Saturday, May 15, 2004
Brown vs. Board of Education is the title for the court case which racially desegregated America's public schools. In it, the justices decided that 'separate but equal', the older judicial standard for treating the races 'fairly', can never be truly equal. Never mind the fact that the African-American school districts seldom had the same resources or teacher salaries than the Caucasian ones, the U.S. Supreme Court argued that even if economic equality could have been guaranteed, the very fact of segregation had such harmful psychological effects on minority children that it could not be allowed to continue as government policy.
For fifty years, then, we have had an integrated public school system. At least on paper. In reality, schools are as segregated today as they were in 1971, and Latino students, for example, have become more segregated from white non-Latino students every year from 1970's to 1990's (and possibly even later). In the late 1990's two-thirds of all African-American and Latino children attended schools where the majority of students belong to minority groups.
So what are we to celebrate on the fiftieth anniversary of Brown vs. Board of Education? The end of racial segregation? Sure, it is no longer legal to segregate the school systems on purpose, and that's a good thing. But while dejure segregation may be over, defacto segregation is well and thriving. Maybe the two dozen white supremacists who marched near the school featured in the Brown vs.Board of Education are right: maybe the segregationists have indeed won.
And if they have would it matter? The answer depends on what we want from school integration. If it is only better schools for minority children, then racial segregation might not matter that much as long as the schools are getting better. There is a certain comfort in a segregated world: birds of a feather and all that. Shared norms, religions and traditions may thrive, and nobody becomes the victim of racial bigotry. Neither is anyone's racial bigotry challenged by this arrangement.
And there lies the problem. A segregated school system does not serve an integrated world, does not increase our understanding of people from other ethnic and social groups, does not reduce the 'Othering' that ultimately lies at the very bottom of every misogynist or racist thought or act. For this reason I lament the failure of school integration.
There is a second reason for my lament, and that is the fact that racially segregated schools are almost by definition going to be unequal schools for minority children. This is because schools are largely funded from local property taxes, and predominantly African-American or Latino areas are, on average, poorer than predominantly Caucasian non-Latino areas. Until we are willing to equalize the spending by child for all school districts in this country, those children who go to poorer schools will have fewer books, fewer computers and teachers who get paid less.
Why has integration failed? There are many reasons, but the most important one is that Americans tend to live in ethnically homogeneous neighborhoods. To achieve real school integration requires then that some children at least are transported to schools far outside their home neighborhood, and parents don't like this at all, even when the pill is made more palatable by making the target school a magnet school: one with better resources than other available schools.
Another reason for the failure of integration can be found in private schools. It is mainly the Caucasian non-Latino families who send their children to private schools. This often leaves the public schools of even a racially integrated area with a predominantly minority population of children. Once this happens, the parents of children in the private schools are going to be a lot less willing to vote for more tax funded public education (it's not helping their children, after all). The quality of public schools will then drop which causes a further flight to private schools by those who can afford it, and so on. No wonder that our public schools are in crisis.
What will President Bush say in his speech on Monday, to be given at the same school where the white supremacists were marching? Will he say anything like the message of this post? I doubt it. I doubt it very much.
Friday, May 14, 2004
The title is to tease one of the smart commenters on this blog! I'm going to build a gate to my garden. Proposals as to its shape are eagerly desired. Right now I'm vacillating between a Chinese moon gate and a simple solid gate with eyeballs painted on it. The eyeballs are to stare at any invaders and send them shrieking back to their lairs. Of course they will have no magic in them at all, but the repetition of many eyeballs should make them seem magical, if the repetition of political Bushisms makes us believe in them.
A snakegate would be nice, too, but that would require metalwork and I want to use my tablesaw skills on this gate.
Thursday, May 13, 2004
They are sometimes all the same, as in the case of one Lynndie England, the poster-girl for everything that has gone wrong with the U.S. military in Iraq. The photographs of her leading a naked Iraqi detainee on a leash received frontpage coverage in all the best papers. What's the world coming to, the message seems to be. How can women abuse people? And how can the same women then get pregnant? Where did we go wrong?
As Richard Goldstein points out in the Village Voice, England is the symbol of the Torturegate even though the vast majority of those accused of torturing the detainees were male for the very reason that many don't associate women with the ability to commit violent acts. It's the man-bites-dog view of what's newsworthy, or as Goldstein expresses it: the bitch-bites-man.
