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For real, the snow is coming in sideways right now.

31 January 2013

From like -12c before windchill last week to 14c yesterday to an expected -4c plus wind up to 90 km/h today?  That’s my humid continental climate!  I’ve missed you!

The difference between Toronto and other places I’ve lived is that I’ve gone a week and a half so far without a WHERE’S YOUR GLOBAL WARMING NOW?

Seriously though, I know that certain climate regions inherently have more drastic weather changes than others, and that a few datapoints don’t prove or disprove climate change, but shit is getting ridiculous.  In the past five years, I’ve lived on both edges of northern Illinois, London, south central Texas, and now Toronto.  Within that time frame, all of those places have broken temperature records and/or have been hit by weather–snow storms, heat waves, drought, floods–that killed people and seriously affected the place’s ability to function because that weather has been so uncommon historically that there was no reason to establish safeguards against its effects.  I’ve never been a climate change denier, but I imagine that I’d have a difficult time maintaining that belief after experiencing such extremes of weather fuckery for myself.

Well, this was intended to be a lighthearted post at first, but since I’m clearly no good at that, let’s go full-on doomsday with it:


[Video: Climate change is simple: David Roberts at TEDxTheEvergreenStateCollege]

Things That Need to Stop: Reporting rape as rape, but calling it ‘sex’ a bunch of times anyway

5 January 2013

Ahh, liberal media.

ThinkProgress has published a piece by Ian Millhiser regarding a rapist in California who didn’t actually rape anyone on the technicality that his victim wasn’t married.  This is news that should absolutely be reported and reviled for how ethically bankrupt the US legal system still is in many cases, and it should also not go unnoted that California’s appeals court would improve immediately if everyone involved in the final decision were physically ejected and replaced by a sack of pomelos.  (You are terrible and your supposed ‘reluctance’ does not make you any less terrible, just so you know.)

But wow, are there ‘problems’ with the wording of this piece.  First, let’s observe the quote Millhiser pulled directly from court documents (and therefore is not responsible for the wording of):

According to Jane, she woke up to the sensation of having sex.

When light coming through a crack in the bedroom door illuminated the face of the person having sex with her, i.e., defendant, she realized it was not [her boyfriend] and tried to push him away.

[Rapist-defendant] pulled down her pajama bottoms, got on top of her, and started to have sex. He said she probably thought he was her boyfriend, and when she realized he was not, she started screaming.

(“[S]he woke up to the sensation of having sex.”  I could fucking vomit.  Jesus Fucking Christ you can’t “have sex with” a person who isn’t having it back with you.)

Now let’s look at Millhiser’s text, keeping in mind that he seems to understand that this was rape:

[…] overturned a man’s conviction for rape because the woman he had sex with was unmarried.

[…] the man admits to having sex with the woman while she slept […]

A jury convicted the defendant of rape, although it did not make clear whether he was convicted because he impersonated Jane’s boyfriend or because he had sex with a woman who could not consent to intercourse because she was asleep.

The defendant will be retried and can be reconvicted if a new trial determines that he had sex with Jane while she was sleeping — a likely conclusion given the defendant’s admission that he did so.

(Do I need to say it again? Jesus Fucking Christ you can’t “have sex with” a person who isn’t having it back with you.  If you take one thing away from this post, let it be that.)

Having stupidly read some of the comments, I can already see it coming: “but the author writes about law stuff and he’s saying ‘had sex with’ because the defendant wasn’t convicted!”  First, not convincing.  This particular author may have had that ~*intent*~, but I’ve seen countless news sources call rape sex–even in the same sentence–regardless of the trial results or of other factors like, say, the victim being a child.  There are other ways to phrase it besides using language that inherently implies it was mutual, if it hurts your sensibilities to call rape what it is.  Second, this piece of shit defendant raped a woman.  He raped her with or without the terrible loopholes or anything else the law has to say about it.  That’s obvious from the details in the article, his own admission of the facts despite not mouthing the R-word, and it’s statistically likely to be the case anyway because false rape accusations account for less than 6% of all allegations, on par with things like property crimes.  (If he actually didn’t rape her, he basically lied to say that he did, which seems a bit unlikely.)  To all the people saying, “if we want to convict rapists, we need better laws”: how on this foul earth do you think the laws are going to get better if we don’t call rape what it is in the first place?

And media folks?  You shape this discourse.  It is your responsibility.  It is your fucking obligation to get it right.

Any day, now.

Any day y’all want to start getting your shit together.


His Name was Tenzing Norgay: A Note on the Erasure of Non-White-Males

20 December 2012

Since first getting sucked up in this ‘two-billion-pixel’ image of the Khumbu Icefall area a couple of days ago, I’ve been all over the place reading about mountaineering in the Himalayas.  It’s fascinating and impressive stuff, from both an environmental and a human perspective (apparently it can get up to 35c/95f in the Western Cwm at the foot of Lhotse, what the entire fuck?).  But there’s something, shall we say, problematic about the history that gets told, the names we remember.

