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What's the best way to rehabilitate juvenile defenders? a. boot camp, b. flogging, c. psychotropic drugs, or d. none of the above?
Workers at a Russian juvenile penal colony (their term, likely borrowed from Kafka) surmise that the answer is d. none of the above — and a dose of Dostoyevsky. Yes, Fyodor Dostoyevsky.
In the next couple of weeks, young men in the juvenile penal colony
will be performing scenes from Dostoyevsky's Notes from the House of the Dead
Charged for offenses ranging from petty theft to rape and murder, the 20 youths involved in this experiment with literary therapy range from ages 14 to 19. Prior to testing their hand at acting out scenes from Dostoyevsky's novel, none of them had read any of the Russian scholar's work. In fact, many were illiterate.
Yet, by pushing a group of young men who are ambivalent about literature, theater and, in many instances, their own lives, director Yevgeny Zimin seeks to reinvigorate troubled youth by enabling them to act out roles with which they closely can identify. In the process, he hopes, they can regain a sense of their own humanity.
Certain scenes involving violence and alcoholism were edited out of the show, however, in order to prevent the youth from acting out roles that might send them back down the road to crime.
Can literary therapy empower those whom the education system seems to have failed, or does this sort of performance art risk making a spectacle of the lives and acting skills of the young men on the stage? Only time will tell, seeing as these youth haven't performed before an audience or been set free from the penal colony yet.
But the rule of law seems to be failing in Russia like there's no tomorrow, so it cannot hurt to try this innovative solution. And given that those in U.S. prisons tend to be treated like animals — regardless of their age — perhaps the U.S. should follow suit.
After all, if crime is punishable because it is considered a violation of others' humanity (or property), then retributive justice's attempt to restore humanity by denying humanity seems doomed to fail at achieving its intended goal. Finding a better solution, as the Russians have discovered, demands spicing things up. And as my English teachers taught me, Dostoyevsky tends to do just that.
Sunday, February 29, 2004
My mother is a terrorist. Or she would be if she was still teaching public school.
Last week, Secretary of Education Rod Paige referred
to the National Education Association, the nation's largest teachers union, as ”a terrorist organization“ during a private meeting with governors.
Yes, it seems we are getting to the point where the number of people deemed prospective ”terrorists“ (a.k.a. enemies of the Bush administration) exceeds the number of Americans (since terrorism, we are told, is anti-American).
The rationale for equating teachers with terrorists goes something like this: Bush hails himself as a staunch advocate of education reform a la his (sparsely funded) No Child Left Behind legislation, but many of the 2.7 million members of the NEA have vocalized their opposition to the law, which penalizes schools and teachers if, for instance, test scores don't improve in the course of a year ... hence the teachers must be anti-American/terrorists.
Is Bush the only one immune from the ”terrorism“ label (along with Joseph McCarthy's ghost)? Has Senator Joseph McCarthy come back from the dead to play puppeteer for the Bush administration?
Previously, Paige has compared opponents of Bush's education law to segregationist Southerners who stood in schoolhouse doors to prevent black students from attending desegregated schools. But is that what teachers opposing Bush's law are doing?
Keep in mind that the teachers voicing their opposition probably aren't the ones in wealthier suburban schools (since those teachers probably don't fear losing funding given that achievement rates tend to remain above average). No, the teachers that Paige is demonizing are those who are most intimately impacted by No Child Left Behind. They are the ones who know how difficult it can be to raise test scores, to get parents involved, to get students to attend school and do their homework on a daily basis even though many have to work full-time to support their families. And they also know that Bush's intiative doesn't provide the funding necessary to meet the goals put forth by the law. But these teachers, whom have a much better sense of the barriers to education reform than representatives in Washington, D.C., are treated as the new enemy of the state because — gasp! — they aren't afraid to voice their opinions.
Is it possible that the state has become the enemy of the education system as it siphons off money from teachers' salaries and education programs to support national security? Or is this poorly funded education initiative merely a means of securing the nation against the latest enemy — teachers — along with the naive belief that the government is actually doing something about the public education crisis?
