Wrong on the Internet

A year ago I wrote about zero tolerance, intolerance and Antjuanece Brown, the Portland teenager who was thrown in jail and labeled a felon for texting with her girlfriend. Antjuanece is out now and things seem to be better for her and Jolene; I hope they are.

Not much has changed, though: the last week saw California and Washington come dramatically closer to marriage equality even as Oregon still lags behind. In the same week, Canadian Safety Minister Vic Toews announced that anyone opposing an Internet surveillance bill there was “siding with child pornographers.” Easy targets remain easy targets.

That’s why there’s so much value in the work my friend Ben is doing at his blog Wrong on the Internet, and particularly in his latest entry:

“This is hard to deal with. I want to have the luxury of dehumanizing pedophiles and other rapists. I would like to pretend that I would never be like that, never do something like that. But I can’t. That informs a lot of my writing here.”

It’s difficult to read, a fact that has nothing to do with Ben’s considerable writing skill. At a certain point the mind flops down and demands that some things must be absolute, that you must be able to point at some set of Others and declare those are the bad guys. We’re wired for that behavior, deep in our instincts. The cognitive battle to remember the contrary is exhausting, and it never ends.

I’m not arguing for total moral relativity here: I’m arguing for vigilance, because the kind of dehumanization in which we regularly engage is a dangerous exploit for our brains. It’s one thing to say that some people do evil. But to strip the humanity from evildoers is to remove the horrible weight and substance of their acts. What if you were a survivor? What choices would you make if your survival had damaged you? “The answers are out there,” the man said, “but they will not improve your self-esteem.”


Governor Jan Brewer scolding President Obama with an upraised finger. She later complained of feeling threatened by him. Representative Gabrielle Giffords, who was ACTUALLY SHOT IN THE FACE, hugs him at the State of the Union.

I stole this juxtaposition from Racialicious.

I knew I forgot something

Love Is Not Constantly Wondering If You Are Making The Biggest Mistake Of Your Life

This is the other book I read in 2011 that pierced me like a lancet: Love Is Not Constantly Wondering If You Are Making The Biggest Mistake Of Your Life. It took me a couple months to get to the point where I could write about it, and I am still well aware that I am not doing so from an objective platform.

I noticed it on a shelf at my friend Harry’s house when I went over, a couple days after the breakup, still a bit reely. “Oh,” he said, “yeah. Yeah. You should borrow that.” I later learned he’d only received it from our mutual friend Jackson a few days before; this makes sense, as Jackson is part magical creature. I did borrow it, took it “home” to the couch at Matt and Erika’s, and read it again and again.

It’s structured and formatted like a Choose Your Own Adventure book, down to the ink-sketch art style and fonts. The conceit is this: the page numbers are ordered chronologically, so if you read it according to the instructions, you’ll skip back and forth in time. Sometimes you’ll get into loops. Sometimes, unexpectedly, you’ll reach the end. This gives you the sensation of making choices, but of course the story never changes. You are as wrapped up in the illusion of choice as the protagonist. None of your decisions make any difference in the final outcome, and neither do his.

It’s the best marriage of form and fiction in any book I think I’ve read, and I am a known weakling for narrative tricks with time, but of course that’s not what really got to me. The book is about the beginning and slow end of a relationship between a nerdy guy who doesn’t drink and his beautiful girlfriend who does. The second half even takes place in Portland. Reading it was personal and cathartic, though I don’t mean to say that our stories are parallel: his lasts eight years, for one thing; for another, Anne in the book is an alcoholic and Kara is not. But that’s how catharsis works, right? You read the bigger story to move through the pain of your own small one.

I haven’t talked much about breaking up with Kara here, a trend that will continue, but I suppose this is an opportunity to mark it in the record. It was a sad and probably good thing, and it took too long, the problem being that we were happy together until the end. You can see it in the pictures I posted from our trip to Ireland, just a month before I moved out. It was a good trip. I have few regrets.

For a somewhat more distanced (but still very positive) review of LINCWIYAMTBMOYL, see Alison Hallett at the Mercury.

The warning “does not relate to an imminent or specific threat.”

I’ve mentioned before, I think, that hospitals contain some pretty potent olfactory triggers for me. So when a daily donation thing for a pediatric palliative care home bubbled up through my twitters, this caught me:

“We’re very cautious about the ‘hospital’ smell, so we have smell patrols,” laughs Simons. “Usually we have brownies baking.”

Okay, Debbie Simmons of Ryan House. You get it. Here’s my wallet.

I lied about Eminem being my spirit animal. Cleo is my spirit animal.

My favorite comic strips always go away! I am very sad about Bobwhite ending; it will leave a sore and empty socket in the jawbox of my daily comics list. For years it has been the funniest, smartest, most personal two minutes of my morning, and it was a privilege to read.

Unlike the bad old days, though, now when comic creators stop doing one strip they start another! I don’t know if Magnolia’s new Monster Pulse will ever replace Bobwhite in my heart, but I will pretty much follow her work anywhere at this point. The same goes for Kris Straub, of course, and F Chords has suddenly sprinted up to become my favorite outlet of his, with a distinctly more personal tone that echoes a little of what he used to do in Checkerboard Nightmare. So fucking go there already, I’m tired of telling you dicks.

And re-read Bobwhite!

I am thirty now

Hand modeling by Kara.