The overall reaction to the women in Torturegate is naturally sexist in the sense that it is based on the assumptions that violent acts are not something the group 'women' engages in and that all women act the same in this respect. But there is also a subtler kind of sexism in some of the articles about England: that women should know better, given that women so often are the victims of sexual abuse. This is sexism because it implies that men would not have such moral prior knowledge.
What does the media make of the fact that some women played an integral role as torturers at Abu Ghraib? You can probably guess that it depends on the political slant of the writers: the right-wingers see in this the evidence of what eight years of Clinton administration and the don't ask - don't tell policy have wrought. Feminists are widely blamed for now celebrating the utter humiliation of men by women. George Neumayr in the Spectator goes on a wild and totally illogical rant about the whole escapade being a science-fiction movie created by Betty Friedan, and Elaine Donnelly, that little girl who doesn't want any other little girl to play with her guns, is quite sure that some feminists in the academia are salivating over the England pictures. I have not found a single feminist source for such celebrations, and I doubt that Friedan had anything to do with the Iraq war in general. But this doesn't matter in the wingnut world.
In fact, evidence in general doesn't matter there: the earlier right-wing argument against having women in the military at all was based on women's inability to act violently. Yet when the reverse seems to have been proved, it is this very reverse which is attacked as proof of the earlier argument. I guess that's why they are called wingnuts. It's the conclusion that matters, not how to get there, and the conclusion is always that women should not be in the military, but if this cannot be avoided they should be totally segregated from men. Otherwise the evil spectre of sex will appear somewhere in the forces, and we all know what comes from that: detainees on leashes, pregnancies and rapes. This point was repeatedly brought up by Deborah Simmons in Washington Times and Gary Aldrich at the townhall.com. Never mind that the military has always somehow obtained access to women for sexual purposes, just consider the prostitutes around the Philippine bases for an example, and never mind that abuse and torture of military prisoners has been common for centuries; ruling out unisex military forces would miraculously cure all these problems.
The left-wing writers don't arrive at the same conclusion, of course. But neither are they totally able to stay away from the question of gender and torture: Goldstein's article argues that the pictures of women as torturers allow the readers to engage in homo-sadistic enjoyment while somehow transforming this into seemingly heterosexual musings. He also links the pictures to the idea of the evil dominatrix, the Cruella deVille, if you like. Ta-Nehisi Coates believes that the Torturegate is bad news for women in the military, because it allows people like Linda Chavez to argue that women don't improve the tone of the military at all and that unisex troops were a big mistake. But Coates also wonders if women shouldn't have known better, given their victim status in the sexual field, and suggests that maybe the masculine ethos of the military makes women act much tougher than they otherwise would, just to be accepted as 'one of the guys'. One of the experts interviewed in this article thinks that women might be inherently less likely to torture than men, though no evidence is brought to support this claim.
Why is it that we can't focus on the torture as a whole, whether committed by men or women or both? What is it about Lynndey England and the other women accused of torture that pricks our curiosity so much? I don't think that the man-bites-dog explanation is adequate alone. I suggest a slightly wider reading of the whole phenomenom: a certain mythology of the genders which is well and flourishing in the extreme political right, but which also has subtler effects on all of us through tradition and popular culture.
This mythology assumes that women and men are defined by a small set of simple and extremely dualistic characteristics. While reality is, I believe, complicated, messy and full of exceptions and overlaps, the sex mythology doesn't allow for these. Rather, it defines a man by what is defined as 'not-woman' and vice versa. The easiest way to describe the relevant myths are by looking at what the extreme right believes to be true about men and women, as it is there that the myths have been retained in their purest forms. Their support bases are two: fundamentalist Christianity and a sort of quasi-scientific theory of evolutionary psychology. Somewhat astonishingly, these result in the same convenient view of the purpose of men and women in this world:
-men are protectors and providers, women are birth-givers and nurturers
-men are meant to be dominant over women, and women are meant to be submissive to men
-men are naturally more sexual than women
-men can't control their sexuality; thus, women must do it for men
I call these myths because of their power on the believers, and because of their extremist either-or formulation. Whether there is any scientific truth in any of them, in terms of tendencies, is clearly an empirical question almost impossible to answer given the simultaneous influence of culture, environment and any biological basis for behavior. What can be safely said, though, is that none of these dual classifications is true as a general unchanging rule.
