Saturday, October 6, 2007

You're a Terrorist, You Just Don't Know It Yet

Via BoingBoing....

Computer and behavioral scientists at the University at Buffalo are developing automated systems that track faces, voices, bodies and other biometrics against scientifically tested behavioral indicators to provide a numerical score of the likelihood that an individual may be about to commit a terrorist act.

"The goal is to identify the perpetrator in a security setting before he or she has the chance to carry out the attack," said Venu Govindaraju, Ph.D., professor of computer science and engineering in the UB School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. Govindaraju is co-principal investigator on the project with Mark G. Frank, Ph.D., associate professor of communication in the UB College of Arts and Sciences.

Uh, folks? Minority Report was a work of fiction. It didn't really happen.

To say nothing of the moral implications of something like this.

Friday, October 5, 2007

One Small, But Important, Point

Digby on the modern Republican Party:

It's all wrapped in the warped worldview I described above, in which the Democratic party is not just wrong, it's fundamentally illegitimate.

Operating under the belief that one must completely destroy one's opposing political party vs. the belief that one must win on policy and politics grounds are two very different things. I think the Dems are playing the latter game, much to their detriment.

Affirmative Action For White People!

Via lots of places, this Boston Globe story on some rather interesting characteristics of incoming or first-year college students. (I try to avoid using the term "freshmen" since I think saying "men" and meaning "people" is stupid and sexist.)

From the story:

Surf the websites of such institutions and you will find press releases boasting that they have increased their black and Hispanic enrollments, admitted bumper crops of National Merit scholars or became the destination of choice for hordes of high school valedictorians...

What they almost never say is that many of the applicants who were rejected were far more qualified than those accepted. Moreover, contrary to popular belief, it was not the black and Hispanic beneficiaries of affirmative action, but the rich white kids with cash and connections who elbowed most of the worthier applicants aside.

Researchers with access to closely guarded college admissions data have found that, on the whole, about 15 percent of freshmen enrolled at America's highly selective colleges are white teens who failed to meet their institutions' minimum admissions standards.


The story is full of interesting information about the college admissions process. For example:

Except perhaps at the very summit of the applicant pile - that lofty place occupied by young people too brilliant for anyone in their right mind to turn down - colleges routinely favor those who have connections over those who don't. While some applicants gain admission by legitimately beating out their peers, many others get into exclusive colleges the same way people get into trendy night clubs, by knowing the management or flashing cash at the person manning the velvet rope.

Historically, that meant white people (and often white men), since conscious and overt racism kept people of color out of college for a long time. Now, since white people have the advantage of legacy and historical presence, connections-based admittance means that more white folks get admitted in this fashion. This is one more example of how racism that happened in the past can still effect the world today.

Another great point:

Just 40 percent of the financial aid money being distributed by public colleges is going to students with documented financial need. Most such money is being used to offer merit-based scholarships or tuition discounts to potential recruits who can enhance a college's reputation, or appear likely to cover the rest of their tuition tab and to donate down the road.

An old friend of mine, once the student body president at her university, told me she thinks that merit-based aid needs to be completely abolished and replaced solely with need-based aid. I suspect this is one reason why. (The larger argument is simply that folks who can get to college on merit are more likely to have the means to pay for it themselves; those who qualify for both merit- and need-based aid can still qualify for need-based aid, and would not require the merit-based stuff.)

I hope this goes a long way towards pointing out the reason that affirmative action is still necessary.

Other folks are talking about this too: Jack and Jill Politics, TAPPED, and Atrios.

A Clarification

One commenter and Lebanon Truth have both pointed out that I seem to be attributing some sort of bias to Lebanon Express reporter Larry Coonrod for his statement in yesterday's DH story.

I want to clarify, as it seems I was not clear enough to communicate what I wanted: I think what the Express is doing is right in this instance. Public records are public, and the school board should not have three members colluding outside a meeting to suspend the Superintendent. Whether or not one agrees with this, Debi Shimmin's work records - just like any other person employed by a governmental agency - are not private.

That said, Coonrod's statement, which I agree with the substance of, can easily be understood (or misunderstood) as placing him in opposition to the anti-Robinson crowd, who don't see the need for the public records request or the investigative journalism in the first place, because the only thing they see as wrong in all of this was that Robinson was reinstated.

Do I think that is the right interpretation? No, not at all. But I think it's a possible interpretation.

Do I think Coonrod should have taken the care to craft a statement that would have accommodated those folks who are inclined to see bias in his work? No, not at all. He stated, I assume, the truth as he understands it.

Do I think Coonrod has a pro-Robinson bias? I have no clue what his personal beliefs are - but his quote does not, as I personally understand it, reveal such a bias.

Rather, I was trying to point out that what he did say, as a vigorous defense of the public's right to know, could be understood, from a particular perspective, as something else entirely - rightly or wrongly.

Pointing out alternative interpretations of public statements or actions, or playing the devil's advocate, by the way, is one of the things I am trying to do when I post on Lebanon. It's just the way I have been trained to look at things.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

A Strange Story

Perusing the online DH late this afternoon, I found this story by Jennifer Moody. She's been the DH reporter writing about the Lebanon School Board and related issues.

The story, which basically just announces the fact that the Lebanon Express put in a public records request some time back to the city for the public records of School Board member Debi Shimmin, is one of the strangest things I have seen in a long time. From the story:

LEBANON - Journalists at the Lebanon Express say they asked for phone and e-mail records from two employees at City Hall to investigate allegations that school board business was being conducted on city time.


The Express has received a bill for 318 records reviewed in connection with the request. The paper has not yet paid for nor seen the materials.


“We received information that led us to believe there may have been communication having to do with the board’s decision to put Jim Robinson on paid leave on city time using city resources,” [Express editor A.K. Dugan] said.

