Monday, October 29, 2007

NY Times Book Review Smears Katha Pollitt

There's a penalty to be paid for being an intelligent and outspoken feminist. One such penalty is that the NYT Book Review will say decidedly unflattering things about you.

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Thursday, October 25, 2007

Open Letter from LGBT and black activists regarding Barack Obama's Campaign

Nice sentiments. But I am still skeptical.

To Whom It May Concern:

As representatives of Barack Obama supporters from the African American religious community and the gay community, we are issuing a statement together for the first time. Our letter addresses the recent issue of Pastor Donnie McClurkin singing at Senator Obama's "Embrace the Change" concert series. In the midst of division, we hope and believe that this is a moment to bring together communities that have been divided for far too long.

A few things are clear.

First, Pastor McClurkin believes and has stated things about sexual orientation that are deeply hurtful and offensive to many Americans, most especially to gay Americans. This cannot and should not be denied.

At the same time, a great many African Americans share Pastor McClurkin's beliefs. This also cannot be ignored.

Finally, we believe that the only way for these two sides to find common ground is to do so together.

Not at arms length. Not in a war of words with press and pundits. Only together.

It is clear that Barack Obama is the only candidate who has made bringing these two often disparate groups together a goal. In gatherings of LGBT Americans and African Americans of faith, Obama has stated that all individuals should be afforded full civil rights regardless of their sexual orientation, and that homophobia must be eradicated in every corner of our nation. If we are to end homophobia and secure full civil rights for gay Americans, then we need an advocate within the Black community like Barack Obama.

At the same time, while Obama has said that he "strongly disagrees" with Pastor McClurkin's comments, he will not exclude from his campaign the many Americans including many in the African American community who believe the same as Pastor McClurkin.

We believe that Barack Obama is constructing a tent big enough for LGBT Americans who know that their sexual orientation is an innate and treasured part of their being, and for African American ministers and citizens who believe that their religion prevents them from fully embracing their gay brothers and sisters. And if we are to confront our shared challenges we have to join together, build on common ground, and engage in a civil dialogue even when we disagree.

We also ask Senator Obama's critics to consider the alternatives. Would we prefer a candidate who ignores the realities in the African American community and cuts off millions of Blacks who believe things offensive to many Americans? Or a panderer who tells African Americans what they want to hear, at the expense of our gay brothers and sisters? Or would we rather stand with Barack Obama, who speaks truth in love to both sides, pulling no punches but foreclosing no opportunities to engage?

We stand with Senator Obama. We stand with him because of the solutions he is proposing for our nation. We stand with him because of his character and his judgment. But the most important reason we stand with him is because today, as he has done all along, Barack Obama is causing us to stand together.

That's the kind of President we need, and we are proud to support him.


Rev. Dr. Otis Moss, Jr.
Olivet Institutional Baptist Church
Chair, Obama National African American Religious Leaders Working Group
Cleveland, Ohio

Stampp Corbin
Chair, Obama National LGBT Leadership Council
Former Member of Human Rights Campaign Board of Directors
Columbus, Ohio

Tobias Barrington Wolff
Chair, Obama LGBT Policy Committee
Professor of Law, University of Pennsylvania Law School
Philadelphia, PA

The Reverend Stephen John Thurston
National Baptist Convention of America
Chicago, IL

The Reverend Alvin Love
Baptist General State Convention of Illinois, Inc.

Bishop E. Earl McCloud, Jr.
Office of Ecumenical & Urban Affairs
African Methodist Episcopal Church
Atlanta, GA
Steven Latasa-Nicks
President, The Phelon Group, Inc.
Former Human Rights Campaign Board of Governors
New York, NY

Maxim Thorne
Former COO, Human Rights Campaign
Paterson, NJ

Phil Burgess
Former Human Rights Campaign Board of Directors
Chicago, IL

Rev. Dr. Barbara Williams-Skinner
Skinner Leadership Institute
Tracy's Landing, MD

Rev. Michael Pfleger
St. Sabina, Chicago

Rev. Edward Taylor
San Jose, CA

The Reverend Robert H. Thompson
Exeter, NH

Sharon Malheiro
LGBT Activist
Des Moines, IA

Hon. Jon Cooper
Majority Leader, Suffolk County (NY) Legislature
Rev. Paul Hobson Sadler, Sr., Pastor
Mt. Zion Congregational UCC

Now playing: Men at Work - Who Can It Be Now?
via FoxyTunes

A partial list of federal benefits denied same-sex married couples and

Partial list of benefits denied same-sex couples.

