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Monday, October 31, 2005

video on Alito

Check out this video of a Professor Turley from GW Law School explaining how "breathtakingly conservative" Sam Alito is. windows media player and quicktime.

Alito: Bush pushes all in

Alright, so you're George W. Bush. Your presidency is essentially in complete and utter collapse: your relationship with Cheney is on the rocks, your top aides are being indicted or being threatened with indictments, a war you started under questionable, if not outright dishonest pretenses is failing both in reality and in the court of public opinion, you're at least partially responsible for the most massive failure in federal aid since Reconstruction, your base feels betrayed because when you had the opportunity they've been preparing for since the 1970s you tried to appoint your buddy lawyer to the Supreme Court, and congressional leadership, which had been acting as a wing of the executive branch since 2002, has finally grown a set of opinions, in large part because most of them are considering trying to replace you. Basically, you're losing at everything: competence, popularity, politics and legacy.

Luckily, you manufactured a problem with executive privilege and have another shot at the Supreme Court. What do you do? You appoint the most conservative judge you can find. Enter, Judge Samuel Alito. Now, I'm not really qualified to comment on the actual legal issues at hand (although it never stopped me commenting on other things), so I'll let you dig through what you think of the law, Alito's jurisprudence, etc. on your own. When you do, educate me! What I can see quite clearly, is the President Bush is looking for a fight and he's looking for a fight that he thinks will reunite his party and get him a big W in his column (no pun intended). If Democrats challenge, they'll have to pull a filibuster, and W thinks he can win that political food fight. Judging from last Spring, he may be right. Democrats, liberals etc. throughout the country may be having small seizures as they read this man's world view, but that's why you win presidential elections.

goings on

A bright and sunny Monday morning here at Cambridge Common. Katie and Chip apparently spent their Sunday's pondering music, and shared some knowledge with us last night on that topic. Chip considers the whitewashing of the Black Eyed Peas, and Katie describes the ideal community created by Kuumba. I meanwhile, wrote a note about Cambridge Common's first month in its new form and the way in which the community created here is our biggest asset. Also, check out the pictures from Friday's exciting labor rally!

As per usual, share your thoughts and have a great Monday!

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Black Skin, White Mask

How many of you all remember the pre-2003 Black Eyed Peas (or BEP for short)? For those of you who can reach that far back into your psyche, they were not that different from what you see and hear of them today. They were originally signed to Ruthless Records in 1992 by the father of gangsta rap, Eazy-E (can you believe it?). Their music back then was still like nothing people had previously heard, their videos reflected this ingenuity, and they were the strange avant-garde of alternative rap. Oh yeah, all their members were domestic racial minorities and their first two albums (released in 1998 and 2000) sold less than 200,000 copies combined despite receiving major label push. Their most recent album, Monkey Business, was released in June of this year and sold 295,000 copies in its first week of release. What has accounted for this drastic change? Commercially, why were the Black Eyed Peas able to achieve in seven days what they hadn't been able to achieve in seven years? I see the answer as being one small, "lovely lady lump"-having White girl from the burbs of California who came to the group in 2003 and provided another example of the age-old practice of putting a White face on Black art's most lucrative field: music. (more in expanded post)

Presently, the Black Eyed Peas are characterized as a Pop group. Simple and plain. A visit to Launch.Com will reveal that they are not categorized as a rap group or even alternative rap group, but pop. Pop as a genre of music is an interesting thing. Some people take it narrowly to mean music light on bass (relatively), heavy on chorus, and sing-songy non-serious lyrics about love. Others take it broadly to mean POPular music of any variety that is widely appreciated (read: bought). I see the Black Eyed Peas as being closer to the broad definition than to the narrow one, though they are moving more and more to the narrow definition with each passing single. In the past two years as their popularity has exponentially grown their musical image has ventured further and further from their pre-Fergie era. Relatedly, I remember being a senior in high school and hearing "Where Is The Love?" and thinking, "Black Eyed Peas and Justin Timberlake?!? That's like Led Zeppelin and Frank Sinatra!" I felt that the Black Eyed Peas had sold out and gone "pop", but I had no idea of the extent to which they would do so and become corporate pawns and musical sidekicks in the group THEY started.

Another way to chart the pop progression of the Black Eyed Peas is to take a look at the styles of their four albums as assessed by AllMusic.Com. According to this website, the Black Eyed Peas' album styles of music went from "Alternative Rap" to "Pop-Rap" to "Party Rap". Although the line between the 2nd and 3rd sub-genres may be fuzzy to some, "pop rap" is defined as being widely accepted rap and "party rap" is rap specifically aimed at being played at parties, in my humble opinion. A current look at the most recent single from BEP shows that they are DEFINITELY putting out party rap music. "My Humps" is currently the #3 song in the U.S. and may reach #1 due to its still increasing popularity. But wait? Is party/pop rap new to the Black Eyed Peas? Before 2003 were they not putting out records aimed at getting people to tell DJs to "turn that sh*t up, play it again" or "make a brother feel like I'm in the disco"? Yup. They were (listen to "Joints and Jams" or "Request Line"). Hmmm...what gives?

Prior to 2003 the Black Eyed Peas employed Kim Hill as their backup singer. She is the female vocalist heard in the aforementioned "Joints and Jams". She is Black. You've probably never heard of her. In 2003 Hill was replaced by Fergie--a small, energetic bundle of U.S. status quo affirmation that proved to have the ability to take BEP to the next level. Whichever exec at A&M was behind getting Fergie into the group should be the label President. Really. Despite pouring what was surely millions of dollars into two widely-released albums by the Black Eyed Pease in 1998 and 2000 they bore very little commercial fruit. However, after adding a White female to the group in contrast to the Native American, Filipino-American, and Jamaican-American in the group sales exploded. Whereas Hill was rarely featured prominently in videos and never featured on album covers, Fergie was. Also of note on the first two BEP album covers is the prominence of the big, melanin-filled faces of males on the dark backdrop in contrast to the more holistic view and lighter backdrop of their most recent album cover. One says "BLACK MUSIC...SCARY!" while the other says "You have nothing to fear. This is now integrated music."

In the same vein as Eminem in relation to D-12 or Elvis Presley in relation to Chuck Berry, a White person has now been put at the forefront of what was previously a Black...situation, let's say. This age-old gimmick has been around for a long time and is continuing with the Black Eyed Peas and their new leader (yeah, I said it), Fergie. A visit to Launch.Com again shows that when one searches for the Black Eyed Peas, their picture is not a group one but solely that of Fergie. Is she the entire group (or even one of the founding members)? No. Additionally, a Google "Images" search for Black Eyed Peas reveals Fergie as the very first picture. According to Launch (a subsidiary of Yahoo!, Inc.) and Google, Inc.--two of the largest information superhighway corporations in the world--Black Eyed Peas = Fergie. Additionally, the popularity of "My Humps" brings Fergie even more publicity separate from that of BEP since it is nearly a solo song. Sad. The mass appeal that Fergie has brought to the Black Eyed Peas is quite sad. They are creating (largely) the same type of music that they have been creating all of their career but their group now has a White face and leader. The music industry "powers that be" behind the marketing and exploitation of BEP as a "pop" group did so in the interest of increasing the bottom line. This is wrong. What was once a cutting edge group for non-status quo, non-commerical radio fiends has become just that. Fergie and Corporate America (the REAL name of this country) have teamed up to once again push genre-leading Black artists to the periphery, market their product with a White face, and make boatloads of money while doing so. Poor (literally) Kim Hill.

taking a cue from Kuumba

Golis just offered a gladdening reminder of how Cambridge Common is building a community—and an un-clannish one at that. In a similarly hopeful spirit, we might examine other student enterprises that help us envision, in practical and ideological terms, the kind of communities we want to take part in shaping. Case in point: The Kuumba Singers, Harvard’s famous and beloved Black Diaspora choir, founded in 1970 to provide a sense of unity and belonging for the very few Black students matriculating at the time. In a few significant ways, Kuumba represents the antithesis of some of the problems of individualism, elitism, and privilege we’ve been discussing with respect to final clubs and Harvard in general. Allow me to break it down into a four-part harmony of sorts. (more in expanded post)

1) Merit. As a choir, one of Kuumba’s primary aims is to sound good. Simple enough. And by in large, it overwhelmingly succeeds (Sheldon, the director, and other highly-trained musicians may sometimes disagree on a technical level, but judging by the number of audience members who leave performances with tear-stained, beaming faces, I think it’s clear that Kuumba holds it down). What’s amazing about Kuumba’s success is that while it has an explicit interest in evaluating the objective talents of its members and accepting or rejecting applicants based on their merit, it chooses not to do so. Kuumba does not hold auditions, so absolutely anyone, be they seasoned church soloist or screechy shower singer (we all know who we are), is free and welcome to join the choir as a Kuumbabe (the affectionate moniker for Kuumba members).

