MODESTLY SAFE

June 12, 2013

This was posted on WATN a few years ago and it still is very appropriate for today, and I wanted to repost it to go with my bit on Appropriate dress earlier.

“Informing women that the rapist is targeting women who do ABC and then suggesting that the women should do XYZ to reduce the risk factor does not seem to me to be blaming. “

Something unfortunate has happened to our culture where modesty is considered bad and repressive, while no one can criticize or question how someone dresses in public, let alone private.  Point out that maybe that outfit is a bit slutty and someone will throw a burkha at you, accusing you of being a throwback at best, even a Jihadi.  So far most people react negatively to children dressing in this manner, but plenty of parents are dressing their daughters in this way, which suggests the tide is shifting there, too.
Recently the New York Police Department suggested women reconsider their outfits when traveling in an area known for crime.

Note to women in the South Park Slope and surrounding Brooklyn: You  might want to think twice before wearing shorts or skirts when you walk  home alone at night. That’s the message some women say police officers  are spreading as they step up patrols in the area in response to at  least 10 unsolved sexual attacks that have taken place since March.

Now, the response to this hasn’t been very positive.  At the Truth About Guns, they suggest you carry a weapon to defend yourself, which isn’t a bad idea for a girl on her own, but that seems to be missing the point.
When I used to be able to go hiking, I’d dress for it.  Long pants (to protect against poison oak, poison sumac and assorted brambles), a hat (keeps the sun and rain off), layers of clothing (for the cool morning, which can be stripped off as it warms up), and a good pair of high top shoes or hiking boots (protect your ankles and feet).  I used to see idiots in shorts and Birkenstocks and shorts out there, and while there’s no guarantee you’ll get hurt that way, why try?  A kicker could probably get away with not wearing any pads most of the time in a football game, but its that every so often that matters, not the usual day.
The point is, wearing a hard hat and steel toed boots at a construction site or pads in a football game is about appropriate wear and reasonable protection from likely hazards.  Its stupid not to do this.  You might feel all flirty and sexy and cute wearing that itty black dress and no bra, but your body isn’t a smart bomb.  It doesn’t only attract smart, sensitive-but-strong and rich young handsome men, it gets the fat guy with Cheetos dust and a World of Warcraft tee shirt as well as the rapist and thug.
Modesty is a virtue, not something to be avoided and considered oppressive.  Its protective and beneficial to society.  Modesty doesn’t only help protect you from predators, it helps shield the men around you from less wholesome tendencies they keep under control.  It helps younger girls learn how to behave at their age, protecting them from their ignorance and foolishness.  And it helps protect your marriage by keeping men at bay until you’re with your husband.
And men have to consider modesty, too.  Sure that rock star style tight pants and shirt open to your navel may make you feel like a male model and hopefully attract a woman with questionable judgment, but it doesn’t help society any better.  And both men and women sacrifice dignity and self respect for that thrill of having someone attracted to you.  Its totally inward focused at the cost of one’s self: this makes me feel good and wanted.
It isn’t regressive or tyrannical to expect people to behave with a modicum of self control in public.  Its a reasonable exchange for the benefit of society, its part of the social contract.  You give up small things to gain great things.  You give up a little bit of your “freedom” to look slutty to protect children from thinking that’s appropriate and men from tending to pay you attention they ought not.
Dress like a total whore in private with your sweetheart.  Abandon all sense of decency and modesty there; that’s where its appropriate.  Do whatever you want there, in private.  Not in secret just not out in public.
The problem is the presumption that every single possible thing that Muslims teach is horrendous.  Guess what: one of the pillars of Islamic faith is charity.  Donating to the poor, giving to those in need.  That’s Muslim, is it horrendous?  Throwing the baby out with the bathwater is a well known saying in English culture, but we so often tend to do it because its easier than thinking and discerning.
Most parents think its terrible to dress up little girls like the ones in that picture – or worse – in the name of entertainment and because the girls might like the attention they get.  Guess what, that’s what Grandma said about the outfit you’re wearing, too.  And the same answer you give right now as to why its okay for you to do so is the same one that generations down the road will give for prostitots.
Is it really so repressive and awful to just show a little dignity?

