Thursday, January 22, 2015

The Cavalcade of People who Saw and Did Nothing

Posted By on Thu, Jan 22, 2015 at 6:00 AM

I've been following the Vanderbilt rape trial, which is somehow exactly as bad as all the news stories up until now have made it seem and so much worse than I'd imagined. The rape itself is hard to wrap my mind around. The descriptions of the videos the "alleged" rapists made and the sound is almost unbelievable. Not just that they would do these things, but that they'd egg each other on and laugh about it all while the victim is the human equivalent of a rag doll. She's nothing to them. Not a person whose well-being they might be concerned about. Not even a sex toy they might be concerned about damaging. Just a thing to put things in while they all laugh and take video so that they can relive whatever the fuck this is to them and pass it around to their friends.

That's sick enough. (I keep wondering what it must be like to be those guys' parents. Do you have any inkling this is what your sons, the people you raised from birth, were capable of? Or are you sitting there during the trial learning about a nightmarish part of your son you must have never believed he was capable of possessing?)

But much of the testimony from other students at Vanderbilt has been sickening and disheartening because a lot of people saw the victim that night, saw that she was in some kind of obvious distress (even if they didn't know she'd been raped, they saw that she was passed out and undressed and might need medical attention), and did nothing.

Brandon Vandenburg's roommate testified that he was in the room, asleep, and was woken up by the assault. His response? To go sleep in another room. He saw her being raped and he just left the room. People received video of the rape and their first impulse was not to attempt to aid the victim, but to tell the perpetrators to get rid of the evidence. Everyone was "afraid." They didn't want to get their "brothers" in trouble.

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Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Let Us Break Bread Together: Desegregating Nashville's Lunch Counters

Posted By on Wed, Jan 21, 2015 at 7:00 AM

If you're looking for a way to completely lose yourself for an afternoon, the Southern Foodways Alliance has a new multimedia website, Counter Histories, devoted to the desegregation efforts that took place at the South's lunch counters.

The Nashville film segment is really great and features Linda Wynne, Gloria McKissack, and Matthew Walker, Jr. talking about what happened in Nashville. Walker, I think, does a really good job of getting at the simultaneous excitement and terror protesters felt when preparing to sit-in. McKissack tells a story about a white woman that is really haunting.

It is one thing I always wonder about when I hear stories of people being so wicked or seeing pictures, say, of college students smiling behind Confederate flags while in the audience for black speakers. Those people may still be alive. At the least, there are people in town who look at those photos and recognize the white people in them. Do any of the participants feel any kind of remorse for what they did? Or do they still go on feeling like they took some great stand for "the way things should be"? How do the people who recognize them make sense of it?

The students who chose to sit-in gave a lot of thought to what they were doing. They knew what they wanted and had a coherent, well-practiced, plan for how to get it. Even now, when they tell their stories, they speak really compellingly about why they did what they did and how they did it. Their experience, even as terrible as it could be, makes sense to them and gibes with how they understand themselves as people.

But I have to think that there are a lot of white people back then who did terrible things who now experience themselves as good people. And I wonder if that's because they're still unrepentant racists or if they've searched out forgiveness or if they're just pretending to themselves that they didn't do those things?

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Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Women of Davidson County, Rethink Your Opposition to the Madison Swingers Club!

Posted By on Tue, Jan 20, 2015 at 7:06 AM

I was really disappointed to see some of my liberal friends passing around this petition that is trying to keep the swinger's club, The Social Club, from relocating from downtown to Madison. Okay, fine, let's all take a minute to look at their website and laugh and be uncomfortable.

But then, look again at what they're saying. It's a private club and they lock the doors during their private club time. You and your children are not going to accidentally walk in on something you don't want to see. They heavily stress a kind of sexuality where everyone knows what they're getting into, no one is pressured into doing things they don't want to do ("No Means No ! You Never Have To Do Anything You Don’t Want To !"), people can learn about things they might have only seen on the internet and receive instruction on how to do those things safely, and there are free snacks.

Even if the particulars of swinging don't appeal to you, a bunch of people who are way into teaching others how to have the kinds of consensual sex they want to have while making the people they're having sex with happy is a good thing! Don't we want people to know that sex is wonderful, but that you should make sure that your partner (or partners, in this case) feels at ease with what's happening and is also having a good time?

And why shouldn't they move to Madison? That's how capitalism works. Land downtown, right now, is super-valuable. So, the swingers club moves to a place they can better afford.

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Monday, January 19, 2015

What's Worse? Getting Played by Hucksters or Claiming It's a First Amendment Issue?

Posted By on Mon, Jan 19, 2015 at 8:07 AM

Holy cow, David Plazas's explanation for why he ran op-eds last week from David Fowler and Carol Swain is something to behold. I've now read through it three times and each time it's just funnier than the last.