Clearly, this does not mean that Kuumba lacks any merit criteria. On a sub-group level, the Brothers and Sisters of Kuumba hold auditions, and of course the soloists have to try out to earn their parts. Like the structure of most student organizations, too, members are elected to serve in leadership positions, which is merit-based insofar as if you’ve never volunteered to carry equipment or done something else above and beyond just showing up for rehearsals and shows, all the charm and good looks in the world are not going to get you elected. But these mini-hierarchies are contextualized within a group whose permeable boundaries and welcoming attitude make the choir’s renown and prestige all the more impressive.

2) Inclusiveness. As Kuumba demonstrates, low or nonexistant barriers to entry do not necessarily jeopardize overall quality. And while this may be a function of the choir's structural requirements of a few amazing soloists coupled with large harmonizing groups that can accomodate weaker singers, we can nevertheless interpret Kuumba's decision to balance the need to attract vocal talent with a commitment to openness as a virtue unto itself. Furthermore, Kuumba’s inclusiveness extends beyond its no-auditions-necessary policy and has resulted in an inspirational diversity of membership that warrants recognition, especially given our recent discussions of the difficulty of creating a multicultural, welcoming Women’s Center. Kuumba is one of the most solidly multi-ethnic organizations I know whose purposes do not explicitly include promoting diversity or studying international relations. Kuumba continually makes concerted efforts to help members who do not identify as Black feel comfortable and appreciated in the choir. While upholding a commitment to honoring, learning from, and continuing the struggles of the Black Diaspora, Kuumba uses Black culture and creativity to build a community that transcends racial boundaries without degrading the authenticity of its roots.

3) Morality. As a non-religious person raised faintly Jewish, until joining Kuumba I thought my days of singing about Jesus had ended along with elementary school Christmas concerts. Kuumba is undeniably infused with a very strong Christian spirit—not only in the lyrics of its songs, but in the tradition of ending each rehearsal by joining hands in a circle as members offer praise for joyous occurrences in their lives and request prayers for challenges. But in Kuumba, Christianity is a felt presence, not a prerequisite for inclusion. No one is trying to indoctrinate or convert you. True, the members who identify with Christian faith may have a different connection to the songs than non-believing members like me. But what everyone in Kuumba is there to celebrate is not a religion, and not even a people, but a living, ongoing history of struggle, survival, and triumph—a history in which Christianity has been a significant source, though not the only source, of spiritual strength—and a history Kuumba continues to shape. Unlike Harvard, Kuumba does ask its members to make moral choices about how to best serve their communities—an ethic so important to Kuumba that it’s even embodied in the choir’s name. From the Kuumba website: “In Swahili, ‘kuumba’ roughly means creativity, though the literal meaning is more subtle: it is the creativity of leaving a space better than you found it.” Kuumba’s version of moral individualism stresses unique contributions to a greater community, not uniqueness or personal success for its own sake.

4) Humility. On an individual personality level, perhaps, not all Kuumbabes are terribly modest (I know a couple, in fact, who definitely aren’t). But for some reason, Kuumba seems to bring out this side in people. And since humility is a quality that I for one could stand to see more of around here, it’s worth asking how Kuumba cultivates them to the extent it does. Maybe it’s because singing makes most people feel pretty vulnerable (and if you are the one who screws up the note or lyric for the soprano section, you’re obliged to raise your hand mea culpa style). Maybe it’s because the choir as a whole values hard work and practice just as much as—if not more than—innate virtuosic talent (a rare outlook in a culture that tends to view genius, artistic or otherwise, as an inborn gift to be capitalized upon rather than a hard-won strength that needs nurturing and development to reach its potential). Even the soloists of Kuumba are surprisingly modest about their talents; rather than defining or overshadowing the songs, solos aim to enhance them. I think Toni Morrison captures this phenomenon beautifully when she says:

"There must have been a time when an artist could be genuinely representative of a tribe and in it; when an artist could have a tribal or racial sensibility and an individual expression of it. There were spaces and places in which a single person could enter and behave as an individual within the context of the community. A small remnant of that you can see sometimes in Black churches where people shout."

And finally, in my experience, one of the most rewarding elements of Kuumba is this: there is something incredibly humbling and simultaneously empowering about being a small voice that contributes to such a rich, enormous sound. A friend of mine who plays in the Kuumba band put it another way. When I asked him whether he ever gets stage fright, he replied that he used to, until he realized that “It’s not about me; it’s about the music.” Not exactly a sentiment one might expect to hear from oft-ambitious, hyper-individualistic Harvard students.

Despite holding the uncontested title of Biggest Kuumba Groupie, I recognize that Kuumba isn’t perfect. Like any group, it has its own issues with negotiating gender, race, class, etc. Some of these issues can be very sensitive and difficult to work out. For instance, the kente cloth stoles singers wear during performances feature different design patterns for men and women, so it’s possible that a gender-queer Kuumbabe might experience some discomfort during wardrobe selection. Problems of cultural imperialism may also arise, as some non-Black-identifying people might appropriate Kuumba as a form of social capital, while Black students may join as a misguided means of 'proving' their own race consciousness. But while Kuumba may not find simple solutions to these endemic social problems (and it would be unreasonable to expect it to), it has managed to get a whole lot of things right. In aiming to understand and reinterpret the roles of individualism and elitism in Harvard organizations, with ample appreciation for the vicissitudes inherent in forming and maintaining student communities, we can enjoy a respite from criticizing the status quo to engage in the equally important exercise of appreciating examples of alternative possibilities.

On a somewhat lighter note, if you now find yourself hankering for some Kuumba soul, visit this marvelous Civil Rights Movement website by the History Channel, which features some of their recorded songs. When you get to the homepage, look under Primary Sources and click on Music (Songs & Lyrics). “Hold On” is one of my favorites—guaranteed to give you chills. Enjoy!

a note from the Editor: one month in, community and Cambridge Common

When Cambridge Common was relaunched a little over a month ago, our email campaign billed the site as a space for alternative opinion; I wrote that we should "end the monopoly," referring to a structural problem created by the Crimson's domination of campus media and "truth." We were looking to be an alternative opinion source, a space for addressing on a more regular basis some of the big questions, a space for throwing spitballs at the Crimson, a space for opinions from the left in a different format. A lot of that has happened and in the process our readership has grown and become regular- over 300 visitors a day Monday through Thursday, around 1,500 visitors a week.

Something more important has happened at the same time: a community is beginning to form. Chimaobi and I have been joined by Deb and Katie, as well as readers like Guess Why, Yi-Ping, Sarika, Dave, C.G., Rob, Paloma and many anonymous contributors. Reader contributions have made the comments section the most valuable space on this site, pushing the four of us on the front page to flesh out our ideas and respond to criticism and allowing readers to contribute thoughts of their own. Discussions like those that resulted from Chimaobi's post about his experience in the black community at Harvard and in Boston, "Northern Discomfort," Deb's post about Asian American issues at Harvard, "Why Asian American Issues are Issues," and my posts about Final Clubs, all show that something more organic and interactive is existing here than could ever exist in more traditional media. (more in expanded post)

This is tremendously important to me. It acknowledges an imperfection in thought and a complexity of analysis and opinion that is almost never present in other forms of media. A Crimson staff ed, for example, is often the result of give and take and discussion similar to that which occurs in our threads. By the time it is in the paper for consumption, however, it is supposed to represent some sort of perfect piece of analysis, an opinion with an immaculate conception and often without the acknowledgments of the possible inconsistencies, the dissenting factors, and the ideological frameworks. The messy nature of opinion, of different frames of analysis, different sets of facts and the occasional (or often) inadequacies of the logic or writing itself, are all hidden behind the black and white text, away from public scrutiny. As Katie has pointed out, Cambridge Common allows for us to have a different conception of truth and opinion that is much more fluid and contingent, much messier and more complex.

And this is important not simply because truth is usually that messy and complex, but also because I think it's important to acknowledge that just because I run (or write for) a website or newspaper doesn't suddenly make me smarter than everyone else. This is especially true at a place like Harvard, where it is likely that while I may have more knowledge of one sliver of experience or academia, I am fundamentally ignorant in many many other areas in which those around me are quite brilliant. We write here, then, more out of a political desire to begin conversations and a passion for our opinions, but with full acknowledgment that we are fallible and that it is important to constantly subject ourselves to scrutiny by those who may (and often do) know more. While opinion writing does involve a leap of arrogance, the comments section is there to humble us for our own sake and for the sake of our readers. If the process works, than the result of any given conversation thread is simultaneously more thoughtful, more productive, and more engaging than simple front page opinion journalism.

All of this is a long way of me saying that, while new media and "blogs" can be easily and properly ridiculed in many ways for being trite vanity projects or ideological echo chambers (and I'm sure we have our moments of both), it is the contributions of the readers, the creation of a community as is beginning to occur, that prevents us from going that route. So thank you for coming and thank you for reading. If you have been contributing, whether with support or critique, explanation or anecdote, thank you. If you have not been, feel free to do so.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

labor movement makes some noise

On Friday, 200+ people, about 1/2 to 2/3 Harvard janitors and their family and the rest Harvard students, protested Harvard's treatment of workers. The march began at Holyoke Center, where the crowd listened to speakers including two Harvard workers, the Vice Mayor of Cambridge Majorie Decker and City Councilor Brian Murphy, and the head of the local SEIU Union. During the speeches, a Harvard worker and a member of the Student Labor Action Movement delivered a petition with over 700 signatures to the Harvard Labor Relations Office in Holyoke Center. From the Holyoke Center, the group walked through the streets down Mass Ave to Johnston's Gate, and then Memorial Hall, where President Summers was addressing parents here for First-year Parent's Weekend. After hearing a few more speakers and chanting: "Harvard, escucha, estamos en la lucha" (translation: Harvard, listen, we're in the fight), the crowd went around to the back where President Summers' car waited for him. Apparently unwilling to face the crowd, President Summers left through another entry and his car left to meet him without him in it. More pictures, all brought to you by Seth Flaxman, can be found in the expanded post.

