The following is from a letter sent to the alumnae/i of Vassar College and to the parents of the students currently attending the college from President Catherine Bond Hill prior to a discussion to address “…current issues and tensions within our community related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” This writer is taking no sides in the current debate (yet), but feels that all sides require an airing out, since constructive engagement is clearly the only thing lacking at this juncture. As such, in the words of Shakespeare, “Judge when you hear”:
Vassar has as an abiding principle of “going to the source.” As you likely know, it comes from history professor Lucy Maynard Salmon, who at the turn of the 20th century encouraged her Vassar students to use primary sources to do their research. With so much being written in the media and on social media about these issues at Vassar, much of it without the benefit of primary sources at the college, we want to provide our alums and parents the opportunity to hear what is really happening on campus.
I would suggest that the op-ed about Vassar earlier this week in the Wall Street Journal fell far short of the principle of going to the source. It would have been useful for the authors to come to campus to find out for themselves what is actually going on before writing the piece. I have extended an invitation to them both to come to campus next week to meet with students, faculty, and members of the administration during our annual All College Days.
If they accept, they will see a vital community, grappling with some of the toughest issues of our time. Activist students, supporting a variety of issues, are not necessarily committed to dialogue. And, encouraging balanced programing and opportunities for discussion has been difficult. But, we are making some progress.
Earlier this week, Bassem Eid, a Palestinian human rights activist and political analyst, spoke out against the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement to a supportive audience. Late last month our Jewish Studies program sponsored a lecture by anthropologist Aomar Boum, who discussed his research at the United States Holocaust Museum detailing a partnership between North African Jews and Muslims to fight racism and anti-Semitism.
In late January, with support from my office, the elected leaders of our student government, the Vassar Student Association, along with members from a variety of student groups with differing views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, attended a training provided by the National Coalition Building Institute on addressing difficult issues. These kinds of events make us hopeful for even more productive and respectful exchanges.
This is not to say that we do not face difficult issues, we absolutely do. And, this includes incidents of anti-Semitism. Such incidents are in violation of our college regulations and policies and we do not tolerate them. We denounce them. A recent e-mail I sent to the community denounced anonymous anti-Semitic comments on the social media platform Yik Yak, and our Dean of the College emailed students this week, urging them to treat each other with the respect that is called for by, and is central to, our code of conduct as a community. I have called on our students to think about the impact of their actions on others in our community. I also have asked our community to call out actions that offend and harm others.
The recent speaker to campus who has attracted so much attention has also spoken at Harvard, Cornell, the University of Pennsylvania, and Wellesley to name only a few institutions both in the United States and abroad. As academic institutions, we must be committed to academic freedom and free speech. Just as I objected to the call for the American Studies Association boycott of Israeli academic institutions, I will defend the faculty’s right to bring speakers of their choice to campus. I also will let the faculty who invited the recent lecturer speak for themselves.
Along with many others in the Vassar community, I am dissatisfied with the range of perspectives being presented on campus regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and we are working to fill this gap. While many people on campus work hard to do this, the megaphone effect of those who think they know what is going on but really don’t, damages those efforts. As I have said before, Vassar deserves, and demands, better.
The real tragedy here, of course, is that Vassar College needed to have this conversation at all. But it is foolish to assume that in the great halls of academia where freedom of thought, inquiry and opinion reign that prejudice does not exist. It does. It always has and it always will. Perhaps some important perspective will be found in the days and weeks to come and perhaps not. One thing is certain. A great institution of higher learning has some explaining to do. Such explanations, however, will do little if people of good will are unwilling to listen. This is essential as listening is the foundation of understanding. It is necessary as understanding leads to healing.
We must remember, however, that bigotry, hatred and anti-Semitism are intolerable in a civilized society. As such, if there is a cancer in this place which so many of us love, it must be cut out, as surely as if were afflicting our own bodies. But a biopsy must nevertheless be done to determine how extensive the problem is. Is it a powerful malignancy comprised of many or the benign idiocy of a few? This we will determine. Some have suggested the patient is already too far gone; that we should now turn our backs and focus our efforts on those still worth saving.
I defy this notion.
Until Vassar College is dead and relegated to history, I, for one, will not allow those who seek to rip us apart because of our religious beliefs, who want wholesale bigotry to define this community, who have already decided that it is an irretrievable cesspool of prejudice or want only their side to be heard and no one else’s any semblance of victory of comfort.
We are Vassar. We are many and we are strong. Do not fuck with us.
One observer noted in regard to the New Hampshire Democratic debate on MSNBC: “The debate was revealing, but the questions were even more so; arguments about how to arrange the deck chairs gave way to the realization that the Titanic is sinking.” It is heartbreaking to admit, but it now appears that the Democrats as a party are at least as splintered and dysfunctional as the Republicans are and perhaps even more so. This is especially agonizing as progressives have long been pointing and laughing at the GOP as a hopelessly fractured party; one that is ripping apart at the seams as more moderate factions within it are beaten mercilessly into submission by Tea Party extremists, rendering the entire GOP as impotent on the national stage. Democrats have become complacent in the Obama years as they have watched the right often flail in the wind as they attempted to impede progressive causes such as the Affordable Care Act, voting rights, environmental protection, gun safety, violence against the African-American community by police, reproductive rights, gay marriage and other important issues.
