Thursday, November 30, 2017

Harass Is One Word

The Confusion in Responding to Sexual Harassment:

As accusations of sexual misconduct against famous men accumulate, the sheer quantity of dispiriting news is starting to create a confusing blur. The task of responding to sexual harassment and assault feels simultaneously more urgent and more daunting than ever.
Society is out of practice at this task; the same culture of silence that protected harassers also suppressed the public response to their crimes. Many people struggle even to know which questions to ask, and worry that if they ask the wrong ones, they might become part of the problem.
There is a temptation to simplify matters by viewing all harassers and their offenses as equally awful, or, alternatively, as equally misunderstood. But to be fair and effective, any system needs to make distinctions: to sort Harvey Weinstein from Roy Moore; and Louis C.K. and Matt Lauer from Al Franken.
The legal system, while quite different from the court of public opinion, offers principles and reasoning that we can use to evaluate each case as it flares.
It's difficult to get people to understand this, that sexual harassment, like sexual assault, lays on a continuum of seriousness and degree of damage, and is not, by any measure, a black and white issue. Sexual assault, for example, between intimates (so-called "date rape") is fundamentally a different crime than stranger-to-stranger rape. Yes, both are crimes, and yes both are rape, but the continuum regarding mens rea runs the gamut. 

Similarly, what some of these celebrities, politicians and actors have been accused of is different from what others have been accused of. But the simplistic, knee-jerk reaction to lump all of these men into the same category, to demand that the victim "automatically be believed," or to even hint at questioning the motives or veracity of the allegations, is to create a kind of black/white myopia that is setting us up for a "red scare" counter-reaction that promises to be equally as simplistic and troubling.
Until recently, all of those accused, no matter the severity of their offenses, faced the same consequences: generally none. Protected by their power and authority, they kept their careers and reputations intact.
As that begins to change, some worry that we might bungle the job. “Taking harassment seriously also requires making serious distinctions,” Jonah Goldberg, a conservative columnist, wrote recently for The Los Angeles Times. “And yet Franken’s name is routinely listed alongside Moore’s and Weinstein’s.”
Masha Gessen, writing in The New Yorker, worried we may be on the verge of a “sex panic.”
Jane Curtin, a comedian who is a friend and former colleague of Mr. Franken’s, compared the current atmosphere to McCarthyism. “It’s just like the red menace,” she said in an interview with The Times. “You don’t know who’s going to be next.”
Many of those accused have lost their jobs, but for the most part, they are not facing legal consequences. 
Many have, yes, but the distinction between sexual harassment/assault allegations in the world of politics, and allegations everywhere else, is striking. In the world of politics, the allegations themselves are politicized and partisan tribalism used to insulate the accused and demean the accusers. That Rubicon seems to have been crossed in the 2016 election and is still rampant today, in both major parties. But everywhere else accusations surface, the free market seems to be meting out justice in a much more effective manner.
As more men are tarred as bad actors, and once-cherished public figures become pariahs, imposing responsibility can feel uncomfortable, even alarming.
People worry that we are sliding down a slippery slope to neo-puritanism, or in the throes of a witch hunt for sexual impropriety. Perhaps it will turn out that we are. But social science research suggests that this discomfort is a natural consequence of shifting social norms, not necessarily a sign that the changes are going too far.
Humans are wired to conform to group judgments. Dan Kahan, a professor at Yale Law School, argued in an influential paper that we rely more on our peers’ opinions than on actual laws to determine what behavior is right or wrong.
In the famous “conformity study” by the researcher Solomon Asch, a majority of participants chose to select a clearly incorrect answer to a question rather than defy the group and cease being a peer in good standing.
Actually, this misrepresents the Asch study (along with Milgram, Zimbardo, et al). Those experiments were more about obedience than they were conformity. What they discovered is that the power of the social situation can be made powerful enough to get otherwise intelligent people to suspend what they know to be right in order to go along with authority figures and group norms (the motivation for the experiments was understanding Nazi Germany and how so many people participated in the atrocities of the Holocaust). 

It sounds like conformity, but they were measuring something much more sinister: the power and willingness of normal people to go along with authoritarian leaders, even those suspected of being illegitimate, and to engage in behaviors up to and including doing harm to others.
Meanwhile, the old norms of gender roles and hierarchies have not disappeared, and may conflict with new demands for accountability. There is no safe harbor of conformity to be had.
It would be convenient if doing the right thing were easy. But bringing long-hidden harms to the surface cannot help disturbing the status quo. Accounting for years of wrongdoing is costly, and dismantling hierarchies that fostered harm can lead, in the short term, to chaos. Now society must decide how many of those costs it is willing to bear.
Again, yes and no. I think in this privileged world of media, Hollywood and politics, whose perpetrators and victims are largely privileged white men and women, there may indeed be a "reckoning" going on.

But there has been little to no coverage of sexual assault in low income communities, among victim populations who are disproportionately women of color, and in non-glamorous industries like domestic work, fast food, retail or construction. Also missing: the male victims of sexual assault and harassment. 

