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Friday, December 30, 2005


Today, there are reports of anywhere between 10 and +23 Sudanese migrants protesting the U.N. refugee agency's refusal to consider them for refugee status. There are varying accounts from the NY Times, CNN, and Al-Jazeera (never just look to one source for answers) but it has been universally recongized that a number of those killed were young children (as young as four), elderly people, and women. Additionally, the NY Times has particularly gripping pictures including one of a small child being ARRESTED along with his father as their peaceful protest is violently broken up.

Some people will say that this massacre is justified since there were repeated attempts by police to have the people disperse that were not heeded. Aren't the repeated requests of the protesters the same thing? If the supposedly upright police resorted to violence after repeated requests for change went unheeded, what are protestors supposed to do when similar requests go unheeded? A basic thing here that people must realize is that protesting unjust laws or policies often brings about breaking these unjust laws and/or policies. The recent transit strike in New York City highlights another drastic suppression of protest by powerful government officials. Fines as high as $25,000 a day were pursued by the city's legal representatives PER TRANSIT WORKER. People's human right to protest is being taken from them at highly exorbitant financial and mortal costs.

Monday, December 26, 2005

happy holidays!

Thanks for coming by! As you can see, we're in hibernation for the holiday break, eating and sleeping and trying to catch up on various classes. We will, however, be back in full force come reading period, so don't forget to join us then. Soon after that point, we will begin to redesign the site and recruit new writers, so ideas (for writers or features you'd like to see on the site) would be more than welcome! Send them along to me (golis@fas) and I'll get back to you as soon as I can.

Hope you're enjoying your time off! Happy holidays!

Monday, December 19, 2005

What a World It Would Be...

Could you imagine a world with truthful politicians and leaders who did not spend obscene amounts of your tax dollars on unneccessary wars that killed your friends and family (not to mention hundreds of thousands of Iraqis? Could you imagine a world where the first thing you noticed about a person was not whether they were from an in-group or out-group on the basis of race, gender, or some other visually distinguishable (often) characteristic? Could you imagine a world where purportedly sacred holidays were not commodified for global capitalism's consumption (again proving that ANY and EVERYthing can be sold)? John Lennon can.

Readers, what would YOUR ideal world look like?

Happy Holidays, everyone!!!

Chappelle's Show Conspiracy

There is now a website up that purports to tell the truth about Dave Chappelle's immensely popular show's abrupt cancellation earlier this year. Highly intriguing. Highly scary. Highly unsubstantiable (new word for ya). The website's author holds that a group of highly influential Black political and entertainment figures conspired over the course of over two years to destroy Chappelle's Show and stop it from "setting race relations back 50 years." The group is referred to as "The Dark Crusaders" and reportedly is made up of Bob Johnson, Oprah Winfrey, Bill Cosby, Whoopi Goldberg, Louis Farrakhan, Al Sharpton, and Jesse Jackson. This mixture of conservative and liberal, Muslim and Christian, activist and actor is amazing and may have caused the biggest television (or entertainment PERIOD, for that matter) event of 2005 to never occur--Season Three of Chappelle's Show. In my opinion, the site lacks absolutely any established credence as legit. However, as George W. Bush's election and subsequent re-election (stupid Ohioans!) tells us, credibility is not always necessary in today's wacky world. What are your thoughts, readers?!?

Sunday, December 18, 2005

the BIG ?: Are we whack? Continued...

Friday's BIG Question with New Orleans students sharing their thoughts on life at Harvard was apparently another success, and I want to offer this thread as a continuation of that discussion. A few follow-up questions from one of the organizers:
1) To what degree are the characterizations of us by the New Orleans students true? (E.g., that we often leave no free time in our schedules or feel guilty when we are not doing something 'productive.') If so, do such qualities make us whack? =)

2) To what extent is it expected that we do not live perhaps the most normal or balanced lifestyle? Isn't this how we were brought up? Isn't this what got us here? Isn't this what places like Harvard are ultimately designed around?
Whether or not you went, you can probably imagine the way the discussion went, so whether or not you went, SHARE SOME WISDOM!

spying on Americans

The Huffington Post has a collection of articles about this astonishing story.

Friday, December 16, 2005


Jack Cafferty, the curmudgeon of CNN's The Situation Room, sums up the Bush's administration's incompetence and arrogance in one minutes with just one phrase: just do it! Watch! (video: wmp and quicktime)

the BIG Question: Are we whack?!

Don't forget, for all you dialogue-seekers and pizza-lovers, the BIG Question is tonight at PBH and the question is:
***ARE WE WHACK?!?*** Visiting New Orleans Students Share Their Thoughts On Harvard Life
*A Pizza-Filled Discussion About Our Oft-Forgotten Eccentricities*
Every week, a group of 30 or so random student get together to discuss and think and enjoy pizza. Go find out if we're whack and then come back here to share your thoughts!

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Harold Pinter's Nobel Prize Speech

I had been waiting to post about this until I could come up with something coherent to say about it. Unfortunately, I am both too ignorant and too busy to say something wise about a speech that is so big, that covers so much, and that (wonderfully) speaks to so many things that Americans so rarely speak of or think about. The speech is called "Art, Truth and Politics" and covers a broad range of things including the War in Iraq, America's tendency to prop up right wing dictators in the name of anti-communism, and the problem of finding truth in our hyper-political world:
Political language, as used by politicians, does not venture into any of this territory since the majority of politicians, on the evidence available to us, are interested not in truth but in power and in the maintenance of that power. To maintain that power it is essential that people remain in ignorance, that they live in ignorance of the truth, even the truth of their own lives. What surrounds us therefore is a vast tapestry of lies, upon which we feed.

As every single person here knows, the justification for the invasion of Iraq was that Saddam Hussein possessed a highly dangerous body of weapons of mass destruction, some of which could be fired in 45 minutes, bringing about appalling devastation. We were assured that was true. It was not true. We were told that Iraq had a relationship with Al Quaeda and shared responsibility for the atrocity in New York of September 11th 2001. We were assured that this was true. It was not true. We were told that Iraq threatened the security of the world. We were assured it was true. It was not true.

The truth is something entirely different. The truth is to do with how the United States understands its role in the world and how it chooses to embody it.
Rather than claiming to be able to say anything much about it, I'll simply say this: set aside 45 minutes and watch it. And, if you feel so inclined, set aside 5 minutes and tell us what you thought.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

a quick note

As classes for the semester wind down this week and next life gets a little crazy for everyone. On the one hand, there seems to be no better time for online discussions, because all of us are sitting at our computers bored by our essays and looking to procrastinate. On the other hand, those of us who write on the front page are also trying to write those papers and finish off the semester strong.

So, in the interest of trying to make this space useful for the next week, I'm going to have to ask for you, the readers, to get involved in leading and contributing to our dialogue. I will post open threads with provocative questions and try to help facilitate those types of conversations, but I hope you will be willing to share your thoughts and wisdom to carry the burden of providing reading material for each other. We'll try to write when we can, but it won't be as regular.

So, for those open threads...
What do you want to talk about in the next week? What aren't we covering that you think we should? What do you think is important?

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Gene, Dean, '68 and '05

Former Democratic Senator Eugene McCarthy, most famous for his '68 campaign for President that failed to win but succeeding in toppling LBJ and giving mainstream voice to the growing anti-war movement, died on Saturday. His death has created a whole series of discussions surrounding his style, intellect and time, and was the impetus for a post on demapples this evening discussing the perceived parallels with the anti-war Democrat of our time: Howard Dean. I responded on demapples, but mildly incoherently, so I thought I would try again here.

While I generally agree with the poster on demapples that the parallel between McCarthy and Gene is a highly imperfect one, I think the parallel is a good one for those of us trying to understand our current political context. (more in expanded post)

As I said on demapples, the basis of the parallel is fairly obvious: two anti-war candidates who were highly personally eccentric, but who gave voice to the frustrated left-wing of their party. Two men who, despite the fact that they both crashed and burned because of a lack of skill as campaigners, managed to bring thousands of new people in party politics in the process. Ok, simple enough.

The differences are equally evident: McCarthy was a dreamy religious poet, known for his lack of enthusiasm for real politick and his stately, humorous and relaxed demeanor. Dean was/is a feisty secular upstart, know for his inability to hold his tongue and his enthusiasm for aggressive, brutally honest political communication. While McCarthy, like Dean, was running to give voice to a frustrated anti-war constituency within his party, his target was an old-school New Deal liberal President while Dean's were spineless and baseless fellow Democrats and a new-school conservative President riding the wave of the meticulously built conservative/Christian/business political coalition. McCarthy was an alternative to radicalism whose supporters ran campaigns to "Get Clean for Gene" aimed at converting a huge movement of bearded and long-haired radicals into smiling sweatered field workers. Dean was an alternative to Nader radicalism for a small number of frustrated lefties, boomer-generation white collar-types looking for a grain of truth and backbone and generation Xers excited to have someone to believe in.