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Origin of Life Paper retracted because of Creationist assault

A seminal paper, written fifty years ago, has been retracted by its author because it has routinely been misquoted by Creationists seeking to justify their anti-science position.

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Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Second person dies in fires; more than 500,000 flee homes -

Second person dies in fires; more than 500,000 flee homes -

Southern California continues to burn. One cannot help but notice, however, the difference in how the federal government is responding in this disaster compared to Katrina.. Would it perhaps have something to do with the population being white, rich and Republican? No, that would be silly to even suggest that, huh?

Star Wars: A New Hope in ASCII Art format

Someone on the Kubuntu Users list I read posted this piece which is a brilliant time waster!

Originally I thought it was just the introduction to Star Wars: Episode IV A New Hope. But I was wrong! It appears to be the movie, done as ASCII art!

Bike Gallery Team member dies in bike accident

Dear fellow OBRA racers,

Yesterday afternoon,
team rider and co-worker Brett
Jarolimek was killed in a collision with a truck while riding his
on N Interstate and Greeley.

The news of his death comes as a terrible blow to all of us at the
Bike Gallery and probably to all of you who knew Brett or saw him
recently in action at the cross races. Just this last Sunday, Brett
rode one of his best races ever, finishing on the podium in the
Singlespeed cyclocross race at Rainier HS.

For most of us, words are falling short to express the deep sadness
caused by the sudden loss of a great friend and a wonderful human
being. Our deepest sympathy and heartfelt prayers go out to his
family, his girlfriend, his close friends, and to everyone who knew
Brett as a great guy and an awesome bike racer.

We miss you Brett...

your Bike Gallery team mates and co-workers

Comments from the peanut gallery - CNN Political Ticker Obama takes heat for link to McClurkin «:
"I would not vote for Obama if he were the only one running. Gay is a choice! You are not born gay, just like you are not born fat. I am sorry to say that sooner or later we are going to stop saying I'm proud to be an American. This country is going to Hell! The presidential election this year almost sounds like a joke. We have a Islam, and a Female running for president. If we as a country voted for Obama who is a Islam to be the president of the United States that would show how stupid we really are as a country. Hillary has already been our president once thru her husband and we know how that turned out. I love my wife and I respect women, but to put a woman incharge of the country would be the wrong thing to do.

Posted By Mike, Evansville In : October 23, 2007 10:50 am"

Let's deconstruct this:

"We have a Islam, and a Female running for president."

Firstly, it's Muslim and Barack Obama is not a Muslim. It does help if one is trying to get one's point across to actually, I don't know, know what one is talking about! A female running for POTUS? The horrors!!!! I wonder if Mr. Conservative Mike, who loves his wife and respects women ("I'm not prejudiced but...") realizes that Margaret Thatcher ran the UK and was a darling of the American Right. No, probably not.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson: Obama Got it Right and Wrong on Gay Bashing - Politics on The Huffington Post

Earl Ofari Hutchinson: Obama Got it Right and Wrong on Gay Bashing - Politics on The Huffington Post

It appears that Barack Obama is going to try to have it both ways; cozy up to gay bashing Donnie McClurkin while responding to Earl Ofari Hutchinson's column yesterday saying that he (Obama) should repudiate McClurkin that:

"I have clearly stated my belief that gays and lesbians are our brothers and sisters and should be provided the respect, dignity, and rights of all other citizens. I have consistently spoken directly to African-American religious leaders about the need to overcome the homophobia that persists in some parts of our community so that we can confront issues like HIV/AIDS and broaden the reach of equal rights in this country.

I strongly believe that African Americans and the LGBT community must stand together in the fight for equal rights. And so I strongly disagree with Reverend McClurkin's views and will continue to fight for these rights as President of the United States to ensure that America is a country that spreads tolerance instead of division."