For supporters of Harvard workers and the Student Labor Action Movement, the rally was a stunning success. Those involved with labor efforts at Harvard described it as the largest and most energized crowd since the Living Wage Campaign of 2001.(more in expanded post)

The pictures below are of, in order, the rally at Holyoke Center (Vice Mayor Decker is speaking), the march beginning to march down Massachusetts Avenue, the march continuing toward Johnston's Gate, the march moving through the Yard, and finally protestors waiting to express themselves to the, unsurprisingly, no show President Summers.

an astonishing Fitzmas

I was disappointed with Fitzmas at first. Cheney didn't get directly implicated, which I thought had at least an outside chance of happening, and Rove didn't get indicted, which I thought had at least a 2/3 chance of happening. Scooter Libby just seemed like the smallest big fish that could have been fried. Then, however, I watched the press conference. Before you read anything else, you should do the same. It's 15 minutes long, but it's probably some of the most newsworthy 15 minutes of the last few years of political history. Video: wmp and qt.

What becomes immediately clear from watching the press conference is that Patrick Fitzgerald is one angry boy scout. This is a man who takes the law very seriously, and is clearly absolutely furious that this White House continuously and intentionally lied to him. He makes an incredibly strong case for the fact that Libby just flat out lied to save himself, and that everything Libby said had to be a lie. Some have described perjury and obstruction of justice charges as just "gotcha charges" when you have nothing else to do. This is certainly not that.(more in expanded post)

One of the problems with the case at this point, of course, is that it's almost impossible to know what will happen next. Fitzgerald describes why secrecy is important, but it's still incredibly frustrating. However, one Andrew Sullivan reader (and Sullivan himself) have an interesting take:
A READER NAILS IT: This blog's greatest resource is you. Here's an email that shows why:
Just got through reading a transcript of the Fitz press conference, and a few things stood out.

As bizarre as that baseball analogy was, I think it said a lot about what might happen in the next few days or weeks. Seems to me that when discussing the possibility of a leak-related crime, e.g. violation of either the Intelligence Identities Act or Espionage Act, Fitz focused on how such prosecutions were very difficult because they require proof of a mental state. (Hence the silly analogy about a pitcher throwing at guy's head.) Under both statutes, the disclosure of classified info must be intentional or purposeful, i.e., the perp must have "known" that the information was classified (for the Espionage Act) or that the agent was "covert," among other things (under the Intelligence Act). As Fitz asked, "was this something where he intended to cause whatever damage was caused? Or did they intend to do something else and where are the shades of gray?"

I don't know what Fitz knows. But I think he is one inch from prosecuting the leak itself - at least his public comments leave the impression that he's pissed about it - and the only thing holding him back is that he's afraid he can't prove state of mind. Proving state of mind is really hard in any case -- and it's especially hard when the defendant is an intelligent career political operative with an expensive white collar defense lawyer. I think Fitz can do it, and I think Fitz thinks he can do it, but he seems to be playing it cautious. Why?

Let's just take the Espionage Act. Fitz clearly said that Plame's position was classified, he implied strongly that it related to national security, and as Josh Marshall pointed out in a recent post, the indictment itself states that both Cheney and Libby knew the precise division of the CIA where she worked, which by definition made her covert. So right there - as soon as he tells that to Miller - you have a prima facie violation of the Espionage Act.

Fitz also said, "I don't buy that theory [that one should never use the Espionage statute], but I do know you should be very careful in applying that law because there are a lot of interests that could be implicated in making sure that you picked the right case to charge that statute ... You want to know what their motive is, you want to know their state of knowledge, you want to know their intent, you want to know the facts." He went on to lament the fact that Libby had lied, thus throwing the proverbial sand in his eyes.

What's all this mean? Well, seems like Fitz has a pretty strong case for the Espionage Act, and if Plame met the objective standards in the Intelligence Act, for that one too. And it seems like the fact that Libby lied repeatedly is very strong evidence of a culpable state of mind, belying any claim that he didn't "know" the info was classified or that divulging it was wrong. Add that to the very specific allegation in the indictment that he knew exactly where she worked, and there it is.

So why not charge it? Because Fitz has Libby nailed on the 5 counts from today's indictment. Just nailed. So he's bringing Libby in on those charges, they're going to talk some turkey, and Fitz is going to see if Libby will talk, maybe about VP, maybe about Official A (who's clearly Rove), or maybe about the VP's moles at State and in the CIA. Offer some carrots - maybe no jail - but if Libby refuses, then Fitz brings down the espionage or intelligence act charges. Libby has nowhere to go, and Fitz knows it. In my view, he's going to try to exploit that opening before wrapping this thing up.
That's entirely my view as well, after mulling this over some more for a few hours. From the evidence we now have, it seems crystal clear to me that Libby knew he was out of line when he leaked the Plame name, and perjured himself to protect himself and the real source of the leak, Cheney. He gambled that the reporters wouldn't squeal; and that he could cleverly spin his phone conversations so that the information seemed to come from reporters, not him. The question now is whether he will now turn against his colleagues and master to save his own skin. This story is just beginning. Ultimately, it's about Cheney.
It will be interesting to watch as Libby's trail, and any other subsequent indictments either of Cheney or Rove, pull the curtain back on this administration's hawkish ideologues, internal disputes between the Dep. of Defense and State, or between the CIA and the Vice President's office. This could be huge.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

a little Thursday night fun

want to go to Schwarzenegger Street? Check out this hilarious anti-Governator video.

Harvard and the American dream: the well-trodden routes

The Crimson ran two great pieces of writing today on the concept of recruiting and careerism. They are ostensibly contradicting each other: Sahil arguing that recruiting is a natural extension of Harvard and our previous lives and Henry arguing that it is a comfortable and sadly uninspired way to use a privileged and educated existence. But, in some sense, they represented a strange cohesion of perspectives on the dominant mode of Harvard students and the structure of a Harvard education. For me, Sahil's comment was about acknowledging Harvard's role in society- a place to cultivate social "heroes"- whlie Henry's comment was more about expressing sadness of what American society current views as those heroes.(more in expanded post)

Take Sahil's main paragraph:
Harvard has always attempted to exemplify the ideals of a society at a given period and recruiting is just another expression of this. We are, after all, not the University of Chicago, who have defined excellence as academic achievement and correspondingly produced intellectuals, regardless of society’s valuation for them. Harvard is instead in the business of producing heroes, living ideals of society’s idea of excellence. Were American society to idealize bookish grad students, Harvard would churn them out in droves. Instead, we like our grads competitive, young, and wealthy. And so, where corporate recruiting caters to this societal idealization, Harvard fulfills it, because that is what Harvard does.
I think he's quite right. Unlike University of Chicago that has created a culture that is specific in the kind of education that it endorses, specific in the culture that it creates and the students it believes are valuable, Harvard is neutral on the question, allowing recruiters and culture to seep in and reflect, to a large extent, the dominant values of our time: money and status. As Sahil later points out:
What I am suggesting is that the majority of Harvard’s organization kids believe in excellence, but not much else. We have taken on the standards of other people not because we found them good and noble, but because we profited for them.
So, while I disagree with his later assertion that it is somehow futile to try to change oneself considering this as our context, he is quite lucid about what Harvard is about, and why Harvard students have the tendencies that we do. Strangely though, Henry's column hits almost exactly the same note:
Most of us simply go with the flow—abdicating control of our lives to the conventional prestige we pursue and to the technology that effectively keeps us too distracted to ask the uncomfortable questions about where we are really going and why. Between our work-hard/party-hard lifestyle, any time or energy for actual solitary reflection is lost—as is any moment for original thought and conscious direction of purpose.

And thus many of us unsurprisingly head to posh post-graduation destinations. We are so busy thinking about the micro rather than the macro that we get to senior year without a clear purpose of why we are here and who we want to be. While some of us mindlessly pursue the status symbols, the more passive amongst us ambivalently follow along, soothed by the potential for easy money and the fact that “everyone is doing it.” Trained to be technicians–-people who think very creatively, but within specific parameters—we are content to sell off our brainpower to corporations, political parties, and law firms. Plus, between the money the firms will offer and the hours they will demand from us, we will continue to be able to live in secure comfort—still lacking the time to question ultimately what we are doing with our lives.
While Sahil sees the same thing as a fatalistic reality, Henry has an optimism (or at least glimer of hope) that some will choose to change this culture, that we can acknowledge that there is something wrong with ourselves and Harvard through introspection and a little courage.

