What a waste…

A lot has already been said and written about the Steubenville, Ohio, rape case. I’d like to throw my own voice into the mix. I’ve written before about my position on rape.

While the concept of rape itself is abhorrent by every stretch of the imagination, every trial for rape brings two very real — and at least in principle diametrically opposed — thought processes into the mix and in stark contrast with each other. In any crime, the accused is innocent until proven guilty. And I’d hate to imagine someone truly falsely accused of raping someone; that would be pure hell for the accused. Thus, the accused has the right to a fair and reasonable defense. Again, that’s true in any crime; I’m not singling out rape here.

The big problem with rape trials, then, is that — at least if you factor out the situations where someone threatens greater violence if the victim doesn’t accede to the wishes of the attacker — the only real way to put on a defense, is to deny that the crime has been committed.

There has to be a better way, pure and simple. I don’t know what it is.

Steubenville raised a glaringly bright light to one other aspect of rape trials that is equally troubling. I would consider this kind of trial second only to murder trials in that the pursuit of justice will not undo the crime that was committed. In a theft trial, the stolen goods can be returned or the victim can be compensated for their loss. The best the victims in a rape or murder trial can hope for is that the guilty parties will have learned their lesson and won’t commit their crimes again. Maybe with a bit of deterrence for others who might think they can do the same thing and get away with it.

Small comfort for the victim. Add in a community that rallied not around her, but her attackers, and I wonder how much the trial added to the trauma she had already endured. After all, her attackers were stars of the high school football team, popular, boys will be boys, and all of that bullshit…

A feminist appearing on Fox News recently suggested that the solution to the problem of rape is to teach men not to rape anyone. Although somewhat simplistic, she’s right. It’s not as easy as she made it out to sound, but it’s the right thing to do. In Steubenville, surely the culture of entitlement that the boys felt (thanks to their prowess on the gridiron) was a huge contributing factor. And we saw that in the way the community rallied around them, even in the face of overwhelming evidence of their guilt.

The way the boys reacted to their sentence, I think they thought that entitlement would acquit them of their crimes. That’s at least the impression I got; the fact that they broke down when their conviction was handed down, proves that they’re human. When they get out of prison, I sincerely hope that they’ll allow themselves to be a cautionary tale. I hope that they’ll be willing to talk about the horrible crime they committed, how they sincerely regret having done it, and being a message of reason: telling other people not to rape. Just like that woman on Fox News suggested.

Without regard to what the boys do, though, I wish the victim can find some degree of consolation in the outcome of the trial. It’s not going to be easy for her to move beyond the trauma of both the crime and the trial itself. But she must. For her own sanity and self-worth. She was exceptionally brave just getting this far. Whatever can be done to help her move forward can and should be done. Let her become a survivor and let her example be an empowering example to women everywhere.

It’s the least that can be done, for a crime that can’t be un-committed.

International Women’s Day

Today, March 8, is International Women’s Day. Say what you will about the former Soviet Union and what they stood for, and their overall policies, if there’s one thing they got right — or at least tried to get right — was treating women as equals to men. Today is a holiday they came up with to underscore that attitude.

Insert joke hear about how International Men’s Year can resume tomorrow.

But seriously, modern society is, well, patriarchal. This is hardly news. And it has been for quite a while. An educated guess as to when men claimed clout and power over women, would be around about the advent of agriculture, six to ten thousand years ago. Harvesting crops required physical strength and, whatever else is true, men are, on average, physically larger and stronger than women.

Bring in politics and religion and you’ve got yourself a self-perpetuating patriarchy.

There’s a mental exercise anyone can do, about determining whether or not you, as a member of a given group, enjoy a privilege that people not in that group don’t enjoy. Is there something that you take for granted, that other people might not even be available to other people? If someone asks for something you take for granted, why should you keep that something away from them? It’s like that one verse from the Phil Ochs song, “Outside of a Small Circle of Friends”:

Sweating in the ghetto with the colored and the poor
The rats have joined the babies who are sleeping on the floor
Wouldn’t it be a riot if they really blew their tops?
But they’ve got too much already, and besides we’ve got the cops!
And I’m sure it wouldn’t interest
Outside of a small circle of friends….

But that song isn’t really about feminism as much as it is other forms of privilege.

