Tag Archives: justice

On Chelsea Manning, Whistleblowers, and Circuses

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President Obama just commuted Chelsea Manning’s sentence and she’ll be out in spring. This is good. What she did was heroic and she exposed a crime which the United States was committing. She was sentenced excessively compared to many whistleblowers before her, this despite essentially admitting to all charges and facing the consequences head on in a plea bargain without any real bargaining. As for Snowden and Assange, I tend to be more on the side of the United States when it comes to explaining the difference between Manning and the likes of Snowden and Assange. Chelsea Manning faced the consequences of her actions. As much as I appreciate what Snowden did, he eventually escaped to Russia. What he did was courageous, and he was definitely facing a world of torture if he stayed in the United States, but he didn’t really face the consequence of his actions. It would be very hard for the US Justice Department to pardon someone who flagrantly escaped justice. Maybe it’s the cruel Roman Catholic in me, but it’s very hard to make a saint out of someone, when they didn’t suffer martyrdom.

And as for Assange, he is currently not facing any charges from the United States. He is hiding in an embassy from rape charges. They could very well be drummed-up charges designed to silence the founder of Wikileaks or perhaps influence the media outlet, but the recent actions of Wikileaks already has me and other people suspecting that government powers have already influenced Wikileaks. (Notice how Hillary Clinton’s e-mails have essentially stopped leaking after the election?) His recent reneging of his offer to go to the US and face any charges once Chelsea Manning was set free also shows what type of character Assange is. I’m with Christopher Hitchens on Assange, he is an “unscrupulous megalomaniac with a political agenda.” Sure, some of the information from Wikileaks has been very important for freedom of the press, but for Wikileaks to somehow positions itself above all scrutiny and somehow act as the bastion of all truth-telling, it makes it all the more useful tool for political manipulation be it from Assange or other forces.

And really, God help the people victimized by powerful men, regardless of political affiliation. If the rape allegations against Assange happen to be true, imagine being one of the victims seeing Assange’s face on television. I have a problem with people facing accusations and later dealing with the stigma of being a rapist. This is why I never bought in to the Mattress Girl and her campaign. But I also have a problem with people skirting the justice system and not settling the matter at hand.

Anyway, I’m sure with Trump and his supporters warming up to Wikileaks and the Russians, Snowden and Assange have a better chance of getting pardons in a couple of days. That is, as long as Wikileaks doesn’t release any harmful information against the Trump administration. But if Wikileaks didn’t challenge the government and release any information on the Trump administration within four years, would they still be Wikileaks?

The Ringling Bros. Circus is closing down after over a century of being in business. This is all good news. It’s a bit sad that the circus is basically going extinct and along with it, many skills and artistic acts, but such is life. We’ve also moved on from vaudeville and burlesque acts. Many people are celebrating it because of the circus’ history of abusing animals, but I’m happier with the fact that with the circus dying, this means fewer children will be learning to be circus performers instead of focusing on their education. I know this is not really the case with the Ringling Bros., but I once saw a Chinese circus, and as amazing as many of the acts were, it was really depressing the number of children or young adults performing in the show. These kids should be at home studying, instead of risking their necks for a few dollars.

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You’re losing me, online news.

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Here’s to Tommy Douglas, a great Canadian hero. Because of him, Canadians’ taxes actually go to healthcare instead of just meaningless wars.

I no longer get my news anywhere but online, but seriously, these news sites that aggregate news stories need to get away from the click-bait and the ideology-driven model, otherwise they won’t last as long. I have a very rough relationship with The Huffington Post. The Daily Beast and Salon have already lost me. Now and then, Breitbart.com would have a story worth reading, but most of the site is ideologically driven garbage. There were fears in the west that Aljazeera would mostly be pro-Islam, pro-Palestine propaganda, but ironically, they’ve been pretty unbiased with the materials they publish online, definitely better than CNN.com.

