Monday, May 26, 2014

This Massacre Was a Hate Crime - UCSB, Isla Vista, Feminism and One Alumnus's Thoughts

Friday night there was a stabbing and shooting in my alma mater, UC Santa Barbara. I heard the news via facebook mere minutes after a young man drove through the center of Isla Vista in a black BMW shooting.

For those unfamiliar with the community, UC Santa Barbara (UCSB) is adjacent to an area call Isla Vista which has just shy of 2 square miles of unincorporated county land with no clear governance. In this small beachside community 23 thousand students live – most are UCSB students but there are also community college students from Santa Barbara and other youth also live in the area. As an area with almost entirely student residents and extremely high real-estate prices most houses have 6-8 residents. Isla Vista is known for it’s party life as students have much more freedom there than other universities where there are more individuals living in dorms.

The Beach

But returning to Friday night – as I sat watching facebook and more facts emerged it was clear this wasn’t just random carnage – yet the media has been slow to name this attack as what I see it as: a hate crime against all women.

In a disturbing video that was on You Tube and since taken down the killer, Elliot Rodger, states his intent clearly:

“If I can’t have you girls, I will destroy you. [laughs] You denied me a happy life and in turn I will deny all of you life, it’s only fair. I hate all of you.
—All you girls who rejected me, looked down upon me, you know, treated me like scum while you gave yourselves to other men. And all of you men for living a better life than me, all of you sexually active men. I hate you. I hate all of you. I can’t wait to give you exactly what you deserve, annihilation.”

This is not a standard crime. This clearly wasn’t just about one girl – it was about every member of the community. It was meant to instill fear in all. A hate crime is a usually violent, prejudice motivated crime and this fits the bill.

As the killer’s sexism was called out, online Men’s Rights Activists rushed to say #NotAllMen are like this. However this took the focus away from the fact that even if not all men are killers, all women have experienced sexism, gendered bias and violent attacks like this are common, and the hashtag #YesAllWomen began to trend.

Statements like:
#YesAllWomen bc every single woman I know has a story about a man feeling entitled to access to her body. Every. Single. One.

#YesAllWomen bc “Text me and let me know you got home safe” is standard, necessary and normal.

#YesAllWomen “Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them.” – Margaret Atwood

As a national and international media jumped into the coverage, as an alumni, I instead watched Facebook. I graduated from the Film & Media Studies program and the annual Reel Loud Film Festival meant I could expect many alumni friends were visiting for the weekend. And while there was a gut wrenching shock and fear to think of bullets flying through my community combined with the fear that perhaps I knew a victim – I can’t say I was totally surprised that it could happen there.

As a student at UCSB, my first week was colored with fear. Not of change or being in a new place, but of hate crimes. The first time I picked up the campus newspaper I discovered there had been a hate crime against gay male students. It wasn’t the last time I’d learn of instances of hate on campus.

My first protest at UCSB in the aftermath of hate crimes in 2008 against gay students

As a student organizer I spent a lot of time engaging with uncomfortable dialogs. Whether it was to address homophobia, racism, sexism, sexual assaults, environmental issues or more – UC Santa Barbara provided a space where students voices had many outlets. While many did not engage as much in politics preferring to enjoy the beaches, the party life, focus on academia or other pursuits… those worlds often meshed in odd ways.

Local law enforcement at the “Deltopia” street party in Isla Vista
Students embracing the local party life
Election Day showcases the engagement many students have even though the community is unincorporated
Student organizers working to address racism on campus
While the community was generally friendly and almost any individual was a beer away from being a casual friend, it also wasn’t uncommon that I’d hear slurs like “faggot” directed at gays or “slut” directed at women. When I walked home I’d often call friends to “talk me home” if I didn’t have a friend to walk with.

During the Take Back the Night Protest in which women marched to reclaim the night as safe – several male students yelled rape threats. The very act proved our actions we needed and as much as we craved safety it was by no means present already.

Take Back the Night Protest
Janelle Monae performing prior to the Take Back the Night Protest
In an article for the campus newspaper my senior year I wrote the following:

“The tragedy of the situation is that in I.V., we’ve accepted the norms that allow our streets to be unsafe and our fellow students to be targeted. Even during our celebrations within their designated safe space, we are never fully safe. Often times the problems of Isla Vista are brushed off as some excuse the hate speech as drunken antics and taunts not meant to offend or be taken seriously. However, the reality is the same slurs that are used by drunken folks in aggressive outbursts are occasionally heard in classrooms and on campus, and the oppression from ignoring the severity of the problem contributes to the lack of safe spaces for the queer community attending our school.

