Tag Archives: Jezebel

In The Old Days, Bob Dylan Would Write A Song About This

Nate Jones at Time:

Students at Nettleton Middle School must be doing great on their American History exams, because their school is almost literally living in the past!

Segregation is still alive and well in parts of America. At Nettleton Middle School in Nettleton, MS, students are forbidden from running for certain student government positions if their skin is the wrong color. Each year, three of the the four executive positions are set aside for white students; one of the four is set aside for a black student. The highest rank a black student can hold? Vice-President, in 8th grade.

Even worse is the situation for students who are neither black nor white, who cannot apparently run for any office.

The policy was busted by the mother of a mixed-race student who had wanted to be class reporter, a position reserved for black students. As the mother, Brandy Springer, wrote to the blog Mixed and Happy, her daughter was denied on the basis of her matrilineal whiteness. When Springer complained to the school board, she says:

“They told me that they ‘Go by the mother’s race [because] with minorities the father isn’t generally in the home.’ They also told me that ‘a city court order is the reason why it is this way.'”

But don’t think the school is racist! The district has posted a statement on the policy, saying it is “under review.” Well, glad that’s solved

Irin Carmon at Jezebel:

If we still have segregated proms in the American South, including in Mississippi, why not segregated middle school elections? Welcome to Nettleton Middle School, where not only are class elections segregated, but the president slots are designated for white students.

But even segregated proms have an apparent black equivalent. In this middle school class officers election, there’s no pretense of separate but equal: The highest a black student can aspire to is vice president of just one of the classes. Because it’s not like a black person can be president or anything!

Jamelle Bouie at Tapped:

This is what I mean when I say that we’re only 40 years removed from the civil-rights movement. These attitudes took generations to materialize, and while we’ve come a long way, it’s unreasonable to expect that they’ll disappear in a few decades. On the 47th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s historic march on Washington, racism isn’t as bad as it was, but it’s not an abstraction, and it’s not a thing of the past.

Joanne Jacobs:

The school, which has a black principal, is 74 percent white and 26 percent black. I suspect the policy was written to ensure that blacks would win a share of class offices. And it will be dropped like a rock very quickly.

Once the policy went public, the superintendent put up a statement saying “the processes and procedures for student elections are under review.”

As bizarre as it seems, the intent was doubtless benign. As Joanne Jacobs points out, the school’s principle is black and the school “is 74 percent white and 26 percent black.” The intent, rather clearly, was to ensure that at least one black officer was elected per class.

I’m not sure what’s more interesting: That this has been going on for “more than 30 years” and people are just now complaining or that it was started 30-odd years ago. Presuming “more than 30″ doesn’t mean “almost 40,” that means this policy started in the late 1970s — years after official segregation ended.

Then again, I was slightly befuddled that the Alabama high school from which I graduated in 1984 and to which I transferred in 1980 had a “minority” spot in the Homecoming Court. A black girl could theoretically have been elected Homecoming Queen, since there was no rule that she be white (Yes: In those days, it was presumed she’d be a she and have always been one) there was a guarantee that at least one would be represented. Since we never had more than one or two black girls in our class, it was rather surreal.

Huffington Post:

MSNBC reports that the school board for Nettleton Middle school met in an emergency session today and voted to reverse its policy of apportioning student council positions by race:

“It is the belief of the current administration that these procedures were implemented to help ensure minority representation and involvement in the student body,” Superintendent Russell Taylor said in a statement.
“Therefore, beginning immediately, student elections at Nettleton School District will no longer have a classification of ethnicity. It is our intent that each student has equal opportunity to seek election for any student office.”

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Filed under Education, Race

And The Dry Erase Board Is Represented By William Morris, Too

Leo at The Chive:

We received the following photos last night from a person who works with this girl. Her name is Jenny (not confirmed) – we’re working our contact for Jenny’s last name. Yesterday morning, Jenny quit her job with a (flash)bang by emailing these photos to the entire office, about 20 employees we’re told. Awesome doesn’t begin to describe this office heroine. Check back as we will be updating if we get more details.

Jessica Pressler at New York Magazine:

It’s probably fake — there’s something super actressy-looking about this girl, and the change of clothes at the end is weird — but it’s still good fodder for the cubicle-bound masses who have been secretly fantasizing about what form they might use in their own dramatic exit — YouTube? Skywriting? Jumbotron?

Margaret Hartmann at Jezebel

Peter Kafka at All Things Digital:

Yesterday, everyone on the Internet loved Steve Slater, the Jet Blue flight attendant who quit his job by cursing out his passengers and bolting out of his plane using the emergency slide.

Today, our favorite job quitter is “Jenny”–”a girl” who left her job by sending co-workers a series of photos where she uses a whiteboard to insult her boss and expose his fondness for Farmville.

We know that the Steve Slater story is true. But what about Jenny’s story?

Almost certainly made up.

The story showed up this morning on theChive.com, a dude-centric site run by brothers John and Leo Resig, who own a series of photo/humor sites. (That’s Leo on the left.) Before that, the Resigs ran a site called Derober, which features doctored photos of celebrities in their underwear.

And Derober’s moment in the spotlight came back in December 2007, when it made up a story about Donald Trump leaving a $10,000 tip on a $82.27 bill. The story was convincing enough to fool Fox News and the New York Post (both of which are owned by News Corp., which also owns this site).

So Jenny is a fake, too. Right, Leo Resig?

No, Resig says over the phone. “Jenny’s very real.”

Really? Really, Resig says.

He says Jenny is with his brother John at this very moment, and that the three of them are trying to figure out the best way to identify her and tell her story.

Jay Leno wants Jenny on his show, Leo Resig says. “Good Morning America” wants her, too. He’s not sure the best way to proceed, because “we’re trying to be respectful of that girl.”

But don’t worry, Leo says. The brothers plan on identifying Jenny “tomorrow morning around 10 am. We’re not exactly sure who or how we’re going to release it. Obviously it will be on thechive.com as well.”

Okay. But you’re the same guys who gave us the Donald Trump story, and that was fake. Is this one different?

Pause. “Good homework. That was a good time.”

Ah. So is Jenny’s story real, then? “This one is to be determined. People are kind of making up their own stories.”

James Joyner:

Aside from the Resig brothers connection, there are all manner of indications that the story is dubious.

  • The posing and photo quality are both professional
  • Why would a boss spying on his employee’s Internet habits give the codes to his secretary?
  • Why would Jenny think being a secretary was a route to becoming a broker?
  • Why would she consider being referred to as a HOPA grounds for quitting?
  • Why does she think HOPA and HPOA are the same thing, anyway?
  • It’s plausible that a broker is spending a lot of time on Scottrade.  But Farmville?  Seriously?
  • The story was “broken” on a professional comedy site

It’s amazing how often these things go viral without people getting suspicious.

Ryan Tate at Gawker:

Their near-certain hoax will provoke some outrage, but the Resigs should get some credit for supplying the world with yet another bizarre story to laugh at this week. That’s no small accomplishment, even if it did mean suckering everyone into trusting two known media pranksters.

Chris Matyszczyk at Cnet:

Porterfield, 22, is already on Twitter at Twitter.com/officialelyse. And the only tweet she would offer about her little hoax with TheChive is: “Yes, I am Jenny (the dry-erase board HPOA) 🙂 Thanks to the creative and amazing duo John and Leo Resig at TheChive.com.” I am sure she now has very good agents.

Part of the fascination of Jenny’s fictitious story is that it coincided with the real story of a JetBlue flight attendant, Steven Slater, who, having been allegedly cursed out by a passenger, announced that he was quitting just after his plane had landed, proceeding to sweep down the emergency slide, only to be subsequently arrested.

Slater has also become a hero. He now enjoys more than 120,000 friends and supporters on Facebook.

