politics, pop culture, social justice

Save the Net! Hug a Laptop!

So the thing about Net Neutrality is, it’s the kind of phrase that’s really easy to ignore when you’re scrolling through Twitter at 2AM trying to convince yourself to put the phone down.

Which, it turns out, is a bit of a problem, because Net Neutrality is what’s going to allow you to keep accessing random pictures of puppies hosted on the blog of that girl you used to go to high school with who was always kind of weird, but now she has this really frickin’ cute puppy… Net Neutrality is also what makes it possible for all seven of you to notice that my little blog exists when there are other blogs out there that seventy thousand people are reading. Blogs that people get paid to write. Blogs that are actually websites, and websites that (if Net Neutrality is murdered) could afford to “fast track” their exposure online in a way that I personally would probably never be able to do.

Lucky for you, I’ve been in Texas for two days and I’m already bored of job hunting! So I’m taking a little time away from Witches of East End to explain in simple terms what Net Neutrality is, why we need to keep it, and what you can do about it.

Also lucky for you, I learned almost everything I know about this from John Oliver on “Tonight with John Oliver” so here’s him, being funnier and smarter than me:

I sincerely recommend you watch that video, but if you didn’t, here’s a very simple recap:

1) There are only a few companies that provide internet, and they are evil

2) The guy now in charge of the FCC (aka Federal government Craps on online Communication) is the guy who used to be one of the top lobbyists for cable companies

3) Right now on the internet, all data is equal

4) The FCC wants to introduce a class system into the internet that will require companies to pay extra for faster speeds, better service, etc. Meaning, some data will be privileged over other data

5) There is very little we can do about this, because they are regulating themselves

6) What we can do is go online to fcc.gov/comments and tell the FCC how we feel about this potential change

Now here’s where it gets (more) irritating, because if you go to that website, you’ll notice that it looks like this:

FCC comment page 1And if you click on the numbers to the right of one of the many titles (title for what, the website does not make abundantly clear) you are directed to a list of comments that looks like this:

FCC comment page 2


Not exactly inviting or easy to navigate. Lucky for you, I have lots of time on my hands. And I used that time to create step-by-step instructions for where to go and what to say to make it clear that you want the internet to remain an equal opportunity circlejerk. So if you do nothing else today, do this:

1) Go to fcc.gov/comments and select one (or all) of the many numbers to the left of the titles on the screen.

2) If you select the first one (“proceeding 14-57”) you can file a comment on the pending merger of Time Warner and Comcast–which will create an even larger and more harmful cable company monopoly, so I highly recommend you do! Here are a few links to some excellent examples of individual criticisms of the merger!

3) If you select the third one, (“proceeding 14-28”) or the twelfth one (“proceeding 9-191”) or both, you can file a comment specifically on the issue of net neutrality. Here are myriad links to excellent examples of individual pleas for the legal preservation of net neutrality.

3b) A lot of people are also demanding that internet providers be classified as “common carriers” which would solve a whole bunch of our problems, too!

4) No matter which proceeding you want to comment on, you will be directed to a page that looks like this:

FCC comment page 3

4b) Fill in your personal information at the top, then add your comments! If, after the million examples I linked, you still don’t know what to write,  you all have my permission to copy this:

I urge the FCC to implement strong and unambiguous legal protections of Net Neutrality. A “tiered” system will only lead to discrimination online, and can do nothing to support the innovation and growth for which the free and neutral internet has been, thus far, a fertile breeding ground.

The greatest power of the internet has always been its role as a level field for communication and commerce. Allowing cable companies to take monetary incentives to privilege one user over another goes against the nature of the internet as it has come to be used. Companies like Time Warner and Comcast, which possess near-monopolies on the market as it stands, do not prioritize the interests of the consumer, and cannot be trusted with free rein to control the internet.

It is the responsibility of the FCC to protect the consumer, and ensure equal access to online resources for all Americans. Therefore, I strongly support the legal re-classification of the internet as a “telecommunication service,” to be regulated under a title II “common carrier” framework.

5) Once you have entered this basic information, you will be redirected to another page, where you will be asked to confirm what you have just written. Click “confirm!” Then you’re done.

There you go, internet weirdos! copy and paste my words. It will take you three minutes. Just go! Do it! Help prevent cable company fuckery!

This puppy believes in you.



Also Check Out These Articles!

media, politics

A Drinking Game for Tonight’s State of the Union!