These stories of Hollywood actors and Big Media celebrities doing bad are salacious but un-relatable for most people. The one thing Big Media loves to do is navel gaze, so when it's one of their own under accusation, the coverage is relentless.

Frankly, until the every-day stories of assault and harassment in the every-day work world start getting the same coverage, there will be little, if any, "national reckoning" or norm changes or cultural shifts taking place. Because also lacking in any of these lurid stories, or the lurid social media reaction to them, is the call for strengthening sexual harassment and assault prevention and education. In social media, the torch and pitchfork crowds demand heads, and then more heads, and the issues of stopping or preventing harassment/assault are ignored.

I'll defer to former congresswoman Patricia Shroeder, who said the goal of sexual harassment education should be to get men to understand that "the word harass is one word, not two." Until we start educating men, male employees in the workforce, and our boys and adolescent males still in school about what is and isn't appropriate behavior, no celebrity having their head handed to them is going to change a thing.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Cutting Off Your Nose To Spite Your Face

States Suspend Professional Licenses for People Behind on Student Loan Payments:

Fall behind on your student loan payments, lose your job.
Few people realize that the loans they take out to pay for their education could eventually derail their careers. But in 19 states, government agencies can seize state-issued professional licenses from residents who default on their educational debts. Another state, South Dakota, suspends driver’s licenses, making it nearly impossible for people to get to work.
Georgia, incidentally, is one of the 19 that suspend professional licenses for debt collection.
As debt levels rise, creditors are taking increasingly tough actions to chase people who fall behind on student loans. Going after professional licenses stands out as especially punitive.
Not to mention counter intuitive and brain dead. On what planet does it make sense to take away the very means these people have to repay their debts for not repaying their debts? Other than these 19 idiotic states?
Firefighters, nurses, teachers, lawyers, massage therapists, barbers, psychologists and real estate brokers have all had their credentials suspended or revoked.
Determining the number of people who have lost their licenses is impossible because many state agencies and licensing boards don’t track the information. Public records requests by The New York Times identified at least 8,700 cases in which licenses were taken away or put at risk of suspension in recent years, although that tally almost certainly understates the true number.
With student debt levels soaring — the loans are now the largest source of household debt outside of mortgages — so are defaults. Lenders have always pursued delinquent borrowers: by filing lawsuits, garnishing their wages, putting liens on their property and seizing tax refunds. Blocking licenses is a more aggressive weapon, and states are using it on behalf of themselves and the federal government.
And here are the morons and their rationales:
Tennessee is one of the most aggressive states at revoking licenses, the records show. From 2012 to 2017, officials reported more than 5,400 people to professional licensing agencies. Many — nobody knows how many — lost their licenses. Some, like Ms. Otto, lost their careers.
“It’s an attention-getter,” said Peter Abernathy, chief aid and compliance officer for the Tennessee Student Assistance Corporation, a state-run commission that is responsible for enforcing the law. “They made a promise to the federal government that they would repay these funds. This is the last resort to get them back into payment.”
LOL. I'm not sure if this clown has been lobotomized or not, but read that sentence again: "the last resort to get them back into payment" by taking away the very license they need to make payments. Is this something unique to Tennessee logic or, no wait, it's elsewhere.
Two years ago, South Dakota ordered officials to withhold various licenses from people who owe the state money. Nearly 1,000 residents are barred from holding driver’s licenses because of debts owed to state universities, and 1,500 people are prohibited from getting hunting, fishing and camping permits.
“It’s been quite successful,” said Nathan Sanderson, the director of policy and operations for Gov. Dennis Daugaard. The state’s debt collection center — which pursues various debts, including overdue taxes and fines — has brought in $3.3 million since it opened last year. Much of that has flowed back to strapped towns and counties.
Uh huh. So this goof and the one above actually think it's "successful" and a "real attention-getter" (sic) because in some cases debt collections, unrelated to these actual license suspensions according to the Times, are up. 

Frankly, guys like this should lose their jobs and then spend some time rethinking their bottom-feeding "profession" and the lame rationales they use to defend it. Debt and tax collectors are part of a scummy industry that has a long history of such addled defenses like "someone has to do it" and "we're just following orders." Much like the Nuremberg defense, people have been trying to rationalize away this kind of behavior since, well, at least Biblical times. You'll recall, even back then, the only time Jesus allegedly got pissed and went ballistic was with the money changers and debt collectors. Not even the dudes who were crucifying him earned his wrath like the debt collectors did.

For thousands of years they have literally been the worst of the worst. But hey, keep rationalizing bro.
Sanderson countered that people did not have to pay off their debt to regain their licenses — entering into a payment plan was enough.
But those payment plans can be beyond some borrowers’ means.
Tabitha McArdle earned $48,000 when she started out as a teacher in Houston. A single mother, she couldn’t keep up with her monthly $800 student loan payments. In March, the Texas Education Agency put her on a list of 390 teachers whose certifications cannot be renewed until they make steady payments. She now has no license.
Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, who has worked to overturn these laws, called them “tantamount to modern-day debtors’ prison.”
It's not tantamount to, it IS a debtor's prison.  

