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Archive for the ‘law’ Category

twinning injustice, one social structure at a time

Posted by Jenna McWilliams on July 2, 2010

My sister, who just finished absolutely destroying her first year of law school, recently announced an interest in pursuing criminal prosecution. Once I overcame my instant misreading of her announcement (don’t blame me; I’m not a morning person), I figured out pretty quickly that my twin sister and I are pursuing vocations that spring from the same moral impulse. To wit: I must serve and defend people who have suffered or will suffer at the hands of others.

It’s just the name–prosecution–that throws us off, makes us think prosecutors are out to punish the bad guys. In certain respects, of course, that’s exactly what prosecutors do–that’s exactly the power we confer to them. But the public interest in punishing the bad guys is an outgrowth of a deeper public impulse: To maintain the social order, to protect our citizens from injustice and victimization, to fight for the good guys.

Protecting people from injustice and victimization. Fighting for the good guys. That’s pretty much what I like to think I’m doing, too, by working in the service of working class kids and kids who are deeply undervalued and underserved by a system that is not designed to help them. I work in defense of those kids. And another way to frame that work is to say that I am a public prosecutor, building a case against a system that’s criminally unjust, criminally cruel.

But here’s where I think Laura and I part company: I believe we need to demolish the social order. I believe that the public education system is deeply, perhaps fatally, flawed, especially for poor kids and minorities, and I believe we need to work to tear it down. That’s the wheel I’m throwing my shoulder against.

Though we haven’t explicitly talked about this, I’m pretty sure my sister believes the criminal justice system is similarly deeply, deeply flawed (see here, here, here, and here)–but it seems to me that her stance is something like “this is the best system we have right now, the only system we have, so we need to use it to protect the innocents and the victims.”

I’m all, fuck the Man and the horse he rode in on! And my sister’s all, yyyeah that’s nice but lookit all these victims who need protecting and defense right now. And I’m all, Yes! And let’s muster up an army made up of those victims and march with them right to the gates of hell if that’s what it takes! And my sister’s all, um, okayyy but this woman was raped and that guy’s son was murdered and this woman was stabbed by her partner and what if we put aside the anger and try to take care of the people who need us right now?

Details, details, right? Laura and I agree that the world is all effed up, and we agree that we are therefore bound to the work of un-effing up things. The rest is just planning.

Posted in crime, education, human rights, law, politics, public schools, racism, twins | 1 Comment »

on sexism and gender performance: it’s the bathrobes that’s outrageous?

Posted by Jenna McWilliams on March 14, 2010

There’s a nice little conversation going over at really? law? about masculinity, gender performance, law school, and competition.

The post, which was written by my sister Laura McWilliams in observance of International Women’s Day, describes her experience as a female law student. As she explains, her male classmates are the ones who shout her down, who silence her; she writes:

I can’t say for certain that this is about gender, but I can say that I’ve often been dismissed, insulted, or shouted down by men, but only once, since I started this thing, by a woman. Not every man has acted this way, but nearly every person who has acted this way has been a man.

She does add, however, that she hasn’t thought much about how men perform gender, and specifically about “the anxiety that comes with being a man and proving one’s manhood”:

I always separated in my mind the competition between men and women and the competition between men and men. One was about domination; the other was about bonding. Now I’m thinking that I was nowhere near right. The two are more mixed up than that. I’ve only recently begun trying to synthesize the two.

Men’s interactions are about performance–right?–in a way that’s different from how women perform. Men are constantly proving their gender, while women are forced to try to prove–I don’t know, their lack of gender?

The post has received several comments from male readers, and the set of comments by someone who calls himself “passer by” were especially interesting to me. He begins by arguing that women are far more competitive than men are:

I’d challenge the notion that males are more aggressive that females. And I have given it more than a passing thought. Both are more than capable of aggression, at equal levels.

Competitive? I’d say your (sic) wrong, sorry. Both men and women are competitive, but men more often acknowledge when they loose (sic), and let it go on the spot. Maybe with a bit of rude behavior, but that’s it. Women tend to find a way to bring it back around, go after revenge, and throw some vengeance in to boot.