Barbara Ehrenreich: Happy Fascism Awareness Week!

Another disagreeable feature of jihadism -- anti-Semitism -- is also represented on the list of speakers for Islamo-Fascist Awareness Week, again by the multi-faceted Coulter. Just last week on CNBC, she referred to America as a "Christian nation." Asked where this left the Jews (not to mention the Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Wiccans and atheists),

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Midnight in America: the Mainstreaming of the GOP's Lunatic Fringe

Reagan's GOP has been replaced by the dark, moldering, putrefied party of Bush, Cheney, Rove, Limbaugh, Coulter, and Malkin. Morning in America has given way to Midnight in America.

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God and His Gays: Harold Meyerson in the Washington Post

WP columnist Harold Meyerson on why fundamentalist Christianity is, yet again, running up against science and having to retrench.

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Should Gays and Lesbians be Thanking Mother Nature for the Genes?

I wanted to address the idea of whether or not homosexuality is a question of ‘nature’ or ‘nurture’. To put it in more modern words, whether or not homosexuality is caused genetic or a choice. Firstly, the question may be meaningless. By that I mean that there is no satisfactory solution to the question as it is stated. Why? Because whether a given behavioral trait is genetic or environmental is, for any practical purpose, unanswerable. We are not products of traits that either are imposed on us by our genes or produced by our environments. Our genes do not, in any meaningful way, operate isolated from our environments. Our environment, although seemingly separate from our genes, is still influenced by them. So to suggest that homosexuality must be either genetic, in its entirety or environmental, in its totality, is to miss something exquisite going on in nature. Nature, once you look beneath the surface, is usually cleverer than we are.

There are a couple of issues enclosed in the question of ‘is homosexuality a choice or not’ and before I go about trying to answer them, I’d like to try to tease out the separate questions. Question #1 goes like this: “What causes homosexuality. Why are some people gay or lesbian”? Question #2 is best phrased like this: “If homosexuality is not a choice, what possible evolutionary reason would keep those genes around”. Question #3 goes like this: “If homosexuality is proven not to be a choice, what does that mean for the gay rights movement”? I’ll answer each one individually.

What causes homosexuality?

I will own, up front, that this is going to be a really cheap answer. No one knows, definitively, why some people end up being gay or lesbian. There is, however, a convergence of evidence that points to it being a, more or less, innate trait. At some level, it would appear that people are born gay or lesbian. This, however, is a very different statement than saying that something is entirely determined by our genes. Although what filters through to the popular media gives the impression that there is a gene ‘for’ any given trait that is not exactly the case. Certainly, no working biologist would suggest that there is a gene ‘for’, to take one example, risk-taking. So, part of the purpose of this article is to introduce you to a different kind of language for talking about our genes. What is more accurate is to say that there are certain genes (genotypes) that express (phenotype) a particular behavior, in interaction with their environment.

Now, before someone should take the last part of the above sentence to mean that I am suggesting that environment means the usual (and hopelessly outdated) tripe of ‘absent father’ or ‘overbearing mother’ or childhood sexual trauma or any other such pseudo-psychological babble, that is not what I am talking about. By environment what I mean is the complete set of historical experiences that any given individual passes through from the moment they are conceived. Make absolutely no mistake, the womb is part of our environment and is as much part of our history as any house we ever live in. So, for example, if your mother was malnourished during her pregnancy with you, you may (counter-intuitively) have more of a tendency to put on weight.

So, returning for a moment, to the question of gene-environment interaction I’d like to talk a moment about what genes do and do not do. It is, generally, thought that genes code for particular traits. Therefore we’ll say that one has a gene ‘for’ brown eyes or that one has a gene ‘for’ such-and-such malady. In most circumstances, it is convenient but not accurate to talk about genes in this way. Our genes code for proteins. Proteins are little molecular machinery, of various chemical natures, that go about the business of building bones, tissue, cells, brains, etc. If you have, for instance, brown skin your body produces significant quantities of a substance called melanin. Your genes code for proteins that are in charge of melanin production and you will have, on average, darker skin than someone who has genes that do not code for as much of that substance. If you then live in a place that does not get as much direct sunlight then your skin color will be, on average, lighter than someone with similar genes who lived in a place with high direct sunlight. This might sound like I’m stating the painfully obvious but note the language. Specifically, note the use of ‘on average’. In biology, it is useful to think of things happening on a gradient and each individual lies somewhere along that continuum. So, is there a gene for brown skin? Well, yes and no. There’s a gene that produces greater or lesser amounts of melanin. Everyone, who is not an albino, produces some amount of melanin. It would be slightly more accurate to say that there is a gene ‘for’ albinism, but most accurate would be to say that albinos lack the gene that produces melanin.

