Sunday, July 26, 2009

Yes, This Is What Rape Culture Looks Like

Having just juxtaposed two different police procedurals to find a cultural commonality, I feel I could do something similar with ESPN, which finds itself oddly juxtaposed between stories about 'star' female reporter Erin Andrews being recorded while undressing (with the subsequent video being passed around the internet like so much crinkled glossy paper from a 70's copy of Penthouse), and stories about the ESPN corporate brass deliberately ordering its talent to ignore the civil suit against Ben Roethlisberger for allegedly raping a hostess at the hotel/casino in Lake Tahoe where the Steelers quarterback was a guest.

Thankfully, I don't have to, because someone much sharper has covered the latter half of this juxtaposition: Jaclyn Friedman of the Yes Means Yes blog. Friedman only briefly mentions the connection to the Andrews video affair, so let me make one observation in order to bring that juxtaposition a bit more into focus. Friedman reports thus:

Gossip blogger Perez Hilton is already suggesting she may be a lying golddigger. That's rape culture. As this woman's case proceeds, her body, her actions, her mental state, motives and her history will be put on public trial in a way that would never happen if she were accusing someone of kidnapping or attempted murder.

First, the obvious: there will always be those who find that, in a time of crisis, they can improve their own situation by loudly identifying with those in power, the better to be rewarded when the status quo reasserts itself. Hilton's counterpart in the Andrews video affair, oddly enough, happens to be another female sports reporter, USA Today's Christine Brennan, who suggested in an interview with sports talk radio that, while Andrews certainly didn't deserve to be humiliated by a video of her undressing in her hotel room circulating over the internet, is there anybody who's really surprised by it, given who she is? The money quote, by my estimation is this: "Women sports journalists need to be smart and not play to the frat house." Brennan wins here becuase, even though her comment won't at all impact the trend of sexed-up sideline reporters getting more attention and thus opportunities than their less-hot, more-competent counterparts**, it will allow Brennan's name to float to the top as a 'good soldier' when it comes time for the industry to fig-leaf itself against charges of only promoting shallow sexpots to broadcast coverage by promoting someone who hasn't been asked to appear in Maxim.

** - One of the best sports reporters out there, male or female is Suzy Kolber, who most people, if they know her at all, will remember her for an incident in which she was sloppily hit on, while on-air, by an obviously drunken Joe Namath; this incident inspired a sports blog named Kissing Suzy Kolber, which celebrates the role of teh bewbies in sports culture while also doing its best to be snarky about it.

Second, and what probably should be as obvious but apparently isn't, is that there's a class divide here that's just as powerful as the sexual divide: if Roethlisburger, instead of letting his alleged victim leave his hotel room, had taken her to his car, driven her to a desolate location (say, a reservoir), killed her, and left her body to be found days later by hikers, I'm still not convinced that Roethlisburger would be brought to justice.*** Reasonable people can disagree over whether OJ Simpson was guilty of murdering his ex-wife, or whether Kobe Bryant was guilty of his own alleged rape. But if justice were random, we'd expect some of these cases to come back as 'guilty' verdicts just by chance; instead, we consistently see the wealthy and powerful being found not guilty when accused of crimes against women.

*** - Unless, of course, the victim had not been a human female, but an animal. This is the bizarre counterexample of Michael Vick, who is far more of a pariah in NFL circles than Ben Roethlisburger will ever be.

So, go ahead and consider this article an 800-word alternative to simply linking to Friedman's original essay and saying, "Yes. That right there."

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Copping To The Culture

There's been a lot of virtual ink spilled on the arrest of Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. by the Cambridge Police Department, and especially the subsequent media cold war between Professor Gates, the Cambridge Police, and even President Obama. A lot of ink has been spilled on the subject of race in an allegedly post-racial America, but that's not what I want to discuss (especially given that I'm on record as believing that Obama's election did not actually signal the advent of post-racial America).