Now it appears that the shoe is on the other foot and it could not have happened at a worse time. In this election cycle, it is the Democrats who are becoming useless and impotent as their party becomes more and more splintered. Moderates in that party are now being beaten mercilessly by extremists on the left and to make matters worse, Democrats seem to believe that having the party collapse beneath their feet is a good thing, equating implosion with “robust discussion”, because you know…”The Establishment”! EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEK! Cue horror movie theme music with the deranged killer ripping off his mask to reveal the face of Debbie Wasserman Schultz.
Make no mistake. The Republicans are beginning to smell blood in the water and bile on the beltway. They realize that this is the moment they have waited eight long years for. They know that despite the handshakes and smiles on TV between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, their respective supporters loathe each other. On the GOP side, the vitriol generally comes from the candidates themselves. On the left, it comes from supporters of the two candidates against each other and few are willing to acknowledge the consequences if this behavior continues. Now, Democrats will of course say they want so-and-so to be the nominee but will support whoever is eventually on the ticket.
Anyone who believes that is delusional. It’s their candidate or nobody. Well, guess what? Nobody is going to wind up being a Republican. When Inauguration Day in 2017 comes, that man will have nobody to thank more heartily than progressives who hate each other more than a man who wants to take America to a 1950’s television sitcom world that Republicans believe was real but never actually existed.
I have seen nothing in the press, social media or polling data to even remotely suggest the Democrats will unite around their eventual nominee. This isn’t 2008. Each campaign’s supporters are using the tactics that the GOP developed and each is following that playbook to the letter. To Sanders supporters, Clinton is untrustworthy, endless scandals make her too much of a liability and offers nothing except what amounts to an Obama third term. Besides, she’s in bed with corporations and Wall Street. Clinton’s supporters say Sanders is an avowed socialist who Americans simply will not support in a general election with a plan for massive social programs that will never get past Congress. Besides, does he give any indication he’s the guy you want when that phone rings at the White House at 3AM? Karl Rove would be proud to call himself a Democrat today.
I hate to be a whinging pom, but it seems to me that Sanders supporters will not have any qualms about staying home on Election Day because they can find nothing positive about a Clinton presidency. In turn, Clinton supporters will all too gladly stay at home on Election Day because they can find nothing positive about a Sanders presidency. But I guarantee you the Republicans will not stay at home. They may not like their eventual nominee, but their blinding hatred of the Democrats is far, far stronger than the Democrats inevitable milquetoast support of their eventual nominee. Beware the power of the angry, white, male voter. He is a conservative who never liked Hillary Clinton and sees Bernie Sanders as a Communist and has far more fight left in him than the mainstream media is prepared to acknowledge. His fury, and those who feel as he does, will surely rocket the GOP all the way to the White House in 2016 as Democrats bludgeon their own to the point where it will be only a weak, battered and exposed shell of a candidate who actually makes it to Philadelphia this summer. The social media and beltway press infighting among progressives is exactly what the conservatives have been dreaming of.
“I,Donald John Trump, do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States and will to the best of my ability preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States. So help me God.”
Don’t like it? Get used to it. It’s probably going to happen.Donald Trump will be the 45th President of the United States unless the Democratic Party begins to find something good, genuine, decent, intelligent, positive and exciting about one of their candidates and begin to coalesce around that person. Not later in the primaries.
Consider the following mass shooting scenarios: 1.) The Overland Park Jewish Community Center in Kansas, 2.) The Planned Parenthood Clinic in Colorado, 3.) The Emmanuel AME Church in South Carolina, 4.) The Inland Community Center in California and 5.)The Umpqua Community College in Oregon. In each of the 5 cases, multiple shots were fired with multiple fatalities. The identity of each shooter was not immediately known but authorities quickly made a determination and in some cases the perpetrator was captured and their backgrounds well established shortly afterward. The motive was not immediately clear in any of the cases but seemed obvious to most observers, especially to those who opine on television for a living.
Now let’s look a little closer. We will refer to the shooters as a singular “gunman” for argument’s sake and each shooting to be an “incident” or “engagement”.
A gunman at any Jewish center, regardless of ethnic background or religion, is going to be assumed to have anti-Semitic views. If the gunman is white, those views will be presumed to be neo-Nazi. The same is true with the incident at a Planned Parenthood. Any gunman will be presumed to have strong anti-abortion rights views and probably an evangelical or other Pentecostal Christian; possibly Roman Catholic. A white gunman opened fire at a predominately black church in the South. The logical conclusion is the motive is neo-Confederate, white-supremacist in nature. The incident at the Inland Community Center is presumed to be international terrorism because the gunman is Middle-Eastern in heritage and had made a trip to Saudi Arabia. The gunman in Oregon is reported to have had anti-religious or anti-government views in general but was also reported to have had long-term mental health issues. This makes it the only case where the justice system actually seemed to have a mass shooter with no discernible political, religious or ethnic axe to grind. Perhaps this was the only one of the 5 incidents listed above whom observers on the right quickly classify the perpetrator as “mentally ill”.
