From Stonewall to Darfur: Drag Queens are Making a Difference

Thursday, June 28, 2007

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The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert

This day in history, June 28, 1969, the first punch was thrown in the historic Stonewall Riots. Some say it was a drag queen, others a butch lesbian, and still others say it was some less gender-bending gay man.

The event is still a hot topic of debate in gay circles, with much disagreement about what actually precipitated the violence and who took part in it. One legend holds that Judy Garland's funeral, held June 27 in Manhattan, fanned the flames of gay rage. Other versions of the story claim that dozens of sequined drag queens and a mysterious, unidentified butch lesbian were at the forefront of the street rebellion. But a few facts seem certain.

In the early morning hours of June 28, 1969, the police raided the Stonewall Inn, a dingy, Mafia-run "private club" on Christopher Street in Greenwich Village with a predominantly gay clientele. The charge was illegal sale of alcohol. It was the second time that week the bar had been targeted by the police, and other gay bars had also been raided in prior weeks. Police officers lined up the Stonewall's 200 patrons to check identification. Most were free to leave, but the staff, as well as three drag queens and two male-to-female transsexuals, were detained.

Eyewitnesses recalled that the scene outside the bar was at first campy and festive. Patrons were joined by tourists and passers-by, and everyone cheered when a gay person emerged from the bar, dismissed by the police. But when a paddy wagon arrived and the police loaded the bar's staff and the three drag queens inside, the crowd on the street grew surly. One person threw a rock through a window, and eventually garbage cans, bottles, and even a parking meter were used to assault the building. Someone set a fire with lighter fluid. By newspaper accounts, 13 people were arrested and three police officers sustained minor injuries in the confrontation.

Later that night and into Sunday morning, a crowd again gathered in front of the ravaged bar. Many young gay men showed up to protest the flurry of raids, but they did so by handholding, kissing, and forming a chorus line. "We are the Stonewall girls," they sang, kicking their legs in front of the police. "We wear our hair in curls./We have no underwear./We show our pubic hair." Police cleared the street without incident this time, but another street altercation occurred a few days later.

Whatever or whomever tripped the wire on that violent rebellion, it had been a long time in coming. The gay rights movement had been underway and making political gains for some years, but an up-tick in bar raids that summer was wearing on the community. The iconic riots were a tipping point; a catalyst for the nascent movement.

Today's drag queens can turn their attention to other challenges. In May, a Minneapolis synagogue sponsored a drag show show to raise funds for Darfur. From Truthdig:

Cpl. Buju Ceesay wants to meet the young men who gyrated in sequin ball gowns and stilettos for his sake. They worship at a synagogue in Minneapolis, Minn.; he prays at a mosque in Banjul, Gambia. They are high school activists; he’s a 27-year-old peacekeeper with the African Union in Darfur. But even across 5,000 miles and a yawning cultural chasm, Cpl. Ceesay is pleased to hear about the “Drag Ball for Darfur” held at Congregation Shir Tikvah in May. Dancing across the stage in outrageous costumes, the students raised more than $7,000 for the Genocide Intervention Network, which in turn finances firewood patrols like the ones Ceesay conducts for the African Union Mission in Sudan (AMIS). “These patrols are the only way for us to protect women in the camps from rape and abduction as they venture out in search of sticks and twigs for their cooking,” the Gambian soldier explains. “But the African Union lacks the funds and morale to keep [the patrols] going, so we’ll take any help we can get ... including drag queens.”

She Is Not A Number...

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

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She is a FREE heiress.

I'm thinking this is probably a coincidence. Still, it's kind of interesting.

Same as the Old Bosses

Thursday, June 21, 2007

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Just finishing the thought from the freshly minted Mother Jones article, "Meet the New Bosses." Subtitle: "After crashing the gate of the political establishment, bloggers are looking more like the next gatekeepers." Bingo!

Last June, Markos Moulitsas ZĂșniga, former soldier, one-time Reagan Republican, and proprietor of the wildly successful liberal blog Daily Kos, sent an email to an invitation-only listserv known as Townhouse. Consisting of some 300 liberal bloggers, journalists, activists, and consultants, the list was an outgrowth of weekly strategy sessions held at a D.C. bar—a forum for brainstorming on issues and tactics, and a means of creating a "unified message," as Moulitsas later put it. Its members were bound by one main rule: Nothing from the list was to be quoted or distributed, which, this being politics, meant that a leak was bound to happen.

