The Bog:
sphagnum moss, dark water, and politics
Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Christmas Mix

Here We Come A-Wassailing - Kate Rusby

Little Road to Bethlehem - Shawn Colvin

The First Noel - Leigh Nash

Good King Wenceslas - Loreena McKennitt

God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen/We Three Kings - Barenaked Ladies/Feat. Sarah McLachlan

All That I Want - The Weepies

Song For A Winter's Night - Erica Wheeler

River - Joni Mitchell

Skating On The River - Lily Frost

Silent Night - Sarah McLachlan

Christians And The Pagans  - Dar Williams

Merry Christmas, Mr. Jones - The Nields

Things We Don't Need Anymore - Jenny Owen Youngs

The Atheist Christmas Carol - Vienna Teng

Little Drummer Boy  - Tori Amos

Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas - Hem

posted by Dan S. on 12:01 AM | | link

Saturday, September 22, 2012
Autumn Mix

The First Day Of Autumn                     Anne Hills

Nightswimming                                   R.E.M.

75 Septembers                                    Cheryl Wheeler

September in the Rain                         Dinah Washington

When Fall Comes To New England       Cheryl Wheeler

Autumn in New York                           Ella Fitzgerald & Louis Armstrong

Fallen Leaves                                      Teenage Fan club

Autumn Sweater                                 Yo La Tengo

Autumn Leaves                                   Louis Armstrong

Shoot The Moon                                 Norah Jones

Autumn Nocturne                               Claude Thornhill

October Road                                     James Taylor

Great Pumpkin Waltz                          Vince Guaraldi

Are You Happy Now?                          Richard Shindell

Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald         Gordon Lightfoot

posted by Dan S. on 10:18 PM | | link

Tuesday, November 28, 2006
Oh Blessed Day!
The New York Times gets it (partly) perfectly, beautifully right on education - give it a gold star.

In the Sunday paper, Paul Tough examines What It Takes To Make A Student: the overlapping race and class achievement gaps, research that looks at the results of class-based childrearing practices, the strategies used by some of the painfully few schools that seem to be making progress towards closing these gaps, and comes out with this magnificent summation:
Even if schools like KIPP are allowed to expand to meet the demand in the educational marketplace — all of them have long waiting lists — it is hard to imagine that, alone, they will be able to make much of a dent in the problem of the achievement gap; there are, after all, millions of poor and minority public-school students who aren’t getting the education they need either at home or in the classroom. What these charter schools demonstrate, though, is the effort that would be required to provide those students with that education.

Toll put it this way: “We want to change the conversation from ‘You can’t educate these kids’ to ‘You can only educate these kids if. ...’ ” And to a great extent, she and the other principals have done so. The message inherent in the success of their schools is that if poor students are going to catch up, they will require not the same education that middle-class children receive but one that is considerably better; they need more time in class than middle-class students, better-trained teachers and a curriculum that prepares them psychologically and emotionally, as well as intellectually, for the challenges ahead of them.

Right now, of course, they are not getting more than middle-class students; they are getting less. For instance, nationwide, the best and most experienced teachers are allowed to choose where they teach. And since most state contracts offer teachers no bonus or incentive for teaching in a school with a high population of needy children, the best teachers tend to go where they are needed the least. A study that the Education Trust issued in June used data from Illinois to demonstrate the point. Illinois measures the quality of its teachers and divides their scores into four quartiles, and those numbers show glaring racial inequities. In majority-white schools, bad teachers are rare: just 11 percent of the teachers are in the lowest quartile. But in schools with practically no white students, 88 percent of the teachers are in the worst quartile. The same disturbing pattern holds true in terms of poverty. At schools where more than 90 percent of the students are poor — where excellent teachers are needed the most — just 1 percent of teachers are in the highest quartile.

Government spending on education does not tend to compensate for these inequities; in fact, it often makes them worse. Goodwin Liu, a law professor at the University of California at Berkeley, has compiled persuasive evidence for what he calls the country’s “education apartheid.” In states with more poor children, spending per pupil is lower. In Mississippi, for instance, it is $5,391 a year; in Connecticut, it is $9,588. Most education financing comes from state and local governments, but the federal supplement for poor children, Title 1, is “regressive,” Liu points out, because it is tied to the amount each state spends. So the federal government gives Arkansas $964 to help educate each poor child in the state, and it gives Massachusetts $2,048 for each poor child there.

Without making a much more serious commitment to the education of poor and minority students, it is hard to see how the federal government will be able to deliver on the promise contained in No Child Left Behind. The law made states responsible for turning their poorest children into accomplished scholars in a little more than a decade — a national undertaking on the order of a moon landing — but provided them with little assistance or even direction as to how they might accomplish that goal. And recently, many advocates have begun to argue that the Education Department has quietly given up on No Child Left Behind . . . .

The absence of any robust federal effort to improve high-poverty schools undercuts and distorts the debate over the responsibility for their problems. It is true, as the Thernstroms write in their book, that “dysfunctional families and poverty are no excuse for widespread, chronic educational failure.” But while those factors are not an excuse, they’re certainly an explanation; as researchers like Lareau and Brooks-Gunn have made clear, poverty and dysfunction are enormous disadvantages for any child to overcome. When Levin and Feinberg began using the slogan “No Excuses” in the mid-1990s, they intended it to motivate their students and teachers, to remind them that within the context of a KIPP school, there would always be a way to achieve success. But when the conservative education movement adopted “No Excuses” as a slogan, the phrase was used much more broadly: if that rural Arkansas public school isn’t achieving the success of a KIPP school, those responsible for its underachievement must simply be making excuses. The slogan came to suggest that what is going wrong in the schools is simply some sort of failure of will — that teachers don’t want to work hard, or don’t believe in their students, or are succumbing to what the president calls “the soft bigotry of low expectations” — while the reality is that even the best, most motivated educator, given just six hours a day and 10 months a year and nothing more than the typical resources provided to a public-school teacher, would find it near impossible to educate an average classroom of poor minority students up to the level of their middle-class peers.

The evidence is now overwhelming that if you take an average low-income child and put him into an average American public school, he will almost certainly come out poorly educated. What the small but growing number of successful schools demonstrate is that the public-school system accomplishes that result because we have built it that way. We could also decide to create a different system, one that educates most (if not all) poor minority students to high levels of achievement. It is not yet entirely clear what that system might look like — it might include not only KIPP-like structures and practices but also high-quality early-childhood education, as well as incentives to bring the best teachers to the worst schools — but what is clear is that it is within reach.

Although the failure of No Child Left Behind now seems more likely than not, it is not too late for it to succeed. We know now, in a way that we did not when the law was passed, what it would take to make it work. And if the law does, in the end, fail — if in 2014 only 20 or 30 or 40 percent of the country’s poor and minority students are proficient, then we will need to accept that its failure was not an accident and was not inevitable, but was the outcome we chose.
Of course, it is the Times - and these times - so the article, and even parts of the passage above, has some major flaws. But I'll come back and talk about those later - I still want to just enjoy its existence.

And "a national undertaking on the order of a moon landing" is a good way of thinking about what we should be doing.

posted by Dan S. on 1:21 AM | | link

Sunday, November 26, 2006
Cohen, Iraq, Therapy, and The Myth of Regeneration Through Violence

Richard Cohen's column on (his changing attitudes towards) the Vietnam and Iraq Wars has probably been knocked from one end of the left blogsphere to the other by now - see for example digby and Hilzoy. While his account - by turns painfully sincere and breathtakingly un-self-aware - of somehow making
essentially the same mistake twice -- failing to think hard enough about why one is advocating a war that will cost tens of thousands of people their lives.
as Hilzoy puts it (doubt Cohen recognizes it) is pretty amazing and unintentionally informative, the real lightning rod has been this bit, with its astonishing quote:
If anything, I was encouraged in my belief by the offensive opposition to the war -- silly arguments about oil or empire or, at bottom, the ineradicable and perpetual rottenness of America.

On the contrary, I thought. We are a good country, attempting to do a good thing. In a post-Sept. 11 world, I thought the prudent use of violence could be therapeutic. [emphasis added]
I want to get back to the first few sentences a little later. After all, many of the real arguments against this war of choice have turned out to be tragically correct (if anything, we underestimated the administration's incompetency, and the potential for disaster), and Cohen now criticizes the war. What's really striking is the apparent disconnect between the talk of duping, repellent exaggerations, and betrayal towards the end, and the recounting of the "offensive opposition" and other rationalizations here. It sounds as if he somehow still imagines that yes, he was wrong but for all the right reasons.

