The Death of the Small Town & More Suffering Heaped on Poor People

I went to bed at my usual time and somehow slept through my alarm. I woke up to NPR telling me that the feds are talking about raising the gas tax 40 cents a gallon. I don’t know how it is where you are, but that’ll raise gas around here to almost four dollars a gallon. This, they claim, will encourage people to use public transportation and also raise money for our crumbling bridges.

I, myself, like to drive. I find it soothing and adventurous. Driving takes you places.

And, in a country as large as ours, I’m suspicious of any government efforts to keep us from traveling. It’s much too easy to forget about the on-going suffering in the wake of Katrina if you can’t make plans to travel to New Orleans or Biloxi. It’s easy enough to believe that sticking a wall up between here and Mexico is a solution to our immigration issues if you haven’t seen neighborhoods bisected by it.  You can turn a blind eye to what goes on, say, on the south side of Chicago if you’ve never gotten lost there.

There’s something about having been to a place or having the ability to go to a place that makes it more real.  Makes you feel tied to the people there and concerned about what happens to them.

And so, it concerns me when I see the government suggesting that we all need to do less traveling.

No, really, we need to do more, so we can keep an eye on you.

I read this post over at Nowhere, IL and it made me kind of sick to my stomach (even though the post itself is, in spots, pants-pee-ingly funny).  Three reasons.

1.  Cairo should hold a place of importance in our national imagination.  This is the town Huck and Jim were aiming for–a port large enough to have steamboats that could take Jim to freedom.  We shouldn’t leave it to die.

2.  I would love to own a house and I could afford a $20,000 house.  But the places with $20,000 houses don’t have jobs.

3.  It reminds me that the Midwest is slowly dying, emptying out like a bucket with small holes.  I have mixed feelings about growing up in small Midwestern towns but I don’t want to see them become ghost towns in waiting full of only the people too poor or drunk (or high on meth) to leave.

I am opposed to increasing the tax on gas because it so disproportionately affects the poor.

And yet, clearly, we need to do something.

Here’s what pisses me off, though.  Again, this is another case where it’s made out to be that poor people just aren’t compliant.  We’re refusing to take public transportation.  We’re refusing to curb our fuel consumption.  We must be made to feel the real costs of our energy problem before we’ll do something about it.

I live a ten minute bus ride from where I work.  I work at one of the largest employers in the state.  The bus comes by twice.  Once shortly before six and once shortly before seven.   There’s such half-assed public transportation in my city of 500,000 people that I cannot get on a bus during prime commuting time and get to my place of employment.

I can’t take a train to Memphis or Knoxville, even though there are train tracks that go to those places from the place I live.

I can’t get on a commuter train on the weekend and even get near Mack’s house.  I could get on the train to go see Coble, but someone would have to drive me home.

My point is that we’re going to institute punitive levels of taxation in order to get folks to change their behaviors and most of us have nothing to change our behaviors to.

Here in middle Tennessee, if you live out and work in (as most people do in order to find affordable housing), you’re especially stuck.  They’re not putting up $120,000-$150,000 condos here in the city.  So, sure, well-off people who feel the pain of rising gas prices can just move closer to work.  But for folks who aren’t that well off?

What choices do we have but to sit and watch yet another chunk of our budget getting eaten away?

And the thing is, it’s not just the gas we put in our cars.  High gas prices get passed along to us in the cost of goods we need.  I’m already paying $5 for a gallon of milk that even 18 months ago I was paying $3 for.  What’s it going to be when they factor in a forty cents a gallon further tax on fuel?

The rich can hold out a lot longer than the poor.

So, damn, America, if you’re going to tax our only means of getting around to the point where we can’t afford to get around, that’s going to really suck.  If we can’t have cars, can we at least have some buses and trains?

95 thoughts on “The Death of the Small Town & More Suffering Heaped on Poor People

  1. seconded, thirded, fourthed, and N+1’ed.

    heck, in my small midwestern town, i might even settle for more sidewalks along more of the streets and better (more frequent) snow clearing off said sidewalks in winter.

  2. A suggestion I would make, (haven’t read the proposed bill) is to slowly implement a tax on non-fuel efficient vehicles first. There will be more trains and buses when there is more demand. Its ridiculous that we build huge communities with no thought about public transportation. Sure, driving is fun, and I’m all about adventure, but it should cost you money to do so. If a movie now cost roughly 12 bucks to see, is a three hour drive worth 12 dollars?

    I think the proposed amount of that fuel tax is to leave room for negotiation. We can easily pay another dime, another quarter if we have to. It’ll hurt, sure, but until America gets serious about alternative fuels, and perhaps more importantly in the short term, smarter community planning, nothing will stem this demand for gasoline.

  3. It’s a sad, sad day when we’re looking at $4 a gallon for gas. Knoxville has decent-ish public transportation, but our neck of the woods (South Knoxville) doesn’t seem to have a single bus stop that I’ve seen.

    My husband and I are lucky that we work in the same building, so we carpool almost every day of the week to help a bit with gas consumpiton. But, still — wow. If this new tax adds public transportation to South Knox, that’d be great. Time will tell, I guess.

  4. My point is that we’re going to institute punitive levels of taxation in order to get folks to change their behaviors and most of us have nothing to change our behaviors to.

    Well, if the increased tax revenues were dedicated to increasing/improving the public transportation options, that wouldn’t be so. And, ya know, they learned a long time ago in NYC that the way to increase the use of public transportation is to lower fares or to add the additional service with no fare increases. There, these tactics generally pay for themselves and start increasing revenues over what they were before in under six months. When they made transfers free it took only about two months. Here, they do things backwards: get rid of transfers so people have to pay two full fares, cut service, like that. I suppose it’s because public transportation here is run by people who think it ought not to work.

