aTypical Joe: a gay New Yorker living in the rural South
Saturday, December 03, 2005
War on Christmas or fiscally prudent measure?
The annual brouhaha over whether it’s Christmas or “the holidays” spilled over into the U.S. Postal Service this week, with the Internet and public conversation awash with horror that no new religiously themed stamp was printed for the 2005 season. [...]
But patrons looking for a new religiously themed stamp this year are getting leftover Madonna printings from last year, touching off a wave of reports that the Postal Service was planning to discontinue religiously themed Christmas stamps.
“It’s absolutely not true,” said Diana Svoboda, spokeswoman for the Pittsburgh district. Next year’s printing will include a new Madonna and the price stamped over her left shoulder will explain why a new one wasn’t printed this year: Rates are going up to 39 cents per letter Jan. 8.
“We had an overabundance of religiously based stamps from last year,” she said. The Postal Service needed to sell its overstock of Madonna stamps and didn’t want a fresh crop of outdated stamps sitting in the drawers for next year.
It looks to me like we can assure reader Mary M. that the truth has been fully discovered. Thing is, some bloggers don’t do follow-ups.
RELATED: New York Times Editorial Observer:
Religious conservatives have a cause this holiday season: the commercialization of Christmas. They’re for it. [...]
This campaign - which is being hyped on Fox and conservative talk radio - is an odd one. Christmas remains ubiquitous, and with its celebrators in control of the White House, Congress, the Supreme Court and every state supreme court and legislature, it hardly lacks for powerful supporters. There is also something perverse, when Christians are being jailed for discussing the Bible in Saudi Arabia and slaughtered in Sudan, about spending so much energy on stores that sell “holiday trees.”
What is less obvious, though, is that Christmas’s self-proclaimed defenders are rewriting the holiday’s history. They claim that the “traditional” American Christmas is under attack by what John Gibson, another Fox anchor, calls “professional atheists” and “Christian haters.” But America has a complicated history with Christmas, going back to the Puritans, who despised it. What the boycotters are doing is not defending America’s Christmas traditions, but creating a new version of the holiday that fits a political agenda.
The Puritans considered Christmas un-Christian, and hoped to keep it out of America. They could not find Dec. 25 in the Bible, their sole source of religious guidance, and insisted that the date derived from Saturnalia, the Roman heathens’ wintertime celebration. On their first Dec. 25 in the New World, in 1620, the Puritans worked on building projects and ostentatiously ignored the holiday. From 1659 to 1681 Massachusetts went further, making celebrating Christmas “by forbearing of labor, feasting or in any other way” a crime.
Paglia’s confessions of no dance floor
She don’t dance to disco and she’s the expert?
I for one do not dance to dance music; disco for me is a lofty metaphysical mode that induces contemplation. (Of course, this may partly descend from my Agnes Gooch marginalization in the old bar scene, where I was—as Nora Ephron would say—a wallflower at the orgy.) Giorgio Moroder’s albums, which I listened to obsessively on headphones, were an enormous inspiration to me throughout the writing of “Sexual Personae” in the 1970s and ‘80s. Disco at its best is a neurological event, a shamanistic vehicle of space-time travel.
Good God, no wonder she’s disappointed! I was more a Boris Midney fan than Giorgio Moroder myself. He doesn’t even make Camille’s master list of disco songs. (And some of his best work was done in Paglia’s Philly, check him out.)
So Paglia has high hopes for Madonna and “Confessions on a Dance Floor” - which got “gushing reviews” that reduce dance music to “mere recreational aerobics” - has let her down hard:
Madonna’s complaints about “success” and “fame” on “Confessions” ("Was it all worth it?") are simply tiresome. She sings in “How High” (with typically slack locutions), “It’s funny—I spent my whole life wanting to be talked about. I did it—just about everything to see my name in lights.” Here she capitulates to her most uninformed critics and slanders her own creative drive—which is one of the wonders of modern show business. The music videos she produced from the mid-’80s to the early ‘90s were true objets d’art—in my judgment superior to anything coming from the fine arts in the same period. But we have yet to see signs that Madonna’s powers are ripening toward, let us say, Judy Garland’s supreme expressiveness and acute responsiveness to a live audience in her marathon 1961 concert at Carnegie Hall.
