Saturday, December 31, 2005

Must Read Posts for the New Year

After finishing my solemn public promise to finish my book, which is, in fact an issue of overcoming a unhealty internalization that I cannot do it, I discovered these two blog entries that everyone must read before the New Year:

Random, Incomplete Thoughts on Family, Expectations and Education: Lauren at Feministe writes a stunning piece on completing her degree, and the pain and power of low expectations for teenage mothers. Lauren is, by far, one of the coolest blog personalities out there. This post confirms my belief that she is one of the smartest and admirable persons out there too.

Why I Am a Feminist: Scott at Lawyers, Guns, and Money, writes an absolutely stunning follow up too Lauren's post, wherein he describes his journey to feminism that takes off from a meditation on his mothers' internalization of the patriarchal image of what a woman should be.

My New Year's Commitment

Rather than a list of resolutions I am dedicating this post, written on the eve of the New Year, to one single commitment. I have the next semester off from teaching. I have exactly 7 months free to do nothing but finally finish the book I have been writing, rewriting and putting in a drawer for 7 years.

I am a master at putting every possible obstacle that exists in the way of me and completing this writing project. My standards for this finished product are excessive and unobtainable. This past summer I started this very blog as a place where I could post my daily writings and ask for the immediate feedback that every writer craves and fears. What became of this blog and its capacity to draw my attention away from my manuscript is a perfect example of what I am capable of doing rather than finish my book.

What keeps me from finishing is the fact of the book. When it printed, published and put forward for public consumption I will not get to edit it. It will no longer be something that I am working on, no longer something I can make better or smarter. When it is finished it stands alone, free of me, my hopes of it and presents itself to readers who may wholly reject it. I hate that. I hate that I will no longer have any control over its content or its argument.

A few years ago I reconnected with one of my friends from college who writes for the NYTimes. I prostrated myself in front of her accomplishment, her ability to actually meet a deadline every week and put a finished piece of writing in print. No, that isn't why I admire her. If I am totally and perfectly honest with myself, what I truly respected was that she set out to do what she always wanted to do and succeeded.

My journalist friend told me, wisely, that I simply need to give birth to my book, which meant to let it go. So, I swear, publicly, on this blog which has become an alluring distraction that I will finally finish my book. This is not and cannot be a resolution that is essentially designed to be ignored. This is a commitment to finally become the kind of person that I admire, rather than wishing and hoping that I had the courage to do what I always wished I would do.

Flood Update

The Consumnes river is likely to crest at 14 feet, which is well above the flooding level. Roger Dickinson, a County Supervisor, just claimed that residences were likely to be affected by this flooding. I don't know yet what this means for my mom's community.

A helicopter just rescued a woman from her truck, which was about to get swept away by a flooded highway. Some houses are already flooded.

New Year's Levee Blues

I will be spending my New Year's indoors and hopeful that the levees that surround Sacramento keep doing a good job. I have been glued to the television all morning watching the Helicopter shots of the farmland and levees around my mother's house. A restaurant that we ate at last night is now swelled with water and the owner had to cancel all his reservations for tonight.

I also learned a new word today: weir. I just thought it was the last name of a film director. The Department of Water Resources (DWR) just opened 20 gates at the Sacramento Weir today. They had intended to wait until 2 pm, but, alas, the rivers are spilling out of the banks. The news just reported that the Napa River is 5 feet over the flooding point and the Consumnes river, which is about 1/3 of a mile from my mom's house is a foot over flooding capacity. Here is a link to flood maps.

I am still a bit amazed by all of this and hope that we are fine. The Bureau of Reclamation pays the farmers to allow the water to run off into their land when flooding season hits Sacramento. This is, indeed, one good buffer against houses getting flooded. However, rain storms keep coming and so I am not sure what the extent of the flooding damage will be.

The Sacramento Bee reported today in its "Hot Topics for 2006" that maintaining the levees around Sacramento is an important priority:

Staying high and dry

There is no major metropolitan area in America more at risk of a catastrophic Katrina-style flood than Sacramento. Our levees provide less protection than in most big cities across the country. Will our federal, state and local officials find a way to address the grave risks? Before the Big One hits?

I'll keep you posted of any new developments.

Before ending this post, I want to reflect a bit on the power of water and its ability to bring all our human projects to a standstill. Such an elemental thing, water, and yet so capable of wiping out whole civilizations. Marc Reisner's book, Cadillac Desert, which does a good job depicting the political and economic history of water projects, particularly out here in the West, begins with a discussion of the disappearance of the once thriving Hohokam culture whose fate was fatally tied up to dependence on water. Here is a link to a summary of the PBS series that was made out of the book (PBS retired the site).

While my fear is that CA will collapse without water, what irony if it comes to a standstill because the miles and miles of damns, sluices, dikes, weirs, and other water projects that re-elected many a politician do not protect the cities and economy they were built for.

Friday, December 30, 2005

What If I am Wrong?

I have now seen both Good Night, Good Luck and Syriana. And, I have a complete and total respect for George Clooney now. Sure, I thought he was a hunky, good actor before, but now I think he is just brilliant.

I saw Syriana first in a huge stadium theatre. I fear it won't last long in the mainstream movie houses because it is rather complex and complicated film. It is the only film I have ever seen that actually quotes Milton Friedman and cinematically criticizes the "Chicago School" Economists as powerfully as it exposes the threat of fundamentalism in the Middle east. This is a film for thinking people, who know something about the Middle East, energy policy and are concerned about how Big Oil and its pursuit of profit is ultimately dangerous to and works at cross purposes with Middle Eastern foreign policy. This is a smart, smart film.

Tonight I saw Good Night, Good Luck and was breathless at points. Seeing the actual footage of Senator McCarthy was simply not as upsetting as it should be. His tactics, bullying, and offensive assualts on the character of anyone who dared to disagree with him is all too common place these days. This is the strategy of die-hard supporters of the current administration. You get the sense that the likes of Bill O'Reilly, Ann Coulter and David Horowitz simply study the old footage of McCarthy's speeches.

To me, the most poignant scene in the whole film was a short dialogue between Joe Wershba (Robert Downey Jr.) and Shirley Wershba (Patricia Clarkson). Late in bed, reflecting on the various stories they have produced exposing the distrubing tactics of Sen. McCarthy, Joe asks his wife: "What if we are wrong?"

That sincere moment of questioning, doubt and reflection resonated with me. I asked my mother on the drive home if she thinks that the bullys like O'Reilly or Coulter ever ask themselves that same question. I cannot tell you how many times I have worried that I am taking the wrong stance, that I am backing the wrong positions, or the wrong people. Clooney's film actually helped me appreciate that I have these moments of doubt; they are an authentic reaction to anyone who is willing to engage in the sort of intellectual honesty needed for seeking the truth. To engage in self-doubt means that you are more committed to finding the truth than winning.

The sad fact is that those who are willing to question their own positions or worry that they are perhaps mistaken are also more cautious and balanced in their positions. They do not win over the people looking for clear narratives of good vs. evil, nor does their scrupulous evidence gathering and nuance entertain those looking for escape from the messiness of life.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

George Will likes Andy Stern?

Andy Stern, head of SEIU, just got high marks from George Will.

This piece is full of surprises, since rarely do I imagine that a right-of-center columnist will have anything good to say about unions. It appears that what Stern is doing well is figuring out how to get the Republicans on his side:

Today Stern thinks globally. He has been to China five times and believes few Americans comprehend the scale of that nation's potential challenge to America's economic supremacy. Intel Corp., he says, sponsors science fairs around the world for students heading to college. Last year 66,000 young Americans participated in the local fairs that select finalists. In China, 6 million participated.

A world with global flows of trade and capital, and with global employers, needs, Stern says, global unions. If Stern could organize China, that nation's comparative trade advantages would be reduced. The National Association of Manufacturers might want to pay his way to go there.

This link comes courtesy of my reader and occasional writer, justme.

Earlier in the week he also alerted me to this editorial in the NYTimes.I had to tie my hands behind my back not to send this editorial off to my brother, who argued that unions are putting people out of work. We nearly had an explosion again at the dinner table over the GM crisis. He wanted to blame the work my mother is doing for all of those employees going out of work. I, however, suggested that he consider the role of health care costs.

Then, justme, sends along this editorial:

Workers' wages are falling, and hundreds of thousands of jobs are being sent offshore. America's largest parts supplier, Delphi, filed for bankruptcy protection, and General Motors, Delphi's main customer, may too, if a threatened United Auto Workers strike occurs next month. Meanwhile, Ford and its main parts supplier, Visteon, seem to be skidding down the same road.