But anyway, that last line, about how he thought post-911 that the prudent use of violence could be therapeutic." Some folks have taken this as a product of a mind that views war as equivalent to some aromatherapy candles; others have pointed out that in context it suggests the utopian belief that invading a random country would somehow help bring peace to the Middle East and reduce the threat of terrorism. (Which is less monstrous, if no less muddleheaded).

I'm pretty sure Cohen intended that second interpretation, and it's not at all surprising. He was just echoing an old, old idea, what's Slotkin called regeneration through violence in his book of the same name (Regeneration Through Violence: The Mythology of the American Frontier, 1600-1860), the first of a trilogy tracing this idea into the 19th (The Fatal Environment and 20th (Gunfighter Nation) centuries. To quote the review:
His argument in Regeneration is that, as the British colonists established their own societies in the wilderness, they expressed their regional desires for territorial expansion and self-rule by reinventing their history. Their narratives, according to Slotkin, revolved around frontiersmen who internalized, then disciplined, the "savagery" of their new environments, using their newfound mastery of nature to transform the wilderness into a revitalized civilization. Slotkin begins by examining how narratives of King Philip's War transformed New England from a demon-haunted Puritan enclave to a region where Indian killing represented progress and prosperity. Daniel Boone's paradoxical backwoods mixture of aggression and reflection serves as an icon for the rest of Regeneration, which emphasizes sectional variations of the Indian hunter myth . . .
Indeed, it's oddly appropriate to bring this up now, a few days after celebrating the thankful but uneasy truce that in time gave way to savage slaughter, first in the Pequot War and finally the massive devastation of King Phillip's War. Elizabeth Furniss adds that
The frontier myth thus provides a theory of history in which conflict, violence, and the subjugation of nature and indigenous peoples are legitimated as natural and inevitable for ensuring the ‘progress’ of civilisation. The frontier myth provides a master narrative of ‘regeneration through violence’, through which American identity was initially defined, and continues to be continually reasserted, through acts of aggressive violence. . . . Slotkin sees this key metaphor of regeneration through violence, and this foundational narrative of history, to be continually expressed in diverse arenas of cultural and political activity, ranging from the military aggression of American foreign policy to the crop of urban vigilante movies produced by Hollywood in the 1980s. It is through such acts of heroic, aggressive intervention that American national identity is continually expressed and celebrated.
In a New York Times review of Gunfighter Nation Michicko Kakutani notes (PDF) that
Whereas the early settlers achieved progress (and, Mr. Slotkin implies, a sense of spiritual regeneration) through the continual annexation of new lands, Americans were forced to look for new sorts of conquests when the Western frontier closed in the 1890's. With the Spanish-American War and American involvement in the Philippines, Theodore Roosevelt extrapolated the frontier myth to the world of foreign affairs. For Americans to renew their virility, Roosevelt suggested, they must take up the challenge of empire and bring civilization "to the red wastes where the barbarian peoples of the world hold sway." Later administrations, says Mr. Slotkin, would invoke the frontier myth to justify the use of counterinsurgency measures in the cold war and to rationalize America's growing involvement in Vietnam. In each case, Mr. Slotkin argues, the enemy was portrayed in terms similar to those once used to depict Indians, as ruthless, savage adversaries, whom the "side of progress and civilization" must fight "without quarter and even without scruple."
Indeed, the current conflict has turned out, as a few people who knew their history predicted, to mirror (albeit imperfectly) the Spanish-American and Phillipine-American Wars, at least as much as the Vietnam War. For there, too, one sees the honest belief that we were "attempting to do a good thing," spreading freedom and democracy to cruelly oppressed people. Slotkin felt that Vietnam, with other features of the 1960s and '70s, had deeply wounded the old myth, measured in such things as the plummeting popularity of Westerns, which had embodied (and yet increasingly challenged) it in previous years. It would seem that it had unexpected resilency. Indeed, Furniss points out:
The resilience of the frontier myth as a dominant cultural myth is due to two features. The first is its flexibility . . .Second, the frontier myth conveys historical truths not so much through explicit, argumentative forms of discourse, but indirectly through narratives rich in symbolism and metaphor. ‘The language is metaphorical and suggestive rather than logical or analytical’, Slotkin asserts. ‘The movement of a mythic narrative, like that of any story, implies a theory of cause and effect and therefore a theory of history (or even of cosmology); but these ideas are offered in a form that disarms critical analysis by its appeal to the structures and traditions of storytelling and the clichés of historical memory.' . . . Of particular importance are ‘mythic icons’, which stand as condensed symbols of the frontier myth’s narrative, and which ‘effect a poetic construction of tremendous economy and compression and a mnemonic device capable of evoking a complex system of historical associations by a single image or phrase’. . . . Their power, thus, lies in their ability to convey certain myths of history intuitively and indirectly in such a subtle manner that often lies beyond our critical awareness. [italics added]
I think this speaks to the experience many of us had, trying to challenge this folly using "explicit, argumentative forms of discourse," and being completely ignored, our "critical analysis" disarmed.

posted by Dan S. on 9:47 PM | | link

Thanksgiving Poem

" . . . Morgan said he still wants his pupils at Cleveland Elementary School in San Francisco to celebrate Thanksgiving. But "what I am trying to portray is a different point of view." Others see Morgan and teachers like him as too extreme.

Even American Indians are divided on how to approach a holiday that some believe symbolizes the start of a hostile takeover of their lands.

Chuck Narcho, a member of the Maricopa and Tohono O'odham tribes who works as a substitute teacher in Los Angeles, said younger children should not be burdened with all the gory details of American history. "If you are going to teach, you need to keep it positive," he said. "They can learn about the truths when they grow up. Caring, sharing and giving — that is what was originally intended."

Adam McMullin, a member of the Seminole tribe of Oklahoma and a spokesman for the National Congress of American Indians, said schoolchildren should get an accurate historical account . . .
So we come again to table
Weary, bearing marks of travel
Years and stories to unravel
Eat, then settle down to cable.

The country through which we travel
Has pulled on autumn's worn cable
Sweater, (knitted threadbare fable)
That one tug might yet unravel.

Another table now groans here
Harvest of field and mini-mart
Cranberry, ibimi, too tart
Unsweetened for these sour years.

Now night draws near, fall's failing days:
Congratulate dear A., née Smith
And praise all the handmade house dis-
plays of Indian corn, née maize.

Thankfuls said, and goodbyes given
Tankfulls topped up, homeward driven
With living's promise: that we might
Try yet again to get it right.


Which is what I'm going to do with this poem - starting from the beginning, since it definitely isn't right. Trying to make the poem and the ritual framework of the holiday act as a kind of mediator between the two things - the present-day get together with family to give thanks (and squabble) holiday, and the history it obsessively memorializes.

In the linked article above:
"I think that is very sad," said Janice Shaw Crouse, a former college dean and public high school teacher and now a spokeswoman for Concerned Women for America, a conservative organization. "He is teaching his students to hate their country. That is a very distorted view of history, a distorted view of Thanksgiving."
Certainly there are real and challenging questions of how to teach this sort of thing, especially to younger kids, without oversimplifying one way or another. It's almost a relief (though also an annoyance) to have this sort of simplemindedness to shake one's head at!

posted by Dan S. on 1:01 PM | | link

Saturday, November 25, 2006
Face Inwards, Aim . . .and Fire!

A little while back Amanda wrote a very interesting post arguing that by aggressively pushing creationism into public/scientific spaces, fundamentalists set up the conditions for a backlash:
See, I think the reason that creationism (and pseudo-scientific variations) survives much at all is they really take advantage of most people’s polite unwilllingness to get overly confrontational about religious faith . . . In exchange for this, most religions keep to themselves. In ecological terms, you’d say that faith and reason simply don’t compete for the same resources—in this case, the church and the classroom would really be different environments. But by using this assumption that it’s impolite to belittle someone else’s faith, the fundies have tried to shoehorn their myths into the science classroom. Now in order to fight them off, it’s become important for freethinkers to aggressively attack this social nicety about not aggressively questioning faith, because basically we have to tear apart the competition’s armor in order to prevent them from competing with us for what’s ours—the classroom, etc.