Working people who feel they have been squeezed a little too much, a little too often, may find that the only way to receive some modicum of revenge–or even a sympathetic audience–is on the vast, (currently) open support group that is the Web. This should make it quite fun for everyone else.

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Filed under New Media

What Happens If We Publish This On Our Cover

Richard Stengel at Time:

Our cover image this week is powerful, shocking and disturbing. It is a portrait of Aisha, a shy 18-year-old Afghan woman who was sentenced by a Taliban commander to have her nose and ears cut off for fleeing her abusive in-laws. Aisha posed for the picture and says she wants the world to see the effect a Taliban resurgence would have on the women of Afghanistan, many of whom have flourished in the past few years. Her picture is accompanied by a powerful story by our own Aryn Baker on how Afghan women have embraced the freedoms that have come from the defeat of the Taliban — and how they fear a Taliban revival. (See pictures of Afghan women and the return of the Taliban.)

I thought long and hard about whether to put this image on the cover of TIME. First, I wanted to make sure of Aisha’s safety and that she understood what it would mean to be on the cover. She knows that she will become a symbol of the price Afghan women have had to pay for the repressive ideology of the Taliban. We also confirmed that she is in a secret location protected by armed guards and sponsored by the NGO Women for Afghan Women. Aisha will head to the U.S. for reconstructive surgery sponsored by the Grossman Burn Foundation, a humanitarian organization in California. We are supporting that effort. (Watch TIME’s video on photographing Aisha for the cover.)

I’m acutely aware that this image will be seen by children, who will undoubtedly find it distressing. We have consulted with a number of child psychologists about its potential impact. Some think children are so used to seeing violence in the media that the image will have little effect, but others believe that children will find it very scary and distressing — that they will see it, as Dr. Michael Rich, director of the Center on Media and Child Health at Children’s Hospital Boston, said, as “a symbol of bad things that can happen to people.” I showed it to my two young sons, 9 and 12, who both immediately felt sorry for Aisha and asked why anyone would have done such harm to her. I apologize to readers who find the image too strong, and I invite you to comment on the image’s impact. (Comment on this cover.)

But bad things do happen to people, and it is part of our job to confront and explain them. In the end, I felt that the image is a window into the reality of what is happening — and what can happen — in a war that affects and involves all of us. I would rather confront readers with the Taliban’s treatment of women than ignore it. I would rather people know that reality as they make up their minds about what the U.S. and its allies should do in Afghanistan.

Meenal Vamburkar at Mediaite:

This reasoning follows what many might agree is the definition and purpose of good journalism. The things that are hard to look at are often the things that are most necessary to look at. Whether readers think the cover is bold or too graphic, the shock value cannot be denied. Without diminishing the value of telling a difficult story about a seemingly endless war, it’s hard not to wonder how the shock value will translate in terms of newsstand sales.

Mark Finkelstein at Newsbusters:

The risk that Afghanistan might once again become a staging ground for al Qaeda attacks on the US?  Meh.

The danger of cross-border raids from Afghanistan into Pakistan that could lead to nuclear weapons falling into the hands of terrorists?  Yawn.

But a US withdrawal from Afghanistan that would lead to a setback for women’s liberation there?  Now you’ve got the liberal media concerned!  Rick Stengel of Time gave a perfect illustration of the phenomenon on today’s Morning Joe.  As is his Friday wont, he unveiled the new Time cover, which portrays the heart-rending image of a young Afghani woman who had her nose and ears cut off for fleeing an abusive family and husband.

Max Fisher at The Atlantic with a round-up

Choire Sicha at The Awl:

The story contains this: “As the war in Afghanistan enters its ninth year, the need for an exit strategy weighs on the minds of U.S. policymakers. Such an outcome, it is assumed, would involve reconciliation with the Taliban. But Afghan women fear that in the quest for a quick peace, their progress may be sidelined…. For Afghanistan’s women, an early withdrawal of international forces could be disastrous.” So… which is it? That sure sounds like an argument—and, you know, a very moving and affecting one!—for something like a permanent or at least extended occupation. Making things a little more complicated? The new issue also has an article by expert-without-portfolio Joe Klein, which goes: “Afghanistan is really a sideshow here. Pakistan is the primary U.S. national-security concern in the region.” So now what am I supposed to think while I’m not going on summer vacation because it makes our children stupider?

Irin Carmon at Jezebel:

Such stories are obscene, not at all uncommon, and need to be told. But there is an elision here between these women’s oppression and what the U.S. military presence can and should do about it, which in turn simplifies the complexities of the debate and turns it into, “Well, do you want to help Aisha or not?”

While Aryn Baker’s story features the voices of many Afghan women who worry that the likely compromise with the Taliban vis a vis a possible U.S. exit will curtail their new freedoms, it doesn’t actually forcefully make the case that American military presence is the only solution to their problems. (That’s probably because Baker is a reporter, not a commentator, and it’s the job of headline writers to grab readers at almost any cost.)

There are, however, conflicting signals about how seriously committed U.S. officials are, in the context of an exist plan, to pushing back at the resurgence of the Taliban as it affects women in the country. One anonymous diplomat tells Baker, “You have to be realistic. We are not going to be sending troops and spending money forever. There will have to be a compromise, and sacrifices will have to be made.” On the other hand, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently told reporters that women’s rights are a “red line” that won’t be crossed: “I don’t think there is such a political solution, one that would be a lasting, sustainable one, that would turn the clock back on women,” she said, after relative quiet on the issue last year.

As David Petraeus put it in his remarks upon assuming command in Afghanistan: “We must demonstrate to the Afghan people, and to the world, that Al Qaeda and its network of extremist allies will not be allowed to once again establish sanctuaries in Afghanistan from which they can launch attacks on the Afghan people and on freedom-loving nations around the world.” That doesn’t say anything about what happens to young girls who flee from their in-laws. Protecting them was not among the things he exhorted his troops to do. And when he addressed himself to the people of Afghanistan he didn’t mention anything along these lines either:

Finally, to the people of Afghanistan: it is a great honor to be in your country and to lead ISAF. I want to emphasize what a number of our country’s leaders recently affirmed – that our commitment to Afghanistan is an enduring one and that we are committed to a sustained effort to help the people of this country over the long-term. Neither you nor the insurgents nor our partners in the region should doubt that. Certainly the character of our commitment will change over time. Indeed, Afghans and the citizens of ISAF countries look forward to the day when conditions will permit the transition of further tasks to Afghan forces. In the meantime, all of us at ISAF pledge our full commitment to help you protect your nation from militants who allowed Al Qaeda sanctuary when they ruled the country. Moreover, we see it as our solemn duty to protect the innocent people of Afghanistan from all violence, whether intended by the enemy or unintended by those of us pursuing that enemy. And we stand with you as we all work to defeat the enemies of the new Afghanistan and to help create a better future for you and your families.

Defend Afghan allies from being targeted by the Taliban. Check. Avoid accidental killing of Afghans by NATO forces. Check. Women’s rights? Not so much.

And you can see this time and again if you look at statements about US policy in Afghanistan from George W Bush, Dick Cheney, Barack Obama, Joe Biden, Donald Rumsfeld, Robert Gates, Stanley McChrystal, David Petraeus, etc. We are fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan. Thus, emphasizing that the Taliban is a group of bad people is often a rhetorical point of emphasis. The Taliban’s poor treatment of women often comes up as a sub-point here to illustrate the theme that the Taliban are bad. But actually altering social conditions in southern and eastern Afghanistan isn’t on the list of war aims.

