A weekend of WTF

Monday, 11 August 2014 12:31 am
mokie: They're coming to get you, Barbara! Zombie attacks a woman in a car (distressed)
Saturday, police shot and killed an unarmed teenager in Ferguson, a suburb of St. Louis. Eyewitnesses said the officer pulled up, tried to put Mike Brown in the squad car, and he resisted. His hands were up and he was running away when he was shot in the back; the officer walked over to where he'd fallen and, standing over him, shot him again and again, a total of ten times, in the head and chest. The teen's body laid in the street for four hours with police standing over it while crowds gathered in outrage. In response to the angry crowd, the police brought out dogs and a vehicle so heavily armored that it looked like a fucking tank.

People who knew the teen said he was a good kid who had never done anything wrong. Bystanders said he hadn't done anything to warrant being stopped by the police - he was just walking down the street with a friend. The only whiff of explanation I could find was a vague mention of 'stolen candy', and the suggestion that the officer tried to stop him because he fit a profile. There has been no official explanation of why the officer stopped this kid.

Update: The friend Brown was walking with says the cop told them to get out of the street, and they replied that they were almost home anyway. Also, the number of shots is now less clear, with some sources saying eight and some saying ten. For more information, read "Different versions of the encounter that led to a fatal police shooting" by Jeremy Kohler at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

This morning, police held a press conference saying the incident is under investigation and the officer is suspended, and his version of events was that when he tried to put the teen into the car, the boy went for his gun and assaulted him. STL Public Radio has discussed the legality of the shooting ("The Constitution does not permit police to fire at unarmed, nonviolent, fleeing suspects unless there is a significant threat of death or serious physical injury to the officer or the public"), but the police have all the evidence: they knocked down a local business's surveillance camera and went inside to seize the tapes, and intimidated a witness into surrendering her phone and recording of the incident.

A vigil/demonstration was organized outside the police station, which was reportedly well-attended and well-behaved, but at some point in the evening, a portion of the crowd turned violent. Things were thrown at journalists, shots were fired at cops, and shops were looted, with at least one set on fire afterward.

Protest organizers tried in vain to calm the crowds and get people to go home. The social media response is split evenly between, "These are people outraged at a long history of systemic bullshit, finally blowing up and expressing their rage," and "These people are not from the area and have no respect for the murdered teen or his family - they're just opportunists." It's probably both.

A massive police presence has been mobilized to the area, the local news has finally figured out that we don't really care about that concert Downtown, and this is important enough to keep the information flowing.

So, hello Monday.
mokie: Red-haired punk Vyvyan makes rude gestures at the viewer (snotty)
An odd trend popped up and caught my eye over the last decade: failing businesses requesting donations to keep from going under. I mean donations literally: not an exchange of goods and services, but outright requests for money to pay off outstanding rent and utility bills. They were usually from bookshops under three years old, crossing my path because I am bookish and frequented bookish sites and forums where the requests appeared.

What the requests suggested to me, depending on the details:
- The owner did not have a viable business plan and knew diddly-squat about running a business.
- The owner confused their daydreams about what they'd do with 'the keys to the candy shop' with having a business plan.
- The owner confused being a business in the business of [whatever] with being a church in the service of [whatever].
- The owner confused being a business in a community with being a community center.
- The owner should have started a club instead, as it seemed they wanted a place to hang out with fellow [whatever] lovers rather than a business.
- The business was already beyond saving.

Bookshops aren't really the point here, but they do illustrate it well.

First, more than half of all new businesses fail by their fourth year, simply because new business owners are inexperienced. Successful business owners usually have a few failed businesses under their belt; their failures taught them the pitfalls of business, how to mess up and pick themselves up and eventually succeed. Bookish people who've long daydreamed of having their own bookshop look from a customer's point of view, seeing a lack of bookshops as a need for bookshops, but missing the obvious counterpoint: shops with decades of experience in successful operation were put out of business by Amazon and the chains, and those that survived did so because they had advantages others didn't (like a great walkable urban location) or because they made changes that brought in a wider range of people (like bric-a-brac hunters).