Setting aside incidents that are obviously criminal, such as a bank robbery or a narcotics related firefight, most Americans feel the inclination to see any mass shooting as “terrorism”. The FBI defines “mass shooting” as one where 4 or more people have been shot in one incident. Terrorism by definition is the use of violence to intimidate or coerce a civilian population, and as such, try and effect changes in government policy. This presents us with an unsettling dilemma. Which, if any, of the incidents noted above, are “terrorism”, “hate crimes” or just “crime”? The answer is obvious. Who do you perceive the gunman to be? Your own ideology and worldview will shape how you view such incidents. You will be certain you know what really happened long before any hard facts arrive, long before the press conferences stop and the cable news talking heads fall silent.
Again, consider your perceptions if the following occurred:
What if the Overland Park Center incident was committed by an anti-religious gunman?
What if a Middle-Eastern man had engaged the Planned Parenthood in Colorado?
What if the gunman at the Emmanuel AME Church was black?
What if the Inland Community Center had been engaged by one gunman? Or multiple gunmen but all white?
What if the Community College in Oregon gunman had been devoutly and fervently religious but Jewish?
Suddenly, the line between what we define as “crime” and “terrorism” becomes blurred. Who is a completely sane yet dedicated fanatic and who is just “mentally ill” changes, does it not? What we want to see in huge red print on our online news feed or used as material for our particular political candidate is generally shaped not by facts, but by perceptions, which may turn out to be false and often do. We as Americans often like to say that someone is innocent until proven otherwise in a court of law. But we all know that is never the case in mass shootings. Definitions of who the gunman (or gunmen) are will always advance our pre-determined agenda. Events will be perceived in a way that suits our purposes for television and social media and will tend to prop up what we already know is going on.
Even if we actually have no idea.
It’s very rare to witness a murder first hand. It’s even rarer to have a murder recorded for posterity. So it was on November 22, 1963 that Abraham Zapruder made what is arguably the most famous and important 27 seconds in film history when he inadvertently filmed the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. The film shocked and horrified the nation when it was first publicly broadcast on TV in 1975. In 40 years since then, how times have changed. Then again, it’s both remarkable and unfortunate how little we ourselves have changed. Two reporters were brutally shot and killed in Virginia on live television today. I’m not going to address the issue of guns, since it would probably be good for America to not pretend anymore that anything will ever happen to mitigate their unchecked proliferation in our society. Rather, what strikes me harder is the insatiable fascination we seem to have for watching this loop over and over and over and over again. Even the camera still, which shows a young reporter conducting an interview with maybe a second or so to live, is eerily hypnotic to a culture which thrives on death and death imagery.
Think about it. Where would the anti-abortion movement be without carefully edited footage of dead fetal tissue? Where would the crusade to curb smoking in America be without a rogue’s gallery of people slowly and horribly dying of cancer? I know what you’re thinking. But you’re wrong. You are a ghoul and you should be ashamed of yourself. They say people who watch porn are deviants. Bull. You want deviant and sickening behavior? How about the millions of us who watched two lives being snuffed out in an instant on our handy YouTube mobile app; perhaps during a quick break along with your friends during lunch? Thanks also to the online news outlets to make sure we all got our collective fix. Some will simply say “Death is a part of life” to excuse themselves of the guilty pleasure of watching a murder as often as they like with the perpetuity that the internet grants us. A poor excuse for watching a cold-blooded killing on repeat. Death is a natural thing. But this is as far from natural as you can get. This is not “part of life”. This is Murder Live with Kelly and Michael and it’s entertainment. If your aim is to see public death, try 1793.
Face it. You love this. But sadly, no gray matter for you to see here and I know you were SO hoping for some. Mr. Zapruder was good, but not that good. In a moment of time captured purely by accident, he helped to create an America which will never get enough bloodlust on film. A media player like Lee Harvey Oswald (remember ”I’m a patsy!” in front of the cameras?) could never have imagined the kind of instantaneous, viral exposure his moment of abject violence would have brought him today in his most fevered dreams. A live killing as it happens is what we all wanted. It’s OK, though. I’m a deviant, too…and I’m ashamed.
There is a tendency on the part of many people to assume that any and all brave, selfless and heroic actions conducted by American servicemembers while on leave in the civilian world, both here and abroad, must be done by members of the US Marine Corps. The bravery and courage of Marine Corps personnel has garnered such fame over time that even local media on the scene of such events simply come to the immediate assumption that any Americans involved who are in the armed forces and conduct themselves with heroism and courage are Marines.
Indeed, there were few news outlets in the US that did not report that 2 members of the USMC were responsible for neutralizing a gunman who began opening fire aboard a Thalys high speed train en route from Amsterdam to Paris yesterday. The gunman, as of this writing, is reported to be a Moroccan national familiar to Spanish authorities and with possible connections to terrorist elements. The gunman was armed with a Kalashnikov AK-47 assault rifle, a knife, a pistol and several clips of ammunition. The two American servicemen subdued the gunman, one of them sustaining serious injuries in the attack, and disarmed him. Due to their quick thinking and fast action, nobody was killed and what surely would have been a massacre was foiled.
