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"It’s like we're existing, but not existing."

[Content Note: Class warfare; corporate greed.]

This is an excellent piece of reporting by Ed Pilkington at the Guardian: What Happened When Walmart Left.

Mostly avoiding the cringe-inducing turns of phrase intended as color — but effectively serving to caricaturize residents — in pieces about poor, rural life in America, the article details what happened in McDowell County, West Virginia, when a Walmart supercenter arrived and then abruptly left a decade later.

The devastation the departure — for reasons of "financial performance as well as strategic alignment with long-term plans," according to a spokeswoman for Walmart, a corporation that made $485.9 billion in total revenue the year they closed the store — is vast and has affected people's lives in ways that those of us who live in different sorts of communities may not have considered, underlining the importance of listening to people tell their own stories, as well as the importance of journalists and news outlets who allow them the space to do so.

It's not just jobs that Walmart, which had become the area's biggest employer, took with it when it left: It took convenient shopping, affordable fresh food, spillover business for local restaurants (where shoppers ate) and a hotel (where employees lived), the social component of the giant retailer serving as a hub that connected the community, the "waste" ("close to 200,000 lb of meat, dairy, pies, and bread") that the retailer gave to the local food pantry, and the tax revenue it paid into the community:
The town of Kimball in which the supercenter is located used to receive $145,000 a year in taxes from Walmart, and when that went it had to cut back its workforce and put all remaining staff on a four-day week.

The county government also lost $68,000 in taxes, most of which went to schools, and all its staff were given a 10% pay cut. "All Walmart was interested in was how many millions of dollars they made, they weren't interested in helping the community," says McDowell County commissioner Gordon Lambert. "When they didn't make the profit they wanted, they left."
The closest Walmart is now over an hour away, with very little option for both former employees and shoppers who became dependent on their local store, entirely by Walmart's design.

And, although the word automation is never used in the article, that is certainly one of the considerations the voraciously greedy retailer is making in its calculations as it decides on hundreds of similar closings across the country.
When you combine the county's economic malaise with Walmart's increasingly ferocious battle against Amazon for dominance over online retailing, you can see why outsized physical presences could seem surplus to requirements. "There has been a wave of closings across the US, most acutely in small towns and rural communities that have had heavy population loss," said Michael Hicks, an economics professor at Ball State University who is an authority on Walmart's local impact.

On 15 January 2016, those winds of change swept across the country with a fury. Walmart announced that it was closing 269 stores worldwide, 154 of them in the US. Of those, 14 were supercenters, the gargantuan "big boxes" that have become the familiar face of the company since the first opened in Missouri in 1988.
Walmart's model was to position itself as the provider of everything that people needed, under one roof. Get your tractor tires, your baby's diapers, your new running shoes, and your chicken for dinner all in one place!

It was a model at which they were extremely successful, driving countless independent businesses and smaller retail chains out of business, and replacing lots of jobs with livable wages and benefits with exploitative jobs that lacked both. They insinuated themselves into communities they ruined, with lots of big promises that came at steep costs.

And now, after obliging people in many communities to become highly dependent on them as an economic, cultural, and social center of the community, they are pulling up sticks with zero compunction.

It's hard to find the words to convey the profundity of my odium for the Walton family, or the depth of my sorrow for the people they've so cavalierly fucked over, first by their roughshod arrival and then by their inglorious retreat.
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9 days ago
Richmond, VA
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Really hoping this person’s best friend and/or spouse has...

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Really hoping this person’s best friend and/or spouse has JALAD

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22 days ago
Richmond, VA
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Let’s Delete Sex Identity From Birth Certificates

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By Heath Fogg-Davis

Unsplash/Jv Garcia
To protect the right of gender self-determination, we should remove sex markers from birth certificates before they become the basis for discrimination.

B y the 20th week into a pregnancy, an ultrasound scan can be used to determine a baby’s sex and parents are given the option of learning this information, or waiting to hear ‘It’s a boy!’ or ‘It’s a girl!’ At birth, the delivering physician or midwife visually confirms and records the previewed sex identity on a birth certificate application form. Our governments have some good reasons for collecting and keeping sex identity information about us in the aggregate for the purposes of demographic studies, public health and affirmative-action measures. But the sex markers on state-issued birth certificates are not necessary for these goals. In fact, a government has no business collecting information about our personal sex identities at birth, or keeping track of the decisions we might make about our sex identities over the course of our lifetimes.