Consider now the questions of women as torturers and of a unisex military force in the light of these myths: If women are supposed to give birth and nurture, how can a woman abuse someone? It's not nurturing. And how on earth can she then get pregnant? Moreover, what does it do to our definition of men if women act as protectors? (An abuser is a protector gone wrong, after all.) Also, if men are meant to dominate women, what does a picture of a woman leading a naked man on a leash do to us? Where does this woman belong in our classification? Either the classification falls apart, which is very painful for the believers in the mythology, or the woman must be labelled as a pervert, a deviant, a 'not-woman'.
And if men are naturally more sexual than women, yet can't control this sexuality, what will happen when women and men serve together in the military? The men will 'naturally' attack the women all the time. It is up to the women to refuse this, somehow, and if they can't then the idea of a unisex force has failed. Moreover, it is the women's fault that it failed.
I think that these ideas are in the air when people discuss Lynndey England and the other women involved in Torturegate. They explain most of the right-wing articles I have read and even some of the left-wing views. They explain why women's ability in the military is all the time questioned: women can't be good providers and protectors, because this is not in the mythology, and should they actually prove to be good at the job this will affect the definition of masculinity, take away the basis on which 'a man' is defined. Either way, the news are bad for those who believe in the myths.
The news are also bad for the women in the military. Practically everything they do, whether actually a success or not, will fail the mythology and provide grounds for getting rid of them or at least for isolating them from the 'real military'. They'll all be seen as monsters who torture men or as princesses incapable of hurting a fly, yet far too delicious to be let out alone.
Thanks for the links to feministing.com (a good new blog) and mousewords (also a good new feminist blog).
This post is supposed to suffice while I work on something much longer and more boring to harass you with. But it's interesting, full of deep educational and psychological dilemmas:
Bush may not have been born stupid, but he has
>achieved stupidity, and now he wears it as a badge of honor. What makes
>mocking this president fair as well as funny is that Bush is, or at least
>once was, capable of learning, reading, and thinking. We know he has
>discipline and can work hard (at least when the goal is reducing his time
>for a three-mile run). Instead he chose to coast, for most of his life, on
>name, charm, good looks, and the easy access to capital afforded by family
>connections. The most obvious expression of Bush's choice of ignorance is
>that, at the age of 57, he knows nothing about policy or history. After
>years of working as his dad's spear-chucker in Washington, he didn't
>understand the difference between Medicare and Medicaid, the second- and
>third-largest federal programs. Well into his plans for invading Iraq, Bush
>still couldn't get down the distinction between Sunni and Shiite Muslims,
>the key religious divide in a country he was about to occupy. Though he
>sometimes carries books for show, he either does not read them or doesn't
>absorb anything from them. Bush's ignorance is so transparent that many of
>his intimates do not bother to dispute it even in public.
Read the whole thing here.
We might disagree about the good looks, of course. But I am concerned that he couldn't tell Medicare from Medicaid (the first funds certain types of health care for people 65 and over, the latter funds nursing care for the elderly poor and health care in general for poor families), especially as one is a federal government program and the other is based on states. I suspect he carries books to work on his arm muscles. I prefer to put them on top of my head for posture improvement purposes.
Wednesday, May 12, 2004
Which ice-cream flavor do you like best? This is the time of the year to start seriously considering this fundamental existential question. Your answer will reveal your innermost secrets to all and sundry, so think carefully.
Strawberry ice-cream is for people who are unaware of the true taste of a virgin strawberry, straight from the fields. This may indicate a general tendency to be oblivious.
Vanilla is not as bland as it is painted in some nearby fields of enjoyment, though the flavor must come from real vanilla pods. Still, unless you only dip into it occasionally, you might be a little predictable.
Chocolate. I bet you think I'd choose this one, but I don't, and the reason is that a chocolate ice-cream is not chocolatey enough for me, yet it's too far from the generic flavor of ice-cream. If you choose chocolate, you might be yet undecided about your life values. Or you might have found a better version of the ice-cream than I have.