There’s something problematic about the whole industry of tourism, the economies that rely almost entirely on tourist activities that the locals–the majority of us in the world, really–could never afford, and the way that regions and entire continents are depicted as jungles-and-unspoiled-natives or lions-and-tribal-warriors.  But that is much too big for this post.

Many people who don’t know much about mountaineering know the name Edmund Hillary.  I am one of those people.  I know that he was the first to reach the summit of ‘Mount Everest.’  Or, as wiki will tell us people had been calling it for thousands of years before whitey came and slapped his name on shit, Sagarmāthā in Nepali and Chomolungma in Tibetan.  But Edmund Hillary didn’t reach it alone.  Aside from multiple Sherpa guides and hundreds of other expedition members that maintained camps and ran supplies, there was one other man who reached the top with him.  His name was Tenzing Norgay.  He was decorated at the time and quite successful, but until two days ago, I did not know his name.  I knew about the massive importance of Sherpa guides who regularly risk their lives to make the path a little less risky for those who hire them, but I couldn’t name one.  I don’t suspect that too many of us, even outdoorsy hobbyists, could.  We never learned his name, or we learned it in a way that implied it didn’t really matter.  It was Edmund Hillary who reached the top of Mount Everest.  This is not to disparage Hillary at all–he was apparently the first to find a way over what’s justifiably now known as the Hillary Step, and was the first to stand on the summit, even maintaining for years that they both reached it at the same time.  From what I’ve read of him (and the expedition members at large), he seemed to understand and appreciate that a successful climb required skilled Sherpa guides and a solid support team.  Hillary had nothing nice to say about the individualistic attitude he saw in the increasing commercialization of climbing when David Sharp died in 2006 after multiple climbers passed him by.

And that would have been my slick segue into how it’s problematic that most of the most famous of the over 200 deaths associated with ‘Everest’ were the deaths of white people or related to majority white expeditions, but there’s something a little fucked up about using these particular deaths as an example, so I won’t.  I’ll just say that within white supremacist societies, it’s nothing new for white deaths to be considered or depicted as more tragic, and to give you an example of that, I submit history.

Anyway, I’m sure there will be those who will think the usual “but nobody ever remembers the ones who come second,” and this is certainly the case a lot of the time.  But I’m guessing that a significant percentage of those people have heard of Buzz Aldrin.  Or, in keeping with the space exploration theme, the USA, lol.

The point is this: I may have learned Tenzing Norgay’s name and the specifics of the whole expedition only a few days ago, but I learned it.  I linked those links in places they aren’t usually linked.  These admittedly insignificant actions are still a part of dislodging the idea that great white men do great white things all by their great white selves.  I think most of us know that intellectually, but our work isn’t done until it’s obvious to everyone.

His name was Tenzing Norgay.


Tenzing Norgay on the peak of 'Mount Everest'

Image: Sherpa Tenzing Norgay, photographed by Edmund Hillary, stands on the peak of ‘Mount Everest’ with his ice pick raised. Photo from Imaging Everest:


When does life begin?

14 December 2012

Despite many claims to the contrary, life does not begin at conception: It is an unbroken chain that stretches back nearly to the origin of the Earth, 4.6 billion years ago.

Carl Sagan & Ann Druyan – “Abortion: Is it Possible to be both ‘Pro-life’ and ‘Pro-Choice’?”


Let’s get this out of the way: a man’s opinions on abortion–even a man as professionally respectable as Carl Sagan–are irrelevant at best.  I am sure that very few people on This Foul Earth care less about men’s opinions regarding women’s autonomy than I do.  Maybe five people, but I’ve never met them.  The fact that this article was co-written by Ann Druyan (writer, producer, NORML board member, and Sagan’s last spouse) does not do much to raise my Care Level.  That the article says little new to us women’s libber types and ultimately falls lukewarmly in favor of some abortion rights while getting some major things wrong is not really why I’ve linked it.

It’s all about that quote, which I’ve loved since I first read it.

And this clip from Cosmos:


(The moment when you realize that the figure whose history we’re tracing is female?  Yeah, that’s a cool moment.)

I don’t see how it’s possible to look at the interconnection of all the life on this planet and still feel above or disconnected from it.  I don’t see how it’s possible to learn about how incomprehensibly big, old, and diverse this universe is and not be impressed or humbled.  It’s really amazing, so far beyond anything superstition has offered us, what the universe has done with itself in these fourteen billion or so years.

And we haven’t even begun to understand the extent of it.


Off to Toronto!

8 December 2012

TFFP is relocating to Toronto next month!  Finally!  Posting will be even lighter than usual (if that’s possible) until things settle down and, hopefully, I’m able to find a job.

I have to admit, I’m not terribly informed about actually living in Canada.  I try to be on top of things before I move to another country, but for various insufficient reasons, I haven’t done a good job of it this time around.  So, Toronto residents and other folks who know things, I’d appreciate some suggestions.