Now that she has taken up residence in England, Madonna should beware of the unhappy precedent of Diana, who also became addicted to the flash of paparazzi cameras. As a major contemporary composer, Madonna should not let the eye dictate to the ear. She has treated the dance idiom cavalierly on “Confessions.”
Sean, who’s been singing along to Madonna’s hokey lyrics for the past few weeks, says:
[M]aybe it’s because I’ve never felt marginalized at bars, but I don’t see why dancing at a club is to be dismissed as “mere recreational aerobics” because Camille couldn’t get a date thirty years ago.[...]
Surely, having done all she’s done for dance pop, Madonna’s entitled to devote one album to giving the fags something to dance to, even if it’s not another Lasting Contribution to art. At least here in Tokyo, “Hung Up,” for all its flaws, is the first song since Kylie’s “Can’t Get You out of My Head” that makes all the guys of every age in a bar look up and react when it comes on.
Parole in Georgia, continued
While on the topic of crime and punishment, I decided to go find out what happened to the “90% rule” in Georgia. The policy requiring prison inmates convicted of serious crimes to serve a minimum of 90 percent of their sentence had been challenged in court and the Parole Board proposed new guidelines.
A hearing two weeks ago disappointed reform advocates. Fairness for Prisoners’ Families, a group advocating reform and openness, called for minimum parole eligibility to be set at the one-third of a sentence it was before the 90% rule. They lost:
The new policy will require inmates to be evaluated and assigned a “parole success score” based on such factors as the age when the crime was committed, drug use, employment, and earlier failures with probation or parole.
That score will determine whether inmates can be considered for parole after serving 65 percent, 75 percent, or 90 percent of their prison sentence.
Tracy Masters, the board’s director or legal services, estimated that about 25 percent of the state’s inmates would make a “success score” high enough that they could be considered for parole after serving 65 percent of their sentence.
“We believe this new policy will stand up to legal challenges,” Masters said.
“Sick monsters should be hung”
Or every “sick monster” is somebody’s son. Or daughter…
In Freakonomics, Steven D. Levitt describes our experience of threat as a result of the interplay of risk and fear. He says we react disproportionately to fear. Where the risk is high but fear is low we don’t feel threatened. When the risk is low but fear is high, we do feel threatened. We scale threat to fear when it would be better pegged to the actual level of risk.
The problem of course is that our response to threat is therefore similarly skewed.
That fits sex offender policy pretty much to a T. Rounding up sex offenders at Halloween when children face a greater danger of getting hit by a car. Sex offender statutes that give the illusion of action but are all too often ineffective and based on faulty assumptions.
I raise the issue because a commenter on my Lafave v Limon post says that she can’t be rehabilitated; that she should be hung and quartered instead. And that I made the news somewhere for my statement that I have no problem with her sentence.
I stand by my statement. I still don’t know all of the details of her sentencing, but I know she plead guilty to a felony. She’s a registered sex offender. She lost her job and will have trouble getting another. And she’s made the front pages of the global media. It’s severe:
Even Hillsborough prosecutor Michael Sinacore said the road ahead for Lafave will be difficult.
“If somebody successfully makes it through sex offender probation, they probably deserve a break,” he said. after Tuesday’s sentencing. “More often than not, they do not make it.”
That sounds like enough punishment to me. I hope she makes it.
Sex offenders are not sick monsters. They are people - our sons, daughters, sisters, brothers, friends and neighbors. It’s easier to think of them as monsters but they are not. They are human beings with failings who have made mistakes. Sometimes darned big ones. They should pay for those mistakes, certainly, but their punishment should fit the crime and our legal remedies should be scaled to the actual threat.
Once all of this was left to social norms. Those norms had their shortcomings but I’m not so sure we’re any better off having criminalized these behaviors to the extent that we have. The culture I want to live in would balance law and norms and fear and risk. And it would prize rehabilitation and forgiveness over punishment and retribution.
