Category: Civil Liberties

Meet the odd couple who nettle the NSA from a dog- and monkey-filled jungle retreat*

GreenwaldAtHomePoitras

Please read journalist Peter Maass’s spellbinding account of how reporter/polemicist Glenn Greenwald and documentary filmmaker Laura Poitras collaborated in bringing to light NSA leaker Edward J. Snowden’s disclosures about massive illegal spying by the US Government.

Seriously, if you read nothing else this week, do read this richly detailed, 10,000-word account of how Snowden made contact with Poitras, how Poitras roped Greenwald into the project, and how they communicate privately when all three are targeted by the most sophisticated electronic spying in the world.

It reads alternately like a novel, a spy thriller, a quirky travelog, and most importantly, like detailed expose of the American security apparatus run amok. I am not by inclination paranoid, but this article convinced me I need to learn how to encrypt electronic communications. There’s even a Q&A Maass conducted with Snowdon over multiply encrypted links to his Moscow hideout.

Greenwald lives and works in a house surrounded by tropical foliage in a remote area of Rio de Janeiro. He shares the home with his Brazilian partner and their 10 dogs and one cat, and the place has the feel of a low-key fraternity that has been dropped down in the jungle. The kitchen clock is off by hours, but no one notices; dishes tend to pile up in the sink; the living room contains a table and a couch and a large TV, an Xbox console and a box of poker chips and not much else. The refrigerator is not always filled with fresh vegetables. A family of monkeys occasionally raids the banana trees in the backyard and engages in shrieking battles with the dogs.

Greenwald does most of his work on a shaded porch, usually dressed in a T-shirt, surfer shorts and flip-flops. Over the four days I spent there, he was in perpetual motion, speaking on the phone in Portuguese and English, rushing out the door to be interviewed in the city below, answering calls and e-mails from people seeking information about Snowden, tweeting to his 225,000 followers (and conducting intense arguments with a number of them), then sitting down to write more N.S.A. articles for The Guardian, all while pleading with his dogs to stay quiet. During one especially fever-pitched moment, he hollered, “Shut up, everyone,” but they didn’t seem to care.

Amid the chaos, Poitras, an intense-looking woman of 49, sat in a spare bedroom or at the table in the living room, working in concentrated silence in front of her multiple computers. Once in a while she would walk over to the porch to talk with Greenwald about the article he was working on, or he would sometimes stop what he was doing to look at the latest version of a new video she was editing about Snowden. They would talk intensely — Greenwald far louder and more rapid-fire than Poitras — and occasionally break out laughing at some shared joke or absurd memory. The Snowden story, they both said, was a battle they were waging together, a fight against powers of surveillance that they both believe are a threat to fundamental American liberties.

It’s a wonderful piece of reporting about a courageous pair of reporters picking up the slack left by the supine mainstream news giants.

If Maass’s 10,000 words don’t exhausted you, please also check out a much shorter piece, The NSA Is Commandeering the Internet on The Atlantic’s website. Security expert Bruce Schneier (he coined the phrase, “security theatre”) pleads with executives of giant technology company’s to fight back against US government spying.

Most of the largest Internet companies provide information to the NSA, betraying their users. Some, as we’ve learned, fight and lose. Others cooperate, either out of patriotism or because they believe it’s easier that way.

I have one message to the executives of those companies: fight.

Lastly, The Takeaway podcast has a good interview with Maass about his piece.

[*Yes, I know, Greenwald and Poitras are not a couple in the usual sense, and only Greenwald resides in Rio. Poitras, a Massachusetts native, lives in New York City when she is not in precautionary exile, as she is now. In this 2012 Salon story, Greenwald details the harassment Poitras faces in her home country.]

MLAs will open their offices to all Nova Scotians

Contrarian friend Gus Reed, co-founder of the James McGregor Stewart Society, sums up the significance of a unanimous decision today by the House of Assembly Management Commission that will require that constituency offices for all Nova Scotia MLAs to be barrier free:

This simple regulation marks a sea change in approach for the provincial government:

  • People with disabilities are acknowledged to have the same rights as others
  • Written rules, rather than promises, are the solution
  • All parties agree on the principle, the problem and the solution
  • The initiative came from the community of Nova Scotians with disabilities

Let’s hope that the lesson is not lost and that it sets a precedent.  In order for Nova Scotians with disabilities to become full citizens, they need equal access to all parts of their world.