Greg Mitchell at The Nation:

I  have to ask:  In Time‘s mission to really “illuminate what is actually happening on the ground” has it ever put on its cover close-up images of  1) a badly wounded or dead U.S. soldier  2)  an Afghan killed in a NATO missile strike  3) an Afghan official, police officer or military commander accepting a bribe from a Taliban war lord.  Alison Kilkenny has her own examples here.

No one makes light of the plight of women and children in Afghanistan under the Taliban–and, contrary to Stengel’s claim, many Americans do know about it.  Indeed, liberal women’s groups in the U.S. have raised the issue often and expressed mixed feelings about staying (or even escalating) in Afghanistan because of it.  It’s a serious issue.  And please see the response to Time by the Feminist Peace Network.  Jezebel with another good take here.

But I’d propose here a few alternative, or at least additional,  cover images, all showing Americans here at home,  that Time might go with an upcoming cover on “What Happens If We LEAVE Afghanistan.”  Please supply your own ideas  in the Comments section below.

— A student in a high-tech classroom.

— Workers streaming into a newly re-opened factory.

— A poor black or Hispanic  woman examined by a doctor in a first-class facility.

— A returning soldier embraced by his wife and two kids.

— Solar panels being erected on a huge office building.

Well, you get the idea.  Contribute or take issue below.

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Filed under Af/Pak, Mainstream

And How Are The Kids?

Dana Stevens at Slate:

Lisa Cholodenko’s The Kids Are All Right (Focus Features) is the movie we’ve been waiting for all year: a comedy that doesn’t take cheap shots, a drama that doesn’t manipulate, a movie of ideas that doesn’t preach. It’s a rich, layered, juicy film, with quiet revelations punctuated by big laughs. And it leaves you feeling wistful for at least three reasons: because of what happens in the story, because the movie’s over, and because there aren’t more of them this good.

Jules (Julianne Moore) and Nic (Annette Bening) are a middle-aged lesbian couple in Los Angeles with two teenage children, Joni (Mia Wasikowska) and Laser (Josh Hutcherson). Nic, a physician, is the breadwinner of this stable, well-off family, while the unfocused Jules has vague plans to start a landscaping business on her partner’s dime. Near the start of the movie, Joni, at her younger brother’s urging, calls up the sperm bank that provided their mothers with genetic material 18 years ago. Behind their mothers’ backs, the siblings make contact with their hitherto anonymous biological father, Paul (Mark Ruffalo), a hedonistic restaurateur who’s flattered by the attention but unsure how to proceed. Gradually, Paul is incorporated into the fringes of the family: The children bring him home for an excruciatingly awkward lunch, and against Nic’s wishes, Jules takes on the job of landscaping his yard.

It’s fitting that gardening—Jules’ landscaping project, Paul’s achingly trendy farm-to-table restaurant—plays such a large role in The Kids Are All Right, because the movie is at heart about the ecosystem of a family, and the way that system changes when an exotic species is introduced. The presence of Paul changes everything, exposing fault lines in Nic and Jules’ relationship and forcing the children to defy their mothers and reassess their peer friendships. (A subplot in which the introverted Laser finally stands up to his jerky best friend is particularly well-handled.)

Rob Hunter at Film School Rejects:

The Kids Are All Right is a bright and beautifully acted look at what it means to be part of a family. The ups, the downs, the relationship with your partner and kids… the specifics of it may seem like ingredients for a niche indie picture or even worse, a “message” movie about tolerance, equal rights, and the evil liberal agenda, but it never even comes close to such things. Instead the movie is simply about the challenges of family life. Nic is a doctor who enjoys both her wine and her control streak a bit too much. Jules is the more relaxed and carefree half of the relationship who floats between “careers” with a mix of indifference and enthusiasm. Together they’ve raised their kids as well as any parent could which means there’s plenty of room for doubts and concerns. Joni has just graduated high school and is mere months away from heading off to college, and as nervous as she may be her parents are even more terrified. And then there’s Laser who seems well adjusted but may be exploring his sexuality in some unexpected ways. And by unexpected ways I mean with a ginger of course.

As wonderfully written and directed as the film may be the picture’s real power is in the acting. All five of the lead performers are giving some of the best work of their careers. Granted, that’s not saying much for Hutcherson, but even with a limited background he’s never seemed as natural as he does here. Wasikowska shines as the child on the cusp of adulthood torn between home and the outside world, and she manages more with a quivering lip then many of her peers do with their entire body. Ruffalo is almost always the most watchable and intriguing actor in any of his films and that trend doesn’t change here. His character is an inexcusable dick at times but you can’t help but want to forgive him. A lesser actor (with harder features and without his sad, puppy eyes) would have a hard time accomplishing the same.

Bening and Moore both give fantastic and believably real performances as a couple who love each other, warts and all, and can convey that long history together with little more than a glance. I joked about Moore above (no I didn’t), but she imbues Jules with such a goofy and effortless charm that you could easily see yourself falling into her smiling embrace. But as good as everyone else is the performance of note here belongs to Mrs Dick Tracy herself, Annette Bening. As the most authoritative adult of the three Nic is tasked as straight-man to the more loose and casual performances of Moore and Ruffalo and the childish behaviors of the kids. She never becomes unlikable though, and as her grip on things begins to crack it’s a slow tremble of emotion that begins to spill out. A certain dinner table scene is a masterclass in itself in the art of acting as Nic navigates some surprising revelations and comes out wounded and scarred on the other side.

Andrew O’Hehir in Salon:

By making a movie in which a pair of married lesbians are played by well-known hetero actresses Annette Bening and Julianne Moore, and in which one partner (Jules, played by Moore) has an affair with a straight man, Cholodenko and co-writer Stuart Blumberg capitulate — in some people’s view — to a whole set of “Celluloid Closet”-type homophobic stereotypes, and possibly lend aid and comfort to the right-wing view of homosexuality as a “lifestyle choice.” Furthermore, Cholodenko doesn’t seem terribly concerned about it. Before our Sundance interview, I read her a few examples from the first wave of critical comments and she laughed them off: “Maybe those people need to take their pink megaphone somewhere else.”

Ultimately, this might not even rise to the level of a tempest in a teapot: Lesbian and gay viewers, along with everybody else who actually sees “The Kids Are All Right,” are likely to find it a sympathetic, honest and frequently hilarious film about the challenges of marriage, parenting and contemporary family life, with one highly topical twist. But if some queer-radical types object to the film on political or ideological grounds, there’s a sense in which they’re right to do so. This movie definitely isn’t aimed at them.

In other interviews, Cholodenko has joked that she’s more interested in drawing in straight male viewers than in placating every possible segment of lesbian opinion. That makes the film sound a lot more calculated and Hollywoodish than it is, but the point she’s making is that “The Kids Are All Right” has a dramatic agenda but no political agenda. It’s not attached to a set of talking points about gay marriage and sexual identity, it’s not advocating some revolutionary artistic or social paradigm and it’s not a seminar in LGBT self-esteem.

Jules and Nic (Bening’s workaholic doctor character) and their teenage kids and the Peter Pan man-boy who threatens to come between them (a scene-stealing Mark Ruffalo) are flawed, selfish, fascinating characters you’ll sometimes like and sometimes hate. This is one of the most compelling and rewarding portraits of a middle-class American marriage in cinema history, as well as one of the funniest. The fact that the people in this particular marriage are both women is important to the story, of course. But perhaps, Cholodenko suggests, it isn’t all that important to the universe.

Dan Gifford at Big Hollywood:

This film is essentially selling a lite version of the leftist utopian political fantasy of not needing men and rejecting male patriarchy.

And what does a hetero guy in Hollywood know about any of that? Please allow a brief digression to establish bona fides.

Del Martin, founder of the modern lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender–rights movement, was my great aunt. It was she and her life partner, Phyllis Lyon, who received California’s much publicized first same sex marriage license in San Francisco.

