Ersula Ore and a Camera’s Imprisoning Eye

Given the viral nature of the recent release of footage from a police cruiser dash camera, I’m going to assume you’re familiar with the case of Ersula Ore, a professor at Arizona State University whose misfortune on the night of the 20th of May was to jaywalk across a street in the university district in front of a pair of cops. (Adding the phrase “while black” to the end of the prior sentence may be relevant.) If you’re not, an article at HuffPo offers a good primer.

Before I get to my point, let it suffice to say I put the blame for both the initial development and the escalation of the incident squarely on the shoulders of the police officers involved. In an attempt to cite someone for a violation of a public safety ordinance they made the immediate environment less safe by parking in the middle of the road.

“There were three of them, three police cars left askew across the road in a way that transcended mere parking. It sent out a massive signal to the world saying that the law was here now taking charge of things, and that anyone who just had normal, good and cheerful business to conduct in Lupton Road could just fuck off.”
― Douglas Adams, The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul

They then failed to move the encounter outside their vehicle to a safer area like a sidewalk. They failed to defuse the situation verbally by lowering the pitch of the encounter, instead confronting verbal force with more verbal force, escalating to the point where physical violence became the “solution” sought by the primary officer. I fail to grasp how it could be rationalized that a jaywalking violation could reasonably escalate to a takedown attempt preceded by a threat to slam someone into a vehicle. (The statement by ASU on the incident tries to rationalize it, and not so admirably.)

But that constitutes what I think are the obvious concerns. I’m more troubled, probably due to the seeming novelty of the idea, by the fact that this was all caught on camera in the first place.

Cameras, typically mounted on police cruiser dashboards but also found attached to rifles, helmets and other tools of the law enforcement trade, are becoming, dare I say, ubiquitous. Conventional wisdom suggests the presence of cameras is a good thing as police, knowing they’re being taped, are presumed likely to act with greater restraint than they might if they could engage in malfeasance absent the burden of a prying electric eye. This wisdom has proven repeatedly to be without foundation, as cameras operating as part of police policy capture footage ranging from that taken of the encounter described above to an Albuquerque policeman with a camera mounted on his rifle shooting a homeless man.

Earlier I noted, “They then failed to move the encounter outside their vehicle to a safer area like a sidewalk.” Why did the officers remain in front of their cruiser? Aside from the safety issue, another means of verbally defusing the situation might’ve been to offer to escort Ore to the sidewalk. There’s no indication I’m aware of that any such suggestion was made. What appears to be the case is that every effort was made to keep the encounter in front of the camera, up to and including physically restraining Ore in a position where she and the officer pressing the engagement would remain in view.

Does the ASU police department have a policy concerning use of video cameras by police, and does that policy require an encounter to remain in view of a camera whenever possible? If that question can be answered affirmatively, is it then possible such a policy could have contributed to the escalation of this incident, given an imperative to keep the activity in frame? Confining the encounter to a specific area, even one without obvious physical barriers, may have contributed to the anxiety felt by Ore during the encounter and expressed in her resistance to the officers’ ministrations

If, having gotten this far, you’re questioning the efficacy of cameras operated by the police, consider this: The original reality show was Cops. In a move worthy of the fiction of Aldous Huxley, police work became entertainment. For some, (or perhaps too many) a video of a college professor being roughed up by a couple of bad boys is no more than an addendum to any given episode of a show devoted to exploitation disguised as hero worship.

I’ll leave you with another take on Ersula Ore’s encounter with Tempe’s Finest…

Addendum, 21 July 2014: Aside from the “being a cop” part, apparently being an Eagle Scout and engaging in volunteer work operates as justification for assaulting a woman over jaywalking.

Addendum, 24 July 2014: A tangentially related article on the Power of Vulnerability.

The Curse of Expertise: A Variant

Moments ago I searched Google using the phrase “curse of expertise“. An assortment of links appeared, (as they do) with many cutting away to psychology treatises or economic laments over how best to spur innovation. The pages I poked at didn’t offer much to fit the notions about which I will soon by typing, so I’ll stick with the more freeform approach I tend to take anyway.