What I want to discuss is something I feel was just as significant in the Gates issue, but is an aspect of American policing that simply doesn't get discussed, and I think can be thrown into relief most clearly by contrasting Mr. Gates's experience with the experience of a 24-year old man in my home state, shot dead earlier this week by a sherrif's deputy despite only being clad in a swimsuit with no obvious weapons at hand. The victim and the deputy were both white, as far as I can tell from reports, so race played no role in his death.

What I think did play a role in Tyler Heilman's death was a part of police culture; a part that's seeping its way into the larger popular culture as a result of the general reaction by current storytellers, whether for fiction or non-fiction, to attempt to avoid the demonization of authority -- specifically that of the military and police -- during the 1960's.

I personally have not had bad experiences with police. I've had some cops as family friends. When studying theater in Yuma, AZ, I volunteered to help the local police academy with their domestic violence training by acting as a scene re-enactor. I've had plenty of exposure to the positive side of police culture.

One of those things that is absolutely true of police culture (and to an extent, military culture), is that those who are in the culture see themselves as 'the good guys', and those who stand in their way or challenge them, by default, become 'the bad guys'. It's a fairly simplistic way of looking at the world, but in the sense that it helps promote camaraderie among officers, I can't say that it's innately a bad thing.

The problem comes in when the 'cops are good guys, others are bad guys' mentality begins to be more generally applied. A few examples:

- About the only truly bad experience I've had with police was once when I was working as a behind-the-wheel driver training instructor. High school students are required to have six hours of behind-the-wheel training before they can apply for their driver license, so it wasn't at all uncommon for me to be called to a house to pick up a high school kid. One time, though, I went to a house in north Minneapolis where no one answered the door, and as I was walking to find a pay phone to call my office (this was years before cell phones became common for 'average folks' to own), I was approached by a pair of Minneapolis's finest, cuffed, put into the back of the squad car, asked to tell my story, and warned sternly to think about my story because they were sure I was going to have to change it.

As it turned out, the girl who lived in the house had recently broken up with her abusive boyfriend, and without even looking out the window, had assumed that I was the boyfriend when I'd knocked to pick up the girl for her driver lesson. Once the confusion was cleared up (with plenty of apologies from the girl and her mother), the cops seemed willing to move me over from 'likely bad guy' to 'misunderstood good guy' status, and we all parted fairly amicably (though I still asked my office if I could take the rest of the day off after the stress of the encounter).

- A fictional example, yet still interesting:

A recent episode of "The Closer", a police procedural starring Kyra Sedgewick as a chief of homicide detectives, featured a situation where two cops were murdered by neo-Nazi skinhead bikers. Also dead at the scene was an 18-year old boy who might or might not have been part of the assassination plot.

The episode introduced us to Captain Sharon Raydor, played by Mary McDonnell (the same actress who portrayed President Laura Roslin on the recently concluded Battlestar Galactica TV series). Raydor is the head of the FID, whose responsibility it is to investigate incidents where police are alleged to have exceeded or abused their authority.

Raydor's interest is solely with the dead 18-year old, yet the episode and everyone in it treat Raydor's investigation as though it would impair Chief Johnson's own investigation of the cop-killers. At every point where there is conflict between Raydor and Johnson, Johnson 'wins', including getting Assistant Chief Pope (played by the outstanding J.K. Simmons) to order Raydor to take a back seat to Johnson's investigation, despite Raydor's team providing the information that allows the police to track down the car used in the shooting.

It turns out, of course, that Johnson is right all along -- the kid was actually an accomplice to the killing. Not only is Raydor not present when Asst Chief Pope lauds Johnson and her team for not only bringing justice, but easing the pain of the fallen officers' families, the final scene between Raydor and Johnson has Raydor brining a verbal knife to a gunfight, as Johnson argues that Raydor's unit's very existence is bad for cops by making them hesitate to defend themselves when needed, while Raydor's only response is to point out that, even with her unit, the city paid out $70 million in fines and was required to release hundreds of alleged criminals because of police abuses.