There are two things in that picture. One of them is a FREAKING IPAD. Kara and her family got it for me for my birthday because they are ridiculous. I am still figuring out what it is for (besides giving me yet another platform on which to play Worms), but I already know that a) Flipboard is amazing and b) an iPad makes a much, much better laptop-analog than my poor phone. I’m typing this on it right now!

The other thing in the picture is a card from my Uncle John and Aunt Dana. I’ve told you about UJ’s birthday cards before, but this one is something else. You should click on this high-res version to get a better look.


It’s covered in names from that thing I did for a while, which my aunt and uncle have always supported to an unwarranted degree. I can’t remember whether I told them I was bringing the project to a close, but I think I must have to get such a perfect gift! I’m framing it.

I started writing this on Friday evening, thinking that my awesome birthday was pretty much over, but I was mistaken. The entry immediately following this will elaborate.

Pat is too verbose to be tweeted

“My all-time favorite though, was the apartment where they clearly ran out of ideas for what to do with all the space that they had, so they made a ‘sitting room.’ This was a 10’ by 10’ room with nothing in it but a chair in the center of the room. I hate everyone.

I wore my Kenneth Cole coat today

And I like it! But I think that, in a fit of pique, I won’t be buying any more of his clothes. Screenshot against its inevitable disappearance:

Millions are in uproar in #Cairo. Rumor is they heard our new spring collection is now available online at...

“Being aggressive about fighting crime, that sounds like a good thing.”

When you tell people you’re passing laws to fight child sexual abuse and child pornography, or when you announce that you’re cracking down on sex offenders who are prowling in your neighborhoods, you are picking low-hanging fruit. There is no union for sex offenders. Even the ACLU is leery of going to bat for edge cases of depictions of child sex. So you can get away with a lot by announcing that if we put this in place, there will be no more coddling of these dangerous predators.

Last November the people of Oregon passed Ballot Measure 73, a law enforcing mandatory-minimum sentencing for people committed of displaying a sexually explicit image of a minor. The second offense gets you 25 years, with no allowance for a judge’s opinion in sentencing. I voted against it even before I knew about the story I’m about to tell you, because I have a problem with zero-tolerance policy. It doesn’t permit tolerance.

There are these two kids from Washington County, in the Portland metro area, named Antjuanece Brown and Jolene Jenkins. Brown is 20, Jenkins is 17, and they met about a year ago. They fell in love. They had the misfortune to do so while on the bottom rung of every social ladder: female, gay, black, working-class and, crucially, young.

Naturally it was in the best interests of the citizens of Oregon to throw one of them in jail.

“On Oct. 12, Tigard police arrested Brown on suspicion of creating child porn, for ‘knowingly subjecting’ Jenkins to sexual intercourse and for ‘luring a minor’ by ‘arousing and satisfying’ Jenkins’ ‘sexual desires.’ The evidence? Provocative photos of Jenkins and someone police identified as Brown, plus an exchange of suggestive text messages.

Washington County’s prosecutor blocked release of the evidence. Therefore, it’s not possible to say with precision what the cell phone images show. Jenkins and Brown say they both agreed to the photos. Jenkins called them ‘silly things that all teenagers do.’

That’s from the Willamette Week cover story “Sext Crimes,” which is how I learned about all this. The pictures weren’t sold or distributed; they were on Jenkins’s cell phone, which her mother turned in to the police. (She hadn’t minded when Jolene dated older boys.) I knew this kind of panic over sexting was a problem in a lot of places, thanks to a combination of clear-eyed legal discussion on the topic by the EFF and hyperbolic, hyperventilating stories published in news media. But the WW article was the sharpest and most personal I’d seen.

Because she didn’t want to risk becoming a registered sex offender, Brown pled guilty to a lesser charge, with a fine and three years’ probation, that still made her a felon. Her family didn’t have the money for bail, so she spent a month behind bars before trial, and she still owes thousands of dollars in court fees. She lost her job and her future career is wrecked. She’s forbidden to have contact with Jenkins until she turns 18.

Most of the time I’m proud of my government in Oregon; I’ve been grateful to see Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley actually vote the way I want in the Senate, and I’m even a fan of mayor Sam Adams, tarnish aside. But I hope Lew Frederick and Chip Shields, my state congressmen, read the letters I’m sending them, because this is unconscionable. Whose life is better for the prosecution of Antjuanece Brown?

I got in touch with Jolene Jenkins through Antjuanece Brown’s lawyer when the Willamette posted her email in a follow-up blurb to the news story. Jolene in turn pointed me to the site she’s created to support Antjuanece and raise the money to pay off her fine and legal fees. I gave what I could because Jolene is doing a good thing there. She used to want to grow up to be a lawyer, though seeing what the legal system did to her girlfriend is making her reconsider. I think that’s a shame.

I hope Jolene does pursue a legal career, and that Antjuanece gets to do social work like she’s wanted to. I hope Jolene and Antjuanece have a happy reunion in July, even if their relationship doesn’t last forever. I mean, why should it? They’re young. They should be allowed to try things, to make mistakes.

Except those photos weren’t a mistake. They were an expression of love between two innocent people. The mistake was that people who had no business seeing them did so, and that Washington County DA Bob Hermann exploited them to screw up somebody’s life so that he could ge re-elected for being Tough On Crime.

The mistake was his, and when we pick low-hanging fruit without considering the consequences, the mistake is ours.

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