Rosenstein, several years ago put in place the building blocks of a digital world from which they are now trying to disentangle themselves. “It is very common,” Rosenstein says, “for humans to develop things with the best of intentions and for them to have unintended, negative consequences.”

Rosenstein, who also helped create Gchat during a stint at Google, and now leads a San Francisco-based company that improves office productivity, appears most concerned about the psychological effects on people who, research shows, touch, swipe or tap their phone 2,617 times a day.

There is growing concern that as well as addicting users, technology is contributing toward so-called “continuous partial attention”, severely limiting people’s ability to focus, and possibly lowering IQ. One recent study showed that the mere presence of smartphones damages cognitive capacity – even when the device is turned off. “Everyone is distracted,” Rosenstein says. “All of the time.”

But those concerns are trivial compared with the devastating impact upon the political system that some of Rosenstein’s peers believe can be attributed to the rise of social media and the attention-based market that drives it.

Drawing a straight line between addiction to social media and political earthquakes like Brexit and the rise of Donald Trump, they contend that digital forces have completely upended the political system and, left unchecked, could even render democracy as we know it obsolete.

In 2007, Rosenstein was one of a small group of Facebook employees who decided to create a path of least resistance – a single click – to “send little bits of positivity” across the platform. Facebook’s “like” feature was, Rosenstein says, “wildly” successful: engagement soared as people enjoyed the short-term boost they got from giving or receiving social affirmation, while Facebook harvested valuable data about the preferences of users that could be sold to advertisers. The idea was soon copied by Twitter, with its heart-shaped “likes” (previously star-shaped “favourites”), Instagram, and countless other apps and websites.

Continue reading at:  https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2017/oct/05/smartphone-addiction-silicon-valley-dystopia

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A Trans Woman Was Just Kicked Out Of A Jewish Facebook Group For Women

From The Forward:  http://forward.com/opinion/national/388062/a-trans-woman-was-just-kicked-out-of-a-jewish-facebook-group-for-women/

Elisheva Sokolic
November 21, 2017

Yesterday was Transgender Day of Remembrance. It’s a day to mark the violence against the Transgender community. Unfortunately, in one Jewish Facebook group, it was marked by cruelty instead.

Facebook groups have evolved over the last few years from groups of a few dozen people from your high school class to thousands of people with shared interests. They are not just a playground for adults, but full-time jobs for the administrators, as well as a place to make friends, to learn and educate, and of course, to debate hot topics.

The group ‘Jewish Women Talk About Anything’ (JWTAA) currently has 25,745 members. That’s at least one less than it had yesterday, when a Transgender woman was removed. She was removed from the group on the grounds that anyone who was not born female does not come under the title of a woman. By way of explanation, the group’s administrator posted that “the majority of the responders did not feel comfortable with trans members so we deferred to the majority.”

 Readers probably don’t need reminding of a time when people didn’t feel all that comfortable having Jewish members in their clubs, either. And I would ask the administrators whether they allow converts to Judaism into their exclusive members room; after all, converts were not “born Jewish” so they would have as little place in a group for “Jewish women” as someone who wasn’t born a woman.

But in any event, the idea that these “responders” upon whom the administrators relied — though no one who posted could remember a vote taking place — should get to speak for 25,000 of us seems ludicrous to me. Maybe that’s just my hope talking, though. While this group is not specifically Orthodox, it is led and moderated by three Orthodox women, and there are often loud Orthodox voices in the mix. As an Orthodox woman myself, I can only speak through that lens. And when it comes to gender, despite the Mishnah itself identifying as many as half a dozen genders between male and female, the message which is coming across loud and clear to me is: We Don’t Accept You.

But maybe I shouldn’t be surprised. We’ve seen it before, in other ways. And it’s rarely to do with Jewish law. We all know the single woman in her thirties who is “on the shelf” and forgotten. We all know the divorced man in his late 40’s who has fewer and fewer Shabbat invites because “my kids are becoming teens and it’s not so appropriate.” Or the couple who have been married seven years but don’t have kids so “it’s hard to know what to talk to them about.” Or what about the gay couple who identifies as Orthodox and comes to shul but also “literally hold hands in public, like they don’t even care.”