Most fundamentally, the parallel is an important one for those of us of the left because it reminds us that we live in a fundamentally different country now than we did then, and 1968 is in many ways when that tipping point occurred. The mayhem of the Democratic Convention of 1968 in which Mayor Daley encouraged his police to beat anti-war protestors and Abbie Hoffman brought his band of Yippies to reign absurd chaos on the city. The destruction of the New Deal Coalition as riots and campus strikes and the failures of LBJ's war in Vietnam made way for Nixon's southern strategy and "law and order" campaign message. The assassinations of King and Kennedy, two major political figures who found themselves increasingly radicalized and able to give voice to growing frustrations. 1968 was the year that white middle class voters who had been in the Democratic camp since Roosevelt found themselves scared by violence and chaos and racial strife into the arms of Richard Milhous Nixon.

The country has been moving right ever since. Dean's politics- anti-war internationalism, universal healthcare, fiscal discipline- would seem quaintly moderate in 1968, and were perceived as wholly left-wing in 2004. Ronald Reagan ran a quiet campaign for President in 1968, but was seen by party bosses as too far to the right to win outside of the South. He won the presidency in two political landslides in 1980 and 1984. The word "liberal" is tossed around as a political epithet nowadays. In 1968, the world "liberal" meant power.

As we discuss McCarthy's legacy, and let our minds wander to Howard Dean comparisons and reflections on his poetic nature, I think it's healthy to also think about the times he lived in as compared to our own. There is a tendency to forget that less than 40 years ago, the left ran this country and had been for 30 years before that. There's also a tendency to forget that political history is about more than just who ran better TV ads, or which candidate is taller. Worst of all, too many adhere to the pendulum fatalism that pretends there is some physics of American political history that will bring Democrats back into power. There isn't and it won't.

If we're ever going to build ourselves a new electoral coalition, we had better start thinking about more than the superficial differences and simularities between anti-war candidates of two generations. We're only going to be able to build a coalition if people understand what happened in between those generations, and work proactively to correct the wrongs and missteps of our predecessors. McCarthy and Dean are similar men in wholly dissimilar times and, as the trite saying goes, we've gotta know where we've been to know where we're going.

the death of Stanley Tookie Williams

Check out this vivid and disturbing account from the San Francisco Chronicle of the execution of Williams last night by the State of California.

stop marches on

When the STOP campaign began, I offered a skeptical perspective on the possibilities of such an inoffensive fundraising project "stopping" poverty. Two months later, I continue to hold that general belief: poverty will not be ended with IOP-friendly activism that does little to change the fundamental structures of our society. But, I've noticed a more subtle change for which STOP absolutely should be commended.

While it won't "stop" poverty, it has certainly put it on the map. Project after project (the latest two being a dinner at Uno's and a collaboration with Habitat for Humanity) have given an extra social cache to an issue that has, since I've been here at least, rarely been discussed and even more rarely had that extra pizazz of newness and excitement. STOP has changed that, not only because it has pushed new life into issues of class previously relegated to occasional labor activism and depressingly necessary homeless and housing work, but because it has waged (on my email lists, at least) a fairly continuous PR campaign that makes poverty a center piece of the progressive community. Will the STOP Campaign end poverty? God no. Might it help shift our culture of extreme wealth and privilege to discussions of actual relevance? Let's hope so. The question will be: will those conversations lead to a new political culture?

Monday, December 12, 2005

we need to hear all sides on allston

Hey people, sorry the rest of us have been leaving Golis to do the front page stuff lately; it's been kind of a crazy weekend for me. But although it's a little belated, here's a Crimson column from last week addressing an aspect of the Allston expansion that often gets overlooked: its impact on the surrounding community.

One of the primary issues at stake is Harvard's potential acquisition of the Charlesview Apartments, affordable housing located on property that the University has been drooling over for a while. Columnist Mike GW writes, "The Charlesview Apartments are a gritty cluster of concrete rising in the shadow of the brick walls of the Business School and the neighborhood’s long-time neglect. Charlesview is not exactly a pretty sight. But for many of its low-income tenants, it’s all that they’ve got."

Basically, Harvard wants to buy out these apartments, but the people living there don't want to accept a deal that they feel will leave them worse off than they are presently:
Tenants are demanding the right to negotiate directly with Harvard over the future of their homes. This comes from years of being kept in the backseat as the building’s owners schmoozed with Harvard planners and kept the residents in the dark. (more in expanded post)
What I appreciate about Mike's position is that he doesn't condemn the expansion altogether, nor does he claim to know the best way of balancing residents' interests against the University's (although he does offer a couple of practical suggestions). He also does not purport to speak on behalf of the community members whom the expansion plans will impact. Instead, he simply calls on students and administrators to include all Allston residents who will be affected by Harvard's move as full participants in decision making:
The proposal to include all community members in the Charlesview decision deserves the unconditional support of the student body. Any expansion that fails to respect tenants’ rights, their voices, and their desires will not only demolish one of Allston’s last bastions of affordable housing, but will pit town against gown before the first brick of this campus-to-be is even laid.
To me, an inclusionary planning process in which all stakeholders have a voice is vital--perhaps even more important than the conclusions it reaches. But it's hard to figure out where to raise this concern. Students are generally expected to care more about what will be built in the new Allston space--and how it will impact generations of harvard students to come--than the construction's repercussions for Allston residents now and in the future. When my UC rep contacted me to get my input on the expansion, the email encouraged me to dream big:
Dear fellow Quadlings,

As you know, Harvard is planning to expand the campus into Allston (projected for 2010) and the contractors are trying to solicit ideas from undergrads, as to what they would like to see offered as part of the new real estate, e.g. a student center, a golf practice facility, restaurants, pubs/clubs, shuttle service to Fenway, supermarket, etc. Basically, if you have any ideas - no matter how far out they seem to be - shoot them my way and I will forward them onto the planning taskforce...Thanks!
I wrote back thanking the representative for soliciting students' input, and letting her know that one of my main priorities in the move to Allston is to avoid unnecesarily disrupting the community already living there (yes, this is even more important to me than a golf practice facility--and I played golf for Harvard!). Judging by the email she sent back, my input won't make much of a difference. But if a lot of us follow Mike's advice and lobby for residents' participation in the planning negotiations, maybe we can help prevent the dialogue from turning into a lop-sided power play.

What are your thoughts on the Allston expansion? Mike also calls on the University to help renovate the Charlesview Apartments if the residents decide they want to stay. Do you agree with him? Also, I've heard that the University has taken some Crimson writers on tours of the Allston property. Can any readers from the Crimson confirm or deny this? If it's true, and if, as I heard, the University did not show the journalists around in the poorer neighborhoods, is it the Crimson's responsibility to do a little investigative reporting and seek out the areas that the University tours didn't highlight?

Happy Monday, everyone!

building a blogroll

Having taken down my old blogroll, I'm looking to rebuild it with your input. What political blogs, at Harvard or otherwise, do you read? What political blogs do you write? Share some links!

HRC prepares for battle

The Harvard Republican's elected new leaders last week, and progressives should take note of an important paragraph in today's Crimson article:
"“All the candidates expressed agreement with the goal of the bottom-up leadership and the greater watchdog role," Dewey said.

The watchdog role that the HRC is trying to attain will involve playing a greater role in campus politics, such as the Undergraduate Council (UC) and dealings and dealings [sic] with the University administration.
While the old President Downer was known for his non-confrontational personal style, Stephen Dewey, a Cambridge Common reader, is known for just the opposite. Take, for example, an email he sent to HPU-open (Harvard Political Union) on Sept. 7th in which he distinguished between the gay rights movement (the mainstream movement which he is ok with) and the queer movement (the more radical movement that he "hates"):
I fully believe that "queer" activists' picture of an ideal world is a thousand-member man-animal BDSM orgy in the center of Copley Square on videotape, and I say that with all sincerity.
I am convinced that A) queer activists don't need rights, they need psychological counseling and B) they're basically being led by the Devil.
While words like this will certainly alienate Dewey from the majority of campus (even if they too think the "queer movement" is also too radical for them, I don't think they would express their disagreement quiet so intolerantly), progressives should be ready to do battle, the HRC is.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

a look into the future

James Wolcott (of Vanity Fair) has a complaint (in the context of complaining about the Woodward/Miller reporter-apologists) on his blog today that I found to be an entertaining look into a possible future:
I don't want to hear another "name" journalist defend a colleague based upon friendship. I'm sick of journalists vouching for each other's sterling character and unimpeachable integrity based upon social contacts and shared histories. I don't care if you worked on the Crimson together, shared a summer house on Nantucket, played basketball with their spouse, send your kids to the same private school, or took bubble baths together as babies, spare us the "I've known X since time immortal and s/he would never violate a trust or plagiarize from another source or fabricate a quote," blah blah blah.
Just think, our fine campus newspaper is, for better or worse, a sign of things to come...

this week's BIG question

As I've noted before, an amazing little discussion is going on every week at Phillips Brooks House in which the undergraduate community is invited together to eat pizza and ponder a BIG question. This closely mirrors the kind of community that we try to facilitate here at Cambridge Common, so I'm excited to offer this space as an extension of their work. This week's BIG question(s) is:

- How much is too much or too little to spend on a gift for someone else? For yourself? (e.g., an article of clothing.)