In the message that would end up putting Townhouse, briefly, on the outside world's radar, Moulitsas asked list members to "ignore" a blog item by the New York Times' Chris Suellentrop that revealed that Jerome Armstrong—founder of the popular liberal blog MyDD and a close friend and business associate of Moulitsas—had once been implicated in a stock-touting scheme. Suellentrop noted parallels between stock-hyping and bloggers' touting of candidates such as Howard Dean, who had hired both Armstrong and Moulitsas as consultants during his 2004 presidential campaign. Moulitsas, who had recently coauthored the book Crashing the Gate with Armstrong, told Townhouse members that these revelations were "a nonstory." "So far," he wrote, "this story isn't making the jump to the traditional media, and we shouldn't do anything to help make that happen." He urged participants to "starve it of oxygen."

When The New Republic's Jason Zengerle blogged about the Townhouse email, "The Kos" urged readers to cancel their subscriptions, writing, "It is now beyond clear that the dying New Republic is mortally wounded and cornered, desperate for relevance. It has lost half its circulation since the blogs arrived on the scene and they no longer (thank heavens!) have a monopoly on progressive punditry. We have hit their bottom line, we are hitting their patron saint hard (Joe Lieberman) and this is how they respond. By going after the entire movement." Many of Moulitsas' followers—Kossacks, they call themselves—then filled Zengerle's inbox with all manner of invective.

The irony is this: Moulitsas' reaction echoes the very control-the-message philosophy the blogosphere once rose up to fight... [emphasis mine]

Lots more good stuff in the Mother Jones piece, including some sparkling insight from my girl Maryscott O'Connor of My Left Wing. (Full disclosure: I am a front-page writer and editor for that site. I wouldn't want to be accused of undisclosed bias. That would surely be ironic, no?)

O'Connor speaks like she writes, in stream-of-consciousness bursts, and she told me she had begun to feel there was a "schism" in the blogosphere. "I think that certain bloggers, the big ones, think politics is sexy," she said. "They want in, and they're getting in. They'll do anything to get in, almost. They want a seat at the table. They want to be in the inner circle of the Democratic Party." A member of Townhouse, she was at first reluctant to talk about the list but changed her mind midway through our conversation, predicting that her comments would get her banished. "It's fucking Skull and Bones, man," she said. "The very secretive, behind-closed-doors nature of it is anathema to everything that blogging is supposed to be about: accountability. We are supposed to be showing the way, not skulking around behind closed doors, coming up with strategies. Those are the people who we're trying to fight. I know about 'the real world' and all that shit. But we're the idealists, aren't we?"

The article concludes with a list of quotes about the blogosphere. This one cracked me up:

micah sifry
It's true that Josh Marshall and Markos Moulitsas are very influential, but they are constantly held accountable by their audience. If Markos makes a mistake, right there in the blog comments people are bashing him. He can't stray that far from accountability, the way that editors of the old gatekeeping institutions—whether it was the New York Times or The Nation—were inherently insulated. It's no coincidence that you see a flowering of new voices and people earning their status on merit rather than going to the right college.

It would appear that Mr. Sifry is oblivious to just how many kossacks have been banished to cyberia.

I would probably have much more to say on this insightful bit of journalism, if I hadn't been saying it, and saying it, and saying it, until I'm tired of fucking saying it.

The Jack Bauer Defense

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

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24- CTU's Finest

So here's the deal: The power cord for my computer blew up. I'm waiting for a new one, but in the meanwhile, my PowerBook is a paperweight. But I had to take a few of the stolen moments on my husband's computer to blog yet another "24" horror story.

As I noted here, there is an apparent propensity amongst Republicans to use the fictitious action plots as apologia for their own dark impulses. This, even though actual, real-world, interrogation specialists say torture does not work.

As per Andrew Sullivan, it seems Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia is also a Jack Bauer fan and had this to say:

"Jack Bauer saved Los Angeles. ... He saved hundreds of thousands of lives," Judge Scalia said. Then, recalling Season 2, where the agent's rough interrogation tactics saved California from a terrorist nuke, the Supreme Court judge etched a line in the sand.
"Are you going to convict Jack Bauer?" Judge Scalia challenged his fellow judges. "Say that criminal law is against him? 'You have the right to a jury trial?' Is any jury going to convict Jack Bauer? I don't think so.