To protect the right of gender self-determination, we should remove sex markers from birth certificates before they become the basis for sex discrimination. Consider North Carolina’s 2016 ‘bathroom bill’, which required people to use the restroom that matched their ‘biological sex’ — the one noted on a birth certificate — in public schools and state agencies. Defenders of this and other ‘bathroom bills’ cite privacy and safety concerns that are tied to the false stereotype that transgender women are really heterosexual men who don dresses to enter female-designated public restrooms, and sexually assault girls and women. Critics of the law see it as state-sponsored gender identity discrimination.

A government has no business collecting information about our personal sex identities at birth.

Getting rid of sex markers on birth certificates is rooted in the liberal philosophical concept of self-determination and, in particular, the precept that the state should not restrict our free expression and speech.

We are partway there. The majority of US states permits transgender people to change the sex marker on their birth certificate. The transgender civil rights movement has long focused on assimilating and accommodating transgender people within the existing sex binary of male or female. These reforms help some transgender people, but not everyone can or wishes to be defined by these norms. Assimilation and accommodation leave intact the primary source of sex-identity discrimination: bureaucratic sex-classification itself.

The policy reform of allowing transgender people to ‘correct’ the sex markers on birth certificates also doesn’t guarantee its enforcement. Stephanie Mott’s story is a case in point. Mott, a transgender woman, is suing the state of Kansas for failing to enforce a law that explicitly allows transgender people to change the sex markers on their birth certificates. ‘I shouldn’t have to out myself as transgender every time I apply for a job or when I register to vote,’ Mott said.

Dear Legislators, Gender Transitions Are Not One-Size-Fits-All

The act of correction is also problematic because it implies some sort of mistake. In his beautiful memoir What Becomes You (2008), co-written with his mother Hilda Raz, Aaron Raz Link, a self-described white female-to-male transsexual, historian of science and professional clown, challenges the persistent stereotype that transgender people are ‘trapped in the wrong body’, and acquire a ‘new body’ via surgery and hormones. He begins the story of his transition with the inevitable mutability of all human bodies over time:

Like everyone else, I have had the same body since the day I was born. Approximately every seven years, most of my cells, like yours, have been replaced by new cells. I am trapped within my body only as little and as much as every other human being. To believe otherwise is to deny a miracle; I have changed and there is only one of me.

For Link, who does not speak for all transgender people, the idea of correction rings false.

Another approach to transgender inclusion is to add more sex-identity categories beyond male and female. In 2013, Australia passed legislation that added a third sex marker option of ‘X’ in addition to ‘M’ or ‘F’ to its passports. According to Australian law, X represents ‘indeterminate, intersex (born with anatomy for both sexes) or unspecified’ and is available only to those born with intersex conditions or transgender Australians who can produce a ‘letter of support’ from a physician. Bangladesh added a similar third sex-marker option of ‘other’ to its passports in 2013, and India passed legislation in 2005 that added a third sex marker option of ‘E’, which stands for eunuch. In 2013, Germany gave intersex, but not transgender, adults the third option of ‘X’ on both their passports and their birth certificates. Germany’s law also gives the parents of intersex infants the option of leaving the sex designation on their children’s birth certificate blank.

Some might embrace a third sex-marker option, but others could feel stigmatised by the additive accommodation. After all, efforts to extend government sex-classification through creation of exceptional categories could end up reinforcing the binary poles of ‘man’ or ‘woman’, leaving people who identify as non-binary out in the cold.

When we are asked to check a sex-identity box on a bureaucratic form, what definition of sex is being invoked and to what end? Is sex being used as a proxy for the look and functionality of our genitals? Is it a proxy for the mix of hormones we have in our bloodstream? Is sex a proxy for the social experiences we’ve had because we are perceived as male or female? How does intersex or transgender experience affect such questioning?

Efforts to extend government sex-classification through creation of exceptional categories could end up reinforcing the binary poles.

The census conducted by the federal government would be a good way of capturing relevant demographic sex-identity data because it is a voluntary questionnaire that recurs every 10 years. On this self-reporting form, the federal government has a plum opportunity to clearly explain to respondents what definition of sex or gender they are being asked to voluntarily disclose and why. The racial identity questions on the census have been contested and changed over time. Perhaps it is time for the government to critically assess its use of sex classification not just on birth certificates but on the census as well.

When it comes to sex-based affirmative action, I agree with the philosopher Laurie Shrage at Florida International University that ‘the state only needs to track a person’s lived sex, which can be verified by each individual’. Employers wishing to recruit and retain female employees are justifiably interested in knowing people’s current sex identity, not the sex identity they were assigned at birth based upon genital inspection. Indeed, unless a person’s genitals are directly relevant to a given job description, as in certain kinds of sex work such as pornography, then the disclosure of such information is irrelevant to hiring and promotion, and a violation of our right to privacy. These are important questions for organisations and institutions to grapple with, and to explicitly articulate as they design their recruitment, retention and administrative policies. Removing sex markers from birth certificates is a small but powerful way to force government, businesses and schools to align their sex-related administrative policies and practices with particular justifiable sex-related goals.