(Interestingly enough, though, Raydor's argument may be better than I gave it credit for -- she mentions the 'Rampart case', which I assumed was a made-up event, but was in fact a near-legendary police corruption case which inspired the TV series "The Shield". Still, for the purposes of this scenario, none of the officers involved possessed even a whiff of corruption, making the specific argument moot for the purpose of defending herself against the charge that Raydor herself was somehow complicit in the officers' deaths. At least the writers portrayed her as being in uniform to attend the funeral of the slain officers.)

So much for examples.

It's pretty easy to see how a group of officers, summoned to the scene of an alleged break-in, might find themselves unconsciously falling back on their shared 'what are you doing, we're the good guys' social construction of reality when confronted by a mouthy black man who claims he's simply standing in his own house.

It's a bit harder to understand how this might have contributed to the death of Tyler Heilman, though. Still, I'll point out the following:

- Kasota is not a very large community (population 680 according to the 2000 census)

- Heilman was well-known as a delinquent, with many juvenile and young-adult arrests for vandalism, assault, and underage drinking, making him likely to be well-known by the local community, especially the police

So Deputy Waldron knows Heilman is a 'bad guy'. Then, when Heilman's response to a traffic stop by an unmarked police car is to get out and grapple with Waldron, the situation escalates.

The part we'll probably never know is why Waldron, after Heilman noticed his badge and stopped fighting, came up shooting. It's hard to imagine that as a fully conscious decision, though, so unconscious influences such as culture might well have influenced his actions.

I don't think this culture is going away any time soon. It's been part of police culture for, well, probably as long as there have been police. And popular culture is adopting it, too, as I noted above: police procedurals are among the most popular of shows right now, from CSI to The Closer and all along the spectrum of the various flavors of Law & Order. The crazy thing? Those folks who take the time to look at the 'we're the good guys' culture know it's bullshit, from the sociologists who study how things like the Rampart case came to be, to folks like David Simon, who produced The Wire, probably my favorite cop show of all time. Here's how Simon himself put it in an interview for Slate magazine:

If I had to write a police procedural right now, I'd put a gun to my head. And I really have to say this, even Homicide was prisoner of the form. On shows where the arrest matters, where it's about good and evil, punishing crime, the poor and the rich, the suspect exists to exalt the good guys, to make the Sipowiczs and the Pembletons and the Joe Fridays that much more moral, that much more righteous, that much more intellectualized. It's to validate their point of view and the point of view of society. So you end up with the same stilted picture of the underclass. Either they're the salt of the earth looking for a break, and not at all responsible, or they're venal and evil and need to be punished. That's a good precedent for creating an alienated America

If Simon is right here, and I think he makes a good argument, then this tendency of cops and those who support them to see themselves as the 'good guys', and anybody who opposes or obstructs them as the 'bad guys', then this very attitude is part of the numerous stresses turning America into a divided, partisan, torn, and ultimately broken nation.

Is anybody going to cop to that, though?

ADDENDUM: Ask and ye shall receive, I suppose. "Jack Dunphy" is an LAPD officer who, in this National Review Online article, basically puts it as bluntly as I've seen it put: if the police have a reason to suspect you of wrongdoing, you're a 'bad guy' until you can demonstrate otherwise.

Oh, and remember that Rampart case we discussed above? Yeah, that was the LAPD involved in that. Surprised?

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Explanation to the Solution to 'Blue Eyes'

Hidden in the domain is a logic puzzle called 'Blue Eyes'; I'll let you follow the link to read the actual puzzle.

Hidden in another location on is the solution to the puzzle; I'll let you follow the link to read that.

The problem is that Randall Munroe, the developer of this puzzle and solution, doesn't explain the answer quite as well as he might; he so much as admits that his explanations aren't as clear as they might be (though with Randall, it's possible this is deliberate, given the kind of humor he displays in the webcomic associated with the domain name).

Having recently puzzled through the thing myself, I'll endeavor to provide a scholarly recapitulation of the puzzle's underlying logic. (Note that, while the puzzle itself is copyrighted by Munroe, scholarly analysis of copyrighted texts is protected in the U.S. under copyright law, so I'm not worried about receiving a cease-and-desist order from a man in a black hat.)