MISSING THE APPROPRIATE

June 10, 2013

“Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society.”
-Mark Twain

A few years ago, I wrote about a George Will column which had annoyed an awful lot of people.  Will noted that the present tendency of people to wear blue jeans to every single setting and event was not good. People weren’t very happy with my article either, because I agreed with George Will.

Today the jean is a symbol of one’s lack of pretension, of being the everyman, of not thinking you’re better than someone else. It is a flag of the regular guy. Sort of like buying a 4 wheel drive rig and using it only in town “in case it rains.” The extra lights on top, rollbar, and winch are for show, not use. And that’s what jeans have become: show, not use. Someone working at an office doesn’t need durable, easily cleaned fabric tough enough to handle crawling in a mine shaft or running a tractor.

My concern isn’t some moral or ethical principle that jeans are bad.  Clothing is morally indifferent, they  have no ethical significance.  They’re just draperies, and like all material things are right and wrong only in how we as humans use them.  Wearing a scarf isn’t bad, but using one to cover your face while you rob a bank is.

However, they are part of a principle called “appropriateness” which is essentially lost in modern culture.  In fact it is more than lost, it has gone from proper behavior to being ignored to finally being held in contempt.  Like modesty, appropriate behavior has become a concept held in derision.
Appropriate behavior and dress is simply doing what properly and best fits the situation.  Its not appropriate to make out with your beloved in a church service, for example.  Its not appropriate to defaecate on a police car.
WHY?
Yet this basic, obvious principle is hated by many for a few simple reasons.  First, it restricts behavior without immediate, direct, and obvious personal benefit or penalty.  What I mean is this: people only like to do things based on what they gain or what they’ll lose materially and immediately.  In modern society this tendency has become very pronounced by the rejection of absolute, objective authority and ethics.
If there is an overarching and consistent set of rules and principles all should follow, then the following of them becomes the purpose and guide for your behavior.  If you reject that idea, then all that is left is what you gain or lose in any instance.  Since eventual or long-term benefit and loss is abstract and may never even come to pass, people tend to reject that.
So if you say that something is inappropriate, the response is “what do I lose?  What do I gain?”  Dressing or acting inappropriately only has any real punishment or penalty in life when you’re a child – if your parents have any sense of discipline.  Conversely, it can have great benefit, because people may look up to you or admire you because you’re a ‘rebel’ or because you have ‘style’.
Second, people reject and despise the concept of the appropriate because they wish to be young eternally.  This too is connected to a loss of absolute values shared by society; if there’s nothing beyond this life or any spiritual significance to behavior, then all that matters is physical, immediate, and personal.  Something that gets in the way of me having fun, being happy, or doing what I want is then not just frustrating, but bad and people reject it.
Third, people claim a violation of their liberty.  Saying “well that’s inappropriate” is usually met with “its  a free country!  You’re not the boss of me!” or something along those lines.  The appeal is to liberty, the freedom to do anything that someone desires to do.
And its true, freedom does allow you to do stupid, self-destructive, or inappropriate things.  You’re free to smoke, sleep around, eat lousy food, and so on.  However, that doesn’t mean its wise to do all those things.
WISDOM AND PUBLIC DRESS
In other words, you are free to do what is inappropriate, but shouldn’t do it anyway.  The mere fact of liberty doesn’t negate the responsibility we have toward others and the reality of proper behavior.  Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you ought to.  Wisdom shapes our liberty so that we enjoy it properly and constructively rather than simply for personal gain and pleasure.
So this attitude toward dressing appropriately plays out in society on a very broad and all-too-common manner.  I remember not all that many years ago when a woman would slit her throat rather than be caught in public wearing sweats or her hair uncombed.  I remember it wasn’t particularly that distant in the past when showing your underwear was humiliating and shameful.  I remember a few years ago when having stains and rips in your clothing was something people looked down on and tried to repair.
Now I go shopping and the stuff people used to mock Wal*Mart for containing is common everywhere.  I’m frankly amazed that women go out dressed as slovenly and unattractively as they do.  its as if they rolled out of bed, dragged something from the hamper and shook out the dust, then threw it on, sometimes even backward.  Its as if they simply do not care what anyone thinks or how it reflects on them.