That outed, I will note that lesbianism, at least according to my aunt and many other other leaders who defined the movement, is a leftist political statement of female bonding against hunter-gatherer maleness that does not necessarily have anything to do with sex. In my aunt’s own words, a lesbian is “a woman whose primary erotic, psychological, emotional and social interest is in a member of her own sex, even though that interest may not be overtly expressed [sexually].”

That’s what comes through in Moore’s Jules character since she so hungrily embraces heterosexual sex, the thought of which apparently disgusts her parther, Nic. Pure sex aside,  lesbian feminists have always told me that the object of women’s politicized sexual links is to overthrow the patriarchal order and replace it with a feminist culture. “Just as sexism is the source of all our other oppressions, maleness is the source of sexism,” according to a statement from the Dyke Collective. Implicit in that rant is a rejection of males as fathers that provide anything positive to the raising of children.

Can that be true?

A study published in the Journal of Pediatrics found “… children in lesbian homes scored higher than kids in straight families on some psychological measures of self-esteem and confidence, did better academically and were less likely to have behavioral problems, such as rule breaking and aggression.”

Maybe the kids are all right.

But critics say that considering this research was “funded by several lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender advocacy groups, such as the Gill Foundation and the Lesbian Health Fund from the Gay Lesbian Medical Association“  plus the obvious fact that the political left dominates all media, even the scientific media, whatta ya ’spect?

So, maybe the kids aren’t all right.

Irin Carmon at Jezebel:

The action happens, so to speak, when the couple’s children track down the sperm donor that is their biological father — and apparently Julianne Moore has an affair with him. (In the trailer, this looks like chaste kissing.) With this twist, writes O’Hehir, “Cholodenko and co-writer Stuart Blumberg capitulate — in some people’s view — to a whole set of ‘Celluloid Closet’-type homophobic stereotypes, and possibly lend aid and comfort to the right-wing view of homosexuality as a ‘lifestyle choice.'” That, at least, appears to have been the complaints of some of Salon’s commenters — not a famously enlightened bunch, alas, but an interesting claim nonetheless.

In other words, does every Hollywood movie involving a lesbian have to suggest she really needs cock?

As a San Francisco Bay Guardian interviewer put it to Cholodenko, “We don’t see a lot of queer characters on screen, and so when we do, many want them to be perfect: the queer voice, the lesbian, the gay man. And when they step outside those boundaries, suddenly it becomes an issue, politically.”

Cholodenko replied that she (also a lesbian mother) identified strongly with the film and felt that it was true to her, and also that she didn’t find the boundaries between straight and gay to be so rigid. She went on,

I feel like, it’s kind of an interesting intermingling of straight and gay. I felt like, if I really want this to be a mainstream film, that’s good. This is really inclusive of gay and straight, and I like that. I like that personally and I like that for this film. I was much more interested in reaching out to the male population than I was concerned about alienating a sector of the lesbian population.

In other words, this was explicitly, at least in part, a capitulation to having more people identify with the story — but in a way that felt narratively true to Cholodenko, at least by her own account. If the film does succeed with “mainstream” (giant scare quotes around that one) audiences, then maybe the next time won’t be such a hard sell. And it won’t have to stand in as the “perfect” representation of a given group, not being the only one.

Judy Berman at Flavorwire:

The greatest strength of co-writer and director Lisa Cholodenko’s (who, it’s worth noting is a lesbian parent) script, as well as Julianne Moore and Annette Bening’s pitch-perfect portrayals of the couple in question, is that it paints its lead characters as very specific, likable but fallible people. Nic (Bening) is a resolutely Type A OB-GYN with strict rules for the kids, a tendency to be called away to work at just the wrong time, and a nasty habit of drinking too much to take the edge off of stressful situations. Jules (Moore) isn’t quite her opposite so much as her counterpart: a sort of free spirit with a lighter touch who’s never exactly managed to launch a successful career. They argue, like all couples do, but the love and deep attachment between them is always palpable. Oh, and they watch guy-on-guy gay porn together while they get it on. In a spectacularly awkward clip that is nonetheless true to the characters, Jules explains to their 15-year-old son that human desire is a strange and unpredictable (not to mention inexplicable) thing.

It’s easy to understand why oppressed groups can be so protective of the way they are portrayed in media. Movies like The Kids Are All Right, which may be rocketed to mainstream success on the strength of its two A-list stars (and equally strong supporting performances by Mark Ruffalo and Mia Wasikowska), might have a chance at getting Middle America to empathize with a lesbian-led family. But that shouldn’t mean Bening and Moore’s two moms should have to be perfect. Any film with flawless main characters is bound to be a forced, boring one more concerned with being politically correct than telling a powerful story.

The Kids Are All Right plants the viewer right in the center of this family in flux’s most difficult summer. By creating characters we feel we know, not in spite but because of their shortcomings, Cholodenko and her stars will undoubtedly win over viewers and rise above stereotypes.

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Filed under Gay Marriage, LGBT, Movies

Just A Spray In The Nose And You’ll Understand The Annoyance Of Pantyhose

Discover:

Who ever thought that couples could bond over nasal spray? But new research shows that a nasal spray containing the “love hormone” oxytocin helped make regular guys more empathetic and less gruff. Oxytocin is the hormone that strengthens the bond between nursing moms and their babies, and it’s also involved in pair bonding, love, and sex.

The spray was tested on a group of 48 healthy males–half received a spritz of the nose spray at the start of the experiment and the other half received a placebo. The researchers then showed their test subjects emotion-inducing photos like a bawling child, a girl hugging her cat, and a grieving man. Finally, they asked the guys to express how they felt.

The placebo group men reacted normally to the soppy pictures; which is to say they were either mildly uncomfortable or stoic. Whereas the group that had used the nasal spray were markedly more empathetic.

Emma Wilkinson at BBC:

Professor Kendrick said the oxytocin spray may prove to be useful in people with conditions associated with reduced social approachability and social withdrawal, such as schizophrenia.

And other researchers are already looking at its potential use in autism.

“The bottom line is it improved the ability of people to learn when they had positive feedback and that is pretty important because this might help improve the effectiveness of behavioural therapy or even be useful in people with learning difficulties.”

Professor Gareth Leng from Edinburgh University said the research used some cleverly-designed tests.

He added there has been a lot of interest recently on oxytocin and social behaviour.

“This study is the latest of several that suggest that intranasal oxytocin seems to ‘sensitise’ people to become more aware of social cues from other individuals – and more likely to be sympathetic to them.”

Anna N at Jezebel:

The Times of India chimes in too: “Under normal circumstances, the ‘weak’ sex enjoys a clear advantage when it comes to the subject of ’empathy.'” Coverage of the study mentions women’s empathy so consistently that the study authors themselves may have referenced it, but it would’ve been nice to see exactly how women performed on a similar photo test — rather than just some platitudes about the “weak” sex.

Still, the real fun comes in when journalists talk about applications for the spray. Here’s Rosemary Black of the Daily News:

Think your man’s too macho? A new nasal spray may turn him into a sensitive romantic who’s tuned in to your every mood.

And the Times of India:

Women’s prayers have finally been answered: Scientists have developed a spray which can make men sensitive and affectionate using a ”cuddle hormone”.

I know how much I love looking at photos of crying children and having deep emotions. If only a simple nasal spray could help “my man” share this with me! In all seriousness, though, the spray does seem to have some interesting potential uses. In addition to making dudes emote over kitten pics, the spray improved their “socially motivated learning.” The men took a test in which they were shown a happy face for every right answer and a mad face for every wrong one. The oxytocin spray made this positive and negative feedback more effective, and helped the men improve faster. Researchers say the spray could be useful in therapies for autism, learning disabilities, or even schizophrenia.

