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Wednesday, November 30, 2005

what a mess!

(Before you read this, read the entirety of Chip's post below and Sarika's comment. They are a lot more important, and I'm a bit embarrased at my interest in relatively frivolous things like UC debates in comparison to World AIDs Day.)

I just got back from the UC debate. What a bloody mess. The post is a little bit ramble-y, and please forgive any small errors. But a few impressions... The candidates were unimpressive, the moderators were funny and mean, and I'm not sure anyone left feeling like they had any clue what was going on.(more in expanded post)

On presentation, Grimeland and Hadfield won the night. They both came off as competent and intelligent, and Magnus got plenty of laughs (most of which he intended to get). Annie was also composed and graceful, although she had almost no time to speak. Haddock came off as knowledgeable and competent, but he spoke about two times as fast as he should have and constantly thanked people for their "great questions" in a way that came of as a little insincere. I think someone gave Voith a horse tranquilizer before the debate started, he seemed confused and bored, and Gadgil kept saying how excited and happy she was but never cracked a smile. Point under dogs.

On the substance of their ideas, unfortunately, the under dogs either had no ideas or ideas from Mars. Q: "How exactly are you going to raise 10 million dollars?" A: "People will give it to us." Alumni are apparently waiting with baited breath to through tons of money at a 20 year old organization that is still coming to terms with how it handles and distributes money. Q: What do you think about the Council's role in social programming? A: Maybe they should do this, but on the other hand maybe they should do that... we want to reform the UC!", but apparently aren't willing to articulate what that reform would actually look like.

Substantively, Haddock won the debate but just barely. Haddock came off as knowledgeable but occasionally fell into meaningless platitudes and defended his support for ending student involvement in social planning clearly but unpersuasively (although I'm biased). Voith had a good line, "I think the UC should be more than a bank", but never really explained what that meant (he should have, I agree). When he woke up from his stupor he was good in terms of defending the UC's involvement in social life but didn't really explain what he wanted. Worst, he was terrible in defending his own complicity in a series of CLC failures.

Finally, the general tone of the debate was pretty mean-spirited and substanceless. Some of the questions were good and provocative (and even funny), but crossed a line into mean that flustered the candidates and created a weird dynamic of undirected and strange animosity. In offering opportunities to the candidates to ask each other questions, the moderators continually said something like "it's your turn to take a pop-shot at so-and-so!" That was a far too accurate description of what was going on...

In general, I was entertained but disappointed by the whole thing. At a time in which serious things are being discussed (well, serious in this context...), I didn't feel like anyone attending actually understood the ideas being forwarded, I didn't feel like any of the candidates did any sort of job articulating and defending their positions, neither they nor the moderators seemed prepared for the event (the moderators have the excuse of being asked too late, unclear about the candidates), and no one engaged each other in actual dialogue. Here's to hoping we can do something here tomorrow that didn't happen at the debate tonight...
Please remember CC's policy on anonymous comments related to the UC campaigns.

Lest we forget...

That tomorrow is World AIDS Day and the entire month of December is AIDS Awareness Month. I feel that the fact that UC Elections, midterms, final clubs new members events, etc. are going on should not take away from people getting involved with this global problem. There are myriad events on campus from the Medical School to the School of Public Health that will be happening this week. In my expanded post, I've included events that will be taking place on campus this week. Hopefully these events will bring about awareness that will eventually result in positive action in each of their attendees. (more in expanded post)

7-10 pm Emerson Hall 105
Philadelphia- When a man with AIDS is fired by a conservative law firm because of his condition, he hires a homophobic small time lawyer as the only willing advocate for a wrongful dismissal suit.

*Wednesday, Nov 30*7-10 pm Kirkland House JCR
State of Denial- an unprecedented and unflinching look at how the citizens of South Africa are living with the AIDS epidemic, given the climate of governmental confusion and neglect.

*World AIDS Day, Thursday, Dec 1*
7-10 pm Yenching Auditorium or Thompson Room, Barker Center (watch posters for final location)
And the Band Played On; the story of the start of the AIDS epidemic, stigma, and the political infighting of the scientific community.
"The HIV Roentgenogram Reveals Serious Structural Weaknesses in Public Health"
DR. DONALD P. FRANCIS, MD, PhD, Executive Director of Global Solutions for Infectious Diseases

*Friday, Dec 2*
7-10 pm Yenching Auditorium
Pandemic: Facing AIDS; Forty million lives. Twenty years of AIDS. Five stories. One pandemic. Covers the key aspects of the world AIDS epidemic through powerful documentary stories about five patients and their communities, on five continents.

Free food will be served at all film events.

pregame analysis for the debate

Mr. Schmidt over at Team Zebra has a great summary of things to look for at tonight's debate:
1. How will the Haddock/Riley and Voith/Gadgil outline and defend their positions on the UC's approach to social programming?
2. Will Grimeland/Hadfield clear the "credibility threshold," and make clear that they know their stuff and have a clear plan and motivation for leading the UC?
3. Which ticket will best demonstrate not only a grasp of the issues and the capacity to deliver on their promises (not to say these aren't important), but also a clear explanation of why, specifically, they want the jobs of UC President and Vice-President?
4. Which ticket will demonstrate an ability to talk about the UC in a way that makes the campus care about it?
5. Who comes across as a convincing leader?
Check out his full explanations for these five things, and check out the debate tonight at 8 pm at Science Center D.

the first discussion question

Starting tomorrow, each of the three tickets will be joining Cambridge Common to share their thoughts, answer your questions and engage each other in debate about the role of the Council, their priorities and qualifications, and their understandings of where our community and school is and should be. The first question, as I've just sent to the campaigns, is:
In light of recent controversies involving social programming and the political content of its advocacy in University Hall, many believe (myself included) that the Council’s role in our community is up for grabs as it hasn’t been in years. However, most conversations surrounding the issue are simply practical: “this works, that doesn’t and so we should or shouldn’t do this or that.” Rather than simply repeating your position on social programming or the Council and politics, I’m interested in what broader principle about the Council’s role on campus unites your policy positions. What, in other words, do you believe it means to be a “student government”?
They'll have 600 words to answer, and anyone who wants can have up to 200 words to respond or ask questions. I hope that this proves interesting, and I hope you all join in! I will post what they send to me tomorrow afternoon, so come back then!

news without context: what the Crimson doesn't know, we don't know

Members of the Undergraduate Council, similar to members of political student groups across campus, are continually frustrated with the shallowness of the Crimson's reporting on student politics. The Crimson, it seems, believes that it's role in such things (the UC, the Dems/GOP, BSA, Fuerza, SAA, AAA, etc.) is to show up, transcribe the obvious "facts," and write them down in the paper. This way, the students can know what happened but not know why it happened, who did it and how, and why in the world they should care.

The Crimson has now run four stories on the UC race in the last two and a half weeks. Most students, at this point, will know only what they've read in the Crimson, maybe they'll have spent a few minutes at each of the websites. But, for most, the Crimson will be the only non-campaign source of information they will get throughout this week and a half journey. For those of us who follow what’s actually going on, the gap between the news coverage and the political reality is wide enough to drive a Buick through. The fact that student opinion forms around this alternative reality of out of context quotations that lack analysis and background, ticky tack campaign violations and non-controversies, and unquestioned declarations of resume points is not reassuring for those of us who believe in some sort of student democracy.

Later in the post, I’ll note a few things that it hasn’t picked up on, first, let’s look at what it has. With 100% retention, then, what would the informed voter know at this point?(things we do know, and things we should know in expanded post)

If you're short on time, skip down to the bold.

From story 1, they'll learn that the Haddock/Riley and Voith/Gadgil tickets had formed, they'll learn that some still think Connor Wilson might run (he tried), they'll get a sentence or two on each of the individual's UC history (Haddock worked on libraries, ran against Gadgil; Gadgil worked on CUE and the Women's Center; Voith worked on the Afterparty and Yale Shuttles (ouch); Riley quit the council but worked on interhouse transfers and peer advising). Ok, so we have about two resume points each.

From story 2, they'll learn of the Grimeland/Hadfield ticket (including Grimeland's Norwegian Army service and Hadfield's failure to get on the Council in the fall) and they'll get about 2/3 of the story on the fact that some dumb ass on Voith's campaign bough HaddockRiley.com, Haddock got up in arms, and Voith gave him the URL.

From story 3, they'll learn a little about the normal UC news (CLC replacement tabled, South Asian Studies bill passed, etc.), and then find out that the first day of campaigning included a few possible violations that were a result of accidentally putting a poster on a Proctor board.