I’ve wanted to write a post on the Curse of Expertise for awhile and find, once again, that Twitter has provided a bit of fodder motivating me to do it. Vice recently published an article by Molly Crabapple about the refugee situation in Syria. I read it earlier today and found it to be a very moving description of her first-hand exposure to what internally-displaced refugees are going through in Northern Syria in the wake of the failed revolution. It didn’t occur to me to characterize the article at the time I read it, though in retrospect I would describe it as soft journalism in the human interest vein. This description is relevant because…

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Taking Exception to Some Assertions Regarding Firearms and Self-Defense

Last Thursday two people, one an old friend of mine and another an author/blogger I’ve recently taken to reading, both posted the same link, with endorsements, to a response to a question on Quora about firearms and self-defense written by Jon Davis, a former Marine Corps weapons instructor. I read the response and found myself unwilling to make a similar endorsement despite my respect for the two gentlemen who provided the link. I wanted to write some about it last Thursday but was busy (at work) or sleepy (at home) and only now find myself getting to it.

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Where There Is No Path

wildflowers

Wind-Wafted Wild Flowers by Muriel Strode

I will not follow where the path may lead, but I will go where there is no path, and I will leave a trail.

Infinitely will I trust nature’s instincts and promptings, but I will not call my own perversions nature.

Each receives but that which is his own returning.
Each hears but that which is the echo of his own call.
Each feels but that which has eaten into his own heart.

I do not bemoan misfortune. To me there is no misfortune. I welcome whatever comes; I go out gladly to meet it.

It is no stigma to wear rags; the disgrace is in continuing to wear them.

Say not that this or that thing came to thwart you; it only came to test you.

There is hope for that genius who must overcome poverty, but there is almost none for that one who must overcome wealth.

The Aeolian must be in your breast, else the winds are in vain.

A great work demands a great sacrifice, and who is not capable of a great sacrifice is not capable of great work.

The earth shall yet surrender to him, and the fates shall do his will, who marches on, though the promised land proved to be but a mirage and the day of deliverance was cancelled. The gods shall yet anoint him, and the morning stars shall sing.

Not alone for that which is mine will I rejoice, but for that which has been withheld, which was coveted and longed for but denied, for I am what I am for having had to rise superior to the need.

His to rejoice with exceeding great joy who plucks the fruit of his planting, but his the divine anointing who watched and waited and toiled and prayed,—and failed,—and can yet be glad.

I would travel in all climes that I might return and tell you of the beauty of my own little garden plot.
I would explore heaven and hell that I might come back and tell you what a charming place is the earth.

Wishing will bring things in the degree that it incites you to go after them.

If the populace marched in file, ’twere my signal to break from the ranks.
If a thousand generations did thus and so, ’twere my cue to do otherwise.

I longed to build as you had builded, but I knew that your joy lay in the conception of your own design.
I longed to follow where your feet had trod, but I had watched your exhilaration as you felled a new way.
I longed to do that thing you did and be that thing you are, but I knew life’s fulness was yours because you were yourself.

Let my grave be unmarked; I fear not to be forgotten.

Better than tiaras—the diadem of freedom.
Better than broad acres—a garden of heartsease.
Better than mines of gold—a mint of dreams.
Better than bars of molten silver—the silver of a laugh.
Better than strings of pearls—the crystal of a tear.
Better than bands of choristers—a lute in the soul.

I am life’s mystery,—and I alone am its solution.
I am the dreamer of dreams,—and I am dreams come true.
I am the supplicant,—and I am the god that answers prayers.


Originally published in The Open Court, Vol XVII (No. 8), August, 1903

An Example of Our Shared Humanity: More From Anthony Bourdain

Bourdain drinks tea in Iran

Anthony Bourdain drinks tea somewhere in Iran (image from his Instagram)

One of the beliefs I endeavor to keep fixed in my mind is that of our shared humanity. While the newstainment media and well-meaning but misguided public intellectuals—along with some number of Genuinely Bad People—try to sell us notions of other cultures as monolithic, deluded, antagonistic, (mixed in proportions to suit the outrage of the moment) I hold fast to the simple truth that people living over there are not so different from people living nearer by. We, (and they, who are also we) the people who aren’t government stooges, corporate power brokers, or contaminated by a thirst for sycophancy/control/violence, are just trying to get by and, for the most part, be good to one another. I therefore hope you’ll forgive me if I think this tweet from Anthony Bourdain supports my belief.