The study sounds promising for those with disorders that make it difficult to learn or empathize with others. And I’m willing to buy that hormones can play a role in the way men and women process others’ emotions — though socialization clearly has a role as well. However, I doubt that a shot of oxytocin is going to make a man — or a woman — “tuned in to your every mood.” Luckily, we already have a method for that: it’s called talking.

Judy Mandelbaum at Salon:

Just imagine the commercial opportunities! If this hormone genuinely wreaks as much havoc on men’s gray matter as the scientists claim — I mean, if a simple nasal spray can actually teach men how to talk — where can I invest in a new line of oxytocin-based women’s fragrances? My bank account could sure use an extra million or two (or twenty).

But the hormone has other effects as well. Oxytocin, a natural human protein that is manufactured in the pituitary gland, triggers labor pains and “strengthens the emotional bond between a mother and her new-born child,” particularly during breast-feeding. “Oxytocin is released on a large scale during an orgasm, too.” The doctors report that “this hormone might … be useful as medication for diseases such as schizophrenia, which are frequently associated with reduced social approachability and social withdrawal.” Or maybe it will help when your sometime boyfriend forgets to call you back for a week. Same thing, right?

This stuff sounds like relationship Viagra, and I suppose now’s the time to throw in a joke about nasal sprays for putting the toilet seat back up and taking out the trash. Ha-ha. But the real question might be just how “touchy-feely” women really want the men in their lives to be. Isn’t part of the appeal of men their ability to just be there and listen to you without automatically verbalizing every thought that flits through their head? Do we really want their eyes to mist over when we can hardly hold back our own tears? And can’t a certain aloofness in a relationship allow trust and love to grow? Alas, the research has nothing to say about such matters.

But what I’m wondering is whether we truly want to hear everything men have to say for themselves. Maybe some things really are best left unsaid after all. Last year Garrison Keillor wrote a column that included these terrifying lines:

Women say, “Why don’t you talk to me anymore? I wish you’d tell me what’s going on with you!” so I start talking (like now) and they say, “How can you say that?” This is our dilemma.

I haven’t stopped shaking yet.

But if the new nasal spray goes into mass production one of these days and we suddenly find ourselves living in a brave new world of compulsively emoting, verbalizing men, I suspect we might soon start pining for the strong silent type once more. After all, doesn’t true poetry lie hidden in the space between the words…?

Jon Bershad at Geekosystem:

That’s all well and good but, until there’s proof that the drug positively affects those diseases, everyone will just know it as “the drug that makes guys act like ladies” which is kind of hilarious. Who knows, maybe the phrase “nose sprayed” will one day replace “whipped” and we can all make spray sounds at our friends when they have to go on date night instead of hanging out and drinking beers.

Oh, what a beautiful future is before us.

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Filed under Feminism, Science

Who Knew “Pull A Larry Summers” Was A Phrase?

Kashmir Hill at Above The Law:

Here is the full email from CRIMSON DNA:

… I just hate leaving things where I feel I misstated my position.

I absolutely do not rule out the possibility that African Americans are, on average, genetically predisposed to be less intelligent. I could also obviously be convinced that by controlling for the right variables, we would see that they are, in fact, as intelligent as white people under the same circumstances. The fact is, some things are genetic. African Americans tend to have darker skin. Irish people are more likely to have red hair. (Now on to the more controversial:) Women tend to perform less well in math due at least in part to prenatal levels of testosterone, which also account for variations in mathematics performance within genders. This suggests to me that some part of intelligence is genetic, just like identical twins raised apart tend to have very similar IQs and just like I think my babies will be geniuses and beautiful individuals whether I raise them or give them to an orphanage in Nigeria. I don’t think it is that controversial of an opinion to say I think it is at least possible that African Americans are less intelligent on a genetic level, and I didn’t mean to shy away from that opinion at dinner.

I also don’t think that there are no cultural differences or that cultural differences are not likely the most important sources of disparate test scores (statistically, the measurable ones like income do account for some raw differences). I would just like some scientific data to disprove the genetic position, and it is often hard given difficult to quantify cultural aspects. One example (courtesy of Randall Kennedy) is that some people, based on crime statistics, might think African Americans are genetically more likely to be violent, since income and other statistics cannot close the racial gap. In the slavery era, however, the stereotype was of a docile, childlike, African American, and they were, in fact, responsible for very little violence (which was why the handful of rebellions seriously shook white people up). Obviously group wide rates of violence could not fluctuate so dramatically in ten generations if the cause was genetic, and so although there are no quantifiable data currently available to “explain” away the racial discrepancy in violent crimes, it must be some nongenetic cultural shift. Of course, there are pro-genetic counterarguments, but if we assume we can control for all variables in the given time periods, the form of the argument is compelling.

In conclusion, I think it is bad science to disagree with a conclusion in your heart, and then try (unsuccessfully, so far at least) to find data that will confirm what you want to be true. Everyone wants someone to take 100 white infants and 100 African American ones and raise them in Disney utopia and prove once and for all that we are all equal on every dimension, or at least the really important ones like intelligence. I am merely not 100% convinced that this is the case.

Please don’t pull a Larry Summers on me,
CRIMSON DNA

We’re a legal blog, not a science blog. But personally, when it comes to intelligence, I’m in the nurture rather than nature camp.

One tipster who passed it along said, “It’s unfortunate that this person appears to be on paper a highly educated individual, yet her viewpoints prove otherwise, and is likely to be put in positions of influence.”

(Is it so surprising? As the Broadway musical Avenue Q hilariously noted, everyone’s a little bit racist.)

Another tipster said there would be repercussions:

The firestorm that has resulted has been EPIC. [A member or members of] Harvard’s BLSA sent the email, along with CRIMSON DNA’s name and information, to the BLSAs at other Top 14 schools. The BLSAs are meeting to discuss what should be done about this and judging from the craziness on the listservs and at meetings, this is going to get ugly. They want to go after her clerkship offer, so this one might make the news.

UPDATE: The leaders of Harvard BLSA deny that BLSA is trying to have DNA’s clerkship offer rescinded, and they also emphasize that the email did not go out over an “official” BLSA list-serv. See here.

Anna N. at Jezebel:

Above the Law wouldn’t reveal the name of the Harvard Law School student who made waves with her racist email. But people talk, and they name names. Turns out, Stephanie Grace has a history of interest in race.

The email in question contained such comments as “I absolutely do not rule out the possibility that African Americans are, on average, genetically predisposed to be less intelligent.” But when it went viral, Above the Law’s Kashmir Hill found the inclusion of the sender’s name “troubling.” Apparently not troubled was blogger Jonathan Pitts-Wiley, who posted the sender’s name: Stephanie Grace. Why he thinks she’s “kind of a hero” is a question only he can answer, but a number of Twitter users also name Grace as the sender. User berrygraham, who seems to be a law student in the DC area, writes:

Meet Harvard's Racist Email Antagonist, Stephanie Grace

Crzy_Sxy_Cool, who tweeted before the Above the Law or Pitts-Wiley posts went up, added a helpful hashtag:

Meet Harvard's Racist Email Antagonist, Stephanie Grace

Harvard sources we spoke to also identify Grace as the emailer. While her name was relatively easy to find, Grace’s online footprint is pretty small. She’s an editor at the Harvard Law Review, graduated from Princeton in 2007, but doesn’t appear to have any publications online (at least in obviously searchable form).

Eugene Volokh:

Here’s my thinking on the e-mail itself; I’ll have a few more posts shortly about some of the reaction to the e-mail.

1. Whether there are genetic differences among racial and ethnic groups in intelligence is a question of scientific fact. Either there are, or there aren’t (or, more precisely, either there are such differences under some plausible definitions of the relevant groups and of intelligence, or there aren’t). The question is not the moral question about what we should do about those differences, if they exist. It’s not a question about what we would like the facts to be. The facts are what they are, whether we like them or not.