SALUTE
There is a section of modern society which understands this concept of appropriateness much better than most, one which upholds this principle and admires it in the face of modern cultural values.  And that section is in the military.
Although not a universal truth, it is generally easier to tell when someone has been in the military by how they dress, act, and care for their life.  They tend to be much more organized, polite, and act more appropriately in general, if not always.  A military man will have a more organized, neat sock drawer than a civilian.  A military man will tend to treat people with respect, particularly authority, more than a civilian.
In the military, the principle of appropriate dress is especially profound.  A soldier can look horrible in the battlefield; unshaven, unbathed, clothes covered with mud and blood, hair grimy and uncared for.  In combat, in the battle, this is appropriate just like a farmer wearing jeans with dirt up to his elbows.  Yet take that soldier to a formal event or to see someone important and they are massively transformed.  Now he’s wearing crisp clothing, is almost painfully shaved, brushed, and combed, and wears a special uniform for special events that is particularly neat and impressive looking.
The soldier understands the concept of dressing appropriately.  He does so because he knows that the right clothing and behavior for the right time is what is supposed to be done, even if it is personally inconvenient.  He does so because he knows that it shows respect for the people around him to act in a manner congruent with where he is and with whom he is dealing.  And most of all, he does so because he knows how it reflects on him, his fellow soldiers, his branch of the military, and his nation.
The soldier understands that how he looks and acts tells people much about who he is, what matters to him, and what his group is like.  Fair or not, what you look like informs people far more about what you are and who you are than how you behave or talk.  If you look like a thug and act like a gentleman, people think “polite thug” not “casually dressed gentleman.”
If you dress like trash, people will tend to figure you are trash, fair or not.  If you dress out of what is proper for a situation, people will think differently of you as well. If you wear a tuxedo camping or a prom dress to garden, people might think you’re insane, or at least ridiculously gaudy.  If you wear torn, muddy jeans and your favorite 25 year old tee shirt with obscenities on it to see your girlfriend’s parents, you won’t make a very positive impression.  If you wear sagging sweat pants and have your hair combed like you used a blender to the store, people figure you have no self esteem and care nothing for anyone around you.
THE MENFOLK STANDING IN LINE
One of the worst offenders these days in the dressing appropriately column are Christians, or at least people who claim to be.  Go to church some day, if you don’t regularly.  What do you expect to see?  Women wearing nice dresses, guys in suits, or at least semi formal attire, right?  Wrong.  Expect to see miniskirts and shorts and sweats, expect to see leggings and low cut tops, crop tops even.  Expect to see people dressed like they do pretty much everywhere else – except Easter, where the ladies tend to dress really nice.  Guys tend to dress however, every day.
Why does this matter?  Well remember what I said about the soldier, above?  The way his clothing matches the setting and situation?  Christians should realize that how they dress shows people what they think about their setting and situation, too.  Christians should realize that what they wear shows the world things about their group.  Christians need to understand that what they wear to church tells everyone something about church, and God, and faith.
Wearing special clothing to special events or to meet special people indicates respect, honor, and dignity.  It indicates that you understand this is something very important and meaningful rather than the usual day-to-day activity.  If you dress for church like its a backyard barbecue, then you demonstrate to everyone there that this means no more to you than a bunch of buddies playing pick up football in the park.  That its not important, not special, and not meaningful.  And the world sees this and figures you don’t have any particular respect for worship or God if your one day a week service is just another get together with buddies in your tee shirt and shorts.

And ladies, there’s a line from Led Zeppelin’s song Hey, Hey What Can I Do that applies well:

On Sunday morning when we go down to church
See the menfolk standin’ in line 
Don’t say they come to pray to the Lord 
When my little girl, looks so fine

You might not think anything of that tight skirt slit to your hip or the top that gaps open, but even the most pious man is going to be distracted by a pretty girl in little clothing.  Think a little before you let your daughter go to church in that skirt up to her thighs, or the top so tight you can read the tag on her bra.  Give us guys a break, huh?