Amen. Congratulations to all involved (and a special salute for Kelly McKenna, the James McGregor Stewart Society intern who bird-dogged the issue all summer, insisting that MLAs get the job done).

 

Will the government trample wheelchair users in its rush to an election?

Last spring, a disability rights organization surveyed the constituency offices of Nova Scotia MLAs and found hardly any were fully accessible to citizens who use wheelchairs.

In May, the James McGregor Stewart Society cajoled the House of Assembly Management Commission into meeting and considering ways to remove barriers from MLAs’ offices. The campaign hinged on passing changes before the election, so newly elected MLAs could be required to find accessible space, while returning MLAs would have a modest grace period to comply.

accessible-icon-updatedI was skeptical. I expected the inconvenience of modifying or relocating constituency offices might trump the obvious injustice of preventing citizens from entering MLAs’ workplaces, let alone working in them.

I was wrong. Commission members from all parties recognized that Nova Scotia lags behind other jurisdictions on this human rights issue. To their credit, they worked collaboratively to develop a practical plan for breaking down barriers that separate Nova Scotians who use wheelchairs and their elected representatives.

That plan is now in jeopardy due to an inexplicable delay in calling the commission meeting required to pass the regulation, something only Speaker Gordie Gosse has the power to do. Calls and emails to Gosse’s office were eventually returned by Premier Darrell Dexter’s press secretary.

“We have every intention of getting a meeting called as soon as we can,” Jennifer Stewart said. “All three parties are agreed, and it has to happen.”

The problem is that the Commission ceases to exist the moment Stewart’s boss calls an election, an event some predict as early as this Saturday.* At that point, the Commission can no longer pass the agree-upon regulation, thus destroying the crucial proviso that MLAs elected for the first time in the forthcoming vote must find barrier-free offices.

That the matter has drawn the attention of “the centre”—the premier’s office, from which all decisions in this highly centralized government flow—is a good sign. An opposition member of the commission told Contrarian he expects a meeting August 14, although he hasn’t received official notice yet.

Meanwhile, the James McGregor Stewart** Society continues to entreat the Speaker to get the meeting called and the regulation passed. Surely Darrell Dexter will not want to begin an election campaign in a way that wrecks an all-party agreement to remedy this lamentable injustice.

* Find Contrarian’s prediction of the probable date here.

** I did not think to ask Ms. Stewart if she is related to the redoubtable Pictou native, one of Canada’s most accomplished lawyers, who had lifelong mobility issues arising from a childhood bout with polio.

We are who we are and we love who we are

Last month, University of Massachusetts scientists working with laboratory cell cultures said they had succeeded in suppressing the extra chromosome associated with Down syndrome, a technique they predicted could lead to treatments targeted at the symptoms of the condition.

Halifax resident Renee Forrestall, whose 22-year-old daughter Marie Webb has Down Syndrome, condemned the research as akin to cultural genocide.

We’ve got a genetically similar community, visible minority who are being targeted and terminated globally. People think, “Well, this is the way it is and these people just shouldn’t be.”

A friend who knows I have identical twin grandchildren with Down Syndrome sought my reaction to Forrestall’s complaint. I replied:

I am not quite in the camp of those who reject any attempt to treat Down Syndrome, but I certainly understand why people with Down Syndrome and their parents (and grandparents) bristle at the assumption they need to be “fixed.”

J&J1I can only view this through my feelings about Josh and Jacob. They get excellent medical care. They have had tubes in their ears to deal with chronic infections. Josh has had heart surgery. These conditions and others result at least in part from their chromosomal distinctiveness. No one thought twice about whether they should be treated. Of course they should.

But what about the constellation of qualities that include, but are not limited to, their intellectual disabilities? These qualities are a huge part of who they are. Without them, they would be totally different. There will never be a magic bullet that increases their IQs but leaves their humour, affectionateness, willfulness, stubbornness, loyalty, laziness, warmth, and joyfulness untouched.

When I see Josh and Jacob struggle to read the simplest words, or to make their garbled speech understood, sure, I wish life were easier for them. But I don’t long for them to be different, or more like other children. I adore them as they are.