Another example, before we move on to the heart of the question of some kind of proximate cause of homosexuality. Take height. If you have been to Europe or have been in a really old (older than the 19th century) building, you might notice how low the ceilings are. In London, one might think that one has stepped into a village of Tolkiens’ hobbits. But you know better and you realize that the average height of people really was shorter than Westerners are today. Why? It is not, as intuition might suggest, because humans have evolved such that the average height for European women has increased from just under five feet tall at the start of the Industrial Revolution to around five-foot five-inches at the start of the Information Revolution. Rather, what has happened is that people in the West eat much better, are exposed to far fewer childhood diseases, and generally are healthier as children and growing adolescents than they were a few hundred years ago. What that has created is a situation where human height has been allowed to increase closer toward the maximum allowed for by our genes (which code for the proteins that make up calcium and muscle mass). So, lurking within the genes of your long lost relatives from the Old Country was the potential for a five foot ten inch woman, but chances are very few of your ancestors grew to that height. However, because you are fortunate enough to have been born in the Twentieth century, your genes had more of an opportunity to express them.

This is what biologists mean by gene-environment interaction and I hope that my two illustrations shine some light onto how these factors dance together.

So, back to the central question. Is homosexuality genetic? Most probably yes and not entirely. Since sex, desire and romance happen primarily in the brain here is my speculation. There is probably some sequence somewhere on our chromosomes that causes a particular protein to either express or not express while the fetus is in utero. The mother’s body, responding to this chemical presence turns on or fails to turn on some other chemical cascade that results in the brain forming in such a manner that the person, when their sexuality really kicks in, has a predisposition toward homosexuality. Because of the social stigma placed on homosexuals, the individual with this particular genetic-environmental mosaic then has some variety of responses to their emotions and at some point, hopefully, comes out and accepts themselves. That’s the best answer I’m comfortable giving and I’m sticking to it.

All of this, however, begs question number two. So onto that issue.

Passing through the sieve—Does Darwinism preclude homosexuality being genetic?

If you are not willing to concede that Darwin might have had some clue as to what he was talking about then not a great deal of this will make sense. Again, because I feel the need to own my own bias, I will say that I’m an absolutely unrepentant Darwinian. I think Darwin had one of the best ideas anyone has ever had and I know that, to use the phrase of one eminent biologist “nothing in biology makes sense except in light of evolution”. So, if we accept that there is probably some level of genetic component to homosexuality then it begs the question of how it could survive the ruthless winnowing of natural selection.

I’m going to suggest a hypothesis, and own that it is only a hypothesis but one that makes the most sense to me. Homosexuality has passed through the sieve of evolution not because it, in and of itself, is adaptive but because whatever genes that influence homosexuality are themselves adaptive when expressed in a certain kind of body. By adaptive, I mean it in a very strict sense, namely in the sense that it enhances the reproductive fitness of whomever is carrying that gene. Reproductive fitness simply means whether or not an organism leaves around more descendants than someone else.

That’s just one possibility but it is the one that makes the most sense and doesn’t get into the messy (and discredited) arena of group selection.

That said, let’s remember that being homosexual does not preclude reproduction and so there’s still potential for whatever genes ‘for’ homosexuality to pass through generations in that manner. Lastly, it is important to remember that, according to what is called ‘kin selection’ one need not reproduce oneself in order to benefit one’s genes.