Given Bourdain’s tweet was about Iran, I felt it entirely appropriate to reply with this.

(Clicking on the tweeted image to embiggen it may help.)

I can wish, knowing it will never happen, that the episode of Parts Unknown Bourdain & Co. have been filming in Iran will garner some sort of Game of Thrones-style popularity explosion. While I wait for season 4, (and wish) I should read Persepolis.

An Example of Reductio ad Absurdum

Twitter has been very good to me today. The question…

…and its answer.

(Click on the image in the tweet above to embiggen it.)

At the Crossroads of Male Dominance: Leila Hatami and Elliot Rodger

This past Friday I read an article about Leila Hatami, an Iranian actress who shared an entirely chaste bit of cheek kissing with an elderly French gentleman at the Cannes Film Festival. This article would never have been written but for the fact that some people in her native country are calling for her to be flogged for her transgression against what passes for law and decency in Iran. I was so angered at reading the article I immediately busted out three tweets about it. Later that day when Al Jazeera posted news of Hatami’s apology, my anger wasn’t cooled.

Fast forward to Saturday and Twitter, along with the rest of the nearby Internet, goes positively apeshit over the latest American mass shooting, perpetrated by Elliot Rodger. The tweets were coming across my feed at such a furious pace that I felt it best not to post but rather read and absorb the event. I did managed to post one tweet during the frenzy, in response to Kim Moore:

The tweet doesn’t bear much relation to where I’m about to take this post. (Or does it?)

Further ruminating on Elliot Rodger along with the lingering anger over Leila Hatami’s situation prompted a realization that these two events are not unrelated. In Iran, legal and religious strictures which have their origin in male dominance manifest as an environment in which women must clothe themselves and behave within a set of constraints intended to preserve them as, “symbol[s] of chastity and innocence.” In the US, the price women pay for freedom from such laws is the alternative expression of male dominance that permits men to view women as sex objects, slut-shame women when they fail to conform to ever-shifting behavioral expectations, and, as in the Elliot Rodger case, produce one of a small number of outcomes worse than fifty lashes.

We are all of us, all over the world, living under a collection of delusions which share the same modus operandi, only differing as to cultural methods of expression. People are to be classified, not seen as human but as componentry in systems of oppression. When Leila Hatami failed to conform to her society’s expectations in even the most seemingly trivial way, she was made to apologize. Her apology may not be enough. When women failed to conform to Elliot Rodger’s expectations of what was his due, no apology would have stopped him from dealing death to as many as he could put his sights on.

If you who are reading this happen to be a woman, and find yourself in the peculiar position of being willing to take some advice from this heterosexual white American male, try this: Don’t apologize.

Edited to add: It’s one week later, June 1, 2014, and I get some unintended postscript help from Mohammed Ali Jinnah, via Haroon Ullah:

On My Admiration For Anthony Bourdain

I noted elsewhere recently that my writing of this post would be made even easier by virtue of the acceptance speech Anthony Bourdain made upon having received a “Voices of Courage and Conscience” award from the Muslim Public Affairs Council for his work on the episode of Anthony Bourdain Parts Unknown where he and his crew film, talk and eat in Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Gaza.

Maysoon Zayid wrote an excellent post about the episode which may operate as a primer for anyone who hasn’t viewed it.

Though I’ve yet to read any of Bourdain’s books I’ve been following him on television since A Cook’s Tour and have never failed to enjoy his work. But up until the end of season two of Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations I thought of Bourdain as just another travelling gourmand who happened to have a personality like well-worn alcohol-soaked sandpaper. This fairly inconsequential assessment would change dramatically with the airing of the Beirut special.

Bourdain and crew went to Beirut to film the usual fare for No Reservations when Israel launched attacks on Lebanon in response to rockets fired at Israel by Hezbollah. Beirut locked down and the No Reservations team found themselves with nothing to film. But nothing to film became a much more important something to film. Instead of packing up and getting out as quickly as possible, they filmed their flight from Beirut and along the way captured footage of the duress people live under when war is a very real part of life and always too near at hand: a feature of existence utterly unfamiliar to the lives of the typical No Reservations viewer. The seizure of that opportunity to tell a different kind of story, to reveal something so common to some people yet so alien to others, raised my opinion of Bourdain and his production company to a new degree of admiration and respect.