And by the way, there is already a genocide of children with Down in the form of selective abortions. We would not countenance this for sex selection or red hair or gayness, but we take it for granted with Down Syndrome.

Today, Mike Finnerty, summer host of CBC Radio’s The Current, carried out a series of interviews on this subject—with one of the Massachusetts researchers, with Renee Forrestall, and with Christie Hoos, a parent of a Down syndrome child whose views differ from Forrestall’s. By themselves, these interviews would have made a thought-provoking segment. What really set the piece apart was Finnerty’s final interview with Halifax actor and freelance photographer Will Brewer, who has Down syndrome, a conversation conducted without a trace of condescension on Finnerty’s part.

You can listen to the program here (after a CBC promo):

Here is a transcript of Will Brewer’s comments:

Mike Finnerty: Will Brewer was born with Down syndrome. He’s a photographer and an actor. Will, thanks for coming in and welcome.

Will Brewer: Thank you.

MF: What do you make of this scientific breakthrough we’ve been talking about?

WB: I was surprised. It would be hard for me to think about that because I am who I am, and I love who I am.

WillBrewer

Actor Will Brewer on the set of the Wendy Lill play, Corker

MF: Can you tell us about what sets you apart in your on mind. What do you think it is about you and the fact that you are someone with down syndrome that makes you different to others, special from others?

WB: Well, I am so special because my mom says that I am magic. But I would say that everyone with Down Sydnrome is magic because I see it in their eyes when I take their photo. I can tell that they are happy of who they are and how they came out, and who have loving parents who are just superb at what they do.

MF: Is there anything about your life that you would change if you could?

WB: No. I just. I am happy where I am because now I have found a place where I can create art and have friends and have great relationships with people who I care about, and people who have — beautiful; magical children with Down Syndrome.

MF: If you were to think about your life — you know, your 24 hours a day, seven days a week — what percentage of your life would you say is happy or joyous and what percentage is unhappy?

WB: Sometimes I do have issues. Sometimes I just feel like crying sometimes, for no particular reason, because I think that’s part of who I am, because I do have sensitive thoughts as well, but in everyday life, I enjoy it.

MF: Specifically, do you have issues — health iussues and other kinds of things that are, you know, not good in your life that you would, if you could, using these new therapies that might come down the road, that you would fix?

WillBrewer2WB: Well, 28 years ago, when I was born, I couldn’t breathe — or like, I couldn’t cry when I was born. So a couple months later, I had heart surgery. And I do have a thyroid condition as well.

MF: What do you think about the idea that sometime in the future you could, through medical intervention, correct or suppress that extra chromosome and that would mean that they’re weren’t people who had down syndrome? What would you think of that?

WB: I would think it would be very interesting to actually see that because, I do have friends who are not Down syndrome as well, and I don’t kow if they would want to change themselves. But I would never change. That’s who I am.

MF: What would you like people out there who are listening to know about your life as someone with down syndrome?

WB: Well, first of all, if they want to have a picture taken, they should come to me (laughs)

MF: Because you are a photographer?

WB: Of course.

MF: Are you a good photographer?

WB: Oh I really am.

MF: And what else would you like people to know?

WB: That we are who we are and we love who we are. We want a place in this earth, in this generation, in this life of everyday, and we are proud of who we are.

MF: Will, thanks for talking to us.

WB: Thank you.

Almost four years ago, Contrarian reported that researchers at Stanford University had used a drug therapy to improve the learning skills of mice with a form of Down syndrome. Like Renee Forrestall, Jenn Power, community leader at L’Arche Cape Breton and mother of my twin grandsons with Down, found the research distressing. She said people with Down’s don’t need a cure; they need “a society that values what they have to offer.”

The fascinating discussion that followed produced many thoughtful contributions on all sides of the issue. (There are too many posts to link individually, but if you click here and scroll back to the earliest posts you will find them all.) The Contrarian discussions eventually spread to the New York Times parenting blog Motherlode, where hundreds of people weighed in.

Power has also blogged thoughtfully about today’s interviews by Mike Finnerty on the Current, as has Christie Hoos, the mother of a Down child who is more open to the idea of treatment.