- Can we as individual consumers make a significant difference in the world through our purchasing patterns?

- Why has the giving of material things come to so define the holiday season rather than other acts such as volunteering, charitable donations, etc?
So what do you think? Grab hold of one of the questions and share some thoughts, questions and/or wisdom!

Friday, December 09, 2005

making sense of it all

After last night's landslide victory, students across campus have been emailing, calling and text messaging me, as well as knocking on my door in the middle of the night to ask: how do we make sense of this? What does it all mean? It was, without a doubt, the most bizarre race in recent history filled with twists and turns, non-endorsement emails and revoked endorsements, controversies and flip flops. A brief rundown of what happened, ticket by ticket...

Haddock/Riley. Two good people who worked their butts off, were likeable candidates and had an incredible staff. While they had a confused message on social programming, it came back to reality toward the end of the race. In the end, they, more than the other candidates had the drive, enthusiasm and ability to win student group endorsements that got them where they are now. (more in expanded post)

Grimeland/Hadfield. Two smart guys who won a lot of fans, but whose ideas crossed the line between "bold" and "completely ridiculous" and were therefore never able to get much traction outside of their friends and the HRC. Their second place finish is nice, but has more to do with the Voith/Gadgil collapse than some invented Grimeland/Hadfield surge. Look out for Tom next year, if he can get himself on the Council next fall and put together a platform that makes a little more sense.

Voith/Gadgil. The "frontrunners" who ran a disastrous campaign, were never able to get traction on their message and issues, and had to play defense on their records and social club experience more than either of them preferred. They got caught pandering and didn't control their staff on multiple occasions and had to pay the price.

I hope that quick rundown answers your questions, non-existent students begging for my opinion... Any thoughts?

daily show videos!

A holiday present from Cambridge Common to you. Steward on Fox News' invented attack on Christmas (video: wmp). Last night on the 24-news media's coverage of nothingness (video: wmp). Happy Friday!

the BIG question

If you like the kinds of big questions we try to ask and discuss here at Cambridge Common, you'll love the BIG Question, a new weekly discussion at Phillips Brooks House that tries every week to ask what we don't have time to ask, eat pizza, and discuss. Today, at 5 PM (at PBH), the question will be: How do we reconcile our shopping carts with our consciences? Check it out!

Cambridge Common's UC wish list

In their meetings with the candidates, student groups got a chance to interview our new UC leaders John and Annie about their stances on issues paramount to the groups’ goals. Since Cambridge Common seeks to build a progressive community of its own (as well as bridging existing communities), I thought it might be cool to assemble our very own wish list for the new head honchos. What would you like to see the UC take on in the coming year? (more in expanded post)

At last night’s trans activism and education panel, for instance, we envisioned a UC bill that would reaffirm a commitment the UC made in spring semester of 1997. As one panelist recounted, that year the UC amended its own constitution to include gender identity in its non-discrimination clause, and also passed legislation urging Harvard to follow suit. Now, nearly a decade later, the University’s policy still isn’t on par with the Council’s. The UC could use its pressuring power to help change that. Also, the UC could add gender expression to its protection codes. One speaker last night emphasized the difference between gender expression--the gender a person chooses to ‘present’ or appear as--and gender identity--the gender with which they personally identify, regardless of how they present. It's important to distinguish between the two because some people who identify as transgender may be unable to express themselves according: doing so could jeopardize their social relationships, their jobs, and even their lives.

Harvard has an opportunity to lead the state and the nation in protecting against discrimination based on gender identity and expression. So far, only a handful of states have passed such provisions (Maine most recently joined the ranks), and Massachusetts is not among them, despite the fact that eight of its Congressional Representatives co-sponsored federal legislation, introduced to the House in May of this year, that would add gender identity and expression to existing hate crime laws. It would be wonderful to see the UC take up this fight.

Another item on my wish list—inspired by Annie Riley herself—might be a declaration supporting Harvard in making all the new buildings and facilities to be erected in Allston wheelchair-accessible. Harvard may very well already plan on doing this, but I think it would be great for the UC to publicly affirm its position, if for no other reason than to get students thinking about the issue of accessibility. I would say the UC should extend such a declaration to apply to all campus buildings, but I get the feeling it would probably just be wasting its collective breath on that. It’s easier, after all, to plan on building elevators and ramps (with sensible gradients!) into constructions starting from scratch than to add them to existing halls and houses.

All right, enough from me—what are some of y’all’s dream bills? UC reps, veterans, and affiliates: you guys have an inside look and thus have a different idea of what’s needed and what’s feasible. Share with us! Student group members and leaders: your endorsements gave clues as to which issues are hot for you right now, but how do you foresee those concerns translating into legislation? Anyone and everyone: what do you want to see happen between now and next December?

Thursday, December 08, 2005

landslide for Haddock/Riley

I had guessed (see below) that a landslide for Haddock/Riley was forthcoming, but I would never have guessed that it could possibly be this devastating. They won in the first ballot with 59% of the vote:

Haddock/Riley: 2,308 votes
Grimeland/Hadfield: 912 votes
Voith/Gadgil: 664 votes

This is, for lack of a better word, a stunning victory that goes beyond even the most optimistic predictions. For more, check out the Crimson.

UC predictions

The final vote count was around 3,900. My guess is big Haddock/Riley victory, probably something like 1,900 to V/G's 1,100 to G/H's 900. What's your guess?

Similar predicting is going on over at Team Zebra, check out Ryan Petersen's insanely complicated and impressive vote analysis in the comments section.

looking back and looking forward

Well, the UC race is now over and as of tonight we'll have a new President and Vice President elect (I'll post a prediction open thread later). For those of you who have come here over the last two weeks because of our campaign coverage, I wanted to officially welcome you to our little online community and try to give you a sense of what we do here when not dissecting the insanity of campaign politics.

Cambridge Common was founded last spring as a little side project, but took off this fall as a more sustained and coordinated attempt to offer a set of perspectives, opinions and musings from the left on our own campus politics and culture. Our belief is that an emerging blogosphere can not only deepen and broaden the political discourse on campus but also offer a venue for perspectives not usually found in campus media, or only read when the Crimson throws an occasional bone to the intellectual left wing (which, to be clear, is not the same as any person who writes about a how much they like Democrats). Whether you're on the left, middle, right or none of the above, I hope you'll continue to be a part of our community and share your wisdom!

In the expanded post, I've listed a series of oldies but goodies from Cambridge Common's past that will hopefully allow new readers to get a better sense of a lot of the conversations that typically go on here. Please read them and feel free to share your thoughts.

(more in expanded post)

is the Harvard Crimson finally ready to take diversity seriously? - this post includes statements pulled by a reader from the applications of the new Crimson leadership that discuss the need for a more proactive effort to make their staff more diverse.

who's alienating whom? - this post takes on Travis Kavulla's recent column decrying the supposed frivolity of queer language and activism. Katie points out the importance of recognizing that "alienation" is not simply some superficial political language tactic, but a real life situation experienced every day by members of our community.

SPECIAL GUEST DISCUSSION: The nature and ethics of progress and development - this links to a post that will take you to a series in which two brilliant guest writers dig into this huge debate and offer some challenging insights.

final clubs discussions - this links to a post that will take you to four different pieces, three by me and one by Chimaobi, that delve into the issue of Final Clubs and why it's more than just frivolous socialites...

Why Asian American Issues Are Issues - a fascinating post by Deb that explores why Asian-American issues are so often pushed aside and why the Asian/Asian-American community at Harvard struggles to find cohesion.

Northern Discomfort - a phenomenal post in which Chimaobi explores not only his experiences with race and class at Harvard, but the absence of much of that experience in the broader Black community.

end the monopoly
- the post that kicked off this fall's publicity campaign, explaining why the Crimson's strangle-hold on opinion and "truth" is so bad for our community.

