by Peter Laffin
In recent months, major corporations have made efforts to co-opt social justice movements in order to sell products made by brown children in third world sweatshops. The ¨woke¨ left, a designation given to the subset of American liberals primarily focused on the politics of identity, has swallowed corporate America’s efforts whole. They praise, share, and retweet their advertisements while proudly donning their logos.
In late December, Nike began to run a television commercial called, ¨Just Do It,¨ featuring Colin Kaepernick, whose story came to prominence in social justice circles during the 2017 NFL season. Kaepernick led the widely-discussed ¨kneeling¨ protest during the national anthem before games, protesting police brutality against African Americans. This captured the imagination of social progressives and the ire of military members and their families. (It also resulted in one of the least productive national conversations of my lifetime, as President Trump took advantage of the tension by manipulating us into having a conversation about him instead of the real concerns on both sides.) The ad features Kaepernick in street clothes, as he has yet to be re-signed by an NFL team since the protest, and it ends with a close up of his face set behind the words, ¨Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.”
It's difficult for me to remain straight-faced at the notion of Kaepernick sacrificing everything for his beliefs, given the millions Nike paid him for the TV spot; but this irony must have dropped the jaws of Nike's third-world slave laborers. While Nike has publicly proclaimed to have cleaned up its grotesque business practices (at the turn of the century, Nike finally had to own up to its well-documented child labor practices in countries like Cambodia, Vietnam, and Pakistan), evidence suggests there is still plenty to be done. Reports as recent as 2017 indicate that Nike factories in Vietnam force workers to labor in temperatures well over the labor limit of ninety degrees, to the point where workers regularly faint. Nike has also recently been accused of closing factories in third world countries with ascendant labor movements, such as Honduras. Further, Nike refuses to allow independent monitoring of their labor practices, which would put suspicion to an end if their nose was clean.
But all of this is cool, and Nike is awesome, because it’s, like, woke, or something. So long as it continues to signal the correct virtues in its advertising campaigns, the American social justice left is happy and proud to brandish the ¨swoosh¨ as it marches on like good little corporatists. Child labor be damned.
As recently as this month, Procter and Gamble´s razor company, Gillette, released a ¨correct think¨ ad targeted at the woke crowd that instructs its male customers how to behave in the world. Seeing the wave of the ¨Me Too¨ movement, these corporateers hopped on in hopes of signaling proper virtues to people who would be horrified to find out about their animal testing practices. (Oh, and they have a teeny child labor problem, too). Much like with the Nike Kaepernick ad, the Gillette spot flourished on social media, cheered on by the social justice left, which should sue for some of that sweet child labor money, as they were the ones who really made the commercial successful.
The incongruence of the New Left Morality is confusing, dispiriting, and indicative of a laziness the type of which allows true evil to thrive. It champions easy virtue while ignoring complex injustice. It favors symbolic victory over actual victory: the end of American corporate malfeasance. You better believe it makes me angry.
by Emily Graf
Finally, it’s evening in Pine Ridge, South Dakota. We have spent this late spring day sweating. Chris and I worked with our haphazard crew of 8th graders to build walls from splintered, bowing 2x4s. We did our best to stack firewood by the sheet-metal trailer, alongside a rusted bathtub that floats like a capsized lifeboat amidst the yard’s detritus. With only hand tools and flimsy masks, our students demolished a burnt-out house so that the carpenters could get in to rebuild.
Service work on the Pine Ridge Reservation is frustrating, heartbreaking, and uplifting all at once, and by the end of the day, we’re pretty damn tired.
Maybe that’s why, during this particular evening meeting, I’m not able to “keep my cool.” Chris and I sit down with our service partner. Let’s call him Dave. The room is sticky. We perch on cheap polyester chairs and periodically swig from our Nalgenes, while dust and wind trouble the handmade curtains. Dave is a white man from suburban Colorado. He wears a leather cowboy hat, a beard, an austerely deep voice. He knows some Lakota words. He chastises our students for being “rambunctious,” and they find him intimidating. On day three, I have begun to notice in our “team meetings” that Dave mostly addresses Chris, makes eye contact with Chris, and has no trouble interrupting me when I voice an idea. For this reason, I’m not paying close attention to the conversation. But then Dave says, “Tomorrow we’ll be running power tools and chainsaws, so let’s make sure Chris or Adam is there to supervise.”