Wow, guys! I haven’t talked to you since last year! Crazy!

So tonight is the State of the Union, and there are not 1, not 2, but 3 exciting Republican rebuttals to watch afterward, so you can bet I’m excited for that representation of our politically diverse voting public.

But tonight is a night designated for fun and booze, so I’m going to keep it short. Here are a few simple rules for how not to remember anything Obama said:

1. Drink when someone says “America” and “Freedom” in the same sentence.

2. Drink when the person sitting behind Obama does anything except stare at Obama.

3. Drink when (and be honest now) a politician says something you don’t understand.

4. Watch the hands of the speaking politician. When you can’t remember the last thing he or she said, finish your drink.

5. Finish your drink if anyone says any variation of the name “Edward Snowden.”

6. Finish your drink if anyone calls Obama a “socialist” or a “communist.”

BONUS: Finish whatever you’re drinking right now if you’re a hipster and this is the first time you’ve watched cable since the 2012 election.

OH! I ALMOST FORGOT. JUST FOR FUNZIES. Here is the version the real menz will be playing. Just three rules, so it’s easy to remember:

1. Drink when anyone says something you agree with.

2. Drink when anyone says something you don’t agree with.

3. Finish your drink when your Mom calls to tell you to stop re-posting your profane tweets on Facebook.

politics, social justice

OH MY GOD BABIES: the Semantics of Abortion

There are few things that make me more uncomfortable about the state of modern America than the current debate about abortion. Specifically, I have an issue with die-hard “pro-lifers” who have a tendency to confuse their religion or their googly feelings about babies with ethics, and have a habit of throwing around exaggerated accounts of how they are right, and everyone who disagrees with them is a soulless baby killer.

Now, what I’m not saying is that abortion is always good. Nor am I saying that pro-lifers are always wrong. For the record, I have googly feelings about babies, too. What bothers me most about the debate surrounding abortion is that, ostensibly, we’re all fighting for the same things here: education and proper care for women dealing with pregnancy, and appropriate actions regarding their unborn offspring. Obviously, the two sides of the debate do not agree with each other about what “proper care” and “appropriate actions” actually means. In my opinion that’s ok. Or would be if I believed that a real conversation could take place between the two factions regarding the issues at stake.

Unfortunately,what seems to be happening with people on different sides of this issue is that they have laid down their boundaries along semantic lines. The differences between how each group chooses to understand the vocabulary of abortion politics leads to a lot of misunderstanding–some of which, I firmly believe, is willful. The more pro-life news I read, the more it seems that “die-hard pro-lifers”  prefer arguments about semantics over practical discussions about what policies are the best for the greatest number of people. And this leads to the expressions of viewpoints that are mired in bad science and stories about adorable babies and religious terminology, and never seem to get around to addressing the actual effects that abortion-related policies have on real-life women across the country.

The most abundantly problematic semantic issue I find in the abortion debate is that of the titles the two major factions have chosen for themselves. “Pro-Choice” and “Pro-Life” are not opposites. The term “pro-choice” (and I will admit to a bias, though I maintain that it’s a bias in favor of accuracy and sensibility) is fairly accurate: the average self-identifying “pro-choice” individual supports policies that give women a choice about what will happen to their bodies when they become pregnant, including but not limited to, having the option of abortion. What they don’t do is tell women they should have an abortion or that they shouldn’t choose to keep their child. That’s why the term “choice” is used. It’s not an ideology that’s pro-abortion, it’s an ideology that’s pro-options.

The term “pro-life,” on the other hand, sets up a number of serious semantic issues. First of all, it creates a false dichotomy between “pro-lifers” and “the other guys,” who, if they are not “pro-life,” must logically be “anti-life” if they are to continue to be understood as an opposing faction. This creates an immediate gap between people who want to identify as “pro-life” and everyone who doesn’t agree with them. It’s pretty understandable: I wouldn’t want to have a conversation with someone who is “anti-life” either. After all, what would it accomplish? A true enough response, if the dichotomy were accurate, but it’s not. The second problem with the term “pro-life” is that it doesn’t address the concept of “choice” at all. “pro-life” groups are all about “saving lives,” which is hypothetically noble, but the concept loses a lot of it’s credibility when these groups insist on explicitly valuing the lives of unborn children over people in Syria. In addition, I don’t find the term very accurate if “pro-life” groups are willing to shut down valuable women’s health resources (some of which provide the majority of sexual health resources to women who otherwise couldn’t afford them) in order to achieve the singular goal of saving the lives of unborn babies. Despite numerous claims to the contrary by pro-lifers who claim a holistic approach to supporting all life, being “pro-life” is politically akin to being “anti-choice.” And that’s the title I choose to use.