(For those who might need it: SPOILER WARNING! I'm about to explain the solution to Munroe's puzzle in potentially excruciating detail, so don't say you weren't warned.)

There is an unstated presumption in the initial conditions of the puzzle: it's presumed that the Guru is telling the truth. Since this presumption is necessary for the puzzle to be solvable, it can probably remain unsaid, but I point it out to show that, as Munroe himself states, the answer to the puzzle is not to figure out that the question is a trick question. You really can deduce the given answer logically.

Munroe begins by demonstrating that for any number of people on the island, if they are all blue-eyed, then they'll all eventually realize this after a number of days have passed. My explanation of this proof:

Begin with the hypothetical that Munroe does: that there is only one person on the island. In this case, that person knows his eyes are blue, and thus leaves that very night.

If there are two people on the island, then presuming the Guru is telling the truth, there is either one blue-eyed person and one non-blue eyed person, or two blue-eyed people. If person #1 (he) looks at person #2 (she) and doesn't see blue eyes, then he knows his eyes are blue and he leaves that night; likewise if she looks at him and doesn't see blue eyes, she knows her eyes are blue and she leaves that night.

Here's the first key to understanding the puzzle: if he looks at her and sees blue eyes, but she doesn't leave on the first night, then he knows that she saw blue eyes and was expecting him to leave. She realizes the same thing, and thus they both realize they have blue eyes and leave together on the second night.

Move on to three people. If only one has blue eyes, we're back in the original situation; since we know that there's at least one blue-eyed person, if that person can't see another blue-eyed person, then he knows he has blue eyes and leaves the first night. If two of the three people have blue eyes, then two of the people will see one other blue-eyed person and find themselves in the same situation as the two blue-eyed people alone; if she doesn't leave the first night, then she sees a second blue-eyed person, but since he doesn't see a second blue-eyed person, he has to be that person. The same is true of his not leaving and what she can deduce from that.

This is actually the second key, but we'll come back to it.

If all three of the people (A, B, and C) are blue-eyed, then the situation goes like this: since I can already logically determine (from the argument above) that if I'm not blue-eyed, the blue-eyed people I see will leave when they realize they're all blue-eyed, if they don't leave on that day, then I'm also blue-eyed, and we all leave on the third day.

Thus, Munroe's explanation can be boiled down to a formula: if there are X people, all with blue eyes, they will realize it and leave on day X. It's an inductive proof, to a point, but inductive logic still qualifies as logic.

If you're scratching your head wondering how it is that the people who don't have blue eyes realize that they don't have blue eyes, well, now we get back to the second key: It doesn't matter how many people without blue eyes you put on the island.

Consider the situation where you have 101 people on the island, but only 1 has blue eyes. Since each non-blue eyed person can see one blue-eyed person, they don't know for sure that they don't yet have blue eyes. But the single blue-eyed person sees nobody else with blue eyes, realizes he's the only one with blue eyes, and departs on the first night. When he departs, everyone else realizes that they don't have blue eyes, because if any of them had, the guy wouldn't have known to leave. X is 1, and he leaves on Day 1.

The same is true for 100 non-blue-eyed people and two blue-eyed people. The two blue-eyed people will each expect the other to leave on day 1, but when they don't, they'll realize that they're both blue eyed and leave on day 2. Why? Because each of them can only see one other blue-eyed person, and if that person didn't leave on day 1, it can only mean that that person saw another blue-eyed person. X is 2, and they leave on Day 2.

The final thing you may be asking yourself is this: how do the non-blue-eyed people realize that they don't have blue eyes? Isn't it possible that one of them will believe that they do have blue eyes simply by mistake?

Actually, no, that will never happen. Let's use the original puzzle setup to explain why: 100 blue-eyed people and 100 brown-eyed people.

If you are blue-eyed, you'll see 99 other people with blue eyes. Based on the chain of logic listed above, you'll expect them all to leave on Day 99.