There is an exception to this pattern, though.  Black churches tend to be very formal on Sunday. Black folks dress up when they go to church, they wear the nicest stuff they own.  They dress to the nines, and it can be dazzling to see.  Even the poorest folk will have one really nice outfit they only wear to church and funerals, and they wear it well.  Yes, this can be a matter of pride and so on, but that’s another issue.  The fact is, when someone walks into a church and sees everyone dressed really well, that tells them something about what the people there think of the event.
FASCIST!
Here is where civil libertarians will throw rocks at me and presume I want some massive government program or set of laws to dictate dress codes everywhere.  That my call for appropriate clothing means I think that people should be compelled to dress exactly how I say, by force of law.
And that says something about our tendency today to see government as the answer to all things.  If your first response to someone saying “That’s not right” is to presume they mean “and there should be a law” that means you still tend too much to see government as the primary solution to problems.
What I’m calling for is not law, but wisdom. As a people we need to regain an understanding that there’s more to life than what makes us happy and comfortable, what keeps us healthy so that we can then live life better.  It doesn’t take some angry old man or snooty prude to see that popular culture is in many ways getting a lot worse.  That trend cannot be fixed by laws or government, only by wisdom that starts at home and expresses its self appropriately and with dignity.
THE SOCIAL BROKEN WINDOW
In a way, this is a sort of “broken windows” form of social structure.  For those who are unfamiliar, there’s an approach to law enforcement which Rudolph Giuliani showed to incredibly successful effect in New York City.  Basically the concept is that if you stop the little crimes, the big crimes are stopped as well.  That if you clean up an area from graffiti, vandalism, and other petty crimes, then the big crimes do not fester and develop there.  And it cleaned up Times Square in a matter of a few years.
A society which cannot govern its self on small things cannot trust its government for anything.  If we cannot through pressure, wisdom, and teaching form a society which handles its daily running then there’s no hope for good government of any kind.  The ability of a culture to handle its day-to-day life properly and wisely will shape every aspect of that culture, from top to bottom.  Schools, government, art, entertainment, children, elderly, pets, food, everything is influenced by this basic principle.  A good society needs far fewer laws than a bad one; as I’ve said many times, the more laws a society has, the greater a sign that they are lawless.

By repairing our culture, we repair our government.  The biggest flaw with libertarian, conservative, and leftist alike is that they all think we can fix it from the top down.  We cannot repair our government until we repair our homes and neighborhoods, our towns and counties, and states, our culture.  From that will flow better government.

And its the little stuff like dressing appropriately for the setting that will get it done.

POLITICAL CARTOONAGE

June 7, 2013

“I’ve never canceled a subscription to a newspaper because of bad cartoons or editorials. If that were the case, I wouldn’t have any newspapers or magazines to read.”
-Richard M. Nixon

There was a time when I considered trying to become a political cartoonist.  I used to enjoy looking through books of political cartoons all the way back to Thomas Nast in the 1800s.  Their one-panel wit and ability to present a concept with quick, distinct imagery was fascinating to me, and politics interested me back even in high school.

I dropped the idea fairly quickly, as the difficulty and pressure of getting something out regularly, even daily, seemed immense to me.  I can tell where they get their ideas now, but as newspapers die the political cartoon dies with them.  Newspapers are cutting back on expenses, and a staff cartoonist is one of the things they’re snipping off.
Frankly, people don’t much care about political cartoons these days, if they ever did.  It was a powerful way of getting a point across in the past, but in the days of youtube, a cartoon seems weak and pointless to many.  And while some cartoonists in the past were very gifted, many today are so poor at delivering the visual message everything has to be labeled.
Gabriel, the artist at Penny Arcade, hates political cartoonists, not due to any political bent (he’s pretty left-leaning himself) but because of their hackery and incompetence.

Penny Arcade

As I wrote at the time of that piece, its not that there are no good political cartoons out there, its that they’re so few lately and even formerly good ones have gone off the deep end like Pat Oliphant.  And as the industry faces extreme difficulty in the new media age, some have decided to go a different route.
Pat Cagle is a long-time political cartoonist who saw that newspapers were dumping their in-house cartoonist and going with syndicated or freelance work, if any.
So he started up Cagle.com, a business which buys political cartoons from a wide variety of artists and supplies them for newspapers.  Some cartoonists can’t stand the business model, but it seems like a pretty good one for the art to have any future at all.  Cagle has made pretty good money at this, providing content to newspapers to fit exactly what they want.
Some in the industry hate the man for it, like bitter, spiteful hack Ted Rall:

Daryl Cagle is an existential threat, the Osama bin Laden of American editorial cartooning. His relentless quest to squeeze every cent out of the industry keeps leading him to new lows: aggregating cartoons into huge packages in which the cartoonists make pennies but he’s a multimillionaire (like Arianna!), repurposing editorial cartoons over and over to save time, encouraging the worst ethical practices, including undercutting already rock-bottom reprint rates, censoring comments posted by fellow political cartoonists who disagree with him from online forums, and of course plagiarism.