But they weren’t Marines. The American servicemen were members of the US Air Force and US Army National Guard.
In the wake of the Charlie Hebdo shootings in Paris earlier this year and other similar attacks, we are reminded that even a train in Western Europe, tragically like so many other places in the world we assume are safe, can in an instant become the scene of death and carnage. This writer, for one, is grateful that there are people, ordinary people, civilian and military, who in their everyday lives face a terrifying circumstance and step up to the challenge to stop violence and hatred. There is a word for such people. The ones we should emulate and make us all wonder how we would react in a similar crisis. Would you or I face a man armed with an assault weapon and without hesitation engage him before lives were lost and a nation once again grieves? There is a word for such people and it has been much overused. The word is hero.
Let the record show that the two American servicemembers involved who averted what would almost certainly have been a horrifying bloodbath were Airman First Class Spencer Stone, US Air Force, 65th Air Base Group and Spec. Alek Skarlatos, US Army, 41st Infantry Brigade Combat Team, Oregon National Guard.
It has been over 150 years since the American Civil War came to a close. The men on both sides of the conflict were sent home by their commanders and whether in victory or in defeat, there can be no doubt that all were glad to see the conflict finally draw to a close. Many thousands had been killed on the battlefield. Hundreds of thousands more had died of disease and starvation. Roughly 2% of the country’s population, an estimated 620,000 men, lost their lives as a result of the war. Taken as a percentage of today’s population, the death toll would have reached 6,000,000, a figure roughly equivalent to the Nazi Holocaust.
In the midst of these sobering numbers, we as a country once again face a spectre from this past conflagration. But it is not the horrors of Civil War itself that visit us, nor the war’s root causes, which have been debated by historians and scholars for generations. Rather, it is the symbols from those dark years that grip us like the possession of an evil spirit that will not go away of its own accord without a kind of national exorcism.
The discussion surrounding statues of Confederate luminaries in Southern cities, most notably of Robert E. Lee, and especially the flying of the Confederate Flag, has been going on for years. But only recently have questions about what these emblems truly symbolize about our past, and about ourselves, gripped our national consciousness so strongly.
Just pause for a moment and remember what America has endured over the last few years. From the brutal murders of nine black parishioners at the Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston to the violent “Unite The Right” Rally of white supremacists and neo-Nazis in Charlottesville, the antagonism born of Gettysburg, Antietam and Chancellorsville return like vengeful revenants from those silent battlefields to haunt our Union once again.
Consider the recent election of Corey Stewart to be the Republican nominee for Senate in Virginia. Stewart, whose only previous experience in elected office has been as an at-large commissioner in Prince William County just south of Washington DC, is an ultraconservative firebrand who has crafted a public persona as a stalwart defender of Confederate monuments. His ascendance to the national spotlight will invariably challenge us all once again to consider the full weight of what it means to have symbols from a conflict that literally split America in two in public for all to see.
To put a fine point on it, why are there still Confederate flags and statues on public property? These are symbols of a war initiated by Southern states in 1861, motivated by a belief in white racial supremacy, rising up in armed insurrection against the Union, claiming “State’s Rights” in an effort to retain the ability to own black human beings as slaves.
Now, to be clear, slavery and indentured servitude existed in the North as well. The Revised Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 held that all United States citizens, whether in the North or the South, had to return any runaway slaves to their “rightful owners” or face severe penalties which could include 6 months imprisonment and a fine of $1,000; the equivalent of $28,000 today. New York did not completely abolish slavery until 1827. Pennsylvania did not achieve complete abolition until 1847. Connecticut had slaves until 1848. New Jersey and New Hampshire did not totally abolish slavery until the after the close of the Civil War and the passage of the 13th Amendment in 1865.
The stain of slavery and Civil War was not, and is not, borne by the South alone. But it is there that the much of the Civil War’s legacy endures today. It is in the South that the grip of these symbols is strongest and no symbol of that conflict is more emotionally jarring than the so-called “Rebel Flag”. Ironically, when we study the history of the Civil War and America’s involvement in slavery, we find ourselves in the odd position of discovering that the modern connotations that this banner holds do not lie in the events from over a century and a half ago, but rather as a symbol of defiance against Federal intervention in the blossoming Civil Rights movement that began shortly after the Second World War.
Although a man with many personal prejudices about race of his own, Harry S. Truman established the President’s Committee on Civil Rights (PCCR) on December 5, 1946, tasked with investigating the status of civil rights in the United States and propose measures to protect such rights. Whether motivated by electoral politics, concerns that America’s Jim Crow laws in the South would be used by the Soviet Union as a propaganda tool, or simply because it was the right thing to do, the PCCR successfully led to new Federal involvement in the cause of fighting racial injustice. This effort culminated in the signing of Executive Order 9981 on July 26, 1948. Using the authority granted the President as Commander-in-Chief under Article II of the Constitution, this order de-segregated the armed forces of the United States.