However, she added: “We’re investigating allegations. We don’t know what we’ll find. The allegations may turn out to be all wrong, but nobody knows until we’ve finished with the investigation, until we’ve seen what we requested.”

This is essentially a non-story. Many people know about the public records request; I'm sure it was hot gossip when it happened, and Debi Shimmin made reference to it during the board meeting in which Robinson was reinstated. So it's not really news in that sense. That makes me wonder why it ran in the first place. My guess: Someone, or several someones, complained to either the DH editor or DH publisher about what they perceived as biased coverage, or possibly just complained about the story not being covered, being under the impression that this story is news.

It's also highly unusual to write a story about a public records request, seeing as how they are not that uncommon in journalism circles, do not constitute an investigation and do not, in and of themselves, show any results.

On the other hand, such a request is certainly news in Lebanon, I suppose, just due to the rarity of the event. Still, I'm not convinced it's worth doing a story on - better, perhaps, to include the fact that it happened in the eventual story that reports on the results of the records search.

But what about the story itself? Is there anything we can learn from that? Well, we learn that the Express is going to receive 318 documents. That strikes me as a large number, but since I don't really know much about records requests, that could be par for the course. I do wonder, however, if those documents are going to be redacted (and here I am just running off knowledge of how the federal government has been dealing with FOIA requests in the last few years). In any case, Express reporter Larry Coonrod has his work cut out for him.

Anything else in the story? Yes - Coonrod's statement near the end of the story, for one:

Coonrod, the reporter who asked the city for the records, said when Shimmin joined Rick Alexander and Josh Wineteer in voting to place Robinson on leave, it appeared the three had communicated prior to the meeting and reached a decision about what they would do.

“If the public’s business is not going to be done in public, we’ll use extraordinary measures to make it public,” he said.

This is a very, very touchy statement for me. On the one hand, journalists and print newspapers have long served as a foil for governmental secrecy. There's a long history of that in the United States.

On the other hand, Coonrod's statement can easily be read as an activist's (and not a reporter's) statement - and I'd bet that's how it's going to read to the anti-Robinson crowd. Granted, I get the sense that crowd already doesn't like Coonrod or the Express, but still. This is potentially fuel for the fire. I'm not saying it's wrong (in fact, I love investigative journalism), merely that the tone that comes across in the quote is not as, um, conciliatory as it could have been. It comes across as Coonrod taking sides - not the side of truth and openness, which I suspect is how Coonrod (or any other halfway decent journalist) views it, but the side opposite the anti-Robinson folks.

Let me put it this way: Many people view a reporter's job as simply reporting the news without having an effect on anything, without creating change. That's a false statement - reporters change the terms of the public debate every time they file a story, simply due to the fact that their words become common knowledge. So change is going to happen - but given that many folks are under the impression that a newspaper's job is to report, and not create, the news, the quote is not likely to win Coonrod a lot of friends.

Finally, there is this statement:

Shimmin was the target because of the question about the use of public resources, Dugan said. “We’re not out to get Debi.”

If I'm already suspicious of the Express at this point, then I see this as a confirmation, perhaps, that in fact Debi was and is a target. (This holds particularly true if I were under the impression that someone "threatened" Shimmin to change her vote regarding Robinson.)

Also, if I'm the Express, then this is one of the few legitimate avenues I have to do investigative work. Shimmin's records as a city employee are public - of course the newspaper will do a records request. So in that sense I agree that it's not about Shimmin, but probably about getting any information possible - hence the use of keywords as a filter (anyone know what the keywords are?).

Also, does anyone know what Lebanon charges for this kind of records request? My experience with this sort of thing is that bureaucracies charge so much money as to create a barrier that prevents almost all individuals from doing this - which is, in essence, a barrier to citizen participation in government.


It just struck me that not only are assumptions are often factually wrong, but they are epistemologically wrong as well - we use them as if they were knowledge, but they are in fact just stand-ins for real knowledge.

Chris Matthews on The Daily Show

This interview has been making the rounds. I just finally saw it.

It's brilliant. It's incredible. It's incredibly brilliant and funny and - and this is the most important part - it is representative of how the mainstream, talking head, Beltway media is so pathetically insane, and as a result, why our the national level of discourse is so disgusting.

(Of course, there are other reasons. But this is so central, so key, that you should watch and learn.)

Chris Matthews has a show on MSNBC called Hardball. He is perhaps THE talking head of the TV media in some ways. It's been known for some time that he has some strange views on sex, gender, and how they relate to politics, but this - this is a window into the mind of someone who, I think, has inverted the relationship of politics to reality: To Matthews, politics creates reality. Reality should aspire to be like politics. Needless to say, I think that view is insane.

Stewart destroys him. Matthews knows, to some extent, that this is happening - and the audience does as well. It's brutal, but it's worth the watch:

More Tools for Communication That Might Apply to Lebanon

I dug some handouts out of a binder from a training I attended once - and I still think they are some of the best concepts around to start to understand how our own communications styles and how they effect other people. I'd like to try and explain the two main concepts contained in said handouts in this post - but beware, this is first in terms of format for me, so I'm not sure how this is going to turn out. Plus, it turns out I'm a really bad lecturer in all formats.

I should give credit to Eric H.F. Law, who I believe was the originator of these. Also, much of the language is taken directly from the handout with little to no modification.

Concept #1: Power Distance Communication.

These can be separated into High and Low Power Distance, but I should note that they are a continuum rather than two discrete forms. Also, it should be noted up front that one person is not bound to one particular style, but can both change over time and change depending on the situation.