Whether spoken in ignorance or malice, hate speech hits a nerve. It makes for unsafe spaces, and verbal harassment leads to the same degradation that enables other types of harassment and assault. In Isla Vista, I often observe the contrasting dichotomy of the sun-soaked ideal paradise and the very real problems that constantly plague the queer community and other minorities. As tempting as it is to ignore reality and enjoy the beachside bubble, we have to address these problems.”

Although this was written specifically to address the hate crime against LGBT students – those words feel far too fitting an applicable for women today in Isla Vista. 

As an alumni I have so many fond memories, strong friendships, experiences that helped me learn and grow. The streets the shooter drove down I’ve walked, biked, and stumbled down many times. I’ve gone to parties at places where I’ve now seen twitter photos of body bags resting. It’s shocking to see the violence but the root cause isn’t shocking. There was always violence against women. There was objectification. There were very real problems regarding rape. The sense of entitlement to others bodies didn’t start in Santa Barbara and is by no means limited to there.

But as the national debate goes on and CNN loops the killer’s video my heart is heavy as I think of the place that was my home.

Last time I visited UCSB was to celebrate the graduation of some of the individuals I was lucky to mentor and share time with. In the Student Resource Building while I was there someone wrote on the wall of the women’s restroom a cry for help. And the community responded with words of encouragement, resources they could go to, reminders that the original writer was not alone. When I think of UCSB I think back to that space often, and two years after graduating the wall was even more crowded with messages of support. The community has never been perfect, but there is support for those in need and a community willing to work to improve itself. Let’s hope that helps the families of the slain and injured in healing.

The notes on the wall of the girls bathroom in the Student Resource Building
Further Reading:

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Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Chris Matthews Speaks At The World Affairs Council, I Remember Why Media Fails

The stage at the fairmont

The real reason for the event, book sales

About a minute away from me asking a few questions.
Chris Matthews, MSNBC's host of Hardball, spoke tonight in San Francisco at the Fairmont where the World Affairs Council held a program with him discussing: "Will Politics in Washington Ever Work Again?" The discussion was moderated by Michael Krasny.

As the World Affairs Council summarized on its website , "Chris Matthews sits down with Michael Krasny to discuss a political heroism that once was and the lessons it offers for today's political climate."

I found this premise flawed. Perhaps I'm too cynical, but I think when you start with the idea the past is better you're taking a rose tinted view that prohibits an even handed critical and grounded conversation. Given the event was hosted by a public radio host and featured a TV news show host, I think evenhanded critical and journalistic coverage would be reasonable to expect. So when the event started with such a flimsy premise it seemed off.

I'm first going to offer my own thoughts on the event which are largely based on a conversation with Mr. Matthews afterwards. But if you watch the video linked to this article you can see some key moments in the evening which I've marked out based on the time stamp when viewing.

After the talk I went to talk to Mr. Matthews as I had a few follow up questions. I waited until after everyone who'd bought books had a chance to purchase a book so I wouldn't be interrupting their experience of the event.

His characterization of the youth of today seemed problematic to me. (During the talk his comments on the reason behind so many uninsured youth put the blame on youth entirely without consideration for unemployment, increases in the cost of living without wage increases, rent increases, student debt increases etc... And when coupled with his advice that youth's role in politics should be helping politicians get elected it displayed an assumption that youth aren't engaged or participating in the process) I asked given the high youth turnout in recent elections coupled with harsher circumstances being the actual reasons for many uninsured and under insured youth, did he actually believe that youth turnout was the problem? And if so how? Especially given the high youth presence both as voters and also on the campaign trail in recent elections, wouldn't that characterization be unfair? Rather than offering a more comprehensive answer or context for his former comments he said "fine we disagree"

His personal response to me was, "Either be a critic or an activist" which I found frustrating as he's a journalist and should be able to answer a follow up question regarding his own comments.
I continued to ask - Okay if we disagree, given that you've got a large platform and claim to care about race and war, could you invite a younger journalist like Rania Khalek (I did name drop her as I think she's a great writer with insights mainstream media could benefit from) on your show when discussing some of these issues so even if you disagree, youth issues can get voiced on those topics?
He asked who she was and what she wrote for, so I explained she's an Independent Journalist who writes on a blog called Dispatches from the Underclass. And if he checks out her work he should be able to tell why I think she'd be a good voice to discuss issues on his show. He replied "I don't like bloggers, who's her editor?"