Given this, it seems to me that the proper approach to this question is precisely the same as the proper approach to other questions of scientific fact. One absolutely should not rule out the possibility that African Americans are, on average, genetically predisposed to be less intelligent. Likewise, to give examples involving three groups I myself belong to, one absolutely should not rule out the possibility that Jews are (say), on average, genetically predisposed to be more acquisitive, or more loyal to their narrow ethnic group than to broader groups, or that whites are genetically predisposed to be more hostile to other racial groups, or that being nonreligious is genetically linked, and that people who have those genes are genetically predisposed to be more likely to commit crime or cheat on their spouses or what have you. One should also obviously be willing to be convinced by evidence that shows that, by controlling for the right variables, we would see that those groups are, in fact, identical to other groups under the same circumstances.

One should not rule out possibilities in the absence of conclusive evidence, for the simple reason that one then has no factual basis to rule out those possibilities. And since on many things the evidence will rarely be conclusive, one shouldn’t rule out those possibilities categorically at all. And one should also be open to the evidence that exists, and to being convinced by it in one or the other direction (to the degree of conviction that is warranted by the evidence).

Now some claims may be so contrary to our current understanding of the world that we might say something like this: We shouldn’t rule out the possibility in principle, but in practice the probability is so vanishingly small that we should exclude it from our analysis. That, for instance, might be one’s view about claims that werewolves exist. First, it’s just hard to imagine, given current science, what possible mechanism there might be that would turn humans into wolves every full moon. Second, one would think that if werewolves existed, we’d have good evidence of them, since proving their existence would be pretty easy.

But we still know very little about which genes produce intelligence, how exactly those genes operate, and even how intelligence can be defined. We obviously have vastly more left to learn about this. And there is certainly reason to believe that intelligence is heritable in some measure among individuals (though there is hot debate about the degree to which this is so). Such heritability, coupled with the possibility of differing selection pressures in different environments, provides a potential mechanism through which there conceivably could be intelligence differences among racial or ethnic groups.

So at this point it seems to me that the only scientifically sensible conclusion about this question, which I stress again is a question of what the facts really are, is that we can’t be sure that there are no such differences: Again, we cannot rule out either the possibility that there are racial differences in intelligence, or that there aren’t.

Or at least we cannot rule them out as a scientific judgment. (Perhaps there’s some expert somewhere out there who is so knowledgeable and brilliant that he feels he can accurately predict all that we will ever know about this field, and therefore can rule out one or the other possibility; I doubt it, but in any case I’m pretty sure that no-one is this discussion is that expert.) Obviously, each of us has the perfect right to rule any factual possibility out as a matter of faith, moral, religious, or whatever else. We can say “I don’t care what the evidence might say, I rule out this possibility because of my moral beliefs.” Or we can say “My moral beliefs are actually capable of indicating to me not just what I should do, but what the scientific facts about the world actually are, and therefore I am completely confident about what those facts are, based on my confidently held moral beliefs.”

But surely there ought to be no obligation on other people to adopt this sort of faith-based view on scientific questions. That’s why it seems to me that the author’s statement that “I absolutely do not rule out the possibility that African Americans are, on average, genetically predisposed to be less intelligent” — or a similar statement, as I suggested, about Jews, or whites, or the irreligious — is perfectly proper, and in fact is the way that people should approach scientific questions of all sort.

2. Of course, I take it that some people were inferring from the e-mail that the author doesn’t actually mean just that she doesn’t rule out this possibility, but rather that she actually thinks the possibility is likely true. If so, then to critique the e-mail one would have to further discuss whether in fact the possibility is likely true under the current, highly limited state of scientific knowledge.

But there is no need to do that here. This e-mail was a follow-up to an earlier conversation, which apparently was not recorded. It was intended to be a private e-mail to other students who were parts of that conversation. One can’t tell whether the e-mail was (a) actually a means of implicitly asserting that there probably are intelligence differences, or (b) a rebuttal to an allegation that the author wasn’t scientifically minded enough in the discussion over dinner and was wrongly foreclosing scientific possibilities, or (c) part of a discussion about the nature of scientific evidence, or anything else. Sometimes, one might legitimately draw inferences about a person’s views based on a statement that was meant to be self-contained, to the point of justifying public criticism of the inferred views and not just the literally stated ones. But one can’t infer from this snippet of the broader conversation that the author means anything other than what she says: that she does not rule out a certain possibility, a possibility that I think cannot scientifically be ruled out.

I considered whether some of the language of the e-mail, such as (emphasis added) “In conclusion, I think it is bad science to disagree with a conclusion in your heart, and then try (unsuccessfully, so far at least) to find data that will confirm what you want to be true” suggests that the student believes that there is no existing data strongly suggesting the absence of genetic differences. If that were the right interpretation, then we’d have to discuss whether there is indeed such data.

But my reading of this, given both this sentence and the rest of the e-mail, is that the author is saying that there has been no success in (to go further down the paragraph) “prov[ing] once and for all that we are all equal” in intelligence, and in providing evidence that would make one “100% convinced that this is the case.” That’s a restatement of the first sentence in the e-mail, and again it strikes me as being quite scientifically accurate: There can’t be, at this stage of our knowledge (and possibly at any stage), proof “once and for all” that there are no such racial differences in intelligence.

3. On then to just a brief response to what I imagine would be some likely reactions.

a. Some might argue that belief in racial differences in intelligence could cause all sorts of immoral and harmful social and legal reactions. That might be so. But it’s different from the question that the student was writing about, which is what is actually true. Lots of other facts that are actually true can yield, and have yielded, harmful social and legal reactions. That doesn’t make those facts any less true — nor does it make it somehow improper for people to even be open to the possibility that certain facts might, in fact, be true.

b. Some might point to the history of unsound claims about racial differences in intelligence. And the history of errors in a field should indeed teach people to avoid those particular errors. But there’s no “three strikes and you’re out” for scientific theories: That some people in the past have posited various unsound theories with some general thesis doesn’t mean that all theories with a related thesis are guaranteed to be false. One still cannot rule out the possibility that some other theory in that genre will in fact be correct. Again, that’s just the way facts are: If something is true, people’s having thought a bunch of similar-sounding things that are nonetheless false doesn’t affect that truth.

c. Some might point out that intelligence and race are “socially constructed,” which is certainly true in the sense that different societies may draw racial lines in different places, and may define what constitutes intelligence — or how it should be tested — differently. But while we can’t just assume that there are some obviously correct definitions of either term, science often operates with terms that don’t have an inherently correct definition. What usually happens is that people come up with possible definitions, there’s debate about those definitions, there are studies done using different definitions, some results emerge that are common over a wide range of definitions and others that are highly sensitive to the definitions, and so on. Yet the right approach throughout this process is, again, precisely to “not rule out the possibility” that under some set of plausible definitions some result might be true, and to be willing to “be convinced” that under some set of plausible definitions some other result might be true.

It’s also possible that over time it will turn out that the definitional question is so difficult (or the required measurements are so difficult) that no real pattern emerges in the results. Say, for instance, that under some definitions of intelligence one sees one result and under others one sees the opposite result, and there seems to be no good basis to choose any particular definition over another. That might mean that we have to reformulate the question, and that the original question might be abandoned as not accurately answerable in its original form. We can’t rule out that possibility, either. But neither can we just assume that this is sure to happen.

d. Finally some might just argue that even the openness to the possibility that there may be racial differences in intelligence will offend people, and that the author should have recognized that the e-mail she sent to a couple of people might be forwarded to others who might be offended.

But this presupposes that it’s somehow wrong for people in a free country to discuss scientific questions because of the possibility that some people might learn about that and be offended. That can’t be right.

