John Hodgman's last book, Vacationland, was a kind of absurdist memoir of a weird kid who'd grown up to the kind of self-aware grownup who really wanted to dig into how he got to where he was, with bone-dry wit and real heart (I compared it to Steve Martin's Cruel Shoes, but for adults who'd outgrown it); in his new book, Medallion Status: True Stories from Secret Rooms, Hodgman offers something much more uncomfortable (if no less funny), a series of vignettes that explore the hollowness of privilege, the toxicity of comparison, and the melancholy of accomplishment.
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New York judge James Troiano is unhappy with a 16-year-old girl's family for pressing rape charges against a 16-year-old boy who filmed himself assaulting the girl when she was drunk and sent the video to his friends with the caption, “When your first time having sex was rape.”
From the New York Times:
[Judge Troiano] also said the young man came from a good family, attended an excellent school, had terrific grades and was an Eagle scout. Prosecutors, the judge said, should have explained to the girl and her family that pressing charges would destroy the boy’s life.
So he denied prosecutors’ motion to try the 16-year-old as an adult. “He is clearly a candidate for not just college but probably for a good college.”
Judge Troiano denied the prosecution's request to try the alleged rapist as an adult. “This young man comes from a good family who put him into an excellent school where he was doing extremely well,” the judge said. “His scores for college entry were very high.”
The Times also has an account of the alleged rape and what happened in the months that followed:
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Before the episode, prosecutors said, both teenagers walked into a darkened area of the basement and Mary stumbled as she walked.
“While on the sofa, a group of boys sprayed Febreze on Mary’s bottom and slapped it with such force that the following day she had hand marks on her buttocks,” according to court documents.
After the assault, prosecutors said, G.M.C.
Two women have come forward to accuse Sir Clement Freud, grandson of Sigmund, MP, broadcaster, dogfood spokesman, and children's author of sexually abusing them when they were children, and of rape. Read the rest
Ken White was once a US Federal Prosecutor, but he's also served as a defense attorney, and when he was defending clients, he routinely told the judge about the ways in which his clients were good people, and what talents they had. Read the rest
Cornell economist Robert Frank drew the ire of the nation's business press when he published an article that said something most economists would agree with: hard work and skill aren't enough (or even necessary) to succeed; but luck is. Rather than back down from the angry reception, he's expanded the article into a book, Success and Luck: Good Fortune and the Myth of Meritocracy, which came out last month. Read the rest
Ned Richardson-Little is a Canadian academic who went to the US "in search of a better life," did research in Germany and settled in the UK, something he was able to do thanks to his economic migrant grandfather who happened to have been born in Scotland. Read the rest
"Life is too short for a full-time job," writes Mohit Satyanand. "Time unwatched is its own treasure, gracious host to conversations that drift and swoop, afternoons that stretch into evenings, dinners that slur into a last coffee." Good if you can hack it, I suppose. Read the rest
Our minds naturally group things in culturally specific categories -- for Americans, robins are more "bird" than albatrosses -- and we're better at categorizing more prototypical items than outliers -- but what does this mean when we group humans in categories like "real Americans"? Read the rest
Laurie Penny weighs in with an important addition to the discussion about privilege and pain, making the important point that privilege is not the absence of pain, discrimination or hellish conditions -- but that doesn't mean that the nerds who suffered through school bullying are without it. Read the rest
Lachlan writes, "My friend Aamer Rahman is an Australian comedian, one half of the duo Fear of a Brown Planet who makes race, religion and capitalism a central part of his comedy.
Here he is, looking like Malcolm X, with a fantastic rant on reverse racism in his comedy."
Aamer Rahman (Fear of a Brown Planet) - Reverse Racism
(Thanks, Lachlan!) Read the rest
Anil Dash has got ten dynamite top tips for people hoping to run a successful startup, based on his wide experience:
1. Be raised with access to clean drinking water and sanitation. (Every tech billionaire I've ever spoken to has a toilet!)
2. Try to be born in a region that is politically and militarily stable.
3. Grow up with a family that is as steady and secure as possible.
4. Have access to at least a basic free education in core subjects.
5 Avoid being abused by family members, loved ones, friends or acquaintances during the formative years of your life.
The other five are just as great!