Given the Beirut episode of No Reservations, the Parts Unknown episode in Palestine came as no surprise to me insofar as its content was concerned. Even so, the episode is well deserving of the recognition it has garnered, and continues to be one of the best episodes of television of any sort I’ve ever seen.

The key here, though, remains Bourdain himself. I’ve long thought it must require a considerable ego to be a public personality of any sort, and Bourdain has made remarks concerning notions that his television career may constitute a monument to his. Yes, an ego is required to do what he does. Yes, Bourdain can be abrasive in his expression of some opinions. But to make an assessment of Bourdain purely a matter of ego is to miss the essential and sincere humility he displays when in the presence of those who don’t merely lack his good fortune, but lack the good fortune to live lives free of war, poverty, contempt and disregard. (The acceptance speech video above serves as an example.) And though Bourdain’s journalism may seem soft compared to more conventional—or more adversarial—content, it’s precisely this soft journalism, this elevation and expansion of what might otherwise be the typical, possibly tawdry, two-minute human interest story tacked onto the end of the nightly news, that can be some of the most important and revealing journalism about the human condition.

I have no award to give Anthony Bourdain. He’s already got my respect. I think that will be good enough.

Addendum, 16 July 2014: Gaza has been under attack by Israel for several days and the latest news is four children were killed by an Israeli attack in what has every appearance of being an entirely unprovoked murder. We’ve also seen celebrities tweet support for Palestine only to delete those tweets moments later. It’s with this in mind that I present, once again, Anthony Bourdain:

Addendum, 21 July 2014: Anthony Bourdain, interviewed by John Little at Blogs of War.

Do Some Gun Control Laws Contribute To Mass Incarceration?

I’m about to go off the deep end, so in the interest of full disclosure before proceeding to the diving board:

  • I’m a middle-aged, heterosexual white male.
  • I’m an owner of firearms, and am generally in favor of gun ownership.
  • I’m currently a member of the NRA. (My dad purchased a membership for me without asking. If he’d asked, I would’ve told him emphatically not to buy me in. Right now I’m letting my membership lapse. I should probably be more proactive in ditching that group.)

It was another perfect day on Twitter where a set of topically-related but user-unrelated tweets converged in my mind to produce a theory that borders on the conspiratorial, but seems to tie in to recent Twitter conversations and at least one book I’ve read recently. (The book, mentioned in a prior post, is The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, by Michelle Alexander. Allow me to state again, it’s a must-read.) I’ll start with Kim Moore, who posted a series of brilliantly informative tweets about how 29 years ago Philadelphia, PA police attacked and quite literally bombed the communal home of an organization called MOVE:

Read her timeline from that tweet on for more. A good overview is also available at GlobalGrind.

Shortly thereafter Rebecca A-P posted a short series of tweets about how social and economic injustice forces young men of color into the military.

Dig hard enough and you’ll find a few replies I wrote in support of her viewpoint.

Within the last couple of hours Max Blumenthal started live-tweeting from an event where candidates in the race to be mayor of Newark, NJ are speaking. One of his tweets was:

As soon as I read this, the final puzzle piece landed and revealed a disturbing picture to me. In a nation where mass incarceration is in effect, the ruling elite don’t care about the sort of gun control that might actually reduce crime/violence. What they do want are laws which further criminalize gun possession at the level of the urban street, precisely where related policies like Stop And Frisk are focused. And that’s hardly the limit of it. Consider the story of Keith Pantaleon, an upstanding young man who, after moving to Jersey City, NJ, was unjustly arrested for the crime of legally owning a firearm while black.

Though at a philosophical level I’m opposed to the sorts of gun control President Obama and associated democrats claim to want to implement, their “failure” to advance a more robust gun control agenda in the wake of the recent school shootings now seems to me much more sinister. The excuse presented to the public of a lack of political capacity to successfully press the issue now seems not merely hypocritical, but actively complicit. The Powers That Be, whether left, right or corporate, share under the surface an agenda that does not include sensible laws relating to gun control or ownership, but does include the kind of laws that will contribute to a perpetuation of our state of mass incarceration. I’ve long thought the gun control issue was one composed largely of hyperbolic theatrics on both “sides”. I’m even more convinced of this now.