Saturday, February 28, 2004
Recently, when I was reading an article in the most recent issue of Kitchen Sink
on guys who pretend to be gay to get women to warm up to them or to get free drinks and non-sexual gifts from men who are actually gay, I rolled my eyes a bit, thinking how opportunistic it is to use the marginality of others strategically to get what one wants (and apparently couldn't get in spite of one's privileged position as a heterosexual male). But now straight guys are feigning queerness in a way that potentially disrupts one of the most masculine institutions — the military.
Appartently, dozens of Italian men, typically known for their homophobic, machismo demeanor, are pretending to be gay
to get out of mandatory military service. Taking advantage of the mandate's exemption for gays, men are visiting doctors in droves to get someone to document that they feel uncomfortable being around other men in such close quarters, that they feel living circumstances might undermine their professional interest and focus on their military responsibilities, etc. And they appear to be succeeding.
But in the process of evading their responsibilities to the institutions of ”manliness“ and the military, are these men undercutting an oppressive culture of heteromasculinity? Or are they simply taking advantage of the suffering of other men (i.e., men who are forbidden from serving in the military based on their sexual orientation) for their own benefit, thereby preserving the privilege associated with heteromasculinity?
Sunday, February 22, 2004
While it seems silly that the media loves to focus on whether prospective First Ladies are liabilities or assets to their husbands campaigns, what should we make of all of the hoopla over Mary Cheney's participation in her father's re-election campaign? Openly gay, Mary Cheney has stood by her Vice President father and actively participated in the promotion of the Bush/Cheney ticket. Given that the Bush administration has vocalized its support of a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriages, members of the queer community can hardly begin to fathom
how Cheney's daughter is able to reconcile her sexual orientation with her ardent promotion of the Radical Right's agenda.
In fact, just recently, some concerned citizens launched www.DearMary.com
, a site dedicated to urging Mary Cheney to convince her father to oppose the amendment and to focus her loyalties on the interests of the queer community.
Mary's predicament is not one that most of us would want to find ourselves in for one reason or another, but it does raise some important questions: Does one's first loyalty belong to his or her family or to the demands of identity politics? Is it even possible to make such a simple delineation, particularly when one's family and upbringing constitutes part of one's identity? And is it possible that neither Cheney's family nor the queer community which wants to claim her as its spokesperson can actually lay claim to Mary's identity since both oppose aspects of her identity and thus potentially preclude genuine self-actualization?
Saturday, February 21, 2004
Call me crazy, but I really don't understand the media's obsession with the spouses of presidential candidates. (Maybe I should just say the ”wives“ of presidential candidates. After all, the husbands of presidential candidates don't make it into the spotlight since female candidates rarely remain on the ballot past February).
Prior to Dean's withdrawal from the Democratic race, we heard all about how his wife was a liability since she wasn't on the campaign trail with him. Today, The New York Times
features an article
which questions whether John Kerry's wife, Teresa Heinz Kerry, is an asset or a liability to his run for the White House.
Sure, I suppose every intimate detail of a candidate's life, ranging from Botox to extramarital affairs to the quality of his wife's chocolate chip cookie recipe, is subject to scrutiny in determining whether he is fit to run the country. At the risk of being incredibly blunt and dismissive, who really cares? Or rather, why does the media try to make voters base their decisions on relatively trivial, personal issues?
I suppose that these types of stories keep The National Enquirer
in business and give people something to talk about. But beyond that, such superficial details have little to no impact on one's ability to lead a country.
On a related note, I wonder if the media's portrayal of the wives of presidential candidates as caretakers, homemakers, party planners, entertainers — everything but policymakers — reinforces the idea that women are expected to be wives first and foremost. I guess that by definition, that is what the title ”First Lady“ means.
But I wonder whether this tendency to focus on a presidential candidate's spouse and children (remember those painful Saturday Night Live
skits about Chelsea Clinton during the early 1990s?) reinforces the notion of the ”trophy wife,“ thereby making it that much more difficult for us to imagine a woman in the White House — as president. Maybe it's time to start questioning the media's tendency to question whether presidential candidates and their wives are indeed ”model Americans“ and worry a little more about what they will do for the country — and whether they can create a sense of belonging both in the White House and throughout the nation for a larger spectrum of people. Just some food for thought ... kind of like the chocolate chip cookie contest that dominated the 1992 presidential election.