Apparently, in Plazas's mind, running these op-eds is some great victory for free speech:

An important conversation has started around the world, the nation and Middle Tennessee about the limits to free speech.

Most of the debate has been devoted to free expression following the massacre of 17 people in Paris at the Charlie Hebdo publication, the street and a Jewish deli.


The Charlie Hebdo cartoons regularly lampooned religion and depicted the Prophet Muhammad and the Pope in sacrilegious ways.

In Middle Tennessee several readers have questioned whether The Tennessean should have published a couple of viewpoints this week that they viewed as offensive and bigoted.

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Friday, January 16, 2015

This Goat Situation is Curious

Posted By on Fri, Jan 16, 2015 at 6:00 AM

One time, I took my parents to Lewisburg. I can't remember why, but we ended up driving home on the backroads while I told them about the fainting goats all around the town. This prompted my dad and I to roll down our windows and yell at people's goats, attempting to startle them into fainting. Thus mortifying my mother and proving that I inherited my sense of humor from my dad. We never did get any goats to fall over. That's the extent of my goat knowledge — some of them faint.

So, I'm really intrigued by this Washington Post article, full of maps of where all the goats in the United States live. Look at that swath of goats that runs from Kentucky, through Middle Tennessee, into northern Alabama. Isn't it weird? West Tennessee is pretty rural, too (North Mississippi, for that matter) so why aren't they also heavily populated with goats? Is there some historic reason for that goat blob? Are all goat babies as cute as this goat baby? Is Memphis's relative lack of goats somehow connected to their Satanic school buses?

I might have gotten a little off-track there, but the point stands: We have a lot of goats.

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Thursday, January 15, 2015

Tennessee is Not a Safe Place for Black Men

Posted By on Thu, Jan 15, 2015 at 6:00 AM

The Violence Policy Center sent around a press release detailing how dangerous it is for black men here in Tennessee. According to them:

· Of the 246 black homicide victims, 211 were male, 34 were female, and 1 was of unknown gender.

· Fifteen black homicide victims (6 percent) were less than 18 years old and 6 victims (3 percent) were 65 years of age or older. The average age was 31 years old.

· When the weapon used could be identified, 84 percent of the black homicide victims (184 out of 218) were killed with guns. Of these, 72 percent (133 victims) were killed with handguns.

· For homicides in which the victim to offender relationship could be identified, 74 percent of black homicide victims (112 out of 152) were killed by someone they knew. Forty victims were killed by strangers.

· For homicides in which the circumstances could be identified, 76 percent (106 out of 139) were not related to the commission of any other felony. Of these, 59 percent (63 homicides) involved arguments between the victim and the offender.

Tennessee has the tenth highest rate of black victims of homicides. Like most murder victims in our country, they tend to be killed by people they know during arguments, with guns.

The Violence Policy Center is devoted to ending gun violence. This is a noble cause and the statistics they provide are horrifying. Plus, in the wake of the #BlackLivesMatter protests, now seems to be a great time to change our society so that black people have the same life expectancy rates as everyone else. Sure, let's do something to prevent needless black deaths.

But here's the thing that nags at me. The United States has LOVED keeping black people from arming themselves and disarming them whenever they get the chance. I think it's very clear that the Violence Policy Center is advocating for fewer guns in the United States period, not just getting rid of guns in black communities. But it's also clear that focusing on violence committed mostly by black people against black people gives the impression that black people are somehow uniquely violent. But, Tennessee, in general, regularly has some of the highest gun violence rates in the country.

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Wednesday, January 14, 2015

David Fowler is Very Concerned about Your Fertility

Posted By on Wed, Jan 14, 2015 at 6:00 AM

David Fowler, President of the Family Action Council of Tennessee, and Doug Barth, former council for the same, have an editorial in The Tennessean. It's more of Fowler's famed incredibly creepy busybodying, but there are a couple of bright spots.

First, I'm kind of tickled to learn of the existence of Doug Barth, because I had thought that FACT was just David Fowler and all the people who couldn't figure out how to get off his mailing list. But no! He has a friend who shares his interests. His incredibly creepy, very nosy interests, but, you know, even people who give you the heebie jeebies shouldn't be alone in the world.

Second, this editorial makes it clear that even Fowler has figured out that being a mean creepster can only go so far. People will tolerate a lot of creepy, but they get tired of mean. So, here's Fowler, trying to appear like he's understanding about gay people — "As those who believe that marriage is the name given a unique relationship in nature between one man and one woman, we still could not help but feel the tug of heartstrings when reading the recent op-ed ("Help us gain protections straight couples get") by Ijpe DeKoe and Thom Kostura."