These, I think, are some of the best of the best. If I've forgotten anything that was particularly dear to your heart, or you hated the ones I included, say so in the comments. Either way, WELCOME!

trans formations at Harvard

When I first sat down to write this post last Friday, I found myself paralyzed. I hesitated not out of fear of broaching the subject, but out of an intellectual and emotional desire to do justice to it. Currently, even mentioning the words transgender, transsexual, and transphobia, to name only a few examples, often evoke stigma, antipathy, and misunderstanding. The last thing I want to do is contribute to the confusion surrounding trans issues. With all this in mind, I felt enormous pressure to represent trans issues perfectly—to offer fully comprehensive coverage of this year’s ongoing trans activism. I wanted to strike an impeccable balance between representing activists by summarizing and analyzing their projects, and promoting the groups’ self-articulation by linking to various websites and literature.

One week later, I still haven’t figured out a way to accomplish this. But I’ve decided I no longer want to. (more in expanded post)

Trans issues deserve better treatment than a one-shot-deal information barrage. It would be unwise and unfair to use a requisite piece on transgenderism—no matter how thorough—as an excuse for subsequent silence on the topic, legitimizing a return to more mainstream subjects like racism and sexism (as though these can be completely divorced from transgenderism). So, rather than try to squeeze all the pertinent information--and my own analysis--into one airtight post (a feat I now recognize would have been impossible), I’m going to do what I believe the Crimson ought to be doing also: keep transgender activism in the headlines. Without privileging it unduly, we can demonstrate appreciation for trans activism's value to the greater progressive community by consistentently publicizing its achievements (for they are also our achievements), as well as learning from its struggles and setbacks (for they are also our struggles and setbacks).

This undertaking is bound to get messy. For one thing, my understanding of transgenderism is far from complete. I will surely make mistakes while talking about this and related topics. I hope that when I do falter, people will kindly correct me, understanding that my intentions are good even if my vocabulary sometimes isn’t. Above all, I am optimistic that everyone can learn something valuable from these forthcoming discussions, as they have the potential not merely to expand, but to transform progressive discourse. Messiness seems a small price to pay for such transformations, as long as the messiness remains respectful and productive.

Sorry that this post is basically one long prologue. But it’s all good; I’m taking my time. To paraphrase one of the speakers at last night’s Transgender Activism and Education panel: we’re not going anywhere.

Note: here’s part of the description, sent out over the BGLTSA list (among others), of last night’s outstanding panel discussion:
Transgender Activism and Education: Where the "T" Fits Into the "LGBS"

A panel discussion on issues of gender identity and expression in terms of local and national political activism, trans activism here at Harvard, the role of education in this process and where transgender and genderqueer folks fit into the lgbtq communities as a whole.
More info to come.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

substance and insiders, politicking and campaign coverage

In the last 48 hours, I've received a significant amount of criticism for what many see as Cambridge Common's "mainstream" coverage of the UC elections. In other words, while Cambridge Common usually seeks to offer alternative and critical perspectives from the ideological left, I've instead chosen to cover more of the internal day to day of the campaigns, the political dynamics and the media angles instead of offering a more substantive and consistent critique of the process and its general political failings. I thought I would ponder it momentarily here and let you offer your thoughts in the comments.

I'm of two minds. On the one hand, I viewed my role as someone who could reveal to a wider audience a lot of the insider politics that make and break campaigns: the staffing, the Crimson endorsement, publicity battles and the news coverage. My thought was that here we essentially have a strange community performance put on by a hundred or so insiders of the Harvard political class (the people who run the paper, the politicos who populate the UC, Dems, HRC, IOP and those who run powerful student groups like the BSA, BGLTSA, Fuerza, SAA, RUS etc. etc.) in which only the final products (the endorsements, the emails, the debates and eventually the vote totals) are seen. Few students outside of these circles, I believed, really had the context to be able to properly analyze, criticize or understand the final products because there was so little information about what goes into them (sausage metaphor and all that). (more in expanded post)

The fault for this type of non-transparent insider performance lies, I think, in two fundamental places: first and foremost, it is the fault of those of us within this community. Every year we put on this performance and, as the occasional outsider ticket often notes, have little or no interest in including the broader community into the politics if it takes away from our basic power. A perfect example is the Crimson endorsement. As has been widely discussed this year but rarely before, the essential process is that there is a basic core of Ed Board members and Crimson leaders who will necessarily show up, and each campaign does its best to mobilize, as Mr. Schmidt noted at Team Zebra, more "people who comped Photo freshman year" to vote for their candidate. This doesn't necessarily corrupt the process itself (I'm told mobilizations essentially cancelled each other out this year), but it certainly raises questions that, if a wider audience of students asked them, would probably take away some of the voice-of-god power the endorsement seeks to have. The Crimson, of course, denies this fervently to protect its own political sway, as do most of the players in this community when similar questions are asked of them. I don't think people are opaque about the internal politics out of any malevolence or evil scheming, I just think it's what's always been done, and admitting that an endorsement here or there is heavily influenced by friendships or political relationships isn't fun for anyone, even if it isn't nevessarily a bad thing. It was my hope that, by writing about such structures and revealing a lot of the machinations of the campaigns, student would gain a more complex and real understanding of the politics that lead to their leaders.

The second place fault lies for the opaqueness of the campaign process, I believe, is at the Crimson and other campus media. Until this year, little if no serious analysis had been done of the races that would allow students to see through or understand any of this with any sort of sophistication. This, I think, both contributes to student's apathy (the UC appears to just sit around and occasionally pass a bill or two) and helps to perpetuate a divide between people in the know (who don't need the Crimson to have this knowledge because they're friends with or are people involved) and people who aren't in the know (everyone else). If the Crimson believes that it has a responsibility to the campus to figure out and explain its politics (UC or otherwise), it needs to do more than transcribe.

These problems, in essence, were what I was hoping to address with my coverage. Whether or not I was able to, or was able to do so in a substantive way that didn't simply contribute to and heighten politicking and the power of insiders, is certainly an open question that I hope we can address.

On the other hand, however, there are many who are frustrated with me that I didn't take this opportunity to do more substantive issue-based writing. This might have (and may still) include contributing to and pushing the debates on: ROTC, diversity, financial aid and other economic justice issues like free copying and course packs for low-income students, disability rights (an issue that Annie Riley hasn't received enough credit for bringing into the conversation), social space and Final Clubs (which have received some coverage here, but nothing really sharp and/probing) and many other things. Those who offer this thought very correctly note (as two people did to me today) that Cambridge Common is generally a place for this type of issue-based discussion, for arguments about social justice and our community, for insight into our political culture not just our political games. I have been thinking a lot about this since someone first brought it up to me this weekend, and I think that it is, unfortunately, exactly right.

My guess is that the reason that gamesmanship and performance politics are so dominant is the same reason that I chose to cover that and not deal with the substance of the issues: it is easier and more fun. Let's be honest, it's more fun to discuss whether or not Voith/Gadgil tried to bribe their opponents out of the race than it is to talk about the way we struggle with economic diversity on this campus. It's more fun to talk about the internal politics of the Crimson than really dig into structural problems of race and gender in leadership and what that says about us as a community. And you can make it feel more relevant because, when you're in the community doing the performance (as I am), everyone around you is also thinking more about the politics than the policy because for them too, it's more fun. This, it seems to me, is a huge problem.

This race has made me think a lot about the political structures that make up this campus. I think that it's great lesson, in fact, is that this mentality within a political class of defending our power with insider status and emphasizing and enjoying internal politics over substantive issues, is exactly what destroys its credibility with those who have to watch and try to make sense of this, who have to come to terms with this set of people as their leadership. For those of us within the political community, now is the time to not only start thinking about how all of this works and why it is so problematic, but to start reaching out to other people to actually shed some light onto "insiderness" and regain some perspective and substance. Substance is, after all, supposed to be the point.

Now, I don't think that it's smart to be overly dramatic about this (maybe it's too late for me here) and act as if this race is the be all end all of the world and people's inadequacies relevant to it are some sort of great injustice. Certainly, neither of those things is true. But it is true that, on a campus like ours where politics will become a way of life for many and is already a way of life for some, the style and substance of our politics is important. It's also true that, as this is one of the few things that occurs on campus in which a majority of us participate in a common conversation, we should understand the way in which that conversation takes place.

scene magazine

Check out this hilarious comment in the Crimson today about Scene Magazine. My favorite paragraph:
The most apparent conclusion that can be drawn from Scene is that its writers and editors are still very much schoolchildren in need of an education. If they need Harvard and its manifold temptations for young socialites, however, is unclear— a better choice might be a provincial boarding school away from the glamour of city life where they might, under the watchful eye of an aged nun, endure the slap of the ruler should they write so nonsensical a statement as "Intelligence comes in many variations" (page 9).
For a defense, I highly recommend a compelling piece written here last week by our very own Chadwick P. Worthington IV, who claims to be one of the founders of this wonderfully useless magazine.

open thread

Well, it's been a crazy two days of campus politics, and we're beginning to see a light at the end of the tunnel. You've all got thoughts, so share them!

