Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Do Afghan women have free speech?

Thanks to Spinfex Press for posting a link to this intriguing account a the struggles of a feminist newspaper in Afghanistan:
Its masthead claims that it is the first “feminist weekly” paper in Afghanistan. In a highly male dominated society where violence against women is rampant, the word “feminism” sets off alarm bells for some officials. And ringing this bell is a determined 22-year-old woman – Heleena Kakar.

Responding to the inbuilt biases Afghan society has against women, Kakar, the founder and brains behind the paper, is determined to shake up the system.

“One of the major challenges that we are facing is that the government agency responsible doesn’t offer approval for the paper to be registered because of the word ‘feminism.’ We are trying to convince them the word ‘feminism’ doesn’t go against any legislation and law,” says Kakar, who adds that she hopes to lay the foundations for a feminist movement in Afghanistan.
The rest of the post is well worth reading.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Supreme Court to reconsider Citizens United

According to the Washington Post, a recent decision of the Montana Supreme Court  might ultimately result in the US Supreme Court reconsidering its controversial ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. Sounds like good news if it happens. Thanks to Progressive Breakfast for the link to the Washington Post news item.

Update: Mother Jones says that a group in Hawaii thinks they can use the 11th Amendment to overturn Citizens United.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

The feminist general assembly

Cross-posted from The Daly Planet:

At our weekly Mary Daly Feminist discussion group at Church of the Open Arms, we often talk about the Occupy Wall Street movement and how or if feminism in connected to it. On May 17, several cities around the nation held feminist general assemblies to bring feminist goals, vision, and strategy to the Occupy Wall Street movement. Thanks to Occupy Patriarchy for posting two accounts of the feminist GA that took place in Washington Square Park in Manhattan.

One of these posts came from Melanie Butler at the Ms. Magazine blog. Here's a sample:
I arrived to find a diverse crowd of around 300 people. Members of the Occupy Wall Street women’s caucus, Women Occupying Wall Street (WOW), were giving a shout of solidarity to Occupy Maine. The people of Lafayette, Ind.; Bend and Portland, Ore.; Chicago and a handful of other cities were also holding feminist GAs. The Raging Grannies sang “Evolution is too slow, revolution’s the way to go!” and things were off to a raucous start. I pitched in with a paintbrush to help record the shared values we were brainstorming–“Trust!” “Creativity!” “Justice!” “Humor!”–and, ignoring my friend’s smirk, embraced the consciousness-raising exercise as though I were encountering it for the first time. After focusing almost exclusively on women’s organizing for the first six months of Occupy Wall Street (OWS), I was happy for the chance to just participate. More importantly, I was happy to see so many new leaders and so many of the elusive “unfamiliar faces” we had spent meeting after meeting trying to attract to the movement.
Sarah Seltzer of The Nation offered a more in-depth analysis of this gathering. Seltzer saw an effort not only to counter sexism within Occupy Wall Street, but also to counter oppressive attitudes within feminist ranks. She also pondered whether this GA might be the start of a new way for Occupy Wall Street to collaborate with other movements.
Aspects of this GA offered a model for how Occupy can work with other progressive movements without accusations of “co-option” on either side. The fact that the organizers of the GA were both new to and familiar with Occupy meant that the attendees came from both inside and outside the movement, an example of horizontalism—rejecting hierarchy—in action. Beyond that, the GA reinforced the notion of Occupy as platform for ideas, rather than organization. The simple act of presenting feminist ideas in the Occupy format--in a public space, welcome to all, mingling with strangers beyond the reach of institutions--was refreshing and inspiring, the opening of a door of possibility, almost like the early days at Zuccotti Park. I realized with a start during the event that I’d never been in a public space that simply existed for feminist-minded conversation before, without a destination or goal or even work-oriented networking.

Will that door of possibility lead to a new coalition or plan for action? That remained unclear. None of the goals mentioned in the report-backs included targeted plans like “organize a sit-in in the US Conference of Catholic Bishops offices.” No specific march or strike or radical art project is in the works, and no one appeared as a representative from an established feminist organization to start building a formal coalition. At this point, the OWS ethos may not mesh with most institutional organizations, and perhaps that’s okay. What the feminists at the GA wanted more than a formal partnership was to keep converging and talking. So the one thing there will definitely be? Another GA.
This is bound to be a complicated and difficult process. I thought I detected from both Selzer and Butler an expectation that Occupy Wall Street and its feminist participants would eventually reach consensus on a complete range of goals. I don't think this is going to happen.