Friday, February 20, 2004
Have you ever considered the composition of the self-selected group of people who visit and/or write for a given blog on a regular basis? The audience of various blogs on AlterNet.org
, for instance, is probably quite different from the writers and readers of a blog featured on, say, the National Review
Undoubtedly, the similarities between the readers and writers of each of these blogs — as well as the differences between the audiences and writers of these two blogs as collective groups — become the basis for ”citizenship“ in their respective virtual communities. And in the process certain groups, perspectives, and identities get excluded or marginalized in the discussions that the blog features and facilitates.
Not surprisingly, such exclusion and marginalization produce a fair number of ”isms“ (yes, even members of the PULSE team and our readers are guilty of a case of the ”isms,“ even if it is primarily anti-Bushism). As Brooklyn writer John Lee recently divulged in ”Blogging While (Anti) Black,“ blogs such as Gawker and Wonkette seek to sustain an aura of hipness by joking about non-whites being second-class citizens. He writes
Gawker is run by a New York Observer contributor named Choire Sicha ... In an article covering the New Yorker Magazine Festival, Sicha reports that, ”around me the audience is white,“ although he also says that he sees people like ZZ Packer and Edwidge Danticat (of whom he says ”Edwidge is also adorable — you want to drive around with her in a giant Haitian-mobile and smoke a little weed“). Both of these women writers appear, at least to casual inspection, not to be white. In truth, there were several people at the three-day event who aren't white, despite his claims, and whom he characterizes suspiciously by ethnicity. Sicha's descriptions of non-whites seem to fall into the usual pattern of one part paternalism and two parts Maplethorpeian admiration.
Ana Marie Cox, a.k.a. Wonkette, is Sicha's DC counterpart. Her mission: to plumb the DC gossip scene for any signs of life in a town where getting invited to a Beltway power party is harder than getting a reservation at Nobu during a Mad Cow Disease scare. For a city that arguably controls the fate of the known world, DC has a social scene that is only slightly more interesting than life on an Alaskan oil field — this city's idea of a velvet rope is ten secret service guys standing in a row. Cox's current main source of stories seems to be blog-refusnik Matt Drudge (oddly, she's simultaneously constantly plugging rumors that Drudge is gay) ...
Like Sicha, Cox injects ethnicity into even the most mundane occurrences. After a VH-1 Pop Quiz given to Democratic candidates about various music, sports and film icons, she declares ”Wes Clark: The whitest candidate in a very, very white field.“ Evidently, not knowing who starred in Total Recall or who wrote the Harry Potter books makes you white. Both sites seem obsessed with the eugenics of not just people, but ideas. But you don't have to take my word for it, let's examine some actual entries from the websites:
Proof Of Strife
Gawker: Jan 19: Media Bubble: Something Going On In Iowa?
Evidently there's some sort of national holiday today? Also some election thing is going on in Nebraska or Iowa or some flat state. I didn't really catch it.
There are many things one can say about Martin Luther King, and it's fair game (though kind of poor taste) to poke fun at his alleged infidelity, but denying the holiday even exists is worse than marginalizing the event. He gave his life for what he believed in and there are still states and cities that refuse to recognize this federal holiday to make a direct statement about their politics. Gawker cast down its gauntlet in questionable company ...
Wonkette: Feb 06:
Russell Simmons: Bothering the White Folks Again #
Lloyd Grove reports on Wednesday night's Victory Campaign 2004: A bunch of liberal celebrities got together to bash Bush and showed PowerPoint presentations. Is there anything more politically inspiring? Way to excite the base, guys. Then hip-hop entrepreneur Russell Simmons harshed everyone's mellow, saying ”The shit y'all doing is corny“ and ”We are not included!“ That's no way to get invited to the after-party, Russell. Can someone give him some ”bling-bling“ or whatever those people call it and tell him to be quiet?
Laughing at Russell Simmons is easy — he's got that lisp, and a trophy wife who by our estimates costs him about $50,000 a day. However, there is a huge chasm between humor that's good-humored and the wink-nudge barb that seems hip, but in fact serves to divide.
Gawker: Feb 6.
Too Black, Too Strong
Hey! It's Black History Month! And it's leap year, too, so we get a special extra day of blackness in the media. Here's an in-depth report that I like to call ”Black History Month: What's Up With Black People These Days?“ ....