The Crimson revokes its endorsement of Voith/Gadgil

Wow. This may be the ballgame people...
(The Crimson President's email to their staff in expanded post)

Date: Wed, 07 Dec 2005 00:39:20 -0500
From: Lauren Schuker
To: crimeds-l@thecrimson.com
Subject: [CRIMEDS] Recent Staff Editorial

Dear Crimeds,

We have just posted tomorrow's Staff Editorial, "A Loss of Faith," to the website. In this Staff Editorial, we withdraw our endorsement of John F. Voith '07 and Tara Gadgil '07 in light of events that happened this week in connection with the UC race. Because of the sensitive nature of endorsements, I wanted to explain our process to you.

Today, Morgan and Alex sent out an e-mail about the Editorial Agenda.
The subject line for this Ed Agenda included the Voith-Gadgil topic for extra emphasis, and the note stated that "anything is up for discussion if we decide to comment on the recent developments concerning the UC campaigns/tickets. any interested parties should attend."

At the meeting, we discussed the news events that occurred this week and then voted in favor of withdrawing our support for the Voith/Gadgil ticket. We also voted to not endorse another set of candidates.

I hope you will take the time to read the staff editorial just posted online. Please direct any questions or concerns you have to me, Alex, and Morgan.


Tuesday, December 06, 2005

blogs and the Crimson: better, warmer...

While I complained mightily at the beginning of the race about inadequacy of the Crimson's election coverage, they've really picked up the quantity and analysis this week. Kudos peoples of Plympton. There are, however, four relevant questions: 1. can they maintain this depth (obviously not quantity/frequency) of UC coverage throughout the year?, 2. can they spread this model to other communities and student groups so that we can begin to build a collectively deeper understanding of our entire student community? 3. how have blogs effected/lead to the new depth of UC coverage (if at all)? and 4. can blogs (CC, Team Zebra, anyone else who gets into the game) learn from this and start to move into analysis of other aspects of our community? Who's got answers? Share some wisdom.

sfc, where you at?

Whatever happened to Students For Choice (SFC)? With Harvard Right to Life waging a tireless informational campaign including posters and doordropped literature, we now have the Crimson picking up slack for the conspicuously silent (and effectively dormant) pro-choice group. Today's well-reasoned staff ed, denouncing parental notification laws for minors seeking abortions, hits home for me: my mom is a lawyer for Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California and worked like crazy to defeat a parental notification bill on the November ballot this year. But while the Crimson is taking up this topical issue, SFC remains mum. What gives? (more in expanded post)

I know, I know--people are tired of the abortion debate. Like affirmative action and same-sex marriage, it has suffered from overexposure, particularly in amateurish debate circles. So perhaps the leaders of SFC fear that a pro-choice campaign will simply fall on the deaf ears of students weary of the same old woman's-right-to-choose arguments. Or maybe SFC feels secure that the student body is progressive enough that they don't need to be reminded of why they support reproductive rights.

But neither of these potential hang-ups ought to prevent the group from mobilizing. SFC just needs to widen its scope of vision and affirm that reproductive choice is about more than tired abortion rhetoric lets on. Plan B, parental notification, condom use, sex and health education in public schools--all these topics fall squarely in the reproductive choice realm and, just as importantly, aren't played out.

In addition, other facets of reproductive health are still largely absent from the mainstream discourse. For instance, how class and race factor into access to reproductive health services, the fact that some health insurance policies of federally-funded employers cover Viagra but not birth control, and whether abortion services should be provided primarily in regular hospitals rather than being marginalized in abortion clinics are all subjects worthy of consideration and debate. With respect to abortion itself, many people don't even know what the procedure entails or which medical advances have made it safer for women over the years. SFC could even educate students about the struggles for reproductive health services outside the U.S., especially since the Bush administration's policies restrict reproductive choice abroad and arguably endanger women's health in the affected nations.

Soon, I hope, SFC will be more than just a ghost organization. I know of at least one student who is trying admirably to resuscitate the group (whose website, as far as I can tell, hasn't been updated in over two years!), but despite emailing the current president repeatedly, has yet to hear back at all. Until the group gets back on its feet, I guess it's up to us (with the Crimson's help) to continue educating ourselves about reproductive health and choice, subjects that affect all of us (and I do mean all). And if there's one goal everyone can agree on, it's reducing total demand for abortions.

What are your thoughts on reproductive health and choice? If the SFC were active, what would you like to see it doing? What are some key reproductive health issues I didn't mention? If you don't agree with the ideas and aims of a group like SFC, do you still think the community dialogue could benefit from its contributions? Hit the comment button and share your thoughts with us!

UC: diversity in leadership

As a result of my post below, a conversation began about women and minorities on the Council and in leadership positions in general. Lori Adelman, the Vice Chair of FiCom and one of a few rising star sophomores on the Council, posted a comment that I thought I would bring to the front page to continue this conversation. She begins by quoting the commenter before her:
"More minorities should run. More non-straights should run. That's something that NO ONE can control but minorities and non-straights."

Wow I'm going to have to seriously disagree with anonymous' assertion here. There are many factors involved in forming tickets, not the least of which is appeal to voters. And as long as there are negative stereotypes floating around in our less-than-perfect society, subtly or not-so-subtly influencing the opinions and decisions of who is leadership material, we have to acknowledge that race and gender act as hindrances to one's appeal to voters, making it harder for women and minorities to get elected. This is certainly a factor in why many qualified and otherwise enthusiastic minority/women candidates choose to "play second string" to more popular straight white male figureheads (Not that I've seen THAT happening anywhere lately.)
(more in expanded post)
Because of these negative stereotypes and latent ideas about what the UC president should look like, minorities/women often have to do more to achieve the same respect and political clout as white males in a wholly intolerant society. For example, if a female UC candidate had as notorious a dating/hooking up record of some white male candidates who have graced the UC political scene, she would not even be considered as a viable candidate and wouldn't even be able to garner respect from the campus. It's naive to say that UC-hopefuls aren't aware of this inherent disadvantage and don't react to it accordingly.

So it's clear to me that individual people's decisions (women and non-whites included) about whether or not to run are not actually individual at all. In fact, as most of our decisions are, they are influenced by their understanding of their society (I hate the vagueness of that term), of this campus culture. I know personally as one of two black female UC members, my expected role on the council is often different than the more "conventional" politicians, white straight males. I think that it's safe to say to anyone who acknowledges the reality of the power of race and gender on this campus that someone like me has to prove my competency while male or white candidates may only have to affirm theirs.

(I do realize that in this comment I'm making something of a generalization here. I realize that there are some people on this campus who can act from a completely unbiased and tolerant mindset, but I think the majority of the campus, myself included, would have to be admit that we are not completely resistant to the tons of subtle and not-so-subtle messages we receive every day that give us negative ideas about minorities and women and leave us less inclined to give them leadership roles above us.)

On another level, it means something fundamentally different for a minority candidate to win a UC election among a majority-white campus than it does for a white candidate to do the same thing, simply because of people's psychological tendencies to relate to people who look like them. This is another way in which there are inherent disadvantages to women/minority UC-hopefuls that have nothing to do with being their fault and are certainly not in their control.

So, I think for all these reasons that almost everyone on this campus has influence over who feels comfortable and confident enough to run and who doesn't, and to this extent, the complete and realistic picture is that minorities and non-straights are certainly not the only ones who have control over whether or not they run and how they choose to form their tickets.
This, I think, is a phenomenally good explanation from someone who has to deal with this on a day to day basis. What are your thoughts?

gotta plug for Kuumba and earthquake relief

I wouldn't retain my title of #1 Kuumba groupie if I didn't pub their 35th Annual Christmas Concert, "We Have Heard Angels," coming up this Friday and Saturday at Mem Church. My sources tell me the Friday show is already sold out, so hurry on over to the Box Office to snag a free ticket for Saturday before they disappear faster than free Felipes. If you've never been to a Kuumba concert, trust me--you won't regret it, and you won't forget it. If you're a veteran, you know what I'm talking about, so no excuses!

For a refresher on Kuumba and why I think it's awesome, check out my earlier post and an ensuing discussion on how or whether Kuumba fosters an important kind of community.

