Thursday, April 24, 2014

And another woman learns to speak up!

Cornell Library, Cornell U., Ithaca, NY.
The title of Jordana Gilman's recent post at the New Agenda grabbed my attention: But first it will piss you off. Yeah, she was quoting feminist icon Gloria Steinem: “The truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off.”

Indeed. And would you believe the truth in question is discovered at the much esteemed Cornell Univesity? But Gilman is not content to just discover the truth; she takes action to right matters:

In an instant, I opened my eyes to the gender inequality in portraits that adorned the walls of my alma mater, Cornell University. I was studying in the nutrition building this past Fall when I glanced up and noticed the faces of three white men in suits watching over me from where their portraits hung. This is despite the fact that Cornell granted the first Ph.D. in nutrition to an African-American woman (Flemmie Kittrell in 1936) and that the female undergraduates of the Nutritional Sciences department outnumber the males 495:190 (from the department administration as of April 2014).

Upon noticing this imbalance in one building, I started noticing the same imbalance in other buildings. Portraits of men hung everywhere, and the rare female portrait was most often a famous man’s mother or wife. Again, this is despite the fact that Cornell University has been admitting women since 1870 and boasts some of the most notable alumnae in a variety of fields. These portraits and the names of the buildings that housed them were sending us clear messages about who is important and valued, and it went something along the lines of wealthy, male, and white. If I asked the average Cornellian today to list some famous alumni, they could easily rattle off the names of the libraries, auditoriums, administrative and academic buildings. They would be naming men. But they would be forgetting Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Frances Perkins, Janet Reno, Pearl Buck, Barbara McClintock, and hundreds of other impressive women of Cornell.

I couldn’t think of a good reason for this besides that portraits reflected who had the money and the power, and I couldn’t think of a good reason for who had the money and the power besides that it was the way it’s always been in our patriarchal society. This seemed less than satisfactory to me.

It’s like Gloria Steinem said, “The truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off.”

 Read more:

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Idaho's big bad anti-wolf political leaders

Reminder:  This is not about the big bad wolf of "Little Red Riding Hood" fame. This is about the big bad human beings (political leaders) in Idaho who are intent on exterminating the state's wolf population. 

This just in from Jamie Rappaport Clark, president of Defenders of Wildlife:

Dear Virginia,
You need to know the truth.
I’ve never seen a killing frenzy as relentless as the wolf slaughter that’s been taking place in Idaho. The latest outrage, the creation of a state-supported wolf extermination fund, truly means no wolf in Idaho is safe.
I am deeply disturbed by the growing number of anti-wolf policies – and by the 466 Idaho wolves killed during this past year alone. And I fear for the many hundreds that will soon follow.
But with your help, we will weather this storm of hatred, ignorance and bloodshed.
Our wolves are a national treasure. Their comeback in the Lower 48 is one of the greatest conservation successes of our lifetime. We’ve come too far to see it all lost due to the anti-wolf hatred of Idaho’s current political leaders.
For nearly seventy years, Defenders has served as the voice of those animals who cannot speak for themselves. And we’re your voice too.
And it will send the wolf-haters a message – that we are not giving up. We are not going away. And we’ll keep fighting until wolves have the protection they need to thrive in our world.
From the bottom of my heart, thank you for your compassion and generosity.

Jamie's Signature
Jamie Rappaport Clark
Defenders of Wildlife

Monday, April 21, 2014

A power outage on Easter 2014 - seriously

Around noon on Easter Sunday, I was planning to have lunch before taking a road trip to visit friends when I opened my refrigerator door and said, “uh, oh!” No light came on. I checked further and the power was off throughout my kitchen. Thinking the problem was only in my apartment, I called the emergency maintenance number and discovered we had a partial outage throughout our 160-unit apartment building.

My status updates on my Facebook page chronicle what followed:

“What an opportune time for a partial power outage in my apt. bldg. It's mainly my kitchen that's out. Injured my right shoulder unsuccessfully trying to move my fridge toward a working outlet. That's the 2nd time this week I've injured that shoulder. Not smart, Virginia.”