 

A department that makes life harder for people with disabilities

Huffington Post’s Canadian edition yesterday published an investigative report by a team of student journalists from the University of King’s College detailing the housing crisis facing Nova Scotians with intelectual disabilities.

There is not enough room in the system for all of the people who need a place to live. They languish on waiting lists that are hundreds of names long. Their families, in turn, must support them with scant financial, caregiving or community programming resources. Eventually the families get too old or sick to do it, making the situation for their relatives in rehab even worse.

With so little room, placements are driven by crises. These crises, in turn, lead to inappropriate placements that only exacerbate individuals’ disabilities and sometimes cause mental health issues.

It is a bureaucratic system driven by policies, not people’s needs. And in the instances where policy would help to improve lives – in properly licensing, regulating, staffing and overseeing housing options – the system falls short.

Successive provincial governments have known all about this crisis and have repeatedly promised to fix it. The current NDP government is no exception.

After years of inaction, the Department of Community Services (DCS) recently produced a report — more accurately a discussion paper — about options for dealing with the crisis. The new document repeats sweeping promises of change, but DCS continues to ignore the findings of a 2001 report it commissioned that could have served as a basis for action 12 years ago.

“The Kendrick report is now over 10 years old and basically the fundamentals of the Kendrick report are no different now than … 10 years ago,” Dr. Brian Hennen, a past president of the College of Family Physicians of Canada, told the student journalists.

Jenn Power, Atlantic Regional Co-ordinator for l’Arche Cape Breton [and—disclosure—my daughter-in-law] summed up the crisis on her Possibilities blog.

[T]he primary struggles of the individuals profiled in the piece are not their disabilities per se, nor the way those disabilities might affect their mobility, learning skills, or emotional health.  Instead, the suffering they endure arises from the way the provincial “support” system treats them as a result of their disabilities.  They are reduced to their diagnoses, their difficult behaviours, their classification level.  They languish on endless waiting lists with no idea of the future, then are hurried into last-minute crisis placements at warehousing facilities.  They are forced to fit into an existing (outdated) system; the system is not expected to change to fit the needs of individuals.

This is not news to any of us who have friends or family members with intellectual disabilities, or who have been involved in this field for any length of time.  Our people are overlooked, patronized, ignored, devalued, and abused.  Their voices are not heard.  But boy, do they have something to say.

At Nova Scotia’s l’Arche communities, and many other DCS-funded homes, bureaucratic rules often deepen the impact of disabilities, rather than lighten them. Here’s one of several examples Power cites:

Lindsay and Tanya, both of whom graduated from high school and hold down full time jobs, would say that they deserve the right to stay home alone and watch TV or read a book or relax on the couch for a couple of hours every now and then.  But because they live in a provincially funded group home, they are denied this dignity of risk and are forced to join whenever their housemates leave the house.

Of the ways Darrell Dexter’s government failed to achieve its supporters’ aspirations, none is more disheartening than its failure to bring order, purpose, and humanity to the Department of Community Services. Will the next government do any better?

Does your MLA serve citizens in wheelchairs?

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The James McGregor Stewart Society, a small voluntary group with a single summer intern, has managed to pull off in a month what the Disabled Persons Commission of NS (annual budget: $600,000) and the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission ($2.1 million) have not achieved in the decades of their existence.

It has surveyed the accessibility of MLAs offices throughout the province. The results will not be a source of pride for Nova Scotia or its legislators.

ScoringThe survey rated MLAs’ constituency offices based on parking facilities, power door buttons, entrance accessibility, washroom accessibility, and proximity to accessible bus routes. Since accessible bus routes are mostly beyond an MLA’s control (many ridings have none), that category was not included in the final ratings.

Only four MLAs (Lenore Zann, Eddie Orrell, Kelly Regan, and Graham Steele) got a perfect score: paved parking with designated accesible spaces; level entrance, satisfactory ramp, or elevator; power door button; accessible bathroom with grab bars and wheel-under sink).

One MLA, Chris D’Entremont, who represents Argyle and sits on the Management Commission that will decide whether accessibility will be a condition for reimbursement of office expenses, scored a perfect zero. His office has no paved parking, no designated parking spaces, no level entrance, and no accessible washroom.