Let’s look at Salon.com. Now I consider myself a feminist, but they’re “new feminist” agenda is getting ridiculous. An inordinate amount of stories are bent to become feminist related articles even on issues that aren’t or shouldn’t be seen from a feminist standpoint. Just recently, the singer Kesha accused her long-time producer of sexual harassment. She signed an exclusive contract with him and Sony and is thus obligated to work with him and produce six more albums. Her producer claims the allegations are just a ploy for her to get out of her contract. Now, I would give her the benefit of the doubt if she didn’t deny any rape allegations herself back in 2011. A simple Google search would provide that information, but instead, Salon.com ran article after article of Sony “forcing” the singer to work with her producer.

Kesha filed for an injunction against her producer and Sony, but the judge in the case, not seeing any evidence of sexual abuse, rejected her claim. Unfortunately, the judge inartfully worded the judgment, saying that it was “my instinct to do the commercially reasonable thing.” Instead of saying that, she should’ve said that contracts cannot be annulled based solely on allegations. There was no evidence of sexual misconduct, and the burden of proof for sexual harassment is already lower than most crimes. If the judge allowed the injunction, it would have set the precedent for women to just make allegations in order to get out of what were normally binding agreements.

This was not a feminist issue. It wasn’t people ignoring the pleas of victims of sexual crimes. It was the law acting as it should, basing decisions on evidence and not on ideology. For the media like Salon.com to treat this as an example of miscarriage of justice not only betrays their role as journalists, but it also does a disservice to real feminism. Not to mention, it also tars the name and damages the livelihood of those who are accused of sexual allegations without any solid evidence. This was not the first time Salon.com and other online news outlets did this either. The same thing happened with Mattress Girl.

We really should listen and be more sympathetic to victims of abuse, but our sympathies should not cloud evidence or the lack thereof. Look at the Steven Avery case. He’s not the most sympathetic character if you look at his police record and his past behavior prior to getting incarcerated for rape the first time. But it’s exactly the sympathy for the rape victim and the hatred for Steven Avery that cost him eighteen years of his life the first time around. Forget the evidence. Let’s incarcerate the town villain! Then there’s OJ Simpson, some would argue that the social and political climate at the time convinced some members of the population to be on his side, regardless of the evidence of his guilt. (Of course, truly believing that the accused committed a crime versus believing that the case against the accused was proven beyond any reasonable doubt are two different things.)

But then again, this was Salon.com, the same Web site that argued that Magneto, a Jewish comic book super villain, should be black in order to reflect current racial tensions. Because you know, slow news day, so everyone decides to play lawyer and indict a man for sexual crimes on the press.

 

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Legal Porn (No, not that.)

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The New York Post prints a fair share of dumb articles, but three days ago they published a particularly dumb one which touches on something that I just recently watched, Netflix’s examination of the Steven Avery murder case, Making a Murderer. The headline goes: ‘Why Making a Murderer’ is Better than ‘Serial.’ The article, written by Sara Stewart, talks about both investigative pieces like they are entertainment, which to many they are, and she fails to recognize that it’s this same attitude towards both cases that lead to injustices. The cases began in the media, became legal porn, and many people are already too biased to hear any story that would contradict their biases.

Let me quickly counter Ms. Stewart’s five reasons and why they are at the very least moot and at the worst, serves to further harm the justice process.

1. We don’t know anything about the case (Steven Avery’s) already.
-The reason why people watch a documentary is to hopefully learn something new, not to confirm their biases. I’m hoping this was what both producers of Serial and Making a Murderer were trying to achieve. I believe most people know of Bowe Berghdal mostly through conservative talking points. This makes an examination of his case even more necessary.

2. Its (Making a Murderer’s) subject is more sympathetic.
-This is the type of laziness that leads to so much injustice. Ms. Stewart must not have heard of the Duke Lacrosse case. Rich, white students were accused of drugging and gang raping an African-American woman at a party. And from the very beginning, it was painted as an example of the excesses rich white men get away with and even as a hate crime. Nancy Grace filled hours of show condemning the accused. It was great legal porno. Unfortunately, the sympathetic victim turned out to be a liar.