Still, when taken together, the two pieces paint a pretty depressing picture of the Harvard student. I'm not sure I agree with the writers that we are so uniform, that we are, in fact, of one type, but both certainly seem to be pointing out serious things about our dominant culture. And I don’t think, as some might, that taking the "well-trodden routes," as Henry calls them, is such an anomaly. I would guess that few in the world are true adventurers, are truly brave enough to wade into the unknown, truly believe that we as individuals can be radically different. That is, after all, why we so often celebrate those people-the revolutionaries, the innovators, the avant-garde. They are radical because they are rare.

But it is true, I think, that we are living in a moment of dramatic and sad conformity to a culture obsessed with money and status, raised by parents who learned to be politically fatalistic through failure, in a country where the state seems to continually slide away from reality and relevance. It is unsurprising, then, that many people approach this world, uncomfortable with what they see, and seek personal comfort over public good. It is unsurprising that there are few around us brave enough to be revolutionaries, innovators or avant-garde. The questions that naturally arises out of both columns, then, are: how long can our society trod this path before it implodes on itself? How long can money and status be the fuel for the American way of life before all else- a sense of meaning, of community, of morality- is lost? And, can Harvard possibly produce people who have the courage to be different enough to do something about it?

Whither do women wander?

Note: The following ruminations were prompted in part by this disturbingly vapid, heteronormative (read: heterosexuality-assuming/privileging) column that actually says women “want a man [sic] who can make us feel [strong and protected].” If you thought the kids/career piece was bad...

* * *
Sometimes I really doubt whether a Women’s Center will succeed in the fullest sense. The fractured consciousness of ‘women’ on this campus suggests a lack of cohesion that may doom the Women’s Center to become mainly a bastion for white, upper-class, heterosexual, pro-choice women, hearkening back to the days of Betty Friedan and second-wave feminism. I hope I am proven wrong, and that ABHW, SAWC, the Hillel Women’s Group, AAWA, HRL, LU, Girlspot, etc. all embrace the undertaking and strive to make the center reflect their interests. Judging by the Crimson coverage, though, you’d think RUS and the UC are the only ones invested in the vision.

One thing that would boost my optimism about the project: more self-identifying men speaking up about the need for a diverse, vibrant women’s center. As we’ve discussed at length with regard to household labor, it’s about time people recognized that gender equality is not just a women’s issue. Why not get the major men’s organizations and traditionally male-dominated groups to draft declarations of support for the creation of a Women’s Center? To make things interesting (and to circumvent free image boosts for groups that merely dribble meaninglessly about how women should be given equal opportunity), you could specify that the declarations should include lists detailing the challenges women face that a Women’s Center could help ameliorate; how the undersigned group contributes to those challenges; and proactive steps the group is taking to become more friendly to all genders. Critical self-reflection and abdication of unfair privilege: now that’s what I look for in a man.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

goings on (midterm edition)

So things have been fairly quiet here at Cambridge Common for the last day or so. The old mainstays of free speech and evolution peaked up for mini-conversations yesterday, but other than that, nothing big. I can't seem to get my brain around anything of substance politically right now, because all I can think about is the quickly arriving Fitzmas.

I think it's a quiet time politically on campus: the UC is in full stride, newbies like the STOP Campaign and the Student Labor Action Movement have lost their novelty and are tucking in for the long haul, and most major student groups are done with their big kick-offs and pushing toward late fall events. Soon enough, rumors of who will be in the next leadership class of major student groups, as well as the Crimson, the IOP and the UC will start to entertain the chattering class, but for now, most seem comfortable putting their nose to the grindstone and concentrating on their midterms.

At least that's my impression. What's yours? Are their things going on out there- discussions to be had, events to be noted, injustice to be destroyed- that no one (or at least no one here) is noticing? Hit the comment button and let us know!

PS: I am working on special guests and dialogue, I'll let you know when things solidify!

refresh, refresh, refresh, c'mon!

I'm going insane. I want to know what the hell is going on.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Cute little white supremacist singer twins...

So this kind of thing exists for real. Call me naive, but I didn't think it was possible this could be tolerated. Hate is not free speech.


from a new CBS poll:
Most Americans do not accept the theory of evolution. Instead, 51 percent of Americans say God created humans in their present form, and another three in 10 say that while humans evolved, God guided the process. Just 15 percent say humans evolved, and that God was not involved.

oh, dick

The Plamegate plot thickens yet again in today's NYT:
I. Lewis Libby Jr., Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff, first learned about the C.I.A. officer at the heart of the leak investigation in a conversation with Mr. Cheney weeks before her identity became public in 2003, lawyers involved in the case said Monday.

Notes of the previously undisclosed conversation between Mr. Libby and Mr. Cheney on June 12, 2003, appear to differ from Mr. Libby's testimony to a federal grand jury that he initially learned about the C.I.A. officer, Valerie Wilson, from journalists, the lawyers said.
The Times's story goes on to explain that this may or may not complicate the legal case. What it does clearly complicate, however, is the political claim that the White House was cooperating in full with the investigation (as per Bush's public request).(more in expanded post)

From Steve Clemens via Daily Kos:
First of all, this means that Vice President Cheney has known all along that he was Scooter Libby's source -- and whether Libby had license from him or not to try and slaughter the reputation of Joe Wilson -- CHENEY KNEW.

The entire charade of President Bush stating that he wanted to get to the bottom of who leaked Plame's name -- and who was involved -- is no longer believable at any level. Cheney would not have failed to disclose this to Bush, and Bush played along as if none of his staff were involved. They confessed nothing -- accepted no responsibilty -- until forced by Fitzgerald.
So, while we will see whether or not there was a full blown cover up or obstruction of justice, the fact that the Vice President knew things that apparently were not, let's say, actively share, points to a guilty conscience. Also, has anyone noticed that the leaks from "lawyers surrounding the case" have increasingly pointed toward the Vice President's office? And, that there were really no such leaks until recently? Is Patrick Fitzgerald trying to soften the ground for a veep indictment? Questions are fun, but when the heck are we going to have some answers!?

goings on

well, we've got an active night here at Cambridge Common. Chimaobi has published a long and fascinating piece taking on the question: "why do Black people sell drugs?". Also, I've started a conversation about how the Crimson handled the Isis story today, which has prompted another conversation about Final Clubs (apologies all around, I really do care about other things). Also, Katie asked one of the big questions this weekend, that we've yet to try to answer: what is the point of a Harvard education?

As always, jump into the discussions, engage in some wisdom sharing and have a beautiful, if rainy, Tuesday.

ALSO: God bless Rosa Parks, who died tonight at 92. We should all give thanks for her and the movement of which she was a part.

Monday, October 24, 2005

exposing the Isis: yes, but

On Wednesday night, a Crimson editor forwarded a link that his roommates had discovered to his friends at the paper. The link was to email archives of the Isis, a female final club, that were left as public information on the clubs HCS email account. Included in those archives were half of their punch book that contained comments on each of the prospective members, an email outlining the punch process, and another outlining possible trip plans. Immediately, members of the Crimson staff began to debate how to approach the exposure. Some argued that the emails should be ignored, others believed they should be published in full. In the end, they decided that they had a responsibility to cover and reveal a secretive process that affects many members of the community. But, they also believed that they needed to do so in a contextualized, comprehensive manner, and that an immediate and short piece was not sufficient and would amount to gossip, not understanding. Today, five days later, the Crimson published a long news piece (along with a side piece and two graphics), a staff editorial and a column on the topic.

I had discussed how to approach the issue with people at the Crimson and a friend at the Isis because I had received the email and was asking myself the same questions. I chose not to publish anything about the issue because I believed that it required research and context that would focus on the club system as a whole, not simply the Isis. Because the Crimson people I spoke to seemed to agree, and had a reporter working on it, I felt comfortable deferring. Today’s efforts by the paper, however, left me with mixed feelings. The news piece was certainly long, but I was disappointed that it made little effort to broaden the issue to the rest of the club system, especially because the Isis is among the most benign members of the club community. I felt as if, in fighting back against a group of school yard bullies, they had taken on the annoying, heckling sidekick bully and kicked his ass because they had the chance. Sure, he kind of deserves it, but it's not really that satisfying. (more in expanded post)

This is not to say that the piece wasn’t valuable. It still points to what is fundamentally an unmeritocratic system of privilege, reveals aspects of superficiality in our entire community that are uncomfortable but important for us to see, and enlightens us as to what goes on behind doors that seem important partially because they are closed. But the piece should have gone to the general, recognizing that the Isis is fundamentally a socialite drinking club for women without serious class or race privileges (so far as I know) and without a building. Its impact on our community is somewhat limited, but it exemplifies tendencies and systems that are not.