    But, you know, it’s not all that long ago that you could plan your trip to New Orleans by train….

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  6. I think it’d be awesome to be able to take the train to Memphis. Or over into North Carolina. I loved taking the train into Chicago when I was in college.

    Anyway, NM, you’re right. Our public transportation seems to be run by people who think it should fail.

  7. Public transportation (when done right) might be fine for city dwellers, but a 40 cents hike on gas is going to be rough on rural folk who arguably use more gas because they have further to drive to get anywhere.

  8. Dolphin, that’s why I titled the post what I did. I don’t see how the rising cost of gas won’t kill the small town. I grew up in small towns and, with the exceptions of the people who ran the infrastructure, everyone was driving someplace else to work. Rising gas prices will force people to move closer to work (if they can find housing).

    But if they can’t find housing, I don’t know what will happen.

  9. I used to think the old “force people to take public transit” ploy was a good idea when I lived in Boston, which has pretty good transit options (subway, bus, commuter rail). Now I live in Southern California which has developed into sprawling burbs with the assumption that everyone has access to a car. There are buses, sure, but because there are few concentrated “downtown” areas, the odds that you can get where you want to go without having to transfer (or walk a couple miles) are slim. I’ll drive 20 minutes rather than take public transit for 2 hours any da. You are so right that the burden will fall on the shoulders of the poor, who simply won’t be able to afford to drive. They’ll spend hours commuting, and the pundits will turn around and chastise them for not spending enough time cooking fresh meals or reading books to their children.

  10. But, Dolphin, doesn’t public transportation include commuter trains? Or, rather, do you think that commuter trains can’t effectively serve to tie a large numver of small towns to local central cities/work hubs? It works well in the Hudson Valley, Long Island, Connecticut, and New Jersey: there’s a train that goes in the straightest possible zigzag (through intermediate towns) from the end of the line into NYC, and each train station has a huge parking lot so people can drive in from towns not on the line (no one has more than a 15-minute drive or so), so they can park and take the train in and out. And I’ve used the train to go to shows all over New Jersey in confidence that, even at 1:00 in the morning, there would be a train to get me home.

    Obviously, a place like Nashville isn’t going to get a whole system set up overnight. But the MTA here seems to spend most of the time wringing their hands and saying “we can’t,” rather than looking at places like the Bay Area or NYC to find out how to make things work.

  11. We’re looking down the ugly slope of Peak Oil. Even if the government lifts all taxes, we are going to be paying $40/gallon, maybe in 10 years, maybe in 20 years. Anything we can do to reduce consumption now, will push the $40/gallon date farther into the future.

  12. The ramifications on city planning are huge. You’re going to force everyone to move closer to their work? Then what? I think it’ll be painful. Whole communities with have to be rebuilt. Not just public transit, but housing, industry, schools.

    Also, I have a theory that sprawl will continue until it’s inconvenient. By that, I mean that the only thing preventing more people from populating the suburbs is that it’s such a pain in the ass to commute. If you make that painless, more people will fill in the burbs farther out, until it becomes a pain again.
    Hell, that’s a big part of Atlanta’s regentrification; well off people that are sick of the commute.

  13. I get VERY skeptical when I see any one suggesting messing about with energy policy without a monstrous pile of careful studies with good hard numbers to back it up.

    It sounds good on the surface if one doesn’t stop to think about it to say: “We need money for roads, so we’ll tax gas since the people who use the roads will pay that tax,” but reality doesn’t ever come out that simple.

    If the goal is to get the maximum transportation benefit to the maximum number of people, there’s a fair bit of information already out there on how to do that, and more studies can be commissioned. The brainpower and knowhow is already sitting around, ready to use.

    If the goal is more corporate welfare to benefit those who make big campaign contributions, you come up with an excuse to tax those who can’t afford to make campaign contributions, and then behind the scenes you quietly write exemptions or other tax breaks to protect the campaign-funders.

  14. I have a theory that sprawl will continue until it’s inconvenient. By that, I mean that the only thing preventing more people from populating the suburbs is that it’s such a pain in the ass to commute.

    there are places where people would say this theory has already been disproven in practice.

    i don’t care about long and arduous commutes to work; i just want a corner grocery store (milk, bread, eggs, some dry goods at least) within walking or biking distance of wherever i live. and some walking/biking trails to catch my sanity on when suburbia gets too oppressive, same distance. i want a booze store and a takeout restaurant within ten minutes’ drive, measured door to door, and a good supermarket (produce and fancier edibles) in that same range. and the deal breaker — no more than fifteen or twenty minutes’ drive to actual forests i can hike in. any denser living than that is inhumane and unlivable, to me.

    heck, if i get all that, i can find a job of some kind within tolerable commuting distance of it all, because that kind of neighborhood will create jobs enough provided the living’s decently cheap. i’m lucky enough to have all the above, at present; things would have to get dire indeed before i’d move from where i am.

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  16. The thing about using taxes to correct behaviours gets under my skin. Always will. Punishing people for using necessary products–like gasoline–is like taxing milk or bread. We all know how well that worked out in Eighteenth Century France.

    Also, when trying to encourage use of public transportation, it’s a good idea to actually study how much energy consumption goes into building and maintaining a workable Transportation infrastructure. My father spent years on the Board of Public Works for my hometown, and years poring over studies about public transportation. For our midsized midwestern city, the energy cost of more buses and trains, plus the cost of fueling them was more of an environmental and economic drain than buying everyone of working age (18 and over) his or her own compact car.

    Bills like this, as B said, also underscore the fundamental disconnect between our wealthy lawmakers of both major parties and the people they supposedly represent.

  17. >The thing about using taxes to correct behaviours gets under my skin. Always will. Punishing people for using necessary products–like gasoline–is like taxing milk or bread. We all know how well that worked out in Eighteenth Century France.