How did we get here? There are many causes: poor car designs, high pension costs, increased foreign competition. But much of it comes down to the overwhelming health insurance costs borne by the auto makers. This is why the union's president, Ron Gettelfinger, has urged Congress to enact sweeping health insurance reforms.

If the government paid everyone's health insurance bills, as those in Canada and most of Europe do, Detroit's Big Three could save at least $1,300 per vehicle. Profitability would return. With deeper pockets, the auto makers could afford to pay their suppliers. Communities would be spared layoffs.

These two pieces, and the fact that justme sent them to me bring me a little hope today. Our national health care crisis and the trade imbalance with China might get more Americans, from both political parties, to value the role that unions and universal health care can play. There might be an alliance that we can make that both benefits workers and employers.

Oh dear, am I just delusional from lack of sleep?

On Tolerance: Just Be Polite and Pass the Yams

Echidne of the Snakes has a fine meditation on the problems with tolerance as a concept.

Isn't it usually the intolerant that most benefit from the tolerance of others? The shield of tolerance lets them go on building their edifices which will ultimately ban other beliefs. Yet not to tolerate the intolerant takes away the whole point of tolerance, which to me is to allow peaceful cohabitation. Leben und Leben Lassen.

Religious extremists have been skilled in exploiting the societywide value of tolerance (or of multi-culturalism) in the West. Tolerance has allowed them to continue existing in sub-societies where other Western values such as gender equality are completely ignored. Tolerance allows some religious groups to take their children out of school at a younger age than is otherwise legally required, or it allows these children to be taught biased history. Even the organizing activities of Islamic radicals have benefited from the tolerance of secular nations. Yet if any of these groups came to general power the first thing to be banned would be behaviors that conflict with their values. They would ban tolerance.

Tolerance carries the seeds of its own destruction.

I am not sure I could say anything smarter or more interesting than she has, but I will offer up a bit of my own analysis of the concept of tolerance.

A few years ago I challenged my students to take tolerance seriously as a concept. I was witnessing wacky folks use this concept to push their questionable hypotheses, practices, and policies. In particular, I was concerned with the religious right's determination to infiltrate school boards in order to bully well-meaning folks to be "open-minded" and teach Intelligent Design (aka Creationsim).

I was bothered at the perversion, to my mind, of the spirit of tolerance. Telling people they are intolerant if they don't agree with your views is a rather disengenuous method of getting your way. I was watching the folks, who have no real desire to sincerely challenge their own axioms, redefine the word tolerance to mean relativism. The uber-social conservatives like Rick Santorum might appear to hate post-modernism, but this is all a pose. They actually utilize, regularly, the droll aspects of post-modernism--namely, its radical relativism ("truth" is a mere discourse disseminated by those with cultural power)--to get their own way.

Moreover, they are willing to open up a can of whoop-ass on anyone who dares question the rigor and reliability of their positions: "How dare you impose your snooty elitist views on us!" or "So much for open-mindedness!" This move is likely to silence many, many people who simply want us all to just get along.

So maybe "tolerance" is just a bad ideal. I was unable to persuade my students that tolerance meant that we should have the guts to challenge the positions of those whose beliefs we find problematic. My argument was that challenging someone's belief demonstrated that you took that person seriously. I used the analogy of marking up their papers with lots of comments: if I write that much I am taking your views seriously. If I don't respect you then I might as well humor your looney ideas but in no way really believe myself obligated to listen to you or challenge my own positions.

Like I said, the students didn't buy it. For them tolerance meant that you sort of "put up" with someone you didn't like, you know, like your annoying great-Aunt who spouts utter nonsense and lives with 8 cats. My students taught me that most people understand tolerance to mean being polite. Perhaps, it's a WASPy sort of relic. Don't ruffle feathers, just smile and pass the yams.

If in fact we cannot rehabilitate tolerance to mean something like taking seriously other people's views--even if that means disagreeing with them or pointing out the problems with their way of thinking--then we should think long and hard about whether or not it is worth preserving.

We might be better served by a more robust notion than tolerance. I am not sure what we would call it, but it should denote a commitment to challenging our views when they are not the product of serious deliberation, but rather inheritance from our family and folkways. It should also denote compassion, which doesn't mean a half-hearted "Ok, whatever works for you." Rather, we should try to think not from our own position and our own experiences, but rather from the standpoint and experiences of another.

Obviously the outcome of this sort of stance--whatever we call it--toward others is not total acceptance of all views and behavior.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Orgasmic Stimulator

Haven't you always wanted to know how the other sex experiences the pleasure of an orgasm? Thanks to this genius website, you need no longer wonder . . .

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Feminism 101: Myths and Facts

Dear Readers,

Now that my Christmas preparations are done and I have more time to devote to my daily entries, I have turned my attention to some popular misconceptions and myths of modern feminism. Since I am a practicing feminista and spend a great deal of time writing about feminist issues, I often find myself in encounters with folks are not too familiar with our ways. The uniniated tend to recoil in horror by what seems to be such alien practices and belief systems. Over the years, I have dutifully collected a variety of misapprehensions and darn right myths about the feminista. So, if you will allow me, dear reader, today I intend to demystify and enlighten you.

This post takes inspiration from an interesting opinion piece that I read today over at ifeminists. Before tacking popular myths about feministas, allow me this tiny digression. I was so delighted when I discovered the ifeminist website, thinking that it might be some sort of plug-in or otherwise cute accessory for my iPod or iSight. Alas, my hopes were dashed when I realized it was a cunning website dedicated to conservative "feminism," which champions abused men and the right to bear arms.

Now to the myths. While reading through, think of the person in your life most likely to hurl criticisms at you. I am sure you have such a special someone in your life, you know the kind of officious "friend" who is quick to point out your boo boos, faux pas, or character failures. You know who I am talking about, that person who tells you that you are "putting on the pounds" or that you are "rude to your guests," or that you are "self-absorbed."

Now, think hard about your favorite critic. Is he or she above reproach? Have you ever noticed the extra pounds she is packing on or the snooty ways that he treats the waitstaff at your favorite bistro? Yes, that's right. Our favorite critics tend to dump onto us their insecurities and failures. It is so much easier to pick on someone else than to take a look at your own shortcomings, right?

Alas, my list . . .

Myth #1: Feminism has turned women into selfish, spoiled, spiteful, powerless victims

Unfortunately, this is one of the more pervasive myths of feministas. Far too often do I encounter a young bloke, usually looking a bit alienated, carrying a dog-eared Ayn Rand book mouthing this sort of indictment of our ways. I try to show patience with such critics, since their frame of reference for what women should be is quite different from the ideal of human nature feminists work toward. I imagine that if your default view of "women" is doormat, then any woman who chooses to pursue her own interests might appear selfish, spoiled or spiteful. I find the "powerless victim" epitaph puzzling, since the tribe of feministas, I am told, tend to selfishly and spitefully demand consideration and respect from their fellow humans.

Myth #2: Men and boys aren't the ones who need reforming. Women are hateful and cruel to half the population.

Feministas are not cruel nor hateful to men and boys; I would say that in many cases they are indifferent. While it may be true that men and boys don't need to reform, it does appear that they need to get over their adolescent heartbreak from high school.

Myth#3: Feminists are bitter because they are ugly, hairy and lesbians.

Why would any good consumer be bitter over saving gobs of money by rejecting the billion dollar beauty industry, aimed at manufacturing stepford wives?

What's wrong with being a lesbian? Let me guess:you think its unfair competition for heterosexual men with little foreplay skills? I say, competition is a good thing; it allows the best lover at the lowest emotional drain to win the girl.

Myth #4: Feminism has allowed women's needs to take priority over men's needs.

Haven't you heard the nice little speech that most airline stewards give when going over safety procedures? If you are going down and need to get some oxygen, then you best put the mask over your own nostrils if you hope to be of any real help, support or service to your companion. A dead and drained girl is not so good at meeting anyone's needs.

Myth #5: Men are more at risk and danger than women are: they are more likely to commit suicide, be homeless, die in an industrial accidents, or be unemployed.

This indeed is bad news. Hence, it is bewildering to me that the solution would be to scapegoat the feminista tribe. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. If you are putting yourself in danger, backing political policies that create high unemployment rates, agreeing to work in unsafe working conditions, and isolating yourself from all love, support and medical attention, then don't come crying to the feministas that you the world is unfair and dangerous for you. Take some personal responsibility, will you?

Myth #6: Women get hired for jobs just because they are women, not because they are qualified.

Well, this is almost right, you just haven't gone far enough here. Feministas seek to dominate every position of power and wealth in society--from the boardroom to the bedroom--so that we can keep all hardworking, qualified men from trying to seize control. We have found that holding all the power and reengineering institutions in such a way that makes our talent appear to be the more valuable, and our values and ways, the more efficient and profitable, is the best way to artificially win all competitions.