If one is a sibling (or a non-identical twin) then one shares one half of your genes with your siblings. This means you share a quarter of your genes with their children. So let’s say your sister has four children, you have none. Something happens to your sister and you raise her children, you have now ensured that four times the amount of your genes will pass on to the next generation than you otherwise would have. So, even if homosexuality really were a reproductive dead-end it would still have any number of paths it could take from generation to generation.

Where the rubber meets the road—What does all this mean for gay rights?

So, having demonstrated that homosexuality really could pass through the merciless sieve of natural selection and having presented a plausible (although almost certainly too simplistic to be accurate) model of what might cause homosexuality we leave the relatively non-controversial arena of biology and enter the world of politics and culture. We have come to question #3: If homosexuality is proven not to be a choice, what does that mean for the gay rights movement?

One answer is that it might not mean anything at all. Those who are against gays and lesbians existing are going to remain so regardless of any findings of science. But for the larger society, what might it mean? As a rule, in America we have the idea that we are compelled to be tolerant (in both personal and legal matters) of those who have an inherent difference. Homosexuality is probably inherent enough that to speak of any ‘change’ is quite meaningless. However, does that mean that if a smoking genetic gun is found the NGLTF can close up shop and go home? Probably not.

What it might mean is that parents might not guilt trip their children when they come out. Schools would be compelled to not tolerate harassment of gay or lesbian students in the same way and for the same reasons that they cannot tolerate harassment of Latina or Chinese students. Businesses might become compelled to not fire homosexual employees because they are homosexual. It might even create the circumstances for full recognition of same-sex marriages. However, it would be a mistake to think that the entire architecture of heterosexism will come tumbling down should some biological Einstein come up with a gene-environment interaction that survives the scientific vetting process.

Although I understand the desire for us, as gay and lesbian people, to once and for all put to pasture the idea that we ‘choose’ our sexual orientation I would suggest that, perhaps, we are missing a point. Religion is ‘chosen’. No one is born Catholic and yet we protect Catholics from discrimination in employment, housing, etc. We are very right to do so, so it is not ‘choice’ qua choice that has created the circumstances we face. It is some other cultural baggage that we need to address.

That said, finding the smoking gun would be a triumph of biology. Understanding why some people are gay or lesbian would shed light into the whole arena of human sexuality. And, perhaps, the discussion of gene-environment interaction will finally put the tired and outdated ‘nature’ versus ‘nurture’ debate out to a well-deserved rest in the pastures of intellectual history.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Twenty-First Century Resurrection or Old-Time Flim-Flam? The strange journey of Leo Igwe.

My partner and I participate on a Google group where theists and non-theists debate/ Recently, one of the theists posted the following:

At one time I was seriously considering hiring a private detective to
check for any evidence of fraud in the Daniel Ekechukwu story.
I don't have to. Humanist Leo Igwe has personally visited Nigeria,
investigated the claims and saved me the trouble.
See his article here
The best he can do is state that he do is state that 'Personally, I do
not believe that Daniel Ekechukwu ever died'.
In other words he does not trust the opinions of the medical Doctors
in Nigeria.
I find that attitude somewhat arrogant.
Just because these Doctors have dark skin does not mean that they
don't know when a patient has died.
They do know how to check vital
signs and pulse and according to Dr. Josse of St Eunices, Daniel
Ekechukwu had node.
I doubt too many atheists will be convinced but if that is the best
that skeptic Leo Igwe can do then I am more convinced that ever.

Now, keeping in mind that the poster actually had a link to the actual account of the investigator in his original post, one would think that he would have read through long enough to actually grasp what was really said. One would, in fact, be mistaken .

Now, here's the problem with the above:
(Quoted from Mr. Igwe's own account of his investigations)

On their way to Owerri that Friday, Kingsley said, Daniel stopped breathing. Upon their arrival at the clinic, the doctor advised them to take Daniel’s body to the hospital. His body was deposited in a local mortuary on that same day. Kingsley informed me that on Saturday night, Daniel’s wife, Nneka, had a dream and was instructed to take Daniel’s body to the Rev. Bonnke, who was then visiting Onitsha for prayers. Kingsley said that he had had a similar dream.