. . .By playing that card, they’ve provoked the freethinking side to challenge their armor and ask why it is specifically that religion can assume that it should go unquestioned. By using what was just a mundane defense mechanism as an aggressive tool to get into secular territory, the fundies have put this defense in danger and sure enough, in response to this aggression, you’re seeing the freethinking side up the amount of attacks on the very idea that faith deserves respect—just look at the number of titles coming out just this year not just arguing that atheism is right but that religion doesn’t deserve respect.
I've seen this general idea before - in a Sunday Philadelphia Inquirer piece by Jennifer Michael Hecht that seems to have dropped off the face of the internet - but this goes rather further in suggesting a specific mechanism. And while Jennifer, if I'm remembering right, basically suggested we should all join liberal religious institutions, for the social and spiritual benefits, Amanda sees these attacks on religion's "defense mechanism" as ultimately hurting mainstream churches, as folks who belonged mostly because that's what one does get persuaded into atheism.

Whether or not creationism has survived solely because folks have been too polite and tolerant, I'm rather doubtful, but the wider argument seems very pertinent. Early this week the New York Times reported on the Beyond Belief: Science, Religion, Reason and Survival conference, calling it A Free-for-All on Science and Religion, where:
Somewhere along the way, a forum this month at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, Calif., which might have been one more polite dialogue between science and religion, began to resemble the founding convention for a political party built on a single plank: in a world dangerously charged with ideology, science needs to take on an evangelical role, vying with religion as teller of the greatest story ever told.
. Apparently there was much heated and contentious rhetoric, between Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Steven "long nightmare of religious belief" Weinberg saying things like
Anything that we scientists can do to weaken the hold of religion should be done and may in the end be our greatest contribution to civilization.
and folks like Francisco Ayala, Lawrence M. Krauss, Melvin J. Konner , and Neil Tyson arguing not only that
"People need to find meaning and purpose in life . . . I don’t think we want to take that away from them (Ayala) . . . Science does not make it impossible to believe in God . . .We should recognize that fact and live with it and stop being so pompous about it.(Krauss)
but that folks like Harris and Dawkins
are remarkably apt mirror images of the extremists on the other side . . .and that you generate more fear and hatred of science (Konner), [that Dawkins'] methods . . .how articulately barbed you can be, end up simply being ineffective, when you have much more power of influence. (Tyson)
Meanwhile some pro-science blogs were having their own tempest in a teapot, set off by an apparently joking remark (joking status affirmed here). Next thing you know, folks were making little lists of who was on which side or team - whether they're Dawkins-following evangelical atheists on a reckless crusade to destroy religion, risking the real goal of defending evolution and science education . . . or Neville Chamberlain appeasement-types happily compromising science for classroom peace-in-our-time. (Because we need more of that kind of thinking, right?) Meanwhile, John Wilkins at Evolving Thoughts and Mike Dunford of The Questionable Authority (among others) think all this is pretty absurd.

And I'd have to agree. It might be because I'm rereading A Politics of Virtue: Hinduism, sexuality, and countercolonial discourse in Fiji, by John D. Kelly, examining why, to quote the blurb:
In 1929 the Fiji Indian community, composed of ex-indentured laborers and their descendents, had united in an anticolonial boycott led by a Fiji Indian National Congress modeled by the Indian National Congress in India. But in the midst of this political crisis, the Fiji Indians began a debate among themselves about the sexual morality of women and gods. In this debate over virtue, the Fiji Congress dissolved and the community fractured into groups self-defined in religious terms: the Arya Samaj, The Fiji Muslim League, the Sanatan Dharm.
And in my mind, this is about politics, and that's the ground where I think we should fight, whatever other battles or truces one might conduct. What's happened is that fundamentalists - or, to borrow a more specific term from Michelle Goldberg, Christian Nationalists - have been encroaching on public spaces (often ones they'd been evicted from, and rightfully so, decades or centuries earlier), causing a growing number of people - across the political spectrums, and much of the religious ones - to end up united in opposition.

The fight here is, I think, for secularism - for secular science, secular government, and a secular-friendly public square. Secularism's turned into a Scary Word for a lot of people, and I want to write about that sometime soon, but the simplest way I can think to describe it is this picture: a ring of rainbow-colored lights that overlap in the middle to produce a space of purest white. That middle bit's secularism. People of all beliefs can come together to learn and do science; there is no such thing as Jewish or Christian or atheist or Islamic or etc. science. (Science doesn't say there is no God: it simply goes along as if that issue is irrelevant, happily and productively assuming that, for the purpose at hand, it's working with natural phenomena and natural causes. Just like driving, or cooking, or construction, or warfare, or business, where God won't fix your distribution problems, or raise your souffle, or etc. I think history and daily life alike suggests this - methodological naturalism, to get all fancy - is a pretty good idea). And people of all beliefs can come together here [the U.S.] as citizens running (however distantly, and at cross-purposes) a democratic nation - not a Christian Nation, but a nation of Christians, and agnostics, and Jews, and Zoroastrians, and atheists, and Muslims, and Wiccans, and whatever. (Seems like a good way to run a free country.)

And I should note that there isn't a real equivalence in these culture wars: Dawkins and friends don't push for atheistic teacher-led 'prayers' in public school classrooms, or science teachers telling high school students that God doesn't exist, or etc. Anyway, though, let me just say - of course, whatever folks might do after the lab coat comes off is their business. But to paraphrase a famous line: It's religion and philosophy's job to tell us whether heaven exists (and how to get there if so); it's science's job to give some small child a telescope to peer through, and tell them look, look at all the beautiful stars!

I'm on that side.

See also Nick Matzke on how Neil deGrasse Tyson is the new Carl Sagan.

posted by Dan S. on 10:17 AM | | link

Diana of the Hunt.

In U.S., women go wild for hunting.
FREEPORT, Maine (Reuters) - It's deer season in Maine and although the hunting department of outdoor retail specialist L.L. Bean is packed, this is no old-boy's club.

Among the aisles of aerosol deer urine and digital duck calls, there are racks of women's clothing in mossy-oak camouflage, as well as plenty of fluorescent hunter orange.

Lined up behind the counter are dozens of guns, many available with a "short-stock" designed to fit more comfortably into women's shorter arms.

That's because an increasing number of women are heading into the woods, becoming one of the most enthusiastic segments of the hunting world.

. . . . One recent study by the National Sporting Goods Association estimates more than 3 million women now hunt, accounting for about 16 percent of the nearly 21 million active hunters in the United States.
I can't help but be a bit conflicted about this development, but, well . . . and it's part of a larger "rise in the number of women involved in all-outdoor recreation -- from camping to kayaking." Given that many ecologists, biologists, amateur naturalists, etc., seem to trace their choice of careers, their passion, back to childhood experiences, I wonder what effect this might have?

Interesting, that there seems to have been an increase in the number of women hunting "in the the past three or four years" (following growth in the '80s and a plateau in the '90s). The obvious suggestion would be something about the war, but I dunno.

posted by Dan S. on 9:58 AM | | link

Wednesday, November 22, 2006
Couldn't Call It Unexpected No. 5

Violence in Iraq increasingly targeting women.

posted by Dan S. on 5:05 PM | | link

Iraqis - Human Beings or Inanimate Objects?
Inquiring minds want to know!

A letter in today's Philadelphia Inquirer reads:
Much as I might want it, there may not exist any better answer than to continue to keep a lid on it as it sputters along for another six to 10 years.

Of course, that is as long as the casualty rate remains tiny. I am hoping that the leadership of both parties will have the intelligence to remain patient with these difficulties.
Tiny, eh?
BAGHDAD, Iraq - The United Nations said Wednesday that 3,709 Iraqi civilians were killed in October, the highest monthly toll since the March 2003 U.S. invasion and another sign of the severity of Iraq's sectarian bloodbath.
Yes, yes, we all know what he meant. And yes, leaving might very well make matters worse. Not the point.

posted by Dan S. on 4:55 PM | | link

Couldn't Call It Unexpected No. 4
(Elvis Costello)

Well you can laugh at this sentimental story
But in time you'll have to make amends
The sudden chill where lovers doubt their immortality
As the clouds cover the sky the evening ends
Describing a picture of eyes finally closing
As you sometimes glimpse terrible faces in the fire
We'll I'm the lucky goon
Who composed this tune
From birds arranged on the high wire

Who on earth is tapping at the window?
Does that face still linger at the pane?
I saw you shiver though the room was like a furnace
A shadow of regret across a young mother's face
So toll the bell or rock the cradle
Please don't let me fear anything I cannot explain
I can't believe, I'll never believe in anything again

posted by Dan S. on 9:23 AM | | link

Couldn't Call It Unexpected No. 3:
Dolchstosslegende control.