Myth #7: Feminists hate motherhood, babies and will cruelly kill innocent lives when given the chance.

You have left out that our covens rely on regular sacrifices of the new blood of young men to apppease the goddesses approval for our empire building and pillaging. Geez, get the rituals right! We don't hate motherhood. We just think its more important for babies to learn from an early age the value of self-sufficiency, competition and personal responsibility. If you are going to contract our childrearing services you need to pay on time. We do, however, reserve the right to terminate all contracts, especially if you abuse management.

You Never Know What Little Johnny's Homework

. . . Might Get Him in Trouble for . . .

My hometown newspaper, The Sacramento Bee, known to be a rather conservative paper in these parts, published the following editorialtoday. I post this editorial and dedicate it to all the others of you who went through a "subversive" period in high school or college.

Watch listed

Doodling? Reading wrong book? Look out

Published 2:15 am PST Tuesday, December 27, 2005

As headlines focus on warrantless wiretaps and "cruel, inhuman and degrading" techniques for interrogating detainees, other events affecting Americans' civil liberties occur with little notice.

Here are two examples, on opposite coasts, one close to home in Elk Grove and another in Massachusetts.

A 16-year-old Elk Grove student was pulled out of class Sept. 27 and interrogated by two FBI agents. They focused on an incident two years earlier in a math class. The student had written the letters "PLO" on his binder. His teacher called the PLO a terrorist organization and said anyone who supported it was a terrorist. The student defended the PLO as a legitimate political group that opposed Israeli occupation. A tipster apparently also told the FBI the student had pictures of suicide bombers on his cellphone. He didn't.

Here we had a student innocently expressing his right to free speech. Nothing threatening. Nothing disruptive.

The incident raises obvious questions: Why would the FBI drag a teenager out of class to interrogate him about a 2-year-old doodle on a notebook? Does the FBI assess tips (and the possible motives of tipsters) before touching off needless scares and upending people's lives? Why interrogate people who have been linked to no crimes?

Then there's the story reported in The Standard-Times newspaper in Massachusetts of a University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth, student doing a research paper for a history class on fascism and totalitarianism. He requested a copy of Mao Tse-Tung's "Little Red Book" through interlibrary loan for a paper on communism. Two agents of the Department of Homeland Security later showed up at his parents' home in New Bedford, Mass., to interrogate him, telling him they were there because the book was on a "watch list" and the student had spent time abroad.

What else is on that "watch list" - Karl Marx's "Communist Manifesto" or "Das Kapital"? Hitler's "Mein Kampf"? Other staples in the history of political thought courses?

Such abuses led U.S. senators to filibuster to force changes to the USA Patriot Act. Parts of that law were set to expire Dec. 31, but Congress has agreed to temporarily extend it to work out language among the House, Senate and president. The Senate is holding out for language that would require some connection between the records sought and a person suspected of being a terrorist - which is altogether reasonable.

Incidents such as these make it appear that our national security agencies have no idea what they're doing. So they resort to random, oceanwide fishing expeditions in the vain hope they'll turn up something. That does little to advance the war against terrorism, but it does unnecessarily alienate, humiliate and frighten innocent people whose trust is needed.

Since I haven't really outgrown my subversive phase, I thought it would be a blast to design a course wherein all the books and secondary sources that student were reading would put the Department of Homeland Securtiy on their trail. Good fun, eh?

In fact, your friends at Human Events Online: The National Conservative Weekly have already outlined the syllabus for a new freshman seminar: The Most Dangerous Books of the 19th and 20th Centuries.

I can imagine students begging to get into that course. Oh, the power.

UPDATE: Faithful reader Sean turned up this article that exposes the UMass Dartmouth story as a hoax. What a trip!

Isn't She Dreamy

Granted, I am suffering from my usual insomnia, but I just think she is spectacular. And, you can even buy retro-Esther Williams swimsuits here. Knock yourself out!

Monday, December 26, 2005

Tempting the Border Police: A Modern Romance

Now that I am residing in the land of deep fear of illegal immigrants and their border crossing, I have been attuned to the way the news portrays border towns and those that dare cross over. I stumbled across this story this morning in the LA Times. I just love the title: "Some Border Patrol Agents Take a Chance on Love: It's an open secret: by day they deport illegal immigrants, but at night they date them."

Doesn't that sound like a spicy romance flick in the making?

Sometimes after agents fall in love unwittingly with an illegal immigrant, they're too committed to the relationship to end it. Ramon Sanchez Jr. was fresh out of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement training academy when he met his girlfriend at a Tucson music shop in August 2004. Court records indicate that Sanchez, who worked for the agency that handles deportations, did not realize she was in the U.S. illegally until four months later.

Three weeks after their wedding in February, the Department of Homeland Security got an anonymous tip that Sanchez had married an illegal immigrant. Sanchez was arrested at his desk the following month and pleaded guilty to harboring an illegal immigrant.

This is why we need to get thee unwed women covered and in the homes. Temptresses!

Transcendental Politics

Grabbed my cup of joe and the paper this morning, hoping to get myself back to normal activity. A lot of bad, bad and worse news, but what do you expect, even the day after Christmas.

I have left the kitchen table where my brother, who loves the free market and its power to line his pockets, is telling my mother, the union organizer, that unions are horrible. I have learned that to survive the holidays, it is best to remove myself from all political conversations with my brother. I love debating here with people who hold similar, if not the same, attitudes as him. However, with him, well, I know him too well. I know his true motivations, I know the stories he tells himself that fuels his politics, and, lastly, I know that he is smarter than to argue most of this stuff with my mother. He doesn't do it because he thinks she is wrong and he is right. Rather, he does it because he wants to make my mother complicit with the story he tells himself that justifies why he makes as much money as he does in an economy where so many others are struggling.

Very few people get the opportunity to live in the style of my brother. The system works well for him and he makes obscene amounts of money. What I don't get is why making so much money inspires you to start watching FOX News.

Honestly, what really makes my blood boil in these conversations is that my brother just mouths the very same talking points that I see show up here in my comments and that are broadcasted out there by the pro-free-market propaganda machine. He is way too smart to just take up these positions as his own. He is capable to think through these issues on his own, weigh good and bad policies, consider the concrete lives of those who have less money, etc. But, wealth is intoxicating. It has transformed my brother into someone I can barely speak with. I just cringe once he starts steering conversations to anything political.

Underlying my brother's politics is a worldview that I don't share. His frame of reference so dramatically differs from mine that our conversations are utterly futile. He sees the world as a competition where the best competitor wins. This is a country where all things are wide open to you if you have the guts to achieve it. We also need to protect this great country, particularly the operations of the free market, from nefarious communists, terrorists or other elusive enemies who threaten to rob our freedom (read: potential to make piles of cash) from us. He sees unions as wanting to strangle the creative power of private companies and give workers way to much money for unimportant jobs. He said to me last night, just before I refused to continue this conversation with him, "so you want to pay a janitor $35/hr to sweep the floor." My brother also thinks, like my student Soul Searcher, that feminists should shut up and just work hard if they want respect.

I could go on and on describing that worldview. I am so intimately familiar with it that I could easily pass myself off as one of the gang if I were to need to play devil's advocate. The problem with this world view is that it is wholly hypothetical. It is a transcendental vision of politics and therefore wholly unaccountable to the the texture, trauma and trials of real peoples lives.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Ms. Magazine: Top Ten News Stories for Women of 2005

MS. MAGAZINE'S TOP TEN NEWS STORIES FOR WOMEN IN 2005Advances, Setbacks and Cultural Milestones

MOST SIGNIFICANT: Sandra Day O'Connor resigns from the Supreme Court, leaving a vacancy and likely a shift in direction of the court threatening to narrow women’s rights.

MOST OUTRAGEOUS REJECTION OF SCIENCE: FDA controversy: stalls once again on Plan B – flying in the face of scientific decision making.

MOST HONORABLE RESIGNATION: FDA Director of Women’s Health, Dr. Susan Wood resigns in protest. Her replacement is a male veterinarian until women’s groups roar in protest. FDA Commissioner Lester Crawford resigns shortly thereafter in a cloud of mystery. Meanwhile, women lack over-the-counter access to a safe and reliable form of emergency contraception.

MOST NOTABLE ASCENTS: Women reach new leadership heights globally as women Presidents or Prime Ministers are elected in two countries - in Liberia and Germany - with Michelle Bachelet front-runner for Chile’s January 15th Presidential runoff. Simultaneously, Japan decides a woman can become heir to the throne.

MOST LIKELY TO SAVE LIVES: Congress reauthorizes the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA).

MOST IMPORTANT FOR WOMEN OVER 65: Bush's plan to privatize Social Security, a move that would undermine the economic security for millions of American women, fails in part because of the outcry from women.