From story 4, ironically titled "Council Hopefulls Present Platform", they'll get to hear about prepared answers to six questions, fairly useless quips from each of the candidates, and some random out of context proposals from each of the tickets about funding alcohol-free parties, getting students access to coursepacks, and forming new committees to look into things.

So where does this leave us? A student, who cares enough to memorize each of the four news pieces they've read, will know: two or three bullet points about each candidate, some ticky tack news about websites and errant posters, and some random quotes about random positions only just barely related to student health.

What they don't know is that there is one major question in this campaign that the two major tickets widely disagree on: the role of the Council in social planning. Voith/Gadgil believe that the UC should create a social programming board in place of one of the three committees (CLC) that is separate from the UC and coordinates with the administration. The Haddock/Riley ticket wants to "get the UC out of the social programming business" and leave it to the administration.

They don't know that Haddock was unsure about this issue, proposed a referendum to "take this decision to the students," and then scrapped his direct-democracy ideals and took a firm position that strangely lines up with the Crimson's staff position and the opinion that his campaign manager forcefully expressed in the Indy over a month and a half ago. So much for direct democracy...

Do students know that all of the candidates voted for a bill on Monday night to not only create a standing committee to advocate for South Asian Studies, but also to automatically put unelected members of South Asian Association on the committee, and then promptly went to meet with the South Asian Association about getting endorsements for the election?

Do student know that a major part of the two main candidacies will be each ticket mobilizing their respective Final/Social Club: Voith is mobilizing the Phoenix, Gadgil the Seneca, and most likely Riley the Isis. I know this from talking to the candidates themselves and looking at the people in their facebook groups and in front of the Science Center.

Do students have any sense of what people think of these candidates other than what the candidates say about themselves?

Has the Crimson reported the very interesting news that the Council is fairly split, with about 14 members supporting Haddock and 9 supporting Voith?

(Alright, the rhetorical question format is lame. But I'm not rewriting all of that...)

These are all things an informed electorate should know. And, quick frankly, none of these things require anything other than a few phone calls, a little basic research, and the facebook to figure out. The Crimson, of course, will say that it is holding off on the meat of its coverage until after the debate, because that's when students start to pay attention. But, without the necessary context for understanding any of this, its unclear to me how any student can begin to analyze the information that comes out of a debate, understand whether or not an accusation or claim is accurate and what motivates that candidate to make that claim. It's also unclear to me that even debate coverage gets into any serious analysis of ideas or context that can inform a voter.

The problem is, the Crimson wants to send its good reporters, the people who believe in research and scoops, who want to understand context and motivations, to cover the Deans in University Hall, and that's about it. In assigning talented and experienced reporters they ignore the fact that often the politics that matters most to people is the politics that they're involved in: ethnic groups, political groups, service groups, student government. University Hall is important, but not all-important. Students need to have a framework for understanding their community, especially when they're making decisions about its future. The Crimson isn't giving it, which is why blogs like this and Team Zebra are popping up to offer analysis.

Please remember CC's policy on anonymous comments related to the UC campaigns.

another mission from God (this time in the war on reproductive choice)

The Crimson opined about it. I talked about it. And now you can watch this 60 Minutes piece about it: the FDA Plan B debaucle, an unsettling example of how religious and moral beliefs are obstructing women's access to over-the-counter emergency contraception (EC). The segment does a good job of showing how moral positions on Plan B--independent of the scientific evidence--are affecting women's access to the contraceptive not only at the federal level, with the OTC application, but also at the local level, as many pharmacies and/or pharmacists refuse to fill prescriptions for Plan B on ideological grounds. Wal Mart apparently refuses to carry Plan B at all--a particularly troublesome situation since the retailer caters to low-income people, and EC is especially important for low-income women who may not be able to afford abortions to terminate unwanted pregnancies. Interviews with Susan Wood (one of two FDA officials who resigned in protest) and David Hagar (who wrote the dissenting opinion used as justification for the initial rejection of the OTC application and believes God prompted him to do so) don't tell us too much we can't find in other accounts, but it's nice to put faces to names.

One caveat: on my reading, the piece implies a necessary connection between religiosity (they focus on Christianity) and the belief that Plan B is an abortifacient like RU-486. I think it's only fair to keep in mind that neither stance necessitates the other: not all religious people oppose contraception and/or abortion, or believe that a fertilized egg is effectively the same as a pregnancy or a baby; likewise, not all people who believe that 'life' begins at conception are religious. In any case, as Wood explains, Plan B is not an abortion pill according to the scientific definition because it does not disrupt an established pregnancy. Just something to keep in mind.

Note: In the original version of this post, I included a link to an article in The Nation that featured an interview with Hagar's ex-wife. A reader kindly brought to my attention the fact that Hagar's married life is irrelevant to the discussion at hand. With this in mind, I have removed the link. Thanks for your feedback! --kl

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Whoop Em!

Whatever happened to beating your kids? I'm not talking about punching them in the face for getting B's on their AP Calculus pop quiz, but I am talking about taking them home and physically reinforcing who's boss when they curse you out in the middle of a crowded supermarket. This NY Times article talks about kids who "act out" in public and the reaction from individual adults around them as well as society's reaction as a collective. I feel that this is particularly pertinent to life here at Harvard where spoiled, impolite kids comfortable in their privilege abound (disregard age...I don't care if you're 21 or 12). From the children of house masters, visiting scholars, and resident tutors running amuck to final clubs members too drunk with elitism to lift up their feet for their mansions’ janitor, some people just need a good whooping to get across things that aren’t sinking in verbally through reasoned requests. There are many a time when I and numerous peers of mine here have had to endure racism, impoliteness, or other snubs and not retaliate by knocking some sense into the punk(s) that did it. It's a daily struggle...

the Dems endorsement

Definitely check out Greg Schmidt's (the former Dems President) post on Team Zebra about the Dems endorsement. He argues that it is important for both heuristic and structural reasons, and makes a great case for why it rivals the Crimson endorsement as the most politically important of the race (I agree).

Considering the fact that three of the ten members of the Dems board (Bosch the VP, Arth the Leg Director and Abdallah the Membership Director) are already declared Haddock/Riley supporters (in the facebook group) and each of those three are current or former UC members who will likely have considerable sway in such a decision, I'd put my money on a Dems endorsement of Haddock/Riley or no one at all.

NOTE: Having Team Zebra to link to is fun! It's like having an actual Harvard blogosphere!

on a mission from God?

(Forgive me for stepping out of our non-serious world of campus politics for a moment, this article/issue seemed to warrant it.)

The New Yorker this week features a disturbing article about the War in Iraq. The article reveals a quiet controversy over US plans for replacing ground soldiers with bombings, US Generals' increasing frustration over not being able to get through to the President, and the disturbing depiction, by top pentagon and administration officials, of a President who is religiously and ideologically so rigid that he cannot respond to reality. Hersh has done some of the best reporting on the war, (breaking the Abu Ghraib story, for instance) and this is an absolute must-read. If you're short on time, or learn better through multimedia, you can watch this interview with Hersh from CNN: windows media and quicktime.

The article's depiction of the President is downright frightening. So that people read it, I'm going to leave it all on the front page. READ THIS(emphases are mine):
Current and former military and intelligence officials have told me that the President remains convinced that it is his personal mission to bring democracy to Iraq, and that he is impervious to political pressure, even from fellow Republicans. They also say that he disparages any information that conflicts with his view of how the war is proceeding.
After the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the former official said, he was told that Bush felt that “God put me here” to deal with the war on terror. The President’s belief was fortified by the Republican sweep in the 2002 congressional elections; Bush saw the victory as a purposeful message from God that “he’s the man,” the former official said. Publicly, Bush depicted his reelection as a referendum on the war; privately, he spoke of it as another manifestation of divine purpose.
“He doesn’t feel any pain. Bush is a believer in the adage ‘People may suffer and die, but the Church advances.’ ” He said that the President had become more detached, leaving more issues to Karl Rove and Vice-President Cheney. “They keep him in the gray world of religious idealism, where he wants to be anyway,” the former defense official said. Bush’s public appearances, for example, are generally scheduled in front of friendly audiences, most often at military bases. Four decades ago, President Lyndon Johnson, who was also confronted with an increasingly unpopular war, was limited to similar public forums. “Johnson knew he was a prisoner in the White House,” the former official said, “but Bush has no idea.”
The President's religious convictions have been widely reported (he told a newspaper when he was running for Governor of Texas that he had a long debate with his mother and Rev. Billy Graham about whether or not someone who doesn't accept Jesus could go to heaven: they both said yes, he said no). But, until now they have mostly just been cause for skepticism or adoration, and their links to his decision-making process only hinted at. If this depiction is true, however, we have a problem in this country that goes so far beyond partisanship and liberal/conservative that it boggles the mind.