The following Sunday they had gone to collect Daniel’s body. At the mortuary, Kingsley said the mortician was complaining that Daniel had been disturbing him and had not allowed him to sleep for two days. The mortician had related that on the night that Daniel’s body had been deposited in the morgue, he heard people singing. When he went to investigate, however, the singing stopped.

Kingsley further stated that on Saturday night something pushed him and caused him to hit his head on the wall as he attempted to embalm Daniel’s body. For this reason, he did not embalm Daniel’s corpse. According to Kingsley, they transported Daniel’s body to Bonnke’s meeting in Onitsha that Sunday. There, Daniel was revived during a prayer session. To confirm what he had said earlier, I asked Kingsley if Daniel’s body had been injected with embalming fluid. He answered, “no!”

Personally, I do not believe that Daniel Ekechukwu ever died. First, Kingsley confirmed that Daniel’s body had not been injected with embalming fluid. According to medical experts I interviewed, however, a corpse should have a strong odor and the abdomen should be swollen after three days if it is not embalmed. Judging from the photo of Daniel when he was said to have been at the mortuary, and according to the testimony of his brother, this was not the case.

Second, it is unlikely that any doctor certified Daniel’s death at Owerri. Third, it is hard to believe the actions that supposedly transpired after Daniel’s request to be transferred. It all sounds like a mishmash of lies and fantasies.

The object lesson here is two-fold:

1> If you are going to invoke a story of a skeptic doing an investigation, do go to the trouble of actually reading the account you are invoking.

2> Before you respond and invoke something for your side, make certain that the source you quote actually makes the point you hope it does. In the example at the head of this post, the poster makes it sound as if Mr. Igwe's investigations turned up, at best (or worst depending upon your POV) an ambiguous finding. The actual text is far less ambiguous.

Also, the poster should probably have thought about the idea that there might be skeptics that are not Western and white. The poster's original point appeared to be predicated upon an assumption that anyone who would question whether or not a resurrection had occurred would, of a necessity, be white

Should cyclists obey traffic laws written for cars?

Should cyclists obey laws written for cars? Interestingly, one cyclist blogger says 'no'.

Not getting flattened by a 50,000 pound "big rig" is a good reason to stop at a red light if you're on a bicycle. But how about less skin-saving reasons? Are there in fact, good reasons to ignore traffic regulations when you can, because after all, they are really meant just for cars?

Read the whole article here.

AlterNet: War on Iraq: America's Armageddonites Push for More War

Just when you thought it just couldn't get any sillier

AlterNet: War on Iraq: America's Armageddonites Push for More War

Cyclist dies after getting pinned under garbage truck | Local News | | News for Oregon and SW Washington

Another cyclist has died in Portland. This is the third or fourth in a week! What is going on out on the roads?

Cyclist dies after getting pinned under garbage truck | Local News | | News for Oregon and SW Washington

250,000 flee raging wildfires around San Diego -

San Diego is burning.

250,000 flee raging wildfires around San Diego -

The Reality Based Community Approach to Race

The Reality Based Community Approach to Race in America

Race talk, dirty laundry, Bill Cosby and James Watson's Big Racist Mouth

I have not read Come On People but I heard him on Meet the Press two weeks ago. I read his prior book and I've spent the last forty years of my life black in America. Now, up front, I come at this from having grown up in privilege—my parents were academics—but because of an age skew my father, certainly, had not grown up in privilege. My mother's father was a land-owning farmer in Alabama so she had some form of privilege. I say this because I'm about to defend Bill Cosby and I recognize that how one sees what is happening in Black America is colored by one's original class position. So I grew up in suburban Northern California, in the 1970's, in an middle-to-upper middle class neighborhood. My father was an Alpha Phi Alpha, my mother was a Kappa. We had it drilled into us at home and at church, study and community service. Study because we were the generation that was being given a chance, doors had been opened and we were going to be given the opportunity to Arrive, to Be Somebody. Community Service because those of us to whom much had been given by dint of birth much would be asked. My parents drilled into us that we were that talented tenth that Du Bois spoke of.