Although 43 MLAs claim an accessible doorway, only eight have a power door button, which means a constituent in a wheelchair can get in only if someone assists them. Once inside, wheelchair-using constituents will find only eight offices with fully accessible washrooms. How confidently could you attend a meeting knowing you would would have no chance to pee until you got home? You certainly couldn’t hold a job in such an office.

Another 30 MLAs claim some level of washroom accessibility, but lack grab bars, a wheel-under sink, or a high toilet. This translates as: Use at your own risk of accident or humiliation.

The survey turned up fewer regional variations than you might expect. The average MLA scored 3.1 points. Urban MLAs averaged 3.3, while rural MLAs averaged 2.9.

Metro MLAs averaged 3.2; Cape Breton MLAs just 2.4.

Liberal MLAs had the best score: an average of 3.5 points. PCs averaged 3.0, and the NDP trailed the pack with an average 2.9 points.

Two MLAs, Percy Paris and Geoff MacLellan, have not yet completed the survey. Cape Breton South is vacant.

Perhaps the most telling statistic is this: The eight MLAs who sit on the House of Assembly Management Commission, the body currently deciding whether to require accessibility as a condition of expense reimbursement, have an average score of just 2.3 — the lowest of any group I checked.

Map KeySpeaker Gordie Gosse, who chairs the committee, has a double distinction: His constituency office and his office in the legislature are both inaccessible to people in wheelchairs.

Clicking on the image at the top of this post will bring up an interactive map of Nova Scotia with a colored marker for each constituency office. Clicking on a marker will bring up accessibility details for that office.

Please note that the map and the data underlying it are works in progress. Some MLAs continue to provide new information, and the society’s intern, the redoubtable Kelly McKenna, is updating it continually. The information in this post is up to date to the best of my knowledge, but it’s a lot of information, and there could be minor errors.

A human right that’s inconvenient for MLAs

A committee meeting at Province House this week has the potential to correct a logstanding injustice in the way Nova Scotia is governed.

At the behest of the James McGregor Stewart Society, a disability rights organization, the House of Assembly Management Commission will consider requiring constituency offices to be fully accessible before MLAs can claim reimbursement of office expenses.

Gosse-250You might expect this to go without saying in 2013, but it doesn’t. Many MLAs’ offices are only partly, if at all, accessible. They may have a level entry or a satisfactory wheelchair ramp, but lack a paved parking lot or an accessible washroom. They may have a wide enough door to admit a wheelchair, but no automatic door opener to let wheelchair users come and go unassisted.

People with unrestricted mobility sometimes miss the significance of that last distinction. Wheelchairs users value their autonomy as much as anyone else. They  want to participate without having to ask for help.

The House Management Commission doesn’t have to guess about what constitutes an accessible office. The standards are clearly set forth in Section C of the Nova Scotia Building Code, which all new commercial construction must meet.

It’s not clear that any of the constituency offices now in use fully comply with this standard. This effectively bars Nova Scotia’s 28,000 wheelchair users from full participation in the political process. It puts constituency office jobs beyond reach of applicants with disabilities.

MLAs know this is unacceptable. The gentle explanation for why it wasn’t fixed a generation ago is inertia. In many parts of the province, it’s hard to find good office space. Many MLAs enjoy a close relationship with their landlords, which they aren’t anxious to disturb. No one likes the hassle of moving to new quarters.

That’s why the summer of 2013 offers a unique opportunity to correct this injustice. The election that’s expected this fall will produce an unusually large crop of new MLAs, all of whom will be seeking office space. The Commission could require any new constituency offices to comply with Section C in order to qualify for reimbursement. It could establish a firm timetable—certainly no more than the five-year term of a typical commercial lease—by which existing constituency offices  must be brought into compliance. The first election after 2013 could serve as a final deadline for existing offices.

Leasehold improvements are a standard feature of office leases. The landlord carries out the work, builds the cost into the rent, and ends up with a more desirable, barrier-free property at the termination of the lease.

Fixing this problem will undoubtedly cause some inconvenience for MLAs. In a letter to the Commission, the society put that burden in perspective:

The challenges MLAs will face meeting this requirement are real, but they must be weighed against the perpetuation of second-class citizenship for 28,000 Nova Scotians. One is a matter of inconvenience; the other a human right.