Orthodox Judaism is known to ignore those on the fringes, those who don’t fit the mold. And if you’re paying attention, that means anyone outside of straight married couples with kids.

A Facebook group can of course allow whoever it chooses through its virtual doors. But when the group is called “Jewish Women Talk About Anything”, closing those doors to Transgender women is a powerful statement. It means that according to these 26,000 Jews anyway, a Trans woman is not a woman.

Continue reading at: http://forward.com/opinion/national/388062/a-trans-woman-was-just-kicked-out-of-a-jewish-facebook-group-for-women/

Home-from-War War Stories: Myth, Media & the Ken Burns Vietnam Series

From Common Dreams:  https://www.commondreams.org/views/2017/07/26/home-war-war-stories-myth-media-ken-burns-vietnam-series

Jerry Lembcke
Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Stories of Vietnam veterans treated badly by war protesters proliferated in the years surrounding the Persian Gulf War of 1991. They were the inspiration for the “yellow ribbon campaign” intended to signal that Gulf War veterans would be treated differently. My book inquiring into the origins and veracity of the stories about disparaged Vietnam veterans came out in 1998. Little did I imagine at the time that, 20 years later, versions of the same stories would be figuring in remembrances appearing upon the 50th anniversaries of some important dates of the war in Vietnam.

The stories have reappeared, prominently, in the June 20 New York Times and the July 16 Washington Post.  The Times piece was written by veteran Bill Reynolds who recounted his experience as an infantryman in a bloody Mekong Delta battle in 1967. Reynolds ended the account with the claim that he, “came home through San Francisco’s airport to throngs of hippies harassing me.” The Post story reported on a preview screening Ken Burns’ forthcoming documentary on the war in Vietnam. Following the screening, veteran David Hagerman told Associated Press reporter Holly Ramer that his reception at the Seattle airport was so negative that he “walked into the nearest men’s room, took off my uniform, and threw it in the trash.”

Reynolds’s story strains belief. Civilian airlines brought troops back from Vietnam but they landed at military airbases like Travis. And there are no news reports or photographs from the war years that document his memory that “throngs of hippies” greeted veterans. Hagerman’s memory also raises eyebrows: the abandonment of military property—his uniform—was a serious offense. And despite the numerous versions of this story that circulate, there is no evidence such as photographs of bathroom trash cans draped with uniforms to support the claims. Military personnel had to be in uniform to fly home free making it additionally unlikely that uniforms were shed in the manner described.

Major news organizations have been taken to task before for giving voice to stories of denigrated veterans without tangible evidence. When the 25th anniversary of the war’s end was marked in 2000, a spate of them garnered similar press attention. News critic Jack Shafer then editor of “The Fray” at Slate criticized the Times and U.S. News and World Report for their reports, respectively that Vietnam veterans had been spat on by protesters and had had to abandon their military clothing to avoid harassment.

When President Barak Obama spoke on Memorial Day, 2012 he recalled that Vietnam veterans had been “denigrated” upon their return home. “It was a national shame,” he said, “that should have never happened.” The President went on to pledge that the current generation of veterans would be treated better. The next day, Los Angeles Times editor Michael McGough criticized the president for having “ratified the meme of spat-upon veterans”—an edifying myth, McGough said, but still a myth.

The questionable accuracy of the hostile-homecoming stories is suggested by data from those times. A 1971 survey by Harris Associates conducted for the U.S. Senate reported 94% of the veterans polled saying their reception from their age-group peers was friendly.

The problem with repeating these stories of doubtful truth goes beyond the credibility of the journalism itself. It is rather, the power of the stories to displace the public memory of the war itself and the nature of the opposition to it. The response to Reynolds’ article in the Times is a case in point: of the 159 online comments, 48 or 30% focused on just 13 of the 1,500 words that he had written: “I came home through San Francisco’s airport to throngs of hippies harassing me.” Many more of the comments were of the “thank you for your service” variety that are meaningful only with the backstory of supposedly hostile homecomings as context.