MOST SHAMEFUL: The Bush Administration for the fourth year in a row refuses to release congressionally-appropriated funding to UNFPA, United Nations Population Fund. Now totaling $136 million, these lost funds could have been used to save the lives of women, repair obstetric fistulas, prevent maternal mortality and illnesses.

MOST LIKELY TO MAKE US HOPE LIFE IMITATES ART: The U.S. finally gets a woman president - at least on TV, as COMMANDER IN CHIEF scores big with viewers on ABC.

MOST LIKELY TO EVOKE GRATEFUL MEMORIES: The women's and civil rights movements lose four great women leaders: Shirley Chisholm, Molly Yard, C. DeLores Tucker and Rosa Parks.

MOST ENDANGERED: Access to birth control. With pharmacists denying access in the U.S. and the Bush Administration' s move to increase funds for abstinence in international and domestic policies at the expense of more effective prevention of teen pregnancies and HIV/AIDS.

Vulnerability as Strength

Those who dare to be vulnerable have great strength. This is something I believe. Aspazia and I were having a "gmail conversation" (oh, the glory of technology), and we broached a subject is very interesting. Aspazia, like always, had invested a lot of time and energy into one of her students, who then betrayed her by plaigarizing. She admitted she was bitter about this, but that it was a temporary bitterness. I explained to her that I thought her actions amounted to bravery.

I told her, “Professors like you--the ones who care deeply and give of their time and attention so generously--are most hurt by such actions of betrayal. Yet, also, you are the types of professors most able to understand why these students choose to act in such ways. Bitterness--if temporary--is an attribute for a professor: it shows they care. The alternative is apathy. Bitterness--if lasting--is a disease for a professor: it shows that they have let their disappointment for the ways students have failed them become a force so strong that it overshadows their compassion for helping those who will benefit from it, and hardens them to a posterity that has committed no crime. (I have met many professors and teachers like this. The sad truth is that the hardened, fakely apathetic attitude they give to their students make students who have a history of making poor choices more likely to make poor choices. When a professors suspects the worst and you have a history of doing the worst, there is little incentive to do well. When a professor or teacher gives you the benefit of the doubt and has faith in your abilities, your past is more easily erased, you have hope, and you feel a great disappointment when you let them down). Truly, when professors care they make themselves vulnerable. You are experiencing that here and now with this student. I don’t think I need to tell you this, but I will anyway. Just remember that those who put themselves in situations where they are vulnerable are the strongest people. They understand the consequences, and refuse to be overcome by fear or apathy. I can't say this is the last time a student will let you down. But I can urge you to keep being who you are.”

We live in a society where a superficial definition of strength often takes the cake. Those who are physically strong, emotionally unfeeling, distanced, and stoic are often seen as the mightiest. Those who are vulnerable, feeling, conflicted--dare I say human--are often seen as weak.

Vulnerability is one of the most fascinating subjects. It is an unavoidable part of human life: We are all vulnerable. At the time of birth, we depend upon adults to take care of us, to nurture us and sustain us. As we learn language and culture, we find ourselves enmeshed in webs of interdependence. We derive meaning from our relationships with others. Humans are social beasts, and vulnerability bubbles beneath the surface of every social construction or situation. We can be hurt by others.

When Aspazia opens up to her students, when she lets them in, she is vulnerable. They may betray her. They may defy her expectations. They may, as they learn more about her, find ways to hurt her. She understands this. Yet she still chooses to care, to be vulnerable, because being vulnerable empowers her. Ironic, eh? To avoid vulnerability, she would distance herself from students, teach and not mentor, and preach a moral life without practicing it. Yet by placing herself in that vulnerable position, she is able to help some, but not all. I am speaking from experience: Aspazia has helped me in countless ways. I paid Aspazia the highest compliment I have ever paid anyone in my life recently. I told her, "You are the great moral force in my life." I cannot count the amount of times she has opened up to me, listened to me when I was need, and given me her thoughtful advice on a number of subjects. I could have abused her trust. I could have hurt her. I never would, and my life is fuller with her presence.

My next post, a less whimsical and more thought-through post, will be called "The Marketplace of Ideas." In many ways, the world Aspazia and I live in is a market place of ideas. If you don't know what I am talking about, spend a few days on the campus of a small liberal arts college. In this market, our value is derived by the content of our ideas and the strength of our character.

Liberal arts colleges are not just preparation for careers; they strive to prepare us for life. Thus, these educators seek to build within their students the habits of a healthy mind: inquisitiveness, resourcefulness, open-mindedness, thirst for knowledge, creativity, adaptability, and empathy. They also seek to encourage us to develop character through moral conscience and ethical constraint. While it may seem like I am on an infomercial for the liberal arts, my rant is wholly related to the subject at hand. In order to truly immerse ourselves in the marketplace of ideas, we must recognize our vulnerability. Our ideas will be challenged, our minds will be opened, and it is wise to throw ego to the wind. Let it drift away.

Yet the second part of liberal arts preparation, the moral conscience, makes us especially vulnerable. As we learn that self-interest and community-interest are not so disparate, as we learn that we are interconnected, and as we develop empathy we become more willing to sacrifice for others. The professor spends more time with that student in need. The friend rushes upstairs in the dormitory to spend the evening comforting someone who is lost. A student understands the failure to give health insurance or food to so many in this country is OUR problem. And we all come to that chilling fact: We cannot alone change the world. By ourselves, we are vulnerable. The conglomeration of talents and energies that makes up communities--dare I say even some governments--is a necessary part of our success in civil society. Don't get me wrong, our communities are often vulnerable themselves. But we are more vulnerable alone. If you don't believe me, take a look at your family and/or friends: would you be safer without them?

Indeed, we are all vulnerable. Some choose to layer their vulnerability with sheets of faux-invincibility or the puppetry of apathy. Others accept vulnerability, and charge ahead nonetheless: they immerse themselves in meaningul relationships, both personal and professional. For these folks, the greatest fear is inaction, and the greatest gain manifests itself in growing closer others and, in the process, to oneself.

Don't Let Them Harden You

Sitting in my inbox this morning was an email entitled "Why I am NOT a feminist." It was written to me by one of my former students ("soul searcher"), who is very smart, thoughtful and successful. His politics have consistently differed from mine, which is what makes our conversations interesting. Sometimes he has granted me a point and allowed himself to rethink his positions. Very rarely have I returned the favor; it wasn't out of arrogance that I held firm to my convictions, but rather nothing in his arguments persuaded me.

Recently, he and I endured a real travesty of justice together. We were not the victims, but on the sidelines, watching it happened. I cannot, for obvious reasons, go into the details of what happened, but I can say that the experience was profound enough to make me pause and reevaluate my political commitment to feminism.

Let me be clear, it would take herculean efforts to transform me into someone who actively fights or denounces feminism. I have experienced and studied too much to ever think that the core principles of feminism are flawed.

I know that many out there hold the mistaken view that feminism is about giving women more rights or special rights. I have heard more times than I care to remember that feminism is about giving women more power, hating men, or screwing qualified men out of jobs. I also know that I will never see in my lifetime these mistaken attitudes and beliefs expunged from the earth.

Feminism is not about getting more power; it is quite simply about valuing women as much as we value men. Those who commit themselves to feminism often do so as a wish for their future children, a hope that the world will not be brutual, unfair, or hostile to their daughters. Gendergeek has a great post today on whay feminism is still important here.

Soul Searcher's email gave me pause today because I could full well understand why he had developed a bitter taste for feminism. Essentially, what happened to him was that a large bureaucracy executed poorly a policy that was supposed to ensure fairness to women. They simply gave women more consideration at the expense of men. This happens. There is no use for those of us who are feminists in denying it. It doesn't happen often or regularly, but it does happen. These failures have given a lot of fuel to conservatives, who want to fight policies such as Affirmative Action or Campus Speech Codes, because they violate our deep commitment to a meritocracy.

I don't think that all criticisms of the failed enactments of feminist principles are wrongheaded. Criticism is what allows us to improve and perfect the way we do things. What I dislike, however, is when criticism leads to the total abandonment and rejection of the need for better policies to ensure that we value women or other people who have been historically denied opportunites and rights in this country.

I also fear that suffering at the hands of such flawed systems will make it all to easy for someone like Soul Searcher to demonize and reject feminism altogether. Right now he is a great risk of adopting that view; it is very tempting and I am laboring to prevent that from happening.

I told you earlier that I rarely reevaluated my feminist commitment in my conversations with Soul Searcher. Watching up close and up front a miscarriage of justice that was justified in the name of feminism shook me hard. I grew angry at the unthinking bureaucrats who allowed this sort of sloppy mishandling of peoples lives and their smug belief that they were doing the right thing.