Friday, December 02, 2005
Pirro’s staying in
It would be good if she were really in it to win:
Republican Jeanine Pirro said Friday she is staying in the race against Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, despite pressure from some leaders of her own party to abandon her struggling campaign.
“I said from the beginning I am running for the United States Senate. I am a candidate for the United States Senate,” Pirro said after emerging from a two-hour meeting with Gov. George Pataki. She gave no details of the discussion. [...]
The Pirro campaign has struggled since it began on Aug. 8 and has had trouble raising money. The state Conservative Party has balked at her support for abortion and gay rights. No Republican running statewide in New York has won without Conservative Party backing since 1974.
“Clearly the only person who doesn’t know that the Pirro for Senate race is over is Jeanine Pirro,” said Michael Long, state Conservative Party chairman.
I appreciate her stand on gay rights, and I bet she’d win attorney general. It sure has been a great platform for Spitzer. I really don’t get how this works for her (I promise the link is worth the clickthrough). Meanwhile, the Times story earlier in the day had this tidbit on Bloomberg:
On another front involving the 2006 Republican ticket for statewide offices, Joseph L. Bruno, the State Senate’s majority leader, met with Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg late yesterday to try to persuade him to run for governor next year. An aide to Mr. Bruno cited the mayor’s landslide re-election last month, but Mr. Bloomberg quickly rejected the proposal.
I used to watch NY1’s Inside City Hall every night; I’d love to see it tonight.
The audience is taking control
“Viewers are tearing down the technological walls that once isolated their TV sets,” Nielsen CEO Susan Whiting said Thursday at the Digital Entertainment and Media Expo here. “They represent formidable challenges, especially the younger generation, who are often more comfortable with change than their elders.”
Indeed, what’s increasingly evident in television’s rush into the digital age is that the archetypal couch potato may be an endangered species. How companies react to this new kind of viewer, one who’s increasingly as active as a video-game player, will recast the foundations of the media business over the next decade.
Neilson says we’re watching more, “television watching is at its highest level since the organization started measuring decades ago, up more than 12 percent from 10 years ago.”
And TiVo is well positioned for the future:
Executives at digital video recorder company TiVo have had a ringside seat as the change has unfolded, being able to track every click and button push of their customers’ remote controls. What they’ve seen surprises even them. The average TiVo household clicks a button 350 times a day, and more than 70 percent of viewing involves skipping ads, said Chief Executive Officer Tom Rogers.
What that shows is convergence: not the traditional idea that a TV is becoming a computer, or vice versa, but that consumers’ use of both is converging on an active engagement with content, he said.
“There has been a sense that the TV viewer is a leaning-back, passive person, and that the PC is a leaning-forward, active experience,” Rogers said. “In fact, the TV viewer is increasingly active, not passive, about viewing.
Michael Kinsley today:
It used to be said that the moral arc of a Washington career could be divided into four parts: idealism, pragmatism, ambition, and corruption. You arrive with a passion for a cause, determined to challenge the system. Then you learn to work for your cause within the system. Then rising in the system becomes your cause. Then finally you exploit the system-your connections in it, and your understanding of it-for personal profit.
And it remains true, sort of, but faster. Even the appalling Jack Abramoff had ideals at one point. But he took a shortcut straight to corruption. On the other hand, you can now trace the traditional moral arc in the life of conservative-dominated Washington itself, which began with Ronald Reagan’s inauguration and marks its 25th anniversary in January. Reagan and company arrived to tear down the government and make Washington irrelevant. Now the airport and a giant warehouse of bureaucrats are named after him. Read on.
Good news, to watch
South Africa’s high court says same-sex marriages should be legal:
But the court stayed its ruling for a year to give Parliament time to amend a 1961 marriage law to reflect its decision. Should the legislature balk, the court said, the law will be automatically changed to make it conform with the ruling.
Few expect Parliament to resist, even though Africans are generally intolerant of gay relationships and many South Africans are conservative on social issues. Among political factions here, only the tiny African Christian Democratic Party, whose positions carry a strong religious undercurrent, called for a constitutional amendment to bar gay marriages.