High Power Distance: Individuals who view the world with a high power distance believe that there is inequality in the world and accept that as a fact of life. Signs of high power distance may include (1) a lower trust level, (2) higher levels of desired protocol, (3) a desire to figure out the role of everyone in the room before participating, and (4) a need for more context before action can be taken.

How HPD can play out: People who are high power may have to work harder at building a safe environment (which is necessary for open and honest communication); they may be happier if they are together rather than interspersed with low power distance folks, at least at first. High power folks are more likely to be concerned with "what's in it for them." High power people have little tolerance for folks who think everyone in the room is equal. Finally, since lower power distance folks think of low-level high power folks as weak, said low-level folks may get run over quite a bit initially.

By the way, these attributes are generally understood as applying to group work, the workplace, etc - how folks interact with each other in social situations. In this case, think of a school board working group, a staff meeting at the district office, or even a teacher's meeting in one of the academies are Lebanon High School.

Low Power Distance: These folks believe that power is shared by many and high power people are either elitist (if they are at the top) or weak (if they are at the bottom). Lower Power Distance people may (1) downplay the importance of hierarchy, (2) have a low level of protocol, (3) feel that people should try to look less powerful than they are, and/or (4) feel that people can also gain power through education.

How LPD can play out: LPD folks may simply speak out rather than raise their hands or follow other protocols designed to maintain or maximize order; this may result in their dominating discussions. If a discussion enters the realm of difference, low power folks may show disdain for comments that either valorize the rich or anyone else at the top of a hierarchy.

Examples of these: I would think that something like a law office would be very high power distance, as it contains lots of hierarchy. Certainly military training can create situations that are VERY high power distance, with strict protocols surrounding peoples' roles and who can say what, and when, and to whom. I would think coaches also often follow a high power distance model, with an insistence on everyone knowing the ropes and rules, especially those governing who is in charge (always the coach).

Now contrast that with a group of teachers that get together for lunch every day. Yes, they are aware that some of them have more seniority than others, but by and large, the potential exists for the space created to be one in which everyone is treated as an equal, and formal rules governing the group can be tossed in favor of informal (and sometimes assumed) rules.

I don't mean to imply, however, that something we might normally think of as high power distance can't be low power distance. A staff meeting with teachers, administrators, and district office officials present can turn out to be a very low power distance affair.

And, of course, I should note again that these are concepts that generally apply to people's perspectives; as a result, you might find yourself in a group made up of folks who are all over the continuum and have very different ideas about how the group should or does work. How those perspective mesh, conflict, and play out is often very different, even with the same group meeting multiple times. The point is simply to be aware that different people view the protocols and practices of communication differently, and moreover, that these views can change over time and in different contexts. As a result, I think it's important to pay attention to where you are at on the Power Distance continuum as well as where others appear to be at. It can prevent folks from talking past each other, or getting embroiled in disagreements about how to communicate rather than what information needs to be communicated.

Concept #2: High & Low Context Communications

This concept goes really well, I think, with the first. Context Communications is, essentially, being aware of how much context is transmitted between people along with the information that's going back and forth.

High Context Communicators: When people communicate, most of the information is either in the physical context (body language) or internalized in the person. Therefore, implicit messages are critical. High context people may struggle initially in a new setting as they have to reorient themselves within the new shared context.

How this can play out: A high context communicator might feel the need to speak uninterrupted to get their point across; this may take some time, making others impatient. They may also need more extensive directions put in a context they can work with.

Low Context Communicators: These are pretty common in U.S. society. The low context individual values the explicit codes and pays less attention to the information embedded in messages. They will often need little contexting time; they feel that they can confront new situations with requiring a great amount of time and detailed programming; finally, they may have difficulty functioning in a high-context environment where contexts are constantly in play, since low context folks often are often unaware of their internal context.

How this plays out: Basically, low context folks just want the answer (think more "yes/no" than the "why"). They don't want all the context, which they often perceive as extraneous or wasteful.

When I was introduced to this concept, I was asked to envision a tower. At top of the tower is the piece or pieces of information that need to be communicated between people. The rest of the tower, the foundation, the framework, all the floors up to the top - those are the context that is needed for the information to make sense. A high context person will often feel the need to communicate the entire tower from the bottom up before communicating the information itself. The tower is the contextual information that is perceived as required for the desired piece of information to make sense. If the person listening interrupts, this can be perceived as a need to build a bigger tower - to include more contextualizing information along with the desired information, because it suggests to the high context person that the questioner didn't really understand what was going on.

Needless to say, this can be infuriating for low context folks who just want a 'yes' or 'no' or other short answer.

The way I understand it, low context folks tend to assume the shared context, the tower, between people or groups. As a result, low contexters tend to view all the other communication, the tower-building, as a repetitive waste of time.

It was mentioned above that many folks in the U.S. are low context. I would argue (and it's here that I out myself as preferring high context) that what this indicates is that folks in the U.S. feel like they have a shared context in which to understand and master new information. Personally, I consider this a bad assumption in any group, much less larger groups that may contain people from significantly different backgrounds.

In fact, when wedded with power, I consider low context communications to be one way in which things like white or male privilege are manifested and transmitted: People of color and white women are expected to share the context created by the privileged white male while not being allowed to change or modify the "shared" context at all. Then the "shared" context is considered universal. It can work this way when any kind of power differential between individuals or groups is present, even if all the folks present are, say, white guys - there are certainly other axes along which power is transmitted.

Again, as with the power distance concept, the context communications concept is something that both exists on a continuum and is very mutable and flexible. One person can change over time in the way they communicate, and they can also change depending on the situation they are in. For example, a group of really close-knit friends or coworkers may have developed a shared context around certain subjects over time, allowing their communication to be successfully low context. On the other hand, some of those same folks may adopt a high-context attitude with their students, or in larger staff meetings. Similarly, groups of professional and classified education staff may have their own shared context - but it's important to remember that the context-building in this case needs to be a self-aware and self-conscious process; otherwise, it's easy to get back to that point where a shared context is assumed, and that becomes a barrier to communication.