Look, I don't like people skipping out on their debts anymore than the next guy, particularly if they are going into hoc over things like credit card or gambling debts, or gaming the system via bankruptcy scams, etc. But student loans, frankly, should be forgiven, across the board, in one fell swoop. You want to jump start the economy? Forgive the more than $1.3 trillion in student loan debt which saddles more than 44 million Americans to an average debt of $37,000. Wipe it out and watch the economy explode in growth.

But you know why we won't? Because the U.S. continues to stand alone in the world for penalizing people who want to better themselves educationally. We are the only country on the planet that saddles people with crippling debt for the "crime" of wanting to get smarter and have brighter futures and careers. It disincentivizes education for millions who won't risk taking on the debt. And ultimately, it's just another form of social control that leads to vast uneducated masses who do what they're told (and vote accordingly). The one thing the power-elite fears the most in this country is an educated populace (and the subsequent revolution that might bring with it).

I know, I know, I can hear the "pull yourself up by your own bootstraps" crowd locking and loading right now: "that's a decision they made, why don't they work their way through school like I did, why should they get away with it?" Right, let's keep them just as uneducated and stupid as you are.

I enjoyed watching this exchange the other day, Senator Orrin Hatch lecturing his fellow senators over how back in his day, a hundred years ago, he worked as a janitor to pay his way through law school and didn't need "the damn government" to help him do it.  Classic. He forgot to mention he was on a full scholarship (socialism!) to law school and only swept halls at nights for beer money.

Frankly, you couldn't even qualify for a student loan to go to law school on what a janitor makes today, let alone pay for it outright. But this is the kind of bootstraps thinking that runs the country today when it comes to education and student loans (and healthcare and ...). 

And the fact that state governments are actively involved in denying people the right to work, because of student loan debt, makes medieval Dickensian England look modern and progressive. 

Jesus was right: there is a special place in hell for you debt collectors. See you there.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Today In Stupid

Been in a lull around here lately. I should be writing about sexual harassment, politics, Hollywood, the outrage-industrial complex, pretty much anything serious. But instead, these two stories will have to suffice.

First, parents angry (angry!) at college administrators because they banned alcohol at fraternities and sororities, and that's "ruining their child's" college experience.

Mr. Thrasher, during an interview at The Chronicle’s offices on Monday, said he had heard from other parents who were not as supportive, some of whom had told him that "you’ve ruined my so-and-so’s cultural life."

That sort of backlash, which is sometimes acknowledged privately by college leaders, points toward the role that parents may play in acquiescing in or even encouraging high-risk drinking by students.
Mr. Coffey’s death came at the start of Parents Weekend at Florida State, when students’ families are invited to the campus. At one point during his presidency, Mr. Thrasher said, he was appalled to see parents drinking to excess at a local bar with students, some of whom appeared underage.
"They were doing shots," he recalled. "They were doing the whole deal. I was flabbergasted by that."
Can you imagine being so stupid, so brain-dead as a parent, that you would bitch out your son or daughter's college leaders for banning alcohol at parties? Worse, can you imagine being so idiotic that you go to a parent's weekend and start doing shots with undergraduates, including maybe your own kid, out at bars?

It makes you wonder how junior ever got into a decent school with parents as dumb as this (although the school in question is Florida State, LOL).

Speaking of dumb, THIS GUY:
Police said Dwayne Pope told them he had only three shots of champagne before he was pulled over Sunday after a chase that reached speeds of 155 mph.
But when he stepped out of his car, Alpharetta police saw a man with bloodshot, watery and glassy eyes, according to a police report.
C'mon man. Three shots or three BOTTLES?
An Alpharetta officer was traveling southbound on Ga. 400 near Mansell Road about 3 a.m. when Pope’s car flew past her at more than 105 mph, according to the report. The speed limit for that highway is 65 mph.
LOL. Can you imagine the officer's reaction? What the what?

The officer followed Pope past the Mansell Road exit, activated her emergency lights and siren and attempted to pull Pope over. 
It didn’t work. 
Pope eventually reached 155 mph and was weaving in and out of traffic and braked several times without stopping, according to the report. 
Out of nowhere, police said Pope braked abruptly near the Northridge Road exit and went from 150 to 0 mph in a matter of seconds. 
Pope, who police said smelled of alcohol, told the officer he hadn’t heard the sirens or seen the blue lights.
I guess if you're driving 155mph, you probably don't see or hear much of anything.

It's amazing dude could reach those top speeds being that drunk, as opposed to comatose or whatever. But hey, you do you bro.

Thankfully he didn't kill anyone, but I'll bet he woke up with a whopper of a hangover, and looking  back at him in the mirror is all kinds of jail time + fines.

Moral of the story? Freixenet is not your friend.