In the minds of many southerners at the time, Truman’s action went too far. In 1948, a breakaway group from the Democratic Party formed the States’ Rights Democratic Party, often referred to as the “Dixiecrats”. This faction ran on a platform of segregation. It opposed any efforts by the Federal government toward integration and worked for the preservation of Jim Crow laws in the South. On August 14, 1948, South Carolina Gov. Strom Thurmond became the new party’s nominee for President in the upcoming election, which called for “…the segregation of the races and the racial integrity of each race…We oppose the elimination of segregation, the repeal of miscegenation statutes, the control of private employment by Federal bureaucrats called for by the misnamed civil rights program.” The party’s nominee for the nation’s highest office himself stated at the convention: “I want to tell you, ladies and gentlemen, that there’s not enough troops in the Army to force the Southern people to break down segregation and admit the N**** race into our theaters, into our swimming pools, into our homes, and into our churches.”
The symbol chosen by the States’ Rights Democratic Party for this revolt against the progressive policies taken by Truman and politicians outside the South was the battle standard of the Army of Northern Virginia (ANV), more commonly known today as the “Confederate Flag”. The last time this flag was flown in an official capacity was on April 9, 1865, during the surrender of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee to United States Gen. Ulysses S. Grant at the McLean House in Appomattox County, Virginia, ending the Civil War.
Lee’s battle standard has become a symbol today for defiance against the United States and all it represents, just as it was on the bloody fields of Petersburg, Virginia in 1864. There are many today who say the ANV Battle Flag is simply part of American history and that is true. Some others, however, say that it is a source of “Southern Pride” or “Southern Heritage”. If it is, I submit that is a misguided heritage. Armed insurrection and yes, treason, for the stated purpose of maintaining the right to own slaves is not something any American should take pride in. Let no one be under the illusion that the motivation behind the rebellion was for anything else. All it takes is a cursory read of the secession declarations of the Confederate states to understand this was the reason for war.
In the antebellum years, the defiance continued in the form of segregation laws designed to keep black citizens as close to their station prior to the 13th Amendment as possible. As the Civil Rights movement entered the 1950s and 1960s, the symbol of those who vowed to keep the old order was Robert E. Lee’s battle flag, last flown in open rebellion against the United States. Is it any wonder then that this flag can still elicit such a visceral reaction to all who see it? The ANV Battle Flag was born of insurrection and rebellion. It was reincarnated as a symbol of the way many in the South still dream that life should still be. A “whites-only” society, where there is nothing wrong with separate water fountains and segregated lunch counters. It is a dystopian vision where all necessary measures are employed to keep those who used to be the help from getting the wrong idea that they may be equal to those who once owned their forebears. Scarlett O’Hara’s grand planatation Tara remains undimmed. We should therefore not wonder at the actions of men who espouse white supremacist beliefs and draw inspiration for their crimes from an admiration of the Confederacy, its ideals…and its symbols.
In this light, we shouldn’t be amazed that someone like Dylann Roof could walk into the Emmanuel AME Church, sit through an entire Bible study and kill those in attendance anyway. Nor should we be fazed by the callousness of James Alex Fields, who drove his car at high-speed into a crowd of demonstrators marching against white supremacists in Charlottesville, killing one and injuring 34 others. As for the consternation that Mr. Stewart is certain to generate in his bid to unseat Sen. Tim Kaine, we can only sit and wait.
These are the ghosts of Appomattox. The spirits that haunt us today should have been laid to rest many years ago; the weapons, uniforms and flags from that war sealed in storage trunks, museums and the history books. To those who say the outrage against the ANV flag and Confederate monuments is merely symbolic and perhaps we should be focusing our energies toward other endeavors, such as stronger gun control legislation, well, that is also true. But as we have seen, symbols are powerful. They have meaning and lend motivation to people’s actions…and inactions.
It is high time that we as Americans collectively decide that the flag whose meaning died on a spring morning in a Virginia courthouse in 1865, a symbol that has been used to cause so much anguish then and now, be relegated to a place where it is only a memory of a national tragedy. Can it ever be something we can glean important lessons from? Yes. If we can achieve this, then perhaps we might learn something from this flag after all and have it be something positive and life affirming instead of divisive.
“Who says that fictions only and false hair become a verse? Is there in truth no beauty? Is all good structure in a winding stair? May no lines pass, except they do their duty to a true, but painted chair?” – George Herbert (1593-1633)
Somehow, I can’t applaud Caitlyn Jenner like everyone else seems compelled to do. Don’t get me wrong. I am a full-throated supporter of the LGBT community and I for one see transgender issues as one of the next great challenges of civil rights. But to be honest, I’m not buying whatever is being sold here and make no mistake, something is unquestionably being sold. My wife noted how much of this is truly smoke-and-mirrors and she’s right. This isn’t about someone finally becoming the person they have always been inside. This is a movie premiere. Another reality TV moment. It concerns me that there is another debate that may wind up being glossed over with this reveal and that is how we as a society look at gender roles and what constitutes real “change” for individuals in the transgender community. Should we simply be impressed by the dress and makeup and then cheer? Or is this revelation in no small way a genuine disservice to transgender people who don’t have the money and fame to insulate themselves from prejudice and hate?