"So the question is really whether we believe in these absolutes. And ought we believe in these absolutes."

Yes, a member of the highest court in the land using a fictional character to argue against the rule of law. His comments were made, by the way, during a panel discussion on torture and terrorism law that included senior jurists from Canada and Europe. And we wonder why the US is becoming a laughingstock.

On the plus side, I think I'm beginning to understand why so many conservatives blame Hollywood for all our social ills. They think it's real. And they must think we're all as suggestible as they are.

For When the Thought Police Decide to Come for You... And They Will

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

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They came first for the robots,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a robot...

On April 18th the sleepy college town of Kutztown, PA, became the setting for a heated clash between religious fundamentalism and modernity.

A religious group that staged a protest at Kutztown University today drew hundreds of angry students after members of the group told them they would burn in hell if they were gay, Jewish or Catholic.

Campus police led several of protesters away in hand-cuffs and led the rest off campus after as many as 300 students gathered around the group, according to witnesses.

Campus officials said there may have been arrests because the group had not gotten permission to be on campus. The protest took place on the Day of Silence, an annual event held to bring attention to bullying, harassment and discrimination of gays and lesbians in schools.

One of those arrested was college student and robot rights activist Charles Kline.

On April 18th, I was arrested. This normally wouldn’t be big news, but the situation arround which I was arrested brings up serious questions. I was arrested at Kutztown University, where I am a student, because I decided to try to liven the mood after the Life and Liberty Ministries began to upset students. They came on campus with signs that featured aborted fetuses, lists of people who will be going to hell, and catchy phrases such as “JESUS OR HELL”. I have friends who are gay, and these people who came onto Kutztown University’s campus without permission or prior notice were upsetting students all over campus.

I decided not to simply let them upset people, so I went to the bookstore and purchased a posterboard and sharpie marker and made my own sign. It said “Equal Rights for Robots”, a saying I thought no one would be able to take the wrong way. The protesters had been on campus for about two hours at this time, and the whole time the police were protecting them from the students. To my knowledge, the protesters at this time had not been asked to leave. With my sign in hand, I walked out and waved my sign in the air.


I was charged with Disorderly Conduct with intent to “alarm or annoy” and in the citation it says I was “warned repeatedly” to stop. Neither is true, and when I pointed this out to the officer who wrote it out for me he said something along the lines of I don’t care and made a comment along the lines of tell it to the judge. I plead not guilty and face a three hundred dollar fine or up to 90 days in jail if found guilty.

I have no love for religious intolerance, nor am I a fan of robots. They terrorize the elderly and eat their medicine. They're made of metal and they're strong. But can we truly call ourselves free if we are unable to express such diverse viewpoints without fear of persecution?

"If liberty means anything at all it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear."
-- George Orwell, Preface to Animal Farm (1946)

"The sound of tireless voices is the price we pay for the right to hear the music of our own opinions."
-- Adlai E. Stevenson

And now a word from Old Glory Insurance...

So Why Do I Care About Paris Hilton?

Monday, June 11, 2007

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I spent a good part of the last few days arguing about Paris Hilton. Among other subjects of debate, is the issue of why we should be discussing her in the first place. After all, as an individual, she is probably one of the most uninteresting people ever to usurp national interest. Ironically, this is exactly what makes her worthy of discussion. Her iconic status says far more about the country than it possibly could about her. She's a reflection of a culture run off the rails by economic disparity, ignorance, shallowness, and the gullibility of a public too easily distracted by bread and circuses. Or as one of my favorite bloggers Steven Weber put it:

A true-life, virtually unbelievable culture criminal, the embodiment of all that America® and it's affiliates (America-Lite, America Xtra Caff, McJesus, HistoryBeGone!, etc.) export to its citizenry and the world, she is like one of those characters at the end of Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 walking around endlessly reciting books they have committed to memory in impart [sic] to future bookless generations the ingredients essential to humanity: knowledge, curiosity, imagination, the adhesive substances that bind the bricks of civilization. Only, Paris Hilton walks by herself in an isolated part of the forest, barely able to keep a Bazooka Joe comic in her head, stumbling over the big words and encouraging not mere passing scorn or fringe amusement but outright worship.