    But they *aren’t* the same. Milk and bread are renewable products created by labor (although a vegan might argue the former is actually stolen). Oil is a nonrenewable resource that no human created and no human has any more right to use than another. If a person is going to consume that which belongs to us all, shouldn’t that person compensate us all for doing so?

    But that points to the real problem with “gas” taxes as typically implented. Currently the end users *are* paying their fair share to use up the resource, the problem is who they are paying it *to*. The oil does not belong to Exxon and friends, it belongs to the people of the earth, present and future. The oil companies deserve a profit on the labor and capital expended on extraction & distribution, but should not be able to pocket the gross natural value of the oil itself.

    In other words we don’t need a tax on gas but we do need a tax on oil as it comes out of the ground.

  18. Jon, a “tax on oil as it comes out of the ground” is just going to passed along to consumers in gas prices. Either way, we still have the problem B is describing, which is that people who can’t afford to fill their tanks and who don’t have reasonable public transportation options are just stuck. In many place, if you can’t drive because gas is too expensive, you can’t get to work. If you can’t get to work, you can’t earn money to pay for gas. Regardless of the renewable aspect, we generally assume that gas, milk and bread are products that all people feel a need to consume or generally do consume in some form or another. If you have more money, maybe you buy soy milk and a fancy pants hydrogen car (assuming the infrastructure is in place). If you don’t have extra money, you’re stuck, and you either stop consuming those goods altogether or cut other corners.

  19. Small towns do not have the population density to profitably run any kind of transit system, either intra- or inter-city. I think it’s a good idea to try to serve them with Amtrak or something like it, but those services will always be heavily subsidized by tax dollars.

    I don’t have a problem with gas taxes to encourage the middle class to cut back on consumption. There are a huge number of people who do have options re:things to change their behavior to. But concurrently we need to have something like an energy stamp program (like food stamps, but for gas) for those who society and circumstance has given no choice.

    Humans lived for hundreds of thousands of years without any petroleum products. They are not necessities in the same way food is. We may have already reached maximum extraction rates (peak oil), meaning yearly production will decline (on average) every year from here on out. Even absent a gas tax, the drop in supply will drive prices to the point most people will have to learn how to live with very few petroleum products.

    My real problem with energy policy in this country is that it funds highways – which are inefficient uses of transportation energy that can only be accessed by people who can afford automobiles and gas – and does not invest in our rail infrastructure. I don’t know what will happen to small towns as energy prices continue to climb, but our government could at least attempt to keep the big towns connected to each other.

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  21. “Or, rather, do you think that commuter trains can’t effectively serve to tie a large numver of small towns to local central cities/work hubs?”

    It’s not that. It’s somebody who lives in New Castle, (pop. 919) who works in an insurance office in Campbellsburg (8 miles away, pop. 705) whose kids go to school in Eminence (5 miles away, pop. 2231)
    and do their major shopping down I-71 in LaGrange (pop. 5676), and when feeling like a night on the town may drive to the eastern suburbs of Louisville.

    Those are the middle to lower middle class, if not poor, folks who will get completely bent over a table by a 40 cent a gallon gasoline tax.

  22. Ick, ick, ick. Gas here is already near $4/gallon. I saw a sign for $3.79 just this weekend. (Thankfully, you can still find it as low as $3.15, but you have to really try.)

    I work 20 miles from my home. I’ve tried to get a new job closer, but pretty much all of the prospects I’ve got a decent chance of getting (and surviving without going crazy) are in that same area. Pretty much every job I can find has as a requirement that you have a license, a car, and insurance on that car. (That latter is now law, of course, but still. Some places dictate the amount of insurance you have on your car. Hell, my job dictates the class of license you have to have; most people who work for us have to have a Class B license, rather than a Class C, even if they don’t drive our vans much, or our insurance won’t take them because they’re too young.)

    I’d love to be able to take the bus, but it’s just not possible. The commute that takes me 1 – 2 hours each way in a car (depending on how traffic is) takes 4+ hours each way by bus. It’s four different busses, or two busses and a train, and you have to walk through some of the worst neighborhoods you could find. (Ah, the joys of walking straight through Skid Row. On a tight schedule, in your business clothes, at crazy hours.) Given my schedule, that would mean I’d need to leave the house at 4:00 AM (to give time for all the transfers and lateness that inevitably clogs the bus system), and I wouldn’t get home until 10 or 11 at night.

    Add to that the fact that a lot of stuff is actively hostile to pedestrian traffic. Streets meet at absurd angles, sidewalks randomly disappear, lights flash by in an instant (giving no time to cross streets), and things are all designed with the idea that you can get there quickly, have someplace to put your stuff, and can leave when they’re ready to kick you out.

    We need to change our infrastructure. Not just because of rising gas prices, but because things are pretty broken right now. Since I live near a college, I have a bunch of fast food places nearby, and some nice little shops and a Target on the edge of pragmatic walkability (that is, you could probably get home from there walking before your frozen food melted on a hot day, but you’d have to hurry pretty quickly). There’s no real grocery stores in that radius, though. And unless I wanted a retail job (or the hiring at the college increased mighty aggressively), there’s little that I’d be able to do to support myself if I didn’t have a car.

  23. They’re not putting up $120,000-$150,000 condos here in the city

    There are some brand new ones in Berry Hill in that price range. Lots of bus service to downtown.

  24. Jay, that’ll be news to Realtracs. They have twenty-eight new construction condos for sale in all of Davidson County in that price range. If we’re just looking for condos–new construction–that are less than $150,000, Realtracs is listing thirty-three.

    It doesn’t look to me like any of them are in Berry Hill, though that’s neither here nor there. Those could not yet be on the market or already sold. My point stands. There’s thirty three new condos for sale in Davidson county for less than $150,000. For all practical purposes, they aren’t building new condos in that price range here in the city.