I really know very little about South Africa, but here we talk about what happens when the court gets out of synch with the people. Now there they have that situation. I’ll wonder how it plays out.
Thursday, December 01, 2005
A lesbian Democrat named chief of staff
Schwarzenegger’s shaking up his administration. And his base:
The move to replace Patricia Clarey had been widely expected since voters defeated all four of the governor’s “year of reform” measures Nov. 8. Clarey was campaign manager for the effort.
But the announcement of state Public Utilities Commissioner Susan Kennedy as Clarey’s replacement caught many Republicans and Democrats off guard.
Kennedy, 45, was Cabinet secretary to then-Gov. Gray Davis (D), who was ousted in the 2003 recall election that brought Schwarzenegger to power. She is also a former director of an abortion rights group and one of the highest-profile gay politicians in the state, making her appointment a risky one for the Republican governor. [...]
“This makes Schwarzenegger a man without a country,” said GOP strategist Dave Gilliard, who helped run the campaign to recall Davis. “The Democrats will never accept him or embrace him, and now he’s breaking with his base. I don’t understand it.”
Via Steve Miller, “And Daniel Zingale, former political director of the Human Rights Campaign, now serves as chief of staff to first lady Maria Shriver.”
TiVo’s new services
I just signed up. Endgadget:
Today TiVo officially launched those new online services we told you about for TiVo Series2 customers. This is a bit early since we expected the beta to run into the new year, but subscribers can now view their photos and check local weather and traffic via Yahoo, browse movie information or purchase tickets via Fandango, or check out Live365’s Internet radio offerings. And TiVo’s even offering up a service to select and listen to podcasts, which is just fine by us. Head over to TiVo’s online service website to sign-up for the priority list to get yours while the gettin’s good, ‘cause it’s going to “take a few weeks” to enable your digs, dig?
The thank you message says allow up to 3 days.
Blog Against Racism Day: The children left behind
On All Things Considered just now:
Nearly four years after the No Child Left Behind Act took effect, the nation’s urban school districts have shown little benefit from the law, which mandated annual reading and mathematics tests for all students in grades 3 through 8.
According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, often referred to as the “Nation’s Report Card,” over the last two years most fourth- and eighth-graders in 11 city school districts made very modest progress in reading and math. And most continue to perform well below the national average.
But the most worrisome trend is that the achievement gap between white and minority students has stayed the same and may even be widening. The Bush administration, which has insisted that under ‘No Child Left Behind’ the gap is closing.
UPDATED to make explicit that this post is part of Blog Against Racism Day.
Blog Against Racism Day: AIDS & Race
Rage and remorse marked World AIDS Day in Africa on Thursday as the continent worst hit by the global crisis remembered millions of deaths in a pandemic that even new drug treatments are doing little to slow.
In Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country, President Olusegun Obasanjo went for a morning jog with HIV patients while in the tiny kingdom of Lesotho officials launched the world’s first door-to-door national HIV testing campaign.
But Swaziland, which has one of the highest adult HIV infection rates in the world at some 40 percent, scrapped World AIDS Day events entirely while South Africa’s health minister repeated her much criticized prescription of garlic and beetroot as an AIDS treatment.
Across Africa, AIDS patients blasted political leaders for failing to come to grips with the disease and the international community for doing too little to help.
The AIDS story this year is mostly one of failure: the failure of rich countries to give the promised money, the failure of poor nations to muster the political will. All around, it’s a failure of leadership.
But is it racism? Or is it uconscious racism?
UPDATED to make explicit that this post is part of Blog Against Racism Day.
Blog Against Racism Day: Juries & Race
It seems the great conductors of the world once innocently believed that men were innately better musicians than women and orchestras were male bastions. When one day, through a set of fortuitous circumstances, a male maestro auditioned a woman he thought was a man (she auditioned from behind a screen) he hired her. And when screens were broadly adopted it became clear to everyone that women were every bit as talented musicians as men.
What once was “obvious,” that men were better musicians, is now obviously not.
