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Mormon Men’s Reputation and Purity Are All That Matters

It’s a breezy mid-May morning up in Northern Utah, and I’m standing at the edge of a wheat field enjoying bird calls and fresh air smelling of green growing wheat stalks. I’m waiting to meet up with a client for work to conduct their annual inspection. I’ve never met the main contact for this company, just corresponded by email before meeting here in what is basically the middle of the nowhere most of the way to the Idaho border.

I hear the rumble of an engine and turn toward the end of the road to see a truck coming to meet me.  In it are two men. One introduces himself as my contact, and he introduces the other as his brother. I get in the truck and we begin a tour of the farm.

So much has been written about Mormon purity culture in Utah, and it’s almost difficult to know where to start unpacking and explaining what’s going on in this meeting. Most commonly we talk about the purity culture in Utah from the standpoint of keeping students ignorant of their own bodies and sexuality or just flat out slut shaming women. Those are important elements certainly, but what is at play here is both uniquely tied into Mormon sexual culture and very, very old.

Simply put, I represent the medieval demonic temptress who wants nothing more than to destroy men’s vulnerable souls. My very presence is read as sexually contaminating the morality and reputation of the man I’m here to meet for business. And that is why he brought protection: another man to chaperone and preserve religiously based moral authority and honor.

When I return to the office a female coworker asks me who the client brought with him. Because she knows. Because he did it to her last year, as have many of our other clients. Another customer I met with last week also made sure I wasn’t alone with him. They don’t bring along chaperones to meet with our male inspectors. It’s always about our presence being dangerous, so they’ll defend themselves in ways no one talks about or acknowledges.

A couple years ago, a male inspector was in training to do these kinds of inspections and needed to shadow someone experienced on an inspection. That inspector refused to carpool in a fleet vehicle with my female coworker for a commute that was over an hour long because “he is a bishop.” Her potential sexual availability him (despite being married and being universally professional) is taken as a given, one that has to be protected against because his reputation can’t survive it. There is no question of what seems obvious to people unfamiliar with the overwhelming influence of Mormonism on Utah question: that men and women can work together professionally without sex being implied.

His religious misogyny was given accommodation and two vehicles were allocated to send two employees from the main office to the site. His religious authority allowed him to refuse to work following the same rules as everyone else and let him implicitly state my coworker was a sexual threat to him. By allowing this, management reinforced that my coworker’s dignity and professionalism are beneath his comfort.

The truly exhausting and angering part of this from my point of view is that there actually is an issue of potential risk and safety at play when I meet with clients out in the field, and it is given no consideration or value whatsoever by these Very Concerned men. Mine. The gender safety gap is something inextricably tied into male privilege and rape culture, but it’s impossible for me not to factor the potential vulnerability of driving far into empty spaces without so much a nearby occupied house to meet with a man I have never met alone. My feelings or comparative vulnerability weren’t even considered at this appointment. The client decided not just to meet me on his land far away from anywhere with indeterminate cellular reception, but to meet me with another man I don’t know and didn’t know was coming. If he had considered it, would he have made the same decision to bring another male stranger?

I’m not actively afraid and don’t think I’m likely to be harmed, of course. But that initial hesitation is still here. It’s the same reason I make sure before I go out in the field I tell my spouse where I’m going to be, even if I say it halfway as a joke. The same reason I text to check in at lunchtime afterward. Just to be safe. Because in Utah, one of the crime rates that’s universally higher than the national average is sexual violence. I can’t forget that when I’m living my life here in Utah. It colors everything I do in subtle ways.

When I initially talked about this on Twitter, a man outside of Utah was confused why the chaperone the client brought along wasn’t a woman. Elizabeth Mitchell (@Pixelfish on Twitter) replied first, explaining that this would mean he would be alone with the female chaperone before and after meeting me. Which is true, although it’s also more than that as well; in a lot of ways, bringing another man along for when you’re going to be alone with a women is an extension of companionship on an LDS mission.

Adult men in the general congregation in Mormonism are considered to have religious authority purely due to their gender. Men who would be considered laymen in other religions are considered to have priesthood and that is also part of what’s happening here. Bringing along a male peer is bringing along someone with moral and religious authority who watches your behavior to help you behave righteously. If you brought a woman, you wouldn’t have that aura of upright & moral behavior to counter any sense of sexual tainting by working with a woman.