To the Editor [of the Philadelphia Inquirer]:

In a recent column, neocon Charles Krauthammer paraphrases Ben Franklin and claims, "We have given the Iraqis a republic and they do not appear able to keep it." This statement seeks to shift the responsibility for our failures onto the Iraqi people: it is both dishonest and reprehensible.

No, the Iraqis are not helpless puppets. There are indeed political failures, merchants of violence with the basest of motives, and people of goodwill and great courage too often rewarded by slaughter. But we did not give the Iraqis a republic. We gave them chaos, and demanded of them leadership we now seem unable to muster,

I wish with all my heart that the people of Iraq had had the space to build their republic of dreams, to use the title of a recent essay by Omar Fathi. I hope that one day they can awake from the nightmare that traps them - and us - today. It is easy to muse on what could have been, if we had 'done the war right." Too easy, I think. The war we have happened because politicians, the media, and too many citizens abandoned their responsibilities. Whether out of fear, rage, greed, opportunism, a lazy and unfounded optimism, or those famous best intentions, we traded the most solemn obligations of democracy for a handful of flimsy fantasies. Without the lies, the insinuations, and the rationalizations, without the manufactured threats and empty promises, we might have had a better war. More likely we would have never had a war.

I, and so many others, had the common sense to see where we were headed, and tried to stop it. I wish I had the wisdom to see how we could get out of it now. But I think I can guess where people like Krauthammer are going. Except for trite and empty phrases, they will never take any responsibility for what happened, for the disaster they so eagerly cheerleaded. Instead, they will blame others abroad, and their fellow citizens at home. The "liberal media" and the "terrorist sympathizers," they will tell us, betrayed our troops, stabbed them in the back. It's a refrain we've heard before, here after Yalta and Vietnam, and elsewhere with horrible consequences.

We know better.

posted by Dan S. on 9:12 AM | | link

Tuesday, November 21, 2006
Couldn't Call It Unexpected, No. 2:
Mind the Gap! (The Children of Color Left Behind Act).

In other unfortunate and entirely unsurprising news, Schools Slow in Closing Gap Between Races
When President Bush signed his sweeping [No Child Left Behind] education law a year into his presidency, it set 2014 as the deadline by which schools were to close the test-score gaps between minority and white students that have persisted since standardized testing began.

Now, as Congress prepares to consider reauthorizing the law next year, researchers and a half-dozen recent studies, including three issued last week, are reporting little progress toward that goal. . .

“Not only have all boats stopped rising, but the boats that are under water are sinking further down,” said Bruce Fuller, an education professor at the University of California, Berkeley, who contributed to the study."

Again, sadly, no surprise. To be very brief and oversimplistic, NCLB is a bizarrely punitive law, mixed in with some extra funding that doesn't even manage to cover the new requirements (many of which are frequently considered a giveaway to test-prep and testing companies, along with the manufacturers of ideologically friendly prepackaged curricula). The implicit assumption appears to have been that teachers and schools were just being lazy and not trying hard enough, so all one had to do was "hold them accountable," and threaten them - like workers slacking off and spending the day on blogging or fantasy football - and the gap would magically improve! Uh, no.

Perhaps it's a bit of a stretch, but I can't help but see parallels to our Iraq policy. There's the same whiff of magical thinking, the promise of nice but wildly unlikely results, the obstinate refusal to engage with complicated, multifacteted reality, the insistent belief that all one needs are adequate supplies of Will and Force to fix any problem.

In reality, while this is a complex issue, there's one glaringly obvious aspect: the presence of persisting social and economic inequality in society and in our schools. The refusal to come to terms with this (or even really ever admit it) ensures that NCLB will fail. Which, some have argued, has been the point all along. (I think it's enough to note that it's designed as if the goal was to be a failure, since there are various reasons why this might be so).

In related news
New York State’s highest court ended a landmark legal fight over education financing [Nov. 20th] , ruling that at least $1.93 billion more must be spent each year on New York City’s public schools — far less than the $4.7 billion that a lower court called the minimum needed to give city children the chance for a sound basic education."
Thirteen years of litigation, and the New York Court of Appeals endorses the low-end figure (although it will be slightly revised due to inflation) from a Pataki-appointed commission report back in '04. Well, almost $2 billion is certainly something, at least . . .

At one point in 2002 - and this really sums it all up for me - the Appellate Division overturned the previous ruling and said, in a majority decision authored by the misnamed Justice Alfred D. Lerner, no, there wasn't really a (state constitutional) problem. After all (due to some tortured reinterpretations of a "sound basic education"), the state was only really required to ensure that children without other resources had be offered a eighth-to-ninth grade education, and New York was managing that, so what's the fuss? (And they meant offered - the fact that nearly a third of students weren't receiving any sort of diploma, even one testifying to an eighth grade or so level of mastery, was judged to be irrelevant). Of course, as the Court of Appeals pointed out the following year
First, as to employment, the Appellate Division concluded that the trial court "went too far" in construing the ability to "function productively" as the ability to obtain "competitive employment" or, indeed, as anything more than "the ability to get a job, and support oneself, and thereby not be a charge on the public fisc" (295 A.D.2d at 8). More is required. While a sound basic education need only prepare students to compete for jobs that enable them to support themselves, the record establishes that for this purpose a high school level education is now all but indispensable . . .

Second, as to other aspects of civic participation, the difference between the trial court and the Appellate Division centers on our statement in CFE that a sound basic education should leave students "capable of voting and serving on a jury" (86 N.Y.2d at 316). The State's expert on educational psychology, Dr. Herbert Walberg, testified that pattern jury instructions and newspaper articles typically feature vocabulary and sentence length comparable to those of texts eighth-graders are expected to be able to read. Based on this testimony, the Appellate Division concluded that the skills necessary for civic participation are imparted between eighth and ninth grades (295 A.D.2d at 8). The trial court, by contrast, concluded that productive citizenship "means more than just being qualified to vote or serve as a juror, but to do so capably and knowledgeably" (187 Misc.2d at 14 . . . )--to have skills appropriate to the task.
That's the kind of thinking we face. The Times article mentions that the new decision "will also almost certainly embolden opponents of increased spending for the city schools." Whether they not they mean to (or even realize it), such people are also opponents of New York City's children.

posted by Dan S. on 7:57 AM | | link

Couldn't Call It Unexpected No. 1:
Attack of the Frankengrass! (GM Grass Gone Wild)

From NPR, Super Grass Spreads Beyond Its Oregon Test Plot
A new genetically modified strain of grass has proved to be resistant to a reliable weed killer. Now the plant has spread beyond its test plot in central Oregon, and scientists and environmentalists are concerned about the possibility of "superweeds."
The audio's refusing to work for me right now . . . ah, here we go, a NY Times article from this summer. Basically? Scotts Miracle-Gro and Monsanto decided to create and test a Roundup Ready version of the creeping bentgrass - that is, to genetically engineer creeping bentgrass to be resistant to Monsanto's popular Roundup herbicide, as has been already done with various crops you are eating and wearing. The idea is that it could be planted on golf courses - of course - so that Roundup could be applied to wipe out competing plants: synergy gone biological. Which, to be fair, if we have to have golf course monocultures, would be better than some of the alternatives.

But then there was a little problem (realistically, a few little problems) at the central Oregon test site:
APHIS alleged that, on two occasions, Scotts failed to notify APHIS about the accidental release of Roundup Ready Creeping Bentgrass (RRCB), which resulted from unanticipated wind events at a field test site in Jefferson County, OR and carried dried RRCB seed heads beyond the field test location. Scotts provided a mitigation plan and committed to additional control measures outlined in a Compliance Agreement with BRS. In addition to paying a civil penalty, Scotts was required to implement training and procedures to prevent future violations. BRS is currently conducting an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) to evaluate whether a petition by Scotts and Monsanto Company to deregulate RRCB poses any plant pest risks. This is the first time BRS has conducted an EIS in response to a petition for deregulation.
Unanticipated wind events. Ya gotta love it. Anyway, while an EPA study two years ago had found bentgrass pollen miles away from the site, the more recent study revealed a small number of genetically engineered plants growing in the wild - some from seed, some hybridized - up to over two miles away from test site zone. It's the first time (that we know of) this sort of thing has happened in the US.