This writer argues that women are more competitive, more vicious in their gossip, and more “catty”; in fact, he writes,

Cats are both masculine and feminine, but how many men do you know that are “catty?” How many men gossip in a way that undermine the credibility and reputation of women, or other men? Far more women tend to expend energy on such things.

Over the course of a multi-comment exchange between Laura and this commenter, she gently suggests that the “cattiness” label is part of how women are disempowered, then follows him as he changes the subject to sports, stereotyping of all men based on how a minority behave, and biological differences that he believes prove that men and women are just different–they just are. He writes:

Yes, environment plays a huge role. But any 8 year old can tell you boys and girls are born different, and anyone who has forgotten that fact hasn’t looked in their pants in far to long. To try to “discover” there are biological differences is a hysterical concept to me. It’s not news that sexual organs are the only distinguishable differences, so are hair patterns, hormones, and emergence differences that are apparent. To think that this doesn’t affect mood, attitude, aggression, and ultimately social perception is just naive.

Laura’s willingness to engage with this commenter, and to consider his arguments thoughtfully and carefully, led to a lengthy and perhaps productive conversation about gender. But I was struck by how hard Laura seems to have had to work to make this happen. The notion that “cattiness” is an apt term for women but not for men is just…well, it’s blatant sexism, is what it is. And the commenter argues that sports are to blame for turning men competitive, but somehow overlooks the inherent sexism in the fact that society “encourage(s) boys to play sports more than girls.”

Yet, by letting these comments pass, Laura makes it possible for the commenter to post an interesting argument: that all men get blamed for the sexist behavior of “a small minority”–in his view, maybe 20% of all men.

Which is a powerful point that’s well worth discussing. I’m not willing to go so far as to agree that sexism is only evident in 20 percent of all men, but it’s clear that not all men engage in sexist behavior, and that not all men who do engage in sexist behavior do so all the time.

The problem, really, is this: Even if less than 20 percent of all men engaged in sexist behavior, we still live in a culture that not only encourages but rewards that kind of behavior. Which means that this “small minority” has a distinct advantage when it comes to not only sports but education, work, and access to advancement opportunities.

Women and men alike should be outraged by this. It means that women and men alike are being forced to play a game that, all things being equal, they would probably choose not to play; it means that the rules of the game are being set by a small subset of our culture; it means that if you, male or female, choose to opt out, you’re setting yourself up to walk a rockier path than you might otherwise take.

Sam Seaborn: Where’d you get the bathrobe?
Carol Fitzpatrick: The gym.
Sam: There are bathrobes at the gym?
Claudia Jean ‘C.J.’ Cregg: In the women’s locker room.
Sam: But not the men’s.
C.J.: Yeah.
Sam: Now, that’s outrageous. There’s a thousand men working here and 50 women.
C.J.: Yeah, and it’s the bathrobes that’s outrageous.

From  “The West Wing: Bartlet’s Third State of the Union (#2.13)” (2001)

Posted in feminism, law, politics, social justice, sports | 2 Comments »

NRA types should maybe just be quiet for a while: some thoughts on the University of Alabama shooting

Posted by Jenna McWilliams on February 13, 2010

I find it painfully appalling that some people are using the recent shooting on the campus of the University of Alabama-Huntsville to make arguments for looser gun control policies.

Details are still somewhat sketchy, but it appears that the perpetrator was a faculty member who was denied tenure. Biology professor Amy Bishop apparently brought a gun to a faculty meeting and, after learning she had been denied tenure for the second time in her career at Alabama, opened fire on her colleagues. Three people were killed and three others were wounded.

It beggars belief to hear some people arguing that the solution to incidents like this is actually more guns. According to msnbc, one student at the university said that she had requested that students with gun permits be allowed to carry their guns on campus and was turned down.

“I’m scared to go back to school,” (the student) said. “However, if they were to allow me to carry my pistol on campus, I would not be as scared…. I’m sorry that nobody in that room had a pistol to save at least one person’s life.”

To sum up, here’s the argument that the above student and others like her are making: that we need to allow more people to carry more weapons in more places. I reject outright such a monstrously irresponsible stance. Giving more people access to more guns is what makes America the gold-medal winner in First-World Gun Deaths.