NOTE: If you're interested in learning more about President Bush's religious convictions, I highly recommend this Frontline documentary: "The Jesus Factor."

Team Zebra on point

Mr. Schmidt at Team Zebra notes:
Don't get me wrong - I'm a big fan of the Glazer/Capp campaign's poster designs - one year, two days ago, I came up with them. It was to my great surprise, thus, to see the same design popping up all over campus and facebook profiles one year later, virtually unchanged... There are a dozen other factors on which the campaign could better be judged, but on this particular factor, the best they could offer is a slightly jumbled rehash of the poster used by last year's winning candidate.
Read more here.

goings on

Well, goings on as of late are essentially my writing and people's thoughts on the UC elections that began today. The only exception is my thought below on Cambridge Common's emergence into the political/media culture of Harvard over the last two months. For the UC coverage a quick navigation tool:

The candidates will be guest blogging Thursday through Saturday, offer a question.

This campaign may offer a unique opportunity to have an actual substantive debate about the Council, rather than just being about who is and isn't qualified.

The campaigns all have websites, some of which are very nice and some of which have gone password protected.

Team Zebra is also offering insightful commentary about Council/Zebra-related issues.

Share your thoughts on all of these things and have a happy Tuesday!

Monday, November 28, 2005

zebra, meet council

I don't know if you remember Team Zebra, but the writers (who include two of the higher ups from last year's Glazer/Capp team) have decided to blog about the UC races, at least for the time being. I highly recommend it, or something.

two month report: an established voice and an uncertain future

When Cambridge Common kicked off for a second time two months ago, I wrote a piece called "end the monopoly" about the way in which I conceived of this site as a challenge to the Harvard Crimson's monopoly of student opinion and news "truth". A month ago, I wrote a piece that outlined what blossomed over that first month: a community that not only offers an alternative, but acknowledges the need for a conception of media that recognizes the inadequacy of the "“official" writers and "news-makers" and the need for a readership that is an active part of the creation of news-history and news-opinion.

This week, Cambridge Common marks its official and undeniable entrance into the mainstream of Harvard's political and media culture.(more in expanded post)

With nearly 400 readers a day, a community of reader-contributors and front page writers that engage each other on a regular and amazingly productive basis, and recognition as a voice in Harvard's political community, we are excited to feel as though, at least for the time being, we've established ourselves as something that cannot be ignored. At the Crimson, Cambridge Common and the future of New Media became a part of the discussion in choosing a new leadership (I'm told at least three new Crimson leaders cited Cambridge Common in their applications). This week, we will host the three tickets vying to lead our community government, the Undergraduate Council, for a debate over the Council's role, their priorities and qualifications, and the future of our community. Most importantly, threads from Cambridge Common are cited and posted on email lists across campus, contributing a forum and perspective that broadens campus debates.

But, our future here is certainly uncertain. CC depends on its community members for their contributions and feedback, and if that community continues to grow it will be up to readers whether our discussions remain productive and intellectual or slide as many blogs do into the realm of petty quips and disrespectful attacks. There is only so much I, or any other front page writer, can do to maintain and expand the quality of that discourse. So, to mark the two month anniversary of Cambridge Common's rebirth, I wanted to say two things: 1. thank you for reading and contributing your thoughts, we are/may be doing something incredibly exciting here, and 2. please continue to read and share your thoughts, and encourage yourself and others to offer opinions and questions to our community so that it can continue to grow and add another voice to Harvard's media world.

As always, hit the comment button and share some wisdom!

campaign websites

Because the UC campaign began an hour ago, each of the campaign websites are up:
Haddock/Riley www.fixtheuc.com
Voith/Gadgil www.voithgadgil.com
Grimeland/Hadfield www.magnusandtom.com
While you can't put too much stock in such things (Teo and Samita had by far the prettiest website last year and they came in a distant third), the Haddock/Riley website is pretty gorgeous. In any event, the websites give you a basic understanding of their message and who these people are, so enjoy.

Please note the UC Campaign-related comments policy.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

UC Debate

My dear readers, I'm pleased to tell you that Cambridge Common will be hosting a three day long discussion, starting this Thursday, on the elections for UC Pres/VP. That discussion will be lead by the candidates themselves, who have been offered space on the front page to share their thoughts and respond to a different question each day. The Haddock/Riley and Grimeland/Hadfield tickets have already accepted our invitation. (UPDATE: All three tickets have accepted)

As I noted below, I think that this race offers a unique opportunity to have a broader and more intellectually substantive discussion of the Council's role on campus than has happened in past years, and you the readers should to be a part of it. I would love to hear your thoughts on what three questions you think should be asked each day, so hit the comment button!

NOTE: Please remember CC's policy on UC Campaign-related comments. Also, remember that publishing a comment on CC, like publishing something in the Crimson, is considered campaigning. If you are affiliated with one of the campaigns or working on their behalf, campaigning is illegal until midnight Monday morning.

dynamics, debate and the coming race

Because the UC race starts tonight at midnight, I thought I would offer today an opening thought. Since I've been there- a year ago I was the campaign manager for the Glazer/Capp ticket- I might be able to over an insight or two that may be left out of other forms of coverage. Then again, I may not, so feel free to chime in if I say something stupid… Because of the fact that neither ticket has released a platform, a set of priorities or a message, I won’t comment on them much here. However, I wanted to offer a thought about the possible dynamics of the debate to come.

The unfortunate reality is that for many students on campus, the decision of who to vote for is as simple as: “I like that guy.” Most people don’t think about the Council much, the Crimson’s coverage is inconsistent and fairly superficial (with the exception of this great piece from FM), and the fall races (in which most candidates run unopposed and those who don’t rarely debate) offer little in the way of political intrigue or intelligent discourse. Even the last two Presidential elections have only offered a nominal break from this simplified thinking. To be mildly superficial and unfair to the candidates involved, the last two years have offered a fairly typical dynamic of insider v. outsider, the council heir who had "put in the hours" and taken a typical route vs. the hip guy with a winning smile whose experience with the Council was minimal. As a result, the campaigns were less about vision and priorities and more about competence, experience, and a general referendum on many students’ frustration with the Council. This race, however, has the potential to break us out of that insider/outsider rut and move the campaign into a more complicated conversation. (more in expanded post)

We have three tickets. Two of them (Haddock/Riley and Voith/Gadgil) come with fairly robust leadership and council experience, but neither of which has taken a typical path toward the Council presidency and neither of which can claim the support of the Council as an institution. In addition to that, you have the third ticket about which little is known to, as the Crimson puts it, those of us who are "council watchers." While competence and experience is always a factor, both major tickets can claim extensive experience with working in University Hall, writing legislation and working with committees, but neither can claim the same amount as Glazer, Mahan or Rohit. Both the Voith/Gadgil ticket and the Haddock/Riley ticket cross the threshold of competence and experience, and neither can logically run a campaign against the "council status quo" that plays on some student's anti-Council sentiment. As a result, unless the Grimeland/Hadfield ticket can cross the competence threshold or organize enough people to make some noise, the conversation won’t be about who knows what their doing but about what exactly they want to do.

Add to that the fact that the role of the Council on campus is up for grabs as it hasn’t been in a while. The Council has moved fairly linearly in the last three years, building an increasingly strong relationship with the administration, developing an increasingly efficient grant process, and continually struggling with social planning and concerts. In the last year though, each of those things has reached a climax, as SAC (the advocacy committee) and FiCom (the grant-giving committee) are stronger than ever and CLC (the social planning committee) and the HCC (the Concert Commission) struggle more than ever. The current administration (my roomie Glazer and friend Capp) are trying to reform the structure to address this, but regardless of what happens many questions will remain. In addition, there have been controversies over where the Council should draw a boundary in terms of the political content of its advocacy that have caused many of us to ask whether or not the council has or should have a clear line delineating what it does and does not involve itself in.

When taken together- two apparently competent council tickets and a looming question that goes to the very heart of what the Council does- the race should be an interesting one and the candidates owe the campus a good debate on the big questions at hand. I'm sure ticky tacky politicking and non-issues like who bought what candidate's website and who said what about someone's vote will still be discussed, but let's hope we also go to this deeper level of discussion. Of course, with things like these a lot can change fairly quickly. If the campaign is substanceless, all of this analysis goes out the window outside of the political community and mobilization matters more than anything. If Grimeland/Hadfield get traction it's hard to know what would happen. And heck, maybe one of the two primary tickets will go in a direction completely unexpected, or maybe they'll choose to just agree on everything and fight it out by way of internal politics and mobilization rather than issues. Only time will tell...