    As my mom says, don’t get in a butt fight with a Swedish woman.

  25. Yup. No bus for me. There is great public transportation where I live, but no buses to where I do a great deal of my work.

  26. Your all’s market must be higher than Louisville’s, for you can get a real nice condo up here for 65-110K. Nothing luxury, but certainly something more than a studio.

    Heck, my house, though small, was under 100K.

  27. Your all’s market must be higher than Louisville’s,

    Our market’s gone nucking futs in a lot of areas–especially the ones close to Downtown Where The Jobs Are–because we’ve got a lot of greedy developers who seem to believe that the only people who need to live in houses or condos have a minimum of half a million dollars to plunk down. The locust plague of house flippers has swarmed on Nashville. If you want to live downtown, or purtnear downtown, you can expect anything from $500K-$750K.

    Fortunately it hasn’t reached out to Hermitage yet. My house and those around me have appreciated modestly and sensibly. Much to my neighbours’ chagrin.

    But in exchange for my affordable house, we do have to drive a car to get anywhere. The train–as B. pointed out–comes twice a day to one station that is still a 10 minute drive from my house. There are no buses out here, either.

    An extra 40cents a gallon on gas is an extra $40/month for me. It won’t kill me, but that’d probable mean cancelling Netflix and the twice-monthly Pizza Night.

  28. But, Dolphin, doesn’t public transportation include commuter trains?

    The problem is to make that a viable option there has to be a major central work hub that people are going to. I’m thinking of the location of TheBoyfriend™ and I’s land. It’s pretty much centered between the two cities in the area and neither of those to are “big cities” by any means. The bigger of the two would be the one that neither of us work in (though TheBoyfriend™ only goes into the office a few times a week for meetings, otherwise he drives from client to client and meets with them in their homes, which would make a commuter train even less of an option for him), so any commuter train would more than likely be going in the opposite direction than what we’d need.

    While it’s changing (lots of land out there is being chopped up as we speak), alot of that land is still farmland meaning the people who live on it don’t commute to the bigger cities because the work the land the live on. I just can’t see how any type of commuter train would be able to stay afloat without charging even MORE than gas would cost (whether in taxes or in ticket price).

  29. Your all’s market must be higher than Louisville’s, for you can get a real nice condo up here for 65-110K. Nothing luxury, but certainly something more than a studio.
    Heck, my house, though small, was under 100K.

    Good grief. None of the (2-3 bedroom, otherwise tiny, located in a not-so-great-neighborhod) houses where I grew up (you know, across the freeway from where I am now) are going for under $500K. Many of them are going for $850k +. I worked for a construction contracting company in high school that wouldn’t even look at a house if it was going to be under $1.2 million (and some of their houses got into the tens of millions range). Those weren’t all celebrity houses (though the extra expensive ones usually were); that’s just what nice-sized houses in trendy areas go for down here. I saw a house go for about a million dollars… right on the freeway, in a crap neighborhood. (By my high school; it seemed to have about six bedrooms, though, so it wasn’t entirely inflated).

    I’ve seen some condos down in the $200k range, but a lot of them tend to stay in the $500 – $600k range.

  30. I can’t help noting that whenever anyone gets self-righteous about how other people should be riding public transport, they completely ignore what to me is the crucial issue: Safe transport.

    I can take public transportation to work, and I do. It’s a dangerous proposition though — I’ve been beaten twice, both by men whose rationale was that the woman with the pretty hair should pay attention to them, and they were entitled to beat her to get it. My main route is a favorite with drivers because it’s usually fairly mellow and safe — for people other than me. I watch people sleep on the bus in perfect safety, but I don’t get that option — I’m too busy waving a weapon threateningly at the creepy predator of the moment who is bus-stalking me.

    The city provides safe public transport for the men in my department, but not for me.

  31. Mag, I honestly don’t understand, when I hear about the price of housing out there, how anyone can afford to live there. My friend Danny was in San Diego for years, renting, and moved to Florida, which is not known for cheap real estate, and was stunned to find that he could get twice as much house for less than he was paying in rent.

  32. Helen, my goodness! Where do you live? And what the hell is the driver doing while this is going on? Even in the mid-’80s, when the subways were at their worst and the Bronx was at its (reputedly) most dangerous, I used to come back from Manhattan at 1 or 2 in the morning and not get hassled. Of course, with a subway there are more people, and there was usually an unofficial women’s car at that time of night.

  33. I live in a fairly cushy neighborhood of one of the nicer midwestern cities. Strange, isn’t it?

    I also get harassed when I buy groceries or gasoline. It was even worse when I was in TN.

  34. My friend was assaulted on a bus once too. She was coming home (in Portland) at 10 or 11 at night, and some girl in a group of friends hauled off and punched her in the face. The driver wouldn’t do anything, not even call it in, and she just got off and walked rather than have to share the bus with the people who had hit her. Her then-fiancé (now-husband) called the bus company and tried to complain, but they wouldn’t listen. She had a bruise on her face for a while, but nothing else was wrong. I heard a couple other people chime in about being threatened or hit while on the bus when the conversation happened, but I don’t remember them as well. It seems like a fairly common problem, though.

    I get harassed pretty much everywhere too, Helen. Thankfully, no one has done much more than that (except for the usual sort of ‘caging’ and following stuff), and it seems to have waned as I’ve gotten older.

  35. Oh, I’m sorry I forgot the “what was the driver doing” question.

    He was driving. A nasty beating with injuries that take years to recover from only takes a few seconds.

    I did get one thrown in jail. The other was mentally handicapped. Evidently if you’re mentally handicapped, you’re allowed to beat people.

  36. Oops, I mean you’re allowed to beat women. If he’d beaten up someone our society considers a “real person”, he might have gotten in trouble.