Now, wild Roundup Ready creeping bentgrass is far from the worst thing that could happen - there's some concern about pesticide-resistant superweeds creeping over public lands, and it could conceivably damage the grass seed industry - centered in the nearby Willamette Valley - if other countries ban their products due to proven or suspected contamination. It's just that this is so ridiculously predictable, especially given the nature of the grass - able to spread by itself (unlike, say, corn), with light windblown pollen, and many wild relatives growing nearby . . . and remember, the idea's to have it on golf courses all over the country. Note also that marks another first: " the Agriculture Department is doing a full environmental impact assessment before making a decision. It will be its first involving a genetically engineered crop." I certainly don't think genetically engineered crops are inherently evil, but corporate-influenced lack of oversight, that's another matter.

posted by Dan S. on 7:03 AM | | link

Monday, November 20, 2006
Lots More Kathryn From The Corner

So, I'm still trying to figure out Kathryn Jean Lopez's argument, apropos of the appointment of anti-contraception anti-abortion oxytocin-obsessed Eric Keroack to oversee the $280 million reproductive health Office of Population Affairs (new motto: 1.8 unwanted pregnancies prevented a year = 1.8 million missed opportunities for forced childbearing. Yeah, it's a little clunky, but I'm sure they're working on it). To recap:
Lopez asks:Does Anyone Really Disagree with This?
A Bush administration HHS nominee is getting grief for his involvement with a pregnancy center that believes: "that the crass commercialization and distribution of birth control is demeaning to women, degrading of human sexuality and adverse to human health and happiness."

Passing out contraception without any deeper context or conversation is degrading and disrespectful — to men and women. Tell me I'm crazy.
Well, without context it does sound pretty crazy, and I'm not familiar enough with anti-contraception, anti-women's reproductive autonomy, pro-natalist ideology - fringe US Catholic, fringe Protestant, or fringe-fringe We Need More White Babies!! versions - to come up with it myself, so I went looking around the Corner for more.

Fellow Cornerite John Podheretz thought that calling contraception demeaning to grown-up woman was pretty crazy, so Kathryn replied
But the fact is one does not have to be an opponent of contraception to think that we have a contraceptive mentality in our culture that is in fact demeaning. Where we give kids condoms instead of teaching them why waiting would be of some value — for a lot more reasons than not getting pregnant.
Well, I'm still a little fuzzy what a "contraceptive mentality" is, not being tuned into the theocon dogwhistles - is it connected to the "culture of death"? Of course, comprehensive sex ed. both teaches adolescents about condoms and why waiting, for a while at least, might be a good idea. One happy side effect is that if they don't wait, those kids, not being fed abstinence-only fibs, are actually informed about ways to reduce the risks of pregnancy and STDs. Y'know, one interesting tune I have been picking up in anti-contraception discourse is that maybe teen pregnancy isn't so bad - compared to contraception.

Anyway, I'm skipping over an old piece of hers that she tenatively links to, How Birth Control Changed America For the Worst - maybe more later, but if you read it, I'd advise How the Pro-choice Movement Saved America to cleanse your palate. Almost mirror images - shorter Lopez: If they think they can avoid the consequences, people will run around having sex! And why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free - or have it refrigerated for whenever you need it!!). Next up, she provides a quick emphasis:
A contraceptive mentality is demeaning to women and men. It's dehumanizing something that's essentially all about life. Dehumanizing human sexuality is depressingly perverse and at the root of a whole lot of heartache.
Ah. And I suppose in a way I agree. Sex is essentially all about life. Sometimes it's about the wonder and worry of making new life. Sometimes it's just about celebrating life, with the one you love - or the one you're with, but to be honest I rather prefer the former. And sometimes it's about both. And like a lot of life, from cars to cellphones, one should try to be decent, caring, and respectful to others. Dehumanizing human sexuality - for real - is at the root of a lot of heartache. Pity that for Lopez it seems just about making new life, and the only dehumanization worth really worrying about isn't, say, blessedly defeated laws that would have forced rape victims to bear their rapists' children, but any sort of sex that doesn't involve both a wedding ring and a new human-to-be.

Next Kathryn finds another old article she wrote about a Protestant couple talking just good sense:
The Torodes take the Word literally when it comes to the meaning of marriage: Remember, for instance, this: "God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. God blessed them; and God said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it" (Genesis 1:27-28). And this: "He answered and said, 'Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female,' and said, 'For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate'" (Matthew 19: 4-6).

Artificial contraception, the Torodes say, puts up a barrier that doesn't belong in a Christian marriage.

The Torodes write that "Respect for the one-flesh mystery of marriage gives us serious qualms about the use of contraception. To invoke St. Paul's analogy, would Christ ever withhold any part of himself from the Church, or sterilize his love?" As they understand it, "anything less than a true one-flesh union fails to represent the completely self-giving love of Christ for the Church. This is why we believe that when a husband and wife have serious reasons to avoid pregnancy, it's better to abstain for a time than to diminish the meaning and mystery of sex."
Now, I tend to think that on a certain level everyone has the right to my - wait, no, I mean their! - opinion. At the same time, such attitudes are trying to shape - in abstinence-only ed funding, in family planning misappointees - our wider society, which presumably makes them fair game for public mockery. And while my academic training makes me want to understand this, it's really hard not to start giggling, because in some ways this isn't worthy of even vestigial respect: it's theology at the level of a poorly written Christian romance novel.
Like the [previous] pope [wrote] extensively, the Torodes believe that contraception is not consistent with a "culture of life." [Ah-hah! - DS] But they believe that most pro-lifers haven't even thought through it. Both the Bible and Catholic thinkers, the Torodes contend, have much to teach couples about married life and, well, life — whether they're Catholic or not.
Evangelicals are known for engaging the culture. Contemporary Christian music, for example, often mimics the sound of "secular" music while adding Christian lyrics, as though the music conveys no message of its own. Problems arise when we begin engaging the culture and end up marrying it. [It's the gay marriage slippery slope! First you get man-on-dog, then you get men marrying box turtles, then you have evangelicals marrying their native culture! -DS]

Our culture tells us that sex is really about pleasure, not spousal unity and procreation. Thus, in order to stay culturally relevant, many Christians stress that it was God who designed sex to yield pleasure. From this legitimate starting point, however, some Christians end up elevating pleasure above the procreative and unitive aspects of sex. In so doing, they unconsciously buy into our culture's hedonistic pursuit of pleasure as an end in itself.
Now, mindless disregarding-of-others hedonism, as an all around approach to life, maybe not so good. And they're right to note that our culture stresses it (if they ever figure out why (no, not the "gay agenda"), there are a couple of issues the left and the theo-right might be able to talk about). But what we have here is a whole 'nother matter entirely. As tristero wrote this spring (that most titilating of seasons - and in early May, too!) about The War On Fucking:
Oh, about the title of this post. I originally was going to call it "The war on sex," but changed my mind because that simply isn't accurate. It is fucking the rightwing opposes. The ecstatic, transgressive, transcendent, life-affirming, overwhelmingly selfish and also ego-obliterating ecstasy that is sex.
As Amanda points out,
Selling the idea that you personally don’t deserve pleasure, you peon, is done by the church’s tacit acceptance of Natural Family Planning. NFP gives lie to the idea that the church is completely anti-contraception. NFP, after all, is a form of contraception. Proponents of NFP say they like that it’s “natural”, which implies all other forms of contraception involve hormones or changing your body in some way, which isn’t true at all of barrier methods. Where NFP is different than other forms of contraception, and why it’s the only acceptable method for the anti-choicers is that it’s the only one that demands that you sacrifice spontaneity and pleasure, because you can only have sex at appointed times. NFP is acceptable to anti-choicers because it’s anti-love and demands that lovers refrain from sexual pleasure and bonding, at least some of the time. It drives home the message that your body isn’t yours to share and enjoy as you see fit.