Concluding Thoughts

I think both of these concepts have a lot of potential when it comes to Lebanon and the problems that have plagued it over the last decade. Certainly there are genuine differences of opinion when it comes to pedagogy and education policy, but (and this is especially true of the last several months) those differences hardly ever get really aired, since communication is, I think, so incredibly poor between folks right now.

Sitting down and thinking, as an individual, about where one falls on these continuums, especially in what contexts, and even thinking about where you think other people fall, is also a good first step to learning how to communicate with one's coworkers and other educational staff more effectively. I know that folks often want to resist doing the internal and introspective work that I'm suggesting, but I cannot express how important that work is: One cannot make others change. One can only change oneself and try and support others as they do the same.

Lebanon Truth wrote a post in which they criticized Rick Alexander (rightly, I think) for not being willing to sit down and read a book on how to be a better school board. While I think the choice of book is hilariously (and seriously) appropriate, I would argue that in addition, what is important for the currently disparate and contentious group of five individuals that are trying to oversee the LCSD is that they take the time outside of board meetings and working groups to get to know each other as people and develop some sort of shared context, some common ground (and maybe some shared values), which they can use as a basis for their work in the future. I have the feeling that Rick Alexander has no intention of doing something like that, as it would require him to actually a) learn about the rest of the board, and b) open himself up to them. But relating to other human beings on a personal level is, I think, a prerequisite for being effective in a work-related situation.


I cannot tell you how many times over the summer - and now extending into the fall - that I have misspelled the word separate. It is not spelled seperate.

It's getting really annoying.

More on the ENDA/Transgender Flap

From Bay Windows....

If only we’d seen the passion, the blog posts and the last-minute organizing by LGBT organizations around a trans-inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) last year. And the year before that. And the decade before that. Just yesterday, a coalition called United ENDA unveiled its website featuring talking points for a trans-inclusive ENDA; legal analysis showing that an ENDA bill that only protects lesbians, gay men and bisexuals will be too weak to actually protect lesbians, gay men and bisexuals (the bill’s failure to protect actual transmen and women is conspicuously absent from the analysis); and an impressively lengthy list of national and state LGBT organizations demanding an all-or-nothing approach to passing ENDA.


There is much concern that if a bill protecting employees solely on the basis of sexual orientation is passed then protections for transmen and women will be forgotten. It’s hard to take that concern seriously given the flurry of support that’s been forcefully expressed for trans rights now that we know a trans-inclusive ENDA simply will not pass in the House as its currently configured.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

It Makes Lebanon Look Like Springtime

If you think the Lebanon School Board (or City Council, for that matter) is dysfunctional, you should check out this post over at Oregon Liberal on the Ashland City Council:

Civil discourse first flew out the window with the election of Eric Navickas in November 2006, evenly splitting the six-member council into two competing factions. With a weak, ineffective mayor leading the meetings, things have progressively worsened. This past Monday may have been the straw that broke the camel’s back when Councilor David Chapman told Navickas to “shut your fucking mouth” during a council meeting.


It's Like Getting Praised By the Devil; Plus, How to Alienate Folks Who Already Dislike You

Item #1

Lebanon Superintendent Jim Robinson was quoted in the Lebanon Express story regarding his return thusly:

Robinson said he believes he can continue to work with the board despite the events of the past two months.

“I do believe in the board majority with its new member and I stand for the same cause, we want harmony and peace and a stronger sense of community,” he said. “We're quite a ways from that, but we're prepared to pursue it.”

That strikes me as not quite the best thing he could have said. Since Robinson is viewed as the devil incarnate by lots of folks, having Robinson praise Debi Shimmin (she is the "new member" of the majority board) does not strike me as helpful. It seems like it will push the anti-Robinson crowd farther away from Shimmin - and may or may not serve to push her into the Robinson camp. It could actually serve to push her away from Robinson, since, to me at least, the quote could be interpreted as assuming Shimmin's allegiance to Robinson.

In other words, all that stuff about "harmony and peace and a stronger sense of community?" It was etched on to the shell casing of the cartridge that Robinson just used to shoot himself (or Shimmin, or both) in the foot with. Not smart.

It's amazing sometimes how much the words and actions of Robinson don't seem to match up. His books talk about leadership, but by all accounts, his abrasive leadership style is what got him in trouble. He talks about building community, then says something that could serve to drive a wedge in between people. I mean, his comment about the new board majority also suggests some sort of permanence to that majority, and I wouldn't be so sure that's the case. And if I'm Robinson and I'm serious about changing and serious about working together to build a community, I don't start by suggesting that two board members don't matter. That seems counterproductive and hypocritical.

I don't get it.

Item #2

The Democrat-Herald ran a story on the latest board meeting that featured lots of stuff on the discussion the board had around the potential district evaluation. My favorite bit:

Assistant Superintendent Steve Kelley repeatedly encouraged the board to keep the investigations in house, saying the district would save money and reap greater benefits by having people work closely together to solve the issues.

Board members who replied to Kelley’s statements, however, said they preferred to enlist a consultant or other outside entity to work on the study in addition to any evaluation the district might do.

Kelley also pleaded for the board to first set a big-picture priority, such as creating a community with a shared sense of belonging and a profession of common beliefs and shared values, as listed on a values statement that hangs on a wall in the board chamber.

The process is what’s important, Kelley said. “The thing I don’t think we’ve learned to do is to agree to disagree respectfully.”