Most importantly, the war that Reynolds had written about, and we need to think about, was occluded by his veteran-as-victim anecdote, a storyline that readers could not resist.

The stories of Vietnam veterans defiled by activists has worked over the years to vilify the anti-war movement and even discredit the many veterans who joined the cause to end the war.  The stories fed a belief that the war had been lost on the home front; from the 1980s through the 2016 election, conservative politicians ran for office on a conviction that radicals on campuses and liberals in Congress had sapped American will to win in Vietnam; it is the wellspring of the resentfulness that Donald Trump tapped for his run to the White House.

President Obama’s 2012 Memorial Day speech announcing Pentagon funding for a twelve-year series of Vietnam War anniversary commemorations renewed interest in the war and made the treatment of veterans the focus of that interest. Ken Burns’ film due out in September will keep the war in our conversations.

News coverage of the commemorations and the film will magnify those interests. Let’s hope that news coverage of the remembrances and reception to the film will temper the alluring but dubious reports of unfriendly veteran homecomings with references to more historically grounded research.

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Why I’ve Started to Fear My Fellow Social Justice Activists

From Yes Magazine:  http://www.yesmagazine.org/people-power/why-ive-started-to-fear-my-fellow-social-justice-activists-20171013

We are alienating each other with unrestrained callouts and unchecked self-righteousness. Here’s how that can stop.


Oct 13, 2017

Callout culture. The quest for purity. Privilege theory taken to extremes. I’ve observed some of these questionable patterns in my activist communities over the past several years.

As an activist, I stand with others against white supremacy, anti-blackness, cisheteropatriarchy, capitalism, and imperialism. I am queer, trans, Chinese American, middle class, and able-bodied.

Holding these identities scattered across the spectrum of privilege, I have done my best to find my place in the movement, while educating myself on social justice issues to the best of my ability. But after witnessing countless people be ruthlessly torn apart in community for their mistakes and missteps, I started to fear my own comrades.

As a cultural studies scholar, I am interested in how that culture—as expressed through discourse and popular narratives—does the work of power. Many disciplinary practices of the activist culture succeed in curbing oppressive behaviors. Callouts, for example, are necessary for identifying and addressing problematic behavior. But have they become the default response to fending off harm? Shutting down racist, sexist, and similar conversations protects vulnerable participants. But has it devolved into simply shutting down all dissenting ideas? When these tactics are liberally applied, without limit, inside marginalized groups, I believe they hold back movements by alienating both potential allies and their own members.

In response to the unrestrained use of callouts and unchecked self-righteousness by leftist activists, I spend enormous amounts of energy protecting my activist identity from attack. I self-police what I say when among other activists. If I’m not 100 percent sold on the reasons for a political protest, I keep those opinions to myself—though I might show up anyway.

On social media, I’ve stopped commenting with thoughtful push back on popular social justice positions for fear of being called out. For example, even though some women at the 2017 women’s march reproduced the false and transmisogynistic idea that all women have vaginas, I still believe that the event was a critical win for the left and should not be written off so easily as it has been by some in my community.

Understand, even though I am using callouts as a prime example, I am not against them. Several times, I have been called out for ways I have carelessly exhibited ableism, transmisogyny, fatphobia, and xenophobia. I am able to rebound quickly when responding with openness to those situations. I am against a culture that encourages callouts conducted irresponsibly, ones that abandon the person being called out and ones done out of a desire to experience power by humiliating another community member.

I am also concerned about who controls the language of social justice, as I see it wielded as a weapon against community members who don’t have access to this rapidly evolving lexicon. Terms like “oppression,” “tone policing,” “emotional labor,” “diversity,” and “allyship” are all used in specific ways to draw attention to the plight of minoritized people. Yet their meanings can also be manipulated to attack and exclude.

Furthermore, most social justice 101 articles I see online are prescriptive checklists. Although these can be useful resources for someone who has little familiarity with these issues, I worry that this model of education contributes to the false idea that we have only one way to think about, talk about, and ultimately, do activism. I think that movements are able to fully breathe only when there is a plurality of tactics, and to some extent, of ideologies.