What local and national news sources should I check out?  I prefer to use a feed reader for that sort of thing, but if any good ones come in hard copy at shops or TTC stations, that’s okay too.  Obviously ‘good’ means ‘acceptably far left in analysis and scope.’

Grocery shopping and eating veg–I want to know from personal experience.  We’ll be in North York until I’m working and we can afford to move south, but I’ll pretty much go anywhere along a transit line for a good vegan restaurant.

I’ve heard about community groups for new immigrants that help with various aspects of settlement.  For anyone who’s tried them out, are they worth it?  Are there other good resources for finding work, preferably in academic or non-profit settings?

Quiet parks?  Little-known awesome spots?  Shitholes to be avoided?  Any other tips or information you’d like to share?

Thanks in advance and whatnot!


Solidarity with the People of Gaza

15 November 2012

Here are some sources for live updates on what’s happening in Gaza:

Occupied Palestine

RT America

Al Jazeera English

The Guardian

And a list of “Emergency Global Actions for Gaza

Please be wary of Israel’s internet propaganda machine while keeping up to date on what’s happening.

I know it means nothing for one insignificant person in the middle of Texas to say this, but we stand in solidarity with the Palestinian people and their struggle for liberation.


Things That Need to Stop: Drop-In Gets the Last Word

11 November 2012

You know how it goes.  You’re plugging along, reading a surprisingly decent article in a mainstream-y news source (for reasons that could be completely legitimate! get off my back!), but right as you’re getting to the end…what?  Some comment from the ‘other side’ gets tacked on as the last word on the matter.  Observe my inspiration, this example from the Denver Post:

[Colorado cannabis legalization] Amendment 64 — which polls showed hovering at around 50 percent support heading into Election Day — won with what even supporters said was a surprising amount of cushion. With roughly 1.28 million votes in its favor, it drew more support than President Barack Obama did in winning Colorado.

It passed in more counties than it lost — 33 to 31. It won in seven counties that voted for Republican Mitt Romney and lost in only one — Conejos — that voted for Obama.

“We are at the tipping point on marijuana policy,” [Amendment 64 proponent Brian] Vicente said. “This is an area where our voters and our citizens are really leading.”

Drug-abuse prevention professionals, though, said Wednesday that Colorado is going down a dangerous path. They predicted marijuana legalization would increase pot use, especially among young people, and lead to higher rates of drugged driving and substance abuse.

“We need to let people know it is not OK for youths to use marijuana,” said Christian Thurstone, a substance-abuse treatment doctor at Denver Health medical center. “We need them to realize it’s not OK for young people to drive under the influence of marijuana.”

This certainly isn’t the worst example I’ve seen, but it’s demonstrative of some of the major problems with this drop-in commentary style.

1. Because the article usually only includes a few sentences worth of the opposing point, there is very little engagement with the claims being made. If we’re lucky, we’ll get a citation of some text that isn’t really interrogated or examined for basic legitimacy.  Often we are not lucky, and the claim is completely unsubstantiated.  In the above example, someone only had to “predict” increased youth DUIs under legalization. Any actual studies that exist on that point are apparently irrelevant enough to be left out. Honestly, sometimes the difference in quality between the main article and closing opposition can be so vast that it feels like someone with vigilante aspirations and no knowledge of how to report things has creeped in while the writer was on the toilet and pounded off a few lines just before the scheduled publish triggers.

2. The final statement is often a rebuttal to something that nobody said. The above is a good example of that, with the abrupt introduction of legalization being dangerous because kids will suddenly think it’s okay to drive while high. [I gotta say, I didn’t know much of a thing about drugs when I was a kid, but I think I’d have felt awfully patronized by that assumption.] This can let any number of bad arguments through, whether they have shaky premises to begin with (driving while high will automatically become more acceptable, because we think so) or appear to stir up controversy that doesn’t exist (as if anyone is for more DUIs–that is, as if legalization supporters don’t also care about health and safety).

3. It upholds the popular belief that arguments on ‘both sides’ of a reality-based sociopolitical issue are equally valid. They aren’t.

4. The last point sort of ties the other three together, and is the thought that led to this post.  One of the more troublesome aspects of the last word drop-in is the placement itself.  Regardless of how bad any of the above described problems are, the statement gains some legitimacy because it’s the last word.  We learned that structure when we did five paragraph themes in middle school–argue your points from least to most salient.  The closing opposition statement is the freshest piece of information in our minds when we’ve finished the piece and are mulling it over.  It’s article aftertaste. When it’s particularly bad, it’s journalistic garlic that’s gone off.  Look at me, I’m still talking about it, and I’ve moved on to bad metaphors!  What did the rest of the article even say?  Nobody knows!

Maybe the statement is so bad on purpose.  Maybe the authors are pressured or forced to include a point they don’t see as legitimate, so they plop down something that’s obviously incongruous with the rest of the article.  I don’t know.  I’m not gonna play that speculation game, but I guess it’s a possibility. Anyone?

Feel free to add any other thoughts about this reporting tactic or to share especially egregious examples from your favorite Reputable News Sources.