Which is funny because the official line of the anti-choice Catholics and now Protestants who are enamored of this anti-joy approach to sex is that their approach to sex is somehow more loving than those who use more reliable contraception. Of course, the word “love” is how they sell the philosophy that sex should be about domination, in this case male domination of women. . . .

The argument that a couple who is fucking without contraception are “giving” to each other is a straight-up argument that sex is about male domination. The man’s “gift” is to orgasm; the woman’s “gift” is to suffer one pregnancy after another. . . . The only way to convince people that treating a woman like an incubator is respect is to spread even more misogyny by arguing that women who fuck for pleasure are whores. And so the anti-choice view of “love” comes down to the idea that women are debased and that men are so elevated that women should treat getting pregnant again as a gift because they’ve been blessed by the Holy Sperm. In other words, sex is about male dominance.
And we should notice that, as Kathryn tells us,
The [Torodes'] book is about much more than the contraception question though. Bethany makes a beautiful argument in favor of stay-at-home motherhood, and other choices the Torodes believe are keys to successful matrimony.
Now, this is a complicated subject, and it's entirely possible that the 21-year-old Bethany Torode, who already had given her husband one young son, has been deeply fulfilled - or at least reasonably ok - with this life choice. Hard not to notice, though, that this ideology works out - the way our society is structured - so as to help keep women at home, out of the working world, the professions, etc.

If this all sounds a little too religious, though, Kathryn gives us secular proof
"that the crass commercialization and distribution of birth control is demeaning to women, degrading of human sexuality and adverse to human health and happiness" is obvious. Evidence will be at many a bar, in many a pint of Ben & Jerry's, etc. this evening.
Because nothing like that ever happened before the Pill. And these ladies really better watch out, because eating pints of ice cream just has to produce, as Keroack tells us,
an elevated level of endorphins which in turn lowers the level of oxytocin. Therefore, relationship failure leads to pain which leads to elevated endorphins which leads to lower oxytocin, the result of which is a lower ability to bond. Many in this increased state of emotional pain and lower oxytocin seek sex as a substitute for love, which inevitably leads to another failed relationship, and so on, the cycle continues.
But that's what you get when you shack up with Ben and Jerry.

I really wanted to actually analyze these ideas, and argue for why they're so . . . hateful, but that's just not going to happen right now, so here, read some more Amanda
So there you have it–anti-choicers are anti-sex all right, but they’re also anti-marriage, anti-child and anti-woman in real life terms, not in airy, abstract religious horseshit terms. They want sex to be a point of tension, not joy, in couples’ lives. They want children to be so numerous they can’t be cared for properly. And they want women to be resigned to a choice between being treated like whores or treated like incubators.
- including her a post on some of the Kathryn Kraziness (Hormonal contraception: The driving force behind the smashing success of middle-aged hippie-created ice cream, indeed!). I'm going to go listen to some Marvin Gaye, that'll make it all better . . .

posted by Dan S. on 9:25 PM | | link

To The Muse.
. . . Oh Jenny,
I wish to God I had made this world, this scurvy
And disastrous place. I
Didn't, I can't bear it
Either . . .
-James Wright, To The Muse.

posted by Dan S. on 6:13 PM | | link

The Republic of Dreams, The Country of Nightmares.

. . . I was a moderate liberal. In my imaginary republic, there was space for everybody — Baathists, socialists, liberals — as long as you didn’t hurt people or persecute them or impose your style of thinking or living on others.

When the Americans invaded, I was ready to shake hands with the devil himself to remove Saddam Hussein from power. I didn’t think the Americans would be able to give us liberty or democracy, but I thought they would give us the space to build that imaginary republic. . . .

. . .Some time later, a friend offered me a job with an Iraqi organization called Development and Democratic Dialogue. Three or four days after I started working there, my friend was kidnapped while giving a lecture at a university. Before he died I’d told him, “Don’t give a lecture in the same place twice.” But that’s what he did. We were like soldiers without weapons: you go and give lectures, but you don’t know what’s going to happen to you when the lecture is finished.

I think the Americans, as we Iraqis understand them, are two entities. There’s the Army in Iraq and the politicians in Washington. The American policy people wanted to give us democracy and liberty the same way you give me a shirt, so I can wear it right away. But the general opinion in my country, especially among extremists, is that America went into Iraq only for one reason: to terminate Islam and Muslims. Those who aren’t so extreme say that America invaded Iraq only to steal the oil.

The American Army, on the other hand, we know for sure is not an abstract entity; it is a bunch of people, every one of them different from the others. They are under very, very intense pressure. People hate them, people are attacking them, and of course this pressure can lead to many mistakes. They destroyed everything and thought they could rebuild from scratch. Maybe this could have worked if people loved Americans or understood what they were doing. But people already hated America . . .

- Omar Ghanim Fathi, in today's New York Times

posted by Dan S. on 8:07 AM | | link

Sunday, November 19, 2006
Crazy? I Was Crazy Once . . .

. . . they put me in a rubber - which one shouldn't pass out without any deeper context or conversation, or it will be degrading, to men and women. Right?

Ah - ok, maybe this needs a bit of context. The first part's an odd little middleschoolish chant; I can't find any mention of an origin, and it may be an actual piece of childlore (or an obvious piece of piece of pop culture I missed somewhere along the line?). There are various versions, some slightly more involved than others - the big perk, however, is that it's a loop, like the infamous Song That Never Ends.
Crazy? I was crazy once. They put me in a rubber - a rubber room, that is. I died there. Then came the worms. Worms? I hate worms! They make me crazy! Crazy? I was crazy once . . .
And so on and on potentially forever, slightly maddening world (or worms) without end. The version I know seems a bit unusual, at least going by googlesearch standards, in its mild graveyard gruesomeness (rats or even ants often replace worms, and some don't involve the addled narrator dying at all), and its touch of innuendo-ish misdirection. - But while I do find this genuinely interesting, it's somewhat of a delaying tactic. After all, I don't know to approach the second bit, which is seriously weird.

Over at National Review Online's The Corner, Kathryn Jean Lopez asks:
Does Anyone Really Disagree with This?
A Bush administration HHS nominee is getting grief for his involvement with a pregnancy center that believes: "that the crass commercialization and distribution of birth control is demeaning to women, degrading of human sexuality and adverse to human health and happiness." [For more on the kinda crazy-sounding and very crackpottish Eric Keroack - who as a chief o f family planning programs will be overseeing some $238 million annually in government grants that are "designed to provide access to contraceptive supplies and information to all who want and need them" - read for example Feministing,Pandagon, or Pharyngula. - DS]
Passing out contraception without any deeper context or conversation is degrading and disrespectful — to men and women. Tell me I'm crazy.
And of course, across the blogosphere - and not just the lefty part - folks have been happy to oblige, with everyone from Tristero to Andrew Sullivan joining in for a big "Ok - you're crazy! (Kevin Drum, quite characteristically, asks readers to tell him that he's crazy).

I can't quite agree, though. She's not crazy, it's that her thinking is, ah . . . disordered. And no, that's not just a quasi-snarky reference to the hopelessly-out-of-touch document about ministering to gay Catholics recently approved at the big bishops' meeting (although I believe she bases her view in that tradition). This kind of thinking really seems out of order, mis-structured, confusedly jumbled, broken. Granted, having lived a sheltered life, I've only recently realized that the anti-contraception crusade (U.S. version) consists of more than five people, and that somehow they're taken seriously by folks who can actually spell. Additionally, what's quoted above is the whole of her post, with no other context or explanation: as Kevin noted " she thinks it's inconceivable that anyone would disagree with this view of contraceptives." So I don't have all that much to go on, and the whole thing sounds like the garbled meanderings of a dead idea (then came the worms I hate worms they make me crazy) but I can try . . .

The first thing that jumps out is the infantilization of adult men and women, who - whether or not they can handle the truth - are assumed to be unable, somehow, to handle the idea of contraception without some sort of patronizing "context or conversation". Now granted, some people do have trouble with the mechanics and/or the fine details, which is why us reality-based folks generally support comprehensive sex education - but I doubt that's what she's talking about, and anyone holding her view is unlikely to support that.