There are issues that women have to deal with. That’s not to say that they’re not men’s issues, too, but they disproportionately impact on women, so we need to be made aware of the fact that it happens. Privilege is when you take something for granted so if you don’t know about a given problem, you can’t really be prepared to solve it.

One thing I do think, though, is that there’s no such thing as a purely “women’s” issue. If it affects women, it affects me. Take, for example, my position on rape, which I have expressed on more than one occasion. That said, I don’t think I can understand the trauma that comes from it anywhere near as well as a woman who has gone through the trauma, can. This is why, when it comes to raising consciousness about matters, we need to hear people most directly affected. And just like the Phil Ochs song above, there are songs to help us raise awareness of the issues. So how about this one?

Of course, that might be one of the best-known consciousness-raisers out there. There’s another song that is just as effective. It’s a scary theme, to be sure, but it’s the kind of thing we need to hear if we want to improve ourselves. I just love this song…

(Note that, if you recognize that voice but not the name, she’s the original Maureen from Rent.)

Of course, rape and child abuse aren’t the only issues that affect women. There’s a third topic — domestic violence — that needs to be addressed. I vacillate back and forth as to which is more pernicious: rape or domestic violence. The former is often a one-time trauma that devastates the person emotionally (and likely physically). The latter is a continual trauma that can be just as devastating, but recurs far too often for anyone to be comfortable with. And this may be the best consciousness raiser for that topic:

Maybe, just maybe, in honor of International Women’s Day, we could all just raise our awareness of these three problems. They’re certainly not going to go away if we ignore them.

GMO’s Again

There was an article on alternet last summer, which stated that the five most awful atheists are Sam Harris, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Penn Jillette, S.E. Cupp, and Bill Maher.

I think the biggest mistake the article makes ipls that it conflates atheism with scientific skepticism. It’s certainly true that there’s certainly no shortage of overlap between the two worldviews; something like 95% of all scientists are atheists. Of course, not all atheists are scientists (that includes me; I had a very bad experience with my physics teacher in high school that kind of soured me on science as a discipline…)

Bill Maher is fairly unrepentant in his animus towards organized religion and has only recently referred to himself formally as an atheist. (He had previously called himself agnostic). And he’s a great example of the lack of overlap between the two worldviews. I have written before about how I perceive Bill Maher’s take on medicine. He hasn’t said much about medicine in recent years and has taken on a new cause: the opposition to Genetically Modified Organisms or GMO’s, specifically as pertains to our food supply.

And I couldn’t disagree with him more about this. Through some form of selection or another — be in natural selection, selective breeding, artificial selection, or agriculture, by definition everything we eat, has been genetically modified. Whether it’s in a lab or in the ground, genetic modification happens all the time.

As I said above, I’m not a scientist and don’t pretend to be one, but I understand it well enough to know that genetic modification is the key to feeding a world where populations of plants and animals are dying out, the planet is getting warmer, and human population is increasing.

Simply put: we should not be opposed to GMO’s, no matter what we choose to call them. (I kind of like the term “frankenfood” even though it’s intended to be a fearmongering term…)

Some might argue that growing organic crops is preferable to GMO’s. On a small scale, sure. But you’re never going to be able to grow enough crops organically and feed seven billion people.

I’ve written before about GMO’s and how denial of science is neither a conservative nor a liberal phenomenon, as the following clip from last weekend’s Real Time with Bill Maher will attest. I have to forewarn you if you watch it: it’s painful to watch or even listen to. It’s kind of aggravating how close he comes to getting “it” but then swerves away on an anti-GMO kick.

Of all of Bill Maher’s “New Rules” I think this is the most painful one to listen to.

Now, I can acknowledge that Monsanto has done some shady things in the realm of patenting its processes, and for that they do deserve criticism. But that is an argument for patent reform. To use its patent-trolling penchant as an argument against GMO’s is essentially an ad hominem attack. Except, of course, Monsanto isn’t a human being. (But they are a person in the eyes of the law…)

Bill Maher has the right to his views and opinions. And it’s stuff like this that put him on the list of the five most awful atheists. But his position on this has nothing to do with whether or not god exists. It just shows that he’s not a scientist.

Then again, neither am I. Is the only thing keeping me off of that list, the fact that I’m not famous?