Saturday, August 23, 2014

Internal Programming Note

Okay, let's just rip the band-aid off: I'm putting up ads on the site. I know they're irritating, I know you're reaching for AdBlock right now, but I said way back at the start that this was a blog ultimately created with the intent of finding paying writing work. It's four and a half years later and I'm still here. So it's quite honestly long past time for me to just try and make money off the blog directly, and how do you do that? Ads, of course. (Though if you'd like to give me money for writing things, that would also be swell.)

So there are ads now. I'm trying for the least-obnoxious locations I can manage, and they actually won't officially 'go up' until Google detects a certain amount of pageviews (they won't tell me the number), but bar actually getting paid directly for writing specific pieces... just be sure to click on them for me.

If you see big blank spots, that's apparently where they're going to be.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Outrage Of A Totally Different Kind

Two consecutive nights of peace in Ferguson (although the grand jury of Darren Wilson looks to be the most brazen scam to get him off as quickly as possible- I mean, who the hell lets the defendant speak at a grand jury?)

So now it's time to be angry because the Build Team- Tory Belleici, Kari Byron and Grant Imahara- is leaving Mythbusters. (And pour one out for Scottie Chapman, too, having left a long time prior.) Their last episode was tonight; the show is reverting back to what it was at the beginning, with just Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman.

I'll leave you in the same stunned silence I'm still in. Seriously? The whole Build Team?

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Sundown Towns

I am rather desperate to post something not relating to Ferguson at this point, but I don't think it's really safe to do so yet. Not for now.

So what I want to do today is go back to something I wrote way back in the halcyon days of 2010, when nickels were only a quarter each and fruit was so plentiful that it practically grew on trees. My post from October 15 of that year focused on the difficulty of travel for blacks in the earlier parts of the 20th century, and making note of a special book called the Green Book, passed around between black travelers noting safe places for them to go. This would be while those of us who are white were appearing in videos about how flying on an airplane was like this:

...yeah. Count how many parts of that video are never ever going to happen on your next flight. Here's a hint: just about all the parts.

But I also brought up, briefly, why a Green Book had to be passed around: because of the existence of 'sundown towns'. Rachel Maddow talked about them last week, and James Loewen (he of Lies My Teacher Told Me and Lies Across America, if you've ever read either of those) wrote a book about it. What 'sundown' meant was, if you were of the wrong race, and you were in town after sundown, you were liable to have anything happen to you up to and including your death. In some cases cities made the threat implicit and made life extremely uncomfortable for anyone of the wrong race who lived there anyway, through such methods as denying housing, making housing inordinately expensive, denying basic utilities, even denying police protection, until that person got the message and cleared out. Others went so far as to put up a billboard and straight-up assaulted and killed anyone they saw after dark. Some of these towns still engage in minority-unfriendly behavior to this day, although now it's more subtle.

Blacks weren't always the targeted race. Sometimes it was Hispanics, sometimes it was Asians (particularly in California gold country), sometimes it was Jews, sometimes it was just everybody that wasn't white. But blacks were far more often than not the target.

Where was this happening? All over the country. In my original 2010 post, I linked to a site showing a database of possible sundown towns. It's still active, and yes, Ferguson is in the database, listed with an asterisk denoting "Not a suspected sundown town but of interest for other reasons". Every state in the lower 48 is involved in some way. Many of the towns shown include evidence both hard and anecdotal, and if you have any stories of your own, you're encouraged to contribute. Even Watertown is in the database; although there is no hard evidence of sundown behavior, the census shows not a single black resident as late as 1940 (population 11,301), and only a single black as late as 1970 (population 15,683).

Wisconsin has a lot of entries, really. Loewen's main finding was that it wasn't just by coincidence that the Midwest (including his home state of Illinois) is heavily white; it was very often made that way on purpose. Even if a town wasn't actively excluding, it still could get into the realm of people just simply never having seen a black person before. Green Bay is in the database, with anecdotes revolving around- what else- the Packers, and either their being fairly late to the party in integrating the club or an assumption that anyone black must be involved with the team somehow because, well, why else would blacks be in Green Bay?

And don't think Green Bay is the only large-ish city in the database. Seattle has hard and documented evidence excluding Asians and Native Americans in the 1800's. San Jose had an anti-Chinese convention in 1886 and burned down their Chinatown the next year (none exists today). New York, Chicago and Salt Lake City get the 'other reasons' asterisk as it wasn't so much the cities as a whole but certain blocks and neighborhoods within them that had their problems.

Maddow brought this up because not only has the bulk of the violence in Ferguson- of which there hasn't been any today, thank goodness- and all the major police action occurred after dark, but there was an request by police to wrap up protesting for the day before dark. (That did not happen, and of course, things got violent.)