The next? Well, it sounds a bit like that point on the 'attitudes towards sex' wheel where distaste/disgust and a sort of chastely flushed over-veneration meet (and occasionally mix - people are weird). The common ground is that sex is one way or other sort of taboo, outside and below/above actual daily life. It's something - especially the latter - that I tend to associate with a occasional phase - self-righteous and very innocent, and usually happening somewhere in adolescence - often tempered by eventual experience. Most grown-ups come to realize that sex is (hopefully) a part of life, an important/amazing/rewarding/ frustrating/deeply intimate/transporting/add any and all adjectives you feel might apply/ part of life, to be sure, but still a part of life. - I can almost hear Ms. Lopez complaining in outraged shock after hearing grown-up women talk frankly about sex (if she listens to teens, she might well swoon).

Or [this part added the next morning], she could think it's degrading to men and women because the passer-out is implicitly assuming that the passee might well at some point be having The Sex! Possibly out of wedlock!! And regardless, conceivably not for the purpose of procreation!!! Why this is supposed to be degrading, I rather (obviously) don't quite get. Certainly there are folks who don't believe - personally, or generally - in nonmarital sex, or even nonprocreative sex, and that's ok . . hey, it's a free country . . . but like Kevin said, she seems to be under the impression that everybody, rather than a small minority, actually shares her view. And given that the physical setting for this whole scenario appears to be family planning clinics or possibly pharmacies, it's rather like, say, a Orthodox Jew insisting that a restaurant offering bacon cheeseburgers is degrading to people, or a strictly traditional Muslim insisting that Victoria's Secret - or Fashion Bug - is degrading to women . . .

And this kind of condemnation isn't just about wild-n-crazy multiple-everything-sex-with-various-devices - it very much includes even contentedly-vanilla-sex-within-marriage. Which brings us to the religious aspects (are there any others?) of the anti-contraception crusade; for example, that same bishops' meeting I mentioned also produced another document, Married Love and the Gift of Life, which argued that "When married couples deliberately act to suppress fertility, sexual intercourse is no longer fully marital. It is something less powerful, less intimate, more casual" (original italics). Which of course suggests that this group of never-married celibate men don't just unsurprisingly fail to grasp the daily (and often economic) realities of grown-up life that they've been sheltered from, but also fail to understand all that much about marital intimacy. When a couple's deliberately act[ing] to suppress fertility 'cause of, y'know, the whole plans for a shared life together, it's not more casual, it's less so. -Just to approach this argument on its own premises. In the end, I can only understand this as, deep down, springing from the belief that sex is bad, but can be tolerated as a guilty pleasure as long as - and only as long as - it's carried out for its proper natural-law cause: makin' babies! (And of course the last part of that - that people having sex always have to be at least open to having babies is quite explicit; it's the the first part that seems to be scrunched down).

-But - throwing up hands - I really don't understand this whole thing (and I say this as someone who has been occasionally uncomfortable with the way birth control pills have been marketed, and does think there's various messages o' hypersexualization being sent by society that can, in various ways, be pretty degrading - if from different causes and for different reasons than these folks). I keep trying, but all I can hear are nonsensical ramblings; sterile, repetitive craziness . . .

crazy? I was crazy once . . .

posted by Dan S. on 9:36 PM | | link

The March of Regress.

Over at Feministe, Jill asks, "If it’s wrong for public schools to be segregated by race, why is it justifiable to segregate them by sex?" Excellent question, but "wrong for public schools to be segregated by race"?

. . . That's next.

Via Atrios: Ruling: Classes divided by race: At Preston Hollow, principal tried to appease affluent parents, halt white flight, judge says.
For years, it was an open secret at North Dallas' Preston Hollow Elementary School: Even though the school was overwhelmingly Hispanic and black, white parents could get their children into all-white classes. And once placed, the students would have little interaction with the rest of the students.

The result, a federal judge has ruled, was that principal Teresa Parker "was, in effect, operating, at taxpayer's expense, a private school for Anglo children within a public school that was predominantly minority."

Judge Sam Lindsay's opinion paints an unflattering picture of the elementary school and a principal who was so desperate to appease the school's affluent white parents that she turned back the clock on school desegregation 50 years. . . .

. . .The judge also had sharp words for the district's attorneys, who argued that segregation would cause no harm to the minority students because their teachers used the same curriculum as those teaching white students.

"The court is baffled that in this day and age, that [DISD relied] on what is, essentially, a 'separate but equal' argument," the judge wrote.
. Of course, this is just one story out of many, across the country - often coming out of the court-ordered ending of desegregation plans. And on we march, backwards into the past . . .

posted by Dan S. on 3:49 PM | | link

Media Queen Bees . . . or Wannabes?
(Or, Fast Times at Beltway High).

There's a nice back and forth blogversation between Digby and (the wonderful) Sara Robinson at Orcinus about the sudden return of what's been dubbed Kewl Kids/Mean Girls (horrible-high school-flashback) journalism. Digby starts out talking about how folks are almost instantly back to operating on Clinton Rules Redux:
They are partying [on MSNBC] like it's 1999. Norah O'Donnell, Lawrence O'Donnell, Mary Ann Akers and some other person I don't know have just spent half an hour discussing the fact that Nancy Pelosi ruined her own honeymoon and now it is really quesionable whether she can lead. . . . After a thorough discussion of how hapless the Democratic nerds have already proven to be, Mary Ann Akers whispers that reporters all over town are "loving" this story. It's so much fun! . . . The spite girls are back in town. It isn't so much a matter of substance. . . .That's not the problem. It's that the patented 90's style smug, juvenile, derisive Kewl Kidz tone is once again ooozing through everything they say. . . .

I knew it would happen in one form or another. . . The DC press corps hates having to criticize Republicans. Republicans make them feel all icky and call them liberals (which they so, like, aren't!) I confess, however, that I'm a little bit awed by how smoothly they have transitioned back into their assigned roles. . . I guess I didn't realize how much they've missed their fast times at DC High
Sara responds with excellent advice on how to respond - to Bring On the Angry Liberals, Redux:
Back in the 70s, when the GOP were the media's angry loonies, they played into it without apology. By their analysis, there was plenty wrong with the country, and their rage was totally justified. . . Their willingness to look angry made them look strong, full of conviction, and worthy of respect. This was a huge part of how the Republicans turned the PR tide in their favor in the late 70s and early 80s . . . It will work for us now -- but only if we consistently, reliably, choose firm defiance over spinelessness every time, and make it clear that they're taking the risk of devastating public humiliation every time they open their giggling mouths . . .

Yeah, they'll hate it. They'll yell and squeal and say all kinds of nasty things about us -- for a while, anyway. The Kewl Kids always hate it when the grownups start messing with their games. They say all kinds of nasty things behind the teacher's back, and start slam books dissing the vice principal. They're adolescents. That's what they do.

But, eventually, they'll have to learn to live with it. Because what we're really after here is to sound powerful and adults who say what they mean and mean what they say, and have better things to do with their time than play high school cafeteria games. They can afford to goof off with trivialities. We, on the other hand, have a country to run, and are not about to let a bunch of stupid children get in our way.
Moving on, she stops to actually look at the Kewl Kids and Queen Bees, noting that
The image of the mainstream media as a gaggle of adolescent Kewl Kidz giggling and sneering in high school hallways has been in circulation as a stock lefty blogger meme for a few years now. But I don't know that anyone's really stopped and taken a look at the deeper implications of that analogy -- or the possible solutions it might point to, especially what we know these days about "relational aggression," which is what this precise form of bullying is called when it happens in schools.
Indeed, she proceeds to not only do just that - via parenting websites and Wiseman's Queen Bees and Wannabes - but also adapts anti-relational-agression strategies into a list of strategies liberals can use. Digby bounces off her post with some additional talk about Shrinking the Kewl Kids. Meanwhile, Gleen Greenwald has a detailed post on the Beltway Attacks on Nancy Pelosi, pointing out how
She's not even Speaker yet, and they've already pronounced her to be a bitchy, vindictive shrew incapable of leading because she's consumed by petty personal bickering rather than serious and substantive considerations. And all of this is based on nothing.
He goes in to demonstrate how what's being said is mostly "all based on giggly chit-chat and gossipy garbage that has no legitimacy other than the fact that they all repeat it in unison on television and in print," or (however regrettable) standard-issue Washington politicking. On top of that - and this is the big point for me -
that's to say nothing of the fact that the Hoyer-Murtha race is being depicted as some sort of sign of hateful Democratic in-fighting that shows Pelosi has lost control, even though Republicans are mauling each other for every single House leadership position, all of which are hotly contested.
See, I'm less picky than Digby, who doesn't mind the substance, but the tone. Certainly I'd prefer an aggressive and substantive fourth estate that would help root out corruption and misgovernment across the board, but if the media just felt the need to sound like a bunch of bipartisan high school Heathers - as he depicts Maureen Dowd in his Shrinking post . . . Well, it's not the best thing for democracy, but I think it would be a relatively simple matter to marginalize them in favor of Serious News for Serious People (left or right), and lessen the damage. Thing is, that personality type just inherently doesn't work this way, and for years now they've decided that the GOP is their BFF - Republicans Rule, Democrats Drool! And all this despite apparently knowing just who these guys were, if the editorial director of of is to be believed (via Kevin Drum):
This is a story I should have written 12 years ago when the "Contract with America" Republicans captured the House in 1994. I apologize.