It's been said that Miss Hilton received a harsher sentence because of her celebrity status. If so she's been hoisted by her own petard, for she is the walking embodiment of an old cliché; quite literally famous for being famous. I think it's more likely that the Honorable Judge Sauer lobbed a very tiny book at Miss Hilton because she has consistently displayed an attitude that she is above the law.

"I can't believe that either attorney did not tell her that the suspension had been upheld," the judge said. "She wanted to disregard everything that was said and continue to drive no matter what."

What else can one possibly deduce about a person whose excuse for ignorance of the legal documents she signed is that she, "has people who do that for me." How many times does a person have to be cited for driving on a suspended license before some realization dawns?

But according to prosecutors, Hilton violated at least three terms of her probation. First, she failed to enroll in an alcohol education course within 21 days of her sentencing.

Second, she had several traffic violations after receiving probation. On February 27, 2007, she was stopped by L.A. Sheriff Deputies for driving “a new Bentley” at 70 m.p.h. in a 35 m.p.h. zone “in darkness without her headlights on,” and without a valid driver’s license.

The air must be rarefied, indeed, in a place where one can pull such a stunt and remain mystified when the judicial system catches up.

Like I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Paris draws a legion of admirers convinced that she is above the law. Their offenses are too trifling, they say, to merit the statutory penalties for the crimes of which they were both convicted.

Like the George W. Bush, Miss Hilton lives far from the reality-based community.

"I've never lived around poor people," Wallis remembers Bush saying. "I don't know what they think. I really don't know what they think. I'm a white Republican guy who doesn't get it. How do I get it?"

To people like Miss Hilton, even millionaires are poor.

A heated argument erupted last Friday between the two after Lohan approached Hilton, who had been partying with her sister, Nicky, and friends.

But the argument took a nasty turn when Paris and her oil heir pal, Brandon Davis, left a club on Monday night to go home.

As the pair walked to their car Davis - an oil heir worth $A31.4 billion($US24billion) - hurled a tirade of disgusting comments about Lohan.


He said: "I think she's worth about seven million dollars ($A9.16 million), which means she's really poor.

"It's disgusting. She lives in a motel."

He also let loose a racial insult against Lohan's former boyfriend Wilmer Valderrama.

"Is he in a mariachi band?" Davis said.

During the rant, Paris' publicist, Elliot Mintz, walks by her side, helpless and grim-faced.

He has been quick to try and distance Paris from the comments - despite the fact she laughed along and encouraged the rant.

For today, it seems Miss Hilton has hit the limits of what insulation her wealth and privilege could ensure. Screaming to her mother about the unfairness of it all, she was returned to halls of justice very different from those most of us would encounter.

Hilton was housed in the "special needs" unit of the 13-year-old jail, separate from most of its 2,200 inmates. The unit contains 12 two-person cells reserved for police officers, public officials, celebrities and other high-profile inmates. She didn't have a cellmate.

I can only hope that her social peers in the White House meet a similar fate. I won't hold my breath.

Dance of the Chicken-Hawks

Sunday, June 10, 2007

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The Worst Nightmare for a GOP Candidate is a Future Terrorist Attack Prevented by a Gay Hero.

-- Jon Stewart, "The Daily Show"

Well, we can't possibly have a bunch of girlie-men out-macho the war party. As Maureen Dowd points out, only John McCain has the military cred to even speak to this issue... which he does as stupidly as the rest.

Wolf Blitzer asked him about the Arabic linguists trained by the government who have been ousted from the military after being outed.

Mr. Giuliani, who procured three deferments to avoid Vietnam, replied that, with the war in Iraq raging, “This is not the time to deal with disruptive issues like this.”

If he’s so concerned with disruptive issues, maybe he should start worrying about this one: Two straight guys who slithered out of going to Vietnam are devising a losing strategy in Iraq year after year. W. and Dick Cheney have fouled things up so badly that Robert Gates and Tony Snow are now pointing to South Korea — where American troops have stayed for over half a century — as a model.

Mitt Romney agreed with Rudy on the issue. Instead of going to Vietnam, Mr. Romney spent two and a half years doing Mormon missionary work in France. Isn’t that like doing Peace Corps work in Monte Carlo?