Speaker Gordie Gosse chairs the Management Commission, whose members include MLAs Frank Corbett, Becky Kent, Pam Birdsall, Moe Smith, Michel Samson, Chris d’Entremont, Andrew Younger, and House of Assembly Chief Clerk Neil Ferguson. The Commission meets Thursday at 1 p.m. in the Red Chamber.

If it fails to act before the upcoming election, we’ll have to find a strong word than “inertia.”

The iconic wheelchair rolls forward

accessibility icon copyThe Chronicle of Higher Education reports that New York City has become the first major municipality to adopt the new active symbol of accessibility, which Contrarian first wrote about in September, 2011.

The result of a collaboration between Sara Hendren, graduate student at the Harvard School of Design, and Brian Glenney, philosophy professor at Gordon College in Wenham, Massachusetts, the revised icon recasts the passive, static International Symbol of Accessibility (demeaningly known as the “handicapped sign”), investing it with vigor and a sense of motion. The Chronicle reports:

New York, in a move that could spark similar updates worldwide, has now agreed to use a Gordon-inspired logo that shows the stick figure with active arms, leaning forward, a participant rather than a dependent.

“It’s such a forward-moving thing,” said Victor Calise, commissioner of the New York mayor’s Office for People With Disabilities, who plans this summer to begin putting the new logo all over the nation’s largest city.

Memo to Mayors Cecil Clarke and Mike Savage:  Which of your cities will seize the honor of becoming the first Canadian municipality to adopt the active symbol for its wheelchair-using citizens?

From the Accessible Icon Project blog, a fuller explanation of how the revised icon reflects the reality of wheelchairs and the people who use them:

accessibility icon - annotated copy

1.  Head Position:  Head is forward to indicate the forward motion of the person through space. Here the person is the “driver” or decision maker about her mobility.

2.  Arm Angle:  Arm is pointing backward to suggest the dynamic mobility of a chair user, regardless of whether or not she uses her arms. Depicting the body in motion represents the symbolically active status of navigating the world.

3.  Wheel Cutouts:  By including white angled knockouts the symbol presents the wheel as being in motion. These knockouts also work for creating stencils used in spray paint application of the icon. Having just one version of the logo keeps things more consistent and allows viewers to more clearly understand intended message.

4.  Limb Rendition:  The human depiction in this icon is consistent with other body representations found in the ISO 7001 – DOT Pictograms. Using a different portrayal of the human body would clash with these established and widely used icons and could lead to confusion.

5.  Leg Position:  The leg has been moved forward to allow for more space between it and the wheel which allows for better readability and cleaner application of icon as a stencil.

H/T:  The James MacGregor Stewart Society.

More information about the Accessibility Icon project on Facebook, on Twitter, on the project’s blog, and Sara Hendren’s Ablersite blog.

Was the Boston shutdown a cop-and-donut joke?

[Headline-related punchline at the end.]

One reason behind my campaign [here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and most amusingly, here] to restore sanity to weather warnings and school cancellations is the tremendous cost these bureaucratic panic attacks impose on society. Every school cancellation begets a cascade of expensive waste: students missing school; taxpayers paying school employees not to work; parents losing work time to make last minute child-care arrangements; employers with missing or distracted workers; etc.

Blogger Clark [NLN] at Popehat argues that Friday’s unprecedented lockdown of commerce, transportation, and public events in Boston imposed a vastly greater cost with no commensurate benefit to public security. Clark points out that Washington DC, Kileen TX, and London recently experienced terrorist attacks with two, three, and 10 times greater fatalities respectively, but authorities did not impose civic paralysis.

[K]eeping somewhere between 2 and 5 million people from work, shopping, and school destroyed a nearly unimaginable amount of value. If we call it just three million people, and we peg the cost at a mere $15 per person per hour, the destroyed value runs to a significant fraction of a billion dollars….

[T]he cost isn’t just measured in dollars – it’s measured in the degree to which it trains a population to freak out over minor risk and to trust blindly in authorities.

The phrase, “training the population to freak out over minor risk and to trust blindly in authorities,” fits Nova Scotia of the 2010s to a “T.”