I believe that it is my obligation to watch carefully policies and actions justified as feminism, to make sure that they do not sell out our core commitments, use careless or dirty means to justify an end, or demean the hardwork and achievements of feminism.

Making this change means that I cannot deny that bad things happen in the name of feminism. However, these failures do not discredit the core ideals and commitments of feminism.

My friend, Soul Searcher, however has magnified the evil of feminism everywhere. He is suspicious that all programs aimed at achieving parity and all advocates are trying to stack the system in favor of women. I understand where this fear comes from; I am also bitter that the bureaucrats hurt him and soured his view of feminism.

Any miscarriage of justice in the name of feminism sets all feminists back politically, socially, and morally. I don't think this is fair. It shouldn't be this way. After all, the failures of Tom DeLay or Jack Abramoff do not set back the cause of white, male conservatives to quite the degree that any misdeeds by "feminists" do. The world isn't fair and we are still fighting a public sentiment that rejects the aims of feminism. When we fuck up it is really bad news.

I am writing this post, in part, to publically plea with my former student to not allow himself to see the world from an anti-feminist frame of reference. Don't let them win by turning you into someone who hates, who sees nothing but evil and misdeed in every face of a man or woman who fights for the equality of women. To do so is to let them rule your life.

Don't be overrun by hate. Fight injustices, all injustices, when you can. Finally, don't let the worst represent the best.

Bootstrapism is Bullshit

Daily Pepper has a fantastic entry, "Rumplestiltskin Will Get You Into College," here.

A little taste for you:

Public and private college costs are skyrocketing, and more students need to take out loans in order to attend. What does Congress do to help out the people who are motivated enough and bright enough to attend college?

Cut their student loan funding.

According to today's Wall Street Journal, Congress has given a lump of coal to college students:

Congress yesterday cut funding for several key federal student-loan programs, a move that is expected to increase the debt burden for many future college graduates and their families.

How's that for a lump of coal? Congress may as well be saying, "College is only for rich people. It's your own fault that you're poor, anyway."

Now, every time I hear that conservative crap about how people should "pull themselves up by their bootstraps," I'll shoot back, "How are they supposed to pull themselves up if they can't afford an education?"

Thursday, December 22, 2005

A Early Christmas Gift: A Small Community Keeps Wal-Mart Out

I love these stories.

Supercilious Santorum: What Piece of Rhino Poop

A great piece from the Philadelphia Inquirer today on Santorum's smug, self-righteous shit. This man must really think Pennsylvanians are stupid.

Early this year, Sen. Rick Santorum commended the Dover Area School District for "attempting to teach the controversy of evolution."

But one day after a federal judge ruled that the district's policy on intelligent design was unconstitutional, Santorum said he was troubled by court testimony that showed some board members were motivated by religion in adopting the policy.

Good one Ricky. Just keep that Senate seat hustle up; it's working. Really ;).

The best feature of the PI story is this:

Rick Santorum on Intelligent Design

"Therefore, intelligent design is a legitimate scientific theory that should be taught in science classes."

- 2002 Washington Times op-ed article

"I'm not comfortable with intelligent design being taught in the science classroom."

- Interview in August on National Public Radio

"I do not believe it should be required teaching."

- Interview yesterday with The Inquirer

"I thought the Thomas More Law Center made a huge mistake in taking this case and in pushing this case to the extent they did."

- from Inquirer interview

While I was on the plane last week, I heard a young boy call his dad "Rhino Poop." I can't think of a more fitting insult to hurl at this big-pile-of-stink-Santorum.

UPDATE: Echidne of the Snakes publishes a similar type blog entry about Mitt Romney here.

The Christmas Chronicle: Part I

Earlier this year I received a card in the mail from someone I hadn’t heard from in a long time. The card was from my father, and it wasn’t a card so much as an invitation to spend Christmas with him and his family.

At first there was no question in my mind as to whether I would go, of course not. I haven't seen my father in years, and the twisted role that he has played in my life is not one that I like to subject myself to thinking about often. But as the year went on the idea of seeing my dad began to grow on me. I have to admit that I was curious as to who he was and what kind of life he made for himself. I wondered how or if he’d changed since I last saw him from the vantage point of the landing on the stairs.

I wrestled with the decision, but over the past few months, I began to think of the opportunity as a unique gift. A telescope pointed towards the window of my parents’ failed marriage, I thought that perhaps seeing him would help me answer some of these rhetorical questions that plague children who don’t know their parents.

He sent me his address, and I opted to attend dinner at his home a few days before Christmas that way if the visit was tainted it wouldn’t completely ruin the holiday (positive thinking from the start I know). I drove 2 hours last night to his suburban home, a cul-de-sac located right down the street from an elementary school. My dad’s silhouette stood in the doorway as I walked up the driveway, he looked as I remembered him, although he was noticeably grayer, and his face now revealed deep laugh lines around his eyes.

He introduced me to his wife, a secretary at the company where he now works, and his 2 young sons. I found myself staring at them as they told me their names, looking for some sort of resemblance, some connection between us, but found none.

I gave them each a video game wrapped in Christmas paper, which they tore through in seconds and squealed with delight at the site of the contents… that was our connection.

My dad, his wife, and I had dinner and lovely conversation. I was delighted to find that my father (who had served for 8 years in the U.S. Navy) had some interesting thoughts regarding Iraq, and the hurricane, and we engaged in a long discussion about policy during which I learned a lot.

Before the boys went up to bed they thanked me for my gifts and said goodnight. They bounded towards my dad in their footed pajamas with security blankets trailing behind. I watched as my dad took each of their heads in his hands and gently moved their hair aside to place a kiss on each of their foreheads. They paused for a moment and said goodnight before their mother herded them up the stairs. Their voices as they said goodnight prayers carried down the stairwell.

All of these years, it had never occurred to me that my dad had a life like this. I had assumed that he would spend the rest of his years drinking, smoking, and single, bouncing from job to job, refusing to settle down, because that’s the person he was when he was married to my mom. It had never occurred to me that maybe he had changed, or maybe it had occurred to me and I chose to ignore it because it was just easier for me to believe the pathetic notion that he must still be a fuck up. I suppose that Aspazia is right, it is tempting to turn “the other” into a monster, for “it forestalls any serious contemplation that I, too, may find myself hurt and embittered after a long relationship. Depicting the other as someone who deserves misery is a powerful way to neutralize the threat.”

Had I known that my father was wonderful, it would have caused me to redirect the focus to my mother and myself, and what we did to drive this saint out of our lives? It’s that introspective questioning that is so dangerously melancholy. It’s much more suitable for self preservation to have a vision of the other as a monster, to hold them to blame for what went wrong.

I sat at the dining room table for the next hour or so and shared drinks with the man who is my father and yet even after this visit is still no more than a stranger. I felt as if I had only spent the evening as a tourist in his life.

I stared at the multitude of metallic gold picture frames that were scattered on the hutch in the corner of the room. Each was filled with a memory. His eldest son playing tee ball, his youngest with a backpack and cheesy grin on his first day of kindergarten. There were pictures from trips that they had taken to Disney World, and pictures of the boys as toddlers on the beach. And I found myself wondering if my dad had memories like that of me as a child, or whether the memories along with the frames that housed them had long since tarnished.

I don’t know if I’ll ever see him again, I don’t know that I necessarily have the desire to do so. I suppose that I got what I wanted out of the visit: I was able to quench a curious thirst; I was able to see what kind of man my dad was. And yet the visit has left me with an even bigger thirst, the wondering of what might have been, the vision of story book imaginings that will never be more than that… imaginings.

I have always imagined how my life would have been different had I had him as a father, however, I had always wondered this with watercolor clarity having no idea what kind of a man I was imagining in that picture. But now I have seen my dad with his children, I have seen the tenderness in the way that he embraces them, and I have seen the mantle full of memories that are so vivid that they transcend the glass. The clarity that this provides my imaginings make the longing for their reality that much deeper.

I came looking for the man who had left me over 15 years ago; I was looking for a reason to think that my life had been better off without his involvement in an effort to make the time I’ve spent without him easier to bear. But what I found was a highly successful man, who adores his wife, and is fathering two amazing little boys. I have to admit that part of me resents him for being such a great parent to them, I wonder how the same man who left me so abruptly without ever turning back can show these children such affection, such warmth.

I had convinced myself that I wasn't going to come expecting affection from him, and yet seeing the way that he donated it so freely to his family suddenly made me crave it in a way that I wasn't expecting. It's amazing how much my dad has changed in 15 years: he's gotten married, created a family, held a stable job, takes vacations, and drives expensive cars, and yet I haven't changed at all. I'm just how he left me 15 years ago: begging for love that even with his monetary success he can't afford to give me, wanting so desperately to claim a piece of him as my own, and yet not being able to take the steps off the landing of the stairs in which to take it.