“Ventured out of my apt. a while ago and discovered the elevators are down, parking garage door inoperable, etc. We're stuck here on Easter Sunday. And I had planned to drive to southeastern Minn. this afternoon to visit friends. My neighbor, alas, was expecting visitors from Wisc., and she had a ham in her oven when the power went off.

An Easter Sunday to remember...”

“A scary moment just now. I was coping with the partial outage, congratulating myself even, when suddenly all of the power went off. Dead silence. Darkness. "Oh, no!" I exclaimed. I had been passing the time this afternoon reading my Isabel Allende novel. I lit the Zen candle on my table and rose to get a couple more candles from the entryway, hoping they would provide enough light for me to read. Just as I stood up, full power came on. I saw high wattage light this Easter, and truly I rejoiced...”

“A meaningful Easter, after all...

I finished reading Allende's novel at around 11 pm before going to bed on Easter Sunday. And after some TLC, the shoulder I injured trying to move my fridge during the power outage feels much better. By not opening the freezer unit of my fridge, nothing was defrosted during the interval. I'm reminded this Monday morning, the day after Easter, of how much we take for granted in our daily lives, e.g, the availability of electricity - we don't usually notice until it goes missing, and our home suddenly turns silent and dark.

My thanks go to the power company employees who disrupted their own Easter celebration to come to the rescue of my neighbors and me in this 160-unit apartment bldg.”

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Should we fear Facebook, Google, and Amazon fleets of drones?

The Reaper drone.
Over at the NY Times, Maureen Dowd's concerns about behemoths Facebook, Google, and Amazon patrolling the skies over our heads with fleets of drones are valid IMO. Referring to a proposed movie script addressing the issue of drones making pilots obsolete, Dowd writes:

But the producer is missing a more original twist. Instead of unmanned planes controlled by terrorists, the drones could be an army of angry birds amassed by our computer overlords, Google, Facebook and Amazon. Every time one of the tech giants reveals it is venturing into the drone business, the rationale is presented purely as smart business, a benign and even benevolent expansion.

Amazon will be able to drop packages right on your lawn, or even your head. With fleets of solar-powered jet drones, Google and Facebook would be able to expand their customer bases by offering online access to poor and remote areas of the world devoid of telephone wires or cellphone towers.

Read Dowd's entire column here.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

GOP's Budget Priorities

Here it is: the budget priorities set by the Ryan plan approved the other day by the Republican House of Representatives:

From Center on Budget and Policy Priorities

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Alaskan wildlife at risk from potential oil drilling project

 This just in from Leah Donahey, Arctic Ocean and Reserve Program Director:

Dear Virginia,

Urge Interior Secretary Jewell to improve the first oil production in the Reserve. The first round of comments are due April 22 so send yours in today!

Bears, caribou, migratory birds and other wildlife and communities in and around Special Areas of Alaska’s National Petroleum Reserve could be at risk from a proposed oil development project. Help by sending a letter to Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell today.

Conoco Phillips oil production project, called Greater Mooses Tooth 1, would be the first project since the Reserve’s comprehensive management plan was finalized in 2012. 

Thanks to your help, the Bureau of Land Management came up with a plan for our nation’s largest single unit of public land that conserved nearly 11 million acres and called for a balanced approach for future development.  It is critical that the BLM sets a high standard for this and any future oil and gas infrastructure within the Reserve.

The Mooses Tooth project is located in the wildlife-rich northeastern corner of the Reserve near the Colville River Delta, the largest and most productive river delta in northern Alaska. It provides important habitat for caribou, grizzly bears, nearly every species of fish inhabiting Arctic waters, falcons, Steller’s eiders and the yellow-billed loon – many of these birds migrate to and through the United States.

Sadly, the project could negatively impact these critical areas.