Rall has never been known for subtlety or understatement in his work, but for some reason he gets a lot of business.  But Cagle pulled something recently which really set off the angry comments.  Check out these two cartoons:

Now, as you can see, they are identical except for the “solution” caption at the bottom, which is exact opposites.  The Boston bomber was actually read his rights, incidentally.  Both ran on Cagle.com, and his explanation?  He changed his mind. Michael Cavna writes at the Washington Post:

By Monday, Cagle published the same visual, but with the caption changed to express that “All of them” deserved to be read their rights.

“I got such a strong reaction from readers against the first version of the cartoon, with many well-reasoned arguments, that I changed my mind — something that doesn’t happen much in this profession,” Cagle tells Comic Riffs on Wednesday afternoon. “So I posted a revised version of the cartoon.

An alternate explanation: papers were given two options to run, based on what they preferred in a political cartoon.  And that’s the explanation that most people seem to figure was accurate.  And its hard to disagree with that assessment; if you change your mind, maybe its time to draw something new maybe even explaining why you did.

Whatever the reason, one thing is sure: political cartoonists must have a single, distinct, and strong opinion on a topic to portray it well in their work.  And if you’re willing to sell that out to the highest bidder or turn it into such a business that you’re just grinding out what the customer asks for, then you’re not really a political cartoonist at all.
As a final note, Cagle brings up something very interesting about the whole Miranda decision in the Washington Post article:

“I remember when the Miranda decision came down in the 1960s, on a 5-4 vote,” he writes in an e-mail to Comic Riffs. “It was controversial for a long time; the only area of the law where ‘ignorance of the law is no excuse’ didn’t hold true.

“I got a large enough sampling of e-mails in response to the cartoon … that I realized the Miranda decision no longer seems to be controversial — it has become a part of our national fabric.”

And that is something I’d not considered.  I was born in 1965, Miranda was a Supreme Court decision in 1966.  Effectively my whole life, I’ve been in a nation where people have to be read their rights – its interesting listening to Dragnet, for example, from the 50s where the cops worked much differently.

I never really even considered the topic much, other than sympathizing with cops and a suspicion that something is basically wrong with the system.  My concern was that the criminal still committed the act, even if a cop forgot to “Mirandize” the suspect.  So why should they be allowed to go free over the lack of reading a statement about rights?  Punish the cop, maybe, but set them free?  That’s ridiculous.
And Cagle has a point. Ignorance of the law is no excuse, even if you had no idea its illegal to steal turnips from the farmer’s market, you still will get busted and prosecuted for theft.  Except for in this case, where ignorance of your rights means you walk?  That is simply an oddity that I question the validity of.
Yet if you argued that we should get rid of the Miranda reading or change the penalties, people would scream civil rights and call you a fascist.  Something to think about, at least.

DRONING ON AND ON

June 7, 2013

“I can remember when Obama became president and all those stories about evil Bush-drones that invariably only ever killed women, children and ‘wedding parties’ suddenly vanished…”
A while back I wrote a piece about the use of drones for attacks on suspected terrorists and their camps in Pakistan and other nations.  It came from a study by Stanford and New York Universities and some news bits about drone strikes and the affect they have on people who aren’t even targeted or involved in terrorism.