Second, these small business owners overestimated the importance of their interests to the local community, and their role within the community. To bookish folks, a refrigerator is just an appliance, a bath towel just a flop of cloth. They're just things. Books are different, sacred vessels to which we entrust ideas, containers for other worlds and lives. Opening a bookshop isn't just like having the keys to the candy shop - it's like being entrusted with your own church. A church of candy, even. That lends itself to unhealthy expectations, because to the rest of the community, a book is just a thing, and even dedicated bibliophiles are going to have to pay their own rent first.

That's why new and troubled bookshops take to their blogs and Facebook pages, asking for $15,000 in a month to cover their outstanding debts so they can stay in business. They do a little interview with the local paper about how they'll have to shut their doors if the community doesn't come through and show it values its bookshops, and keep Twitter abuzz with updates. They'll certainly get a few more customers, mostly looking for really good going-out-of-business sales, but I haven't seen a single bookshop yet saved by begging the community to keep their dreams afloat.

For some, as the deadline looms, the bitterness creeps in. If all the people offering supportive comments were regular customers... If they were real book lovers, they'd have been there all along, and the shop wouldn't be in trouble. They get huffy at what they see as invasive questions, because who do you think you are, asking them about their business plan and how you can be sure they wouldn't be asking for donations again in a few months? How dare you want to make sure your money wouldn't be wasted? They forget that they run a business, not a charity or a church or a fucking community rec center, and that nobody owes them a goddamn thing - certainly not to be rewarded with free money for their incompetence, no questions asked. "Show us you value our business" is the customer's line.

The community sees a business begging, and a business begging for donations is a business that's bad at businessing. Why throw good money after bad? That hardly gives them any confidence in the business owner's competence.

The community wants to see the business taking steps to fix its own problems, and telling them how they can help - not that it's dead in the water unless its customers come up with a load of cash. People will happily help someone raise money to start a business (and I will, because St. Louis needs Dr. Dan's Pancake Van). People will gladly patronize a business if they like it and it fulfills a need or want for them. People don't want to be blamed for a business they've never heard of going under, however, or shamed for not taking up the flag in someone's personal cause, be it books, raw dog food or organic produce.

To be clear: the point is not bookshops, failing bookshops, how many bookshops turn to donations/crowdfunding, that small businesses should not ask for help, that small businesses should not be given help, or that one should write off troubled businesses as, "Oh well, do-over." It's that the community loves to give businesses support, but asking for charity makes a business look non-viable.

All of which brings us to the inspiration for this ramble!

A local organic grocer's expansion fell through, and now the business is in debt and at risk. Though only five years old, they are pretty well established on the local food scene, and increasing their business steadily. On social media, they're sending a business message that suggests confidence and capability: we're responsible and well-run, not asking for donations but having a sale to raise funds to fix an identified issue. Not a hand-out, just a hand-up - that sort of thing.

It's perfect! It should appeal not just to the organic church and choir, but also to the community. Except, in local print media...
Horine says it would defy the Local Harvest ethos of building a stronger local-food community to close without first turning to that community for help.

"We've always stuck with it," he says. "We believe in what we're doing. It sounds cliché, but we feel like it's bigger than us. So we're going to give the community a chance to try to save it." (Ian Froeb, "Local Harvest Grocery and restaurants face imminent closure, seek help", St. Louis Post-Dispatch 27 January 2014)
Give the community a chance to... Gah!
The Scoop talked with Earnest about her fund raising plans. “What we built the [Local Harvest] model on was building a local food community,” Earnest said. “People will have the chance to say…whether it’s important that we continue to exist. Whether it’s worth it. Whether it’s right for them. Obviously we think so, but do they?” (Ligaya Figueras, "The Scoop: Local Harvest launches community fund raising campaign to avoid closure", Sauce Magazine 27 January 2014)
Whether it's worth.... Gah! 'Cause' wording undermines any sense of confidence and capability. By shifting all action to the consumer, it doesn't tell us how (or if) the business is trying to fix its problem, if there's a plan besides "beg for donations help", if the problem has even been identified or if this is just rescheduling a crisis. It's all just "Support my church of candy! Don't you love candy? Prove it!"