At the memorial for Mark Bingham, the gay 6-foot-5 rugby player who was on Flight 93 on 9/11, John McCain said he might owe his life to the young man who helped fight the hijackers, bringing down the plane aiming to crash into the Capitol.

But Senator McCain wants gay troops to stay closeted...

Battlefield Gaffe

Saturday, June 09, 2007

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Battlefield Earth

Paul Krugman has some outrageous notions about what the press should focus on in its interminable coverage of this interminable election season.

In Tuesday’s Republican presidential debate, Mitt Romney completely misrepresented how we ended up in Iraq. Later, Mike Huckabee mistakenly claimed that it was Ronald Reagan’s birthday.

Guess which remark The Washington Post identified as the “gaffe of the night”?

I guess Mr. Krugman didn't get the memo about the 2008 election being a referendum on which candidate is the most Reaganesque.

Asked whether we should have invaded Iraq, Mr. Romney said that war could only have been avoided if Saddam “had opened up his country to I.A.E.A. inspectors, and they’d come in and they’d found that there were no weapons of mass destruction.” He dismissed this as an “unreasonable hypothetical.”

Except that Saddam did, in fact, allow inspectors in. Remember Hans Blix? When those inspectors failed to find nonexistent W.M.D., Mr. Bush ordered them out so that he could invade. Mr. Romney’s remark should have been the central story in news reports about Tuesday’s debate. But it wasn’t.

Well, I suppose we could focus on the minutiae of how we wound up in a conflict which has so far cost us over 3500 American lives -- or on the fact that we broke the 3500 mark this week -- but it's so much more interesting to focus on gaffes about a dead President.

Romney is probably heaving a sigh of relief that his rewrite of history hasn't added to his gaffe quotient, because he's assembled quite a record of bizarre ramblings. Ana Marie Cox provides a rundown of statements that give the lie to his boring, white-bread exterior and expose him to be an SF geek with an odd penchant for praising Hitler. National spokesman Kevin Madden explains:

He spends "23 hours, 59 minutes a day avoiding's the one minute in the day where something is either lost in translation or he strays from conventional wisdom that reporters or opponents will pounce on."

And you thought being mind-numbingly dull was easy. It's actually a very carefully developed skill set. In a campaign focused entirely on image, bland is fine. Aping Tom Cruise isn't.

It's remarkable enough for a serious Presidential contender to name a book of genre fiction as his — or her — favorite novel. (The primary season reading list tends toward the classics and more serious contemporary literary fare.) But naming Hubbard's "Battlefield Earth" on Fox News raised a host of questions Romney could have avoided if he'd named something by Ray Bradbury. First of all, many Americans already view Romney's own faith as suspiciously cultlike in some respects — so why draw personal attention to Hubbard's religion, Scientology, which has a more sinister reputation? Putting religion aside, "Battlefield Earth" is almost universally regarded as a terrible book, even by the standards of science fiction junkies.

Equally embarrassing is confusing the SF universe of Mormon author (and Curmudgette fave) Orson Scott Card with the policies of the real world French government.

Romney's blinding hatred for the French may have played a role in that merry mix-up. He also, apparently, considered "Hillary=France" bumper stickers. I think it's a bad idea, but if after the primaries, these two hyper-sanitized candidates face off, we could be seeing them on bumpers all across red state America. If they can expunge enough of their troubling personalities to make them media bullet-proof, who knows.

"Are We Rome?"

Thursday, June 07, 2007

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The Roman Forum

Now that is a question I've asked, myself, many times? I'm no historian but the parallels have struck me as more than a little obvious. Which is why I privately refer to President Bush as Caligula. Salon takes up the question in a review of a new book of the same name. Former Atlantic Monthy editor Cullen Murphy's Are we Rome? hit bookstores last month.

So are there parallels? You betcha.

First, just as Romans saw Rome as the literal center of the world -- they placed in the Forum a stone omphalos, or "navel," that they believed stood over the entrance to Hades -- America's political ruling class suffers from delusions of Beltway grandeur. "[T]he way the tiny, elite subset of Americans who live in the nation's capital see America -- and see Washington itself," Murphy argues, is a "faulty premise" that "leads to an exaggerated sense of Washington's weight in the world: an exaggerated sense of its importance in the eyes of others, and of its ability to act alone." He tartly recounts the way that courtiers in such self-obsessed capitals become obsessed with prestige. In JFK's time, "only 29 people held the coveted title of 'assistant,' 'deputy assistant,' or 'special assistant' to the President; by the time Bill Clinton left office, there were 141 such people."