... Well, looks like those are all the black people in the news today -- one presentation of a marketing scheme in the paper of record and one gossip item painting an incredibly successful (if highly annoying) businessman as a buffoon. Okay, we'll look for more black people tomorrow! Maybe Nicole Richie will slice someone up at fashion week.
Ummm, yeah. So next time someone tries to convince you that the internet is increasing our interconnectedness, think again. The internet may just be contributing to the maintenance of the barriers and stereotypes that keep us apart — though those barriers may now be more easily accessible to a larger number of people.
Tuesday, February 17, 2004
In perhaps the largest protest yet of President Bush's support for a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage, thousands of queer couples from across the country flocked to San Francisco's City Hall over the weekend to seek marriage licenses. On Friday, San Francisco Mayor Gavin C. Newsom instructed city and county officials to begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, thereby giving thousands of couples an additional reason to celebrate Valentine's Day.
Thanks to hundreds of city officials and police officers working throughout the holiday weekend without pay, over 2,400 same-sex couples
have legally entered marriages with their partners since Newsom's decree. However, despite the jovial mood on the streets of San Francisco, there is concern that San Francisco city officials are violating the terms of California state law that restricts marriage to a union between a woman and a man. City officials acknowledge that they may be forced to cease marrying same-sex couples at any moment when the state steps in, but until then, they are marrying as many couples as possible in the name of love and equal rights.
Although Robert Tyler, a lawyer for the Alliance Defense Fund said that San Francisco was making ”a mockery“ of what he called ”democracy,“ the significant number of people who have participated in San Francisco's defiance of this law suggests that the problem might not be city officials and same-sex couples but rather democracy's failure to practice what it preaches.
Protest of this magnitude proves that Bush & co. won't have an easy time outlawing same-sex marriages as queer communities grow more determined to hold democracy accountable to all of its citizens. Given that these communities pay taxes and even register for the draft in accordance with the law, the ”because the law says so“ rationale for denying them the right to marry is laughable. The law of the land, after all, isn't supposed to create two classes of citizens, but as of now, that is what the law seems to do. If California officials have any sense, they'll recognize this — along with the marriages of thousands of same-sex couples.
Friday, February 13, 2004
With the Justice Department
demanding that at least six hospitals hand over the medical records of hundreds of abortions performed there, the debate over partial-birth abortions appears to be heating up again. Although Bush signed the Partial-Birth Abortion Act of 2003 into law in November, federal judges in Nebraska, New York and California issued temporary injunctions
immediately thereafter, protecting physicians who perform this procedure until the courts hear both sides’ full arguments. Because they can be punished later for abortions performed during the injunction if the law is upheld, however, doctors are exercising precaution.
It is difficult to surmise whether such precaution is all for naught. Since the Supreme Court overturned a Nebraska partial-birth abortion law that failed to provide a medical exemption in Stenberg v. Carhart
, and all twenty-one legal challenges
to such laws at the state and federal level have succeeded, the law is likely to be overturned. But if one or two justices retire before the Court hears the case, the President’s judicial nominees could sway the vote.
What is at stake when the Court hears this case? More than the term ”partial-birth abortion“ might lead one to believe. By making the procedure seem wholly unnecessary, the ban appeared to be a negligible restriction on reproductive rights. But it is telling that the American Medical Association and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), which represents 90% of U.S. board-certified obstetrician/gynecologists, maintain that partial-birth abortion is not a medical term
. Nevertheless, the ACOG assumes this legal term of art crafted by Congress refers to
”intact dilatation and extraction . . ., a rare variant of a more common midterm abortion procedure known as dilatation and evacuation“ which ”may be the best or most appropriate procedure in a particular circumstance to save the life or preserve the health of a woman.“ Significantly, the law never employs these medical terms, leaving it open to the discretion of the courts to interpret.
Insisting that the partial-birth abortion ban ”is not required to contain a ‘health’ exemption, because . . . a partial-birth abortion is never necessary to preserve the health of a woman, poses serious risks to a woman’s health, and lies outside the standard of medical care,“ the legislation restricts this procedure across the board. While the law includes a nominal medical exemption
if a woman’s life is at stake, its failure to do so for her health belies previous partial-birth abortion rulings
. Moreover, since permissibility of exemptions must be determined by State Medical Boards, whose members are typically appointed by the governor, doctors in more conservative states may never obtain medical exemptions, threatening a right that many women and their doctors have taken for granted for more than thirty years.