I’m beginning to wonder how many of her most vocal supporters are merely enthusiasts; thrilled about Caitlyn’s reveal only because it is galling to political conservatives that a transgendered person is garnering so much media attention, or because it is the correct and enlightened viewpoint to take if one is a social progressive or simply to avoid the appearance of being thought of as transphobic. One cannot look at this production (there’s a polished behind-the-scenes video and an upcoming 8 part miniseries for crying out loud…don’t say this isn’t a production) only to smile and state in a very blasé fashion that if nothing else “it sparks discussion and debate on transgender issues.” That’s a cop-out. To accept that posit on its face is a refusal to confront the real issues that face those in the transgender community that aren’t radiant or glamorous. There is bigotry out there that must be dealt with and real discrimination that needs to be fought and I’m more than a little troubled that nobody is acknowledging the many hurdles that remain for the transgender community. A new idol, even a hero, and a reveal to be celebrated? Sure. Why not? But let’s see if people can get refocused on the bigger picture once Vanity Fair needs a new cover model.
In the final analysis, there is little doubt that we’d all probably love to have an airbrushed photo taken of us by Annie Leibovitz and wind up on the cover of some high-profile magazine. On the other hand, I remember when Caitlyn was a man back in 1980 trying to recapture some shred of the glory reaped from past athletic triumphs and doing it by appearing in every cheesy and ridiculous movie or TV show that presented a willing camera lens. 35 years later, the “Please Look At Me” tour bus continues to roll unabated. Given who she was, and still is to a large degree, one can’t help but think that many in the transgender community must be wondering if all Caitlyn Jenner is doing is marketing a persona carefully crafted by the same infernal machine that spat out her Kardashian counterparts. One individual I know personally who is about to begin the transition from male to female has gone so far as to say that until there is some kind of sex reassignment procedure, what has been captured for all the world to marvel at is, and I quote, “Bruce Jenner in drag. He’s making me feel like a circus freak.” The use of the pronoun “he” is especially noteworthy if for no other reason that it came from someone who is also struggling to be accepted for who she is by a society that insists on seeing her as an aberration to be despised. The difference is that she won’t be getting fat checks for a miniseries about her story and when all is said and done, plenty if people will still move to the other side of the street when she goes to the store to pick up some groceries.
Is Caitlyn Jenner’s transition really just a planned media stunt? Extremely unlikely. But is the public, even the most well-intentioned of us, perhaps getting the wrong message from this new symbol of the transgender community? Almost assuredly. The great transgender actress and activist Laverne Cox is right: “Most trans folks don’t have the privileges Caitlyn and I have now have…it is those trans folks we must continue to lift up.” I don’t think Caitlyn Jenner is helping. There is too much marketing, too much smoke-and-mirrors, surrounding this issue. Celebrities have often drawn our attention to the issues that we otherwise may overlook or just ignore. The PR leviathan driving our fascination with this story, however, needs to start finding the others who need to be lifted up, the ones who face bile from ignorant people every day because right now, it just feels like rich and famous people becoming more rich and famous than they already are.
One can debate the merits of statements made by various public officials all day, but it really boils down to this. Until it is the official policy of the U.S. Government that marijuana is no longer classified as a Schedule 1 drug, Michele Leonhart, Director of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, should not be fired for doing her job as the nation’s top drug enforcement officer. She will certainly not be fired and was very likely, even in her official capacity as DEA director, within her rights for criticizing the President’s remarks on marijuana use. But this needs to be put into perspective. The President made a comment expressing his views on the health risks associated with marijuana when compared to the health risks associated with consumption of alcohol. Fine. But he was not, as much as advocates for legalization would like to interpret his statements as such, setting official policy. It would be wonderful if everything the President said was official policy. But it isn’t. It may set the tone of a particular debate, such as it was when he expressed his views on gay marriage. But if everything President Obama said as a general comment or viewpoint became official policy, then there would be no debate on issues such as gay marriage, or income inequality, voting rights, healthcare, climate change, women’s reproductive rights, and yes, the legalization of marijuana among other things. It would also make us a dictatorship which nobody should want either.
A recent Huffington Post article notes that the Marijuana Policy Project issued a statement in regard to the comments made recently by Director Leonhart which said: “The DEA administrator’s continued refusal to recognize marijuana’s relative safety compared to alcohol and other drugs flies in the face of the president’s commitment to prioritizing science over ideology and politics…She is neglecting the basic obligations of her job and fundamentally undermining her employer’s mission. This would be grounds for termination in the private sector, and the consequences for Ms. Leonhart should be no different.”
This statement is laughable on its face.