This is dumb. Well, maybe just insulting. I get that in-house stuff is cheaper. That's the nature of in-house work. But there's only two viable reasons I see for Kelley to propose that the evaluation be done in-house:

1. He genuinely believes that is the best option, probably both based on cost and based on his (likely) belief that nothing has happened that warrants an outside evaluator.

2. Robinson and Kelley are rubbing sand in the faces of the folks they just beat, politically.

Come to think of it, I don't think the two options are mutually exclusive. By suggesting that the evaluations are done in-house, Kelley is, in political terms, not showing a willingness to compromise. And since Kelley and Robinson are a team at this point, it also suggests that Robinson is not willing to compromise. Not what I would call a smart move on his part; even if Robinson is basking in the glory of being reinstated (which he shouldn't be), he should at least have the good political sense to not push things so quickly. Doing so only reinforces the idea that he uses power, not compromise, as a primary tool to get things done.

At this point, it seems reasonable to assume that a) something is actually wrong in the district, simply based on the number of people with advanced degrees who are seriously pissed; and b) it's worth spending the extra money to hire an outside (and neutral, both in fact and in appearance) evaluator if that is something that satisfies the folks who are upset. I don't mean placate, especially in the usual pandering/condescending sense; I am suggesting that hiring an outside evaluator rather than going in-house is a good basis for compromise when it comes to the pro-/anti-Robinson forces, especially those on the school board. An in-house evaluation will likely not be taken seriously by anti-Robinson folks, as they already think that Robinson has a hammerlock on anything that happens in the district office.

I'm not sure what Robinson is thinking with this one, either, not really. There is no way that people are going to voluntarily disconnect Kelley's statements from Robinson's, and this move just looks like a power move of exactly the kind that has angered so many people.

I have been inclined to take Robinson's claims that he wants to change the way he operates seriously, both based on my own personal inclinations and the stories that have appeared suggesting he was in the process of realizing he needed to change before he got suspended. But these two examples don't exactly reassure me that Robinson is really intending to build a whole community. It sounds like he is angling to take a chunk of the support from the opposition and use his new and improved majority as a new and improved club. Not cool.

The T in LGBT

From John Aravosis at Americablog, who I disagree with quite a bit, comes a good bit on the inclusion of transgendered persons into the struggle over so-called 'gay rights':

If you're hell-bent on passing ENDA this year, then you don't add a provision to ENDA that you know is going to kill it. And if you were planning on eventually dropping transgendered people from the bill from the git-go, then why add them in the first place, when you know darn well that there's going to be hell to pay when you drop them?


I would argue that the gay community never collectively and overwhelmingly decided to include the T in LGB (or GLB). It happened because a few groups like NGLTF and GLAAD starting using it, and they and a handful of vocal activists and transgender leaders pretty much shamed everyone else into doing it. Now, that's not necessarily a bad thing, and it doesn't necessarily mean that the T shouldn't have been added. I'm just saying that I don't think the T was added because there was a groundswell of demand in the gay community that we add T to LGB. I think it happened through pressure, organizational fiat, shame, and osmosis.

And that is how we got into the mess we're in today.


People are simply afraid to ask any questions about this issue, and those unresolved conflicts are coming home to roost. I know I was afraid to write about this issue, and still am. I thought long and hard about even weighing in on this issue last week. Did I really want to have to deal with people screaming and calling me a bigot? And I've got gay journalist friends and gay political friends who have sent me private "atta boy"s supporting my public essays, while refusing to go public themselves.

There is a climate of fear and confusion and doubt about the transgender issue in the gay community. And no one wants to talk about it. And when you don't talk about your small concerns, when you're afraid to talk about them, when it's not considered PC for you to talk about them, one day those small concerns turn into big problems and the revolution comes tumbling down.

Aravosis says some things I think are probably wrong, but I'm not in much of a position to know answer for sure.

What I do think is that he fails to make one connection that would make this whole issue much clearer.

I think a big reason to add 'transgender' into the mix when it comes to working towards other non-traditional gender rights is simply that: it's non-traditional. What was once, perhaps, a movement for 'gay liberation' for one particular group of people has (and again this is a maybe) morphed into a movement that's working to end a heterosexist/patriarchal system and all the attendant and painful consequences of such restrictions not only on behavior, but even physical identity.

In other words, what was once a movement advocating that gay folks have the same rights as straights evolved into a movement that declared traditional sex and gender categories to be a harmful and inaccurate representation of reality, and as such, said constructions should be torn down - and people should be free to live and love how they please. Yes, there is a significant shift in aims - but I like the new iteration much better, as I see it as much more inclusive, comprehensive, and consistent.

Anyway, I'm curious to hear Aravosis' take (and his reporting of the words of others) on this issue, because it suggests that the point I made above is not actually a commonly held opinion. I'd be curious to know if that's actually true, or if there is something I missing in this debate that overshadows my point.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

The Shock Doctrine

This short film is based on a new Naomi Klein book.

I won't lie - it's sort of horrifying. Watch it.

Jeff Merkley, Dem Candidate for Oregon Senate

Merkley is running for Gordon Smith's seat. I've not followed the Oregon Dem primary that closely, but Steve Novick is the other candidate, and he's got a great style.

That said, Merkley said some really smart stuff in this interview that was posted on Daily Kos. For example:

When you're elected to the Senate what will be your top priorities?


1. End the war in Iraq
2. UHC [Universal Health Care]
3. Completely redirect our energy policy and address global warming
4. Restore and respect the observation of our constitution

For a Democrat, that's not that bad.