Being swayed by sympathetic victims is one of the greatest traps people fall into. Ms. Stewart describes Steven Avery as being more sympathetic than Bowe Berghdal. But I would argue that it is exactly this sympathetic bias that got Steven Avery into bigger trouble. Isn’t the zeal for justice for Teresa Halbach a perfect example of the Missing White Woman Syndrome? The volunteers combing an area, the media coverage, the aggressive police action, etc.  It’s like whoever murdered Ms. Halbach took Criminology 101. She’s one of the most sympathetic victims of all.

3. Its (Making a Murderer’s) subject gives firsthand interviews.
-This is just silliness. Comparing the availability of both subjects in wildly different contexts is just dumb. I suppose Sarah Koenig could’ve just gone to Afghanistan to interview Bowe Berghdal while he escaped. Unfortunately we don’t live in such a fantastically ridiculous world.

4. There’s a wealth of archival footage available.
-Ms. Stewart seems to lament that there’s not enough footage of Bowe Berghdal as opposed to the court footage, local news, and police reports that’s available for Steve Avery’s case. I would argue that Ms. Koenig actually took some restraint in not using the wealth of material slamming Bowe Berghdal and essentially convicting him prior to being tried and his reasons for leaving examined.  But doing so would be extremely lazy and basically going through what everyone has already been exposed to. What Ms. Koenig is doing with the “unpopular” Bowe Berghdal might not be as good as “entertainment,” but entertainment is just one part of what Serial is trying to do. It is also trying to inform its audience.

5. It’s (Making a Murderer’s) literally easier to hear.
-Again with apples and oranges. One is a ten-part documentary which most people can and will binge-watch, while the other is an ongoing radio series. It’s the visual media versus the theater of the mind.

I don’t mean to write an examination of a dumb New York Post article, but my frustration from seeing the story is basically the same thing that frustrates me with many legal stories, and it’s something that I admittedly am quite guilty of as well: treating these cases like legal porn. It’s all drama. The characters are just mere characters, not real life people. People opine on whether Casey Anthony, Jodi Arias, or OJ Simpson are guilty or not, but what often gets lost are the web of people they are connected with. Steven Avery is portrayed as some sort of villain in 1985. No one would have guessed that it would later start a domino effect which lands his nephew in prison.  Bowe Berghdal is talked about simply as a deserter… but his issues regarding the military and how it treats its own troops is forgotten entirely. Lots of people become self-satisfied legal experts just watching legal drama on the sidelines, not realizing that it sometimes feeds into the injustice that is fueled by the media (Hello again, Nancy Grace).

Ms. Stewart writes as if she sees both Serial and Making a Murderer as entertainment pieces, which to most of the public they are, like numbers on a Nielsen ratings scale.  They really shouldn’t be, and we should stop talking about them as if they were. These people’s lives are not being ruined by the justice system simply for our entertainment. I would like to think there is more to them than that.

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Talking About Rape Badly

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Congratulations on graduating, Emma Sulkowicz! Now, can we stop tormenting someone who was exonerated?

Now, there is one thing for standing against misogyny, but there is also harassment. There is also, bullying. And while Emma’s story is one of a girl standing up against her rapist and the institution that won’t allow for justice, there is also the story of Paul Nungesser, the accused rapist, someone who has been bullied and labeled a “rapist” despite there being zero proof other than accusations. She has a very compelling story of rape. But an interesting story is just that, an interesting story.

Then there are the text messages. Emma and Paul had a consensual, casual, sexual relationship prior to the “rape” incident. This amiable relationship continued for a couple of months after the incident. There are Facebook messages that show Emma initiating contact with Paul several times in a friendly manner. These are messages that she herself has corroborated. She offered to provide deeper context to the messages, but has since retracted that offer. As far as I can tell from the media, there’s also no evidence or eyewitness testimony of her changing attitudes after the incident as well.

Being friendly to your attacker does not prove he’s innocent. It doesn’t prove he’s guilty either. In fact, it does not prove anything. All it does is place doubt to claims of rape. And aside from the messages, is there any other evidence that would prove the claim? Mathematically alone it doesn’t look good for Emma. There is one evidence that suggests Paul’s innocence, zero for guilt.