The staff ed, representing the official position of the Crimson, understood this and articulated it very well:
In short, the Isis punch book has simply confirmed what we already knew about the unfortunate nature of Harvard’s elite social scene. It is certainly regrettable that the current Isis punch members are serving as the casualties of that which is endemic to the final club scene at large. But this tangible piece of snootiness serves as a reminder that these clubs institutionalize a brand of distinction that is altogether unimpressive.
The opinion piece gets what the news piece didn’t: the Isis is the sidekick, the culture and more powerful institutions are the real bullies. In the end, the Crimson was right to move on the story and expose a secretive process that affects people's every day lives. That is, whether we like it or not, what it is a newspaper's job to do. If the truth of the situation hurts members of the Isis, that says more to me about a problem with the truth than the people who expose it. It’s unfortunate, though, that the news piece had to focus on that smaller insight when I could have done something infinitely more valuable by making the conceptual step exemplified so easily in the staff ed. Hopefully, however, by reading the staff ed first, people will make that jump on their own while reading the news piece.

Headline News?

From the mainpage of CNN.com as of right now. One of them a little out of place?
Florida reels from Wilma

Wilma strengthens back to Category 3
2.2 million homes without electricity
Heavy flooding reported in Florida Keys
Naples man: "I saw a bunch of stuff flying by"
Man in Coral Springs killed by a falling tree

Coming soon: "Hurricane brings heavy rain, high winds." Note: This is not to make light of the hurricane, but the coverage of it.

Why do Black people sell drugs?

OK, so you all know that most rap music is poisoning the minds of today's youth and rappers should be more conscious of their deep influence on society and culture, correct? Cool. Moving on...

I'm going to start to do posts addressing questions regarding Black people that many may have long wondered. Question one is the title of this post and I will attempt to address it how I view it. Just my thoughts, man...

The international illicit drug trade is a multibillion dollar enterprise that draws its personnel from all walks of life, all racial and cultural backgrounds, and all age groups. In the early 1970s, then United States President Richard Nixon announced his administration’s new war. This war was not to be waged against poverty or small, Asian, communist nations, but against drugs. The flower power counterculture of the 1960s left America in a social state that brought depressants such as alcohol and marijuana from the slums to the suburbs as well as more adventurous and detrimental drugs such as the hallucinogens LSD and PCP. The 1969 Woodstock Festival in upstate New York seemed to epitomize what a generation of federal lawmakers and conservative parents feared: sex, drugs, and rock-and-roll. With the free-wheeling substance abuse of the 1960s behind them, an influx of Vietnam veterans and their various new addictions constantly re-entering America, and the introduction of cocaine to the nation’s high society ahead of them, the U.S. Federal Government instituted sweeping reforms in domestic policy to curb the trafficking, sale, and abuse of illegal drugs in America. New York’s infamous drugs laws passed under former New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller may serve as a prime example of the mid to late-20th Century Republican Party’s genesis of policies meant to be “tough on drugs”. Frequently, this has also been interpreted as being “tough on Blacks” since Blacks began being arrested, prosecuted, and incarcerated in as compared to Whites. alarmingly disproportionate numbers(more in expanded post)

The 1960s was also the heyday of the American Civil Rights Movement that brought to prominence such internationally recognized figures as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, and Huey P. Newton. Each of these figures met violent ends as they were murdered in Memphis, Harlem, and Oakland, respectively. The Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) hand in these deaths has always been a topic of debate due to the established existence of their Counterintelligence Program (COINTELPRO) that sought to systematically disrupt and disband each of the organizations in which these figures operated. One of the chief criticisms levied at the SCLC, NAACP, and other more mainstream Black civil rights organizations in general and the 1960s Civil Rights Movement specifically was that their gains were more tangible to the Black middle-class of America than to the poor majority of Black Americans. Problems with just political representation, public education, and the paucity of quality employment coupled with the increased circulation of diverse drugs in America’s urban areas pushed many young Blacks into the drug trade. It is a business that anyone at any age can enter, no licensing or official documentation is required, and enormous financial benefits can be reaped in a comparatively short amount of time. When shone in the light of a labor relative to capital relationship, in a society where the average inner-city minority in the workforce was making only a few hundred dollars a week at their 9 a.m.-5 p.m. job, who would not want to make hundreds or even thousands of dollars a day selling drugs?

Since White flight and the creation of the predominantly Black, inner-city "ghettoes" of America, the real-life situations presented to young Blacks have been anything but positively comparable to their more socio-economically blessed, predominantly White counterparts. Basic things such as a “good” education, health care coverage, and adequate housing are taken for granted by many of America’s more privileged racial and economic groups. These things are conspicuously absent in most inner-city areas of the country today and their existence or absence relies largely on the abundance or paucity of a community and family’s funds. The importance of financial capital in attaining these things leads to people in inner-city areas seeking financial capital through any means necessary. For these individuals, the most immediate and lucrative medium through which they can amass financial capital is through the drug trade.

The drug trade is the only multibillion dollar business largely conducted in poor, inner-city American neighborhoods. Think about it. Entering this particular vocation requires no daily commute, no documents validating an individual for work—including a college degree or high school diploma—and no prior experience. These first two necessities may be interpreted in a business frame of thinking as a lack of venture capital that is necessary to enter a business enterprise since both require some sort monetary input. Young, Blacks in poor, inner-city areas possess some of the most intense and innate entrepreneurial instinct to be found anywhere in the general population as individuals such as Dame Dash, Master P, and others with their (largely successful) myriad companies selling everything from music to liquor to car rims can attest to. Becoming a doctor, lawyer, or other highly esteemed professional requires an immense amount of financial and personal commitment. In the example of a doctor, four years of college averaging $25,000 a year in addition to three years of medical school averaging $45,000 a year is a costly and timely sacrifice. Granted, this assumes the highly unlikely prospect that an individual pays for their higher education in its entirety. Nevertheless, this serves to illustrate the point at hand when compared to the fact that selling drugs in inner-city America does not require any money to begin with at all; it is a direct application of the most basic of business practices: supply and demand, product to market, and cultivated physical resources exchanged for financial capital to consumers.

The allure of drug dealing is one too tempting for many racial minorities in inner-city America to turn away from. This sad fact of the matter stems from the aforementioned incentives of immediate monetary gain in addition to the lack of quality health care, education, and other things so common in more affluent neighborhoods. Following this line of thinking, the distribution of drugs is seen as the most lucrative and abrupt means through which to achieve their financial ends. No where else is this as simple as in inner-city America. Whereas more affluent communities are ripe with professionals in medicine, law, politics, business, and a variety of other fields, poor, inner-city areas possess fewer prestigious professionals or even people gainfully employed and not living paycheck to paycheck. Role models in suburban communities abound as young people are engineered for success, expected and continuously prepared to attend college since birth, and taught to strive for achievements, goals, and wealth above and beyond what their parents attained. On the other hand, inner-city minority youth are not raised to flourish and improve nor do they have many positive role models to strive to emulate; they are only raised to survive.

As was mentioned previously, harsh punitive measures are taken towards drug offenders in certain instances of the law and its application. The common destination of drug dealers throughout the nation is one that has experienced a nearly exponential increase during the past 35 years or so: this destination is, of course, America's jails, prisons, and penitentiaries. In the theories of the architects of America’s penal system, it was meant to act as punishment to civilians who broke the law of the land in addition to a deterrent against future crimes and criminals. Some would argue that this original goal was changed at some point around the late 1960s or early 1970s and the chief goal of the American penal system was then to incarcerate as many Blacks, specifically Black males, as possible as a means of social control post-Jim Crow. I would argue that the penal system has failed miserably at its original goal and should be, at the very least, radically reformed if not abolished. The reasons behind this belief most prominently include the fact that although “cruel and unusual” punishment is illegal in America, the American penal system can adequately be described as cruel although it is sadly not unusual. Additionally, the rehabilitation that criminals are supposed to undergo while incarcerated never occurs. Instead, inmates are forced even deeper into their "criminal mindset" through frequent and explicit exposure to violence; squalid living conditions and subhuman treatment; and little or no access to educational, psychological, and vocational rehabilitative programs.

There are so many forces pushing young Blacks in inner-city America to sell drugs that few can blame them for using their means to attain what American society has deemed and lauded as so important: money. Yes, selling drugs is illegal according to American law. Yes, selling drugs is regarded as immoral according to American society. Yes, selling drugs is only a short-term path to success according to the American dream. Nevertheless, these reflective viewpoints are not what inner-city Blacks immediately take into consideration when choosing to enter the illicit drug trade. Their immediate concerns are rising out of their current social and economic situation in the hopes of living a “Scarfacesque” lifestyle replete with money, a mansion, and all the social power, political influence, and economic security that they have never enjoyed. Black people sell drugs to make the money to obtain physical necessities and luxuries for themselves and their families that they do not have and no legislator, police officer, or warden is going to stop them.

Sunday, October 23, 2005


It looks increasingly likely that a few indictments are on the way. The big unanswered questions are: who? how far up? and what? So basically we don't know that much. Speculating, however, is fun. I thought Al Franken's speculation was especially funny (if in very bad taste and incredibly morbid)... Franken: "George H. W. Bush, the President's father, was the head of the CIA, and he has said that outing a CIA agent is treason. So basically, what it looks like is going to happen, is that Libby and Karl Rove are going to be executed. Yes, and I don't know how I feel about it because I'm basically against the death penalty." Watch the whole Letterman interview, it's pretty funny. (video links: wmp and qt)

something to look for...