And I don’t want to hear the argument that stricter gun control laws won’t stop gun violence since criminals and emotionally disturbed people like the woman who allegedly carried out yesterday’s campus shooting will always find ways to get their hands on weapons. That may very well be true, but looser gun control laws only make it more likely that those people will get their hands on weapons, while increasing the likelihood of more deaths resulting from their attacks.

Are you going to tell me that if anybody at that faculty meeting had been carrying a gun, they would have had the presence of mind to pull it out, aim it, and take a shot before Bishop opened fire?

Are you going to tell me that putting guns in the hands of young adults who are passing through some of the most emotionally tumultuous times in their lives is by any stretch of the imagination a smart idea? Drunk kids at house parties? Young romantics who have been spurned by the targets of their affections? Academically ambitious students for whom the C they just received in a class may end their dreams of becoming a lawyer or doctor?

Using shooting rampages to argue for looser gun control laws not only makes for a really bad argument, but it’s also socially irresponsible to an appalling degree.

Posted in academia, law, rage | 3 Comments »

Lawrence Lessig on getting our democracy back

Posted by Jenna McWilliams on February 4, 2010

I have stated that I believe campaign finance reform to be the most significant political issue of our era. The issue was made even more pressing by the recent Supreme Court decision overturning a century’s worth of effort toward pushing lobbyists back out of politics.

Lawrence Lessig, who is perhaps the best legal thinker we have going today, makes his unbelievably compelling case for campaign finance reform in the Feb 22 issue of the Nation. He rails against

[t]he choice (made by Democrats and Republicans alike) to leave unchecked a huge and crucially vulnerable segment of our economy, which threw the economy over a cliff when it tanked (as independent analysts again and again predicted it would). Or the choice to leave unchecked the spread of greenhouse gases. Or to leave unregulated the exploding use of antibiotics in our food supply–producing deadly strains of E. coli. Or the inability of the twenty years of “small government” Republican presidents in the past twenty-nine to reduce the size of government at all. Or… you fill in the blank. From the perspective of what the People want, or even the perspective of what the political parties say they want, the Fundraising Congress is misfiring in every dimension. That is either because Congress is filled with idiots or because Congress has a dependency on something other than principle or public policy sense. In my view, Congress is not filled with idiots.

This article is called “How to Get Our Democracy Back,” but the title’s misleading: Lessig appears near to throwing his hands up in despair. There’s a petition being passed around (and a link to sign the petition closes the article); there are passing references to what Lessig appears to see as our last best hope at reform–especially since, as Lessig argues, the promises of President Obama’s campaign have fallen far short of the results he has delivered. He explains that the Obama administration

has stepped down from the high ground the president occupied on January 20, 2009, and played a political game no different from the one George W. Bush played, or Bill Clinton before him. Obama has accepted the power of the “defenders of the status quo” and simply negotiated with them. “Audacity” fits nothing on the list of last year’s activity, save the suggestion that this is the administration the candidate had promised.

I have no words of hope to finish this post off. When I think about these things, I start to feel like I did in the days immediately following the 2004 election, when more than 50 percent of the American electorate told Bush to stay right where he was. I couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t believe it.

I still have faith in President Obama, renewed some by the roar we’ve been seeing from him in the days following his recent State of the Union address. But for right now at least, I don’t want to think too hard about how his performance so far measures up to his promise. I’m worried the same yawning chasm of despair will open up and swallow me. I don’t think I could continue to stand under the weight of that disappointment.

Posted in elections, law, politics, President Obama | Leave a Comment »

Lawrence Lessig’s Educause 2009 keynote

Posted by Jenna McWilliams on November 12, 2009

If you are an educator, new media activitist, or copyright law hobbyist and you plan to watch only one video this month, I’ve found the video for you. This is video from Lawrence Lessig’s keynote presentation at the Educause conference this month.

Lessig, a Harvard law professor and a founder of the Creative Commons Project, wonders why citizens treat the law with such reverence when even lawyers approach the law with deep skepticism. He argues that it’s time for citizens–especially citizens working in education and science–to approach copyright law with skepticism. He does acknowledge that for much of our cultural history copyright law was a “necessary evil,” but that:

The thing to remember about necessary evils? They’re still evil.