Rapidly, some realizations hit me. Adam is this man’s fifteen-year-old son. He has not yet graduated from high school, and I’ve seen him run a table saw without eye-protection or gloves, spraying himself in the eyes with sawdust. But by virtue of his maleness alone, Adam is more qualified than I to supervise 8th graders with power tools.
Next: what Dave doesn’t know. What Dave doesn’t know is that I worked for a season as a sawyer on a backcountry chainsaw crew in Southern Colorado. I completed a chainsaw safety certification course, and learned to fell teetering ponderosa pines that shake the ground when they crash-land. My saw weighed 18 lbs when fully fueled, and I carried it for close to 9 hours a day, kneeling, standing, wading through the Colorado River, hiking in the dark through moonlit sagebrush. Each morning I woke with sawdust in my ears, nostrils, and eyelids. I slept every night on the ground under clear desert stars. My hands were always brown and dirty, nails choked with black grease, and after one particular hitch, when we returned to Durango, I won my first arm-wrestling match. My story is winding and messy; it involves overcoming my fear of machines and sharp dangerous tools; sometimes I wanted to quit due to sheer exhaustion and frayed nerves; and you bet I was aware, every day I carried that saw, that I was a woman elbowing my way into a male profession.
But when Dave looks at me, he doesn’t see this story.
Perhaps some readers will think, “He just made a mistake. Cut him some slack. Why are you so upset?” Well, imagine you endure little brush-offs like this every day. Imagine your former boss points out that “as a young woman,” you need to be extra sure to maintain boundaries with your teenage students. Imagine, when you tell a group of Wyoming ranch hands that you guided backpacking trips, they say, “They let girls do that?” Imagine you have worked with male colleagues who call women well into their 30s “girls,” but would never refer to men of the same age as “boys.” Or that your former outdoor instructor, who you think is mentoring you in mountaineering, writes in a Facebook message that he “always thought you were more beautiful” than his other students and he’s “jealous” of your partner, throwing two years of mentorship into question. All of these, in aggregate, are a version of death by 1,000 cuts. Journalist Rebecca Traister calls this “the banality of daily diminution.”
Comments like Dave’s are complex. It’s possible that he thought he was doing me a favor, saving me the embarrassment of admitting my fear or incompetence. To that I say: let me speak for myself. Let me voice my fears, let me voice my strengths, and let that be a choice I get to make. Women are damn good at self-awareness (maybe too good.) Women are capable of saying “No,” although unfortunately at times that “No” isn’t met with respect. Rest assured, I am capable of letting you know if I don’t want to run a chainsaw. I want Dave to ask me, as he might ask his son, “What do you want to do?” then wait for my answer with patience and compassion.
What I said on that South Dakota night was: “Wait a second. I know how to run a chainsaw.”
by Jacob Wolhandler
by Cameron Hoeffler
Truck drivers in Maine take grammar very seriously. The Oxford comma may look like an insignificant period with a tail, but it is a powerful writing tool which recently played a vital role in a heavily contested ten million dollar lawsuit. Maine state law specifies that some services are not paid overtime; however, this law was unclear due to a lack of proper punctuation. This oversight left Oakhurst Dairy owing millions of dollars in truck driver overtime pay. Delivery people in Maine have proven that the Oxford comma is a crucial component of precise and legal writing.
In order to understand this entire lawsuit, you must first appreciate the comma at hand. Don’t know what an Oxford comma is? Not to worry, by the time you finish reading this paper, it will be permanently stamped into your brain. (You’re welcome.) The Oxford comma, also known as the “serial comma,” is used at the end of a list with three or more items. A classic example of this precise punctuation is, “The elephants, Winston Churchill and King George boarded the train.” Unless Winston Churchill and King George are elephants, in order to avoid embarrassing confusion, we need the Oxford comma: “The elephants, Winston Churchill, and King George boarded the train”. Most style guides in American English recommend the use of this controversial comma, and yet many major publications, including The New York Times, The Economist, and The Wall Street Journal, as well as major law firms, do not recommend the use of this vital punctuation mark. I cannot figure out why. Gus Lubin, former Business Insider executive editor, explained the reasoning behind this anti-Oxford comma policy by declaring that, “The grammar snob's favorite mark is just a waste of space.” Truck drivers in Maine (and many other rational people outside of Maine) disagree with this opinion. If you find his remark offensive, please feel free to contact Gus Lubin through his social media, @twitofgus.
At this point, you may be wondering why this article exists at all. Well, I’m here to give you the answer to that question which is probably on so many minds right this minute. Who even cares about a little comma? Well, I’ll tell you: some truck drivers in Maine and I care.