As a military spouse, I found this correlation rather chilling.

Second, there's military power. Like Rome, America suffers from a "two cultures" problem, in which military and civilian society are increasingly alien to each other. A Roman historian wrote that soldiers returning from distant posts were "most savage to look at, frightening to listen to, and boorish to talk with." Murphy notes: "America's Delta Force would fare no better in Saddle River, Brentwood, or Winnetka." Moreover, like Rome, America is unable to sustain its enormous military, and is forced to turn to outsiders -- for Rome, barbarians, for America, contractors. "The Iraq War is the most privatized major conflict since the Renaissance," Murphy notes.

This one is subtle, but it is probably the most disturbing in its portents for the future of our "democracy."

Murphy illuminates one key facet of the decline of Rome by citing the Oxford historian Geoffrey de Ste. Croix, who explored the evolution of a single Latin term: the word "suffragium," which originally meant "voting tablet." Citizens could cast votes, although in practice great men who ran patronage systems controlled large blocs of votes. Over time, Roman democracy withered, but the patronage system remained, and the word "suffragium" came to mean only the pressure that a powerful man could exert on one's behalf. Eventually, the word came to denote simply the money paid for a favor: a bribe. Ste. Croix's devastating conclusion: "Here, in miniature, is the political history of Rome."

In a telling historical-etymological comparison, Murphy looks at the history of the word "franchise." It too originally "had to do with notions of political freedom and civic responsibility": It denoted the right to vote. "Only much later, in the mid twentieth century, did the idea of being granted certain 'rights' acquire its commercial connotation: the right to market a company's services or products, such as fried chicken or Tupperware ... In the Wiktionary, the commercial meaning of 'franchise' is now the primary definition. The definition involving political freedom and the right to vote comes fifth." Murphy's disturbing conclusion: "Looking back at the history of 'franchise,' then, it's tempting to write this epitaph: Here, in miniature, is the political history of America."

The book also addresses the role of neoconservative movement that, embracing our imperialism, has set the country on its most disastrous course yet.

Those who are inspired include figures whom Murphy calls the "triumphalists," who "see America as at long last assuming its imperial responsibilities, bringing about a global Pax Americana like the Pax Romana at its most commanding, in the first two centuries A.D." In this camp are neoconservative pundits like Charles Krauthammer, William Kristol, Max Boot and "the triumphalist-in-chief, trading jodhpurs for flight suit," George W. Bush. These figures unapologetically advocate that the U.S. dominate the world.

Are we Rome? There are certainly key differences, which the author addresses. But the similarities are akin to those which saw the decline of that once great empire. It is up to us whether we address these as, in Murphy's words, "a grim cautionary tale or an inspirational call to action."

From Jack Bauer to Keystone Cops and Other Tortured Hollywood Analogies

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

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My husband has often quipped, while watching action movie pyrotechnics, "Oh, now, who filled that car with dynamite?" In his years as a Marine, he's picked up a few things about munitions. This can make him a real buzz-kill when one is trying to suspend disbelief about things exploding in dramatic fire balls and action heroes who mysteriously never suffer any hearing loss.

I guess over at Justice, they prefer the movie version of events. That would certainly fit with the increasing Republican conviction that terror imitates art. Only on a Hollywood soundstage could the JFK terror plot have resulted in, "unfathomable damage, deaths, and destruction."

John Goglia, a former member of National Transportation Safety Board, said that if the plot had ever been carried out, it would likely have sparked a fire but little else, and certainly not the mass carnage authorities described.

"You could definitely reach the tank, definitely start the fire, but to get the kind of explosion that they were thinking that they were going to get... this is virtually impossible to do," he told AFP.

The fuel pipelines around the airport would similarly burn, rather than explode, because they are a full of fuel and unable to mix with enough oxygen.

Oh. And it turns out that these guys really had no actual resources or capacity to enact even this comically inept plot.

Furthermore, the plotters seem to have lacked the explosives and financial backing to carry out the attack.

Is it Groundhog Day?