Here’s Lessig’s talk. You’re going to love it. (If you want to watch a version that lines up, across multiple panels, footage of Lessig giving the talk alongside the slides he’s showing the audience, you can click here [requires Silverlight download].

Posted in copyright, culture, education, hacking, intellectual property, law | 1 Comment »

confession: I don’t understand Creative Commons

Posted by Jenna McWilliams on July 1, 2009

I mean, I get the basic idea: that instead of thinking about individual ownership rights to content, we can and need to start thinking about how to participate in collaborative communities. Creative Commons is a set of copyright categories intended to say to other people: I abide by copyright law and want you to know that I’m making my work freely available for repurposing, remixing, and sharing.

What I don’t get is…well, okay, I guess I don’t understand copyright law very well at all. I’m among the countless hordes who shamelessly rip songs, videos, and images and repurpose them without regard to copyright or fair use issues. (Interestingly, though, and in what I can only assume is a holdover to the antiquated notion of genius residing in a single individual, who is solely responsible for the content that erupts from his or her brilliant brain, I do my very best to respect authorship and ownership rights over print texts.) I mean, is it legal for me to copy an image from a google search and embed it in a blogpost? Is it ethical (never mind legal) for me to pwn a YouTube video and toss it into a Keynote presentation? It’s not true, right, that illegally downloading a movie is like stealing a handbag? Right?

I’m unbelievably lame. So lame that there are heatwaves of lameness issuing from all around my person.

Still, this is perhaps a call to action for the kind folks at Creative Commons. I’m pretty much on board with the CC mission, and I’ve even engaged to an extent with Creative Commons licensing in my (now former) position at Project New Media Literacies. Yet here I am, eager but clueless when it comes to copyright.

May I suggest a guerrilla marketing campaign that’s riveting enough to keep viewers’ eyes drawn to the product and clear enough to offer a laundry list of the product’s most appealing features?

Posted in convergence culture, creativity, intellectual property, law | Leave a Comment »

Blogwatch: Cool blog about the law school experience

Posted by Jenna McWilliams on June 17, 2009

I’ve found a fantastic new blog on the ups and downs of law school.

Well, more accurately, so far the blog is about the ups and downs of getting ready to go to law school.

The blog is called Really? Law?, and it chronicles the careening emotions that surround the commitment to attending law school. The author was given a full tuition scholarship to attend Suffolk University in Boston; her posts include musings on her shift away from art (she studied painting) and toward a career in law; the decision to attend a so-called “Tier 4” school instead of the more highly ranked schools that accepted her; the mixture of fear, trepidation, and excitement she feels about the start of law school; and her take on legal issues in the news.

What’s most interesting about this blog is that it presents a refreshingly honest take on the challenges of embarking on something really hard, while reaching out for support, advice, and reactions from readers. Here’s a sample post, called “Is this normal?”

I’m dreaming about law school.

I’m not just dreaming about it; I’m having nightmares. Many of them. Every night. Some are typical: last night I dreamt I couldn’t find my section of the first law class of the day. See, I’d forgotten to attend orientation and never even SAW my class schedule.

OK; typical.

But I also had a dream about moving to my new apartment. I had so many boxes of stuff that the tiny studio had no room for a desk. Clearly, then, I wouldn’t be able to complete my schoolwork.

Somewhat typical. I guess.

Then I had a dream that I ate so much pizza the night before school (those damn nerves) that the clothes I’d laid out for the first day of class didn’t fit the next morning. I pulled out my loosest clothes but then the boxes that were crowding me out in the second dream reappeared and I couldn’t find a mirror. I think you can see where this is going.

Anyone else have that dream? Anyone? Anyone?

I should maybe also mention that the author of this blog happens to be my twin sister. This is us:

Posted in blogging, graduate school, law | 1 Comment »

Breaking: Sony Entertainment CEO Michael Lynton "cannot subscribe to the views of those online critics who insist that I ‘just don’t get it’ "

Posted by Jenna McWilliams on May 31, 2009

Subhead: Sony Entertainment CEO Michael Lynton just doesn’t get it.