It especially can’t be right for students at a research university. But I think that it can’t be right for anyone anywhere. I realize that in the real world there might be bad consequences to speakers who offend others, however legitimate the speaker’s position — which, I stress again, is a position of openness to scientific evidence — might be. But we should work against that phenomenon, and its tendency to suppress honest discussion about scientific questions. We should not just give in to it as inevitable and, worse still, somehow right.

More Volokh, responding to his commenters

Ann Althouse:

Grace has apologized. Of course, she’s sorry now. “I am heartbroken and devastated by the harm that has ensued. I would give anything to take it back.” Note the passive voice: “the harm that ensued.” A  new way to say I’m sorry you were offended. She also says “I understand why my words expressing even a doubt [that African-Americans are genetically inferior] were and are offensive.” She’s learned something: This is a subject where you can’t play with ideas and speculate. People get very angry, and the speaker had better be ready to deal with it.

Did Dean Minow handle this the right way? One question is: Why does the dean even get involved with something one student said in private email? If the answer is because the Black Law Students Association came to her and demanded a response, then maybe the question should be why did the  Black Law Students Association go to the dean for help? Why didn’t the students all just argue and debate and express themselves to each other? These are Harvard students. Law students. Why not dig in and have it out and show your stuff? Why go to the nearest, biggest authority figure? Stephanie hurt me!

Here‘s the full text of Minow’s message. (By the way, Martha Minow’s father was FCC chairman Newton Minow, the man who called television “a vast wasteland.”)

This sad and unfortunate incident prompts both reflection and reassertion of important community principles and ideals. We seek to encourage freedom of expression, but freedom of speech should be accompanied by responsibility. This is a community dedicated to intellectual pursuit and social justice….Law school is a community with shared ideals. One of the ideals could be: When a student makes a point that contains what you think is an outrageous statement, unless she’s been actively insulting to you, you should engage her in debate and not not expose her to a public trashing. And don’t bring the dean into the fray as your champion. More from Minow:

As news of the email emerged yesterday, I met with leaders of our Black Law Students Association to discuss how to address the hurt that this has brought to this community. For BLSA, repercussions of the email have been compounded by false reports that BLSA made the email public and pressed the student’s future employer to rescind a job offer.I was going to say that “the hurt” to Grace and her reputation was much greater than the hurt to those students who only read the email. It’s not as if she shouted ugly words in their face. But now I see that the BLSA students had reason to worry that they were the ones who would look bad because they were believed to have overreacted and taken some nasty revenge. Minow may have been activated by the need to clear their reputation.

A troubling event and its reverberations can offer an opportunity to increase awareness, and to foster dialogue and understanding.Minow tries to be even-handed and control the fallout. She frames it as a teaching moment. But what has everyone learned?

Jill at Feministe:

Stephanie Grace sent out an email suggesting that black people are genetically intellectually inferior to white people. That is not a new point; it is not a point that should have to be rationally debated anymore, any more than we would rationally debate whether or not the Earth is flat. If a PhD candidate in a science program suggested that the sun revolved around the Earth, I can just about guarantee that there would be no calls for rational debate on the issue — whoever she said it to would roll their eyes and label her a complete jackass. If she sent out an email screed about it, it would probably be forwarded for laughs and for shared outrage at how a person this ridiculous could have gotten into this academic program and institution. It would not be defended under the pretense of free speech or academic freedom or “Isn’t this program all about rational scientific discourse, you guys?”

But I want to go back to this line: “Rational debate. Isn’t that what free speech and academic discourse — and, incidentally, the practice of law — are all about?” Well, yes and no — free speech is, unfortunately, not all about rational debate, not hardly. But that aside, free speech is not a shield from criticism and consequence. Yes, it is a shield against government persecution for your speech, but it does not mean that other people are not permitted to speak out against you; it doesn’t mean that other people should have to accept what you say without attaching words like “racist” or “sexist” or “bigoted” to what you say. The right to speak and to control how other people feel and respond to your speech is not a right that any of us hold. And it is not a sign of irrationality to point out that some arguments are, yes, racist, any more than it’s a sign of irrationality to point out that some arguments are ad hominem or illogical or red herrings or anecdotal.

I’m obviously troubled and disgusted by Stephanie Grace’s email and her arguments. But I’m even more disgusted by many of the responses — the ones that say the email wasn’t really racist, that it’s somehow irrational to use terms like “racist” or “sexist,” and that any idea, no matter how horrific, should not only be introduced but also should not be met with any level of offense. I wonder if the people making those arguments — and David Lat is only one of them — have for even a minute put themselves in the shoes of individuals whose family members were enslaved or gassed or rounded up for their perceived genetic inferiorities. I wonder if they’ve put themselves in the shoes of people who hear all the time that they don’t deserve to be where they are; that they’re lazier, stupider, just not as naturally intelligent or adept.

Some comments and beliefs do not merit a rational response. The fact that we are not only debating the merits of Stephanie Grace’s argument that black people may be genetically inferior, but also suggesting that the people who are offended are the ones with the problem, is more demonstrative of a profession-wide and society-wide race problem than any single email or racist tome.

Silvana Naguib at Tapped:

Young, privileged students interpret the principle of “academic freedom” to mean “I can say whatever I want and you can’t criticize me.” This atmosphere of polite disagreement, no matter how odious the position offered, was stifling to me as a law student. It was based on the notion that we law students were all in this together, and therefore should “play nice,” even when there were other students whose stated political aim was to deny rights to women and people of color, rights whose denial cut to the very core of my being. Meanwhile, no one seemed to consider the impact on academic freedom caused by allowing discourse that was overtly hostile to minority groups.

The hyper-intellectual, logic-focused law school environment denigrates feelings. Even when the issues were deeply personal, we were supposed to regard classroom and extracurricular discourse as purely academic. This mentality goes beyond the confines of the university. I am reminded of the ridicule heaped upon Obama when he suggested a Supreme Court justice should have empathy, rhetoric he’s backed away from the second time around.

But empathy has a place in the law, and it needs a more prominent home in law schools.The legal system is built to try to address unfairness and injustice, to make sure everyone gets their due process and fair share. If we didn’t care about the well-being of our fellow citizens, we wouldn’t need justice at all.

It matters how people feel. It matters whether racist arguments are tolerated, and whether other voices rise to their aid. When lawyers go on to serve as judges, senators, policy-makers, prosecutors, and presidents, an e-mail isn’t just an e-mail. The e-mail and the ambivalent response to the odious attitudes expressed in it exemplify the serious empathy deficit in our law schools.

When I look at the product of these law schools — a legal system where if you are poor, black, or both, you simply cannot get a fair shake — I think, is it any wonder? An academic structure that glorifies logic and consistency, and denigrates empathy, will never produce justice.

Thoreau:

I am not going to defend the content  in the Harvard law student’s email on race and intelligence.  I find the content quite disturbing.  I am, however, going to argue for a bit of benefit of the doubt on the person who sent the email, as opposed to the contents of the email.  The email starts off indicating that it is picking up where a longer conversation left off from earlier in the evening.  And while it starts off pretty bad, it contains statements like “I absolutely do not rule out the possibility…”  It’s not that long ago that I was a student who liked to argue and didn’t have much of a clue.  (As opposed to my current status:  Professor who likes to argue and doesn’t have much of a clue.)  When I see a statement like “I absolutely do not rule out the possibility…” from what is likely a smart, argumentative, but clueless student, I suspect that we’ve got some late night bull session philosophizing (of the non-philosophy major sort) going on.  Some pretty bad stuff gets said in those sessions, not because the people necessarily believe all of it, but because they’re too full of shit to realize that they should be more critical of their musings rather than throwing them out and arguing passionately while not getting why the argument is (rightly!) falling completely flat.