One More Difference Between the "Left" and the "Right"

From a book review by Robert Farley over at LGM (the book is God's Harvard):

Patrick Henry was established explicitly to counter what its founder believed was leftist bias in the mainstream university community. Patrick Henry isn't so much a college for evangelicals as it is a college for extremely conservative evangelicals directly interested in working for the Republican party. As such, it's founded on a profound misconception about the left and the mainstream American university. While it's true that a large majority of faculty (especially in the liberal arts) are on the left politically, and also true that there is, as Michael Berube argues, something specifically liberal about the liberal arts, there is in my experience simply no counter-part to the Republican political machine that exists at Patrick Henry. Anyone who has spent five minutes on college campus should realize that, whatever may be going on, political action in service of the Democratic Party isn't it. For a time at the University of Oregon, one of the most leftist campuses in the country, there was no Democratic Party organization on campus at all. The Democrats had disintegrated as a result of vicious infighting between various of their elements, for reasons so arcane that the terms "moderate" and "radical" don't supply an accurate description. Even if, as David Horowitz would have it, lefty college professors were trying to recruit soldiers for the coming revolution, that project does not manifest itself in terms of institutional support for the Democratic Party. Patrick Henry, conversely, is directly tied in to conservative think tanks, NGOs, and Republican elected officials.

Those last few sentences are pretty key, I think. As "liberal" as universities are (and I would dispute that claim, even), I think Farley is right in noting that how it plays out is specifically not institutional support for a political party that's almost as beholden to big money as the Republican Party. I wonder why.

I also consider it evidence for my hypothesis that young, bright, motivated folks with views that are at all to the "left" don't, as a generalization, seek out the Democratic Party as their measure of success. They seek out nonprofits, NGOs, and other social and social justice work, often for the aforementioned reason (but certainly there are others).

Conservatives, on the other hand, tend to view the Republican Party as an ultimate goal. I think this actually has explanatory power when it comes to explaining why the Democratic Party is full of idiots is being outmaneuvered on both politics and policy in the last decade or so.

David Brooks on Sal Paradise

I have to admit I'm a little surprised to see David Brooks writing about Jack Kerouac's On the Road.

I'm less surprised by what he has to say:

In the Times review that launched the book, Gilbert Millstein raved that “On the Road” was a frenzied search for affirmation, a book that rejected the ennui, pessimism and cynicism of the Lost Generation. The heroes of the book savored everything, enjoyed everything, took pleasure in everything.


“On the Road” turned 50 last month, and over the past few weeks a line of critics have taken another look at the book, and this time their descriptions of it, whether they like it or not, are very different.

“Above all else, the story is about loss,” George Mouratidis, one of the editors of a new edition, told The Age in Melbourne.

“It’s a book about death and the search for something meaningful to hold on to — the famous search for ‘IT,’ a truth larger than the self, which, of course, is never found,” wrote Meghan O’Rourke in Slate.

Fair enough, though I suspect that the folks who are reviewing the book now are not oblivious to the frantic energy that pervades its pages. Instead, I suspect, they are trying to add something new to the discussion about Kerouac.

Then Brook says this:

If Sal Paradise were alive today, he’d be a product of the new rules. He’d be a grad student with an interest in power yoga, on the road to the M.L.A. convention with a documentary about a politically engaged Manitoban dance troop that he hopes will win a MacArthur grant. He’d be driving a Prius, going a conscientious 55, wearing a seat belt and calling Mom from the Comfort Inns.

The only thing we know for sure is that this ethos won’t last. Someday some hypermanic kid will produce a moronically maxed-out adventure odyssey that will spark the overdue rebellion among all the over-pressured SAT grinds, and us grumpy midlife critics will get to witness a new Kerouac, and the greatest pent-up young-life crisis in the history of the world.

Somehow, Brooks manages to shift into another vague complaint about modern culture.

I agree with Brooks, though, at least a little bit. And it pains me to say that, because I don't like most of his writing. But I do think he's got a point, though maybe not the point he was intending to make.

I think Brooks paints the modern Kerouac as what he see as a liberal/yuppie type - but I don't think the analogy to Kerouac holds, since Kerouac wasn't even a stereotypical 60's radical. He certainly wasn't a stereotypical 50's conservative, either, but I don't think one can conflate the Beat movement with the 60's counterculture movement in the way that Brooks is implying here. In fact, I wouldn't call Kerouac a "liberal" in the sense that he held as a priority anti-racism or anti-sexism. (C'mon, have you read On the Road? It's pretty male-centered.) I would call Kerouac a Beat, or a free thinker, or something, but not a liberal,and certainly not in the sense Brooks is implying with his caricature.

If there is a reason that Kerouac cannot exist today - because that's what Brooks is arguing - then it's certainly not some liberal hippie bullcrap. Instead, I think it's the totalizing nature of capitalism. A Jack Kerouac today would have immense trouble existing in any meaningful way outside the grasp of modern commercialism - a commercialism fueled by capitalism. The head space that Kerouac took advantage of, the cracks he threw himself into at full speed - those are much harder to come by today. It's much harder to disengage with the master narratives and really develop one's own at this point.

There very well might be a Kerouac sitting in a hovel in New York right now, typing furiously away. She might have already written a "moronically maxed-out adventure odyssey," but I have my doubts that anything like that will get a grip on anything like mainstream society. No, I think that sort of writing, and adventure, happens at the margins, in places that Brooks - and I, really - don't tread.

UPDATE: There is also this passage from Brooks that I forgot to make fun of:

But reading through the anniversary commemorations, you feel the gravitational pull of the great Boomer Narcissus. All cultural artifacts have to be interpreted through whatever experiences the Baby Boomer generation is going through at that moment.

I guess Brooks' voice is universal then. I'm sure he's never changed his mind about something based on new information or a new perspective on life.

David Brooks, the universal moral constant.

Unearned privilege sure does funny things to people.

Monday, October 1, 2007


This is just annoying. I know all the stuff about how money has taken over politics, and how the Beltway is its own little universe, and blah blah blah blah.... but despite all that, I'm still surprised when folks are so dumb.