This is a thing we need to keep in mind as we, eventually, move forward from this, and work to root out where it still occurs. Sometimes, simply existing as a certain race in certain towns can be hazardous to your qualify of life, sometimes even your lifespan. Even today, even if it's not made explicit, hints can be routinely dropped.

Even if your race happens to be the majority in that town.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Ferguson By The Numbers

(Edited to include additional statistic.)

I know I've been absent here the past few days, and it shouldn't surprise you to note that I've been glued to Ferguson. If you follow me on Facebook or Twitter, you'd see me rather active on those fronts as events have developed, leading up to today's deployment of the National Guard.

I'm not really sure what factoid you want me to throw out here that lays the situation out barer than it already is, but hey, let's just start and see if we find one.

*Michael Brown, according to an autopsy requisitioned by his family, was shot six times, resulting in his death. In 2013, the entire combined police force of England and Wales fired their guns three times (clarification: on three occasions, not necessarily firing only three bullets), killing none. In Iceland, police have killed one person in the entire history of their country.

*Back in 2001, when examining cities with populations of at least 10,000 people, Ferguson was one of only two cities in America with a majority black population and no blacks on the city council. The other was Riverdale, Georgia. Since then, Riverdale has converted to an all-black council. Ferguson has since gone to one out of six, representing a city that has risen to two-thirds black.

*The city of Ferguson has hired a public-relations firm. The firm is 100% staffed by whites.

*In 2012, at least 410 people were killed by American police action, but because reporting that is somehow a voluntary thing, the exact number is unknown but probably ranges around 1,000. Meanwhile in 2012, 543 people were killed by anyone in the entire nation of Canada.

*EDIT: In 2013, the Ferguson Municipal Court issued 24,352 warrants, which translates to three warrants per household.

*In 2012, 15.0 police officers per 100,000 were killed on the job, according to the Department of Labor Statistics. 105 died in total, with 51 of them- 48.6%- dying as a result of "violence and other injuries by persons or animals". 48 died in "transportation incidents" (think traffic accidents). Four died from slips, trips and falls, and one died as the result of exposure to harmful substances. So if you're actually looking at the violence-at-the-hands-of-others part, you'd be looking at more like 7.3 deaths per 100,000.

Using the 15.0 number, you might compare it to the death rate of roofers (42.2); 'refuse and recyclable material collectors' (aka garbagemen) (32.3); farmers, ranchers and other agricultural managers (22.8); taxi drivers and chauffeurs (16.2); landscaping services (15.0); and grounds maintenance workers (14.2).

The overall number for all self-employed workers is 12.8.

Going by the 7.3 number, shift your attention to electricians (8.9); 'painters, construction and maintenance' (8.0); 'nonmetallic mineral product manufacturing' (7.9); newspaper publishers (7.5); gasoline station workers (6.8); 'pipelayers, plumbers, pipefitters and steamfitters' (6.6); and 'laborers and freight, stock and material movers, hand' (6.5).

*Number of times Amnesty International has deployed a human rights team in the United States prior to Ferguson: zero.

This is ostensibly about Michael Brown, but the matter of Michael Brown is no longer strictly necessary to hold the cause of Ferguson together. Even if it came out that he were really some tweaked-out thug beating the stuffing out of 18 people before he was taken down by Darren Wilson following a long struggle, that no longer matters. Too much more has happened since then that justifies its own outrage, independent of the Michael Brown matter. It didn't justify six gunshot wounds. It didn't justify tear gas, or sound cannons, or flashbang grenades, or armored vehicles, or riot gear, or curfews, and it especially did not justify the National Guard.

President Obama just spoke, and among his statements, he noted that he's going to start looking at how much of the resources allocated to local police forces are actually needed by them.

Back in April, Dodge County, Wisconsin, the county in which I live, got an armored vehicle. I would very much prefer for that not to be in Dodge County right now.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Ferguson, Let's TED Talk

I'm not really sure how I want to respond to the events in Ferguson, Missouri over the past week or so. At least, I don't know how to respond that hasn't been said a thousand other places. That's a reason I try to stay away from major headlines; someone else has probably already said what I want to say better than how I plan to say it. And aside from that, it is a rapidly and continuously changing situation, often wildly. It has been a matter of police acting with apparent impunity; of race relations; of police brutality; of police militarization; of why the police have tools beyond those given to actual soldiers in actual warzones; of the wisdom of giving authorities tools beyond that which they need; of the freedoms of speech, press, peaceable assembly and redress of grievances; of the foolishness of escalation compared with de-escalation; of the utility of social media; of the chain of command; of just how much a policeman's word can be trusted when everyone is telling the same story but them; of the fact that people in the Gaza Strip felt the need to instruct people in Missouri on how to protect themselves from tear gas; of the shame and fear felt by so many that horrors such as those witnessed could occur in a country where they were raised to believe things like that did not happen, and that if it happened in Ferguson, could it happen to them?