If you are brown-eyed, you'll see 100 other people with blue eyes. Again based on the chain of logic listed above, you'll expect them all to leave on Day 100.

If you see 99 blue-eyed people, but they don't all leave on Day 99, that means you also have blue eyes. Note that this is true for each of the 100 people with blue eyes -- none of them actually realizes that he or she has blue eyes until that day when the other blue-eyed people don't leave. You then know you have blue eyes and leave on Day 100, and everyone else who realized this with you leaves on Day 100 as well.

If you see 100 blue-eyed people, and they all leave on Day 100, then you realize you don't have blue eyes. If you did, they'd have all stayed and you'd have all realized you have blue eyes on Day 101.

Nobody on the island knows for certain whether or not they have blue eyes until the day they all leave together; remember, if any of them could have figured it out sooner, they'd have had to leave sooner -- the rules are that once you know your eye color, you have to leave.

Interestingly enough, and one reason it took me so long to get my head around the answer, is that the solution seems similar to what I call the False Execution Paradox:

You are convicted of a death sentence in an imaginary nation. Because of a quirk in the law of this nation, you cannot be legally executed unless the following conditions are met:

  • You must be executed within one week of the sentence, and
  • You cannot be executed if you know the day of your execution prior to noon on the day before your scheduled execution.

At first glance, the combination of conditions, specifically the second one, seems impossible to satisfy, because of the following logical argument. Say you're sentenced on a Sunday:

You cannot be executed on the following Sunday, because if they tell you prior to noon on Saturday that you'll be executed, they'll violate the second condition, but if they don't tell you before the end of the day on Friday, you'll know on Saturday morning that you're going to be executed on Sunday (it's the only day left) and thus violate the second condition.

By the same logic, once you know you can't be executed on Sunday, you also can't be executed on Saturday -- since you know you can't be executed on Sunday, if they don't tell you before noon on Thursday, you'll know then you'll be executed on Saturday, which again violates the second condition. But if they tell you Thursday that you'll be executed Saturday, that also violates the second condition.

You can work out a chain of logic that 'proves' that there is no day on which they can legally execute you, so you sit in your cell confident that you'll have to be released when, completely by surprise, they inform you on Tuesday afternoon that you'll be executed on Wednesday, fully satisfying both conditions and legally executing you. What went wrong?

I don't yet have an answer to that question, but I suspect that the distinction lies in the difference between the logically valid modus ponens logical argument structure:

If A then B.
Therefore, B.

And the logically invalid argument known as 'denying the antecedent':

If A then B.
Not A.
Therefore, not B.

And, of course, it may not be a formal logic flaw at all; just an odd mapping error between natural language and the symbolism of formal logic.

Here's my problem: the False Execution puzzle depends on a chain of logic constructed arithmetically over a timespan, but it can be demonstrated that the logical chain constructed is invalid (or possibly valid but unsound) simply by proposing a valid execution scenario. Blue Eyes is also dependent on a logical chain constructed arithmetically over a timespan, but it is not nearly as obvious that a scenario can be constructed that proves that the logical chain is unsound. For small numbers of people, the chain can be shown to be perfectly valid and sound, and while there's no reason to suspect that the chain can't be extended indefinitely, the same would be thought to be true of the False Execution puzzle, until it's demonstrated how the chain can be broken.

If you think I'm a bit weird for staying up nights worrying over this stuff, then, well, you're right.

Friday, July 03, 2009

At the Dome

In the Metrodome after having recorded a spot for the KSTP 1500 post-game for Sunday. Paid $25 to sit in the "home run porch". I remember when it cost $6 and was called "lower-deck general admission".

Delmon Young is DHing tonight, so we'll see how it goes.

There's also a rock-music backed highlight reel to entertain the crowd before the game that makes me shake my head - MLB is not the NBA where something spectacular happens routinely because of all the great athletes on the field. In football, a great defensive play can mean the difference between winning and losing, while in baseball, there's still 25 or 26 more outs to get.

But of course, lying about their sport is nothing new for the Lords of Baseball.