Ten Tips Guaranteed to Improve Your Startup Success Read the rest
Chandra, a "recovering grammar snob" who works as an English teacher, has a smashing trio of essays on Literacy Privilege -- the invisible privilege that accrues to people who have the facility to write well and clearly, and who have absorbed the "correct" conventions of English. I know I've been guilty of dismissing people because of their grammar/spelling errors (I'm sure I'll make several in this post, BTW, thanks to Muphry's Law), and I've also posted regrettable grammar-mockery in place of rebuttal at times. Even when I was doing it, I knew that it wasn't quite fair or rigorous but Chandra's critique is a good frame for understanding precisely what's wrong with the practice.
One important issue that Chandra doesn't touch on in her essays is the way that this works in languages where an official academy defines formal correctness -- French and German, for example. English is very much up for grabs, thanks to the absence of any final authority over its rules. In other cases, there is a technically correct way of doing things, and an incorrect way -- presumably, this exacerbates the problem.
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Literacy Privilege Checklist:
I can easily and safely navigate my way around the city I live in because I understand all of the posted signs, warnings and notifications.*
I can make healthy and informed choices about the products I purchase because I can accurately read their labels and price tags.*
I can safely use pharmaceuticals prescribed to me without having to remember the doctor’s or pharmacist’s instructions because I can accurately read their labels.*
When required to visit doctors, hospitals, government agencies, banks, or legal offices, I do not have to invent excuses to bring paperwork home so that someone else can read it to me.
Britain's Advertising Standards Authority has upheld complaints leveled against a men's rights group's controversial ad campaign.
Fathers4Justice's ad depicted a crying baby, his body emblazoned with perjoratives such as "pig" and "rapist", with text attacking Mumsnet, a popular online hangout for mothers of young children. According to Fathers4Justice, Mumsnet presided over an anti-male hate campaign as objectionable as homophobia and racism. Read the rest
John Scalzi attempts to explain privilege using a video-game metaphor in "Straight White Male: The Lowest Difficulty Setting There Is." It's a good metaphor in that is illuminates more than it obscures (the litmus test for metaphors).
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Okay: In the role playing game known as The Real World, “Straight White Male” is the lowest difficulty setting there is.
This means that the default behaviors for almost all the non-player characters in the game are easier on you than they would be otherwise. The default barriers for completions of quests are lower. Your leveling-up thresholds come more quickly. You automatically gain entry to some parts of the map that others have to work for. The game is easier to play, automatically, and when you need help, by default it’s easier to get.
Now, once you’ve selected the “Straight White Male” difficulty setting, you still have to create a character, and how many points you get to start — and how they are apportioned — will make a difference. Initially the computer will tell you how many points you get and how they are divided up. If you start with 25 points, and your dump stat is wealth, well, then you may be kind of screwed. If you start with 250 points and your dump stat is charisma, well, then you’re probably fine. Be aware the computer makes it difficult to start with more than 30 points; people on higher difficulty settings generally start with even fewer than that.
As the game progresses, your goal is to gain points, apportion them wisely, and level up.
Seven years ago, I read an article that completely changed the way I thought about what racism is, and the privileges I experience as an upper-middle class white person. In honor of Martin Luther King Day, I'd like to share that article here.
I didn't know it at the time, but Peggy McIntosh's Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack is kind of a classic of anti-racist thought. The basic idea goes something like this: Racism does not begin and end with Jim Crow and the Klan. It's not just about obvious exclusion and oppression. Fighting racism isn't just about overturning blatantly discriminatory laws or cracking down on hate crimes. Racism, unfortunately, can be a lot more subtle than that.
Racism is also about whole social systems that confer privileges on some people, and deny those privileges to others. What's more, if you're one of the privileged people, the privileges you receive—simply for looking the way you do—are often completely invisible to you. So invisible, in fact, that you don't even think of those things as privileges, and you don't notice how they've made your life easier and better. So, when people who don't have access to those privileges don't live as easily and well as you, it's easy to blame that on some inherent moral or intellectual failing, rather than on the system that denied them privileges you've received since birth.
In the United States, there are many privileges that I get, simply for being white, that are denied to people with different skin tones. Read the rest