Carnival of Feminists V

Another fine collection of essays here.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

A Wee Bit o' Racism Fueling Abstinence-Only Education?

A couple of weeks ago I posted about the huge VIRGIN poster that I ran across in a largely African American neighborhood. I am glad to know that I wasn't just reading too much into the placement of this poster. The Boston Globe reported today:

The Romney administration plans to introduce a new abstinence education program in Massachusetts schools beginning next month, the state's most aggressive effort yet to use a controversial method of teaching Bay State teenagers about sex.

The campaign, scheduled to last through June 2007, will only target certain schools and will be aimed especially at teens in black and Hispanic communities, who tend to have higher rates of sexual activity. The proposal by the state Department of Health, quietly posted on its website earlier this month, would add an abstinence education program for 12-to-14-year-olds in an unspecified number of schools.

The campaign would be funded by a $50 million federal abstinence-only grant program, which provides money to states for initiatives that teach abstinence but deliberately do not address condoms and other methods of contraception.

Before I launch into articulating my concerns that the selective targeting of African Americans and Latino communities is fueled by a wee bit o' racism let me point you toward this study, in JAMA. If you want to prevent teen pregnancy, the spread of STDs and encourage young people to have healthier attitudes toward sex, then offer them comprehensive sexual education.

Now to my suspicions of Racism. There is no way we can consider this campaign to target these communities independently from the forced sterilizations in the 1950s and 1960s.

Moreover, stereotypes of the sexually permissive Black or Latina woman abound. Any young girl from either of those communities are likely to have internalized some of those racist stereotypes that mar one's self-esteem. People with low self-esteem tend to make really bad choices. And, to top it off, you keep them completely uneducated about sex, contraception, and STDs. How does that make sense?

The high rates of sexual activity in these communities could have a lot to do, also, with poverty and lack of education. You have parents working several low-paying jobs so that they can barely pay the bills. The schools are substandard and deteriorating. If you grow up in government housing, you learn pretty quickly what the rest of the world thinks of you. A young girl or boy growing up in these conditions is likely to think they don't count very much.

I find it unsurprising that you will find a lot of sexual activity in these neighborhoods. Why do people have sex? Love, companionship, it feels good? Duh.

Moreover, you have a powerful consumer culture that teaches women that their sexual appeal is what really matters. There are so few images of powerful, self-possessed women, and particularly women of color. There are, however, a great deal of sexually charged images of Black and Latina women with their salacious booties and bling bling. The clear message is that women are to find power in embracing and flaunting their sexuality.

You also have a community that is deeply suspicious of the white medical establishment, fearing that birth control and abortion are plots to prevent these communities from reproducing. Black children and Latina children fear, with good reason, that they are simply less valuable than White children.

How sucessful do you think a moralizing abstinence only education, funded and encouraged by white, conservative Christians likely to influence the sexual habits of these young people.

Before I end this post, I must share a few examples of "letters to the editor" in my hometown newspaper, decrying the birth of the 17th child to a Russian couple. I am including these letters to illustrate how screwed up we are about poverty and sexuality. Poor people should simply not "breed."

Church support, not taxpayers

I would have liked to have had many children but stopped at two because I couldn't afford more without going on public assistance. I appreciate that the Chernenkos feel their family is from God, but in fact taxpayers are enabling them to have their family. If the Chernenkos' church thinks this is from God, then the church should pay for the family's needs. They seem like a wonderful family, but I would like to support my own family. Public assistance is necessary for those who need it, but it should not be abused.

Thanking God and taxpayers

I feel like such a fool. My wife and I waited to start a family until we felt like we were financially capable of raising our own children. We did not feel it was society's responsibility to provide for our family. Now I know that all I had to do was rely on "God" to find a way for me to breed indiscriminately.

Perhaps the "religious persecution" they felt in their home country was a society unwilling to shoulder the financial burden of providing for their children.

A New Carnival of Education

Via Bitch, Ph.D I stumbled across the latest installment of the Carnival of Education at Circadiana. I love these collections and always regret that I forget, most of the time, to enter one of my posts.

Go over and read. There are some really smart educators out there blogging.

You See, The Only Solution to the I.D. Battle is to Privatize Education

No surprises to my readers, I am thrilled with Judge John E. Jones III ruling that teaching Intelligent Design is unconstitutional.

Judge Jones concluded that intelligent design is not science, and that in order to claim that it is, its proponents admitted that they must change the very definition of science to include supernatural explanations. He said that teaching intelligent design as science in public school violates the First Amendment of the Constitution, which prohibits public officials from using their positions to impose or establish a particular religion.

"To be sure, Darwin's theory of evolution is imperfect," Judge Jones wrote. "However, the fact that a scientific theory cannot yet render an explanation on every point should not be used as a pretext to thrust an untestable alternative hypothesis grounded in religion into the science classroom or to misrepresent well-established scientific propositions."

I have blogged here countless times about what I find problematic about Intelligent Desgin. For perhaps my most comprehensive post see "Why Do Smart People Fall into these Traps: On Intelligent Design."

Hence, I am not going to rehearse the arguments that I have already made about why I.D. should not be taught in science curriculum.

I am, however, interested in what Andrew J. Coulson, the director of the Center for Educational Freedom at the libertarian Cato Institute, has to say:

"A federal judge has ruled 'intelligent design' cannot be mentioned in biology classes in a Pennsylvania public school district," according to the Associated Press. "The Dover Area School Board violated the Constitution when it ordered that its biology curriculum must include 'intelligent design,' the notion that life on Earth was produced by an unidentified intelligent cause, U.S. District Judge John E. Jones III ruled Tuesday. The school board policy, adopted in October 2004, was believed to have been the first of its kind in the nation."

In a statement released today by the Cato Institute, Andrew J. Coulson, Cato's director of the Center for Educational Freedom, and Neal McCluskey, a Cato education policy analyst, write: "Today's intelligent design ruling by the U.S. District Court in Harrisburg will be perceived as a victory for supporters of evolutionary theory and a defeat for I.D. advocates and creationists. Such perceptions are shortsighted. The Pennsylvania ruling will do nothing to end the battle over the teaching of human origins that has plagued public schools since the Scopes trial of 1925. It, and all the other cultural and religious 'school wars' that divide our nation, will rage on unless we do something about their root cause: our one-size-fits-all government school system.

"As long as every taxpayer is compelled to fund a single official education system, conflicts over its curricula and methods will persist. But there is an alternative: provide tax relief and scholarships that will put independent schooling within reach of every family in America. By allowing parents to obtain the sort of education they value for their own children, without obliging them to foist it on their neighbors, we can eliminate the root cause of the problem -- and bring peace across the entire education front of our nation's culture war."

In "Why Fight Over Intelligent Design?," Coulson writes, "This manufactured conflict serves no public good. After all, does it really matter if some Americans believe intelligent design is a valid scientific theory while others see it as a Lamb of God in sheep's clothing? Surely not. While there are certainly issues on which consensus is key -- respect for the rule of law and the rights of fellow citizens, tolerance of differing viewpoints, etc. -- the origin of species is not one of them.

"The sad truth is that state-run schooling has created a multitude of similarly pointless battles. Nothing is gained, for instance, by compelling conformity on school prayer, random drug testing, the set of religious holidays that are worth observing, or the most appropriate forms of sex education. Not only are these conflicts unnecessary, they are socially corrosive. Every time we fight over the official government curriculum, it breeds more resentment and animosity within our communities. ... Fortunately, there is a way to end the cycle of educational violence: parental choice. Why not reorganize our schools so that parents can easily get the sort of education they value for their own children without having to force it on their neighbors?"

I find this tactic to be a rather insidious way for the "libertarian" think tank, which should be interested in preserving the Constitution and committed to rational thinking, to flame the fires of the cultural wars. I have been nothing but disappointed with the Cato Institute since I started following its positions and stances. I have rarely found them take a position that seems consistent with what I think (or, perhaps, naively thought) libertarian ideals are.

When I first entered the halls of the Cato Institute, I was pleased to see folks like J.S. Mill and Mary Wollstonecraft enshrined in a frieze. Being someone who knows a thing or two about both of these thinkers, I anticipated they would arrive at different conclusions than they often do on social issues. I expected the Cato Institute to be much more socially liberal.

Instead, I discover that their best minds identify the causes of the cultural war over intelligent design thusly:

We're fighting because the institution of public schooling forces us to, by permitting only one government-sanctioned explanation of human origins. The only way for one side to have its views reflected in the official curriculum is at the expense of the other side.