The most frustrating thing about this is I’m not even surprised anymore when this happens to me. This is my life as a woman in Utah. But that doesn’t mean I’m going to quietly accept sexist garbage as inevitable.

Not Again, Ezra Klein

Like most Americans, I am outraged that the United States Senate is procedurally broken. I’m incensed that the always dubious filibuster has been used to obstruct popular and necessary legislation. I’m beyond merely angry that the minority Republicans successfully blocked debate on a bill addressing long-overdue gun sale regulation.

But there is a world of difference in recognizing the Senate is currently broken & non-functional because it requires a super majority for normal legislating business and insisting that part of the problems creating the gridlock is the system designed to protect small states from neglect. I am not only upset that he still fails to recognize the merits of system that gives small states a meaningful voice in policies that affect them, but that he’s implicitly blaming the system that protects me as a resident of a small state for the fact that gun control just failed.

STOP DOING THIS, Ezra Klein. You’re better than this.

Yes, the United States Senate is “Very, Very Unequal.” And that’s a good thing.

I normally love the kind of numerical/graphical analysis Ezra Klein does. So it was with great shock and frustration I watched him do his signature challenge while he was guest hosting the Rachel Maddow Show last Monday and he explained the Senate structure giving influence to less populous states as a bug, not  a feature. (His shorter writeup post is up at the Washington Post here.)

It’s factually correct that the way that the US Constitution sets up the Senate, it decreases the proportional power of the residents of populous states in a major way. More so now than it did when the Constitution was first drafted (from approximately 11:1 to 66:1). He includes this big and shocking looking graphic showing the seemingly over-weighted influence the same population has at the federal level.

Washington Post Graphic from Ezra Klein's Article

Washington Post Graphic from Ezra Klein’s Article

What he doesn’t really talk about is why the architects of our federal government would choose to create an inherently lopsided seeming system of representation. There was the idea that a number of checks would be required to ensure that risk inherent in democracy, the “tyranny of the majority,” was balanced. Small states feared (reasonably I might add) that because they were small their interests and needs would likely be swallowed if a majority of highly populous states ignored the need.

Our Constitution and federal government is structured in such a way to recognize that and mitigate harms. To protect individuals, we have the Bill of Rights, later amendments and a judiciary system to ensure that the rights of of individuals don’t get trampled.  But what about the representation needs of people in less populous states? Well for that, we have the United States Senate.

A major function of government and taxation is to ensure that vulnerable and poor people in our population are given the support they need; it’s the “common welfare” idea from the preamble. But there is no reason why that allocation would be proportional by state. In fact, when you look at the states with lower populations, there is a decent correlation between states that are lower in population but significantly higher in terms of poverty and strained infrastructure.

What’s more, some states are burdened in ways others are not. As a concrete example, the Intermountain West has two things that either directly govern or highly influence every important aspect of life here: lots and lots of space and very little water. That reality means our populations are clustered around areas where we can find enough water to survive, mainly around mountain ranges with reservoirs. What does that mean? Lots and lots of infrastructure costs; without federal transportation funds, we couldn’t function in a modern way*. We rely on interstate highway corridors for transportation in a way that other states don’t need to. Does that mean we’re “making out like bandits?”

I don’t think so. States will smaller populations are going to necessarily have a harder time generating comparable tax revenue to cover the needs of their citizens than highly populous states with affluent urban centers. Okay you say, but what does that have to do with the original idea of super-lopsided representation in the Senate?

Imagine for a moment what it would be like if the Senate were proportional body like the House of Representatives. What would happen to the federal aid, infrastructure and other funds that small states rely on? Well, it seems safe to say that we wouldn’t get most of it. It’s a lot easier to ignore the needs of constituents of small, poor states with two or three representatives when their votes have zero clout and impact in how federal legislation is passed in D.C.

So stop telling Californians they should hate the Senate, Ezra Klein. It does what it’s supposed to.

*In Utah, the town of Boulder got its postal delivery by pack mule well after World War II because of how remote & isolating the geography is.

Chuck Hagel and Our Diverse Military

As a county, the United States is beginning to wrap up the longest war in our history. And while operational decisions are and will continue to be a priority, at the end of two massive wars, greater focus needs to be placed on the needs of our military personnel and veterans.