Peach, banana etcetera: See above for comments on strawberry. I don't like bits of fruit in other foods, so I'm prejudiced of course.
Licorice ice-cream: not generally available but I've had it once. If this is your choice, you are an adventurer or come from a foreign country where people routinely snack on licorice.
Garlic: it does exist. Anyone who prefers this is certainly a loner.
Mint with chocolate chips. This is my darling amongst all the flavors. If you pick this one you're a god or a goddess for sure.
Any real ice-cream lover is always ready for new flavor experiments, though. What are your favorites?
Howard Stern is suffering in the claws of the FCC for the use of offensive language in the media. Jeff Jarvis in a recent Nation article argues that Democrats should take Stern's side in this row because a) censorship is wrong, b) Stern could deliver as many as eight million angry white male viewers to the Democratic Party and c) Jarvis likes to listen to Stern's shows.
All this is perfectly ok, even part c). We all have our little peccadilloes, though we usually don't advertize them in public. But Jarvis can't stop when the going is good; no, he has to try to prove to the reader that Stern is actually a really nice guy:
Let's be honest: We don't all talk like Hallmark cards and human resources directors. When we sit in the bar with friends, we gossip about people we hate; we joke about sex. And on our couches, when we watch the news, we think thoughts we won't admit. Stern admits them. Is he sexist? By many definitions, sure. But unlike many a wolf in sensitive-man clothing, he's straightforward about it. Is he racist? No. He has racists on the show, and he ridicules them because idiots are entertaining. Admit it: When you watch reality shows, you love to make fun of the fools on them, and that's not necessarily something to be proud of--but making fun of racist bozos is. Stern gives us credit for knowing they're offensive; he doesn't have to explain that to us or protect us from it. The nannies and the PC police only insult our intelligence when they think they need to save us.
Yep. Howard is a very nice guy. He's a sexist, ok, but at least he isn't a closet sexist: a pretend-sensitive new age guy. Howard's stuff hangs out in the open. And he isn't a racist, either. If you think so you are not very smart, not as smart as Jarvis is. And what a relief to know that the nannies and the PC police don't have to save "us". If only I knew who the "us" in the article might be: women? minorities?
Nope. I'm not going to lead a liberation army for Howard Stern, however many voters he might be able to deliver. Even if I was the Lady Liberty herself, Howard would only want to know about my cup size.
Tuesday, May 11, 2004
So much to be thankful for! Here are some of my favorite things about participating in the cybercommunity:
1. I have met wonderful people, people whose road would never cross mine in real life.
2. I have also found out that some people are truly, truly crazy, which is also interesting.
3. I have learned zillions of new facts without paying for this learning or without having to go back to boring university or college.
4. I have learned that there are people who know nothing, and are proud of that.
5. Many people in the cyberspace have excellent manners: I get the courtesy and worshipping that a goddess expects.
6. Someone just called me a moron on another blog. It's fun to be called something totally new after all these centuries.
7. There are proper-thinking lefties in the cyberspace: a big, happy family!
8. There are also horrible meanie righties out there: it's good to know your enemy.
9. Cyberspace is a great excuse to procrastinate from life's boring aspects (work, vacuuming, talking to your in-laws).
10.It also reminds me of how nice real life can be: after hours of staring at the screen I lift my eyes up and see trees in full flower, hear birds singing and feel the slithering of hungry snakes clamoring for attention. We have lots of senses (especially us divines), and cyberspace only feeds a few of them.
I've put on my bright-red two-piece suit with a very short skirt and I'm ready to be a media pundit. Imagine a big red mouth and very sharp white teeth, too.
Here we go: According to FAIR, the March for Women's Lives in 2004 wasn't worthy of the same coverage in the news as the Promisekeepers' March in 1997, despite the fact that the more recent march had many more participants:
A Nexis search of the week surrounding the women's march found a total of eight stories from the broadcast networks (not counting incidental mentions of the march): ABC, CBS, and NBC all ran two stories the day of the march; CBS also ran two stories the next morning. CNN, as a 24-hour cable news outlet, gave more extensive coverage to the event, running several reports on Sunday. But even CNN failed to treat the march as the historic occasion that it was, running just a small handful of brief march-related stories on Saturday and Monday.