I’ll be offering my thoughts/analysis throughout the next week and a half, and I’m sure other writers here will do the same. We would, of course, love you to get involved as well, so don’t be scared off by non-anonymous posting! As always, share your wisdom, correct my spelling/syntax/grammar/facts, etc.

NOTE: Please remember CC's policy on UC Campaign-related comments. Also, remember that publishing a comment on CC, like publishing something in the Crimson, is considered campaigning. If you are affiliated with one of the campaigns or working on their behalf, campaigning is illegal until midnight Monday morning.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

and the candidates are...

I'll have thoughts on the race later today or tomorrow but, for now, for your benefit, the candidates running for UC President and Vice President are:

Magnus Grimeland
(Pres) w/
Tom Hadfield (V. Pres)

John Haddock (Pres) w/
Annie Riley (V. Pres)

John Voith (Pres.) w/
Tara Gadgil (V. Pres)

Facebook profiles are always a good place to start when figuring out what each of these candidates is about, but keep in mind that each profile has likely been changed in preparation for the race. Most have them appear to simply have been simplified, with goofy or embarrassing things removed so that they can look leadershippy. Facebook is, in general, an interesting place for campaign watching, because it creates an alternative reality where numbers in facebook groups or messages or posts seem to matter. It's unclear to me, having run a campaign, whether or not they do, but you can get a sense of what the campaigns think matters...

NOTE: Please remember CC's policy on UC Campaign-related comments. Also, remember that publishing a comment on CC, like publishing something in the Crimson, is considered campaigning. If you are affiliated with one of the campaigns or working on their behalf, campaigning is illegal until midnight Monday morning.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

happy turkey day!

regardless of its problematic themes and origins, I think we can all agree to set politics aside (for just a moment) and give thanks for our family and advantages and think of those who are not so lucky...


Tuesday, November 22, 2005

policy on anonymous UC comments

Policy summary: no anonymous postings will be allowed on UC campaign-related threads. All posts must be signed with a name that can be cross-checked with one of the online facebooks (the college's or facebook.com), either with a blogger name or at the bottom of an anonymous post. All non- or dishonestly-signed comments related to the election will be removed. Read below for a full explanation.

As I noted once before, we here at Cambridge Common have been discussing how best to handle anonymous comments in the context of the upcoming UC elections. Comments are an essential part of Cambridge Common, as they allow you, the reader, to argue with, correct, or compliment our writers as well as engage each other in long, fascinating and important discussions about the issues brought up by the front page writer. Anonymous comments are also very important, because readers feel freer to express themselves and their opinions and engage each other without having to worry about subjecting themselves to personal attacks.

However, the upcoming elections make anonymous comments increasingly problematic. When discussing issues, anonymity is often a productive means of emphasizing thoughts over people, but when discussing people, anonymity can lead to people being able to spread rumors and attacks without having to identify themselves as a source. This is especially problematic when one considers the fact that a large majority of CC's readership includes members of the Council, Crimson staff, and other members of the political community at Harvard. While I think it's true that most readers will be smart enough to look at anonymous posts with some skepticism, I know from personal experience that we are not always that smart. I myself have sometimes made the mistake of taking anonymous comments as truth, and I know from experience that anonymous rumors and whisper campaigns can be a part of campaigns that occur within such a small community. While Cambridge Common is intended to be a place of conversation for the Harvard political community, I'm not interested in being a host for this type of anonymous rumor-mongering. Someone could, far too easily, make accusations about candidate's personal lives (x candidate cheated on their gf/bf, is a drunk, does drugs, etc.) or politics (x is lying about this, really thinks that, dishonors Vietnam vets, etc.) without owning up to that statement.

To solve this problem, we're going to do something very simple: when discussing UC candidates and campaigns, posters will be required to attach a name (either by putting it at the bottom of an anonymous post or registering blogger name).(more in expanded post)

That name will need to be easily cross-checked with the facebook.com or the college facebook. To ensure that that is done honestly, I will occasionally email the poster to double check that it was, in fact, them that posted. I will delete any post that does not have a name signed to it. If this becomes a problem, and anonymous or dishonestly posted comments become common, I'll turn on moderated comments and make it so that I have to approve any comment before it goes on to the site. I have zero interest in doing this, so please don't make me!

I hope this makes sense to people, it's a little thing, but I think it's important. I very much hope that this doesn't quiet discussion and debate too much, and I hope that Cambridge Common is a helpful discussion place for the coming elections. I'll allow anonymous postings on all other threads (including this one), so long as it isn't related to the UC campaign/candidates. Let me know what you think!

Monday, November 21, 2005

is the Harvard Crimson finally ready to take diversity seriously?

In my goings on post below, I noted that one reader had pointed out that the new leadership of the Crimson is problematically white and male. A small discussion has ensued today, including one reader’s point that the next layer of new leadership, the News Executives, does not suffer from the same problem and another reader's argument that the problem is cyclical. Even so, it is certainly a problem at the top, especially a problem on the Editorial Board (which will be led by eight men), and it's not a problem that is only experienced at the Crimson but also throughout Harvard’s “establishment” organizations. This, I would note, is an issue that we've been discussing here at Cambridge Common ever since our early adolescence last spring.

In any event, while the discussion of why this is true (and in what ways) is certainly one that should be had, I wanted to note what may be a major positive step: the Crimson leadership seems to understand that it's a problem and may be ready to make a serious commitment to solving it. One reader culled these quotes from the shoot papers (the Crimson's form of job applications) of a few of the paper's leaders (bolds are mine):
Marra [the incoming President]: "I am committed to fostering diversity on staff. When we lack diversity on all fronts, including racial and socioeconomic, our coverage suffers from a lack of perspective, and our editors lack information about campus events and issues. Productive relationships with ethnic groups are the first step towards recruiting minorities."(more in expanded post)
Seward [the incoming Managing Editor]: "We continue to hurt from a lack of ethnic diversity at The Crimson. Our coverage of minority groups is suffering—and often nonexistent—as a result. And though we have made some important strides in reaching out to diverse student groups, we need a concerted recruitment effort that begins at pre-frosh weekend, finds its roots in the comp, and does not let up until we have succeeded, however many years it may take. The Crimson’s homogeneity is perhaps our greatest vulnerability, and combating it will require an effort on par with projects like the capital campaign, website redesign, and switch to color publication. The diversity of our staff and leadership is no less important."

Hemel [one of the incoming Associate Managing Editors]: "The news board can’t expand significantly if it culls most of its staff from a narrow demographic subset. The AME(s) and/or comp director(s) should ask the leaders of campus religious and ethnic organizations to give us time at their introductory meetings so that we can make presentations about the comp process. It’s a win-win situation: those organizations will benefit by strengthening their connections to the news board, and we’ll benefit with a larger staff that more accurately reflects the make-up of the undergraduate population. Moreover, by sending the AME(s) and/or comp director(s) as news board ambassadors to religious and ethnic organizations, we’ll improve The Crimson’s relations with groups that may feel marginalized by our coverage. We’ll attach a human face to our product. And we’ll come back to 14 Plympton with a bucket-load of story ideas."

Peguero: "We should actively seek to recruit at racial minority/ethnic groups. We must not only regularly meet with and listen to diverse communities: we must become one. These groups gather for dinner once a week and open the floor to guests. Those of us part of these ethnic communities should pub the Crimson Comp early in the year at these meetings and emphasize the need for greater minority representation on the Crimson."
Whether or not all of this truly represents a growing political consensus to attack this problem, I don't know. I simply don't know the history of the situation well enough to know if this is simply a pledge taken by all shooting leadership or a new realization at the paper. But, assuming we take them at their word, I'm excited that there seems to be such a realization at the paper that something needs to be done. Maybe the Harvard Crimson is finally ready to take diversity seriously. I guess we'll have to wait and see. If these good thoughts turn into good actions, the Crimson will *gasp* deserve a lot of praise.

goings on

Happy Monday morning! I hope you're all sober and caught up on your sleep from the weekend, it was a good one of the ol' Crimson. So, what's goings on?

Well, as always Chip is rattling some cages with a call for a black people's solidarity that has started an interesting little give and take about racial and class identity. I'm sure he'd love people to chime in and keep the conversation moving. Katie notes the good stuff happening with the Harvard Green Campus Initiative and encourages us all to turn off our lights and whatnot, feel free to share your thoughts with her. And, as always, an interesting conversation has started related to my post on the Crimson's new leadership that includes interesting reader thoughts a pretty drastic lack of racial and gender diversity, the power of various jobs, and, of course, my complete lack of rationality. Share your thoughts about all of that.