  37. Damn, Helen. Good for you for having the guts to stick with the court case and all. And for recovering. I guess I’ve been luckier than I ever realized. But I’ve had problems with guys on the street, at school, in clubs — but never on public transportation.

  38. I feel really lucky about the prosecution.

    The guy had a number of outstanding warrants and previous arrests for domestic battery. None of those women could be talked into testifying against him, and I don’t blame them. I have no doubt they were in positions where their survival was on the line.

    I wasn’t though — I didn’t know the man, much less ever live with him. I said I’d do whatever was needed. I was a little startled by the expressions of gratitude this got from the prosecutors, until I reminded myself that this was a serial felon with a long and violent history that I was their last hope to put away. I feel really lucky that I was able to do something about this guy.

  39. All I know is that I do something dangerous every day, and I always wear a helmet while doing it.

    I’m thinking a helmet might be a solution to ward off everyday personal assault issues.

  40. > how anyone can afford to live there

    Have you heard of “interest-only” mortgages? You can pay your monthly mortgage for 30 years, and you haven’t paid a dime toward the principle. And those teaser-rate mortgages (2% for 5 years (then watch-out!)) Also, the mortgage brokers basically stopped checking to see if you could afford the mortgage that they were selling you (industry jargon: Ninja – No Income, No Job, No Assests (but they gave mortgages to Ninjas)).

    Housing got expensive, then the financiers got creative, which allowed the housing to keep getting more expensive than demand would allow. The current “housing crisis” is really a correction, with house prices falling back to the price points at which real people can get mortgages that they can really afford to pay off.

  41. Helen, that’s terrible. You do bring up the main thing I’ve worried about when I’ve taken the bus home this winter – inappropriate attention from men on the bus, and worrying that someone would follow me home. Aside from which, the place where I have to get off the bus is a no-sidewalks walk up a poorly lighted hill, where men in cars feel free to shout things at me. No, it’s not assault, but the specter of it was always there. I made the mistake of leaving my work ID badge on once (which pays for the bus home), and soon had men on the bus calling my name. Ugh.

  42. Am I seriously to conclude from reading all these experiences that NYC-public-transportation-riding-guys are all that much better behaved than public-transportation-riding-guys elsewhere? And here the whole world feels free to talk about how rude New Yorkers are. Really. Never experienced stuff like this. Guys trying to flirt, yes; guys continuing to flirt after being told “not interested,” no; nothing like assault. In fact, when some guy was groping women in crowded subway cars it was so unusual it made the papers.

    Maybe it’s because in NYC pretty much everyone rides subways and buses? There’s no mental association of your fellow-riders with poverty/disempowerment/weakness, so they aren’t your prey.

  43. nm, I just don’t know. I know other women in this city who have ridden public transport far more than I have without these problems, and who don’t get harassed for buying groceries.

    I’ve finally had to conclude there is something deeply offensive about my appearance. I don’t know what it is. I do know that changing clothes, hair, and even gaining 20 pounds make no difference. It seems to be connected to the phenomenon that most of the men who find me attractive seem to have a fantasy of marrying me as soon as possible — I’m not sure what that’s about either.

    I’ve tried asking male friends if they have any notion why I’m such a target of overwhelming hatred on sight, and their answer has been they don’t think it’s hatred so much as “confused lust”. I naturally pointed out that when it crosses the line into harassing or attacking a woman going peaceably about her business, it’s definitely hatred, which my friends realized must be true when I pointed it out. They didn’t have any better answers though.

    What I do know is that our society is so convinced that I should not exist that I get systematically punished for daring to obtain food.

  44. Uh, what? How do you figure?

    Well, chances are, you can’t be knocked unconscious by an attacker, at any rate. That’s somethin’.

    Carry a gun, wear a helmet… heck, your odds of coming out of an assault physically unscathed just went up by orders of magnitude.

    Okay, I’m being silly.

  45. No, you’re being a hostile prick. When you pull this kind of crap on me, I’ll just make fun of you. If I catch you pulling this crap on another woman who’s been through anything like what I have, I’ll stop pulling the punches.

  46. So is anyone else wondering what JP’s fantasy means — that men who attack women always politely ask first and square off for combat?

    Is he trying to tell us this is what he does with women, so of course that’s what must happen in general?

  47. Oh wait, his original comment was basically, “Wear a helmet and shut up and take the beatings.” I guess that sums up his relationships to women right there.

  48. Helen, you are coming across as more than a little bit shrill. JP made a joking reference to wearing a helmet, as he does when engaging in a dangerous activity: Riding a scooter.

    He is nowhere near being hostile. Feel free to disparage me as some sort of woman-hater if it helps, but I feel safe in saying most of the regulars here will tell you that is simply not the case.

    What now?

  49. And the sexist clichés come out of the woodwork of course.

    Mack, if you’re not a “woman-hater”, what’s with the sexist clichés just because some woman doesn’t take it quietly when someone posts what boils down to “so wear a helmet and take it” in response to posts about your neighbors harassing and beating women for getting groceries and going to work? Keep in mind he’s suggesting something that makes injury more likely by making it harder to see and hear your attackers coming.

    Let’s look at that one more time. People on this thread are telling you that your neighbors are harassing and sometimes beating women for daring to live by getting food, fuel, and working. It’s not possible to be “shrill” about that. It’s not possible to react to it too strongly. The fact that you think it is says volumes about you.

  50. JP, I’m willing to buy that you meant to make some sort of joke, though it was such a lame attempt that it’s hard to be sure.

    Why is that a problem? Because threads about other people’s life an death problems are not your playground for “being silly”.