Other cable news outlets focused not on the march itself but on abortion opponents, a few hundred of whom held a counter-protest at the march. Of three Fox News stories found on Nexis related to the march, two focused on anti-abortion activists (Special Report with Brit Hume, Hannity & Colmes, 4/22/04). Special Report examined anti-abortion opposition to the National Education Association's endorsement of the march-- a story that MSNBC also covered in that network's only march report found in the Nexis database. (Fox and MSNBC do not transcribe their news coverage as thoroughly as CNN does, so the amount of coverage on the three cable channels cannot be compared.)
To put the women's march coverage in perspective, FAIR conducted a similar Nexis search of the week surrounding the Promise Keepers march in 1997. The Promise Keepers, an evangelical men's organization that has been widely accused of promoting misogyny and homophobia, drew an estimated 480,000-750,000 demonstrators to Washington-- roughly three-quarters the size of the women's march. Despite its somewhat smaller size, the Promise Keepers received much more media attention: Stories began appearing on network news three days before the march and continued for two days afterward, with a total of 26 stories between the three broadcast networks-- more than three times the coverage the networks devoted to the women's march. Was the Promise Keepers march three times more newsworthy than the March for Women's Lives?
Was the Promise Keepers' march three times more newsworthy than the March for Women's Lives? But of course. What a silly question from FAIR. The Promise Keepers are for traditional values: the supremacy of men in the family, and traditional values are much more newsworthy (I initially wrote mewsworthy) than anything to do with those nasty dirty feminists. Who is it that owns the news networks, may I ask? Right, and this country is founded on ownership. Sheesh!
And in any case, according to Kathleen Parker all those women marching were so unladylike: why did they have to yell and scream when a suitably timed whisper in the right ear would have gotten better results and in a more traditional way? Sorry, Kathleen. We'll do better next time: the Ladies' Powder Puff and Whisper Convention next year, and Kathleen can lead us all. Now that'll guarantee us the necessary news coverage.
Elsewhere in the anti-feminist news, Spain is going to the dogs as we all well know. Not only are the Spaniards bowing to the terrorists and doing their bidding, but they're also quota queens! Think of this, half of the new cabinet consists of women, and the Prime Minister of Spain has vouched that his government will finally crack down on domestic abuse. Poor Kathleen Parker, will she get any sleep now?
Well, it's perfectly obvious what's going on in Spain: white Christian males are being oppressed, and nobody there lifts a finger. Domestic abuse is a private matter between consenting adults, and in any case families are sacred institutions and not to be tampered by outsiders. But then we all knew that this would follow after the Spaniards pulled out if Iraq.
I'm sure glad that I live in a country where truth still gets freely expressed. Like here in our very own anti-feminist news. And now a word from our sponsors: the Promise Keepers on how to get the checkbook away from the little wife...
Monday, May 10, 2004
This is an interesting article about the spread of
A group of US virgins and an evangelist are urging British teenagers to abstain from sex before marriage.
The Silver Ring Thing encourages young people to buy a silver ring and pledge to remain celibate.
The scheme has sold 20,000 of the $12 rings to US teenagers and is planning a British tour, preaching the beliefs and selling the rings for £10 each.
It is funded partly by the Bush administration, which is a strong supporter of abstinence.
But I was disappointed to read that the rings are to be worn on the fingers...
Is torturing detainees un-American? Are those that torture just a few bad apples that ruin the whole barrel? Is the recently revealed torture in Iraq and Afghanistan some new perversion that has only now infected the armed forces of the United States and Great Britain?
Yes and no, naturally. It wouldn't be surprising if torture has become more common in the last few years, given the tenor of the war on terror and the simplified messages we have been fed about the responsibility for the 9/11 atrocities, and it's probably true that the worst cases of torture shown all over the newspages and television screen are not representative of the whole armed forces. In that sense torture may indeed be seen as traditionally un-American or un-Western.
But. Human beings have the capability to torture other human beings and animals as we well know. If a situation is carefully constructed to induce torture, that's what we will observe. Consider the Stanford Prison Experiment of 1971. It picked a group of young male students, carefully vetted for good mental health and 'normality', and it then randomly assigned some of them to be prisoners and some of them to be guards. The prisoners were expected to participate in the experiment for its whole duration of two weeks, while the guards worked eight hour shifts.