I am not the first nor the last to point out that these movements for liberation and justice are exhibiting the same oppressive patterns that we are fighting against in larger society. Rather than wallowing in critique or walking away from this work, I choose a third option—that we as a community slow down, acknowledge this pattern and develop an ethics of activism as a response.

Continue reading at:  http://www.yesmagazine.org/people-power/why-ive-started-to-fear-my-fellow-social-justice-activists-20171013

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A Muslim American’s Homecoming: Cowboys, Country Music, Chapatis

From The New York Times:  https://www.nytimes.com/2017/09/26/travel/muslim-road-trip-america.html

By

The conversion took place on Honky-Tonk Row, my baptism a glaze of midsummer Tennessee sweat anointing my forehead. Nashville’s Wildhorse Saloon is a tabernacle for line-dancing disciples, and I was in communion with the gyrating congregation.

“Shuffle, shuffle, turn to your left.”

“Right, left, right — there ya go!”

I have a strong respect for choreographed mass dancing; I grew up with the understanding that seminal moments in Bollywood films must be commemorated with synchronized hip shaking. The Wildhorse was a divine revelation — white people, they’re just like us!

There I was, a Yankee of Indian extraction who had always dismissed country music without a second listen, tearing through Nashville’s Lower Broadway — swaying along to cover bands at Tootsie’s and Robert’s Western World and perusing star-spangled cowboy gear at Boot Country.

My visit to the South was long overdue. I’ve lived in five countries on three continents, but the United States has always been the unifying thread; my America is diverse and dynamic and molded by immigrants. But how well did I really know it? Last fall, when I returned from a four-year stint as an expat in South Africa, I deplaned into unfamiliar territory. There was an acrid, unseen fog looming: two weeks later came Election Day.

President Trump began his term with a travel ban on certain Muslim-majority countries; this week he’s expanding that diktat, and in what’s become the hallmark of a turbulent presidency, no one has any clue what’s next. As a Muslim American immigrant, am I just a few 140-character proclamations away from having my citizenship revoked? But fear also sparked curiosity. To me, “Wyoming” sounds foreign and peculiar, spilling lazily off the tongue like a yawn and evoking in my mind the wild terrain someone else might associate with a Zimbabwe or Mozambique. What’s exotic to me isn’t food gilded with turmeric and six-day weddings — it’s grits and rodeos. How much time did I have left to experience them?

I wondered if, given Mr. Trump’s rhetoric, I would feel like a foreigner in my own home. So I hit the road over the Fourth of July to see how much of an outsider I really was.

The Not-So-Deep South

“The songs really don’t help the stereotypes,” Sobia remarked.

Every explorer needs a sidekick, so I’d drafted a friend whose curiosity rivaled my own. Sobia was the Clark to my Lewis, the Finn to my Sawyer, the Buzz Lightyear to my Woody; we were two Muslim-American women trying to demystify guns, cowboys, and church, and hopefully evading lard in the process. At that moment, however, our ambitions were limited to making sense of the song on the radio: “I was sittin’ there sellin’ turnips on my flatbed truck…”

You have to hand it to country music. You want to mock its clichés? It’ll cram each verse with so many mommas and daddies and shotguns and Chevys that it insulates itself from satire. It’s self-aware and sassy, somewhere between caricature and cultural anthropology — just look up the lyrics to Hank Williams Jr.’s “A Country Boy Can Survive.” Recurring themes of booze, small-town boys chasing blonde-haired girls, guns, and pickup trucks are not my domain. The heartbreak, however, is breathtakingly relatable.

Sobia and I began our trip to Nashville by educating ourselves, first at the Country Music Hall of Fame and later at the iconic Grand Ole Opry. But it’s in the kitschy, bachelorette-party ridden dives of Lower Broadway, dappled in neon and scorned by locals, where we truly embraced the music. We enjoyed our barhopping expeditions far more than anyone sober reasonably should, given the unseemly behavior and crimes against dancing that prevailed. We took a break to fuel up at Hattie B’s, where we waited in line for an hour to sample Nashville’s famed hot chicken, a fiery, delectable treat that singed even my normally spice-immune Indian taste buds.