The university didn’t find her claims credible. The NYPD didn’t think there was enough evidence to press charges. That should have been it. While not ideal, that’s roughly how the way justice in the country should work. Someone makes an accusation, authorities determine whether there’s enough evidence for a case, if there’s none, the accused is then exonerated.  The accuser should not be allowed to harass the exonerated party.

Worse, the media should not crucify the exonerated by publicizing the story and insinuating that he got away with sexual assault. The New York Times, Salon, the Huffington Post, Jezebel, the Nation… so many news outlets dug into the story for all of its scandalous bits. They often fail to mention that the accused was exonerated. Perhaps Paul was indeed guilty, and perhaps the university should have done a much better job at investigating the case, but a public flogging is not justice.  We don’t hang people without a trial nor use scarlet letters (yes, there is irony here, but Emma chose to carry her scarlet letter, Paul was given his).

What’s ironic is some people supporting Emma is quick to judge the veracity of her story due to the media they consume and will be equally dismissive of the outlets that would counter her claims. “Who could believe Nungesser when he runs to the Daily Beast?” Of course, this is also a current symptom of people only following news outlets that reinforce their ideology, but saying something like, “who would believe him, his story is from breitbart.com?” is just as dismissive and as close-minded as something a “patriarchal misogynist” would say when countering rape stories. How about examining the counter-arguments regardless of the messenger? (to an extent)

Shame on the university art professor as well for allowing Emma to stage her harassment under the guise of performance art! There is neither art here, nor justice. What little art there was is overshadowed by the possibility of inflicting lifelong torture to someone who was exonerated. Hurting reputations and destroying lives is not art. And as for justice, Emma is not exactly acting with clean hands. I don’t want to underestimate the impact of the “rape victim” label, but for Emma, what other names come with that label aside from what I assume are glowing marks on her art project? Artist? Activist? Feminist hero? I’m not saying that she is not truly a victim, nor am I saying that she made up the whole thing for an art project, but would she be in the zeitgeist if she never lugged around that mattress? This wouldn’t be the first time an artist, in lieu of a lack of talent, would front a cause for publicity.

If Paul was a cynic, instead of hiding, he should’ve countered with a different performance piece, one that highlights the plight of the innocent accused. Just look at the Innocence Project. Doesn’t its mere existence suggest that we as a society have a tendency to rush to judgment regardless the costs?

The friendly Facebook messages and the long period before reporting the incident are countered by Emma’s supporters with a defense that I wholeheartedly agree with, there are no perfect victims. Yes, there are none. While I was never a victim rape (sexual assault and harassment, yes), I have many friends who were, and none of them went to the police. Some stayed in denial, some dealt with it years later, while some don’t even realize they were raped. It takes a lot of courage to immediately report an incident. But the victim’s courage should not overshadow justice for the accused. Accusers should not be immediately given the benefit of the doubt simply because they overcame something tremendous. The justice system still gives benefit of the doubt to the accused, otherwise’ we would be living in Arthur Miller’s ‘The Crucible.’ The goal is to be somewhere in the middle of the two parties, where both the accuser and the accused have equal opportunities.

Feminism is a good thing. We as a society should be doing more to fight for the rights of women. I also believe that incidents of sexual assault are underreported. There should be more support for victims regardless of gender. What troubles me is this new wave of feminism and the surge of “social justice warriors” who overreact to certain social issues or approach them in a manner that is counter to the general good. Feminism is neither a twisted form of egalitarianism (equality of outcome as opposed to equality of opportunity) nor misandry, but you would be confused if you looked at the Internet. The same way newly-converted and superficial feminists are muddying the meaning of the word, so does Emma Sulkowicz harms the feminist movement. Her narrative does not strengthen and support female victims of rape; it introduces more doubts to their claims.

And while people often have no idea of how to talk about rape, lugging a mattress around and crying victim is not the way to go about it either.

Update:

Apparently, she now released a videotape that if you watch with intent counter to hers makes you equivalent to participating in her “rape.”

If she hasn’t lost you before, she should lose you by now.