To be explicit: Caving and funding Iraq at this level with no oversight is criminally stupid, especially on the part of the Dems, who, in a pseudo-two-party system like ours, could pretty easily lock up everything to their left with some halfway decent showboating on Iraq. But no. sadly, they suck at politics and policy.

What's worse is that the only reason the Greens haven't had any success in the last several elections is.... the Greens themselves. Don't even get me started.

Arrested Development

After being encouraged to watch that show for a long time, I finally rented the first season. I'm almost done with it, but I'm not very excited about the possibility of renting the next season. Here's why:

The hilarious and brilliant one-liners and contrived situations in Arrested Development do not make up for the fact that I cannot stand to watch sitcoms that are ultimately based on the premise of having complete idiots for characters. I can't do it anymore. It's not funny. It's just tragic and stupid.

The character played by David Cross in particular is totally and completely unbelievable. It actually reminds of the Sarah Silverman Show, which is like a death sentence for me.

In fact, I think I might just hate the sitcom format, since it doesn't allow for genuine character development and instead relies on formula. But that's not news.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Please Stay on My Lawn and Have Some Lemonade

Hering wrote - by far - the most sensible thing I have ever seen him write today:

The president of Columbia University in New York has thing or two to learn about manners. The main thing is that you don’t insult your guests.


If you’re revolted by somebody, you don’t have to invite him to your house. But once you invite him and he comes, even for a speech, he is owed the common courtesies that any guest has a right to expect. (hh)

Sadly, the middle of the editorial called inviting Ahmadinejad a case of "bad judgment." I disagree; while I think Hering is right that academic freedom does not compel one to invite someone like Ahmadinejad, I also think that inviting someone with such radically different views is a sign of the potential for very good discourse and the free exchange of ideas.

"See?" One can say. "We can invite this man, who we disagree with on very fundamental things, to our university and listen to him talk. We can consider his ideas, find them wanting, and reject them without insult or damage to anyone. Such is the nature of the free exchange of ideas."

Instead, Lee Bollinger, the Columbia President, apparently just let fly a string of ad hominem attacks on Ahmadinejad.

What's weird is that Hering seems to get the idea of academic freedom. And that I agree with Hering. I must be coming down with something...

Lebanon and Communication

There's an old saying that shows up in free speech and journalism circles that seems relevant these days:

The answer to bad speech is more speech.

The saying often serves as a response to people who are pushing censorship in a newspaper, or are protesting something they have read and found vile. The phrase is another way of saying "if you don't like it, write a response in the form of a letter or column that we can run in the paper." Yeah, there's a certain amount of self-interest on the part of newspapers in that statement, but I think the underlying principle is clear: Jaw, jaw, is better than war, war. Communication can be constructive and move a discussion forward, whereas a lack of communication - as Hannah Arendt has pointed out - often leads to violence (or at least conflict). People familiar with the situation in the Lebanon School District might recognize the situation - my opinion is that what I perceive as massive failures in communication have led to a lot of the present conflict. Certainly disagreements over education policy alone are not enough to provoke the kind of behaviors that have been present in Lebanon recently.

There is a large part of me that doesn't like the above saying. Or, at the least, I think it has limits. Certain speech is "bad" enough, I think, to warrant pretty severe responses that may take forms other than speech (for example, hate speech and threats of violence). But by and large, as someone who still half-heartedly believes in the Enlightenment and definitely believes in the power of stories, I think responding to speech one dislikes with more speech is, in general, a great response.

Or, to get at this another way: I think Lebanon needs some Habermasian Communicative Action. (And yes, I am aware that I just outed myself as a huge pretentious nerd...again. It's what I've got.)

From Wikipedia:

...communicative action is a social action that can be compared to instrumental action (self-interested), normative action (adapted to a shared value system) or dramaturgical action (one which is designed to be seen by others and to optimize our public self-image). Habermas claims that all of those actions are parasitic upon the communicative action, which goes beyond them.

Communicative action, in comparison to the others mentioned in the quote, has as a primary priority the successful communication of the intention of communication itself. That is, while other forms of communication are often accompanied by some additional instrumental (that is, ends-seeking) motive, the only additional motive present in communicative action is that of making sure the communication is successfully understood. This serves to build trust, solidarity, and community.

Wikipedia also adds "[Communicative Action] has the goal of mutual understanding, and [believes] that human beings possess the communicative competence to bring about such understanding." I think that's accurate. Communicative action requires and contains a level of trust.

Finally, one particularly solid definition, again from Wikipedia:

Habermas uses this concept to describe agency in the form of communication, which under his understanding is restricted to deliberation, i.e the free exchange of beliefs and intentions under the absence of domination. [Italics added]

So: Communicative action builds trust and solidarity by allowing the free exchange of ideas, beliefs, and opinions without fear of domination.

Personally, I think Habermas' Communicative Action is one of the best tools I've ever run across, period. It's applicable in a huge variety of situations, including, I think, Lebanon.

Here's the thing: This blog, and its author, get a fair amount of dirt - calls, emails, side conversations, etc - about what's going on in the district. Much of this is given with an understanding of confidentiality - and that requirement is often based on the fear of what would happen if certain people found out who was saying what, and to whom.

This is a problem. This whole environment, in which people are distinctly not free - afraid, even! - to speak their mind for fear of retaliation is, I think, one of the root causes of the myriad of problems plaguing the district right now. There are so many rumors going around, factions being formed and reformed, longstanding gossip chains, etc., that it's really hard to be open and honest. Certainly this blogger has refrained from saying plenty of things for fear of being outed - and that fear of being outed is based on a fear of retaliation for speaking freely.