I mentioned some people would rather NOT work for Comcast or another multinational media conglomeration and thus blogs are an attractive option. Which he rolled his eyes at.
At this point I was a bit taken aback. And I pretty much gave up. The assumption that an editor is needed for content to have value basically says either you're mainstream media or you have no value. Given in his talk he name dropped his agent - the feeling he was more entertainment than news, and less interested in content than personalities was too strong for me to bother continuing. He seemed equally frustrated by me asking questions at all so perhaps it was best that I left then. Which I did...
But the event was well organized by the World Affairs Council in their normal 1 hour forum with room for audience questions - and while I find Mr. Matthew's bias frustrating (much like I find mainstream media bias frustrating) it made me glad that the internet exists and we can find alternative media sources.

If you want to see the video I've marked some highlights....

Most importantly I'd say is at 47:13 minutes into the video where you can watch his own statement on watching media. SUMMARY: (not quote - my comments from here on out will be in brackets) If you get your news from any one of these sites you're stupid; you should seek more information and make up your own mind. While referencing the bias of his network he without prompting brings up the owners to deny they have influence.

At 36:30 you'll see his comments on killing Arabs & Islamic people on TV every night since 2011 as being bad policy.
[I guess Afghanistan and Iraq aren't being counted here? As the US has been at war for much longer... While I agree this is problematic, I also find the abridge timeline he voiced problematic as if he can't remember a decade worth of war, or is only absentmindedly giving incorrect dates it's problematic. Either it's purposeful erasure of history or he doesn't know the history. Unless we give him the benefit of the doubt and assume he's talking only about the Arab Spring and not general US foreign policy - but his voicing would mislead viewers so that is still irresponsible. All in all it makes me question why is he considered the expert? ]

At 37:00 he states, "Trying to find good guys in Syria is very difficult"
[Not sure how well this statement reflects on the millions of civilians being hurt by violence today.]

At 41:20 you can hear his perspective on drones. (Foreign readers, not this justification of military use isn't coming from the government, it's coming from the media so most Americans are receiving this news with a similar bias.)

At 1:03:00 you'll hear his advice to those in their 20s & thing they should look forward to in politics: "Do something yourself and find a politician you believe in and help him or her ... It's not a spectator sport"
[I found this frustrating as it doesn't acknowledge huge numbers of youth already involved ranging from campaign staff on the ground to the folks behind web tactics which have completely changed campaigns]

At 1:13:39 He comments on youth enrollment in "Obamacare" and a few seconds later at 1:14:20 he comments using the assumption youth/younger voters think they're invincible and "want someone else to pay for it"

At 1:22:20 is the shout out to his Agent Ari Emanuel for his highly paid job saying it's a pretty good gig. [I guess this is more entertainment then given Emanuel's agency's focus?]

Overall thoughts on the night:

After meeting someone from a liberal network who claims to care about issues of race and war, I found his analysis on both flimsy at times and his dismissive attitude of youth particularly seems odd given youth are very much effected by race issues, and are often times the soldiers serving abroad. While he made some good points, much of the talk was pretty obvious to anyone watching, reading, or following the news. Regarding the stated topic of political heroism and the lessons from it: it didn't feel like they were discussing lessons learned as much as their version of a better political past with no prescriptive solutions to undo current troubles. However if you're looking for entertainment - he was certainly a watchable character.

 Originally posted on Oximity.

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Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Multimillionaire Sheryl Sandberg wants An Unpaid Intern

Sheryl Sandberg is no stranger to press - according to Forbes she's the sixth most powerful woman in the world and her book Lean In has launched a nonprofit that aims to, "encourag(e) women to pursue their ambitions, and chang(e) the conversation from what we can’t do to what we can do."

Which sounds great - unless you want to work with that organization and receive a salary.
In a Facebook post (that company Sandberg happens to work for...) Lean In's editor-at-large, Jessica Bennett, asked for an intern available to work immediately and through the end of the year in unpaid internship. Although she tried to backtrack on this - screen-captures have preserved the double standard for all to see.

Lean In Intern Wanter
Sandberg personally made $91 million dollars last week in a sale of Facebook stock. However the non-profit is sustained through book sales of Lean In along with donations from Sandberg herself. However book sales were at Number 1 on for a while and Sandberg's donations should be able to help cover at least the women working on spreading her idea.

The Fair Pay Campaign has launched a protest petition asking for Sandberg to pay her interns saying, "Instead of perpetuating the unfair advantages that privilege some women at other women's expense, pay your interns so ALL kinds of women, regardless of their economic background, can take advantage of career-building opportunities like these."