  51. Wear a helmet and shut up and take the beatings.” I guess that sums up his relationships to women right there.

    Huge leap you make there. Lets, for a minute, assume he wasn’t totally joking. He wears a helmet when he rides, in fact, most bicycle riders wear one as well, not because “people think its ok to hit them with their cars, but because sometimes, people hit them with their cars. Or, they run over things and fall. If a bike enthusiast claimed that they were targeting for having the gall to earn a living or buy groceries, I’d call that shrill as well.

    I’m sorry you suffered at the hands of some creeps. I don’t for a minute buy into the notion that you were targeted because you were buying groceries, or getting fuel. You may have just been handy for someone bent on preying on someone weaker. That sucks. But it is completely unfair to suggest that JP thinks it is preferable to “just wear a helmet and take it.”

  52. Mack, yes, fine, but listen. What you’re asking is for someone who is discussing something very painful to her to read what JP writes and take it not as a glib dismissal of what she’s gone through, but as a joke about how much the world sucks.

    Some folks can make that joke, but you’ve got to either have an understanding that it’s okay to make a joke at that point, or an enormous amount of trust between the person making the joke and the person having the problem.

    There’s simply no way JP has either of those things with Helen.

    And Helen isn’t saying that she’s being targeted because she was buying groceries or getting fuel or whatever. She’s exactly saying what you’re saying, that she’s targeted because she’s seen as an easy target for some reason she can’t quite identify, because she’s a woman.

    Listen, I’m not holding a Sunday School here or a support group for folks who need to get shit off their chests, but neither is this always a coddling place for assholes (though, sometimes, it is, I admit). And if JP does something assholish to someone, she should call him on it.

    It’s not on Helen to “stop being shrill.” It’s on JP to really listen to how painful the things that people are talking about are to them and to be mindful of that.

  53. I wouldn’t have liked it if she had berated JP for offering up a inappropriate silly comment, either, but I would have remained silent about it.

    Inaccurately and unfairly paraphrasing what he said and inferring he meant something sinister made me speak up.

  54. Pingback: parking the donkey « cravens world

  55. Surely the problem is that JP didn’t stop to think that not everyone on every blog he frequents will know all about him and his scooter-riding ways? If Helen had known all that, she would have known he was trying to make a funny where it didn’t belong, and would have known WTF he was aiming at. And could have berated him or not, as she chose. Now, I think it is a tad insensitive to be cracking wise on this topic, in that particular way. But the real insensitivity is not looking at who was commenting on the thread and paying attention to the fact that there were significant contributions from people who don’t hang out on all the same blogs as JP. That particular kind of obliviousness is not a sex-linked characteristic, but a human one. And this is all evidence of why one ought to try not to be oblivious in quite that way.

  56. Ok, so it sounds like maybe JP meant something other than what he typed.

    What he typed was: “I’m thinking a helmet might be a solution to ward off everyday personal assault issues.”

    Note what he’s saying there: Wear helmet = solution. There’s no way a helmet would stop people hitting you, and in fact it would make it harder to see and hear them coming, so clearly taking the beatings is part of the proposed “solution”. There’s no hint given anywhere that this might be some sort of lame joke attempt, just wear helmet, problem solved, over, done, no need of further discussion.

    That’s a pretty violently hostile thing to say.

    So maybe he meant something else. It happens to all of us — somehow our keyboards firmly resist using psychic powers. The only thing is, he hasn’t given any reason to believe he meant something else, no “Oh, crap, that’s meant at all. I’m so very sorry,” or any other clear and unambiguous statement as to what that was about. For the moment he seems to prefer to let what he said stand.

    He also prefers to stand by the assumption that everyone should stop what they’re doing and smile when he blows through a conversation about life and death issues for real people and makes unconnected remarks he claims are “being silly”. That’s a level of crass you don’t often see. It could have been a stupid mistake, but there’s no reason to believe it is — he could easily have told us if that were the case.

    Similarly, Mack’s use of tired misogynist cliché might have been one of those stupid human moments we all have, but there is no reason to believe that is the case. He hasn’t identified it as such, but prefers to let it stand as what he really means, knowing full well it’s a loaded term pretty much equivalent to typing, “I’m a bigot.”

    I’d love to see this all turn out to be some mistakes, we all clean up, and those mistakes don’t get made again. That’s why I took the trouble to object — the off chance that someone somewhere might zip it rather than say something nasty to someone who’s been through hell makes it a worthy effort.

  57. Having been on the receiving end of one Helen’s Snake Canyon sized leaps, I’ve noticed they always seem to land in the same spot: you harass women, you molest women, you assault women, etc.

    According to websters:


    Main Entry: big·ot
    Pronunciation: \ˈbi-gət\
    Function: noun
    Etymology: French, hypocrite, bigot
    Date: 1660
    : a person obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices;
    especially : one who regards or treats the members of a group (as a racial or ethnic group) with hatred and intolerance

  58. I’m an activist, helen, and a seasoned one at that. One thing i have learned is that shrill assumptions and superhuman leaps of logic detracts from the cause you work for.

    Calling me stupid is your right, though.

  59. Dig a little deeper, bookworm. its a virtual cornucopia of hotness and sweetness.

    Helen, its all good. We all have our ways.

    rachel, can i say ANYTHING to lure you away from that man of yours? i’m hopelessly smitten.

  60. Oh look, Mack has turned into a concern troll.

    And he’s caught Exador’s reading comprehension problem too.

  61. So, guys, are you really that much at a loss for anything substantial to say? It’s like you’ve got a list of trollisms that you get a prize for if you hit all of them.

    We’ve got Mack’s repeated trick of “call me X if you want”, though no one had called him X. It sounds kind of 6-year-old-ish, doesn’t it? — “Mommy, Helen’s thinking about calling me a name! I swear!”

