sphagnum moss, dark water, and politics
Saturday, December 28, 2002
Leave them kids alone!
To tired to write, but look at this New York Times article. To quote:
Rigorous testing that decides whether students graduate, teachers win bonuses and schools are shuttered, an approach already in place in more than half the nation, does little to improve achievement and may actually worsen academic performance and dropout rates, according to the largest study ever on the issue.
Why is anyone surprised? More later, when I'm awake.
posted by Dan S. on 2:03 AM | | link
Friday, December 27, 2002
Spicy Parsnip Soup
Chop up 1 onion, a small piece of ginger, and a jalapeno pepper (remove seeds, ribs too if you want it less spicy)
Soak dried chile in hot water until soft, then chop up
(quanity and kind can depend on your tastes)
Peel & chop 3 parsnips and 1 carrot
Saute onions, ginger, jalapeno and chile in oil
until onions are nice and soft
Add parsnips, carrots, a little salt
Cook until they start browing around the edges a little
Add vegetable stock and/or water - 3 or more cups
Bring to a boil, then simmer, partly uncovered,
until veggies are very soft, roughly 35 minutes
Blend up the soup (ah the joy of hand blenders!)
Season to taste, & enjoy!
Would be nice with cilantro, and a good dollop of coconut milk in the end would probably be nice and creamy . . .
posted by Dan S. on 12:26 AM | | link
And a child is born. . .
Well, the Raëlians say that have the first newborn baby girl clone (see article here). Assuming this is legit, I can’t imagine anything good coming of it. Great, we have a cloned baby girl. Didn’t you guys bother to notice what happens to a lot of the sheep clones? They kinda died. . .
On a lighter note, the New York Times describes the Raëlians as:
. . . followers of Raël, a French-born former race-car driver who has said he met a four-foot space alien atop a volcano in southern France in 1973 and went aboard his ship, where he was entertained by voluptuous female robots and learned that the first humans were created 25,000 years ago by space travelers called Elohim, who cloned themselves.
How does one write that with a straight face?
posted by Dan S. on 12:00 AM | | link
Wednesday, December 25, 2002
Oh, just grind us up for dogfood and get it over with already…
In the New York Times today is an article about how White House aides are urging Bush to cut taxes on corporate dividends 50%. "The 50 percent cut would cost the Treasury more than $100 billion over 10 years, and the tax benefits would overwhelmingly flow to the nation's very wealthiest taxpayers," it says . . .
posted by Dan S. on 8:48 PM | | link
Things that fall down
And it’s still snowing in the darkness, those tiny little snow-grains that get blown every which way and only eventually end up on the ground. Early this afternoon the backyard looked like a culinarily-inclined giant was slowly sifting flour down onto it, but by evening the big guy had apparently gotten impatient and dumped the whole canister out. . .
What a day - between Christmas and snow there was hardly anyone outside besides some woman walking her corgis and a few determined folks trekking out to buy a Powerball lottery ticket. I half-considered getting one, but what would I do with $280 million?
There’s something about the steady falling of snow, especially with little wind, that reminds me of watching waterfalls. It’s that same implacable abundance; not the kind symbolized by full tables or piles of presents, but one to which we are simply irrelevent . . .
posted by Dan S. on 8:46 PM | | link
Tuesday, December 24, 2002
Snow, snow, snow!
It's snowing, it's snowing!
"They say that every snowflake is different. If that were true how could the world go on? How could we ever get up off our knees? How could we ever recover from the wonder of it?"
-Jeannette Winterson, "The Passion"
posted by Dan S. on 11:54 PM | | link
T’was The Night Before Christmas, 2002 . . . by Dan Solomon
T’was the night before Christmas, 2002
Getting fired was rough, but we tried to make do.
The stockings were hung (if a little threadbare),
In hope that St. Nicholas soon would be there;
The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of Xboxes danced in their heads;
I tiptoed downstairs for a last look around,
but you’d never believe what it was that I found;
Standing there was a man dressed in a red suit
but he was stuffing his sack chock-full of OUR loot!