First, the DEA director is not “neglecting the basic obligations of her job”. She is a federal law enforcement officer charged with (surprise) enforcing federal drug laws. Until federal drug policies change, it is not her responsibility or option to refuse to enforce said laws because of marijuana’s “relative safety compared to alcohol and other drugs”. To use this argument is akin to saying the NTSB should not enforce any laws regarding air travel because of its “relative safety” compared to driving an automobile. Also, it should be noted that this is not a private sector job and it is patently ridiculous to compare being the director of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency with a job at a private company. In the private sector, you are terminated from your job when you aren’t making money for the corporation. The federal government apparently long ago accepted the calculus that enforcement of marijuana prohibitions would be an unprofitable enterprise yet continue to pursue this agenda without any signs of abatement.
As to her “employer’s mission” of “prioritizing science over ideology and politics”, I would point to the termination of NASA’s Constellation project in 2011 by President Obama himself which turned most of the United States’ attempts to return to the Moon and Mars to (you guessed it) private corporations. Also, to quote a recent article from the Huffington Post from this past September: “Federal spending on research and development has declined by 16.3% since 2010, the fastest drop in a three-year period since the end of the space race in the 1970s, according to an analysis published on September 3 by the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Washington DC.
The most drastic reduction occurred on March 1, 2013, when across-the-board budget cuts known as sequestration lopped 5% from the budgets of most government agencies. Science powerhouses such as the NIH in Bethesda, Maryland, and the National Science Foundation in Arlington, Virginia, began to scrimp by reducing the values and durations of grants, and the number of recipients per application cycle.”
This is the vaunted commitment to science the Administration supposedly champions?
Over the years, representatives of this government have said all kinds of outlandish and moronic things. Regrettably, most of them are still on the job. If we are going to start firing public officials because they say things we don’t like or that collapse under the weight of evidence, then maybe we ought to start with those in Congress who hold the national economy hostage on a regular basis until they extract a political ransom. Or members of the judiciary who are all too happy to undermine the most fundamental of rights we have as citizens, the right to vote, in areas where racial discrimination is still the order of the day. Or how about the guy in the White House himself, who apparently still considers the civilian loss of life in drone attacks to be mere collateral damage and continues the program with only token regret for the colossal loss of innocent life that accompanies it? Sorry people, but the director of the DEA is small potatoes compared to what others in this government say, and do, every day.
As an aside, marijuana advocates have been calling for the dismantling of the DEA and the firing of every director since the agency was founded in 1973. This kind of thing really isn’t news. Even if nobody said anything, there would still be calls for the DEA to be shuttered and the director to be dismissed. So let’s be honest, what’s the story here? Evidence to support the decriminalization of marijuana hasn’t changed official policy on the national level over the years. Change seems to be occurring only at the state level and even there it isn’t the smashing success many hoped it would be, at least not yet. If the only argument you have is that the DEA is an oppressive, Nixonian hangover, and that’s a major argument, then you stand on thin ice. This issue is becoming the left’s version of the right’s argument that the ATF should be dismantled. We as liberals really do not want to go there.
It’s never a good or noble thing to be perceived as self-indulgent, arrogant or snobby. Having said that, I recently have found myself feeling slighted and even a little guilty at having what I consider a great education. I really have no right to feel this way but I do. Maybe a little venting will help.
This past February, an old friend remarked to me that one of her children, then a junior, had received admission materials from my alma mater, Vassar College, and was absolutely delighted with the place! A potential early decision candidate, I thought. Her mother, who I have known for over 30 years and absolutely adore, asked if there was there a way to attend for the same overall cost as the local state institution, the University of Colorado. I now must assume that the question posed was purely tongue-in-cheek. Nevertheless, I responded as if it were an honest inquiry. I said he short answer was no but I did qualify my response by saying it was by no means impossible and that I would be delighted to discuss attending the College with the prospective applicant and the family at her mother’s discretion.
Needless to say, the now senior high school student will not be a part of Vassar College Class of 2018. To be honest, under the circumstances I strain to imagine the student even submitting an application to Poughkeepsie. I suspect her mother was simply asking humorously, as it is my belief that the family’s lifestyle would be, shall we say, cramped by a child attending a Seven Sisters college. However, it still bothers me for some reason. What is truly more relevant: an Education of Great Value or an Education at a Great Value? If this young person was as qualified as I was told, admission would not have been any real problem. That having been said, in the interest of full disclosure, I offer a comparison between the schools courtesy of CollegeData. To wit:
University That Shall Remain Nameless: Public, comprehensive university.
US News & World Report National University Ranking: N/A
US News & World Report Regional University Ranking (West): #22
Entrance Difficulty: Moderately Difficult. More than 75% of freshmen were in the top 50% of their high school class and scored over 1010 on the SAT I or over 18 on the ACT; about 85% or fewer of all applicants accepted.
Cost for Attendance for Out-of-State residents: $33,477
Payment Plans: Credit card (no, really…it officially lists “credit card” as the payment plan, I kid you not)
Vassar College: Private, liberal arts college.
US News & World Report National College Ranking: #13
Entrance Difficulty: Very Difficult. More than 50% of freshmen were in the top 10% of their high school class and scored over 1230 on the SAT I or over 26 on the ACT; about 60% or fewer of all applicants accepted.