Hope you're week is starting well, share some wisdom with us, and Happy Monday!

CORRECTION: As noted below, my reference to one anonymous reader's note that a Crimson editorial chair was the president of a Final Club is not correct. Many apologies, I will be more careful with anonymous comments in the future. Thank you for the correction, that's what comments are partially for, although I admit that it shouldn't be necessary.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

the best kind of contest

As 'ambitious' Harvard elites vying for résumé-worthy achievements and accolades, most of us were raised to think (and actually believe, on some level) that zero-sum is the only worthy game in town. What good is winning if no one else loses? But Harvard Green Campus Initiative, organizer of the 'emPOWER harvard' campaign, has devised a competition boasting the best of both capitalistic and communitarian ideal-typical worlds: the kind of merit-based contest (neither random nor rigged) where winners earn prizes and bragging rights by virtue of their efforts, where everyone can potentially win simultaneously, and where everyone's efforts benefit the community as a whole. Not even the Crimson can resist Harvard environmentalist groups' feel-good/do-good strategies that have helped the University earn a 2005 Green Power Leadership Award. So take 20 seconds out of your pre-Thanksgiving-frenzy day to sign the online emPOWER harvard pledge, help earn renewable energy certificates (RECs) to offset energy costs in your house, and, in short, do what Harvard kids like us do best: win big.

Who you wit?

Despite what is publicized to be genuinely good intentions by Harvard, HFAI has not made Harvard a genuinely diverse place socioeconomically. The Facebook group "SEF works for me" currently has 23 members. This is by no means an accurate count of the less-financially elite here at Harvard, though the membership count shows that group paucity of membership brings up an important issue for students at Harvard: being socioeconomically "out". As one who makes few qualms about the fact that I was at once "lower-class" or "poor" and now I am lower-middle class domestically (though have just about always been a member of the financial elite on a global scale), it's interesting to me to see the lengths to which individuals will go to maintain a facade of either being more financially secure than they are or less financially secure than they are. This happens in diverse venues (from Final Clubs to social justice organizations), through diverse people (from numerous racial backgrounds), in diverse ways (from not acknowledging a particular part of their past to actively working to counter their past). I understand how people can de-identify with certain aspects of their life and upbringing that are indelible and they must live with, but actively trying to be something that one is not isn't cool. (more in expanded post)

I grew up poor in a poor neighborhood in a city where most people looked like me and went to the local, bad public school system. Most of these people were involved with drugs and crime in some form or another and did not see college or 9 to 5 jobs as being a part of their future. Their world was encompassed in their neighborhood and the periodic trip to the downtown area of our city was considered a treat. These individuals' group conscious is heightened at different times in different arenas but does not usually venture beyond race. Most people in Trenton, New Jersey (where I'm from) see themselves primarily as being from a particular geographic region of the city (North, South, East, or West) and then a particular subgroup of that region (i.e. the Wilbursection area of East Trenton or the Chambersburg area of South Trenton), possibly. Consciousness as a resident of Trenton and city-wide pride are rarely issues since real interaction with people who aren't from Trenton is rare. The personal identification of oneself as being a resident of Trenton is looked down upon by most people from other parts of New Jersey (esp. here at Harvard.). Everytime I introduce myself to someone here that's from Jersey and they ask me where I'm from I say Trenton. Obviously. Despite the negative or surprised and uncomfortable reactions that I get (not to mention stupid questions like "do people get shot a lot in your neighborhood?"), my identification as a Trentonian is unwavering. If only more people here were more comfortable with their personal identifications, whether positive or otherwise, what a Harvard that would be.

People who identify themselves as being of a particular racial, ethnic, or socioeconomic group should strive to understand the common experiences of their people. Identification as a Black person in the U.S., for example, requires an understanding of the common experience that Black people have in this country and, to a large extent, this is not the Harvard experience. Black people in the U.S. aren't able to swipe plastic cards and enter ornate dining halls with buffets of food three times a day. Black people in the U.S. aren't able to live in rooms where heat is very rarely a problem in the cold winter months and things such as light, gas, and water bills are not combined with other living expenses to constitute a monthly struggle to remain housed and alive. Black people in the U.S., generally, do not take time to meet with one another and discuss their problems as a COMmunity disunited and aim to address this DISunity in order to socially network. We are extremely fortunate Black people at Harvard. Despite wherever we came from we are now "the elite". This is something I continue to struggle with during my time here at Harvard since I really don't consider myself above my racial peers not at this institution. More fortunate, yes, but elite connotes something that I can't quite articulate though makes me feel detached from the overwhelming majority of those who I consider "my people".

I propose a new practice: either you identify with the ideology and aims of the people in the group you seem to be a part of (and actively work towards those aims) or you de-identify with the group and assimilate into another. Black people? I say we expel those "members" of our race who are actively working with those individuals, corporations, government bodies, etc. who build themselves on the exclusion of our people from the benefits of their little game of life. Poor people? I say we stop spending money on buying our babies Michael Jordan's sneakers and take our labor away from the McDonald's, Harvard's, and Bristol-Myers Squibb's of the world who are gettng filthy rich off of our arduous work. Radicals? I say we stop talking about making drastic social, political, and economic change and develop a cohesive plan to actually do so. For real. In the grand scheme of things, after my life goals are accomplished, none of these classifications would even matter. Black, poor, and radical would lose all meaning since race wouldn't be a means of classifying individuals (a highly subjective and varying one at that), financially poor people wouldn't exist since the concept of material wealth wouldn't exist, and radical would not be slander. It would be how everyone thought and acted as compared to the current violent, competitive, and biased system people now operate under.

Crimson elects a new leadership

The Harvard Crimson elected a new leadership last week after a three week long deliberation. One major reality of the Crimson is that the people who know who runs what- who to call to ask for, compliment or complain about coverage, how to get something published, etc.- are the people who are best able to access media power at Harvard. This is not a bash at the Crimson, it's the kind of thing that's universally true about newspapers, media etc. and there's not really much they can do about it. The Crimson will, at some point, announce the new board and they certainly don't try to keep this type of thing a secret (you can just look at the masthead on any given day). But, it can't hurt to try to spread this knowledge as widely as possible. The jobs that matter most (to political people peoples at least), along with a brief description of what you need to know about what they do) are as follows:
President (the person who runs the show, spends a lot of time on the phone with lawyers, lives in their office) - Will Marra

Managing Editor (the person who runs the paper's content, other than editorial, makes daily coverage decisions, etc.) - Zach Seward

Associate Managing Editors (the people who run the news section, manage reporters, etc.) - Dan Hemel and May Habib.

Editorial Chairs (the people who run editorial meetings, have final say on staff eds, and generally run the editorial page) - Michael Broukhim and Matt Meisel.

Associate Editorial Editors (the people who run various aspects of the ed page and have varied forms of editorial powers above basic voting editors) - Andrew English, Brian Rosenberg, Piotr Brzezinski, Drew Trombly, Sahil Mahtani and Adam Guren.
I'll have thoughts on this at some later point, specifically on the political make-up of the new Editorial Board. In the meantime, do you have any thoughts on the process, the product, or the Crimson in general? Also, Crimson peoples, let me know if I screwed up any of the job descriptions (readers: take note to read comments for any such corrections!).

Friday, November 18, 2005


Sometimes you have to put away the analysis, the pondering, the partisanship, the post-modernism and the politics, and acknowledge a simple, fundamental, Kantian truth:

Yale Sucks.

See you in New Haven.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

on a roll with women's health

Today's staff ed deploring FDA partisanship re: Plan B covers the basic background info on the scandal I wrote about on Tuesday. The piece doesn't go into all of the latest developments, but it does include a helpful shout-out to UHS for providing easy access to emergency contraceptives (EC) prescriptions. So if you're planning on scoring some touchdowns of your own this weekend, stop by UHS to secure your free safety.

(From the HUHS website: "Students have access to free [Plan B] twenty-four hours a day through the Primary Care Department from 8 am to 5:30 pm and through After Hours Urgent Care from 5:30 pm to 8 am.")

goings on

Ah, Thursday morning, so much goings on!

Yesterday's most contentious post was my rebuttal of the Crimson's anti-doing stuff staff ed. Over 25 comments, and a relatively productive discussion, I thought. Add your thoughts if you like... In other labor related news, the janitors will most likely vote to ratify their new contracts today, and you can check out a photo essay from a Monday night labor rally below.