"Santa!" I cried, "Have you gone round the bend?"
‘Til I realized it wasn’t our jolly old friend;
When I saw who it was my heart dropped like a rock,
and what I must tell you will be quite a shock;
So you better sit down and cushion your tush,
‘Cause it wasn’t St. Nick, but that son-of-a-Bush!
I said "Why are you sticking our gifts in that sack?"
He said "What do you mean? I’m putting them back!"
"But look, your bag’s labeled ‘to the top 1%,’
and we’re finding it damn hard to just pay the rent!"
"Oh, it doesn’t say that!" Bush said as he peered,
"Just look!" I exclaimed, but the bag had disappeared!
In its place was a little note left on the floor,
that read "Thank you, Bush! Don’t forget - tax the poor!"
Bush sighed and said, "No, you’ve got this all wrong,
I can prove it to you if you just come along."
He grabbed for my hand and suddenly with a *poof!*
We were right up on top of my very own roof!"
No sled with tiny reindeer stood in front of me,
But a great big gas-guzzling SUV!
At 10 mpg we rose into the air
I pointed and said "Weren’t there trees over there?"
Bush said, "Yep - A National Park just full of fires,
Until I had an idea that was downright inspired;
It turns out that fires need wood, don’t you see,
You can get rid of fire - just chop down every tree!"
We drove onward and into a thick, choking cloud,
Bush straightened up and said, "Now this makes me proud;
I worked hard to get rid of that ‘new source review,’
And now just look what our factories can do!
It only gets better (though I don’t like to boast),
The wind blows it all right onto the East Coast!"
We blew by an poor city public school next
Rooms full of kids drilled on standardized tests
Not a dollar to spare on music or art,
Or anything else that might grab a kid’s heart;
An underfunded mandate - that school’s stuck in a bind
Bush smiled and said ,"Look, No Child Left Behind;"
Gassed up at ANWR, and over the Pole we did go
Where I saw Santa stranded on a tiny ice floe
"Santa! Hop on and we’ll get you out of here -
but whatever happened to all your reindeer?"
"Global warming brought rain that froze over the snow,
Where the lichen they eat during wintertime grows;
Without enough food," he said with tears in his eyes,
Poor Rudolph and Co. are just too weak to fly!"
Right then the ice cracked and he slid overboard,
That gift-giving man whom all children adored;
and the last thing I heard as we roared away
was "Merry Christmas to all, and to a . . ."
Whatt happened after that, I can’t really say,
My head started to spin and it all just went gray;
I got faint, lost my grip and fell out of the "sled,"
and fell down
down into . . . bed?
It was all just a nightmare - oh, what a relief!
I’ll vote, get involved, turn over a new leaf!
I ran downstairs for Christmas day celebration;
Family and presents and great elation,
My wife unwrapped her gift - and her face filled with dread,
"Darling, what is it?!" I exclaimed, and she read:
"From your old friend W, cause I have a hunch,
you might need them soon - maybe even next month."
By then I was sure that I shouldn’t have asked,
But I looked anyway - at our new gift gasmasks.
posted by Dan S. on 10:40 PM | | link
Shameless Steele . . . by Dan Solomon
I should be in bed, but I just can’t pass this one up. In his Dec. 18th column, Shelby Steele was fretting over how Lott damaged the effort to convince minorities of the value of conservative principles when he blurted out:
"How do you say, I'm against policies designed to help you, but I'm not against you?"
Yep, that’s a tough one, alright.
posted by Dan S. on 1:57 AM | | link
All of gall is divided into three parts . . . by Dan Solomon
Part One: Conservative Review - In the Country of the Colorblind . . .
Charles Krauthammer recently wrote a column on how the Lott fiasco has exposed the tripartite nature of the conservative world, the division according to him being unreconstructed paleoconservatives who didn’t understand what the fuss was about, traditional conservatives who were only concerned about order, appearance, and politics, and - light breaking through the clouds, the rising voices of a heavenly choir [it being the season, Handel’s Messiah] - neoconservatives, reformed liberals who champion colorblindness. Neoconservatives, sole remaining standardbearers of the Civil Rights movement! Neoconservatives, whose former allies have fallen into the loathsome error of racial preferences - affirmative action and suchlike!