To be frank, I cannot believe that Senator Hagel is likely to even consider many of the pressing needs of our military and veterans a priority, let alone take proactive steps to address our problems.  Hagel, while he has shown a willingness to challenge unnecessary waste of lives and spending, nevertheless has a history indicating a great deal of negative baggage toward some of those whose lives and futures would be in his hands as Secretary of Defense.

We have only been without a total ban of gay, lesbian and bisexual service-members for just over two years.  And although they’re no longer forced to either lie or be kicked out of the military, we still deny equal benefits and compensation to same-sex families under DOMA.  Local support groups for military spouses still work to deny support to the loved ones of LGB military waiting while their spouses, parents and partners are deployed. The Pentagon has recently been blocking a whole host of LGBT related websites (while failing to filter their anti-gay counterparts) and responding to questions with bizarre obfuscation about “operational security.”

Yet the same Democratic president that removed the injustice of DADT did not see a history of anti-gay bigotry by Senator Hagel to be a problem.  Because, well, that ambassador he attacked publicly for being “openly, aggressively gay” Hagel totally apologized. To a television camera. I might give Hagel more credit if he’d had the guts to contact James Hormel personally and apologize (something Hormel himself observed when he refused to accept a public show-apology).

I have not received an apology. I thought this so-called apology, which I haven’t received but which was made public, had the air of being a defensive move on his part… made only in service of his attempt to get the nomination.
If [his original comment] were made today, it would be clearly disqualifying.

In making his apology a matter of public comment with no indication he wanted to make personal amends, I don’t believe Senator Hagel has even begun to shed his bigoted ideas about gay people. Certainly not when his description of the 1998 attack was to call his words “insensitive.” The mere fact that he thought that his vicious attack was merely insensitive and not indicative of serious prejudice shows he hasn’t moved on at all.  No amount of lip service is going to count; I expect to see real action to show his convictions have changed.

Senator Hagel voted multiple times against adding sexual orientation protections to hate crimes legislation. This combined with the fact that three separate times he earned a 0% rating from the Human Rights Campaign* on his voting record on LGBT issues including hate crimes legislation and employment protections, means I regard his newfound public thoughtfulness about gay military families with extraordinary suspicion.

We have a military with pervasive and systemic sexual harm toward women.  A terrifying percentage of women deployed in combat zones reported sexual assault and rape. Reporting in December of a Veterans Affairs study indicated that in war zone deployment nearly 23% of women reported being sexually assaulted or raped; almost 49% reported being sexually harassed. It also found that 47% of those surveyed reported the individual who attacked or harassed them was a superior officer, leaving them very little recourse. Read More…

Gubernatorial Appointment Cloaked in Elections

I’ve always known the system was rigged against Utah public school students receiving a thorough and evidence based education, but I had no idea just how broken the structure truly is.  In Utah, while individual school districts have local controls, statewide direction is ultimately up to an elected Board of Education.

The trouble is, while the board members are technically elected, the process by which individuals end up on the ballot is anything but a fair democratic representation of the will of the people.  The first step is a committee, whose members are appointed by the governor.  Their job is to nominate and review individuals to produce three recommendations out of a pool of candidates.  The committee passes on those recommendations to the governor who selects which two will appear on the ballot for Utah voters.  Anyone else see the problem here?

Last year there was a bill passed by the Utah Senate to make school board elections partisan and eliminate the recruitment and nomination committee.  It (as well as a number of other proposed changes to board election law) failed.

The commitee has on multiple occasions removed an incumbent board member from the list submitted to the governor based on their opposition to the governor’s public policies.  From the Salt Lake Tribune, we learn that two incumbent board members have filed suit alleging that the nomination process is violates the United States Constitution.

Utah’s controversial way of picking candidates for the state school board has landed the state and its attorney general in court — again.

And yes, this is not the first lawsuit, more on that in a minute.

Incumbent Carol Murphy was elected by Park City area voters four years ago, but rejected in her re-election bid by the Committee for the Recruitment and Nomination of Members of the Utah State Board of Education last April. She is joined by plaintiffs Carmen Snow, who was rejected as a candidate for the seat representing Washington County, and Stacey McGinnis, who wanted to vote for Snow.

The suit alleges the women were rejected, in violation of their First Amendment rights, because they are advocates of public education rather than what it calls “privatization” of schools via school vouchers and other mechanisms.

According to Utah law, the committee, appointed every two years by the governor, scrutinizes those who want to run for the board and submits to the governor the names of three final candidates for every open seat. The governor then picks the two candidates whose names will appear on the November ballot in state school board districts statewide.