In non-labor related news, Chip offers a critique of US's foreign policy in relation to China and (first time for everything), Elephant and he get into a debate. Also, Katie highlighted on Tuesday the little known but hugely important scandal at the FDA over Plan B. Let's just say the Bush administration has a, well, different approach to women's issues. Finally, the Dems elected new leadership and I'm inviting you, the readers, to offer advice/compliments/criticism of the College Dems that you think they should hear in starting their year.

As always, jump into the mix and share some wisdom, have fun at Harvard-Yale, be safe!

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

great news!

Despite the Crimson coming out against a living wage and burying major events, conservatives across campus moaning about unions and activism, the University's overwhelmingly strong position at the bargaining table due to their anti-labor activities and because of the work done by the workers, the union, the Student Labor Action Movement, the Undergraduate Council, the College Dems and student supporters across campus, the Union announced last night that the workers and the University have reached a tentative deal. While not perfect, it is better than many had hoped and signifies a major step forward. As the SEIU spokesperson said: “Victory was made on a lot of fronts.”

overstepping its bounds

Despite its success in the realm of self-important and ill-informed opinion-making, the Harvard Crimson (HRC, I mean, THC) somehow found its way back to the perilous business of criticizing anyone who actually does anything-- this time going after the Undergraduate Council for a relatively moderate and overwhelmingly-passed vote of support for Harvard's poorest workers. While self-important and ill-informed, the Crimson staff must abstain from issuing any opinions relative to things about which they are fundamentally not informed including: the undergraduate council, campus activism, campus politics, national politics, international politics, sex, compassion, race, gender, poverty, history, philosophy, North America, South America, Africa, Europe, Asia or Australia. They may continue to write regular staff eds on Antarctica and beer...

Today, the Crimson staff ed bloviated that the UC should not make "political statements" about things like worker's wages. It's not just that I was compelled to ponder the disturbing trend of the Crimson Ed Board falling in line with the Harvard Republican Club's party line, I felt like I was in some sort of weird time warp. I thought to myself something like this: THEY ARE AN ELECTED STUDENT GOVERNMENT, WHOSE JOB IT IS TO MAKE POLITICAL DECISIONS. ALL OF ITS DECISIONS ARE POLITICAL, YOU RAVING MORONS.

Why don't we look at it this way: the Harvard Crimson editorial board- unrepresentative, unelected and unaccountable- believes that it should have more political power in a administration's policy toward Harvard workers (they, after all, wrote two staff eds on the subject) than an elected student government who's constitution clearly states: "We, the undergraduates of Harvard College , are an important part of the University community, and are therefore entitled to an active role in deciding its policies and priorities." (more in expanded post)

Ok, let's try to give their opinion that the UC shouldn't be involved in "political issues" a generous reading...

Maybe the word they meant to use was partisan. It's true that the UC shouldn't be a partisan body making declarations that divide people up as Democrats and Republicans. Although, they couldn't have meant that, since the bill was supported by four out of the Harvard Republican Club's eight fall candidates and valiantly defended by a Council member who was once a candidate for the HRC's board.

Or wait, maybe they meant that the UC's constituents were unsupportive. No, probably not that either, since UC members I have heard from (including one who voted against the bill) have noted that this bill got them more positive feedback and email during their outreach before the vote than anything they've done all year.

Maybe it meant that the UC should stick to some sort of precedent about politics. Oh, wait, I forgot about the fact that the Council involved itself in countless environmental policies last year, appoints a representative to the Shareholder's Board of Corporate Responsibility (or something similarly titled), and even under, SHOCK, Rohit Chopra supported a controversial bill that attacked the FEDERAL GOVERNMENT for drug policy, not to mention the fact that the Council voted during the Living Wage campaign of 2001 to support the cause, but not the tactics.

Maybe what they were concerned about was the idea that this wouldn't actually help the workers, and would alienate the Council leadership from their counterparts in University Hall. Oh wait, silly me, the Union people I spoke to were excited about the bill as something that would help them at the negotiating table and, oh, right, a few high up people in University Hall (like, real high up) have told Council leadership that they support the bill and are happy to see the Council take it up.

I'm trying to think if there was anything in this morning's staff ed that wasn't simply ill-informed, self important hackery (no, I'm not talking about the HRC). Oh yes, there was one accurate part: "The resolution also “calls on the University to honor the explicit promises it made to custodial workers in 2002.”" That part is true.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

photo essay: last night's labor rally

While you wouldn't know it from the way the Crimson buried it as a sidebar, with only a picture of a pre-rally rally at the Science Center, SEIU threw a fairly massive rally at the Harvard Club last night during a speech by Larry Summers. Over 200 workers and their families and around 50 students, gathered on Commonwealth Ave. throughout the evening. They chanted and handed out flyers, walked through the street, handed out information to alumni arriving in the parking lot for the speech, and stood in front of the building as the speech began. It was, and you can judge for yourself from the pictures, an impressively large, lively and loud affair. A brief photo essay is below the fold. (more in expanded post)

A photo essay...

The early group circles in front of the building.

The front door with the early group making their presence known.

Booze for the party goers at the speech.

A look inside the club...

The full group circles an intersection, 250 people strong.

A SLAM member hands an information flyer to someone arriving at the speech.

Students hold a sign in front of the Harvard Club's front door.

A few workers smile for the camera!

a welcome thread to new Democratic leadership

The College Dems elected a new leadership tonight: President Elect Eric Lesser and Vice President Elect Matt Bosch. They're both great guys, and it will hopefully be an exciting year for them.

But, here's my question: what advice would you give Eric and Matt for the next year? What's your impression of what the Dems do, or what they should do? What do you think the campus's impression is? Use this thread to offer some productive advice, constructive criticism, or unabashed praise...

return to Comstock?

No offense to our student newspaper, but it’s a sad day when the Crimson bests the FDA at making factually-based recommendations about contraception.

The final three paragraphs of today's NYT article on the FDA scandal surrounding Plan B reveal the downright sketchiness of the agency's conduct:
In his rejection letter to Barr, Dr. Galson suggested two ways it could receive approval. First, it could perform another study that included more young adolescents. Or it could seek to sell the drug "behind-the-counter," making it easily available only to women 16 and older, with younger women still needing a prescription.

Barr took the second approach in an application filed in July 2004. Although the agency's rules required it to issue a decision in January, it has delayed doing so indefinitely.

It is unusual for the agency to suggest a means of approval to an applicant only to decide later that its own suggestion might not be appropriate.
The indefinite delay isn't the end of the story, either. (more in expanded post)

In August of this year, the FDA announced that since the Plan B over-the-counter (OTC) application raises (supposedly) new and profound questions about the function of the agency (namely, whether it should be able to approve simultaneous prescription-only and OTC status to the same drug with age being the sole factor determining access), the FDA would ask the public to weigh in. Among the various groups that have responded so far, the American Society for Reproductive Medicine had this to say, and the Association of American Physicians offered an opposing opinion. The most comprehensive expert analyses I've been able to find so far are from the New England Journal of Medicine (check out the article by Steinbrook).

One of the more compelling arguments I've come across: if children are able to purchase drugs like aspirin, which can be deadly if used improperly, why the special concern that girls under 16 will abuse emergency contraception? From Steinberg's opinion piece in the NEJM:
The FDA has never required specific data on the safe and correct use of these or other medications in children and adolescents, although their improper use is harmful and potentially lethal. When asked in a conference telephone call with reporters about the effect of the decision, Galson said that every review is different and "requires a separate kind of risk–benefit assessment." He added, "I wouldn't think it is accurate to predict what we are going to do with future products based on what we are doing now."
Gee, that's funny: I thought precedent was kind of important in governmental decisionmaking...

In closing, a little history: The Comstock Act of 1873 criminalized trade and/or public distribution of "obscene, lewd, lascivious, indecently filthy, or vile" information and materials, including those related to contraception and abortion. The government overstepped its bounds in attempting to legislate morality, and women's access to contraception (as well as their general reproductive freedom) decreased as a result. Today, while the FDA couches its argument against Plan B in terms of safety rather than decency, the resignations of two of its own officials attest to at least some moral/political motivation to these shenanigans, and the outcome is the same: unfair restriction of women' s ability to control their own fertility.

U.S. or them

Here's an interesting article on Bush's upcoming visit to China and the economic and military issues underlying said visit. Namely, China's getting stronger on these two fronts and is making the U.S. and other countries scared. What has the U.S. been doing for the past +100 years (and especially in the past 60)? Funny how when the U.S. invades two countries under shaky pretenses the rest of the world is told to fall in line or suck it up, then the U.S.' (arguably) biggest political and economic rival aims to make a big step forward and everyone clutches their U.S. flag that much more tightly. The hate that hate produced...

Monday, November 14, 2005

goings on

I know it looks like it's been a quiet day here at Cambridge Common, but there are things goings on.