Krauthammer’s neoconservative stone tossing has produced not a few ripples among the rightward sort online. Both Andrew Sullivan and Jonah Goldberg have made intelligent comments on the nature of generational change among the conservatives; with different degrees of asperity, they both claim the mantle of colorblindness for traditional/other conservatives as well. Dan Drezner picks this up and posits a truly interesting trans-ideological split between dour, leaden pessimists (racists and those - most liberals - who feel racism is an incurable cancer requiring drastic societal surgery) and optimists, children of the post-Civil Rights era for whom the world is a hopeful, ever-improving candy-colored land of free, easy and enjoyable intercourse between all kinds and classes of people (I mean this mostly in the vanishing sense of social intercourse, but see also Randall Kennedy’s article on Interracial Intimacy). While not explicity stated, again we have the conservative principle of a colorblind society, which has receieved a great deal of stress from its adherents in this post-Lottblundergate period, not least in a quite stunning piece by Shelby Steele on the democratic imagination; while I disagree with his conclusions most strongly, it is a stirring and even beautiful formulation.
Colorblindness, so it would seem, in the modern conservative imagination is the fulfillment in our time of that famous speech; the triumph of character over color, the dissolution of discriminatory treatment (positive or negative) based on such a meaningless externality. It is a noble and necessary sentiment - for the year 2025. We’re not there yet. I wish we were.
. . . 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, I don't blame you, sleeping down there
Face down in the unbelievable silk of spring,
Muse of the black sand,
James Wright, "To the Muse"
Part Two: What I don’t know can hurt you
There were two interesting studies done recently. One had subjects play a video game where they had to shoot armed criminals and spare civilians. In the other, white participants looked at news stories (with photographs) about violent and nonviolent crime and then had to pick out the guilty parties from a photo lineup. (Of course, all this speaks multitudes about society today, but we’ll pass over that.)
You already know the results. The virtual unarmed black men - carrying cellphones and, yes, wallets - were more frequently shot, and the black suspects in violent crimes were more frequently misidentified. In a surprising development - to anyone who lives in a cave - "racial attitudes had no impact on participants' ability to correctly identify the race of a criminal suspect," or on their performance in the shooting game. That is, they were uniformly bad. The crime-story people also noticed a small but noticeable tendency for subjects to link white suspects with non-violent crime.
Another version of the video game (no doubt coming to a mall near you next Christmas season) has been used in a different study with near-identical results - plus the interesting twist that the black participants were similarly trigger-happy. Then again, they were college students at the University of Washington. The piece goes on to discuss other studies, including a push-button ''implicit association test'where subjects were quicker to hit computer keys when they saw words and pictures that went together according to a stereotype then ones that conflicted. "People taking the test on race," the researchers said, "are often upset at having displayed biases that they neither agreed with nor approved of."
I would imagine so.
Part Three: Sticks and stones . . .
A colorblind society is a noble asperation, but research like this seems to quite literally put the lie to any policy claims, and even - regretfully - at lot of the optimism of Drezner’s happy bright young things. That is, it is hard to see how imposing colorblind policies on such a world today will have any positive benefits, hard to see how they could fail to have negative repercussions. Of course, things have gotten a lot better, but the video game article notes that the current studies merely are the latest in a thirty-year-old body of research, all with the same sort or results. If you try hard, you can wriggle out of this depressing conclusion. But should you try?
There’s an interesting piece in the NY Times by Geoffrey Nunberg that adds something - I’m not sure what - to the issue. Nunberg talks about "The Shifting Lexicon of Race" in America. In the 1950s, "prejudice," as promoted by psychologist Gordon Allport - an all-purpose term with no fixed or special object - was simply a cognitive error, merely "faulty generalization." You could realize you were prejudiced and with hard work fix the problem. Nunberg links this idea with belief in the beneficial effects of integration, as well as the tenor of Trent Lott’s apologies. In the 1960s, however, ‘prejudice’ was dropped in favor of an growing range of "-isms" - most significantly, "racism" - that lay coiled beneath the reach of introspections, leached through from (unconscious) attitudes into behavior and had more the character of pathology, even mental illness.