Word on the street is that this week the Crimson will be stepping up to its responsibility to its community and running an article, a column and a staff ed focusing on Final Clubs (both male and female), the punch system, and some recent interesting occurrences. We'll have to wait and see where they go with it all, but, in case you haven't, check out this community's body of work on the subject. Hopefully, the Crimson will give me a good jumping off point to share my long-postponed final thoughts about the club system, and you to share yours!

ALSO: Also, I have offered a Final Club President space on the front page of this blog to offer and response to or rebuttle of the dialogue that has occured here. He has not taken me up on the offer, but I will let you know if he does.

ALSO: If anyone would like to make the same offer to a leader or a member of a Final Club (or take me up on it as one of those two things) and be willing to identify yourself as such, let me know.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

rainbow victory in a red state

As Judy Garland fans in the midwestern state might say, We're not in Kansas anymore. Well, we still are--but it's a less discriminatory Kansas.

Yesterday the state's Supreme Court corrected an asymmetry in its "Romeo and Juliet" statute that gave lighter sentences to older teenagers convicted of having sex with younger teenagers if the two partners were of different sexes. (Read about it here.) Prior to the Supreme Court's ruling, defendant Matthew Limon, convicted of same-sex activity, faced a sentence 16 years longer than the maximum penalty allowed under the Shakespearean statute.
(more in expanded post)

Among the encouraging elements in this victory:
The Court declared that "the moral disapproval of a group cannot be a legitimate state interest." It rejected the argument that homosexual sex is inherently more closely associated with the spread of STDs than heterosexual sex. And in denouncing certain arguments for discrimination that have held some sway in the past, the defendant's lawyer displayed the confident dismissiveness that Golis trumpeted in the Mansfield audience this week, calling the claims "patently ridiculous." And all this in Kansas?!

It's only a matter of time before same-sex partnerships are legally recognized everywhere; I think eventually they'll even be called marriages. In the queer movement, transgender, transsexual , and gender identity issues are the wave of the future. Get ready to expand your minds, everyone. That means you too, Harvey.

Big questions

I like them. You like them. So let’s ask some.

Well, for now, let’s start with just one. It’s a question that’s been preoccupying some Harvardians lately; a question that most of us continue to largely ignore; and a question that all of us should consider on a regular basis: what is the meaning and function of education, and how does it interact with morality and privilege here at Harvard? (more in expanded post)

If you haven’t already, check out the recently-published Student Essays on the Purpose and Structure of a Harvard Education for some moderately diverse perspectives on curricular reform. In addition to gleaning some insight, it’s entertaining to compare the authors’ concentrations with the approaches they took in composing their submissions (the mathematician’s essay is particularly well-structured with a compelling logical flow, while the classics concentrator’s is…pretty much boring and narrow). One of my favorites is Christopher Catizone’s “Enter to Grow in Wisdom,” in which he argues for a CORE curriculum that not only teaches students to engage in truth-seeking through various major methodologies and outlooks, but helps them to link those versions of truth in an attempt to answer the fundamental question, ‘how am I to live?’ Harvard students are often so focused on proving our merit and measuring up that we neglect the vital practice of formulating our own definitions of worthiness. We become so intent on performing well that we forget the importance of living well.

Maybe that hierarchical tunnel-vision partly explains the Lamont phenomenon that the Crimson staff recently lamented: students will show up when it suits their stomachs, or to revel in a provincial library protest, but ask us to commit to a real cause and suddenly problem sets and Beirut take priority.

Contrary to Professor Mankiw’s assertion in a Crimson article on the SLAM living wage campaign, Harvard’s main priority is not education—not in the best sense of the word (if "benefactors"--alums--care so much about it, why do so few of them become non-professorial educators?). Harvard’s business currently, as Crimson columnist Henry Seton pointed out a few weeks ago, is providing an education, a commodity that students can parlay into higher social status and more prestigious, powerful careers. An education is marketed as an individualized product (ours comes with a hefty price tag), glorified as a lovely abstraction, or stripped down to a cold skeleton of preprofessional training. Education as activism, on the other hand (to borrow another of Seton’s concepts), is a deeply social process of empowerment.

Last year, Golis tried to get this conversation started here, to no avail. So I’m asking these big questions again: is Harvard providing the kind of intellectual and moral education to warrant its reputation as the best institution of learning? What kind of (an) education do we want, and how can we get Harvard to provide it?

Friday, October 21, 2005

"Building Stereotypes" and multiple standards for discrimination

I really liked Hebah M. Ismail's editorial "Building Stereotypes" that was published yesterday in the Crimson. It brings up the interesting question of, as she puts it, "the double standard that exists regarding discrimination," and how making fun of some groups of people is more socially acceptable than making fun of others. This came up last year also a few times--one particular incident involved the "The Jersey Guys" radio show (101.5FM in NJ), on which racial jokes were made about Asian Americans, in response to Jun Choi running for Mayor of Edison, NJ. (more in extended post)

Here's an excerpt (transcript here):
Craig Carton: I'm using Jun Choi [said in fast-paced, high-pitched, squeaky voice] as an example of a larger problem.
Ray Rossi: and you know.
Carton: We're forgetting the fact that we're Americans.
Rossi: You know that he's going to get the. whatever that vote is
Carton: And here's the bottom line... no specific minority group or foreign group should ever ever dictate the outcome of an American election. I don't care if the Chinese population in Edison has quadrupled in the last year, Chinese should never dictate the outcome of an election, Americans should.
An apology was slow in emerging after this incident, in spite of the outcry from Asian Americans, and the radio station defended the skit as being just a joke. Whether it's useful to compare experiences is another issue, but I definitely think there are insidious attitudes about what it's more acceptable to make fun of that perpetuate discrimination.

On the other hand, sometimes things really are just funny. Like Russell Peters (I can't find the full video...), whose jokes are really largely racial-stereotype-based, but I find him really amusing. Where's that line drawn? Is it just that it's meant in jest that makes it okay? Thoughts?

DormAid Ad

Has anyone seen that DormAid ad on facebook.com that has a picture of an attractive woman in a French maid costume, above whom it says
Tips from Sophie, the cleaning professional: Why clean when there's someone else who wants to?
I've been facebooking like mad hoping to come across it again so I can show you guys. But to no avail. (no longer true! more in extended post)

Anyhow, in light of the pretty heavy controversy that DormAid was embroiled in (it originally launched itself as DorMaid*, and came under criticism from the Crimson and others for encouraging the already existing gap between students of different socioeconomic backgrounds at Harvard), I would not have expected something quite so potentially controversial from them...

Also, on the DormAid website, under the description of room cleaning I found this curious paragraph:
natural born cleaners
Each cleaning team consists of one or two trained and courteous cleaning professionals. They all have a good history of work in the industry and we have performed all necessary background checks.
...which I dislike, mostly because of the unintentional but definitely present suggestion that these employees are "naturally born" to clean...your room. Not so nice.

*I originally wrote MaidAid, which is incorrect

EDIT: Thanks to my compulsive logging in, I came across the DormAid ad again. Here it is for the sake of completion more than anything:

goings on

what's going on at Cambridge Common today? Well, Chip continues on his crusade to clean up rap music and elicit comments from readers. One reader tells him to "leave rappers alone" and let them "spit ignorant shit." Let them know what you think. Deb is asking whether or not DorMaid (or DormAid) has crossed a line with its French maid ad campaign. One reader claims it is "another example of Harvard students being overly sensitive about small issues." What do you think? And finally, two debates over gender and family, the first about Mansfield's supposed "New Feminism," hook up culture and gender roles, the second over the (possible) differences between the sexes, gender in child-rearing and men's role in the work/family trade-off. I wouldn't be surprised if these debates never ended...

Meanwhile, I wait, giddy like an 8-year-old on the night before Christmas, to find out who will be indicted! David Gergen says (video: wmp, qt): "The wheels are coming off the wagon."

Have a great Friday!

Thursday, October 20, 2005

I love rap...do you?

Judging from the overwhelming silence about the rap lyrics that I've made a weekly post, this may be the last one I do. To those who are interested in creating dialogue about the violent, materialistic, borderline mysogynistic lyrics of many of today's most popular rap songs that dominate both urban and mainstream radio and television and are deeply influencing young people from North Philly to Newton, Compton to Cicero, Bed-Stuy to Beverly Hills : I'm sorry. No comments usually means no interest and I want to get you all typing away in those comment sections.

Anyway, this week's lyrics come from one of the biggest up and coming rappers in the music business right now: Young Jeezy. I love the snowman. Really, I do. Nevertheless, some of his lyrics need to venture further than selling drugs, having lots of diamonds, and taking new women home from the club everynight. Here is the first verse from his song "Go Crazy": (more in expanded post)

Guess who's back? You can still smell the cocaine in my clothes,
like Krispy Kreme donuts I was cooking ounces of cocaine,
like Horse Shoes I was distributing these cooked up ounces of cocaine--commonly known as crack,
when it was time to visit the person that gives me the cocaine I had to turn in the drug money and use that to get fronted more cocaine,
it's as if I'm emotional, the way I "hug" (frequently stand on) the street corner where I sell crack,
I'm so emotional, I love my Glock (a type of gun),
cash is the king of the world I dwell in so what is more real?,
I'm all about the money, you can call me a surreptitious killer,
it's a bit hard to be drug free,
when Georgia Power, the company that controls the electric utility in Atlanta, won't give an ignorant person their electrical services free,
I switch means of slyly getting money from people, and I've been doing well ever since,
it's a good thing to tell the truth, friend, it only makes sense.

