Sidewalk Shamanism

A beautiful thing happened on Saturday morning outside the clinic where I’ve been escorting.

A car with a young couple in it pulled up and parked at a meter, which is, of course, the cue for the protesters to flock. They started on the driver’s side, both because it was closest and because Saturday seemed to be a day for targeting companions over patients. (A lot of “You need to get your girlfriend out of there” and  “You are a defender of women and children.”)

They never got around to the passenger’s side, so the patient and I had a leisurely walk to the parking station. The machine gave her some trouble, taking longer than expected. Her companion and the protesters caught up to us while she was still working on paying.

As they came up, Guitar Guy–who actually made people wish he had his guitar that day, he was so obnoxious–said to the companion, “I have to ask you: Do you have a personal relationship with Jesus?” Continue reading “Sidewalk Shamanism”

Sidewalk Shamanism

After Cologne: Reflections from a Refugee Neighborhood

By now, you probably know about the attacks in Cologne, Germany on New Year’s Eve. An unexpectedly large group of men surrounding and robbing people, groping the women and teenaged girls. At least one woman was raped, although reporting has been unclear on whether this was connected to the other incidents.

There are accounts saying the perpetrators were of North African or Arab descent. There are reports saying they were migrants or refugees. The implication is that they are Muslim. I don’t have the resources to sort out the truth of any these reports, to analyze the biases of the German press and officials and figure out how to weight these claims, particularly in such a politicized atmosphere.

Honestly, I don’t want to spend the time to gain the resources either. Not only is keeping track of the biases of English-language press and politicians exhausting, but knowing who was behind the attacks in Germany isn’t going to change my views on immigration in general or Muslim immigrant specifically. Let me tell you a little story about why. Continue reading “After Cologne: Reflections from a Refugee Neighborhood”

After Cologne: Reflections from a Refugee Neighborhood

What I’m There to Do

I’ve been escorting for the past few weeks at the local reproductive health clinic. That is to say, I’ve been making sure people who want and need abortions are able to get past the local holy rollers to get the health care they need.

Things got a little ugly on the sidewalk this past weekend. Not unusually ugly, I suspect, but ugly in a noteworthy way, in a way that could make some people very uncomfortable with clinic escorting.

It started with a protester almost being run over. That wasn’t the ugly part, but it was a clue something was up. The driver of the car was doing a particularly aggressive parking job. Ann (if I had to guess) smelled strong emotions and was on the car before it was parallel to the curb, much less stopped. She had to duck out of the way more than once. I was annoyed, mostly at the thought of having to supply emergency aid if she were injured.

It looked like a parent-child situation, though I don’t know. I didn’t ask. It’s not my business. By child, I mean a girl probably in her mid-teens. By parent, I mean a woman much closer to my age. She was angry and bossy. The girl was crying and reluctant to get out of the car.

She did get out, eventually, into the space the other escort had made. (There were only two of us that morning, to about 10 protesters.) By this time, Ann was yelling to the other protesters that the girl was being coerced, that she didn’t want to have an abortion but was being forced to. They converged on the pair. Continue reading “What I’m There to Do”

What I’m There to Do

Walking With Fear

You love your city. You love how your city transforms from day to night. You love it when the suburban people leave and the city people look knowingly at each other.

You love walking. You love walking in your city. You love seeing how people have chosen to fill up the spaces between destinations, the places too small to do more than flash by even on a bike. You love the myriad reasons city people chose to walk to get themselves around.

People try to make you afraid to walk in your city at night. They don’t always say it. Sometimes they just look at you with all the confusion that you don’t share their fear painted across their faces. Sometimes they assume you need a ride to get anywhere.

Sometimes you do want the ride, but not because you’re afraid.

All that fear has a viscosity to it, a clamminess. No speed of walking, no brisk night breeze can brush it away completely. It can’t claim you, but it’s there. It chitters to itself while hoping for your attention, a distraction from your city, your night, your walk, your love. Continue reading “Walking With Fear”

Walking With Fear

I Am Afraid

I’ve spent much of my life afraid, but I’ve only been afraid like this once before. The fear I feel today is twin to the fear I felt after the terrorist attacks of September 11. This will surprise no one. The parallels are too many. The city has changed. The name used to organize the terrorists was different. Still, so much is the same.