In Maine, the law states that overtime will not be paid to workers for certain activities: “The canning, processing, preserving, freezing, drying, marketing, storing, packing for shipment or distribution of: (1) Agricultural produce; (2) Meat and fish products; and (3) Perishable foods” (Norris). A ten-million-dollar lawsuit was decided based on the fact that there is an Oxford comma missing between the words “shipment” and “or.” Without this comma, packing and delivery become one unit and, considering that truck drivers do not pack, they only deliver goods, they are exempt from this exemption. Thus, the Oakhurst Dairy owes them ten million dollars in backpay. The decision was appealed, but, on March 13, 2017, the case was decided in a higher court and, once again, it was settled in favor of the truck drivers. The decision serves as an excellent example of the value of this subtle little piece of punctuation.
A group of individuals who think that the use of the Oxford comma is pretentious and cumbersome does exist. There may have been a case for leaving it out when newspapers had to hand-set their print, and page space was limited. That is no longer true because one can now easily change font size. Surprisingly, the Maine legal Legislative Drafting Manual specifically says not to use the Oxford comma unless it is needed for “clarity” (Victor). In precise writing, is it not always best to ensure clarity? The ruling of both courts, in this case, would suggest that it is better to be pretentious and precise than to be ambiguous and open to interpretation.
There is no compelling reason to leave the Oxford comma out of any piece of written communication that would benefit from clarity. The serial comma separates the elements in a list so that the meaning cannot be disputed. The accusations of “pretension” and the “cumbersome use of extra space” (Lubin) do not hold a candle to the benefits of clear and concise communication. The Oakhurst Dairy lawsuit serves as a powerful example of what can happen if this extremely valuable punctuation mark is not correctly employed.
by Teo Schollmaier
I do not support the death penalty in its current form. The death penalty is an inhumane and dehumanizing punishment. The lethal injection can take up to two hours to work, which happened to Christopher Newton in 2007. The lethal injection is commonly viewed as “painless,” but there have been almost no studies on this. The few studies that have been released point to the lethal injection as being extremely painful, condemning the victims to silent suffering, unable to move under the high doses of anesthetic.
The main problem with the death penalty is the error rate. One PNAS study estimates the error rate death row convictions to be 4.1%, meaning that one of every 25 executions is performed on an innocent person. I would argue that this high of error rate is due to the mental and emotional separation between the judge, jury, and the actual execution. It is easy for a jury to send an innocent person into a back room to be executed. The only person who has to deal with the weight of killing an innocent person is the executioner, who is often a doctor that is legally required to carry out the procedure.
“Neither will I administer a poison to anybody when asked to do so, nor will I suggest such a course.” This is a line directly from the Hippocratic Oath, an oath that historically doctors are sworn in with. Ironic, is it not?
The current death penalty has many problems, but I still support the idea of a death penalty. I dislike the idea of awful people being kept in jail for the rest of their lives. I see this as a pointless waste of tax money. The jail system was intended as a punishment to deter crime. In a perfect system, it would also work as a support network to rehabilitate criminals into functional members of society. Lifetime terms do not fulfill either of these demands.
I also believe that life terms are inhumane. Imagine living behind bars, in a building filled with criminals, gang members, murderers, etc., with no possibility of ever leaving. Does that sound like a life worth living? I think that many people would prefer a quick and painless death.
My idea of a perfect death penalty is medieval (and macabre). I support death by guillotine. I believe public execution in one of the bloodiest ways possible will fix many of the current issues of the death penalty.
Firstly, guillotines are quick. After decapitation, the victim will go unconscious in less than ten seconds due to a lack of blood flow to the brain. This is a painless process. If a guillotine is used correctly, it will almost instantly sever the brain stem, making it impossible for the victim to feel any pain. The process could be modernized—the victim could be given anesthetic beforehand—but even by itself, a guillotine is still far more humane than the lethal injection.
The problem of innocent people being executed and its applicable solution is more complicated. The judge and jury could be required to witness the execution, as a deterrent for using the death penalty when it is not warranted. Being required to witness a beheading would provide ample reason to only use the death penalty when evidence is in excess, and the crime is of a truly horrendous nature such that the judge and jury would feel confident enough in their decision to witness the execution themselves.
While it may seem extreme—or even crazy—I believe that bringing the guillotine back would be an effective solution to the problems presented by our current system of the death penalty.