    We’ve got Exador and Mack pulling basically the same rhetorical schtick with what they’re calling “logical leaps”, trying to tie that phrase to the name “Helen”, but the record shows the opposite going on: Mack assumes a post is a joke when the poster gives no reason for thinking so, but claims believing what the poster says instead of jumping to Mack’s unsupported conclusion is a “leap”. Exador’s is funnier at least — he’s got a history of posting bizarrely illogical leaps at me, and I make fun of him right back much smaller leaps than he makes himself.

    And now Mack has taken up concern trolling with a health side-order of argumentum ad verecundiam (“logical fallacy by appeal to authority” for anyone who wasn’t forcefed Latin as a little’un).

  62. I’m an activist, helen, and a seasoned one at that.

    I can totally vouch for that if by “activist”, you mean unemployed and by “seasoned”, you mean old.

  63. Thank you, Sarcastro. I’m about to put this thread to bed if some folks on it don’t shape the fuck up. Listen, I have one rule–ONE–about this place:

    24. Are there any rules for commenting?


    You must respect and strive to maintain the frith of the community. We argue, fuss, and fight because there are folks here from a wide variety of backgrounds who disagree on just about everything. The only way it can work is if everyone agrees that having a space like this is worth-while and worth treating well. That can only happen if everyone respects each other, even when, or especially when they disagree.

    Fine, folks have disagreed. Folks have thrown their weight around a little to see if the other side will give. We have all determined that that’s not going to happen. So either take it to email, take it outside, or move on.

    Jesus Christ, we’re now at the point where people are trying to argue with straight faces that A.) it was obvious that JP was making a joke about the helmet stuff when it was clearly not obvious; B.) That disagreeing with this makes someone a misogynist, when, clearly, they’re just wrong; and that C.) once one person starts making attacks that feel too personal, it’s fine for a thread to turn into an Old West-style shoot-out.

    I’m not having it.

    I like all ya’ll and I want you to feel good about commenting here and welcome to comment here, but, again for the second time this week: I’M NOT RUNNING A FUCKING SUNDAY SCHOOL HERE.

    And my feelings on this kind of full-guns-blazing approach have been made known repeatedly. You want to argue with a person’s ideas, fine. You start attacking that person, even if you feel it’s justified retaliation, and you’re insulting me, in my role as host.

    I’ve given all y’all some room, because I love you and assumed you could work it out between you, but after receiving complaints from all of you about what’s going on here, I see that was a mistake.

    So, shape up.

    Also, if I hear the word “shrill” used one more time in my presence, even if I don’t know you in person, I will find you, drive to your house, and kick you in the ass.

  64. I would like to heartily apologize if anything I said made it sound like I was asserting that assuming JP’s comment to be a joke makes them a misogynist. I never intended to say anything of the sort, and if anyone can point out where I did say such a thing, I will happily apologize for those specific words as well.

    What I did intend to say is that using the hate-speech term “shrill” to attack someone is certainly misogynistic behavior.

    And I did intend to say that when it’s coupled with a “Mommy she’s thinking about calling me a name, I swear, even though she hasn’t” (“Feel free to disparage me as some sort of woman-hater”) and some sort of bizarre appeal to authority about how the speaker is one of the Good Guys and therefore it’s okaaaay for him to use hate speech, because he’s all special (“but I feel safe in saying most of the regulars here will tell you that is simply not the case”), then there’s something truly and deeply ugly and bigoted being said.

    So again, I apologize if I said something that sounds like, “Thinking JP was joking makes you a misogynist,” and I’m sorry for making anyone’s hair stand on end if they thought that’s what I meant. Please point it out to me if I did say that — I would like to avoid saying anything so far from what I meant in the future.

  65. Hey Exador, you mad cutie you, it sounds like for the comfort of our lovely hostess you and I should come to an agreement on whether our past “what you said implies THIS” slanging matches are. Do we think they were basically in good fun? Or not? I have to admit they kind of grew on me with an offbeat charm, but I’ll happily agree to a mutual ceasefire if you think that’s better.

  66. No, you’re being a hostile prick.

    Evidently if you’re mentally handicapped, you’re allowed to beat people.

    Is he trying to tell us this is what he does with women, so of course that’s what must happen in general?

    Oh wait, his original comment was basically, “Wear a helmet and shut up and take the beatings.” I guess that sums up his relationships to women right there.

    Balance this against my observation that the remarks directed toward JP sounded shrill to me.

    I’ll sleep fine tonight. And now I’m done with this.

  67. Nice cherry-picking, Mack.

    I’ll pretend it’s valid for the moment though. Let’s see,

    “No, you’re being a hostile prick.”

    Why is that a problem, given that it’s a lot less extreme than what JP said to me, that if I wore a helmet and took the beatings, all would be “solved”? My comeback was already far, far milder than what JP said to me, so your rationale that using hate speech to attack over it just doesn’t make any sense.

    “Evidently if you’re mentally handicapped, you’re allowed to beat people.”

    Did you even read the context this was in? And even if you didn’t, why is it a bad thing to say? The evidence of the situation WAS that being mentally handicapped means you’re allowed to beat people. How does that somehow justify your behavior?

    “Is he trying to tell us this is what he does with women, so of course that’s what must happen in general?” “Oh wait, his original comment was basically, “Wear a helmet and shut up and take the beatings.” I guess that sums up his relationships to women right there.”

    These were both identified as making fun of JP right back at him after he wandered though announcing that other people’s discussions of life and death problems were his playground for “being silly”. Are you seriously proposing he gets to say horrible things under some pretext of “being silly”, and others don’t get to make fun of him right back even if what they say is much more mild than what he said?

  68. Helen, do you make a habit out of blowing things out of proportion? Both JP and Mack have a history amongst the regular readers here…for years, in fact. Most of us know where their hearts are. You are new here and it is quite presumptuous for you to come on and act as if you immediately understand the nuances of their personalities and how they express themselves in their comments. YOU are the one who has taken statements out of context and twisted them around into some kind of woman-hating, “horrible” hate speech.