Please send a letter to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell urging her to improve this project.

Public comments are due by Earth Day, April 22.
Thank you,

Leah Donahey
Arctic Ocean and Reserve Program Director

Thursday, April 3, 2014

A juror's reflections on the question of "reasonable doubt"

The article below was written by Barbara Raye and is cross-posted from

Barbara Raye is the Executive Director of the

Barbara Raye
I’ve just completed jury duty. The charges were simple robbery and aiding and abetting aggravated robbery. The verdict was guilty on both charges. But the process left me weary and fearful – not for my safety, but for the work ahead. I heard several comments in the process of determining “reasonable doubt” that followed the natural human process of receiving data, making meaning of it from one’s own perspective, and then reaching a conclusion. Peter Senge’s ladder of inference at work in a case study beyond my imagination.

People took their duty seriously and spent several hours over almost two days sequestered together – thinking, reflecting, going over our memories of testimony, and attempting to separate facts from “filling in the blanks.”

However, there were blanks and filling them in was the only way to get to “reasonable doubt.” Did the prosecutor’s presentation of the case “hold up?” Could the evidence be put together in another reasonable narrative? We were limited by our imaginations and life experiences. I left feeling overwhelmed at the degree to which race, race bias, and race imagery in this country defined these essential tools of justice.
One person was certain that the incorrect identification of the second bike at the scene could be explained by a second robber in bagging pants and hoodie that shadowed the bike and made it impossible to be seen. (The defendant did NOT have on these kind of clothes.)

One person determined that there must be a weapon because – as a man – the victim would have gotten up and fought off the two robbers on bikes if there had not been a weapon. That is what any man would have done. When I said that I wouldn’t have done that, and it seemed absolutely reasonable to me that a man would not have fought back under those circumstances. I added that as a crime prevention/self-defense trainer, our advice to any victim would have been to comply – give up the $180 dollars and be safe. The response was that I was a woman so of course I would not have fought back.

Two women were made uncomfortable by the black defendant and how he looked at them while they were in the court room. This reinforced for them that he was …. something …. aggressive, dangerous, mean, intimidating – maybe guilty.

Several became offended when I suggested that the “media imagery” of two black men on bikes at 4:00 a.m. attacking an unarmed white pedestrian and the fear the victim experienced could have created an expectation and perception of a weapon, even if there was not one. In response I was asked to take “race” out of the situation and assume that everyone was white.

I was told that I should not make assumptions about how comfortable or familiar the victim might be in living in a culturally diverse community and being a credible witness regarding description and identification of the offender. “We all have black people in our communities now. They are even in XX.” (a metro suburb.)
The facts lead to conviction – a verdict I supported. But the instructions and challenge about “reasonable doubt” left everyone trying to be “reasonable” based on their own perceptions, fears, experiences, and meaning. They left me in grief and turmoil.

How do we move beyond our own experiences to see options, possibilities, and meaning other that how “we” would (or imagine we would) do it? It felt a bit like failing diversity 101. It felt a lot like complex things made too simple. It illustrated to me the systemic societal racism in our systems. Disparities studies abound. Health disparities, overrepresentation in the justice system, underrepresentation in DBE and hiring – with no explanation but race bias. Yet, these reasonable people tried mightily to take “race” out of the equation.
Perhaps, we should stop trying so hard. Perhaps we need to understand that – in this country – for now – we need to do the opposite. We should modify our personal processes with an understanding that you cannot take out the cultural framework and experience of the people involved when trying to understand what happened – how it was experienced – why they acted the way they acted – and what resolution will hold justice.

It might well have been my white, liberal, guilt that made it so difficult in the first place. I needed to speak and to consider “reasonable” based on my own experiences, just like everyone else. My experiences have included observing/hearing race bias, stereotyping, and fear created by systemic policies and imagery that have harmed the truth about many people. My jury experience didn’t convince me that I could put those experiences aside and believe we now live in a free and just world. There is much work to do.