Really, it's just a simple thesis: The men who ran the Republican Party in the House of Representatives for the past 12 years were a group of weirdos. Together, they comprised one of the oddest legislative power cliques in our history. And for 12 years, the media didn't call a duck a duck, because that's not something we're supposed to do.

Politicians in this country get a bad rap. For the most part, they are like any high-achieving group in America, with roughly the same distribution of pathologies and virtues. But the leaders of the GOP House didn't fit the personality profile of American politicians, and they didn't deviate in a good way. It was the Chess Club on steroids.
Mean Girls and Kewl Kids with a big honkin' crush on 'roid-raging Chess Clubbers . Very, very odd.

I feel I should add some sort of original though here at the end of all this, so: I'm not a very good political junky, and for a while I've tended to avoid the cable political gabfests and such (since it's not really fair to make my wife put up with non-stop spittle-spray screaming at the tv screen for too long - not that she would), but I've been watching a fair bit around the election, and . . . Hmm, not sure how to put it, the sense I got. It's not that many of these folks think that the Democratic victories are illegitimate, not exactly . . . More like it's very much not in the natural order of things, that the world turned upside down (-allegedly the tune the British played during the surrender at Yorktown).

And that gets us back to Sara's point, because the wider context for that kind of standard middle-to-high school aggression reflected here is in the growing pre- and adolescent need to fit in, to find and be assured of one's place, the near-frantic enforcement of conformity (sometimes in nonconformity, granted . . .), the deep desire for peer approval. Of course, now they're in the adult world, the rewards - both monetary and social - are much higher, but the dynamics seem bizarrely the same. And that's why, perhaps, they're not just eagerly shifting to anti-Republican sniping. The "fear of the growing horde of furious right-wing letter-writers [that] eventually conditioned every news editor in the country to involuntarily wince before saying anything nasty about these people" that Sara and others have mentioned, the constant drumbeat of "Liberal Media Bias!!", even all that post-presidential-election pontificating about Red and Blue America (I blame Brooks! - but perhaps that's a bit of a bee in my bonnet) - it's all been very powerful. It's quite arguably convinced the mediafolks, on a very basic and internalized level . . . not even that Republicans are cool, but that Republican dominance, movement conservatism is the Real America (tm), the Natural Order of Things, the Way It's Supposed to Be. Any change is a temporary abberation, like peasants and Fools getting to act like nobles and kings for a day - something humorous, mockworthy . . . and, if it threatens to be an actual change, almost frightening. How will one know how to act, where one stands? (Which isn't to say, of course, that there aren't other considerations, down to the nature of media consolidation, corporate ownership, and the learning curve for bread-buttering.)

This has to stop. It's not good for the Democrats, sure, but more importantly, it's not good for the country.

And really, when you get down to it, the preening media types so aren't the Kewl Kids or the Queen Bees. Those roles have been filled by others, generally in positions of political power. They're either - going by Wiseman's article on Girl's Cliques: What Role Does Your Daughter Play over at iVillage, the Sidekicks
She notices everything about the Queen Bee, because she wants to be her. She will do everything the Queen Bee says. The Queen Bee, as her best friend, makes her feel popular and included.
or the Wannabe:
She will do anything to be in the good graces of the Queen Bee and the Sidekick. When two powerful girls, or two powerful groups of girls, are in a fight, she is the go-between. However, the other girls eventually turn on her as well. She'll enthusiastically back them up no matter what. She can't tell the difference between what she wants and what the group wants.
Meanwhile, to bounce off that site's Clique First-Aid Kit, there's been a good bit of Democratic and/or liberal strategizing that sounds more than a little like "[v]ictimized girls [who] mistakenly think, if they were just prettier or thinner, then they wouldn't be teased" (which is not to make light of the girls' situations). If we just weren't so pro-choice, if - as Amy Sullivan keeps telling us - we just were more religious, why, maybe they'd like us, they'd really like us! Uh-uh. Now, one can argue the pros and cons of various policies & strategies, big tents & local races, etc., etc, etc - but playing into this sort of narrative is just ridiculous. As has been repeatedly pointed out (and is true in the sadly non-metaphorical case) it's not really about us. For example, as everybody always tries to tell Amy, however the Democratic Party should approach religion, the whole notion of (apparently) hordes of anti-religion politicians speechifying about Dawkins and trying to ban Christmas is just ideological bullying (as well as base-meat). Like all good lies, there is a piece of truth buried inside it, but it's one that many Americans might well consider in a different light. And so on.

posted by Dan S. on 12:38 PM | | link

what is a bog?
Definitions, definitions
1. ". . . one of North America's most distinctive kinds of wetlands . . . characterized by spongy peat deposits, acidic waters, and a floor covered by a thick carpet of spagnum moss." *
2. A relentless, hard-driving mix of political commentary, recipes, idle ramblings, and so on.

More about bogs here.

why "the bog"?
Something about the blog format made me think of spagnum moss slowly growing, forming layer after layer of peat deposits many feet thick, sometimes preserving (in Europe) ancient bodies . . . Also, it rhymes.

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Songs currently stuck in my head
despite all my best efforts

"My Happy Ending," by {yech} Avril Lavigne:
"Let's talk this over,
It's not like we're dead . . "

and "Laiska" by Varttina:
Laiska luotu laulmann
oikosormi soittamaan
yskin oita viettelen
unetonna laulelen

Toppling off the bedside book-pile:
Classroom Management for Middle-Grades Teachers , C.M. Charles & Marilyn G. Charles
Teaching U.S. History as Mystery, David Gerwin & Jack Zevin
Crossroads of Continents: Cultures of Siberia and Alaska, William W. Fitzhugh & Aron Crowell
Arctic Crossing: A Journey Through the Northwest Passage and Inuit Culture, Jonathan Waterman
Northern Tales: Stories from the Native People of the Arctic and Subarctic Regions, Howard Norman (ed.)
Life in the Cold, Peter J. Marchand
Wandering Through Winter, Edwin Way Teale
The Winter Vegetarian, Darra Goldstein

Teas of the week:
Tea of Good Tidings: Winter Fruit Blend,
The Republic of Tea
Russian Caravan,
Jacksons of Piccailly

on the web:
Land of links:
The American Prospect
Common Dreams
FAIR: Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting
The Nation
The Progressive
Washington Monthly

Organic Consumers Association
Eat Wild (pasture-based farming)
NOFA: Northeast Organic Farming Association
Consumer Supported Agriculture
Edible Wild Kitchen


Blogging away:
Vassar blogs
And yes, we've been co-ed since '69...
E's Den
Useless! Worthless! Insipid!

Other blogs
Alas, A Blog
Atrios' Eschaton
Body and Soul
Daily Kos
Digby's Hullabaloo
Dispatches From the Culture Wars
Echidne of the Snakes
Feminist Blogs
Interesting Times
Late Night Thoughts asleep?
Long story; short pier
Making Light
Mouse Words
One Good Thing
The Panda's Thumb
Respectful of Otters
The Sideshow
Sisyphus Shrugged
Matthew Yglesias

old peat (archives):
December 22, 2002
December 29, 2002
January 12, 2003
January 19, 2003
February 2, 2003
February 16, 2003
February 23, 2003
March 2, 2003
March 9, 2003
March 16, 2003
March 23, 2003
March 30, 2003
April 6, 2003
June 8, 2003
October 5, 2003
January 16, 2005
October 22, 2006
November 5, 2006
November 12, 2006
November 19, 2006
November 26, 2006
September 16, 2012
December 23, 2012

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