The suit contends the system politicizes the school board. It alleges that the committee is heavily weighted with business interests and lobbyists who favor privatizing education and rejects candidates who don’t pass a conservative litmus test.

“For example, the questionnaire required candidates to state their support or opposition to Utah Core Curriculum Standards and the teaching of sex education in public schools, two highly contentious issues, both of which have been driven by ultra-conservative factions of Utah’s Republican Party,” it said. [Emphasis added]

The Utah Education Association opposes the current near-appointment system, saying that because the decision is “contingent upon the approval of the Governor [it] takes away the voice of the people in the electoral process.”  Moreover, they support keeping the races non-partisan, but making reforms.  The UEA states that removing the governor’s conflict riddled control over the process would “increase accountability to voters and better involve the community in the electoral process” and “allow for implementation of good policy, free from party platforms.”

Some, including Third District Court Judge Anthony Quinn have argued that since the eventual nominees are elected, that there is no issue to be concerned with.  When ruling against ousted member Denis Morill two years ago, Quinn wrote the process is legitimate because the recommendations “are neither binding nor unilateral, since the ultimate decision as to who is elected … is determined by the outcome of a general election by the public.”  Nevermind that the system is gamed from the outset to give voters only the choice the governor’s appointed committee and governor himself choose to give us.

Others will say that because the races are all non-partisan, and we all support our children’s education, we needn’t be bothered too much about a conflict of interest or lack of democratic process in representing the wishes of Utah citizens.  On the contrary, while education policy has always had elements of partisan politics, it is especially politicized in an era of a Republican party that increasingly supports libertarian ideas that government should be out of education, that voucher systems should be allowed to drain public schools of resources, and that hostility to science should be fostered so as not to threaten the religious indoctrination of children.

This shouldn’t be difficult.  It’s obvious that deciding education policy is already a politicized issue; all you have to do is look at how vigorously people dissent about substantive issues for public schooling.  What we have to do now is make sure that the party in control (and in Utah, that party will be the Republican party for a very, very long time) can’t keep a stranglehold on the process without any input from the people they were elected to serve.

I Got the Pistol, So I’ll Keep the Pesos. Yeah, and That Seems Fair

The night of our anniversary, we went out to see Roger Clyne and the Peacemakers.  Not only are they great musicians, they have that gift of showmanship to build up the crowd and feed off their energy.  It’s a mixture of knowing how to play with the crowd, sharing drinks, that sort of thing, and more subtle building of enthusiasm by transitioning through multiple favorites without pause.  They also know their fans, and don’t fall into the trap of only playing their first hits or the most recent album; it’s always a good mixture of their work.

Of course, having seen them before, this was what I have come to expect from them on tour. What blew my mind was the cover of The Violent Femmes‘ Kiss Off.   They’re not a band that seems to really do covers, and I was certainly expecting that particular cover, though it brought a smile to my face.

Roger Clyne & The Peacemakers (and a fog machine!)

The concert was at my favorite music venue (which I’d like to believe would be my favorite even if I didn’t know the current owners and hadn’t been involved when they were looking at it in the first place): The State Room.  It’s a nice size, it’s comfortable and just offbeat enough (e.g. they replaced the seats stolen by the previous tenants with old church pews).

Plus, you know, booze.   The State Room opened an upper level bar at the back of the auditorium to help relieve the pressure on the main bar downstairs; how do you not love a small intimate venue with two bars?  I don’t think they’d installed the disco ball the last time we were inside, but regardless, Clyne seemed decidedly pleased it was there.  At the end of the show, he requested the lower all lights but the spots on the ball.

Disco Ball, and you can see the dude with the light up sombrero in front of stage right

It’s been long enough that I can’t remember the whole set list, but I do remember it included over half of Fizzy, Fuzzy, Big and Buzzy along with generous helpings of all the other albums.  There was also something on this tour with sombreros that puzzled me.  I swear no one wore them the last time they were in town, but there were a number of people wearing hats with assorted detritus stuck on top.  One concert-goer had rigged up a battery-powered color shifting lighting band on his. Band members borrowed a couple of the more elaborate hats during numbers.

Clyne Borrowed a Sombrero

Last time the Peacemakers came through, it was mid-week; this year’s Friday night concert was packed. I would not be surprised if the show was sold out, honestly. I’m always happy to see energized crowds like this.