This article was originally published at Aeon and has been republished under Creative Commons.

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Let’s Delete Sex Identity From Birth Certificates was originally published in The Establishment on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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25 days ago
What purpose does the listing of sex on birth certificates actually serve?
Richmond, VA
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Cis ‘Allies,’ You Probably Think This Work is About You

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I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been told by cis “allies” that if I don’t directly appeal to them in the most generous terms possible, I can’t expect their support. And as far as I can tell, this is a pretty explicit way of saying, “I will not affirm the humanity of transgender people unless their movement caters to me.”

I mean, at least you’re being honest so I know upfront that I can’t count on you.

A lot of fake allies came out in full force when I wrote an article in late March, really unpacking different trans-antagonistic microaggressions (in plain terms, acts that hurt trans people in subtle but important ways). I put an incredible amount of labor into that work, trying to hold space for cis folks’ emotional realities while also being firm about what is and isn’t acceptable when interacting with folks from my community.

“Oftentimes, as we try to support the people we love, we can make mistakes – and that’s a normal and expected part of the process,” I explained. “The best way to make it right is to learn a little more, do some self-reflection, and not just apologize, but commit to changing our behaviors.”

Wow, I’m so mean… (sigh)

I offered a piece that I believed could bridge gaps in understanding for cis folks, particularly loved ones, who were struggling with their own emotions around transition. I put an incredible amount of intention behind every word that I wrote. And I wrote from the place of someone who has firsthand experience trying to hold space for my family, my friends, and my own pain all at once.

I’ve often said that when I write these rare pieces that are designed to reach folks of privilege, I’m (in some ways) giving them my heart. And a few months out now, and thousands of responses later, I find myself questioning why I did that in the first place.

Cis folks, I’ve been told over and over again that I’m not patient enough, nice enough, generous enough. That if I’d just be a little more understanding and a little less hostile, you’d come through.

(And this is a familiar refrain for folks who are marginalized. This isn’t new. “Allies” love to hold their support hostage, making it as conditional as possible so that they feel justified in doing nothing. I see white queer folks in my own community doing this right now. White folks who are looking at Black folks protesting at Pride for the right to exist, telling them they’re too angry, too disruptive. As if the comfort and feelings of white people somehow matters more than Black lives.)

Allies, most having never shown up for these communities beyond a filter on their profile pictures, love to tell folks that their tactics are wrong. As if marginalized folks haven’t lived in these bodies and persisted through these struggles their entire lives. As if allies are somehow better positioned to determine how communities should advocate and care for one another.

“Allies” like these think that they know better and that they’re owed the emotional labor and warmth of marginalized people at all times… otherwise we’re not worth the time of day.

Cis people, you’re breaking my heart. But that’s what I get for putting it on loan, right?

In fact, some of you find it more offensive that I’m calling you “cisgender” than you are with the rampant amount of violence waged against trans women of color. You’re outraged by a label, a category that does nothing to endanger or disempower you — one that names the safety that you possess in this world because of your identity, and asks for you to acknowledge it.

A simple acknowledgment. And you accuse us of asking for too much, of being too much.

But this was never about me. I’ve held your hand. I’ve held this space for you on more than one occasion, applauding your good intentions and giving you the benefit of the doubt. This was never about what I did and didn’t say, how I did or didn’t say it — I know this because I’ve coated it in honey for you and you still said it was bitter.

When it comes to privilege, it’s almost always about comfort. Your comfort. And until you’re willing to sit with that discomfort, my approach and my labor are irrelevant at best. I could hand it to you made-to-order, to every specification, and it still wouldn’t be enough. If you’re not ready to be made uncomfortable, not just once but many times over, you were never going to be my “ally” in the first place.

And to be clear, I’m not here to make you feel comfortable.

My work, first and foremost, has been giving folks in my community resources to help them survive — whether it’s a tool to start a conversation, or the affirmation they need to feel a little more whole in a world determined to irreparably fracture them. Even when I’m taking the time to teach cis folks, I’m doing it because I want trans people to live in a world where we don’t need to have these conversations anymore.

You emailed, and you tweeted, and you commented, determined to make it about you and what I apparently owed you. You told me that I was unkind, and that I’d never get allies if I didn’t cater to you.

That article had sugar on top and ice cream in the middle, and you said it had a bad aftertaste.