Amazing how rhetoric and sly manipulation of the facts gives the appearance of a reasonable argument. Curriculum that equips students with the ability to think well about the world and that allows them to participate in a pluralistic democracy is turned into "government-sanctioned" views. Moreover, this statement suggest that there are two legitimate sides to the issue of whether or not to teach I.D. in science curriculum.

What is the Cato solution? Divest the federal government from having any role in designing or upholding specific curriculum in public schools, turn full control of the curriculum over to the parents.

I am not sure what the Cato Insitute counts as a "public good." I imagine very few things are. But, it makes me sick, yes, utterly sick, to know that they think we should make education a private, market-driven choice. What sort of hope does a country have if the majority of the citizens have a sub-standard education? You create a permanent underclass, a huge chasm between the haves and have nots, and ensure generations upon generations of folks to live in poverty.

I am sure their analysts have some seemingly reasonable technocratic way to solve the unequal distribution of the public good of educating your populace. I can see the policy plan: make schools compete with each other, give parents vouchers that allow them to choose which school little Johnny can go to, give full control of curriculum to the PTA blah, blah, blah.

Or, perhaps they don't want to solve this problem of education. Afterall, I have heard more times than I care to remember that all individuals are best suited to make choices for themselves. This sort of rhetoric--yes, it is--makes it sound like Cato is the champion of the little people, protecting them from the fascism of any elite who thinks he or she knows better. Fine, fine.

But, how on earth to you expect anyone to make good decisions if you deny them a real education?, which is what would happen if you turn curriculum over completely to parents. Many parents, who themselves received a sub-standard education, will put their children in schools that will continue to keep them ignorant, poorly prepared, and with little hope for economic advancement.

Schools are not for-profit businesses, nor should they be.

Is nothing sacred to these folks?

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Melancholy Tuesday: Visit from a college roommate

I noticed that Aspazia dubbed this a Melancholy Tuesday, so I’m jumping on the bandwagon to share the melancholy part of my week. I’ve spent the past week visiting with “Melanie” my former roommate from college, who is on a whirlwind “tour” if you will, visiting friends in multiple states before her departure next week to Arizona to start grad school.

I met Melanie my freshman year of college, and found her to be an absolute bright light. I have allowed myself to share with her aspects of my own life which I had previously shared with no one. We have spent many nights sharing the details of our tumultuous past relationships. With her, I have never felt that I had to put on a fa├žade of strength when revealing stories of a battered past and broken family. With her, I have never felt judged, never placed in a position where I had to defend my choices regarding such relationships, and I never felt that I had to leave out details out of fear for her reactions.

During college Melanie and I set aside one night a week to share a bottle of wine and watch a “sappy” movie. Inevitably the movie would bring us both to tears and we would often sit for extended periods of time after it was over crying together, although we’d rarely exchange words in these moments. I think that there’s just something to be said about feeling so comfortable in another’s presence that we allow ourselves to be so consumed by raw emotion.

My boyfriend always comments on the ritual being masochistic, and doesn’t understand why we would both look forward to the event each week. I think that part of his questioning comes from jealousy and I can admit that his jealousy is perhaps warranted… I can’t recall a time where I have ever allowed myself to cry in his presence, or anyone else’s for that matter. I have had previous friends and boyfriends comment that I am callous and icy, always in a half joking sort of way that stings with underlying truth.

I’ve always found relationships to be so perilous, they require such a huge investment with no way of knowing if the gamble will be worth the dividend when all is said and done.

I’ve been in relationships with men that have left me feeling so debilitated, and relationships with family that have been plagued with an unbearable heaviness and responsibility. I think that in the aftermath of dealing with such relationships I chose to play a part, invent a character for myself that was stronger than I knew I was, a character who was seemingly unaffected by the toils of life.

Hiding oneself in the confines of a costume can be tricky, for the threat of exposure is always there.

I came to realize this week is that my relationship with Melanie is so strong because she has been the only person in my life who has had the patience to peel away the sediment of my past to reveal the person that existed underneath the veil.

When I said goodbye to Melanie today at the airport, I was filled with grief. I know that circumstances won’t allow us to visit each other for another year at least. Plane tickets cross country are difficult to muster on my salary and she’ll have a difficult time balancing work and school in a new environment as it is. But I am comforted by knowing that we will always share a friendship that is based on trust, allegiance, and pure expression of emotion, and will always be grateful for that.

Melancholy Tuesday: How to Not Make the Ex into a Monster

I spent all of Monday with Za’s kids in rural WA State, so I was unable to post my usual melancholy Monday entry. I have come to realize that I need this cathartic, weekly ritual of writing about the melancholy in my life, and so I am seizing today’s post as the time and place to do so.

I have been with Za for 1 1/2 years and during these past two days, I met his children, ex-wife and her family for the first time. Nothing in my life could have quite prepared me for this experience. I have never been married, nor had children, so in many ways I am simply unequipped to know what Za’s life was like before me. After this brief visit, I have a better idea, but I am still ruminating on how differently he lived before me.

The details of his divorce and why he and his ex-wife chose to move the children 3,000 miles away from him are still rather elusive to me. I am not sure we are ever allowed a window into the intimate lives of others. Even though I would say I know Za well, I will never know how his former relationship drew him out. Relationships are not mere pairings of two fully formed and impermeable others. They are dynamic and open; it is through them that we shape or stunt the unique parts that define us.

The only portal I have open to me for grasping what might have deteriorated between them, such that they were forced to make profoundly painful decisions about splitting up a family, is to reflect on the tumult of my own life. I have suffered enough regret, and found myself in enough onerous relationships wherein I was deeply conflicted over whether to stay or leave. I know that the decisions that two adults make are rarely the product of merely selfish, infantile behavior. In fact, I would deeply distrust anyone, who has not lived my life nor been placed in the urgent situations I found myself in, if he or she was arrogant enough to judge what I should’ve done better given the constraints that were upon me.

I would be lying to you if I presented myself as one who is free from moralizing behavior or even free from jealousy. I confess that my earliest impressions of Za’s ex were not good, nor did I strive much to correct such an impression. It is simply too tempting to turn the ex-lover into a monster. I guess it forestalls any serious contemplation that I, too, may find myself hurt and embittered after a long relationship. Depicting the other as someone who deserves her misery is a powerful way to neutralize the threat.

No relationship is free of risk; all relationships require some measure of our own vulnerability. And, frankly, the threads of our life are so myriad, that we may never fully grasp what lead to the unraveling of certain ones that, for a time, suspended us above the abyss of uncertainty.

When I found myself facing the woman with whom Za lived for 15 years and with whom he chose to raise children, I could no longer reduce her to the monster that had made the fact of her easier to bear. She is a beautiful, lovely woman, who despite her own pain at facing me, extended warmth. I could see why Za loved her.

I do not really know, nor do I think I should hear out her account of why their marriage ended. My allegiance lies with Za, but I have resolved to resist the further temptation of fueling that loyalty by hating her. Anyway, as life continues we tell ourselves different stories of what went wrong; I am not sure we ever really know and so storytelling is our only means of moving forward. So however she has made sense of their end, that account will surely outlive its purpose as she finds new love and happiness. I was lucky enough to meet her new companion, whose benevolent soul made the dinner bright and hopeful.

By no means was this easy, nor do I think it ever will be. But, I am grateful that I took the risk to meet her, and that she let me spend time with her children.

I was heartbroken as I left them with their Dad, grandmother and uncle and drove back to my hotel. I was invited to a special Christmas dinner, prepared by Za’s ex-mother-in-law. I had no way of knowing if this woman would be kind to me, if she would extend her hospitality. Only after several months of great agony did I agree to find out. And, I was rewarded in ways that few could imagine, given the difficult nature of this situation.

Mae (not her real name, of course) put me at ease from the moment I climbed up the stairs to her log cabin. She told me several times to make myself at home and also allowed me into her life, telling me wonderful stories of her family. She showers Za’s kids with her love.

On the way over to her house, Za’s oldest son rode in the car with me. We talked about why he loves his new teachers, specifically that their voices communicate interest and motivate him to learn. The eldest is 11 years old, and precocious.

While we were waiting for dinner, and before we opened presents, the eldest son took me on a tour of the property. We walked down to the horses and let them nuzzle their faces into both of our necks. We next went on a tour of the garden, where he named all of the flora. We also caught a glimpse of a few chickadees, which filled him with joy.

The younger children climbed on top of me, tickled and tackled me. We chased each other around tables and over couches.

I hope that this trip has helped all of us to imagine a harmonious future.

When I left, Za drove down the long driveway with me to open the gate. He came around to my window, and knocked on it so I would roll it down and give him a kiss goodbye.

The quality of that kiss was somehow more tender than what has transpired between us for months. Something that had been hardened in me finally melted.