My own feelings about this are contradictory. On the one hand, I would join Selzer and Butler in wanting to push OWS to support women's reproductive freedom. The idea that abortion rights are "too divisive" and can be ignored just doesn't sit well with me. Besides everything else, reproductive freedom is a basic economic issue.

On the other hand, both Butler and Selzer take for granted that support for "transgender rights" is something that there is, or should be, a feminist consensus to do. I find myself balking there, because I believe there is a still a substantial segment of the feminist movement that sees the gender system itself as oppressive. We see the goal as eliminating gender entirely, not reforming the gender system to make it "more diverse."

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Censorship or editorial judgment?

Occupy Together has posted on Facebook a controversial TED talk given by venture capitalist Nick Hanauer. Hanauer says it's a mistake to claim that increasing taxes on the rich will interfere with job creation. He calls this "an article of faith for Republicans" that is "seldom challenged by Democrats."

Jobs are not created by rich people or by capitalists, Hanauer argues, but by a "circle-of-life" type of "feedback loop" between consumers and businesses. If ordinary consumers don't have the resources to make purchases, no jobs are created. Capitalists such as himself only hire more workers as a last resort after demand has increased so much that more workers are absolutely necessary. If tax policies adopted in the US since 1980 that favor the rich really worked, "we would be drowning in jobs."

TED originally failed to post Hanauer's talk, as reported by Ezra Klein and GeekWire. A National Journal post said that TED decided Hanauer's lecture was "too partisan." TED curator Chris Anderson insisted that this was not a matter of censorship, but of editorial judgment, then released the Hanauer video so that viewers could judge for themselves.

I thought that Hanauer gave a vivid description of a fairly standard progressive argument about what causes prosperity or unemployment. What do you think?

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Standing her ground

Many people have understandably questioned Florida's "stand your ground" law, which says that a person who is being attacked may use deadly force without being required to retreat first. This is the law that encouraged the killing of Trayvon Martin.

Oddly enough, this law has been ruled not to apply to the case of Florida resident Marissa Alexander, who fired a warning shot into her kitchen ceiling to keep her abusive husband away from her. This sounds like a case in which most sane people would feel that no criminal charges would be appropriate, especially since Ms. Alexander didn't actually shoot her attacker. Why then, is Ms. Alexander facing a sentence of 20 years in prison? I found this interesting and thoughtful video discussion on Web site.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Do no evil?

Okay, I really need to quit writing blog posts and get seriously to work on my term paper about open access journal publishing for my library management class. But I think this post from Jaqui Cheng on Ars Technica is worthy of note. Google is negotiating with the FCC over the amount of the fine it will face for "unintentionally" bypassing privacy protections on the Safari Web browser. Reader comments on this post make much of Google's continuous violations of its own motto, "Don't be evil."

This caught my attention because it was so closely related to the subject of my most recent post. Although I didn't mention it, David Sirota used Google to illustrate his concerns that folks who store material on the cloud could lose important rights to their work.
As The Los Angeles Times reported, Google’s announcement of its “Google Drive” came with the promise that users will “retain ownership of any intellectual property rights that you hold in that content.” But when you save files to Google’s new hard-drive folder in the cloud, the terms of service you are required to agree to gives Google “a worldwide license to use, host, store, reproduce, modify, create derivative works, communicate, publish, publicly perform, publicly display and distribute (your) content” as the company sees fit.
As Sirota notes, Google has an innocent explanation for this--they insist they're merely getting your permission to allow you to share your stored material with others. But keep in mind that Google, like Facebook and other "free" online services, makes its profits from mining and selling our personal information. Maybe it's time to reconsider whether this kind of "free" is a good deal.

Partly cloudy?

Over at Truthdig, David Sirota has this interesting essay about cloud computing and how you might surrender rights to your own work by storing material on the cloud.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Raspberry Pi

I want one of these. It's a tiny little computer that costs $35 and runs Debian Linux. A person needs a power adapter, a USB keyboard and mouse, a compatible monitor (or t.v.), and an SD card bigger than 4 GB to make it all work, so the total cost would be a bit higher.

Of course, I could probably have just as much fun playing with the various old computers I already have lying around the house. The really fun thing would be to find a similar variety of Debian Linux that would run on my existing obsolete machines. But the Raspberry Pi is made by a nonprofit organization with the goal of inspiring kids to do computer programming, so I may eventually decide to get one. Apparently there's quite a waiting list, anyway.  Unfortunately, the hardware is not open source, but it still seems like a cool project.