The prisoners were housed in rooms made to look like a real prison, they were arrested by real police officers and taken to real police stations. They were searched, stripped and deliced before being committed.
The guards were told that it was their duty to maintain prison order but that they should not use violence.
The experiment had to be discontinued after only six days, because the prisoners (who first had revolted) had become depressed and the guards cruel. In particular, the night shift engaged in gratuitous abuse of the prisoners. This was the shift with no oversight by the experiment's creators.
The Stanford Prison Experiment is well known, both for its findings about the fragility of what we regard as 'civilized' behavior and as an example of the ethical problems inherent in this type of research (four of the participants suffered mental breakdowns). What it tells us is that torture can be induced, and quite rapidly, if the circumstances are correct: dehumanization of the other side, anonymity and strict hierarchical structures all increase the likelihood of abusive behavior.
This is not meant to serve as an apology for those who torture, but to point out, as the creator of the Stanford Prison Study did, that it might be the barrels that ruin good apples. Maybe almost all of us are capable of torture under the right circumstances?
And what would those circumstances be? I suspect that a war far away from home in a totally different culture might contribute to the necessary feelings of alienation, especially as it is combined with continuous attacks by the other side and an implicit justification of the whole campaing as a revenge for even worse butchery three years ago. Maybe some people can go out and kill others logically, coolly and rationally, and then simply remove all the necessary instincts like a uniform that needs laundering. Maybe. I doubt that this is very common, however.
What is likely to be much more common is exactly what we are now observing: a real life repetition of the Stanford Prison Study.
Sorry for my outburst last night. I was tired. This post will serve to make partial restitution for it by telling about some of the interesting things to do in Philadelphia and New Jersey.
Philadelphia Museum of Arts has wonderful collections, including the best collection of Pennsylvania Dutch taufscheins and frakturs. These were baptismal and marriage certificates painted by local schoolteachers and ministers as well as itinerant painters in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in Pennsylvania. They burst with color and weird birds, flowers and monsters. The Pennsylvania Dutch were of course really of German origin (Dutch comes from 'Deutsch').
You can also see Rodin's The Kiss there. If you have seen it only in photographs, its small size will astonish you. The combination of power and diminutiveness is a good reminder not to trip over stereotypes in general.
It's just a few hours drive from Philadelphia to the seashore. Cape May diamonds are very affordable and have no link to wars, terrorism or the use of slave labor. They are quite lovely, or you can just pick up the pebbles as they come from the ocean. Cape May also has a fantastic bird sanctuary. It serves as a half-way resort for migrating birds, and in one day it's possible to see more different birds than some of us see in a lifetime.
And then there is the sea. The mother of us all. If you are lucky you can see the dolphins dancing their mystical messages in the far horizon. I wish I could understand what they are saying.
Sunday, May 09, 2004
I've been to New Jersey. Now I'm totally fulfilled. I also saw Philadelphia. Lots of people there, and the food is not good, but I like the name. The city was named after Filip Adolph, a poorly known Swedish prisoner who was sent to the newly discovered continent to populate it along with other Swedish prisoners and prostitutes. Actually, I made this up but it could be true, one never knows. The Swedes did send prisoners and prostitutes to the area, though probably not all the way to Philadelphia.
That's the nice thing about history: whoever gets to print something first is regarded as a valid source.
I took the little snakes to see the sea. They liked the sand, but not the water. We collected lots of interesting pebbles with good vibrations, and had a very good time. Except for the fact that there are no real coffee beans in the state of New Jersey, or if they exist, they are kept carefully guarded from tourists. The snakes didn't mind the absence of coffee as they gorged on taffy, which meant that I had a bunch of extremely sticky snakes to take home with me. The smog from the factories stained them dark gray. The combination is less than fetching.
They're in the bathtub right now. The snakes, I mean. Now, tell me where the garden state is. I missed it somehow. But I did see lots of churches advertizing themselves as "independent, fundamental". How's that for a paradox?
Don't mind me, especially if you live in New Jersey or Philadelphia. I write equally nastily about every single place I visit, especially when I'm tired, dirty and coffee-deprived. I'm an equal-opportunity hater! Tomorrow I'll write about all the nice things that I saw and experienced!