EDIT: According to the LA Times
The fury vented on Facebook prompted Bennett to explain herself late Wednesday:

"Dear What Appears to Be My Entire Facebook Feed: Want to clarify previous Lean In post. This was MY post, on MY feed, looking for a volunteer to help me in New York. LOTS of nonprofits accept volunteers. This was NOT an official Lean In Job posting. Let's all take a deep breath." apparently does not maintain a formal internship program.

This however does not remove my former critique. If Bennett is overworked and unable to complete her job and needs a volunteer/intern to help - that's fine. But I still believe if you're working on the pet project of a multimillionaire on a program to empower women you should be able to ask for the resources needed to cover the true cost of that labor - including the labor of support staff.  Otherwise it reflects poorly on the entire project.

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Sexual Harassment Made this Union drop New York Candidate

Earlier today the Executive Board of 32BJ SEIU unanimously voted to rescind their endorsement of Assembly Member Micah Kellner for a City Council seat.

It was the first time the union, which has 75,000 members in New York City, has ever rescinded an endorsement. The union's members include janitors, property maintenance workers, doormen, security officers, window cleaners, building engineers, and school and food service workers.

In a statement from the Union secretary-treasurer Kyle Bragg said, "Given the allegations against Kellner, we cannot in good conscience continue to support his candidacy, and call on him to withdraw from the race. We are deeply disappointed, and do this with a measure of sadness, but it is the right thing to do."

Kellner made news last month after previous reports of sexual harassment came to light in a NYTimes article. In the article excepts of Internet chats were revealed in which Kellner flirted with his female staffers.

While this report is not anywhere near as explicit as the actions of Anthony Weiner or San Diego Mayor Bob Filner, it is another troubling case of a Democratic politician abusing a position of public trust and making the workplace unwelcome for women. The union taking unprecedented action here in rescinding it's endorsement is a sign that they are not willing to take that risk, and that the personal and professional integrity of candidates needs to apply to women not just in policy, but in their daily lives if candidates want support.

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Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Google Introduces Chromecast - Threatens Apple TV and RoKu with Cheaper Streaming Content

Wednesday Google announced on it's company blog a new streaming device to bring all your favorite web and video content to your TV, Chromecast.

Chromecast has several key features which will make it highly competitive even with competitors already on the market. It's cheaper with a highly affordable price point of $35, it is compatible with phones, tablets, and laptops, it can work with Netflix, Youtube, Google Play with more apps promised to come soon and developers have already been outreached to.

The ability to use Apple products along with Windows products has been sited as competitive advantage, however Apple TV is PC compatible - though alternative smart phones are not cross compatible as they are with Chromecast. With 44% of Americans using tablets, and 84% of tablet web usage on iPads it is much more important for Google to be mobile and tablet compatible with Apple than the reverse.

Apple TV allows mirroring your computer screen so you can view on your laptop screen the same thing you're seeing on your TV which Chromecast doesn't allow. Meanwhile Chromecast allows multitasking so while you can use your phone as a remote control you're also able to continue tweeting, sending emails or whatever else you'd like without it interfering with your streaming content. The lack of a direct mirror feature with the benefit of multi-tasking makes for an expected trade off with Apple having a more controlled user experience and Google offering the more typical PC user experience of greater customization.

Additionally Chromecast has announced a beta feature to allow you to use a tab within your Chrome browser to directly stream to your TV. While Apple TV allows users to use iPhoto or Picasa, if Chrome works well - that opens the door directly to all sorts of web content already available. Unlike the Apple TV model which still users the Apple Store, partner organizations and programs as a gatekeeper on content. This more open ecosystem could prove attractive to those more interested in web-series, niche content, etc. as opposed to the mainstream TV content Apple has already partnered with. (ESPN, NBA, MLB, Sky News etc...) For example Al Jazeera has a live stream one could use this feature to view even though that content isn't available to many US TV watchers.

The Chromecast device is already available for $35 on Google Play, and and it will soon be in Best Buy stores across the U.S. In a promotion almost worth the cost of the divice (two-thirds the cost actually...) 3 months of Netflix (Valued at $23.97) is included.

Comparatively the most popular streaming devices currently are Apple TV and Roku. Apple TV costs $99, and Roku devices cost between $49.99 and $99.99 depending on the model.

Given I personally don't own a TV and already use streaming content on a desktop, laptop, tablet and phone for entertainment - I'm probably not going to be in the market for any of these devices (though my parents do own a Roku box) however I look forward to seeing how this devices challenges Apple along with the reaction of mainstream content providers to compete with the freedom of web based flexible viewing especially given the increasing rise of Netflix as a source of original content.

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