Cost of Attendance: $61,860
Payment Plans: Installment plan, external finance company
The rub, of course, is the cost. That’s legitimate but only to a point. According to the University That Shall Remain Nameless, on its own website, it prides itself as “affordable…a top value in education”, which I suppose is a polite way of saying “we don’t cost much and if you stick us on your credit card you can file for bankruptcy later and still keep the diploma”. Well, good for them. But if cost is the only factor in choosing higher education for even well-to-do families, then I’m in the wrong line of work. Perhaps I should start my own university and charge half of what the students pay at even the most “cost-effective” institutions. How hard can it be to convince the U.S. Department of Education that my new institution can offer a truly effective and quality education? If Oral Roberts could pull it off in Tulsa, I could certainly do it. A person could become rich beyond their wildest dreams of avarice.
In all seriousness, I know what upset me about this. The “ha-ha-no-we’re-only-kidding” approach to even asking me if your child could attend my alma mater on the cheap. Don’t even ask if you know in your heart of hearts that there’s no way you’d surrender your 4-car garage and the condo in Vail with college costs often being what they are. Frankly, if you really want to save and get a great education about real life, have your child join City Year or the Peace Corps. By the way, never mind the bothersome scholarships, grants and yes, student loans which I myself used. How much do they help the rich? Quite possibly as much as any other student regardless of financial background. Was it difficult paying for school? Of course it was. My mother had all 4 of her children in college at one point but we made it work. “A great value” or not, I’ll stack the quality and long term usefulness of my education against the University That Shall Remain Nameless any day of the week.
Except in football…
The United States is not going to boycott the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. Neither is any other participating country for that matter. Russia’s new hard-line anti-LGBT laws, unconditional support of the Assad regime in Syria nor the granting of asylum for Edward Snowden will slow down, let alone halt, the games in Sochi.
This brings up an important question: How did poor Vancouver get dragged into this? The Canadians don’t want it back there. The Vancouver Sun doesn’t even have the attempt by some to relocate the Games there as a main story on the front page today. The online version of the paper, however, does have a report several headlines above the Change.org’s petition story that reads: “Miami Beach teen caught spraying graffiti dies after shock from police Taser”. This is the level of excitement that British Columbians have when considering the prospect of hosting their 2nd Olympic Games in 4 years.
When you do find the report, it does quote Vancouver City Councilman Geoff Meggs as saying a 7 month lead time to get Vancouver ready as an Olympic Plan B is “not like putting fresh sheets on the guest bed.” The story continues: “I can understand the intention, but practically I don’t see how it could happen,” he said Wednesday, noting Vancouver had seven years to plan the 2010 Games. “I think lots of people in Vancouver would love to have the Games again, but it’s a question of who would pay for it and how it could possibly be done, and I don’t think we know the answer to either of those questions,” he said. Clearly It would seem in some quarters that if American celebrities want Russia to be put on notice that their government is doing unfair, cruel and inhumane things to innocent people (which it has been doing since the days of the czars), then maybe those same celebrities better starting writing some big checks to the City of Vancouver. Fast.
Many people, especially activists on the left, are under the delusion the Olympics are about competition, athletic spirit and national pride. They’re not. They’re about money. Lindsey Vonn made $2.5 million after the 2010 Winter Games. Apolo Ohno made $1.5 million, Bode Miller made $1.3 million and all three of these individuals are still earning huge sums years after the flame was extinguished over Vancouver. Truly these are the lives that will be in tatters if they can’t participate in Sochi next February. Make no mistake, the decision of whether to boycott the Olympic Games is absolutely not about salvaging the egos of athletes who have “trained their whole lives for this moment”. Neither Moscow nor Washington nor any other government honestly gives a damn about the training amateur athletes do in order to excel in their sport at Olympic levels. If by some bizarre twist of fate the games are boycotted or cancelled, I’m quite certain the thrill of having the chance, just the chance, to compete in world championships, endorse breakfast cereals and pose in the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue will make these young people quite content.
Nobody despises the actions of the Kremlin lately more than I do. Russia’s record on human rights has been abysmal for generations and Vladimir Putin shows no sign of wanting to buck the trend. So if anyone wants the Winter Games in 2014 moved out of Russia, don’t listen to people like Stephen Fry, George Takei or disgruntled NSA and State Department officials who are still fuming over the fact that they couldn’t get Snowden in handcuffs. Also, enough with the whole 1936 Berlin Olympics comparison either. Jacques Rogge and his bunch at the IOC aren’t buying what the media is selling so let’s drop that one, shall we? Petitions to the White House will be completely and utterly useless. The U.S. Government will do what it feels is in the best interest of the country and wondering whether or not to participate in a Russian Olympics isn’t high on the list. You want to send petitions? Send them to the boards of directors of Nike, McDonald’s, GE, Coca-Cola, Reebok, Omega, Dow Chemicals, P&G, Samsung, British Petroleum, Rolex, Verizon, Gatorade and Adidas. If anyone has a say on the who, what, where, when, why, and how of the Olympic Games, they do…