I'd be remiss if I didn't also shout out another exciting performance coming up this Saturday: Comedy for a Cause 2005, all proceeds of which will be donated to earthquake relief efforts in South Asia. Again, hit up the Box Office before this show sells out, too. Tickets are 10 bucks in advance with your student ID and 12 dollars at the door. See you there!

blogs in the Crimson

In case you didn't see it, Cambridge Common and Team Zebra got their very own story in the Crimson today. Fun stuff.

UPDATE: The article has also ilicited a shout out on the New Democratic Network's blog from Harvard alum Ilan Graff. (another thought in expanded post)

I knew my spelling was bad, but is my grammar and syntax this bad?
“There are a group of people who find The Crimson’s coverage fairly superficial and meaningless,” said Golis, who co-created Cambridge Common last year as an alternative to the opinions expressed in The Crimson. “I think that people have got a lot of inside information [from the blogs] on the machinations of campaigns, how they work, a lot of which was unknown to people outside before. Not knowing about the dynamics and inner workings and context [of the UC campaigns], why should people care?”
Hi, me Andrew, me writer.

an emerging new conversation: frustrations and things unsaid

As this race winds up and Haddock/Riley finish collecting student group endorsements, Voith/Gadgil finish collecting bad press, and Grimeland/Hadfield finish collecting admirers who have no plans to vote for them, a new conversation is starting to happen about what it all means. Students throughout campus are beginning to groan (I got 4 emails just this morning) about how meaningless this entire process has been to them, about how underwhelming and unrepresentative the candidates are of our community as a whole, and about how useless the UC appears to be.

I, for one, don't share the belief that the UC is some sort of monstrous insular body that ignores students and seeks only glory. I live with someone who works 16-hours a day, often in not particularly glorious meetings and usually until 5 or 6 in the morning on this, and so I simply don't buy the portrait some would like to paint of the UC as a group of incompetent and uncaring politicos. I do, however, think that a portrayal- of candidates whose political understanding of their community is fairly superficial, of tickets all lead by white heterosexual men, and of a political community that is generally incestuous and separate- is in large part not only fair, but devastatingly accurate.

So, with all that in mind, I'd like to offer this as an open thread not to the campaign staffs, or the politicos (you know who you are), or the Crimson reporters, or the other bloggers, but to readers who don't feel like they've gotten to say things that they want to say. Rather than just toeing the campaign lines or falling into debates with already established premises, just say what you think.

Please do, however, remember CC's policy on anonymous comments.

a reminder

Many on the Right (i.e. HRC and the Magnus/Tom team) are trying to spin Voith/Gadgil's incredibly bad day to their advantage by saying that this will mean that Grimeland/Hadfield have a chance. While they both seem to be good guys, to anyone who is considering voting for them I recommend you read this post from Mr. Banerji over a Team Zebra. It's pretty harsh, but still basically true.

Monday, December 05, 2005

while you were (I was) away

Wow. Leave the blog for one afternoon and the whole thing shuts down. Leave the race for one afternoon and the Harvard Republicans and the queer community agree on something. Life is pretty weird sometimes...

So the big news, as you know if you're on any email lists anywhere it appears, is that the HRC and the BGLTSA have released a joint statement that launches an absolutely sizzling attack on Voith and Gadgil's credibility and says that they lied to pander to each side over whether or not they support the possibility of ROTC's return to campus. Then, because their hole was not deep enough, the Voith campaign released a response statement that included these lines: "We stand by this [the HRC questionairre] written statement. We made that clear to the HRC and to the BGLTSA." In other words, they're saying the BGLTSA is flat out wrong. This, I think, is probably a huge mistake because the BGLTSA board will say (and has said): so you're calling us liars?

What this leads to is Voith in a fight over the truth with the board of a student group that fights on behalf of marginalized people. This is almost a textbook definition of bad politics: appearing and/or being dishonest (and wrong), fighting against the marginalized and looking weak and manipulative while you're at it. Board members of BGLTSA are jumping on lists to declare their certainty and not only do I think they're probably right (they're all people I personally trust and their motives for lying/twisting the truth are incredibly small compared to Voith/Gadgil's), I don't think this is a fight Voith/Gadgil can win. While the majority of politically active students know little to nothing of depth about current queer politics and causes and still live with a lot of the underlying hang-ups and prejudices of society, they are abstractly pro-gay and won't react well to Voith attacking the credibility of the BGLTSA, especially with the Harvard Republics speaking with them.


Cambridge Common has been down for about the last two hours. Many many apologies, it was a problem with all of the blogspot sites, not simply this one.

read the Crimson!

As if to say "screw you Golis, you don't know me!", the Crimson today published some solid analysis today that deserves a read. Definitely check out the endorsement which, despite my prematurely expressed skepticism, is actually a very well reasoned piece of writing. Also, check out Alex Blankfein's news analysis piece on the shifting politics and debate, it covers a lot of what we've been talking about here for the last few days. The most important tid bit:
As the campaign enters its second week, the proposals for social planning from the Haddock-Riley and Voith-Gadgil ticket have become more similar. Though Haddock-Riley began the campaign without any mention of a separate social programming board, they have since adopted this as part of their proposals.
Funny, does that fit into any already established pattern (ignore the obviously wrong prediction and just read the second paragraph)?

Later today, I'll be writing a piece about why, despite all of this, I still have no freakin' idea who I'm voting for... (seriously!)

Sunday, December 04, 2005


As Judy Miller notoriously said, I'm only as good as my sources. That aside, I've got a nice little handful of them at this point telling me that, contrary to my apparently wildly off base prediction, Voith/Gadgil won the Crimson endorsement this afternoon in a close vote with a high turnout. If true (and sources or not it is still if), this means that rather than the Haddock/Riley campaign completing an unlikely transformation from scrappy under dogs to full-blown front runners, I would call this race a complete coin toss. Then again, as my misguess on the Crimson indicates, it's hard to know...

I had guessed that Haddock/Riley's CLC/Social Planning/SEC-bashing would score them points with the Crimson and that a good get out the vote operation would bring them the rest of the way home. As one incoming Crimson leader said to me "he basically agrees with the entire Crimson staff positions, so I don't see how we can not endorse him." But, as incoming Associate Editorial Editor Piotr Brzezinski said in the comments section (commenting on the debate in general), "there are many different reasons for endorsing a given candidate, and, although you disagree, many people believe that this election is more than a social planning debate." While I'm still a little surprised by this, it appears that I not only over-simplified the Crimson's approach and opinions, but also how the Haddock/Riley plan is being received. Who knew?

So there you have it: I was wrong, and this thing is getting pretty interesting...

Please remember CC's policy on anonymous comments.

Another sad showing

I just came back from the Keynote Presentation of the Boston Area Darfur Activism Conference in Science Center B and, as is often the case, the showing of student support was pretty disappointing. Despite being co-sponsored by Kuumba, Hillel, HASA, BSA, BMF, ABHW, Harvard Friends of Amnesty International, and HIDO and being endorsed by Harvard Graduate Council, Education School Council, Graduate School of Arts & Science Council, Medical School Council, Harvard Human Rights Journal, and HLS Advocates for Human Rights at most 60 PEOPLE were in attendance at the Keynote Presentation. Those who attended were treated to a moving speech by Brian Steidle, a former U.S. Marine and African Union (AU) employee who now goes around the country advocating for Darfur and spreading personal stories about his experiences there along with graphic pictures of burned villages, Janjaweed soldiers, and castrated civilians. It's sad that more students seemed to come from Brandeis and Tufts--Waltham and Medford, Massachusetts, respectively--than the Quad, Yard, or River. Also, the Black student showing was further evidence of apathy or the non-salience of this issue to many Blacks at Harvard despite our supposed "community leaders" supporting the conference. Obviously, supporting it with words is much more important than supporting it with action, I suppose.

a message from El Presidente

El Presidente Glazer (full disclosure: he's one of my roommates) just sent this email out to UC general in an attempt to clarify the debate over social programming:
A main point of distinction in the platforms of the candidates for the leadership of the Undergraduate Council is their plan for the future of social programming at Harvard. After meeting with each ticket and hearing their plans for social programming, and after observing a campus-wide confusion related to this specific campaign issue, it has become clear to both Clay and me that more information is needed to explain the facts of the matter. Clay is currently giving a speech in Tennessee, so the two of us have not yet been able to determine which, if any, ticket we will choose to endorse, but it is important to ensure that some basic facts be understood before the campus chooses the next President and Vice President of the Council.

---What many students and student groups might not understand---
(more in expanded post)
To simplify the UC budget, the Council basically spends its money in two ways: on grants to student groups and HoCos and on social events. The vast majority of the UC’s money is spent on the former – over 75% of the UC budget currently goes to student groups and HoCos. The remaining 25% is split between the (very popular) Party Fund and funding social events. Some students believe that the UC should no longer spend money on social events and that the Council should instead allocate all of its money to student groups and HoCos.