Beyond my attempt to remind the left that we too need tough questions and big ideas, Chip is working on a two-front debate that somehow links the "N" word and anti-capitalism. It's complicated, but it's interesting. He's also discussing Africa with Isa, who claims that Chimaobi is "whitewashing" the continent's problems with women. Also, a little discussion looks poised to break out over on the "Big Question" about Harvard's involvement in disaster relief. Finally, on an open thread Stillman and I are discussing how best to handle anonymous posting in the context of the upcoming UC elections, and "swift-boating" is officially a verb.

Glad you came by, jump into one of these discussions and share some wisdom. I hope your Monday was a good one.

leftist political philosophy?

A disturbing post over at the College Dems' blog Demapples caused me to nearly rip my hair out. The author's basic claim is that the left does not work in the realm of political philosophy and doesn't need to:
We don't really ask abstract questions about how we conceive of politics, what the dangers to modernity are, what justifies property rights, etc., because we don't really need to. By contrast, the right is all about political philosophy. The religious right, libertarians, strict constructionists, all of them focus their arguments on a very broad vision of what society ought to look like. I think that this reflects the fundamental fact that modern leftist assumptions are more self-evident than rightist ones, meaning that we don't have to invent some new philosophical justification every generation.(more in expanded post)
I think that the obvious nature of our beliefs is really a reflection of how successful they have been over the last century, between the New Deal, Civil Rights, the Great Society, the sexual revolution, and so on and so forth. Every so often we need to be reminded that we live in a pretty liberal country, regardless of who runs it.
My response in their comments section (now spell checked) was as follows:
While I think this would be a nice reality to live in, I don't think any of us do. First of all, to the premise that the modern left does not think about political philosophy: I think that this is true of most "politicos" who populate the IOP and Dems board meetings (I love you guys but it's true), and absolutely not true of the activist and intellectual left. What is true is that the politico left essentially ignores the activist/intellectual left both at Harvard and in modern politics, and instead plays games of tactics and targeting that have little or nothing to do with shifting the modern day discourse and reestablishing a leftist ideological cohesion.

To argue that the New Deal, Civil Rights or the Great Society simple came out of the "known" liberal tradition of America is simply bad history. The New Deal found its intellectual basis in leftist intellectuals of the 30s, post-Marxist intellectuals from New York who studied Trotsky and Dewey and Lippman. The Civil Rights movement found its intellectual bases in people like Reinhold Riehber (sp?), southern religious traditions, and radicals like C. Wright Mills. The Great Society found its intellectual foundations in the children of the Old Left like Michael Harrington and Tom Hayden.

While I think it would be safe to say that much that goes on in modern American leftists intellectual circles is not helpful (moral relativism, for instance), there is a ton going on that, quite frankly, most people involved in mainstream politics simply don't pay attention to either because they are 1. not interested, 2. worried of being perceived of as "radicals" or 3. lazy. Take your pick...

The reason that it's important for the left/democratics/liberals (whatever you want to call people who seek social justice, equality of opportunity and coherent communities), is that it is simply not possible to have a sustained life of political sacrifice fueled on the ideological fumes of when you read "Theories of Justice" freshman year. To truly commit yourself to a set of principles, and fight for those principles your entire life, you need to have a deep and profound set of beliefs that rises above bad pop history and superficial platitudes from the likes of mainstream democratic politicians.
As you can tell from my shoddily done intellectual history, it's not really where I'm at my best. If I retyped it I would distinguish between Harrington and Hayden, for instance. I would have including W.E.B. DuBois and Gandhi and Dr. King in my discussion of the Civil Rights Movement. I would have moved Mills into the column of inspiration for the New Left/Great Society (not that the two were actually THAT linked) as opposed to the Civil Rights Movement. Well, there are a ton of people I should/could have included, and I'm sure many I don't even know to include...

But that's neither here nor there. The point stands and the original sentiment is an incredibly important one to defeat in our political allies. We absolutely DO need a political philosophy, we need a set of analysis that asks and answers the questions: How can democracy truly function in the bureaucratic world of corporate media? How can solidarity be maintained in a country that is increasingly personally isolated? How can our capitalist system be checked at a time at which it increasingly seems to put profits before people? How can the left negotiate post-modern concepts of power in relationship to things like free speech, gender, sexuality, race and still maintain an open liberalism? These are not simply logistical questions, but philosophical ones that requires thinkers like C. Wright Mills (my newly discovered favorite) or Michael Harrington or W.E.B. DuBois or John Dewey.

While I don't know who that person is for us today, to not look for them would be the biggest folly. Intellectually, the modern left is a generation that is adrift, with different branches of our movement finding refuge in widely different intellectual ports, and no unity in sight. If we ever want to move as one again, if we ever want to be able to truly exist within an ideological movement for social justice and equality, we need to rediscover what those vague concepts mean in relation to the modern world, and John Rawls ain't cutting it.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

sunday open thread

nothing from me. What are you thinking? What are you interested in hearing more about, writing about, or asking about? Just hit "comment"!

Boston Globe: Uneasy Calm After (the Larry) Storm

The Globe has an interesting little summary of campus news from Harvard that covers Larry's desire to fire Dean Kirby, our desire to eat at Felipe's until 4 AM, and the worker's desire for a living wage. From the paragraph on labor:
Harvard, where students staged a sit-in for a living wage in 2001, may once again become the target for high-profile labor activism if its current contract with janitors expires on Tuesday without an agreement. Peter Rider, SEIU Local 615's chief negotiator, said members were insulted by an offer from Harvard last week to boost pay by 50 cents an hour each year for five years. The union is planning a rally outside a Larry Summers's alumni event tomorrow, and may hold a strike authorization vote Thursday (which wouldn't mean they'd necessarily strike soon, but that the members would give their union that option.) The union says Harvard pays its janitors about 20 percent less than do Boston University, MIT, and Boston College, and employs far fewer full-time janitors.
I think it's easy to think about labor at Harvard in the context of SLAM and student activism, but we should forget that SLAM is essentially a supplement to the primary advocates and organizers: the unions and the workers. While many may consider direct actions by SLAM somehow less worthy because they have a disdain for student activism, if the workers themselves went on strike, the dynamic might drastically and quickly change.

Friday, November 11, 2005


As some of you may know by now, today it was just about confirmed that Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf has beaten George Weah in the run-off election for President of Liberia making her the first female President in African history. Much ado has been made over this as a resounding win for women everywhere due to many things including the persistence of Sharia law in parts of Africa that allows women to be publicly stoned for sexual fornication as well as widespread sexual assault, rape, and abduction that occurs in relation to political and military conflicts around the continent. At this I point out the irony that for all of the lauding that the New York Times is doing on the fact that Johnson-Sirleaf is a woman leading a nation in Africa (a symbolic victory that has yet to bear policy fruit), they neglect the fact that this has never been done in the U.S. and many other "developed" nations. Africa's progressiveness regarding women in politics can be seen in numerous spheres. Even the NY Times recognizes:
The prime minister of Mozambique, Luísa Dias Diogo, is widely seen as a likely future president. In Rwanda, there is a greater proportion of women serving in Parliament than in any other nation; they occupy nearly half the seats. Indeed, Africa leads the developing world in the percentage of women in legislative positions, at about 16 percent, according to the Inter-Parliamentary Union, an organization of parliamentary bodies worldwide.
Please stop characterizing Africa as this backwards continent so far behind the rest of the world and in need of Western ideological and financial salvaging. Have you not heeded O yet? Do so, please. Portugal and the Roman Catholic church beat you all to it hundreds of years ago.

the BIG question

As Chip noted last week, PBH has begun to host a series of events called "The Big Question." It's a space where people are encouraged to reflect on some of the oft-forgotten big questions of life while eating pizza and drinking soda. Tonight was the second event, another success with tremendous insights and a wonderful speaker. Tonight Big Question(s) was about how Harvard, both students and as an institution, should respond to natural disasters such as Katrina, the tsunami in south Asia, the earthquake in Pakistan and India or the mudslides in Guatemala and Southern Mexico. In an effort to continue that discourse, Cambridge Common has agreed to post a few continuing big questions and encourage people at the Big Question, and our readers more in general, to offer some further thoughts, answers or questions of their own. So, with that in mind, this week's Big Question(s) is/are:


1) Many upset alumni have written letters criticizing Harvard’s post-disaster efforts (such as matching donation programs) and have argued that Harvard’s role is to be an educational institution, not a charitable one – that they donated their dollars for new buildings, professorial salaries, etc and not for disaster relief. Does Harvard as an institution have a responsibility to do more than educate in times following these tragedies?