Besides, who says something like that when they're asking you for money? "I need $1000 to pay my rent and heating bill and buy food. You have the chance to say whether it's important to you that I don't freeze to death homeless and starving on the street." And why am I hearing Sarah McLachlan?

To the owners, local and organic is its own little church of candy. To the 'church and choir' customers, it's local, it's organic, but it's also asking for a lot of money, while using language that puts responsibility for its success or failure on the people it's borrowing from. To the community that might have been persuaded to help a local business out, it's a goddamn business, and they do not need to prove any goddamn thing to a goddamn business. The community does not have to prove its love, prove that it cares, prove that it values a certain kind of business. The business has to prove that it's not going to tank and leave people high and dry with worthless gift certificates. Because it's a business, not a cause.

SPACEBALLS: THE CLARIFICATION! (and update): Yes, this entry was edited to clarify the intent (I hope), eliminate some repetition, and address my lack of caffeination when it was written. But more importantly, on February 1st, LHC met their funding goal, and the villagers rejoiced!
mokie: A patriotic squirrel holding an American flag (politics lol)
Courtesy of The Riverfront Times: Missourians File Petition With White House to Secede From Union (Leah Greenbaum, 12 November 2012).

Well, not quite: "The Missouri petition was filed on Saturday and currently has 2,231 signatures (a great number of them from out of state)." (Emphasis mine.) I'm going to cry foul though, not because lol, rednecks!, but because Get in line! St. Louis has been trying to secede from Missouri for a while now (and regain control of its police force from the state government), and I think that should be settled before the red bits of the state decide to go gallivanting off.

Though I think we're in line behind Puerto Rico, so this may take a while...
mokie: A patriotic squirrel holding an American flag (politics lol)
I anticipated trouble voting yesterday. I've never had trouble before. Hell, I've only even had to wait once, because my old neighborhood was apathetic and my current neighborhood seems to be full of 9-to-5 types who vote before or after work.

But news stories reported that some groups were challenging voters' registrations in liberal areas, so I worried until I received my spankin' new permanent voter's card. Then there was all the hubbub about requiring a photo ID (mine is expired), so I was relieved the card had a list of valid IDs and a big, bold and underlined statement that photo ID was not required.

But mostly, I worried because I've never tried to vote with green hair before. I look pretty solidly and disarmingly South St. Louis normally (albeit with dubious fashion sense), as hoosier* as a hand-me-down pick-up--until you get to the green hair.

I'll be honest and admit that I've received remarkably less grief over my occasionally odd hair colors and clothing than many other people do. Since middle school, and outside of cracks from my family, the closest I've come to negativity was a guy on the bus a few years back who said people with weird hair colors were freaks, but it looked good on me and did I want to go back to his place? (No. No, I did not.) That's the closest I've noticed, anyway; being generally oblivious to other people has its benefits.

So I packed my ID, my expired photo ID, and my voter's card, and trekked out to do my civic duty. They asked to see exactly none of it. After a brief wait, I had voted and was on my way out the door, where I helped someone find their line, answered a question about the wait time, and heard not a single word about my fuzzy hoodie or green hair.

I'm proud of my little slice of the city for not being as uptight as I'd feared it might be.


* St. Louis definition, 'urban redneck'.
mokie: Clue's Ms White saying, "Flames on the sides of my face" (angry)
Missouri's conservative legislators have recently introduced two bills to force the state's schools to teach Creationism.