More Stuff Our Children Isn't Learning

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

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Appearing at The Blogging Curmudgeon, My Left Wing, and the Independent Bloggers' Alliance.

Bushisms- Good Question

Via David Sirota, a freshly minted article in the Financial Times provides still more evidence that what we learn isn't what we earn.

Here's the key excerpt:

"Earnings of the average U.S. worker with an undergraduate degree have not kept up with gains in productivity in recent decades, according to research by academics at MIT that challenges traditional explanations of why income inequality is rising...The average graduate failed to keep up with gains in economy-wide productivity, once those productivity gains are adjusted for the composition of the workforce...This casts doubt on the conventional argument that the solution to rising in-equality is to improve the standard of education across the workforce as a whole...The failure of workers even with undergraduate degrees to keep up with productivity is due to a change in labor market institutions and norms that reduced the bargaining power of most U.S. workers." (emphasis added)

That last line is particularly important, so let's unpack the euphemisms a little further. The "change in labor market institutions and norms that reduced bargaining power of most U.S. workers" is business rhetoric for the crushing of domestic unions and the passage of trade pacts that include no basic labor, environmental or human rights protections - trade pacts that force American workers into competition with workers who have no basic rights. Though the Financial Times seems to passively portray those changes as natural forces like, say, a passing thunderstorm or a beautiful sunset, they are anything but. The changes are very deliberate, very calculated and very artificial - they are the result of specific public policies bought by Wall Street and passed by a corrupt Congress.

This isn't exactly news, of course. It's just more evidence against the canard that has allowed free trade enthusiasts to put American workers in direct competition with third world employment markets.

BOB PORTER -- It looks like you've been missing a lot of work lately.

-- I wouldn't say I've been missing it, Bob.

-- That's terrific, Peter. I, I, I'm sure you've, you've, you've heard some of the rumors around the hallway about how we're just going to do a little housecleaning with some of the software people.

-- Well, Bob, I have heard that and you gotta do what you gotta do.

-- Well, these people here. First, Mr. Samir Naga... Naga...

-- Naga...

-- Naga-worker here anyway!

-- Mr. Mike Bolton. We're certainly gonna miss him.

-- You're gonna layoff Samir and Michael!?

-- We're gonna bring in some entry level graduates for us to work in Singapore, that's the usual deal.

-- Well, it's standard operating procedure.

As I wrote here, over a year ago, a good education is not a panacea for what ails our weakening job market. As per Harold Meyerson of the Washington Post.

Also dying, if not yet also kaput, is the comforting notion that a good education is the best defense against the ravages of globalization -- or, as Bill Clinton famously put it: What you earn is the result of what you learn. A study last year by economists J. Bradford Jensen of the Institute for International Economics and Lori Kletzer of the University of California at Santa Cruz demonstrates that it's the more highly skilled service-sector workers who are likely to have tradable jobs. And according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the proportion of jobs in the United States that require a college degree will rise by a measly one percentage point -- from 26.9 percent in 2002 to 27.9 percent in 2012 -- during this decade.

So what kinds of jobs will the global marketplace provide for America's college graduates? Again, from Meyerson:

In the new global order, Blinder writes, not just manufacturing jobs but a large number of service jobs will be performed in cheaper climes. Indeed, only hands-on or face-to-face services look safe.

STAN -- I need to talk about your flair.

JOANNA -- Really? I have 15 buttons on. I, uh...

STAN -- Well, ok, 15 is minimum, ok?


STAN -- Now, it's up to you whether or not you want to just do the bare minimum. Well, like Brian, for example, has 37 pieces of flair. And a terrific smile.

JOANNA -- Ok. Ok, you want me to wear more?

STAN -- Look. Joanna.

JOANNA -- Yeah.

STAN -- People can get a cheeseburger anywhere, ok? They come to Chotchkie's for the atmosphere and the attitude. That's what the flair's about. It's about fun.

JOANNA -- Ok. So, more then?

STAN -- Look, we want you to express yourself, ok? If you think the bare minimum is enough, then ok. But some people choose to wear more and we encourage that, ok? You do want to express yourself, don't you?

JOANNA -- Yeah. Yeah.

STAN -- Great. Great. That's all I ask.