The Last Abortion Clinic

You can watch the Frontline series on Abortion, in four chapters here.

Impeachment Roundup

I have been zigzagging all over the West, and hence have had nothing smart, or even snarky, to say about Bush's admission to wire-tapping U.S. citizens. I turn you over to the good stuff others are writing:

Monday, December 19, 2005

A Little Reminder for Why I am a Liberal

I got to accompany my mom today to her salon on Saturday. This is one of her favorite Saturday rituals, and what I forgot was how much time she spends at the salon when she goes. We arrived at 10:00 am and didn’t leave until almost 4:00 pm (PST). I hardly ever indulge myself in such pampering when I am at home.

Today I talked for hours with a young woman who is a manicurist. She is 27 years old, and has two daughters who are 11 and 7. She has been married to the same man for 11 years, which I found to be utterly amazing.

While listening to her story today, I kept remembering why I am a liberal. Being a liberal is not merely a position; it takes root in people who have real stories, real tragedies, and real hardships.

Let’s call the young woman Melissa.

Melissa grew up in a small town. Most of the people in her town were working class folks. The main industries are ranching, fishing and agriculture.

A single mother, who got pregnant while having an affair with a married man, raised Melissa. She didn’t even know who her Dad was until she was in high school and only then because the Medicare folks went after him to pay for medical bills that her mother incurred after being laid off.

Melissa had dyslexia and was put into the “special ed” classes when she was in 3rd grade. This experience marred her entire educational experience and she still struggles to read. She enrolled in the vocational classes in her high school and then discovered she was pregnant. She married the father, who was 5 years older than her and had a good job as a mechanic. Despite his decent pay, they nonetheless were struggling quite a bit financially.

Then, her husband hurt his back at work. His job did not offer medical insurance, nor could he qualify for workman’s compensation, so the couple quickly went bankrupt with a tiny child. She went to work at a credit card company, and he stayed home with their eldest daughter.

They pulled themselves out of debt and have scraped and saved every dime they could find to finally buy themselves a house. They moved out into the country, near where my mom lives and Melissa’s husband now works building new homes. They are still barely making ends meet since buying their home because in the area where she lives, which is one of the cheaper places to live in this state, they couldn’t buy a house for under $250,000.00.

She and her husband both work and try to put all their free time into raising their daughters. Talking to her, I could tell she was a wonderful mother. She told me how they moved out to the country to find better work, a home they could afford and schools that weren’t overcrowded.

She had wanted to home school her daughters, but feared she wasn’t smart enough to do a good job. When she told me that, my heart just broke.

Many working class families like Melissa’s move out to the old gold mining towns and foothills. The land is still affordable and plenty of work can be found building new houses for the retirees and other folks wanting to flee the congestion and traffic of big cities.

Most of the people that live out here are white, and work in ranching or agriculture. These are definitely red towns. You see a lot of trucks with gun racks and men wearing hunter plaid. You do not see any people of color, unless they are picking grapes during harvest season.

I mention this because I think about how Melissa’s story is so emblematic of how our country works. She comes from a working class family, struggling to keep out of debt, buy a home and provide for her kids. She flees her hometown, which has become overrun by Mexicans, Vietnamese and Filipinos who have crowded schools, and have lowered the wages for all working class folks around.

Melissa’s family moves up to the country, where a white, working class person can still make a decent wage because the immigrants are kept out. This is land where racism is overt and scary.

Her family is just making ends meet as long as her husband does not endure another injury. If he does, they are facing serious debt again. They watch every single penny that comes into their household by shopping at big discount places like Wal-mart.

This is a hard-working, good family. This couple took on responsibilities that most of my students have not taken on when they were even younger. They want their children to go to college, but they have no ability to save money to afford tuition. Even if their daughters excel in school and get offered scholarships, they might have to send them to community colleges.

When I think about how many families are in this situation—worried about jobs, paying bills, sending their children to college, fearing medical bills that their non-existence insurance cannot pay—I remember why I fight for liberal policies. I also remember why labor unions are so important to working people.

Some Untimely Responses to My Commentors

I think I have told you before, dear readers, that I do some of my best thinking in confined spaces. I haven’t spent enough time psychoanalyzing myself to really know why I do; most likely I am just too cut off from distractions to do anything else.

Since arriving on the West Coast, I have not had a whole lot of time to reflect well on some of the discussions I have had in the comments thread here and elsewhere on Robert’s blog: The Argument Clinic.

Now that I am flying North, I have thought about little else than two problems posed by two different readers: Sean and Robert.

Let me address an analogy the Sean used in his apologia for God’s seemingly cruel behavior toward humanity: that is, God’s failure to act and save us from the evil of others or natural disasters. Sean masterfully launched into a defense of God, free will and the innocence of any human life born in a debate over my post on Plan B and Catholic Hospitals.

What I want to focus on is Sean’s analogy of God's behavior toward us as akin to the role of parenting. I am not stranger to this particular theological move, since I have attended three Jesuit Universities, and I was required to take a great deal of theology courses. I also just finished grading a round of papers on the problem of evil and, unsurprisingly, many of my students defended God’s apparent failure to act and rescue us from evil as akin to parents choosing to let their children make mistakes and learn from them, with the ultimate goal of teaching personal responsibility and self-sufficiency.

Sean’s particular example depicted parents of a newborn, who want to teach the baby to sleep alone throughout the night. The parents are pained at the howling cries of their infant, yet they know that to teach this lesson to their child, they must refrain from answering her desperate cries.

A colleague of mine once made a similar argument when he tried to explain to me God’s inaction in the face of evil. He argued that as a father of three children, he has wondered why, many times, he had children when he knows that he cannot control how they will turn out, that their wills may oppose his own. His children, for example, may grow up to reject all of the values and talents they inherited from their father.

Ok, so I think this analogy to parenting is rather compelling, especially to people searching for a way to maintain their faith in the face of disasters or trauma. But, this analogy never does its magic on me. Part of the reason why it fails to convince me that God does not neglect us in times of tragedy—either by his failure to rescue us or by his silence—is that I don’t have a profound need to maintain my faith in God’s omnipotence, omniscience and wholly good nature. I also don’t find myself requiring God’s existence for morality; I think we can figure out what is good without God.

Yet, there is something else that really gnaws at me about this analogy and that is how poorly it actually captures parent-child relationships. While yes, in principle, most parents do aim to make their children personally responsible and self-sufficient, it does not follow that parents choose not to rescue their children from harm or evil.

In fact, any parent who had the power to rescue his or her child from future evil or harm, and did not do so, would be swiftly morally condemned by their community, church and peers. Let me take an example to illustrate my point.

Let’s say that a single mother remarries a man, and then discovers that he has a history of child abuse, which he successfully hid from her during the courting phase. The mother then catches her new husband hitting her young son because he sullied the DVD player. The mother walks in on her husband’s cruel and unnecessary behavior and witnesses the whole event. She watches her child scream and howl and beg for her help. She does nothing, fearing he will next turn on her.

When he finishes the beating, she then sends her child up to the room and chooses to pretend that it didn’t happen. She does not report this violence, nor she doesn’t remove her child from the environment. In fact, she spends hours trying to justify it in her own mind. She determines that her new husband is a disciplinarian and it will be good for little Johnny. She remains with her husband and for years he continues to torture her son.

Would we decide that her non-intervention was ultimately the best route to promoting little Johnny’s autonomy and self-reliance? Was she right in allowing this evil to happen, since, after all, her son could decide how to react to this pain and suffering.?

Moreover, would this woman’s son be likely to worship his mother for giving him this free will to deal with the evil of his step-father?

The God as parent analogy is limited in its capacity to bring those who suffer comfort.

Now, I want to briefly address a comment that Robert made on his blog about pregnancy and prevention. In response to my question of whether or not a mother should be compelled to raise a child when she had taken every precaution to avoid getting pregnant, he responded: “Nobody who is pregnant who voluntarily chose to have vaginal intercourse took ‘all precautions to avoid pregnancy.’”

I am disturbed by this reasoning. If we accept that the premise that anyone who has sex failed to prevent pregnancy, we must therefore assume that all sexual activity is ultimately about getting pregnant. For, if we were to assume that getting pregnant was one possible by-product of sex, then we would not conclude that engaging in the activity was a failure to prevent getting pregnant.

To demonstrate this point, let me consider an analogy to eating. If I engage in the activity of eating everyday and find that I have gotten food poisoning, do I conclude that, well, that’s what you get for eating since if you didn’t want to get food poisoning, then you should have abstained from eating? Getting food poisoning, when you take all precautions to avoid it by carefully preparing your food, is unfortunate, sad and traumatic. However, not many people are likely to force you into this misery, since you did voluntarily choose to eat.