What does one make of crime-news and video game studies? On on hand, they do smack of media-spawned overgeneralization; as one of the crime newsresearchers noted notes, "Essentially, people's 'mismemories' of violent crime news seem to implicate all Black men rather than the specific individuals who are actually pictured." The two teams of video game researchers are debating whether police officers are less likely to shoot unarmed black men given their training - that is whether these things are amenable to 50s-prejudice-style self-improvement (I can think of some folks who could answer that, but they’re not talking . . . anymore). On the other hand, the unconscious nature of these biases fit squarely in the racism camp - not the pathological hatred variety, but something almost more disturbing. Just think, it mattered not one bit what self-reported attitudes, what surely honestly-held beliefs those subjects reported. You can feel the a bit of the optimism draining away.
Nunberg claims that the right, in its defense of a colorblind society, is playing malicious semantic games - "using the words of the 60's with the meanings of the 50's to convey the message of the 40's."
I would think the degree of ill-intent varies, from Lottian dinosaurs to earnest young true believers. But you know, it almost doesn’t matter.
Conclusion: Building a misery
Of course, it does - oh, that we could just close the doors of those labs, so this violence and and injustice were visited solely upon pixels and photographs, not real flesh, real lives. . . and oh yes, the upcoming Supreme Court decision regarding University of Michigan admissions is surely going to have very real effects.
But what if we were granted a wonderful gift; what if we could make it all go away, what we could - not through policy, but through the force of wishing it - bring about a truly colorblind society. What then?
"Prejudice" and "racism," in their popular senses, are simply inadequate. We have to turn to ideas and modifiers that are widespread in academia but have mostly failed to make it off campus and out of those long-worded books. Take structural racism, in its most literal sense. According to NPR, there are only a handful of cities - possibly just one - where black people don’t live further from work than whites. The damn thing’s built in the landscape.
That might seem like an insignificant difference, but take the Neandertals. They’re not around anymore, not even - according to latest studies so far - as whispers in our DNA. We don’t know why, and we may never know for sure, but one clever fellow plugged a bunch of numbers into a computer and came out with results that suggested that only the slightest edge in reproductive success would have been enough for our ancestors to quite unintentionally wipe Neandertals off the map and into extinction within a mere thousand years.
I don’t mean to draw any parallels here; I certainly don’t see us sinking into a slow-motion race war. It’s just that small things can make a difference. There’s a small sociological cottage industry studying, for example, how lower black homeownership rates decades ago have repercussions today through (among other things) the financial drain caused by the higher cost of renting, and the absence of home equity, and so on.
"Mismemory". It’s something that seems to pop up a lot lately, in the identification of newspaper subjects and in the rewriting of history, unintentional or not. Take a look at America in the immediate post-war period without the soothing benefit of "colorblind" glasses, and you see a vast government-financed shifting of white people (including previously-marginalized ethnics) out to the growing suburbs, ‘protected’ by restrictive covenants, serviced by new highways, often educated by the G.I. Bill (whose applicabilty and enforcement among black people was greatly skewed by discrimination), and followed by industry.
When the Philadelphia Inquirer ran a feature about the legacy of suburbanization not long ago, it was quite a thing to see the letters insisting that prejudice had nothing to do with the writers’ long-ago decision to leave the old neighborhood. . . Of course the move to the suburbs happened for many reasons, and in some cases the race issue may truly have been absent. But to wipe away all the low-voiced conversations about what to do when "they" came, the rampant blockbusting - and then, of course, following the waves of white out-migration, the degeneration of services, the redlining supported by the federal government, and so on, and so on - to wipe away that mix of personal memory and well-documented facts is an act of mismemory on a par with any of the others we’ve heard about lately. But again, it almost doesn’t matter, in a sense; whatever the attitudes, we’re left with the world we live in, one that is hard (though by no means impossible) to change.