The biggest problem with being “anti-choice” as a political ideology is that it supports policies that take away women’s options about their pregnancy, seemingly without regard to what else is being taken away. Her sexual freedom. Her agency. Her equal opportunity, with men, to say, “no, I don’t want to deal with this.” Sometimes, her own life. I’m not saying abortion is always the best option for a woman who doesn’t want to keep her child. Adoption and prevention are wonderful options. But that should not be the decision of the courts or the church. It should be the decision of the woman. What “anti-choice” activists seem to ignore, or simply not to care about, is that whether or not abortion is legal, it’s still going to happen. It statistically still does. The difference between a legal abortion and an illegal abortion is primarily in the mortality rates of the desperate women who seek them.  In practical terms, seeking to restrict the options of women is to say that the lives of the unborn children are more important than the lives of the unprepared mothers, and that will never be an ideology I can support.

Meanwhile, I am outraged by articles like this one by Kelly Clinger, who explicitly endorses the viewpoint I ascribe to “anti-choice” activists when she draws parallels between modern-day abortion and the holocaust of WWII. She criticizes “the hard-heartedness” of the women who seek late-term abortions and makes references to “piles of hair shaved off of Jews in the concentration camps,” posing hypothetical questions about the effect “if we had the bodies of 50,000,000 babies piled on top of each other in a museum somewhere.” This woman has basically accused women seeking abortions of behaving like Nazis, and what gets me is, she thinks it’s ok. She’s so entrenched in the “pro-life” rhetoric surrounding abortion that she has stopped seeing pregnant women as women with complex and unique and personal needs, and has started seeing them as a factory for a cause that she can self-righteously champion.

politics, social justice

The Difference between “Activist” and “Almost Activist”

I’m sure it’s fairly clear from the nature of my blog, but I’m the kind of person who takes note of social and political injustice, thinks about it, talks about it, maybe blogs about it, but rarely does anything concrete in the name of fixing the problem. Every now and then I write an email to a state representative explaining to them that I would really appreciate it if they would veto legislation that restricts my and other women’s right to make health decisions about our bodies (and you can, too!). And sometimes I sign online petitions to the white house in regards to issues I care about, like for instance the fact that there has been no response to the recent petition to pardon Edward Snowden (and here’s where you sign that!). One time I protested a thing. Which was pretty fun, because gay people with signs tend to have a high denominator of fun even while addressing serious, civil-liberty-related issues.

But there is a difference between being a person with opinions about how the world should be, and being a person who is willing to devote his or her life to making the world the way it should be. I’m a writer, so you could say I’m an expert (or, let’s be real here, I’m working toward the goal of someday being an expert) on expressing my opinions. I certainly hope that over time, with my work, or my blog, or my emails, or my voice I can help change peoples’ minds about how this world should work, but I don’t harbor any illusions about the real-time effects of what I say and do. I have opinions, but so does everyone else, and opinions are very, very hard to change. I believe that the dissemination of information towards better informed discussion has power.  But I also believe that, in many ways, this power is nothing compared to the power of individual people like Narayanan Krishnan.

Mr. Krishnan amazes me, because he gave up a career in a 5-star hotel restaurant in order to feed 400 hungry people three meals a day, every day, without holidays, for the last ten years. Every day, Mr. Krishnan feeds hundreds of people who are totally forgotten by their communities, often mentally ill, without resources. He sometimes feeds them by hand, and also gives them haircuts. His charity doesn’t make enough donations to cover every meal, so he subsidizes it with money from a house he owns, makes no salary, and lives in the building where he and his team work. It blows my mind. (Check out their website if you want to donate.)

The dictionary defines “activist” as “an especially active, vigorous advocate of a cause, especially a political cause.”  Mr. Krishnan’s cause is not an explicitly political one, but if anyone is an “especially active, vigorous advocate of a cause,” he is. To be any more active, he’d have to learn how to never sleep. But he’s not the only person out there whose activism amazes me.

When Edward Snowden decided to give up life as he knew it to make the American people aware of the government’s overwhelming information monopoly, he became an activist, whether he ever wanted to be one before. Likewise Julian Assange has risked political backlash from numerous countries to keep the public informed of classified government actions in and attempt “to radically shift regime behavior.”