Aw, their heartstrings were tugged. It's only taken decades, but I'm glad DeKoe and Kostura could reach them.

Still, whoa, doggie, the rest of the editorial is just weird as fuck. I mean, when you've spent four paragraphs obsessing about how "only sex between a man and a woman can naturally, and unintentionally, lead to a child," you're kind of giving the impression that you spend a lot of time thinking about people who are not you fucking and that you really like to tell other people all about it.

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Tuesday, January 13, 2015

How to Save What We Love

Posted By on Tue, Jan 13, 2015 at 6:00 AM

There was a big victory for Nashville preservationists on Monday when National Trust for Historic Preservation named Music Row a National Treasure. Over at the Nashville Business Journal, E.J. Boyer explains what this means:

The National Trust will bring its 60 years of expertise and resources to continue to raise awareness of Music Row's importance and the growing threat to its survival. Activities include researching and documenting Music Row's 60-year history and developing strategic plans to ensure Music Row's sustainability as a center of culture and creativity.

This is great news. We can't wait until the wrecking ball shows up to save our city's treasures. If something is important to us, we need to identify it as such and then work with the owners to preserve it long before developers come along. Plus, I think what the National Trust gets is that we need to have a narrative about the places we want to save — something that helps other people understand what's so special and why these buildings are worth having around.

Music Row would seem like a no-brainer, but, as we've seen, pretty drastic changes have already come to the area. So, figuring out how to save what we still have, if it can be saved, is a worthwhile goal. It's exciting to see the big guns being brought in so that we can accomplish that.

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Monday, January 12, 2015

What Happens to Republicans when Whole Families Move Here?

Posted By on Mon, Jan 12, 2015 at 7:00 AM

It often makes me laugh that I'm considered some kind of unreasonable far-leftist here in Tennessee. When I visit friends up north, I'm about as middle-of-the-road Democrat as they come. Probably more centrist than leftist. None of my political beliefs change in the car ride home, but I magically become more and more liberal, just by virtue of the whole political scene being more conservative here in Tennessee.

My Michigan uncle, with the signed, framed picture of George Bush, who watches Fox News religiously and who even calls himself "your conservative uncle," would, I'm sure, find himself moving from the center-right of Michigan Republicans to the more progressive wing of Tennessee Republicans, if he moved down here. Not through any change in his beliefs — good luck getting a Phillips to change his or her mind on anything—but again, just because the whole framework shifts around you.

So, I read this story in The Tennessean about how whole families are moving here—parents, married children, maybe a cousin or two. It's an interesting phenomenon.

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Thursday, January 8, 2015

This is Not Paris, We are Not Charlie Hedbo.

Posted By on Thu, Jan 8, 2015 at 6:00 AM

On Wednesday, gunmen entered the offices of the French satirical magazine, Charlie Hedbo, and opened fire, killing a dozen people and wounding about that many more. On Twitter, Wes Hartline is all "I'm curious what response @Tennessean, @NashvilleScene, @memphisnews, @TimesFreePress, etc have for us re: Charlie Hebdo attack in Paris..."

I don't speak for the Nashville Scene. I haven't asked anyone else at the publication their opinion. I don't know what their response is. But Hartline's tweet really irritates me. Because, I think that conservatives think this is supposed to be some kind of wake-up call to people like me and publications like this. Don't we now see that they were right all along about Muslims? Aren't we finally ready to be afraid of them and to concede that holding out hope that we can all be good neighbors to each other was stupid?

I am already afraid, or at least more cautious than I used to be. Not of Muslims. I mean, frankly, I wish the problem were Muslims, because in Middle Tennessee they're pretty easy to find and keep an eye on. Throwing myself into Islamophobia would be a great luxury. Woo, I have nothing to fear but this small group of people who don't live anywhere near me and who seem to have no beef with me!!!

I don't piss off Muslims. Or, if I do, not enough that any of them bother to tell me about it. When my brother jokes about buying me a gun to defend myself from the people who read "Pith" and hate me enough to let me know, he and I are imagining people who look like me, who go to church as regularly (or more regularly) than I do, who have a lot in common with me culturally.

Living in Tennessee, steeped in this history, surrounded by all y'all, it's really hard for me to see the problem as "those Muslims." Muslims didn't so thoroughly destroy the Memphis Free Speech newspaper that not a single copy of any edition of the paper still remains; that was people who looked like me and who didn't like what was printed in that paper (and I've no doubt that mob would have killed Ida Wells, the editor of the paper, if she'd been in town). It wasn't a Muslim who sent a bomb to Vanderbilt University and severely injured Janet Smith, because he didn't like the work that Patrick Fischer was doing; it was a white guy.

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