This hunch of mine, that we’re seeing late night bull session mode rather than statement of sincere conviction mode, is further strengthened by paragraph two, in which she actually makes a sort of decent case (by the standards of late night bull sessions) for the opposite of what she was musing on in the first paragraph.  And the third paragraph talks about a seriously hypothetical experiment.  More proof of late night bull session mode.

Now, “late night bull session” is not an excuse for spewing bullshit.  Although a lot actually gets  learned in those sessions, a lot also gets learned in the fallout.  Usually the fallout means that your roommate chews you out and his girlfriend won’t talk to you and an angry mob is waiting to confront you in the dorm lounge.  (Aka “spring of my sophomore  year.”  And no, my transgression had  nothing to do with race or gender.)  She deserves fallout, but it is unfortunate that the fallout happened in the national spotlight.  I guarantee you that all sorts of bull sessions, some with conversations even more repugnant than that email, are going on right now in Harvard dorms.  (Or the dorms at my school, for that matter.)  It was a dick move to forward the email, rather than confronting her in person and making the fallout more contained (but still intense).

So, what I’m trying to say is that the email doesn’t really reflect a sincere or strongly-held opinion on her part.  It reflects a lot of stupidity and some serious gaps in her understanding of the world (and I’m not just saying this because she got caught), and those things should not just be waved off as no big deal.  However, it is a mistake to take her email at face value.

Ann Althouse and Jim Pinkerton at Bloggingheads

UPDATE: Julian Sanchez and Conor Friedersdorf at Bloggingheads

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Filed under Education, Race

Life Hands You Lemons, You Cast Tina Fey

Ezra Klein:

It’s an old story: British TV show comes to America and all of its characters are played by much hotter actors. But American television’s terror of putting normal-looking people on screen is most troubling in “30 Rock.” The biggest failing of that show is that they didn’t have the nerve to cast an actually frumpy actress in Liz Lemon’s role. About half the jokes focus on Lemon’s looks, and they’re all undercut when the camera focuses on the slim, beautiful Tina Fey. It’s not quite as offensive as casting a tan white guy in Tracy Morgan’s role but still having lots of black jokes, but it’s similarly jarring.

Chloe Angyal at Feministing:

One of the running themes of Glee is that Rachel, played by Lea Michele, is talented, but annoying, badly dressed and physically unattractive. In other words, they Liz Lemon her. Yeah, I just made that a verb – and it needs to be one, because there’s a lot of Liz Lemoning going on these days.

For those of you who don’t spend an embarrassing amount of your time watching sitcoms on Hulu, Liz Lemonning originates with NBC’s 30 Rock. The most frustrating thing about 30 Rock, an otherwise excellent show, are the constant references to the fact that Tina Fey’s character Liz Lemon is ugly. The thing is, Tina Fey fits conventional standards of female beauty almost to a T. Liz Lemon, like Rachel, is a flawed character, but the constant references to her ugliness are just absurd. And while beauty is of course subjective, these two women absolutely meet our culture’s standard of female beauty: they’re young, white, slim, cis-gendered, well-proportioned and able-bodied, with long shiny hair and smooth skin. They may not be Victoria’s Secret models, and they may have brown hair and glasses, but they certainly still meet society’s standards of female beauty.

Daniel Strauss:

I’ve never seen it this way though. In fact, I’ve really liked that everyone calls Liz Lemon ugly on 30 Rock because she’s so clearly not ugly. For me, the real humor in those insults was not from Liz Lemon but rather the blindness of the people calling her ugly. What kind of mutant do you have to be to not see the beauty that’s so clearly there?

But from the reactions of other people, I think I missed the joke —which I’m happy about.  I always took the insults to be more of a critique of the ridiculous perceptions of beauty in contemporary society. If you think someone who looks like that is ugly, there’s something wrong with you.

Hortense at Jezebel:

Discussions surrounding Fey’s looks are always a bit weird, which I suppose speaks to the fact that, as Irin noted, Fey is often presented as a “relatable sex goddess.” Tina Fey seems to be the type of woman who can admit that her transformation is a bit of a Hollywood Cinderella story while simultaneously calling bullshit on Cinderella stories in general.

But this “relatability” factor causes a weird defense that seems to spring up whenever anyone points out that Fey actually fits into conventional beauty standards: she’s thin, white, glossy hair, always looks glamorous at events, and so on and so forth. People rush to point out that Fey used to be heavier, or that she has a scar, or that she wasn’t always as glamorous as she has appeared over the past six or seven years. It’s almost as if people feel the need to justify the fact that Tina Fey is actually quite traditionally beautiful in the Hollywood sense by attempting to point out the days when she wasn’t.

I’m not exactly sure I agree with Chloe’s post, in that I think Liz Lemon is a character whose self-deprecation speaks more to her internal state than her external one, though I do think the idea of trying to pretend some women are “ugly” simply because other characters on a television show tell them so is a bit tired and played out. Liz Lemon is actually a bit of a step in the right direction, in that her truly “ugly” moments come from poor decision making and selfishness and have very little to do with her looks whatsoever.

It’s the narrative that surrounds Fey off-screen that’s a bit more puzzling: she’s not your typical starlet, sure, but she’s not Marla Hooch, needing “a lot of night games,” either. Fey made fun of herself (allegedly) in a press release wherein she described her Vogue shoot as what it “would be like if Vogue gave your 40-year-old sister-in-law a makeover.” But the makeover happened years ago, and it’s probably time we all just stop acting surprised whenever Fey shows up looking absolutely gorgeous. That should really be the territory of every dumb magazine that can’t get over the fact that yes, women can be smart, funny, and pretty. I know, right? Madness.

Matthew Yglesias:

Obviously, on some level I’m not surprised that professional actors are better-looking than ordinary people. But Hollywood’s reluctance to allow any real range of physical appearance, especially for female characters, seems a bit oddly crippling to me. After all, the fact that some people are better-looking than others is a really important fact of social life. And in principle, it’s something a visual medium like television should be really good at conveying. In a novel, the only way to convey the fact that a character is good-looking is to write that she’s good-looking. On television, in principle, you could convey that information simply by casting someone who’s good-looking and have that be part of the background as the scene unfolds.

But in practice you can’t. You need to be explicitly instructed that “Liz Lemon is ugly” is one of the conceits of the show—this certainly isn’t information you would obtain simply by looking at Tina Fey. Similarly, the fact that Dr Chase is really attractive was a plot-point in a recent House episode. And of course Jesse Spencer has always been a good-looking dude. But given the conventions of television casting that mere fact is insufficient to establish that the Chase character is supposed to be that hot, until it’s explicitly stated in dialogue.

What’s more, the fact that this phenomenon disproportionate affects women winds up having deleterious knock-on consequences. Most of all it means that the path of least resistance to doing compelling drama is to frame a topic in a way that guarantees an overwhelmingly male cast. Do something focused on cops and violent criminals like The Sopranos or The Wire and you can build a world that features a facsimile of human diversity.

James Joyner:

In NBC’s defense, Tina Fey is the creator, head writer, and executive producer for 30 Rock, a show she based on her own experience as the head writer for Saturday Night Live.  And I’ve never gathered that Lemon is supposed to be ugly so much as  a rather ridiculously socially awkward nerd.

[…]

The same premise was used for the Sandra Bullock vehicle Miss Congeniality, in which Gracie Hart’s colleagues were simply shocked that, with a little bit of makeup and some attention to her eyebrows, she could be a plausible beauty pageant contestant.   (The fact that Bullock was 35, about a dozen years too old, is another story left cleverly unexplored.)  Also, to a lesser extent, in The Princess Diaries, in which it turns out that Anne Hathaway isn’t particularly bad looking.

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