I remember my mother telling me that during WW2 as a child she was terrified when bombers flew overhead in Wyoming because she was afraid they were Japanese or German and they would bomb her house.  Imagine that happening daily, with the drones blowing up parts of your neighborhood or nearby areas apparently without warning.  It can’t be easy to deal with, even if you hate terrorism and radical Islam.
But there’s another aspect of drone use that is troubling to some.  Waleed Aly wrote a column in the Sidney Morning Herald recently about the use of drones in warfare:

War is a kind of contract. Each side confronts the other, with the risk of death and defeat. In short, war should come at a cost. That contract is shredded when you’re attacked by something that cannot itself be killed. It’s not remotely a fair fight. It’s scarcely a fight at all. For all the horror, pain, and gore of the battlefield, there’s something to be said for it. It’s one of the very best reasons every nation has not to go to war. The greater the sacrifice, the graver the decision to fight. That’s why the Vietnam War – fought by people conscripted into the army – was so much more toxic for the US government than the Iraq War. You’re more likely to proceed with a strike based on sketchy intelligence if you’re risking only the lives of faceless civilians, and not any of your soldiers. The prospect of waging a war without sacrifice is a  frightening prospect. It makes war that much more disposable; that much closer to being waged on a whim. And no gesture of congressional oversight is going to change that.

Is this the kind of calculus of war we want? The historical record suggests our every military development seems to have made war less and less costly for those waging it, with horrific results. Once, rulers risked their own lives on the battlefield. Then the lives of ordinary citizens, called up by conscription. Now they risk the lives of professional soldiers who make the choice to get in harm’s way. And in the meantime the ratio of civilian casualties to those of combatants has ballooned.

And I agree with some of this perspective.  The cheaper, easier, and less dangerous you make war, the more attractive it becomes.  War is sheer hell, as I wrote a few days ago, and miserable to be in.  US soldiers fight to protect who they love and get back home, because going through war is horrific and you want it to end.

But if you make war distant and remote, more like a video game (as many on the left complained when Bush was president, but became suddenly silent when Obama took office), then it becomes less ghastly and more of a reasonable policy choice.  Studies have shown that Democrat presidents are more willing to use drones and air strikes than Republican ones, with the media carefully making sure nobody thinks of this as warmongering.
The main reason, I believe, is because they see no US casualties and thus its okay.  Its not so much that they are opposed to the use of force, rather they are conditioned by seeing coffins come home from Viet Nam to be opposed to casualties resulting from the use of force.  If you can stomp on the target and achieve policy goals without our guys getting hurt, then go to it!  Drones cost up to $10,000,000 to build but that’s immensely cheaper than what it takes to train, equip, maintain, and support troops to head into an area because of all those tanks and guns and jets.  One drone can hum its way into enemy territory and nail a target pretty easily and safely where it would take a lot to get soldiers in there (and back out) reliably.
However, you can tell this article was written by someone who really doesn’t understand war or fighting at any level.  This isn’t a duel where everything is set up as equally as possible.  This isn’t a sporting match with rules to give everyone a fair break.  When you’re fighting for your life, its not just proper but wise to make sure you get every break and your enemy as few as possible.  There is no “contract” in war, implied or otherwise, and especially not against craven scum who hide among the public wearing civilian clothes so they can throw acid in the face of girls who attend school and burn churches down.  If there ever was such a mythical contract, the other side never even bothered looking at it.
Another problem with this article is that its written by Waheed Aly, who in a previous column declared terrorism a “perpetual irritant” that the world seems to be “maturing” enough to basically ignore.  Aly went on to write “while it is tragic and emotionally lacerating, it kills relatively few people and is not any kind of existential threat.”  Aly’s argument in the drone column states that drones are bad because civilian casualties are on the rise.  But terrorism exclusively targets civilians; an attack on the military isn’t terrorism, its a military strike.
So Aly’s calculus seems to be this:
  • drones used against Muslims — bad because it kills people and hurts some civilians.
  • terrorism — merely an irritant despite killing people and targeting civilians.
Waheed Aly also is tied to Muslim groups, some of which are a bit on the extreme side.  That plus his comments on “maturing” toward terrorism (meaning “stop fighting back”) suggests that his problem with drones is less his stated case of fairness and ease of war than being on the other side.
I mean, its hard not to notice the guy’s name, its like having Klaus Schultz during WW2 at a major newspaper telling everyone the US military is bad for using machine guns against the Germans, while saying Germans using buzz bombs is an “irritant.”  Even if he’s not on the other side its certainly going to seem like it.
I agree that the heavy reliance on drones is a bad idea (if for no other reason than the lack of intelligence being gathered) but his arguments seem weak and more propaganda than honest concern.

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