First off, by releasing something on the Internet, by the very nature of the Internet and of the act, you are giving the public consent to do whatever they want with that information. This skewers the very definition of consent. When celebrities’ phones were hacked and their images were leaked online, viewing the stolen images contributed to their victimhood. They didn’t have any control over very personal images. But when someone “leaks” a sextape, ala Farrah Abraham, then there’s no victimhood. The release of the sextape serves to benefit the ones on video. There is consent, there is benefit. Emma Sulkowicz stands to benefit from the release of her sextape. It’ll keep her in the limelight (thanks to Salon and Huffington Post), feminists will continue parading her as a hero, and she will gain some art cred for whatever its worth.

What bothers me most is that as an artist, you do not control the dialogue. You do not dictate to the viewer that they are wrong for seeing your art one way instead of another. It’s the first lesson: art is subjective. Alot of great works from classical masters are pornographic in nature, but we see them as higher art. And now, to tell viewers that they are viewing a piece wrongly, and worse, that they are essentially rapists by proxy is not art. It’s activism at its worst. It’s what I notice some feminists these days have succumbed to instead of meaningful dialogue. If you don’t agree to their sentiments 100%, which can range from reasonable feminist issues that I myself agree with to frantic misandry, then you are contributing to their oppression.

I refuse to look at the video, but luckily, there have been other news sites that have looked into it and made images or gifs of it. I refuse to contribute more clicks. But let me address some of the questions on her preface:

Searching:

Are you searching for proof? Proof of what? I am not searching for anything. In fact, when I first heard about this story, I wanted desperately to believe Emma and looked for evidence to support her claims. I found none but accusations.
Are you searching for ways to either hurt or help me? Not really. But is anyone helping the accused? No one is perpetuating the stigma of a “rape victim” to Emma more than Emma herself. And in perpetuating that label, she also perpetuates the label of “rapist” to the accused who was exonerated.
What are you looking for? I’m looking for an end to this drama. Sadly, I don’t think it’s gonna happen anytime soon.

Desiring:

Do you desire pleasure? Not from this. I honestly get my sexual kicks from something else.
Do you desire revulsion? Is this to counteract your unconscious enjoyment? See above.
What do you want from this experience? I really don’t want to experience this. But I can tell you want people to either feel guilty for clickbaiting or simply being curious. You put content out there that is designed to titilate and then accuse people of rape by being titilated. This does not help real victims. This does not help the anti-slutshaming fight.

Me:

How well do you think you know me? Have we ever met? This is a dumb counterargument to anything. Think about it. Don’t you think this can be applied to any situation?

Do you think I’m the perfect victim or the world’s worst victim? A victim has not been established yet. If anything, Paul Nungesser appears to be a victim in this case.

Do you refuse to see me as either a human being or a victim? If so, why? Is it to deny me agency and thus further victimize me? If so, what do you think of the fact that you owe your ability to do so to me, since I’m the one who took a risk and made myself vulnerable in the first place? No one has been denied agencies. No one. The school and the police looked at the case. Emma Sulkowicz had the agency to complain anytime after the incident. She had the agency to drag Paul Nungesser’s name in the mud. No one is stopping her from doing anything, including releasing a sextape.

Do you hate me? If so, how does it feel to hate me? I don’t hate Emma Sulkowicz. I’m annoyed. I’m annoyed at the art professors and the art critics that see any of this as art. I’m annoyed at people cynically using “art” as a shield for anything other than art, in this case, a cry for attention and a tool to persecute Paul Nungesser. I’m annoyed at Internet news Websites continuing to use this story as clickbait. I’m annoyed at lazy feminists that don’t examine this issue, believe Emma Sulkowicz without batting an see, and not see how this case is truly counter to their cause. I’m annoyed at people who forget that a person is innocent until proven guilty.

Emma Sulkowicz says that she’s infuriated with the name “Mattress Girl” and wants to go beyond that point. Releasing a sex video referencing rape is not the way to go about it. This is almost trolling for attention. And really, if “Mattress Girl” is infuriating, how infuriating is it compared to the label “rapist?”

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