But I am not afraid of the terrorists. I mourn their victims. I have mourned them in all the attacks between then and now. I feel the weight of the knowledge that there will be more. There were more today, in Mali. I grieve for the interrupted lives, dead and survivors alike. But I am not afraid of the terrorists.

I am afraid of us. Continue reading “I Am Afraid”

I Am Afraid

“No-Platforming” and the Cult of Bad Arguments

Last week, Rebecca Reilly-Cooper had an opinion piece published by Politics.co.uk titled, “The attack on Germaine Greer shows identity politics has become a cult”. Now, as is the case on most sites with editors, she probably didn’t write the headline, so it doesn’t get her argument quite right. She actually argues that people who recognize the gender of trans people are totalitarians trying to brainwash the rest of the world.

No, really. I’m not exaggerating. That’s her argument.

The whole thing is so transparently ridiculous that I would just point and laugh if it weren’t for two things. First, I’ve seen “reason-loving” atheists who should really know better sharing the piece. Also, yesterday’s elections here in the U.S. have given us heart-breaking example of why of one of the central prongs of Reilly-Cooper’s article is wrong. Continue reading ““No-Platforming” and the Cult of Bad Arguments”

“No-Platforming” and the Cult of Bad Arguments

“Purely Semantic”

So Richard Dawkins tweeted this morning. I know, but bear with me. What came out was this.

Now, as usual, it’s a good idea to wait a little bit and find out what the Great Communicator meant in the place of what he said. Doing that, we get this. Continue reading ““Purely Semantic””

“Purely Semantic”

Four Ways Women Made It Easy for You to Code

This is one of the essays I delivered to my patrons last month. If you want to support more work like this, and see it earlier, you can sign up here.

Computer programming is one of those fascinating fields in which we got to watch work become less pink collar over time. It started as women’s work because the prestige was thought to be in hardware engineering, not “computing”, which was really just dressed-up math. (Yes, World War II required governments to recognize the math skills of their female citizens, just like they required the U.S. to recognize the skills of its black citizens.)

Then, as women developed the field of programming, the private sector started to understand just how much work it would be possible to get computers to do. Programmers gained status and pay and–over the course of a couple of decades–the idea that the work should be done by men. Women have always continued to program, particularly in government service, but they came to be seen as anomalies instead of the people who defined the field.

Before that could happen, however, women led the way to making programming practical and accessible. In honor of Ada Lovelace Day, here are four ways they did it. And no, Ada Lovelace isn’t even on the list, as awesome as she was, because it’s easy these days to find out more about her. Continue reading “Four Ways Women Made It Easy for You to Code”

Four Ways Women Made It Easy for You to Code

The Problem Is That I’m Not in an Institution

Well, well. This is something new. I’m used to people blaming mass shootings on mental illness because “Obviously there’s something wrong with those people.” I’m used to gross, proud ignorance of what constitutes mental illness and indignation over being asked to get it right before classing a large group as a menace to society.

What I’m not used to is a bunch of gun nuts telling us we can’t talk about gun control because we liberals were all in favor of deinstitutionalization. That’s the problem, you see. We no longer take away people’s freedom because their brains don’t work right all the time, so of course people are dying.

Nothing to do with the proliferation of guns and entitled attitudes toward them and incorrect beliefs about how they end up used. Nah, it’s because we don’t lock up all those crazies.

Continue reading “The Problem Is That I’m Not in an Institution”

The Problem Is That I’m Not in an Institution

Advice for Lonely Potential Mass Murderers

Another college campus, another mass shooting, another bunch of people dead–including the shooter–because a young man was angry the world wasn’t giving him what he thought he deserved. As has frequently been the case, this included a romantic/sexual relationship and the admiration of his peers.

The gunman who killed nine people at an Oregon community college said in writings he left behind that everyone else was “crazy” and ranted about not having a girlfriend, a law enforcement official said Monday.

He “complained in writings about not having a girlfriend, and he seemed to feel like he was very rational while others around him were not”. In other words, he was single and felt unappreciated. He was lonely. So he shot up a college and killed himself.

I’ve been there. Continue reading “Advice for Lonely Potential Mass Murderers”

Advice for Lonely Potential Mass Murderers