Instead of sitting with those feelings, wondering how you could process in a way that would translate to meaningful action, you rejected everything out of hand. You unloaded your feelings and fragility onto me, demanding that I take it all back. You lashed out, as if to say, “If I have to feel uncomfortable for even a minute, I’m not interested in the pain and fear that you experience every minute of every day.”

I’m not going to claim that I’ve never been defensive, uncomfortable, fragile. I’ve encountered my own learning curve around my privileges, particularly around race, class, and education. But I’ve learned (and oh-so-generously spelled out for you in this article about call-outs) that navigating this graciously is part and parcel of being a decent human being.

Cis folks, I’ve never asked you to be perfect. I know better than anyone that when we’re trying to unlearn all this toxic shit, it takes time and intention. Marginalized folks have been saying ad freaking nauseam that showing up for us and doing the work is a process, not a destination or a title that you earn after you collect enough cookies.

(The concept of “ally” itself is dubious at best. Bless Indigenous Action Media for this article about the “ally industrial complex” and being accomplices rather than allies, some further reading if this conversation has miraculously sparked your interest/you haven’t angrily tweeted me already).

But when I hand you my labor and my heart on a silver platter, and your instinct is to withhold your Very Precious Allyship™ (as if trans folks can’t get on without you — talk about self-important), the problem isn’t with me. It’s with you. 

The amount of labor (emotional, intellectual) that goes into directly engaging with attitudes and people that dehumanize us is, in itself, far deeper and more difficult than any momentary discomfort you experience when a trans person asks you to do better.

And your inability to honor that labor tells me that my approach here isn’t the problem. It was never the problem. Your unwillingness to engage in conversations that don’t flatter or comfort you is. And if that’s your idea of allyship, you can keep it. I won’t miss it.

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27 days ago
Richmond, VA
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Watch a Giant Squid Wrap Its Tentacles Around a Paddleboard

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Legends of giant squid attacking vessels on the open ocean are great nightmare fuel, even if they never truly occurred. But the sight of a real-life giant squid wrapping its tentacles around a man’s paddleboard, as seen in a recent video that’s been making the rounds, makes those old myths certainly seem plausible.

In the video, originally shared on Instagram by a South African paddleboarder named James Taylor, the creature can be seen slowly laying its tentacles across the board from beneath. Taylor does not seem overly concerned with the tentacles grabbing his board, even if it seems like something out of a sea monster movie. And as it turned out, things were not nearly as sinister as they seemed.

According to Taylor’s description posted with the video, pointed out by Earth Touch News, when he first caught sight of the large squid, he noticed it was injured. As he later explained on Facebook, the squid was covered in wounds and missing a number of tentacles. Taylor went back to shore, and got a rope so that he could take it to land for potential research, reasoning that the creature would have died from its injuries and be lost or damaged to other predators.

Taylor and his friends took the squid back to the shore, killed it, and contacted the local aquarium to come check out the specimen. The aquarium proved unavailable, so he said that he “dissected” it and sent pictures and videos of the find, from which a researcher was able to identify it as an actual giant squid (genus Architeuthis).

The video has since received some backlash from those who think Taylor may have acted too rashly. Regardless of the rightness of Taylor’s decision, the short video offers a rare glimpse of the elusive giant squid in action, and a good example of what may have inspired the more outlandish legends of yesteryear.

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29 days ago
The first three times, I read this headline as "wraps its testicles" and could only think ?!?!?!?!?!
Richmond, VA
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Trader Joe’s Ice Cream Recalled Because Pieces Of Metal Aren’t Dessert


A big ol’ scoop of ice cream may be in order thanks to some sweltering hot temperatures making their way across the U.S. But if the carton you have in the freezer happens to be from Trader Joe’s you might want to pitch it instead: The grocery chain recalled all of its Matcha Tea Ice Cream over pesky metal pieces. 

Trader Joe’s’ announced over the weekend the recall of Trader Joe’s Matcha Green Tea Ice Cream after determining the potential presence of small metal pieces in the cartons.

The recalled ice cream was sold in 1-quart containers with the SKU 055740. So far, the company says it is unaware of any injuries related to consumption of the frozen product.

While Trader Joe’s didn’t provide a specific quantity of ice cream covered by the recall, the grocery chain says all affected product has been removed from store shelves and destroyed.

Consumerist has reached out to Trader Joe’s for specific details on how much ice cream has been recalled and the location of stores where the product was sold. We’ll update this post if we hear back.

Customers who purchased the ice cream are urged not to eat it and to return the product to any Trader Joe’s for a full refund.

Anyone with questions can call Trader Joe’s customer relations at (626) 599-3817 or contact the retailer through its website.

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38 days ago
Richmond, VA
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