The University will not pick up the tab for social events or for a social programming board. Isolated incidents of University funding, including the Busta Rhymes concert in Spring 2004 and the Harvard State Fair in Fall 2005, do not represent a trend at all, but are instead the results of much more complicated situations that led to funding. With the University’s multi-million dollar investment in renovations for the College, including the creation of a Loker Pub, a Lamont Café, and a new Hilles, and the renovation of freshman dorm basements, with the pending expansion into Allston (which will more or less require the building of a new city), and with the University already funding the Campus Life Fellow position, it is not at all realistic to base a plan for social programming at Harvard on the assumption that Harvard would suddenly allocate $100,000 - $130,000 for social programming (which is the approximate number that the UC would allocate, depending on termbill revenue).

With this in mind, students and student groups should realize that if social programming is to continue at Harvard College, it will be funded by the termbill revenue of the UC. This means that a plan that relies on the University for funding social events at Harvard while the UC spends all of its money on increasing the allocations for student groups and HoCos is not at all realistic.

Furthermore, the Dean’s Office is not equipped to do the work of a sixteen-member Campus Life Committee, a twelve member First Year Social Committee, and an entire Concert Commission. It is not at all realistic to base a plan for social programming on the work of the few people in University Hall who deal with social events.

All tickets believe that the UC should reform its approach to social programming - And Clay and I completely agree. The Campus Life Committee of the UC in its current form is inadequate and recent programming by the UC has certainly been disappointing. But if students should control the spending of their money, and if students should be able decide which social events they want, the answer to our problems is not – and cannot feasibly be – a total reliance on University Hall.

We are encouraged that students are interested in improving how the UC and the University plan for social events on campus, and we hope that this information adds to a productive discussion.

Matthew J. Glazer
President, Harvard Undergraduate Council

why the Crimson will endorse Haddock/Riley, and why no one should care

As I have noted before, there are two very important facts about this race that every educated voter should know but that few do:

The first is that John Haddock, two weeks before this campaign began, was in support of a social programming body separate from the Council, funded by the Council and coordinating with UHall (this is according to my conversations with him and people throughout the Council leadership who also spoke to him). One week before this campaign began, after he had signed Josh Patashnik on as campaign manager and begun to formulate a message, he changed his mind and wrote to UC-general: "I don't think the UC can claim to know how to speak on behalf of the student body on this critical issue." He continued: "I've come to the conclusion that we on the Council have a responsibility to take this decision to the students." It's a cute line ("take it to the students") that would have been a cute campaign message, but the proposal received a cold reception from the Council, who mostly believe that this conversation is too complex and contingent to simplify into a meaningful referendum. And so, when the campaign began, Haddock discovered a new opinion and suddenly believed not only that he was wrong about the UC's ability to speak on behalf of students, but that he himself held an entirely new position that just happened to line up with that expressed not only by Patashnik over a month and a half ago in the Indy, but with the Harvard Crimson's Editorial Board. Now, I have no way of actually gauging Haddock's motivations, and one can simply argue that he had two consecutive and dramatic changes of heart. But, each change of heart came with considerable political gains, so I think it's fair to at least raise an eyebrow. (more in expanded post)

The second thing I mentioned is that this issue- the role of the UC in social programming- is THE issue of the campaign. While there are some who are motivated by other things, the majority of those on the Council and at the Crimson rightly view cutting or reforming one third of the Council is a fairly big deal and the most defining difference between the two major candidates. This, then, is why the Crimson is going to endorse Haddock/Riley. Whether Haddock truly had a conversion or shifted his opinion purely for political convenience we'll never know, but I simply can't imagine that the Crimson not endorsing the candidate with whom they agree on this most fundamental issue. It's simply the logical thing to do, and if any other candidate gets the Crimson's endorsement or their endorsement of Haddock/Riley is anything other than very enthusiastic, it will be a political victory for the other tickets (especially Voith/Gadgil) and Haddock's shifting opinions will not have paid off.

So why shouldn't we care? Because if the Crimson's endorsement is (again, logically) simply a reendorsement of its own staff position, it should really only matter to you if you agree with that position (which you shouldn't). I'll have more on the silliness and confusion that is the Haddock/Riley social programming plan later tonight (I'm doing, SHOCK, research to make sure I get it all right). But what people should remember is that, with this and the fact that Haddock has friends on the Ed Board who must be trying to whip votes for today's decision (as they logically would), Voith/Gadgil's chances become unfairly low.

In any event, we'll see what happens, you'll know when I do!

UC races: a bizarre community performance

There are about 60 of us on campus who, right here and now, think that the current UC race is an incredibly big deal (and some of us more entertained/involved than others). These are essentially members of the Council and the close friends of the especially active handful, the candidates and their close friends, a dozen people at the Crimson who cover and comment on such things, one of the writers at Cambridge Common, a few of the people over at Team Zebra (certainly not all), and someone in a basement somewhere who writes for the Indy. That's pretty much it. After that, there's probably a layer of student group leaders and other active folk (some journalists, etc.) who care but not a ton, a layer of people who care enough to know a little and vote, a layer who will vote for who their friends tell them, and nearly half the campus that won't vote at all.

I'm not sure a lot those 60 people get that, though. (more in expanded post)

You can see from reading a lot of the writing that has taken place here in the last week and a half (including mine) that there's a common language and interest that suddenly comes out during these public elections. If you think about it, the campaigns are essentially a small community of people having a conversation (the Council, the candidates, student group leaders, Crimson/blog writers and campaign staffs) and a lot of other people watching confused, interested, amused, disgusted, all of the above or simply not caring at all. This little community, especially the UC/Crimson community, essentially spend 8 months out of the school year having these conversations and for a month every year we parade them about and try to win or influence elections. As a result, it's not clear to me (or it has struck me) that this little community may or may not have any idea how to communicate with others about its issues. Maybe this, not an actual frustration with the Council, that makes people like outsider candidates. It's not that they're self is uncorrupted by the evil system, but it's just their language that has been. Outsiders don't talk as if an audience has an assumed level of knowledge about the topic (often because they themselves don't); they don't throw around acronyms and committees without explaining or they simply don't through them around. A whole lot of us do...

You can't really blame anyone. Think about if you had to parade your community's debates around for campus once a year. But still, it's entertaining to watch people try and struggle to shift into mass-communication mode when you spend the rest of your year in meetings and committees, writing legislation and generally doing your job... No wonder Senators don't often get elected.

and the envelop please...

In what they must consider a terrible blow to their already underdog chances, Magnus Grimeland and Tom Hadfield were endorsed late this evening by the Harvard Republican Club. They will now likely step in line to become the third year in a row to be the primary FiCom ticket (Barro- Chair; Nicolais- Chair; Grimeland- only FiCommer running), recieve the endorsement of the good old HRC, and promptly come in a distant third. While they couldn't be reached tonight for comment (because it's incredibly late), this reporter has to assume that they are somewhere mourning the death of their chances.

In all seriousness, it's unclear to me that the HRC's endorsement doesn't hurt more than it helps. It seems to me to advertise something that may rally a small community, but brands you to a much larger one. Hard to know, but a thought.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

goings on

There's more goings on than I can even get to, but let's give it a shot so I can get the hell away from this blog for a while.

First, Chip's hosting day three of our conversation with the candidates, and has some provocative questions about their facebook group choices. Definitely check those out and share your thoughts.

Also, a mysterious guest blogger names Chadwick G. Worthington IV has stirred some pots with his thoughts on his new magazine Scene. To discuss the issues brought up by the magazine, check out this thread.

Katie has some thoughts on the new website H-Give, and some words directly from its founder!

And finally, I've written a little analysis about why, regardless of the complete and utter nonsense that is their position on social programming, Haddock/Riley's staff have given them a boost.

Also, check out the new sidebar that links to each of the main posts that have analysis of the current UC race.

As always, thanks for coming by, have a great Saturday night, and share some wisdom!

technical difficulties

I'm not quite sure why, but the comments are currently not working on some of the posts. Please forgive us while we figure this out...

UPDATE: The only way I was able to figure this out is to remove "word verification." Comments should now work, but we may have to tolerate the occassional spam comment.

why staffing matters

At the beginning of this race, I expected the Voith/Gadgil ticket to run ahead from the beginning. Here you have two likeable people who chair their committees and can call on extensive social networks and Council experience to mobilize a lot of people. I figured Haddock/Riley would have to run a scrappy underdog campaign and hope that the Crimson endorsement would be enough to give them some sort of chance. I was, however, wrong.