Thursday, February 12, 2004
It's no secret that the institution of marriage is going through a transition. Only twenty-six percent of American households
are comprised of a traditional family, including a married heterosexual couple and their children. Between Bush promoting ”healthy“ heterosexual marriages and abstinence among low-income Americans and calls for a constitutional amendment to prohibit same-sex marriages, attempts to save this institution by resurrecting the 1950s are troubling — and oh so out of touch with reality. (And by the way, am I the only one who has noticed the double-standard in Bush's promotion of ”healthy“ marriages for low-income Americans while his own brother, Neil, is caught up in a messy divorce drama, replete with adultery, an out-of-wedlock birth, and tons of riches?).
Initially an economic institution, marriage has only become a State-regulated institution in modern times. By attempting to respond to the transformation of this institution with more regulations, many conservatives are simply adding onto layers of contrived laws and social norms.Scandinavia
seems to have found a better solution, one which arose with the advent of gay marriage. In Scandinavia, marriage has essentially been deregulated, making love – rather than legal documents – the determining factor in defining the relationship between two people. As a result, all family forms (including out-of-wedlock parenthood and same-sex relationships) are legitimate.
With jobs and income guaranteed to all citizens — including children — each individual is independent. Consequently, people don't have to feel obligated to get married. Since the government doesn’t condemn divorce and out-of-wedlock births, children born out-of-wedlock don’t suffer the stigma that their counterparts in the U.S. might. In fact, because parents are financially independent, they don’t bicker over many of the financial concerns that married couples here do, eliminating much emotional turmoil from the family.
With the U.S. economy in shambles and a wage gap between people of different genders and races, the economics of this model do not yet seem feasible. But if Bush spread the wealth and acknowledged the failure of contrived regulations to govern our desires, the U.S. could follow Scandinavia’s lead by deinstitutionalizing love and desire and enabling the expression of individualism. This may not be the most ideal solution. But it might be more beneficial for a larger group of people than political ploys to play ”marriage counselor.“
Friday, February 06, 2004
Recently, plans to build a new Planned Parenthood clinic in a low-income neighborhood in Austin, Texas, were halted when Browning Construction withdrew from the project right before building was slated to begin. Word on the street is that Browning was under significant pressure from pro-life groups, which had gained momentum when Bush signed the Partial-Birth Abortion Act of 2003 a few weeks earlier.
In fact, according to Browning Construction worker Chris Danze
, the company's official justification for backing out of the project was that they feel that Planned Parenthood promotes ”sexual chaos“ and ”indiscriminate, unregulated, unsupervised sexual activity with no parental supervision or input,“ which Browning doesn't want to promote.
Danze, who subsequently formed Texas Contractors and Suppliers for Life, hopes that Browning's action will encourage other construction workers to abstain from condoning the pro-choice movement through their construction commitments. The group hopes to deter Planned Parenthood and similar projects from seeking their services in the future to the point of ensuring that such projects cannot find contractors, putting the health of thousands of men and women at stake. This development corroborates suspicion that the mounting pro-abstinence/pro-marriage campaign is working against the interests of lower-class women and men at the grassroots level, where corporate interests still dictate business and policy decisions — and apparently, reproductive health options.
Given that the majority of the services Planned Parenthood provides are basic health care and reproductive health care (most frequently, for women who can't afford it)— not abortion counseling and procedures — there is far more at stake in this movement than the right to abortion. For women who cannot otherwise afford quality health care, the right to life might also be at stake.
It is worth noting, however, that the growing conservatism behind Browning's decision has also mobilized pro-choice and women's rights groups, who saw this as a wake-up call
for just how far the pro-life/pro-abstinence movement is willing to go — and how much clout it is garnering. Thanks to a significant outpouring of support for Planned Parenthood, another construction company recently began construction on the site. But it is unclear whether such pro-choice/women's rights groups have the clout and strength in numbers to keep this dangerous conservative tide at bay.