    It might do you some good to step back and realize that not everything needs to be turned into a conflict.

  69. Ginger, did you read the comment I posted about how I could see where what they said might have been different from what they meant, if only they’d give a reason for thinking so by saying so?

    “Most of us know where their hearts are.” Ok, so are you saying this is a semi-closed space, and “those who don’t know us” aren’t welcome or are second-class citizens? I didn’t see that in B’s FAQ or rules, but if B wants to tell me that’s the case, I’ll certainly respect it and stay away.

  70. Nope, that’s not what I’m saying at all…I’m just saying that it might be beneficial to hold off on jumping to the conclusion that folks automatically have the worst possible intentions, especially when you don’t know them yet…ya know?

  71. I think the problem is mostly that Helen simply wasn’t aware of JP’s habit of tossing somewhat inappropriate comment bombs in his attempts to be humorous. Those of us who are calloused to them probably thought, “Yeah, that’s JP,” don’t bother reacting. If you made the mistake of taking him seriously, as Helen did, you’d probably read the comment as stupid and dismissive of the real problem of violence against women. I don’t think it’s necessarily on Helen to know the quirks of every blogger who might happen through, although it helps to realize that such one-offs sometimes are better ignored.

    Mack, fine, cayenne pepper and dark chocolate, then? I’m sure there’s a Las Paletas joke in there somewhere.

  72. At this point, of course, if I had something substantive to say on this topic, I’d refrain, simply because I’ve already unwittingly ignited a shitstorm (maybe one-and-a-half shitstorms) by deigning to pretend that people know me and my intent,etc.

    I will go back to working on the magic wand I’ve been designing. The one that makes all injustice, malice and other bad, mean and unfair things go away.

  73. Mack, withdraw and claim victory. Dick Nixon would be proud. Sad to say, your activist credentials as a so-called feminist don’t make the cut when you act like the paterfamilias around here. Just an observation.

    Helen, I was totally rooting for you, against my actual friends, in this rhubarb until you brought up “hate speech”, which exists somewhere between Unicorns and the Biblical Account of Creation on the sliding scale of Make Believe Shit. You argued this on the actual merits of what you thought the intent was. I can drink to that.

    By now, you probably get that there was a breakdown in digesting JP’s “humor”. As he is a helmet wearer, his advice obviously was misconstrued. He wasn’t diminishing your painful experiences with “life is hard, wear a helmet”.

    That said, “life is hard, wear a helmet”.

  74. Rachel, that’s correct, I had no way to know “JP’s habit”. Which is why I responded to his initial comment with an “Um, what?” comment, asking for clarification. I did so not because his comment bothered me personally, but because of how such behavior would affect the women I inadvertently wound up representing should he treat them that way.

    Anyone who actually read this thread knows that I wound up being the stand-in in the legal system for an entire series of severely battered women too desperate to secure their own survival to testify against their batterer. Their presence makes it worth it to me to object to anyone treating their story, through mine, callously, in the hope that my objecting might stop someone from treating these women callously when they are able to speak for themselves.

  75. …and Helen, that is to be applauded to the utmost!!! You are to be commended for your strength and for taking a situation that could have destroyed you and turning it into an opportunity to help others.

    It’s just that I felt the need to defend my friends here because you don’t know them yet and they aren’t anything like you were seeing them…

    It’s all good, and I wish you much happiness and peace.

  76. Sarcastro, I know you may personally not classify “shrill” as hate speech. I do. I won’t apologize for it, and if you think it’s a wrong classification, then I think you’re missing something critical about what hate speech actually is.

    I’m getting that JP probably meant some sort of joke. I said that a long time ago. I also said a long time ago I wish he’d clear it up by just plain saying whether he meant it as a joke or not, and by saying whether or not joking that way given where the thread currently stood was an inappropriate mistake or not.

    So I’ve got a question for you — given my repeated statements that I’d be glad to hear this was all a joke and/or mistake, why does there seem to be a collection of people who magically don’t seem to hear that?

  77. Sarcastro, were you saying “hate speech” itself is not a valid concept? If so, could you explain? I’d like to hear it, though maybe we should take it elsewhere.

  78. Actually, Helen, I’ve never heard the word “shrill” as a hate term before. Is that a new thing? If so, can you give some examples of why this word has become deemed as hate speech?

    (I’m not being snarky, I’m seriously interested in knowing…)

  79. JP: At this point, of course, if I had something substantive to say on this topic, I’d refrain, simply because I’ve already unwittingly ignited a shitstorm (maybe one-and-a-half shitstorms) by deigning to pretend that people know me and my intent,etc.

    Wow, would that ever have been a great contribution to this thread if it had been followed with “and I’m sorry i did.”

  80. Ginger, it comes of how the word is used and not used. It is systematically used by members of a dominant group to silence and discount members of a less advantaged group. It’s usage has gotten more and more extreme over time, particularly in politics and academia — if a powerful woman is referred to as “shrill”, that is automatically supposed to invalidate what she’s saying through the word’s connection to the whole “oh she’s just being an over-emotional hysterical wimmensfolk, don’t pay her any mind” meme. Or another way to put it would be that it’s a form of fallacy ad hominem whose usage is almost entirely directed against women, not men.

  81. Ginger, here’s another thought on something where you and I seem to differ — what giving someone the benefit of the doubt means.

    Some people think it means that you assume whatever a person said, what they meant was basically good. I got the impression that this was what you were advocating for.

    Some people (including me) think it means that you assume the best about a person, and any deviation from that must be a Stupid Human Error like we all get, so calling them on it is doing them a favor since they didn’t catch it and it’s something they’d want to know about.

    In the former case, believing the best of a person means you say nothing, in the latter it means you speak up.

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