There’s been great progress, including the much-publicized historical presence and recent expansion of the black middle and upper-middle class. But to say that we should respond to the gross differentials of the past and their persistant effects by abolishing attempts to put things right, that if we just try not to think about it, things will work out - that’s not a reaffirmation of American principles. That’s a betrayal of them.
posted by Dan S. on 1:23 AM | | link
Sunday, December 22, 2002
A Lott to say . . . by Dan Solomon
Now that the curtain's finally closed on the Lott debacle - the first act, anyway - I think it's time we all take a deep breath, look around, reach out . . .
and smack anybody who was even the slightest bit surprised. Hard.
Now, I don't mean to say that all Republicans are unreconstructed racists; that's clearly untrue. But as we’ve all heard by now, that infamous comment nestles quite comfortably among its peers - in word and deed - like an unselfconscious bigot at an all-white country club. There has been plenty of criticism of the media for failing to ever connect the dots or break the code, and for spending days babbling mindlessly while bloggers both left and right singlehandly kept the story from swirling down the memory hole. (Now that they’ve tasted power, who knows what the bloggerati will do next? The sense of unbounded promise, the palpable energy - it almost feels like the 90’s again!) But that first part of that story is, well, a myth.
Back to the Future
As Frank Rich pointed out in his NY Times column, just about this time four years ago, the NY Daily News’ Stanley Crouch was starting his months-long expose of Lott’s ties with the good ol’ C of CC. Nor was Crouch a lone voice crying out in the media wilderness. Poking around the web, I found a FAIR (Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting) piece decrying media sluggishness - "When racism is the issue, media are slow to dig." Turns out Crouch was only one among an admittedly tiny handful of folks - most notably the Washington Post’s Thomas Edsall and Colbert King and the Alanta Journal’s Cynthia Tucker - who focused on Lott’s worrying record way back when.
But there was something odd about the FAIR piece. There was no mention of a certain birthday party, no discussion of Lott’s stunning indiscretion, a curious focus on ex-U.S. Rep Bob Barr, no citations past ’99 . . . Once I stopped skimming and started reading, of course, it was obvious. The piece, which began, "The current scandal involving Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott" and laid out Lott’s now-nefarious history, from the Bob Jones U. tax exemption fight to his Southern Partisan interview (and don’t forget theh voting record!) . . .was from the summer of ’99.
Apparently that controversy started when Alan Dershowitz and Barr clashed at the impeachment hearings (wow, that brings me back). Dershowitz dug up a C of CC speech Barr gave and waved it around. Barr held up his hands and backed away - sound familiar? - but by then clever folks were already digging through old news reports and turning up names, among them Trent Lott’s.
Admittedly, FAIR ain’t exactly mainstream media. Admittedly, back then the nation was probably too transfixed by Monica Lewinsky’s lips to bother with what might have come out of Lott’s a few years earlier. But the truth _was_ out there, all dressed up, but with nowhere to go (perhaps it should have worn a blue dress?)
Besides the above mentioned writers, FAIR claimed that "[j]ournalists we’d contacted at the Associated Press (12/11/98), Washington Post (12/12/98) and Los Angeles Times (12/13/98) responded with stories focusing on Majority Leader Trent Lott’s links to the CCC," and that, some weeks later "Lott's long-term ties to an old-fashioned bigoted organization are beginning to get the attention they deserve (New York Times, 1/14/99; L.A. Times, 1/26/99)."
Episode II: Attack of the Clones.
Back here in 2002, the media is slowly remembering about the army of Lott clones hidden in Republican ranks; people with simliar voting records and institutional ties. According to the Dec. 13th New York Times, the list of Republican politicos who’ve given "lengthy interviews" to Southern Partisan includes "Attorney General John Ashcroft, former Senator Phil Gramm of Texas, Representatives Dick Armey of Texas and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and former Speaker Newt Gingrich of Georgia."