WHAT!?! Comment, please!

oh sweet justice


Even though it doesn't have that wonderful or gritty mug shot quality (or the usual name-plate), there's still something incredibly satisfying about looking at this picture and imagining him coming into the police station, doing the whole finger printing thing, and standing in front of that horrible gray background and trying not too look like a criminal.

You can also see the arrest warrant here.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

labor momentum grows

The signs are around campus, the OpEds (pro and con) continue to float around, and the Crimson continues with good coverage. Labor is finally back into the mainstream discourse at Harvard after a few year hiatus. The Student Labor Action Movement got good coverage in the Crimson of its hosting of Georgetown activists for a teach-in, and Mike GW had a great column explaining the economic and moral justifications for a living wage. Read the column. Seriously.

If you already support a living wage at Harvard, or decide you do after reading Mike's excellent column, sign the petition here!

If you want to learn more about the living wage campaign, check out a panel tomorrow night (Thursday) where you will hear from Harvard janitors, Harvard security guards, and an international human rights delegation. 7:30. Sever 113.

the beauty of "New Feminism"

When I went to Government Professor Harvey Mansfield's speech last night calling for a "New Feminism," I didn't expect to leave feeling inspired. I figured that I would go, listen to him say provocatively sexist things for an hour, and leave spitting mad and ready to argue with someone. But it didn't happen. It's not because he did something other than what I expected. He did, in fact, spend the hour saying provocative and sexist (as well as homophobic and transphobic) things. He also essentially spent the hour defining men as aggressive and unloving dolts and women as passive, caring baby-makers (I'm exaggerating a bit, but that was the gist of it). But, rather than being disgusted, I left inspired.

He seemed almost benign, a sad throwback to another time grasping for some sort of relevance as the rest of the world moves on. More importantly, those that challenged him, feminists of various strips, queer activists and other audience members, appeared radiantly confident, had sharper points, and also themselves seemed more bemused by this strange old man than offended. Not to say they weren't offended, his words still attempt to marginalize entire communities of people and pigeon-hole women. But his words also seemed so stale that their punch was more of a pinch. The people who challenged him did so comfortably and confidently, knowing that theirs was no longer a marginalized position but a fully formed political force that could easily stand up to this towering and mythical conservative pseudo-martyr figure. That is why I left feeling inspired.(more in expanded post)

What the Crimson story today failed to note (among many things too long to list in this post), was the fact that most of the audience spent most of his talk holding back laughter and looking at each other with amazed bemusement. Mansfield wasn't just ideologically (i.e. "subjectively") wrong, his understanding of feminist theory was shockingly elementary and the philosophical groundings of his ideas were sketchy at best, nonexistent at worst. And, contrary to the Crimson article's claim that he "felt most comfortable when answering questions from the audience," he spent most of the questioning period on the defensive, uncomfortable and unable to answer even the most fundamental challenges. Instead, he responded by doing one of three things: repeating back a point from his main talk and adding a dismissive attempt at humor, claiming that such situations were "exceptions" that didn't need to be handled in regards to his point, or noting that this was a good question but, while he simply didn't have the time to give it a fair response, to "trust him" because he did, in fact, have a good answer to that point.

We could repeat the argument itself here if someone wanted to, I don't mean to dismiss his ideas off-handedly (although we already have been having this conversation to some extent). But rather than doing so immediately, I wanted to recognize the beauty of the situation and how inspired I was to see a room of brilliant young thinkers, activists and students respond with such confidence and coherence, knowing that his is the way of the past and theirs is the way of the future.

goings on

what's going on here at Cambridge Common today? Well, Katie has joined us to share some wisdom, so welcome her to the team. Deb's manifesto on "why Asian American issues are issues" has caused a bit of a stir, so check that thread out. And my note that men need to step up to the plate in the "career or a family" debate about women has lead to an interesting discussion. Read all of those, comment away and have a great Wednesday!

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

truthiness: welcome to the Colbert Report

So the Colbert Report, the Daily Show spin-off parodying the Bill O'Reilly's of the world as opposed to simple news, debuted last night (it's pronounced: coal-bear re-pore, as Colbert says "it's French, bitch"). In the debut, Steven Colbert did a speech about "Truthiness." The speech was a brilliant send-up of the anti-intellectual, emotional populism that dominates American media today:
I don't trust books, they're all fact, no heart. And that's exactly what's pulling our country apart today. 'Cause face it folks, we're a divided nation. Not between Democrats and Republicans, or conservatives and liberals, or tops and bottoms. No. We are divided between those who think with their head, and those who know with their heart.
Obviously, Colbert is satirically coming down on the side of heart, of the "gut-check," but his point is actually a fairly profound one. Watch the entire two and a half minute video here: windows media player and quicktime.

Warm greetings, everyone

I’m Katie, a sophomore joint Social Studies and Women Gender and Sexuality concentrator, and I’ll be joining Deb as another guest writer for the next few days, treating you to a double dose of minority female feminist perspective. This doesn’t mean Deb and I will line up on every issue; contrary to popular belief, not all feminists think alike (also contrary to popular belief, feminists do occasionally think. It helps break the monotony of our hysterical ranting).

I guess I picked an auspicious time to make my guest appearance, since right now ‘women’s issues’—which, as Golis and others point out, are also men’s issues—are hot on campus. Harvard Right To Life has launched an extensive postering campaign with fliers reading: “If it’s not a baby, you’re not pregnant.” Last weekend’s Conservative Women’s Conference drew a decent crowd (I attended the final seminar and learned a thing or two!). Dreams of a Women’s Center (or nightmares, according to some) appear to be materializing at long last. And tonight promises to be a fantastic women’s-issue bonanza, as both world-famous gender theorist Judith Butler and our own beloved fountain of wisdom Harvey Mansfield are speaking to separate audiences about women, gender, and feminism (Butler at 6:05 in the Holyoke Center and Mansfield at 7:00 in Sever 113). The combo is almost too good to be true.

Given last year’s Summers scandal and the subsequent formation of the Women and Minorities Task Force, an increase in feminist and gender-focused dialogue is unsurprising and highly appropriate. Happily, Cambridge Common has done an admirable job so far of contributing to the dialogue and tackling feminist issues. In fact, even independently of its progressive leanings, this forum is a feminist-friendly site. Not just because all the current regular writers identify as feminist in some sense (Golis remains quasi-closeted as a feminist, but there’s hope for him yet: at least he’s joined The F-word’s facebook group), but because of the very nature and purpose of the blog itself. (more in expanded post)

Consider the archived “end the monopoly” post, a mini-manifesto of sorts that lays out Cambridge Common’s goals. At first glance, feminism doesn’t exactly leap off the page—the piece seems innocuous enough. Were “monopoly” the only CC posting I had ever read, I would think that the blog's aim is merely to provide critiques that expose gaps in Crimson coverage and opinion making, essentially offering more 'facts' in order to provide students with a patchwork of news--a more 'complete' or 'objective' view of Harvard news. A noble object, I guess, but kind of ho-hum. The exciting part—and, I would argue, the feminist-friendly part—is buried at the very end of the piece: the declaration that "we deserve more than one opinion and one concept of 'news.'" Now we’re talking. By addressing not only Harvard happenings and national/international 'newsworthy' events, but also the underlying ideological and epistemological foundations that affect the way we interpret news, or what counts as news, as well as the way we interact as members of a community independently of newsmaking machines, the blog really does (or could) attempt to re-envision 'news' as a concept.

For me, the opportunity to expose and discuss underlying assumptions, value structures and frames in newsmaking, education, politics, and social life is one of the most encouraging properties of Cambridge Common. It represents a cornerstone of contemporary feminist analysis: forgoing pretensions of unearthing and disseminating 'the' truth in favor of critically examining multiple, contingent truths. Feminism uses gender as a helpful starting point or lens in these critical analyses—since Cambridge Common only sometimes approaches topics from a gender angle, I would characterize it as feminist-friendly, rather than outright feminist.

If you’ve managed to make it this far in my classically longwinded feminist introduction, bless your patient heart. Since definitions of feminism practically outnumber feminists these days, chances are you may not agree with my characterization of Cambridge Common as feminist-friendly; or, if you do, your reasons might differ from mine. Maybe you’ve been waiting for the chance to unleash a scathing critique of feminism as you see it. Maybe you, like many of us, are still a little unclear on what exactly feminism is. Maybe you wonder whether the term is too politically loaded or anachronistic to be useful these days. Comment away! And for those of you who would rather zoom in from the big-picture view to discuss feminist issues with greater specificity, I can’t think of better fodder than Butler’s and Mansfield’s presentations tonight (again, 6:05 in the Holyoke Center and 7:00 in Sever 113, respectively). Hope to see you there! Especially you, anonymous(es). :)

pulling back the curtain

In case you missed the news about this last week, check out Jon Stewart's coverage of the White House's Wizard of Oz moment when we got to see them rehearse a scripted conversation between the President and a group of troops. Video clips: windows media player and quicktime. As always, brilliant.