Continue reading at: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/09/26/travel/muslim-road-trip-america.html

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The voices of Weinstein’s accusers have torn the fabric of patriarchy

From The Guardian UK:  https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/oct/14/sexual-assault-report-women-culture-of-silence

This outpouring could be a turning point. It’s time to name those who have abused us, and treat sexual crimes with the seriousness they deserve


Saturday 14 October 2017

There are many shocks following on from this week’s reports of the sexual violations and rapes allegedly committed by film producer Harvey Weinstein. One shock for me is about the language used by the media to describe them. Almost all early reports referred to victimisation as “sexual harassment”.

Weinstein’s alleged acts involved quid pro quo offers, requests to be watched in the shower and for massages, naked pursuits of targets around couches. Such actions are sexual harassment.

But they are not just harassment. These are criminal acts that, if proved, would lead to jail time — not just fines and wrist-slapping. Language out of a Henry James novel made it sound as if rape was like using the wrong fork: “Mistreatment of women”, “misbehaviour”, “indiscretions”. Or “misconduct”, like a bad orchestra. Reporters used “episode” or the 70s-ish, hot tub-ish, “encounter”.

It’s likely that media lawyers advised reporters to use softer terms. But if you are reporting on a hate crime assault, you don’t inform readers accurately by calling it a “racial encounter”.

Shocking too is how district attorneys have failed to react. The New York Times and New Yorker exposés include reports of many alleged crimes in two jurisdictions: California and New York. I believe that basic information about the laws regarding sex crime and abuse are rarely explained to women, and this perpetuates a situation in which sexual assault is treated as a cultural event — “blurred lines” — when in fact criminal law is clear.

In New York state, any unwanted sexual contact is “sexual abuse”. In California, any unwanted sexual touching is “sexual assault” or “sexual battery” punishable by prison terms of six to 12 months. In both states, coercing someone into sex is sexual assault. Forcing someone to submit to oral sex, as actor and director Asia Argento alleged of Weinstein, is a felony. When someone chases a target around furniture, while he is naked, with exits from the room locked, this is arguably stalking and kidnapping.

When someone exposes himself in a public place such as a restaurant, and masturbates, as Fox reporter Lauren Sivan recounted, it is “public lewdness”, a class B misdemeanour. If “he or she intentionally exposes the private or intimate parts of his or her body in a lewd manner for the purpose of alarming or seriously annoying such person” it is a class A misdemeanour; six months, and usually placement on the registered sex offenders’ list.

Also, these events have widely been discussed as if they are history. But the statute of limitations is still open. In New York, the statute for sexual assault is five years, but there is no statute for rape. You can bring charges until you or your rapist dies. In California, a 2017 law, passed after the Bill Cosby allegations, extended the statute of limitations to — for ever. And to six years for assaults that took place prior to 2017. In the UK, there is no statute of limitations for serious sexual crimes. UK victims can bring charges forever.

Most of these women, in other words, could press charges today, even if their assaults happened years ago.

Ambra Gutierrez, an Italian model, wore a hidden recording device in 2015 to document the fact that an assault had occurred in her previous meeting with Weinstein. In an act of courage, this woman went back into danger. But DA Cyrus Vance’s office did not then pursue the case because, a statement said, it “couldn’t establish intent”. This week, it was reported that, months later, Vance was gifted $10,000 for his reelection campaign — by one of Harvey Weinstein’s lawyers.

Had Weinstein boarded a plane to Switzerland this week, as he was reportedly planning to do, that too might have constituted a crime: obstruction of justice. Resisting arrest. Flight. These are felonies or common law crimes.

But because our power brokers want to keep sexual assault in the realm of the “uncomfortable” or the “disgusting”, rather than the criminal, Weinstein was not told not to leave town. Only on Thursday was it announced that police in New York and London are taking action following the reports. Meanwhile, Weinstein headed to Arizona, to sex rehab, with yoga and equine therapy. But “rehab” is a choice, not a confrontation with the criminal justice system.

Continue reading at:  https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/oct/14/sexual-assault-report-women-culture-of-silence

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