2) What is our responsibility as Harvard students in the wake of these disasters? Is donating money the solution or not enough? How do we make the most of our resources and standing in the world in our responses to these events?

3) Why do certain disasters seem to be prioritized over others? Is this justifiable? Understandable? Inevitable?

4) In our responses to unexpected natural disasters (like the earthquake, hurricane, etc), do we privilege these more instantaneous events in comparison to perhaps greater, persisting problems that we might have more control over such as disease, poverty, etc?

Share some wisdom, just hit COMMENT!

who's alienating whom? continued

Because of the length of this mammoth comment, a response to the thoughts Travis posted on Wednesday, I'm just going ahead and putting it up on the front page. If you haven't already, you can read my original post and people's responses to it here. Let's continue the conversation in this comments section!

* * *

Sorry for the long hiatus (long in blogosphere time, at least); I was hoping more people would participate after I said my piece. But much thanks to the three of you--especially you, Travis--who have weighed in.

Before diving into the issues Travis raised in his thoughtful comment, I'd just like to thank everyone who has participated for keeping in mind that the topics we're addressing relate directly to the experiences, feelings, bodies, pain, and human dignity of members of our own community (and ourselves), and for maintaining a level of respectful discourse reflective of this fact.

Also, I am certainly no expert on queer issues: as an ally, I am continually learning more ways I can support my BGLT friends and family, and how I can best avoid hurting BGLT people in general, showing them the respect they deserve.

Additionally, as is the case with most if not all groups aiming to foster social change, the queer community itself is not totally unified: ideologies about sex, gender, essentialism, constructivism, and even same-sex marriage and "the gay rights movement" vary considerably among BGLT folks and us allies; and race, class, and--yes--even gender and sexuality create fractures within the community, too. I say all this simply as a reminder that the topics we're dealing with are complicated and dynamic--much more complicated and dynamic than mainstream political discourse (like coverage of the same-sex marriage movement) may suggest. (more in expanded post)

Okay, now on to the discussion at hand. Travis, I'm really glad you explained your confusion with how the word "identity" seems to contradict the idea of an innate, involuntary sexuality. Like anonymous 3, I had a little trouble with that concept when I first learned it, but now that it's second-nature to me, it's easy for me to forget that the term can seem counter-intuitive to people unfamiliar with it. I think anonymous 3's explanation is sound: people can use "identify"--as in "I identify as a gay man" or "I identify as a transgender woman" or "my partner identifies as transqueer" both in order signify a decision to "come out" as queer in the first place (a decision that, for various reasons, not everyone may be able to make), and to emphasize that the terms they use to identify themselves are in some sense their choice (this can help avoid the frustration of having people try to classify you all the time when most often they don't have a clue of what they're talking about).

You write, "I find ironic that the gay rights movement has made so much of "the social construction of gender," with its implication that the two sexes and their attached roles are somehow imagined and anything less than central, even while the movement's most radical exponents seem to be the most prolific gender-constructors of them all." I sense here, and I get the feeling throughout your writings on the "gay rights" subject, that you are not making a distinction between sex and gender. This distinction is in fact critical and, happily, increasingly well-known (it's what Simone de Beauvoire was referring to when she wrote, "One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman"). To clarify, sex refers to the biological constitution of a body--"male" and "female" genitals and chromosomes--while gender refers to the cultural meanings associated with given biological constitutions--"masculinity" and "femininity." A "gender role" as most people think of it is not the same thing as "gender" itself; it's not what gender you have, but what social norms dictate you ought to do, given your (perceived) gender (i.e. whether women should or should not work outside the home, or whether men should only marry women and women should only marry men).

This differentiation may help to quell some of your consternation with the idea that there could be multiple genders (and I have to agree with anonymous 3 that one stanza from one poet's work is not the most compelling evidence on which to base an argument). While you (and most people) may not believe that more than two genders are possible (you may argue that a person's biological makeup influences their behaviors which society then interprets as falling into one of two gender categories), I think it may be easier to see how, since they are at least partly dependent on cultural specificities, gender categories could be more or less plentiful and/or flexible according to social norms. It is important to note that just as gender does not have to rely on dichotomous classifications (although you may believe that it should), sex also does not occur in binary. Some people are born with "ambiguous genetalia" (of varying degrees of ambiguity) or genital-chromosomal combinations, both of which make classifying them as "male" or "female" difficult or impossible. Although you may call them "atypical" exceptions to a still-valid norm, I think it's worth considering that intersexed people present the possibility that sex is not a matter of two distinct categories, but perhaps more of a spectrum (toward the ends of which most people tend to fall).

Again, you don't have to agree with me here, and there are many ways of interpreting sex differences, but we must remember that no matter what our views about sex and gender, we can not and should not simply dismiss the life experiences of intersexed and/or gender-queer people just because they happen to fall outside or challenge conventional classification systems. When you exalt the vision of a society that is "*at least* tolerant of homosexuality," I take you to mean that as people dedicated to preserving human freedom and promoting dignity for all, we should not rest content with "tolerance," since no one can live a life with dignity in a world that merely "tolerates" them, like a pest to be put up with--and in this I wholeheartedly agree with you. Eliminating hate-motivated violence against our queer citizens is a topmost priority, but beyond that we ought to strive to create a social environment that embraces and celebrates everyone's right to self-identify as they choose.

After all, how does someone else's gender identification threaten you or me personally? While you may consider multiple gender categories "silly," they're not silly to the people who use them to self-identify.

And enforcement of strict gender categories is certainly not silly for
transgendered members of our community who are harassed and/or physically assaulted in gender-specific bathrooms when people become alarmed or infuriated at what they perceive to be "a man in the women's bathroom," or vice versa.

Another crucial distinction that seems fuzzy for you is the difference between gender identity and sexual orientation. The reason I say the "queer rights movement" and not the "gay rights movement" is that sexual orientation--which relates to the people one is attracted to and/or the people one falls in love with--has no necessary correlation with gender identity--how one categorizes or presents oneself. In understand that most people are more familiar with the phrase "gay rights" than "BGLT" or "queer," so perhaps you've been grouping all the queer-friendly vocabularies under the "gay rights" umbrella so your audience understands immediately. But gender and sexuality are different aspects of a person’s identity. For instance, as I understand it, a female-to-male transgendered or transsexual person could feasibly identify as heterosexual (if he were interested in women), homosexual (if he were interested in men), bisexual, asexual, or an alternative sexuality. Again, while these distinctions can be complex and confusing to those of us who aren't used to them, as anonymous 3 insightfully observes, "these words are created to engender (no pun intended) a greater understanding and greater knowledge, as they allow us to understand others wishes regarding how they themselves want to classified."

Okay, now that we've got the definitional clarifications overwith (no sidestepping the gender question this time, although all of the issues I’ve touched on are much more complex than my feeble descriptions make them out to be), I can address the remaining major points of your argument. Again, anonymous 3 has already done a splendid job of pointing out the naturalistic fallacy in your argument (the idea that what biologically or evolutionarily 'is' is exactly what 'ought to be'). I don't believe that the 'purpose' of my sexuality is to make babies; absent coercion by an outside party, the decision to have children is just that--a decision. My decision. Does this mean I'm categorically against marriage and motherhood? No. Do I, as a feminist, condemn them as inherently sexist? No. But in reality, they're not the only options worthy of respect and validation. And explicitly recognizing this reality means working to slowly and consciously rid ourselves of our own heterosexism and heteronormativity.

Finally, the parallels I draw among queer people, Black people, Jewish people, and women as U.S. political identity groups do not depend on the innateness or non-innateness of these identities, but on similarities in among these groups in resisting marginalization
(BGLTs, Blacks, and Jews) and in shifting mainstream language over time (Blacks and women). There are many important differences in their respective legacies and struggles (although 'respective' is not quite the right word since queer Blacks, Jewish women, and various other combinations cross categorical lines...but this gets into identity intersectionality, which is more than I have time to address right now), but we can also learn from their commonalities.

Phew. Again, sorry for being so longwinded, but I feel the need to use precision in order to do these topics justice. As I said, it's an ongoing learning process, and one that I think ultimately benefits everyone who wishes to expand freedoms and maximize potential for understanding people. Including Hindu people (thanks for educating us, jjj06).

For people for whom a lot of this stuff is new, how does it sit with you?

For those for whom it's not new but who disagree with the general concepts, how and why?

For those for whom it's not new and who agree with the general concepts but find flaws with how I've explained/characterized them, please correct and enlighten me!

And if none of those descriptions fit you, please share your thoughts with us anyway! Just hit the comments button and go to town...