At this point in the race, it appears that Haddock/Riley are becoming the marginal front-runners, racking up a long list of important endorsements and exuding a level of competence and organization that I didn't expect. Part of the reason I think I misunderstood their chances was that I underestimated Riley's abilities as a campaigner and viable candidate, which have both proven considerable. More importantly, though, I didn't expect that Haddock and Riley would put together a team, a message and a campaign in general that was so far superior to any of the other tickets. I forgot to think about the staff. (more in expanded post)

It's a strange mistake for me to make considering the fact that, one year ago, I was running the Glazer/Capp campaign and, in the process, ruining my relationship, my school work, and my other extracurricular commitments. I'm confident that at least a few other members of our staff had a similarly difficult time maintaining a life during those two weeks. I specifically remember calling one staff member at 1 AM to make sure people had been rounded up for the Science Center, only to find out later that I had interrupted her in bed with her date to her house formal. She answered the call anyway. That kind of commitment can be the difference between winning and losing. We had a huge number of people with that level of commitment, which is a credit to Glazer and Capp's ability to inspire loyalty and effort, and we probably won the campaign because of it.

Haddock/Riley may be in the process of doing the same thing. There is evidence everywhere of their superior operation, from the gorgeous website to the cute stickers to things of more serious substance. Let me, for a second, note a few of those things:

Message: While I think that it's substantively wrong and ill-conceived, the Haddock/Riley message on social planning is clear, concise and puts the Voith/Gadgil ticket immediately on the defensive: "Get the UC out of social programming so we can spend time on the things we do well." Having spent considerable time watching the race, I can't think of any single sentence that would as easily sum up the Voith/Gadgil campaign while still having some modicum of substance (in other words, "more student voice" is not a message). Without a strong opposing message, Voith/Gadgil are left as the defenders of a failed track record of social programming and their "experience" because tantamount to an endorsement of the oh-so-evil "status quo."

Debate prep: This is more a negative for Voith/Gadgil than it is a positive for Haddock/Riley, but the difference between the two campaigns was quite striking here. How Voith got to the debate without an incredibly good and well-rehearsed answer to the question "how do you reconcile your membership in a Final Club with your support for a Women's Center?", I will never know. Haddock and Riley both came off as knowledgeable and prepared (albeit imperfect in other ways), and while much of that is probably a credit to them, much of it is probably a credit to good staff work and preparation.

Student group outreach: Haddock/Riley is absolutely devastating their opponents when it comes to endorsements (not only do they have 6 to Voith/Gadgil's 4 and Grimeland/Hadfield's 0, they've received all of the biggest endorsements so far made: the Dems, Fuerza, EAC and SAA), and there's evidence that staff work has played a significant part. Take, for example, the third of four paragraphs from Fuerza's endorsement:
Their plans to push for greater diversity in the faculty also resonated with the mission of our organization. Although revising the curriculum is the first step to improving the scope of our education, we believe that having a diverse faculty is the most effective way of ensuring the successful implementation of changes to Harvard's academics.
Did I have any clue that Haddock/Riley were for a more diverse faculty before reading this paragraph? No. Did they even mention it during the debate? No. But did they have good enough staff work and preparation to know who they were talking to and tailor their message accordingly? Absolutely. For another example, consider this extremely telling line from their EAC endorsement:
While all candidates supported the idea for "Green Grants" as incentives for student organizations that "go above and beyond, sustainably," only Haddock and Riley expressed this commitment without prompting.
Now, maybe I'm being overly cynical, but I certainly doubt that this was because Haddock/Riley care so much about environmental issues that they just know them off of the top of their head. They were prepared because they had a staff who probably gave them a cheat sheet so that they would know what to emphasize and how to make it clear that they understand this group's issues. How do I know of such a practice? I designed it last year and had the Haddock/Riley campaign's current Student Group Outreach person (Matt Greenfield) assist our then political director (new Dems President Eric Lesser) make them.

Outsourcing: When I received the Haddock/Riley answer to Question 3 today, it came from their campaign manager Josh Patashnik. He noted that Haddock was out, so he was "sending it off" to me. My ass. I would bet a lot of money that he wrote it, and why shouldn't he? There's no reason that Haddock should spend hours a day sitting in front of a computer writing the same set of responses to email lists and blogs and the Indy and the Crimson over and over and over again. It's simply a waste of his time, so he has staff members do it with his approval. Based on the fact that I spoke to her on the phone as she was finishing writing hers up, I'm pretty confident that Tara wrote the pieces for Voith/Gadgil, and I'd also suspect that Tom wrote each of the pieces for Grimeland/Hadfield. I think it's commendable, but it's also a waste of time that could be spent knocking on doors.

The little stuff: Finally, you can locate the superiority of the Haddock/Riley campaign in little things. Not only is the Haddock/Riley website gorgeous, but it is constantly updated with new news clips (including those from CC). The Grimeland/Hadfield website is still advertising Day 2 of the campaign and the Voith/Gadgil campaign's news section still says "coming soon...". The superior staffing also shows up in little things like the fact that Haddock spent the day yesterday with a red ribbon firmly attached to his chest in honor of World AIDs day. You can see it in the fact that the Haddock/Riley campaign essentially assigned Ben Milder to watch over Cambridge Common and defend their honor whenever it might be threatened. That, my friends, is good staff work.

While I don't think that all of this necessarily means we should be more inclined to vote for the Haddock/Riley ticket, it certainly has been a large part of what has given their ticket a big boost going into the weekend. When a student who is involved in AIDs work sees Haddock's ribbon (although I recently saw Voith with one also...), when students in general percieve Haddock/Riley as more professional because of their website, when student groups feel like the candidates know what matters to them: these are the things that can change a race. When the Haddock/Riley team get the Crimson endorsement tomorrow (yes when, not if; more on this later) the Voith/Gadgil ticket better realize that the only way they're going to win this race is if their field team and get out the vote operation is far better. If this week is any indication, I wouldn't bet on it.

Please remember CC's policy on anonymous comments.


If Scene--and the fact that the Globe actually covered its release--has shaken your belief in Harvard students' dedication to using our privilege to improve the world, not just entertain it (intentionally or otherwise), take heart: the brand-new H-give website, a global philanthropy project designed by my latest platonic crush, sophomore Jeremy Singer-Vine, both testifies to students' drive to do good and--even more importantly--expands opportunities for the rest of us to do good, too. Committing oneself to a cause is great. But devising easy yet meaningful ways for other people to join the cause is one of the features of leadership we should most highly esteem.

Planning on posting about this today anyway, I emailed Jeremy to ask if he would mind sharing a few thoughts about the project with Cambridge Common readers. And he kindly agreed. So here, straight from the source, is the vision behind H-give. Thanks, Jeremy, for sharing some wisdom, as Golis would say. (more in expanded post)
During the last two summers (before freshman year and sophomore
year), I interned at a non-profit called Youth Philanthropy Worldwide
(www.ypworldwide.org) in my hometown of Berkeley, CA. They educate
students about global issues and global philanthropy as well as help
students organize long-term fundraisers for organizations much like
the ones featured on the h-give website. My freshman year here, I
realized that there were no organizations on campus that focused
solely on global philanthropy. So I made it my summer goal to develop
such a project.

The first attempt, "The Harvard Collective for Global Giving," which
I launched at the beginning of the year, had some problems. The name
was too wordy (often nobody knew what I was saying), the project
unclear, and the ways to participate a little too time-consuming. H-
give is the result of applying what I learned from the relative
failure of HCGG.

is, in short, a guide for global philanthropy for Harvard
students. It is a 'menu' of sorts. I have organized 20-30 non-profit
organizations that are working on issues of global importance into 8
areas of interest, so that each person can find something to give to
that they really care about. Along with the non-profit organizations,
I have listed student groups that work on these issues so that people
can also become more involved on campus.

I am convinced that Harvard students do care about the rest of the
world, and, moreover, that we want to do something about it. While
papers, problem sets, and midterms might have us stuck in Cambridge
for the greater part of the year, we-- by donating to non-profit
organizations abroad and by joining campus advocacy groups -- can
still make a huge difference in the world.

It is extremely important that students get involved with, or at
least acquaint themselves with, global philanthropy. America is a
very generous nation, but less than 2% of our philanthropy leaves our
borders, to areas that need it most. Additionally, US Dollars make
much larger impact abroad than they do domestically, both because
supplies are cheaper abroad and because what might seen like a small
improvement here (such as an extra water filter) is a huge
improvement for many communities in developing countries. As Harvard
students, we are the CEOs, legislators, board members, trustees, etc.
that will be in control of large sums of money that could
potentially-- if we become educated about the needs of developing
nations -- improve and save millions of lives abroad.
Jeremy asked me to let everyone know that he's looking to get more people on-board with developing the site, so if you're interested, or have any questions, email him at jsvine@fas.harvard.com.