If you’ve gotten this far, I hope you’ll consider commenting. It’s not my inclination to try to sell a post, but I think it important to get feedback on this, whether affirming or challenging. (Admittedly, I would just as soon not have the traditional Internet Gun Control Debate roll through this post. I hope people will be circumspect even in disagreement, and not turn this into the usual fare.) Thanks in advance for your potential contribution.

There Are No Accidents of Birth

I caught myself using a common phrase, accident of birth, sometime during my workday on Monday, and something in my mind tripped over it. This is the good kind of mental stumbling in that it’s a cue I take to explore a concept. I’m up too late, suffering from fatigue toxin and goofing up tomorrow’s workday in advance, but I want to type this before I lose the immediacy of these thoughts.

Accident of birth is most used, I think, to express disappointment at the lack of control over the circumstances that surround us when, some sufficient time after being born, we realize we might’ve been different had we been born somewhere else, in some other time. Alternatively, there’s what happens when we talk about other people. For example, atheists who want to argue the relative “validity” of different religions may be prone to saying things like, “It’s an accident of birth that [some person] was born into [some society] and therefore was indoctrinated into [some religion].” (I happen to find this construct annoying because it implies the person who was born existed before birth and then emerged, as if randomly, wherever that person sprung out of the womb. Aren’t atheists supposed to be skeptical regarding the existence of souls?)

But this isn’t about atheism (or souls). The you that you’ve become, the I that I am, neither of those are accidents. Who you are, who I am, we, and everyone else, could only possibly exist in the moment we’re in right now. I so often think how cool it might be (if I’m in a romantic mood) were I to have lived in some other time and place, imagining myself in Classical Rome or Revolutionary France. It’s easy enough to recognize the silliness of such imaginings when contemplating what the reality of those places and times must have been like. What’s not so easy to recognize is that I could not possibly be me in either of those locations in space-time. There is no possible way I could not be a different person. Even in the preposterously unlikely event that some human who lived a thousand years ago had my exact genetic makeup, that person would not, could not in any true sense be me. He might resemble me with respect to phenotype, but his mind, his thoughts, his conscious self, would be a unique creature shaped by his world, and utterly not me. This is not to say genetics are irrelevant, though…

When these thoughts started percolating toward awareness I recalled the scene from issue #9 of Alan Moore’s Watchmen where Dr. Manhattan recognizes the value of humanity after having carefully explained to Laurie Juspeczyk how unworthy humans were of even the remotest consideration compared to the grandeur of the universe. (Both of them are on Mars and Laurie is crying in the aftermath of Manhattan’s remarkably emotionless diatribe.) At the risk of breaching Fair Use…

Dr. Manhattan: Thermodynamic miracles… events with odds against so astronomical they’re effectively impossible, like oxygen spontaneously becoming gold. I long to observe such a thing. And yet in each human coupling, a thousand million sperm vie for a single egg. Multiply those odds by countless generations, against the odds of your ancestors being alive; meeting; siring this precise son; that exact daughter, until your mother loves a man she has every reason to hate, and of that union, of the thousand million children competing for fertilization, it was you, only you, that emerged. To distill so specific a form from that chaos of improbability, like turning air into goldthat is the crowning unlikelihood. The thermodynamic miracle.

Laurie Juspeczyk: But… if me, my birth, if that’s a thermodynamic miracle… I mean, you could say that about anybody in the world!

Dr. Manhattan: Yes. Anybody in the world. But the world is so full of people, so crowded with these miracles that they become commonplace and we forgetI forget. We gaze continually at the world and it grows dull in our perceptions. Yet seen from another’s vantage point, as if new, it may still take the breath away. Come… dry your eyes, for you are life, rarer than a quark and unpredictable beyond the dreams of Heisenberg; the clay in which the forces that shape all things leave their fingerprints most clearly. Dry your eyes, and let’s go home.

(Italics added to match boldfaced lettering in the original comic.)

To describe you, me or anyone else, the circumstances of our birth and the lives we lead, as mere accidents is to trivialize the stunningly improbable confluence of genes, ancestry, family, culture, geography, and every other thing I can’t think of right now, that makes each one of us a unique expression of the universe.

As only Alan Watts can say it…