Unfortunately, there was one serious sour note between the wonderful opening act, Buffalo Jones, and Roger Clyne. I took advantage of the break to stop into the restroom. Standing very near the door was a man who I just ignored because I assumed he was waiting for someone. But as I opened the door, I and a woman visible from the door were harassed. He was no more than three feet behind me at the time.

I cried in the bathroom stall, feeling so creeped out and threatened that I felt trapped. I worried he would be there when I tried to leave. It took me several minutes to pull myself together and brave opening that door again. (He wasn’t there anymore, thankfully.) It wasn’t for a song or two that I really even started to enjoy myself again.

It was a few days later that I realized this was the second anniversary in a row I faced harassment or assault. That is a deeply depressing thought. I just wanted to go out and have a good time with my spouse. And I did have a good time, but it was so much less joyful than I was hoping.

Delayed Posting: Unintentional Hiatus

I’ve been unable and to be completely honest, unmotivated to post anything since the end of May. It’s a mess of factors that started with computer problems that just kept getting more frustrating, continued with working really long & hard in anticipation of being laid off and being gloomy about it.

So I think I’m going to embrace the need for a short break and kick things off with some lighthearted posts once I’m unemployed in a couple weeks.  I plan on chopping most of my hair off; I’ve been growing it out to donate and I hate it. It’s longer than it has been in more than 15 years (over half my life), and once I don’t have to be in a professional office every day, I’ll donate the bulk of it, cut it short again and dye it blue. I’m excited but a little nervous.

For those are interested, my computer problems are recounted below:

My household’s computer set up is not unheard of, but is certainly not typical for how most people use their main PC. Our main computer outputs to the television and it functions as gaming PC, movie and television player, DVR and just general computer stuff. We had initially thought a problem stemmed from issues with the PC. We went through a full wipe and reinstall, even though this is a pain given our highly customized setup. That wasn’t the problem.

Now it was probably getting close to time for a reinstall given how hard we work that machine and the length of time since we’d last done it.  But we had to take everything out of commission thinking it was an emergency (yes, I’m spoiled to think that the computer being dead is an emergency, but I’m hooked on technology).  We discovered as we were trying to recover backup data and set up the PC that there was a problem with our server.  We have data duplicated in case of trouble, but the very worst possible drive was failing: the system drive.  It takes considerably longer to deal with because you have to install the server OS on a new drive and painstakingly back up each drive (at 2 TB a piece) because as they are added to the server, they get wiped.  Do you know how long it takes to copy >5 TB of data even once?  It took days just to manage the data shuffle.

As for my job, it’s not completely unexpected and I bear my boss no ill will because he was ordered to eliminate my position, even though this will almost certainly overwhelm him.  I’m really trying to be optimistic about taking tons of credit hours and finishing my education (even though this comes with my first student loans), but on the other hand, I also get to dye my hair a funny color for the first (and possibly only) time in my life.

I Have A Remedial Education Proposal – For Legislators

Part of the problem that having a representative democracy creates is that the representatives are often only as educated and savvy as the populations that elect them (particularly on a more local scale).  This results in elected officials, who are in charge of making important law and policy to govern those they represent, endorsing, doing and saying incredibly stupid and damaging things.

It becomes more pronounced when legislators are required to make determinations about issues that require some specialized knowledge or expertise, because it all comes down to whether or not they find the experts presenting recommendations credible.  And biases against positions make it easy to discount good evidence based policy.  What’s more, a huge handicap is created when legislators approach policy with fundamental ignorance of science: how it works, what is consensus and why scientific consensus should carry great weight.

When this sort of ignorance and “everyone is entitled to their own facts” sort of attitude is allowed to continue, you see idiocy on grand scales.  On just one day during a Utah legislative session, the following headache inducing nonsense was aired, championed by the head of our public lands office, Kathleen Clarke.

The day of this session, it was more or less solid headdesking with some facepalms interspersed for variety.  Issues like this always seem to come down to a mixture of totally misunderstanding science and a deep and sustained fear of federal regulation that borders on paranoia.

Because these people are given public trust to make policy and laws for us, I see no other option but to insist on a basic level scientific, medical and sociological literacy.  Those legislators whose education and experience background are lacking should be required to attend seminars getting them up to speed; they are entrusted with nothing less than our lives and futures.