I know not all of you are going to agree with what these men are doing (although I can’t imagine anyone denigrating Mr. Krishnan’s actions), but I can not help but admire the dedication it requires to give up so much personal happiness in the name of an ideal. And there is the real kicker, to me. Because I have a lot of difficulty imagining doing such a thing myself, and in some ways this makes me ashamed. I find myself hesitant to act when it seems possible that my actions could meet with familial disapproval–I haven’t even considered doing anything that might get me into actual trouble. Do I really stand for anything if I’m not willing to take risks in order to keep standing?

politics, social justice

Hold Your Breath, Illinois

So I’m just going to come out and say that I’m really hoping Illinois legalizes gay marriage today.

I originally hail from Minnesota (Long, long ago, in a winter far away) and I was very proud when they came in number 12 for marriage equality not too long ago. I’m ready for all the states that I personally identify with to be as cool as I imagine them to be. Any time now. Just as soon as this happens, and then Chicago stops being kind of segregated in a racist kind of way. And then maybe if we could stop closing schools and subsidizing trashy umbrellas designed to represent historic icons. Then everything would surely be perfect here in the Windy City.

But anyway, this would be a really good first step.

The thing with marriage equality is, I kind of feel like I’m beating a dead horse when I say that, hey, this is an important civil rights issue, and needs to be addressed. Here in Illinois we’re waiting for the Illinois Legislature to decide to vote on it, today, before they adjourn, and that’s a big deal. But I can’t help but feel that if we don’t pass it today, we’re going to pass it eventually. Chicago is a very Democratic place, and Democrats tend to be pretty pro-gay marriage at the moment. So that’s great, and I’m really happy about it. Yay to gay couples who fit snugly into hetero-normative social roles!

But the other thing is this: I am totally, one hundred percent behind a policy of marriage equality, because that sort of seems to be the best we can do in the world we live in right now. But I also think it’s important to question whether this whole marriage thing really ought to be such a huge legal advantage. Stay with me.

According to the Human Rights Campaign (a somewhat shady for-profit enterprise that is very invested in legalizing gay marriage at the moment) there are 1,138 distinct benefits, rights, and protections provided by law on the basis of marital status. This includes social security benefits, crazy tax benefits, family and medical leave laws, immigration privileges, and healthcare privileges (including the often-used example of hospital visitation rights and decision-making rights.) And I agree that if straight married couples have these rights, then so should gay married couples. Without question. But my question is, why do these benefits hinge on marriage at all?

According to this article, an unmarried woman can end up paying a million dollars more in her lifetime for health insurance, taxes, etc, than her married counterparts. This article found that single people often feel discriminated against in the workplace, where they are more frequently asked to work evenings and weekends than their married counterparts. A lot of the benefits conferred on married people (especially the financial benefits) are considered to be a sort of encouragement by the government to get married, because many people see being married as automatically better than being single. Some of the social security benefits of marriage were put into place under the assumption that single people paying into the fund would get married eventually, and they would be recouped their losses then.

In reality this just isn’t the case. Almost half of all Americans are single (at least legally speaking), and there is a growing trend of people who choose not to get married. Like, on purpose. And these people are actually pretty happy, whether you believe it or not. What’s interesting is that, according to this article by Maura Kelly, single people are actually more likely to contribute to society, even though they get less compensation for it. They are more likely to volunteer, to spend time with neighbors, participate in public events, and even frequently work the same jobs as married people while getting paid less. Not to mention they don’t get the same kinds of benefits–for instance, a single person cannot put someone who is important to them on their health insurance, while a married person can include their children and spouse in the package. Nor can they necessarily designate beneficiaries for things like Social Security and 401(k) plans.

To me, this seems pretty unfair, and really unnecessary. Why the tax breaks? Why aren’t the important people in an unmarried person’s life just as important legally and financially as the important people in a married person’s life? I haven’t heard a good explanation yet.

I’m waiting.


Banksy says we own ads. I can get behind that.

This piece of artwork delights me. Graffiti artist (and I mean ARTIST) Banksy likes to make big statements, and this is a great one. The ad is a powerful indictment of the one-sided role that advertising and the media play in our lives.
Take a read. It’s a beautiful thing.

art, politics, social justice

Banksy says we own ads. I can get behind that.

politics, social justice

Let’s Not Go There: U.S. Prisons

Shockingly, I’m sure, to those of you who know me, I’m a law-abiding citizen. And as such, I haven’t had much occasion to think about the U.S. Penal System. After all, prison is where bad people go to get punished, right? I’m not bad, and they are, right? So they obviously deserve it. Right?