I'm probably missing a couple. And it will take on more dimensions as we go.

But the all-encompassing matter has been one of power. The people that have it, the power that they are allowed, and what they do with that power towards- perhaps 'to' is the better word- the people that do not have it. And so I think the following TED talk is an apt one to listen to. It's by Eric Liu, who gave his talk last September in New York.

Many of us tune out of politics right now because we don't think those in power listen anyway. We don't think our vote is going to matter, or that it is even going to be counted, or that it will be listened to even if it is. We don't think those in power are doing anything with our concerns whatsoever. Perhaps these things are even true. Some of us envision an endless and hopeless dystopia perpetually around the corner, or that we are inexorably, unstoppably on our way towards one. We may envision that every bad thing that happens in the word is 'the new normal' and that everyone will do this latest horrible thing to everyone forever and that there is no way to ever resist. So people don't vote. People try to imagine that politics and power will just forget them if they don't engage.

The problem with that is that eventually, something like Ferguson happens. If you do not engage power, eventually it may engage you. Eventually, it may engage you to the point where you are forced into basic fight-or-flight. You may be rendered so utterly disenfranchised that the only way you have left to influence the process is with physical action, and you will have to simply hope someone else out there, someone who has more power than you, is able to help you, lest you be crushed. Lest power lob tear gas into your front lawn and allow it to seep through the walls of your home while you are inside it minding your own business or fearful of acting, thinking that power will just forget about you, and thinking it in vain.

There's an election in November. Maybe your vote won't be the one that swings the result. Maybe the winners won't be the ones you want, and maybe they'll just spend the next two years yelling at each other again. But there's a much higher chance that it will swing the result when you vote in the state and local elections, the ones that most directly exert power over your life. The ones that allocate budgets for things like the police and that determine how many toys they have access to. And even if it doesn't, you have the power to go inform your family, friends and acquaintances of who is being considered to be given power, the nature of that power, and what they may do with it. You have the power to petition, to donate your money and your time, to get in the field and take action to make things better. And if all else fails, you have the power to sound the alarm in whatever other social fashion you have available, alerting and perhaps recruiting those further afield to your cause, as the people of Ferguson have so ably demonstrated.

Your voice and your body are power, even if you have, or effectively have, no other formal power left. If you fail to exert them, you are as good as powerless.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Random News Generator- Northern Ireland

On September 18, Scotland will be holding a referendum on independence. As of right now, while there is a sizable contingent favoring it, there has yet to be a poll from any source showing the independence group in the lead. Roughly half of the electorate, maybe more, maybe less, is currently set to vote no, with the yeses ranging somewhere in the 35% range. And the numbers haven't really moved much. So, just to give you an idea of the odds here. Maybe there's still something that could push Scotland into independence territory over the next month, but I wouldn't think it likely.

That having been said, the other components of the British Isles are watching with great interest, just in case. Wales and Northern Ireland have their fair share of secessionists as well, and in the event that Scotland does declare independence, they're both very likely to launch campaigns of their own. In the event of Northern Ireland, such a campaign would involve Northern Ireland shifting over to join Regular Ireland. I believe you recall The Troubles, the period ranging from the 1960's up until 1998 when Ireland and Northern Ireland were constantly and violently at odds for both nationalistic and religious reasons.

But such a bid, according to polls, would go down in flames by spectacular margins if it were held right now. And there is plenty of the Northern Irish populace that dreads the unrest that might result from such a referendum's mere existence. Whatever Scotland does, there's no way Northern Ireland follows them out the door. So absent that, everyone is considering just what Scottish independence would mean to them: the ease or difficulty in opening up separate trade agreements (which they already have some experience with given Ireland's presence); the matter of subsidies from England to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland that would be altered by Scotland's absence; whether business opportunities would favor a newly-independent Scotland that might otherwise have opted for Northern Ireland. And there's the question of how much British Parliament would include Wales and Northern Ireland if they felt they were at risk of leaving as well.

But of course, all this only applies if Scotland votes that way. Or if they vote no, but the percentages are close enough to where the supporters are galvanized to try again, which is also being watched. There is no provision for a second attempt, but if the yeses happen to get into the mid-40's or something, they're probably going to push for a second vote, putting the entire UK on alert all over again. We'll have to wait and see what the number is.