Basically, I think the people of Lebanon would really stand to benefit from implementing something like communicative action. At the least, I would like to see an increasing level of honesty and trust in communication - radical trust, not mutually assured destruction-style trust - from folks who are involved and have something to say. The answer to bad speech is more speech, and in this case, what I've seen is mostly bad speech in the Habermasian sense: Veiled references to other people, backhanded references to events with the presumption that everyone shares the same understanding of what happened at said event (which is almost never true), and baseless claims that come from a place of anger, not a place of seeking understanding. As a result of all, much of the sense of community and trust that Lebanon used to have regarding its schools is gone. Instead, I see lots of assumptions being made about the motivations of others - and those kinds of assumptions are almost always wrong, because we can't really know what's in the mind of another person. Nevertheless, it is certainly the case that in many cases, people are not assuming anything positive about those they are working or talking with.

I would love to see an answer to bad speech that comes in the form of good speech: Speech that doesn't assume it has an opponent, and doesn't assume that opponent is evil; speech that doesn't make blanket claims about either the state of the world or the intentions of an individual; and speech that acknowledges the nature of the situation: That despite a myriad of personal and policy differences, the staff, parents, and teachers - and students! - are ultimately all in this together regardless, and there is a certain amount of trust and professionalism that's necessary if anything positive is going to be accomplished.

Finally, I think it's necessary for someone to take the first steps and start talking in the open about what's going on without accusations and without judgments. When Lebanon Truth first started their blog using the full name "Lebanon Truth and Reconciliation," I thought the name was overblown and overly dramatic. Now I'm not so sure: Certainly Lebanon is not dealing with anything on the scale of South African apartheid, but Lebanon could sure use some truth and reconciliation right now. From everybody.

One might note two things at this point:

1) That I stated I would be writing about Lebanon less. I should amend that: I will write about Lebanon whenever it strikes me. It might strike me less in the future; it might not.

2) But Dap, you might say, with the reinstatement of Robinson, isn't everything over? No, of course not: the underlying and fundamental conflicts are still present. The bad attitudes and poisoned relationships are still present. A tremendous amount of healing of the process needs to happen before the LCSD is a healthy community again. Just as it took quite some time to get where Lebanon is now, it will take quite some time of hard, positive relationship-building before things get to a really healthy place.


Via Feministing, this review... oh, hell. It's just really, really funny. Do go read the whole thing (for I am sorely tempted to excerpt it all; instead, I have excerpted what is possibly the worst part):

Now, when the president of Hollywood (let's call him Louis B. Mayer) heard Susan B. Anthony's idea, he leaned back in his chair and cracked his knuckles. "$$$$$$$$$," he said to no one in particular, "$$$$ $$$$$$$$ $$ $$$$$$." And lo, the mother-man genre of cinema was born.

Sunday Link Dump!

Eric Stoller links to the Erase Racism Carnival, which features this amazing post on white privilege. READ IT. JUST READ IT NOW.

From Americablog: Should we kill ENDA if transgendered people aren't included?

Via Slashdot: Heinlein arhives to be placed online

Americablog: Police taser a guy during a John Kerry Q&A; Kerry says "let him speak."

Amanda Marcotte at Pandagon sounds off on gender and music reviews.

Pam Spaulding at Pandagon asks where the progressive blogosphere is when it comes to the Jena Six.

Via Majikthise, lots of interviews in The Nation with Iraq War vets.

Politics vs. Justice

Via Americablog, a story in the Washington Post regarding Idaho Senator Larry Craig's decision to try and stay in the Senate.

Craig is the person who initially pled guilty to attempting to solicit sex from an undercover male cop in an airport bathroom. He is now fighting to withdraw his plea and seems to be intent on staying on as a Senator.

Interestingly, the Republican Party - of which Craig is a member - is looking like it's going to be leading the charge to kick him out of the Senate.

This presents Democrats with a choice - or maybe it's an opportunity. The way I see it, the Dems can do one of several things:

1) They can do nothing, stand on the sidelines, and watch to see if Craig emerges victorious or whether or not he gets drummed out. (I'm not sure how true this is since I don't know members of the Minority Party can call a hearing or if they have to have the approval of the Chair of the Ethics Committee - in this case a Democrat.)

2) They can side with the GOP and (presumably) argue that Craig has disgraced the Senate through his actions and his conviction, and pressure him to leave.

3) They can side with Craig and fight the GOP.

In other words, I think the Democrats can side with justice on this one, or they can side with politics and use this issue for political gain. I don't think they can do both.

Siding with justice means, for me, that the Dems actually take Craig's side and argue in the public eye that being gay is OK. This opens up an opportunity to talk about the suffering that LGBT folks who are in the closet have to go through, and also about the silliness and injustice present in lots of anti-sodomy laws. Caveat: The whole prostitution angle needs to be navigated, but I think that's doable. Just talk about how this would never have happened if Craig was free to love whomever he wanted. Overall, a great opportunity for the Dems to take a stand rooted firmly in equality and justice for all, with the added bonus that politically, the Dems will be "above" politics since they would be helping a Republican Senator whose views may change a tiny bit as a result of this (I believe if Craig leaves, his appointed replacement will be a Republican anyway).

However, I think the Dems are more likely to take what I would call the low road on this one and either sit idly by while Craig fights the GOP or even assist in Craig's ouster. There might be some sniping at the GOP regarding hypocrisy, but not too much, since there are plenty of Dems who fear exposure. This route views the battle as primarily about gaining short-term political advantage for the Party by utilizing power-as-a-zero-sum-game rules: Hurt the GOP and the Dems look better. Unfortunately, it does nothing to help the LGBT community as a whole, and nothing to create a better environment for politics to take place in.

Like I said, the Democrats have a choice. They can ally themselves with justice, or they can play at politics. I'm curious to see what they do.

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