“Human” Rights: Part 1

Rick Burstein reports from Albany.

Albany Now

“I know there are two sides, and they’re very passionate about what my case established.” Throughout my interview with Janet Stowe she would frequently burst with frustration about the importance of her case. Aware of this, she is hesitant for a moment but, as is often the case with her, she goes with her gut and lets off.  “I like neither side. There’s one side, and I know this is you [Rick], who see me as a victim; and the other because, well, I remember there was some Silicon Valley billionaire who likened me to Harriet Tubman.”  She scoffs and leaves the point there.  I press her, suggesting that people from my ‘side’ are often accused of editorializing her opinion. With a smile, she sits forward, and hammers her point home: “Okay.  I am not Harriet Tubman. Comparing me with Harriet Tubman is just plain stupid. I was the victim of a crime. From there, I made practical decisions about what would benefit me and my daughter and my business. I knew what they were doing. If you had decency you would have gone for the people who were funding the litigation in my case, but you didn’t. You turned it on me.”

It took several months of off-the-record emails, telephone calls and meetings over coffee to coax Janet to sit with a tape recorder for this interview. She is wily, and as stubborn as a mule. Born and raised in Albany, she has lived here for the vast majority of her life – spending 7 years in New York, “Which was basically college and then like a witless continuation of college life, until I hit 30 and realized that it was time to get real.” Get real she did, she married her boyfriend at the time and they started trying for a baby. At her behest they relocated to Albany, Janet had a business plan and wanted to be near her mother to support the raising of the child.  Her husband being an employee of Wall Street, she did not want to depend on his availability to care for the child.

The tools of Janet’s trade.  “My daughter would not eat my food.  I could soak them in bleach and she would still complain she could taste leather”

At the foot of her yard is her former garage, she retro-fitted a mottled glass roof for added light. Inside is her workshop, a jungle of hanging tools, rolls of cloth and strips of fine leather.  Janet is the proprietor of Hanson Goods, she designs and makes artisinal handbags for the wealthy Manhattanites she used to know through her (now) ex-husband.  Each one she makes by hand, and the price includes a consultation with Janet, where she studies her client’s posture and preferences. “There are many variations in the relationship between a woman and her handbag.  Guys tend to scoff at that sentence but, let’s face it, the handbag is closest thing a woman has to a pair of testicles – a very vulnerable spot with a lot of valuable stuff inside. Guys will generally keep their wallet right next to their balls, and women keep theirs inside their handbag, their figurative scrotum.” She breaks off with a smile, “This is the pitch I give to the husband’s or boyfriend’s who are looking to buy one of my bags for their spouse, girlfriend or mistress.  I wouldn’t say this kind of stuff to a woman.  You don’t look like you could afford one of my bags, I have to say.”  She returns to describing how some women like to feel their bag, to remind them they have it; some can fret about losing their bag and, so the weight of it and where it lands on their body as they clutch it, gives them sense of security.  Others prefer something light, because the amount of things they hold in the bag, already provides weight, “I call those camels, because they could probably survive a few days in a desert with the amount of provisions and necessities that they need to keep in their bag.”  There are others who want only a concept. They are attending a one-off event, like the Metropolitan Museum of Art Gala, which often has a thematic principle, meaning that the handbag should work with the concept and the other garments that attendee is wearing: “Fortunately, they start preparing for things like the MMA gala or the Oscars, almost six or seven months before the event, so I get time to get everything ready.  Regardless, it always ends up being a last minute clusterfuck but hey-ho.”

It’s now been ten years since she was the victim of a crime that catapulted her to the front pages of the national press, and subsequently snowballed to be heralded as the ‘Great Robot Emancipator’.

To be continued…

Rick Burstein is a professor of sociology at the Line Institute, Connecticut.  He is also a founding member of a Park Systemals Group.  An independent media watchdog. He has been an outspoken critic on the development of artificial intelligence and the replacement of automation in labor.   

Notable works:
Identity without the Individual (The Hall Associated Press)
Everyman for his boss (Brandeis Publishing)
The mis-education of faith – Atheist Fascism (Harlington Educational)


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