Just a (super, incredibly, almost lightning-fast) overview of some history here. Prison as punishment (rather than as a place to hold people until they can be tried) became common in the U.S. in the early 1800s. Reformers thought earlier criminal punishments like public whippings, the stocks, and public execution to be “barbaric,” and prison to be a modern alternative. Solitary confinement, specifically, was regarded as a punishment geared toward reform: it was thought to turn one’s thoughts toward oneself and toward heaven, and to lead to a spiritual re-awakening. The perspective that imprisonment is the best treatment for law-breakers has been prevalent (with exceptions) for several hundred years.

The problem is, this isn’t necessarily true. The United States prison system has the most inmates of any country in the history of the world. Followed by Russia and Rwanda. This is despite that fact that according to the U.S. census, crime rates are at a historic low. As of 2011 there were 6.98 million offenders “in the system”–about 1 in 34 adults in the country. Abut half of these were residents of a state or local prison or local jail–that’s 937 out of every 100,000 people in the United States.

This is incredibly expensive. It costs around $78 a day to keep one prisoner in prison. multiply that by around 3 million people, and you’re talking about a significant chunk of change. For those of you too lazy to do the math: 3 million x $78 is $234 million a day, times 365 = we’re talking about 80 billion dollars per year. Many prisoners work to offset these costs, but the government picks up the rest of the tab. (did I mention most prisons are privatized? Go figure.)

What’s crazy is that despite the government’s obvious financial investment in the idea that prison is the right way to respond to crime, it’s actually incredibly ineffective. U.S. prisoners have a very high rate of recidivism: a 2002 study found that 67.5% of released prisoners were rearrested within 3 years, with 51.8% of them returning to prison.

If you looked at the link I provided you might have noticed that the study found no indication that being in prison for a long time caused a higher rate of recidivism. But in my opinion, that doesn’t really matter. What matters is that prisons are also not doing anything to help rehabilitate prisoners. Rather than treating prisoners like people with problems that need to be addressed, prisoners are treated as though they are the problem, and are segregated from society. It’s no coincidence that blacks and Hispanics make up a disproportionately high percentage of inmates–as much as 60%, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics.

Professor of Philosophy at Vanderbilt University Lisa Guenther wrote a book called The Living Death of Solitary Confinementwhich draws from her experiences working with inmates on death row to explore what being in solitary confinement says about being a human being. She writes that being in solitary confinement can lead to symptoms like, “intense anxiety, paranoia, depression, memory loss, hallucinations and other perceptual distortions. Psychiatrists call this cluster of symptoms SHU syndrome, named after the Security Housing Units of many supermax prisons. Prisoners have more direct ways of naming their experience.  They call it “living death,” the “gray box,” or “living in a black hole.”’

Guenther uses the experience she has leading a discussion group with inmates to explore what it means to be a human being, and what solitary confinement threatens to take away from prisoners doomed to spend months and years completely alone–she says, “When we isolate a prisoner in solitary confinement, we deprive them of both the support of others, which is crucial for a coherent experience of the world, and also the critical challenge that others pose to our own interpretation of the world.” She exhorts the criminal justice system to bring prisoners in solitude back into the world.

This is all very interesting, and incredibly intense. But what I’m even more interested in is what Guenther does outside of academia. She is a part of a group called Reach Coalition, which states in their mission, “our purpose is to develop a coalition comprised of death row prisoners and volunteers who seek to educate themselves and the public about crime, punishment, and responsibility.” What strikes me about this is that the phrasing of the statement puts the prisoners and the volunteers on the same footing. They are all educating themselves. With the prisoners in her death row discussion group, Guenther discusses existentialism, and created an anthology of poetry, essays, and fiction by these inmates. They make artwork exploring the experience of being in prison, and when I had the opportunity to meet Guenther, she gave me two pre-addressed postcards made by inmates (complete with artwork) so that I could write a message and send them back.

To me, this is amazing. And in some ways, upsetting. If Ms. Guenther can find ways to create meaningful interactions with prisoners on death row, why isn’t that happening in all prisons? If the criminal justice system doesn’t function as a way of rehabilitating prisoners, why doesn’t it change?

I wish I had an answer for this. Unfortunately I don’t. Maybe you do?