Bringing “the kinetic and salty city of Boston” (in the words of the Washington Post) “to a standstill Friday while an army of heavily armed police hunted for a skinny 19-year-old in a gray hoodie,” also meant that “99% of the eyes and brains that might solve a crime were being wasted,” as Clark points out. The skinny 19-year-old wasn’t found by the cops, but by a citizen, after the lockdown ended.

The punchline? It turns out not all businesses in Boston were shut down Friday.

Law enforcement asked Dunkin’ Donuts to keep restaurants open in locked-down communities to provide… food to police… including [four shops] in Watertown, the focus of the search for the bombing suspect.

Oh my freaking word. Talk about essential services.

Cops-Love-Donuts

Devil in the Harbour – reader rebuttal

Contrarian reader Joyce Rankin reacts to Contrarian’s caution that justice will not be served by presuming a hearsay accusation of sexual assault to be true in every detail. I don’t usually print reader responses at this length, but in the interests of fairness I will do so in this case without edits.

Please, please, please don’t be one of those men who keep doubting that a rape took place. Every woman knows that there are many many rapes that are never reported because the victim knows exactly what kind of a shitstorm she will letting herself in for and decides not to report. Decides that the trauma and hurt of being raped is bad enough, and she doesn’t want the trauma and hurt of being insulted and be-littled and her private life examined in public. I’ve read that the incidence of false reports is something on the lines of 2%, and that’s including the grey area of women raped by their partners.

The Groveland case is not something I know much about, but for you to say that it’s doubtful a rape took place because the woman was a “bad egg” –how 1950s of you! I think it more likely that the woman was raped by someone either close to her, or someone in a position of power, and .she had to come up with a story to account for things. Knowing that an accusation against the true perpetrator would not be believed (maybe because he was a white man with influence, and she was a young woman with none), she blamed it on those young men more vulnerable than herself. Otherwise it’d be HER OWN FAULT, because we all know women aren’t supposed to let it happen to them, and if it does, they must have done something to cause it.

And exactly what made her a “bad egg”? Had she actually had sex before? been known to take a drink? I guess that meant that she was “asking for it!” Because we all know that no men, young or old, has ever had sex, taken a few drinks, or gone out of the house after dark.

So does that mean that if you were with a group of work/classmates and you were all having a few drinks, that they decided they wanted to have sex with you and you didn’t want to, and they said, “well, you came to the party, what else did you expect?”, they raped you, does that mean that it would be your fault? That you should have known better than to go there, or that by having a drink you might expect something to happen?

In the Cole Harbour case, it seems the existance of photos show that the rape did indeed happen. The fact that some of the perpetrators bragged about it, and spread the photos around, shows just how ingrained this rape culture is. The boys expected the victim not to say anything, because they knew that she knew that their word would carry more weight, and that their possible futures would be considered worth more than hers. That they had the upper hand. Again.

You can doubt that a rape took place, if you want to delude yourself. But I ask you: why is the occurrance of rape held to a higher standard of proof? If I called the police and they came to my house and my door was standing open, the lock was broken, items were missing, my computer was gone, and the house was torn apart, they (and my neighbours) would assume that I’d been burglarized. If I called and the police came and found that there was a person lying in the street dead, with injuries that could not be self-inflicted, they (and passers-by) would assume that a killing had taken place. But if a woman calls the police and she’s been beaten and had forcible sex, they ask her about her sexual history, and everyone starts trying to find reasons why it was her fault -the way she was dressed, she was out at night, she had a drink…….. If the burglar breaks into your house, no one tells you it is your own fault for owning nice things.

It is true that we should not assume guilt in a court of law, but I think if the boys were bragging about it, then we are pretty sure it happened. The question is, why did the police take so long to do anything?

I was going to say, please don’t conflate these two stories, but on second thought maybe you can. Because the common thread is that many people don’t believe a woman who says she’s been raped, and the questions always come down to the victim’s conduct, rather than the rapist’s.

Because many sexual assault victims do not report the crimes, and because the nature of sexual assault is such that testimony often comes down to he-said-she-said disputes that cause genuine victims to be disbelieved, some feminists have come to the position that all such allegations must be believed; to doubt them is to abet rape culture.

I understand how they reach that point, but I believe they are wrong to do so. Such blanket assumptions will inevitably lead to wrongful convictions.

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