The first is House Bill 1227, hilariously called the Missouri Standard Science Act, which would require Creationism to be taught in grade school, high school, and even college science courses. That's the head-on attack.

From the side, however, comes House Bill 1276, a sneak attack on the scientific theory of evolution. In weasel language that pretends to be about encouraging critical thinking, the bill actually enables Creationists to intentionally derail class time to "review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of the theory of biological and hypotheses of chemical evolution." [Emphasis mine.]

What's so bad about that, you ask?

Your child is sitting in science class, learning about science things. The next chapter in the textbook is evolution...

Under HB1227, by law that textbook must "give equal treatment [ditto] to biological evolution and biological intelligent design." Intelligent design is, by law, not required to "address the time or sequence of life's appearance on earth, time or formation of the fossil record, and time or method of species extinction." In other words, it is not required to be backed up with any sort of facts or evidence. It is presented solely as the belief-based conviction that it's impossible for life to have developed without a behind-the-scenes intelligence directing it.

But the bill "does not require the identity of intelligence responsible for earth's biology but requires any proposed identity of that intelligence to be verifiable by present-day observation or experimentation." No theories about alien colonization. No masturbating Egyptian sun gods wanking the world into existence. No Hindu spontaneous and conscious-less creation. The 'present-day observation' of a supernatural watchmaker is implicitly assumed to be the Judeo-Christian god.

Best of all? "If a scientific theory or hypothesis proven to be false is taught for historical, illustrative, or other reasons, the theory or hypothesis shall be identified as false when taught orally or in writing." That's a sly way of allowing Creationists to toss out evolutionary theory completely, as they frequently (and erroneously) claim to have debunked it, largely based on willful misinterpretation of the word 'theory', which has a specific meaning in scientific parlance.

So, even if you don't want others teaching your child their religion, even if you want to raise your child in your faith and on your terms, or without faith entirely, it doesn't matter: the state will teach your child religion, specifically the evangelical Christian's religion-based argument against science that they don't like.

Again, that's the overt attack. Let's go back to the classroom, where your child is about to turn the page to the chapter on evolution...

Under HB1226, your child's classmate can bring the class to a halt: her mother told her this is all lies, and has given her a pamphlet with discussion points. The teacher cannot say, "That's what some religions say, but that's a discussion for church--back to science!" The teacher has to stop and seriously address, in a science classroom, a religious argument. This is a license for students to evangelize in the classroom. Worse, it's a license to continually interrupt and disrupt science lessons in order to do so, to force teachers to stop and discuss religion instead of teaching science.*

Now imagine it's the teacher doing the disrupting.

Your child is sitting in science class, and the teacher you trust to instruct the class in science has been given a license to denounce it--to put forward not evolutionary theory, but the Creationists' (again, erroneous) claim that they've debunked it. Without regard for your religion and yourbeliefs, without regard for your child's right to an education in accepted science, without regard for their future in the educational system, the state has given evangelical Christians a pass to force your child to study their beliefs.

I honestly do not understand the evangelical point of view on this. They don't trust the state, the schools and the teachers to teach their children about science or sex, but they want to mandate the state, the schools and the teachers to give their children religious instruction? It seems to me that's the one subject you'd definitely want to cover at home.


* Yes, this happens. A friend and former fundie heard about folks doing it; I witnessed a variant of it in a course on Judaism that a Southern Baptist attempted to derail. (The rabbi reduced him to tears, but still.)
mokie: A large white shark rearing from a tiny child's pool (devious)
While drawing up proposals for Camp Feral Child, I noticed that Missouri is one of several states racing to do away with child labor laws. And that's when it hit me: SUMMER LABOR CAMP!

It only makes sense. Why pay money to send them to camp when you can MAKE money sending them to camp? And they'll still be making arts & crafts, but now for a profit! It's WIN-WIN!

Education is your child's job, but who gets a three month vacation from work in this economy? Nobody! Tell your rugrat to get busy bringing home the bacon at Camp Make-a-Buck this summer!

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