Michael Lynton wants guardrails for the internet in the name of preserving creativity. At least, that’s what he says he wants. If you read his recent piece in the Huffington Post, you quickly understand that what he really wants is to preserve his company’s ability to profit from the creativity of others.

Lynton went viral after making the following assertion: “I’m a guy who sees nothing good having come from the Internet. Period.” And in the HuffPost piece, he explains that he welcomes the “Sturm und Drang” that resulted from that statement, because it allows him to make the following point:

the major content businesses of the world and the most talented creators of that content — music, newspapers, movies and books — have all been seriously harmed by the Internet.

He’s right, of course. But any attempt to roll back the appropriation, remix, and–sometimes–piracy practices enabled by new media will fail, and one big reason for this is that people like Lynton can’t see that the internet simply cannot be regulated the way we’ve traditionally approached culturally transformative inventions.

Lynton compares the Internet to the national highway system developed under the Eisenhower administration. He explains the comparison thus:

Contrast the expansion of the Internet with what happened a half century ago. In the 1950’s, the Eisenhower Administration undertook one of the most massive infrastructure projects in our nation’s history — the creation of the Interstate Highway System. It completely transformed how we did business, traveled, and conducted our daily lives. But unlike the Internet, the highways were built and operated with a set of rational guidelines. Guard rails went along dangerous sections of the road. Speed and weight limits saved lives and maintenance costs. And officers of the law made sure that these rules were obeyed. As a result, as interstates flourished, so did the economy. According to one study, over the course of its first four decades of existence, the Interstate Highway System was responsible for fully one-quarter of America’s productivity growth.

We can replicate that kind of success with the Internet more easily if we do more to encourage the productivity of the creative engines of our society — the artists, actors, writers, directors, singers and other holders of intellectual property rights — yes, including the movie studios, which help produce and distribute entertainment to billions of people worldwide.

It makes sense for someone like Lynton to compare the internet to a literal highway–he, and many of his ilk, continue to think of the internet as an “information superhighway” that can be maintained and paid for via a simple system of tolls, speed limits, and regulations on what kinds of vehicles will be allowed to operate, and when, and by whom. This is precisely why the information superhighway metaphor has fallen into disuse by the majority of internet users: It simply does not apply to a system that is far more complex, and far less regulated and regulatable, than the metaphor suggests.

Mind-bogglingly, Lynton believes that “without standards of commerce and more action against piracy, the intellectual property of humankind will be subject to infinite exploitation on the Internet.” He wonders:

How many people will be as motivated to write a book or a song, or make a movie if they know it is going to be immediately stolen from them and offered to the world with no compensation whatsoever? And how many people whose work is connected with those creative industries — the carpenters, drivers, food service workers, and thousands of others — will lose their jobs as piracy robs their business of resources?

Seriously? The head of one of the most new media-reliant entertainment companies in the world is so oblivious to the creativity that is enabled by social media that he really, honestly believes that the social practices that are emerging around these technologies are going to destroy humanity’s creative impulse?

On the other hand, this is perhaps an apt approach for the head of a company that makes its bones on defining creativity as “stuff that can make money for whoever owns the rights to it (e.g., Sony Entertainment).”

Lynton would have us believe that he’s in this fight for the good of mankind, that he and others like him are humanitarians along the lines of this cartoon I pirated from the internet:

Alternately, we might view his motives as more closely aligned with this cartoon I pirated from the internet:

Lynton wants us to know that he is not a Luddite, not “an analogue guy living in a digital world.” I am fully convinced of that. I also believe that his impulse to set up internet guardrails is not quite as humanitarian as even he himself might think. He seems to be confusing the notions of “creative impulse” with “the drive to make money off of creativity.” As anybody who’s been paying attention for the last couple of decades knows, in the internet era, these aren’t the same thing. They aren’t even in the same category. If that makes it harder for behemoths like Sony to survive by standing on the shoulders of the creative types it exploits, then so be it.

Posted in convergence culture, creativity, crime, culture, intellectual property, lame, law, new media, obnoxious, participatory culture, social media, social revolution | 1 Comment »