His story is to illustrate the power and peril of subliminal snap judgments. Says Gladwell [@48:38 The “clip” feature is no longer supported]:
There are certain things about somebody that all of us are really really good at knowing right away, and certain things that we may think we’re good at knowing that we are profoundly not…
Sexual attractiveness, you can do like that…
When we have real experience with something we are good at making profoundly good snap judgments, but in almost every other situation where we do not have that level of expertise our snap judgments are bad. And as a society I feel we are way too cavalier about the products of our snap judgments.
After his talk, during the questions, Gladwell made this observation that I have seen made no place else [@50:29]:
I have become convinced since writing this book that juries should never be able to see the defendants in a jury trial; that that is just crazy. Why? Because the kind of snap judgments a jury is likely to make about a defendant from seeing the defendant are all irrelevant…
Every year someone stands up and points out that there are huge differentials in the conviction rates and sentences for blacks and whites convicted of the same crime. And yet we make that observation and kind of shrug and say, “Well, that’s America.”
We don’t have to live with that. Why don’t we do something about it?
I would bet every dollar I own that if we put the defendant in a backroom and had the defendant answer all questions by email that the gap between black and white defendants, the sentences and conviction rates would shrink.
I absolutely believe that.
I do too.
UPDATED to make explicit that this post is part of Blog Against Racism Day.
Blog Against Racism Day: Race here
I’d like to see the college I work at offer a Race Relations major. I want to stare down that stereotype of the South and prove it wrong. Because, you see, my experience is that the stereotype is wrong. It’s a stereotype. And it’s wrong.
Oh there are complex and difficult race relations here. There are racists here. There is racial ugliness here. But it seems to me to be an almost more authentic, more honest, manifestation of that same thing I knew in New York and Pennsylvania and New Hampshire and Massachusetts and California, and...in America. And it’s no more so here.
When I suggest the Race Relations Curriculum, people will often say, something like, “yes, Southern Studies.” I answer back, “No, Race Relations. Can you spell O-HI-O?”
When I told New York friends I was moving down here, they all brought up race. I don’t know what planet I was living on, but that wasn’t the first thing on my mind. And even as I have found that the Civil War did indeed leave more of a mark than I ever would have known, and race is heavy and real and hard here, I keep wondering if the people living in denial aren’t those friends in New York.
I live in an integrated neighborhood. Detroit is 81% Black or African American. Michigan is 14.2%; the US 12.3%. Want to guess what color the Detroit suburbs are? Greenwich Village in New York is 2.8% Black or African American. Bedford Stuyvesant is 87.5%. Where I live, 41.7%.
There are rural Blacks throughout the South. How many in New York? Michigan? The Black Commentator on the Ten Worst Places to be Black: (in order) Wisconsin, Iowa, Texas, Oklahoma, Arizona, Delaware, Nevada, Oregon, California, Colorado. Need I point out that not one of them is in the “Old South?”
Gay marriage advocates hope for judicial success. If the success of Brown v Board of Education is any indicator, I want to lose. Now I don’t mean to diminish Brown in the least. Rather, I mean to underscore the fact that our schools, public and private, north and south and east and west, our schools in America are segregated. That’s winning? Someone else can dig up the links, you know it’s true.
UGA wants a more diverse student body; the courts have stopped its efforts. And I know it’s a big challenge, but not just because there are racists here. It’s a big challenge because if I were a young Black or African American person here in Georgia, I’ve got a lot of good educational options. There’s not one historically black college in New York.
I’m not looking through rose-colored glasses. We got a problem here. A big bad ugly problem. But what we got here is what you got there. The question is what are we, you and me, here and there, going to do about it? Change the way we fund our schools? Look at our unconscious racism and address it by, say for example, putting a barrier between defendant and juror? Legalize drugs? Treat users and stop creating criminals? Open up avenues of opportunity for African American men beyond Hip Hop and sports?
Probably not. Because as far as I’m concerned too many of us are looking South at the problem. Look around you; that’s where the problem is.
UPDATED to make explicit that this post is part of Blog Against Racism Day.