But a few studies by reputable researchers will not stop factually challenged, globalization apologists like Thomas Friedman from trotting out the education myth at every opportunity. It's far too useful as a tool for shutting down debate on outsourcing. And all this bloviating about the importance of education isn't slowing the erosion of an economy that now sees a decline in income for 90% of the populace. It's not doing a whole lot for our educational system either.

My daughter started kindergarten this year. She's lucky. She's in a top-rated school district; not one that has being punitively starved for being malnourished to begin with. I did learn, however, what accounts for a good education these days. It starts with homework for 5 year olds. It's not like the kindergarten of my memory. I colored and made macaroni necklaces. She has a math test every week. Did I mention that she's 5?

So, my husband and I did a little research and learned, to our horror, that 5 is really not an appropriate age for today's kindergarten, and that parents all over the country are pressing their school districts to hold their kids back a year, called "redshirting," so they can keep up with the rigorous demands of the kindergarten classroom.

Children who turn 5 even in June or earlier are sometimes considered not ready for kindergarten these days, as parents harbor an almost Darwinian desire to ensure that their own child is not the runt of the class. Although a spate of literature in the last few years about boys' academic difficulties helped prompt some parents to hold their sons back a year, girls, too, are being held back. Yet research on whether the extra year helps is inconclusive.

Fueled by the increasingly rigorous nature of kindergarten and a generation of parents intent on giving their children every edge, the practice is flourishing in New York City private schools and suburban public schools. A crop of 5-year-olds in nursery school and kindergartners pushing 7 are among the most striking results.

While the push to make our kids more "competitive" is resulting in grade school standards that are increasingly out of sync with normal, developmental stages, politician's and the corporations that pull their strings enjoy endless benefits.

The political emphasis on education does even more for corporate America than provide a fig leaf for outsourcing all our jobs to India and China. Long before "No Child Left Behind" started making millions for Neil Bush, pharmaceutical companies learned they could profit by medicating our "disruptive" kids. The problem traces back to a dubious study called "A Nation at Risk," which correlated our educational system with the ebb and flow of the greater economy. One result is an increase in diagnoses of ADD/ADHD and prescriptions for drugs like Ritalin.

Despite the unsoundness of the conceptual underpinnings of A Nation at Risk, the 1983 report led to a substantial rewriting of federal and state laws regarding education. Many states now employ "high stakes" testing, which, by definition, means that state funding is allocated preferentially to school districts showing the greatest improvement in test scores. Principals are hired or fired depending on their school's test score results. Superintendents are promised large bonuses if their school districts' test scores rise; if the scores fall, a superintendent will likely be sacked. School test scores now affect many aspects of a community's self-image, including property values. If your family has to choose between moving to town A or town B, and A's schools get higher test scores than B's, aren't you more likely to move to town A? Other things being equal, the town with higher scores will have higher property values.

Principals and teachers aren't stupid. Faced with pressure to raise test scores, they change the curriculum to increase the likelihood of students scoring high. Because standardized tests measure reading, writing, and math skills, more time will be devoted to reading, writing, and math. Because the tests do not measure skills in music, art, gym, or playground social skills such as learning to play fair in a game of kickball, less time will be devoted to music, art, gym, and recess. In some schools, recess is being eliminated altogether. After all, if your mandate is to raise test scores, what's the point of recess? Some superintendents are so intent on doing away with recess that they are building new elementary schools without a playground. "Many parents still don't quite get it," says Dr. Benjamin Canada, the Atlanta school superintendent. "They'll ask, 'so when are we getting a new playground?' And I'll say, 'There's not going to be a new playground."26

The elementary school curriculum has been speeded up. If you want your second-graders to excel on their standardized tests, then first grade is too late to start them reading. Start them in kindergarten. The result is that kindergarten, in the sense that it existed in the 1960s, no longer exists in most American school systems. The first-grade curriculum has been pushed down into kindergarten, which Time magazine wryly suggested should be renamed "kinder grind." "Forget blocks, dress-up, and show-and-tell," said Time. "Five-year-olds are now being pushed to read."27

My daughter can write her own name, now. Most of the time the letters are well-proportioned and face in the right direction. A few weeks ago, she finally grokked the relevance of "homework." Well, better late than never. At this rate, by the time she graduates from college she should be well prepared to compete for a job against a commensurately educated Vietnamese worker who will work for pennies on the dollar... Or she can always waitress. I think she has a real flair for "flair." She'll probably need it.