Why Asian American Issues Are Issues

To begin, I never really talked about myself, just my topics, so here's a belated introduction. I'm a junior in Mather house, and my name is Deb. I've done various fun things on campus like Expressions, BachSoc, Summer Science (SUP) and Strong Women Strong Girls; offcampus, I've volunteered as a translator for Sharewood, a free health clinic in Malden, MA, and I worked this past summer for Physicians for Human Rights. Last spring, I founded the Asian American Women's Association (AAWA) with Catherine Chang '07 and Meghan Tieu '07.

In my previous post on fetishization/Asian American issues, an anonymous commenter raised some interesting questions about various kinds of oppression of Asian Americans, and how the context of our overrepresentation at places like Harvard changes the nature of this repression, or at least the way it is seen. I think the best way to address these questions is to begin at what for me is the root of Asian American issues on campus, which is closely tied to the reasons why I founded AAWA, and what I hope this organization will do. (more in extended post)

I have spent a lot of time at Harvard observing different communities. Until AAWA began last spring, I was not an active member of any Asian/Asian-American groups on campus. In that time, I came to feel that the Asian population at Harvard, though it is a whopping 16-19% per class, is incredibly fragmented. Though it may seem like we all know each other, it's really more like a group of small circles who are only very tangentially related. I personally didn't feel that there was an all-encompassing "Asian" community; there was most certainly a Taiwanese, or a Vietnamese one, but not one that encompassed all of us. And South Asians were very segregated from the East Asian or even Asian American organizations, which I think is more or less unique to Harvard, but may have understandable roots in the fact that, to put it simply, most East Asians can be mistaken for one another but I'll never be mistaken as being from India. I was most struck by the lack of cohesion among Asians at Harvard this last spring during UC elections, when candidates were fighting for BSA, BMF, Fuerza endorsements, when Latinos and Blacks at Harvard are each about 10%. No mention was made (or I didn't hear of one) of getting Asian American endorsement. Unlike other minority groups, the strength does not lie visibly in an umbrella organzation like the BSA (so Asian American Associaion, AAA, for us) but rather in many strong culturally-focused groups. With simply so little unity of the community, less activity/vocalization of Asian Americans in recent years, and the tendency of Asian Americans to be a more apathetic and very personal goal-oriented group who might participate less in voting, it made sense that the "Asian" vote, or the "Asian" endorsement wasn't worth it. (I'm going to refer to all Asians at Harvard as Asian Americans, becuase I believe that though I was born in Taiwan and lived there for a significant part of my life, I will likely live and work and have a family in the West, as is likely the case for most Asians at Harvard, and thus it seems to make sense that we are really Asian American, or will be perceived as such).

The lack of cohesion is an understandable phenomenon. As a very immigrant/first/second-generation-heavy population, ties to cultures and home countries are very strong. Most Asians at Harvard don't identify as "Asian-American" but rather as Taiwanese, Korean, Chinese, Vietnamese... and in general I think that Asian cultures are very nationalistic, and take international beef very seriously and personally. Last year there was a little tension when CSA (Chinese Student's Association) wanted to do a dumpling workshop, which TCS (Taiwanese Cultural Society) traditionally does. Dumplings are both Chinese and Taiwanese (and in various other forms, Japanese and Korean...) but the problem is that the two have a very similar membership demographic, and share similar cultures, but with the very large dividing force of political tension. In addition, there is no real "Asian American" identity that contributes to the lack of cohesion or sense of unity; it is even more essential, then, that we create one ourselves before the one that has been imposed upon us by external views becomes an impossibly removed reality that is yet impossible to remove.

This is why AAWA was begun. Cat, Meg & I believe that though we may identify first and foremost with our culture and ethnicity and not as Asian-Americans (and thus may be active in a cultural organization instead of a politically active on such as AAA), we do identify strongly as women. In the belief that uniting Asian American women in our shared and unique experience as Asian American women, or Asian women in the west, we can take a step towards bridging the fragmentation and create a community that is Asian American, supportive, involved and aware.

A cohesive community of Asian Americans is essential. While there are entire countries full of people who perpetuate their own cultures and concern themselves with their politics along with many Asians in America who do the same, who's advocating for Asian Americans and speaking out about Asian American issues? That is our responsibility, and one of the reasons why AAA exists and why AAWA was created. I think the comments on my last post highlight these big questions: what are Asian American issues? Are there any, given the apparent success of Asian Americans? The prevalence of these kinds of questions is the very reason why I believe that organizations such as AAA and AAWA are different from cultural or social organizations and why they are so essential. Particuarly at an institution as powerful and as privileged as Harvard, it is imperative that we, as Asian Americans at Harvard, educate ourselves about the greater community of which we are a part but are not representative of, so we may in turn increase awareness in those who are not directly involved.

It is always a dangerous thing to judge by appearances only, and this is even more significant when it comes to a population such as Asian Americans that is loaded with stereotypes, stigma and the myth of the model minority (which Professor Vivian S. Louie has written about). The 19% of Harvard that is labeled "Asian American" is far from representative of Asian Americans in the US, not only in that nationally, Asian Americans are only 4%, but most significantly in that Asian Americans at Harvard are overwhelmingly East Asian, and not representative of the ethnic and socioeconomic diversity that really exists. Asian Americans are not a homogenous group, but are too often treated as such. While most people view Asian Americans as the non-minority because of how well Asian Americans seem to be doing as far as enrollment in higher education goes for example, significant proportions of Asian Americans in the US are doing very, very poorly. Populations from in particular Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos, but also poor immigrants from China etc. actually have higher rates of dropping out than African-Americans, who are traditionally viewed as a more "at-risk" population. But because the most often seen face of the community is the successful one, those who fight to live on the poverty line, and those who never make it through highschool are forgotten and written off because of their more successful, more affluent counterparts, who are entirely different from them.

So in response to the suggestion made by a commenter on my last post, yes, it may be more difficult for people at Harvard, especially with their perception of Asian Americans in the US as the unrepresentative Asian American population seen here at Harvard, to see Asian American issues as newsworthy because it seems unlikely serious repression or oppression would happen to such a "dominant" minority. But it is because of this very fact that these issues seem unnewsworthy that makes it all the more important to talk about them; if appearances were consistent with the truth, then there would be no issues. But the fact is that there is a lot about Asian Americans that is never spoken of, and because of strong lingering nationalistic views, has fewer activists to give voice to those who can't be heard.

My thoughtful commenter also wrote:
In fact, I'll even hide behind my anonymity and ask a more provocative question: Because Asian-Americans have been among the most successful minority groups to reach the upper echelons of American society, should we give their claims of oppression less weight?
Though understandable, it's very dangerous to belittle the "meaningfulness" of certain forms of oppression on the basis of appearances, especially since Asian Americans are a such a mis-stereotyped group. Moreover, repression does not necessarily involve one huge population oppressing fewer people, or one race oppressing another. It can happen within racial lines, and regardless of the size of the populations involved, and it can happen to a "successful" population, in a non-traditional but just as serious way.

As for proof of "systematic oppression of Asian Americans on campus," I don't have any. Because I never claimed that systematic oppression of Asian Americans on campus exists; in fact, the kinds of subtle repression or suppression such as being written off and pigeonholed, or expected to conform to unrealistic standards or stereotypes are not systematic, but subconscious, and likely inadvertent. I see it every time I tell someone I am a premed BioChem concentrator, play the piano and the violin, did ballet, was good at math... Before I can tell them about my passion for poetry and human rights and little kids, I've been written off as an academic, uninteresting, hardcore Asian premed who "sold out" into the sciences, or whose choices have been made by her parents. I see it when a Final club has a party that casually claims to be celebrating one rebel group in Chinese history, but includes Japanese lettering from a memorial for Japanese soldiers that died fighting those Chinese rebels, and the cultural insensitivity or ignorance in both the idea and the careless mixing two very distinct cultures. I see it even when Asian Americans themselves capitalize on the Asian fetish, using it to their advantage in a small situation but simultaneously and unintentionally contributing to its legitimization. It's not systematic oppression; it's widespread ignorance that quietly represses. It's ignorance of these issues that lets people (both Asian and not) think it's okay to make jokes that reaffirm negative stereotypes of Asian Americans. It's ignorance that makes people think that previous silence and the fact that nobody has ever mentioned to them anything about these issues means nothing is wrong and that these issues don't exist. It's ignorance that lets subtle racism perpetuate. It's ignorance that makes it easy to dismiss this kind of "oppression" as not oppression, when it is simply different from the kind of oppression we are so familiar with, one that involves black and white. It's ignorance that allows these issues and these ideas that are so quiet but so pervasive to to creep into even the most educated and thoughtful of minds. But it is also dialogue that allows this ignorance to be erased, that allows these issues to be aired, to be considered, to be addressed, and to one day, be resolved.