Ashcroft gave an interview to Southern Partisan?! What next, a revelation that Paul Wellstone subscribed to the Nation? I don’ t think my ticker can take it, Martha - better call Dr. Frist! But of course, Ashcroft’s 1998 Southern Partisan interview was widely reported back when he was but a wee Attorney General nominee, as was the 1999 honory degree from Bob Jones University, and so on. Here, for example.
Yep, ABCNews.com. They also mention - I’d missed this bit - that Ashcroft twice vetoed attempts by the League of Women Voters to do voter registration in Democratic-leaning St. Louis - bills that "would have implemented the same voter-registration procedures already used in the more heavily Republican areas of the St. Louis suburbs." There are, of course, some other differences between St. Louis and its suburbs . ..
Interlude: Song Clip
"I heard you sing a rebel song
sung it loud and all alone
we can't afford the things you say
we can't afford the warranty . . ."
Indigo Girls, "Become You"
Setting the Record Straight
"Your magazine also helps set the record straight. You've got a heritage of doing that, of defending Southern Patriots like Lee, Jackson, and Davis. Traditionalists must do more. I've got to do more. We've all got to stand up and speak in this respect, or else we'll be taught that these people were giving their lives, subcribing their sacred fortunes and their honor to some perverted agenda."
-from John Ashcroft’s 1998 Southern Partisan interview
I don’t know if this is a glimpse of live, vicious racism, or the historical misrememory, the failure to make certain connections, so common among people whose great-granddaddies did bad things. Bravery and honor were not lacking on the Confederate side, but they were all unquestionably squandered. How can one argue otherwise? There’s been some interesting discussions about how Lott seemed to have simply never thought very hard about the past he lived through, let alone the one looming behind him, never really came to terms about what it meant. Perhaps.
In 1913 Gettysburg was home to the largest-ever reunion of Civil War veterans, over 50,000 members of both the Grand Army of the Republic and the United Confederate Veterans, now old men and rapidly passing into death. To quote the National Park Service, "Former foes walked together over the old battlefield and re-lived the terrible days where so many of their comrades had lost their lives." During the event [and I may have my facts wrong here with all my papers still packed away] the aging solidiers staged an reenactment of Pickett’s Charge. This time, however, events unfolded differently then they had 50 years and a lifetime ago. This time, the Confederate line didn’t break, decimated by Union guns. The gray-haired Confederate veterans charged up Cemetary Ridge as they had failed to do so many years before. This time, they finally reached the top, and fell upon the aged Union veterans - not with bayonets, but tear-stained cheeks and open arms.
The reunion helped symbolize the final coming together of the once-sundered nation - a reunification, of course, eased by the virtual erasure of the former slaves, abandoned at the end of Reconstruction to decades of terror, to nightriders and lynchings, cross burnings and segregation. After all, for much of the nation, the story of the the Civil War was primarily one of breakage and reunification - hence the stress on "one nation, indivisible," in the Pledge of Allegiance, composed in 1892 - not a moral narrative in which the bloodshed of the war was both retribution and redemption for the national sin of slavery. Ironically, this latter image often occurs today in opposition to reparations for slavery.
The past is easy to change. Or rather, the meaning of the past is easy to change; it happens all the time; the long-dead veterans that day at Gettysburg who turned a slaughter five decades past into a stirring reaffirmation of national unity; Ashcroft praising Southern Partisan for ‘setting the record straight,’ defending Confederate honor from accusations of a "perverted agenda;" those educators he opposes, teaching a history of the Civil War that refuses to make that disjunction between the soldiers’ valor and the reality of what it was, after all, that they were fighting to defend, the Confederate politicians’ principles and the obscenity that underwrote them.
Let’s not change the past this time, though. The media didn’t fail to connect the dots. The reporting might have been sporadic and sparse; it might have lacked the saturation of the Clinton scandal or the Enron story, but it was there. No one should have been surprised. There was no revelation.
posted by Dan S. on 5:49 PM | | link
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