I say this only to claim my positioning. None of us can look at what is going on and say that Bill Cosby is wholly wrong. Regardless of whether or not you think he should be airing dirty laundry or what emphasis he puts on the laundry, no one can actually state that Cosby describes a set of observations that do not map well to reality. We all know that they do. It would be a mistake to read Cosby as saying that black folks cannot do any better or any different than we currently are . That was what James Watson was saying and we'll get to that tottering old man momentarily. Yes, conservatives of the Bill Bennett variety will look upon Cosby's statement, tie it to what Watson said, and then nod their heads at his sagacity and smile in what they see as their vindication. That's their script, that's their knee jerk reaction. The Left leaning knee-jerk reaction is to stop at that analysis and go no further. Earl Ofari Hutchinson at demonstrates the position I'm talking about here and here . Is it possible that one can genuinely be concerned about certain cultural issues and not be inherently conservative? Yes, in fact, one can. When I was going to high school in the early 80's, I heard 'why you trying to be white' from other black kids on a very regular basis. We cannot pretend that, for instance, this isn't said to black kids who excel academically.

What's more every black academic knows, because they are there that they have to work harder and actually be smarter than others in order to get any kind of recognition at all. To conform with that reality, and I would submit that there are very few Blacks in America who would suggest that it is better to not attempt to conform to it, while working to change it (it is offense against Justice that blacks are more harshly judged than whites) we must be courageous and complex. Because of how we know how those who, either explicitly or implicitly harbor fantasies that blacks are inferior kinds of Homo sapiens , would seize on any statements that might sound like blacks having to change some internal dynamic as vindication we have to be willing to be brave enough to lay ideas out on the table. At the same time, we have to be complex enough to recognize that the moral stance condemning racism does not rest on the idea that blacks must, as a whole, map some identical metric to whites or some other group. As Stephen Pinker put it, “The case against bigotry is not a factual claim that humans are biologically indistinguishable. It is a moral stance that condemns judging an individual according to the average traits of certain groups to which the individual belongs 1”. Now, I want to be clear that neither I nor Drs. Cosby and Pouissant are saying that there is something inherent in black folks that creates the kinds of distressing behaviors that can be observed (and I will even concede the point that Cosby was hyperbolic in some of his pronouncements)

The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education had the following to say on black high school graduation rates:

In 2006, 85.6 percent of young blacks ages 25 to 29 had completed high school. This was the lowest percentage since 1996. For whites ages 25 to 29, 93.4 percent had completed high school. The drop in high school completions for young blacks in all likelihood is due to the low rate of high school graduations of black males. In 2006, 83.1 percent of black men ages 25 to 29 had a high school diploma. Just two years earlier in 2004, more than 91 percent of black males in that age group had completed high school. Twenty years ago in 1986, 86.4 percent of black males in the 25 to 29 age group had graduated from high school.

For blacks in the 25- to 29-year-old age group, 18.6 percent hold a four-year college degree. This is only slightly better than the rate for black adults as a whole. For whites in this age group, 34.3 percent hold a four-year college degree. This is 3.3 percentage points higher than the white adult population as a whole. Therefore, the college completion rate gap between young blacks and young whites is actually larger than for the population as a whole.

These figures are discouraging and portend a solid and continuing economic gap between the races for the foreseeable future. If, as appears to be the case, the educational gap between young blacks and whites is larger than the educational gap for black and white adults as a whole, it is almost certain that racial gaps in income, wealth, poverty, and unemployment will persist for generations to come 2.

In this report, the focus is on how what makes a difference in retaining black students once in college:.

  • Clearly, the racial climate at some colleges and universities is more favorable toward African Americans than at other campuses. A nurturing environment for black students is almost certain to have a positive impact on black student retention and graduation rates. Although often troubled by racial incidents, Brown University is famous for its efforts to make its campus a happy place for African Americans. In contrast, the University of California at Berkeley has had its share of racial turmoil in recent years. The small number of black students on campus as a result of the abolition of race-sensitive admissions has caused many African Americans on campus to feel unwelcome. This probably contributes to the low black student graduation rate at Berkeley. The decline in black student admissions and the low graduation rate at Berkeley is serious. It is an important issue to be addressed by the university’s administration.

  • Many of the colleges and universities with high black student graduation rates have set in place orientation and retention programs to help black students adapt to the culture of predominantly white campuses. Mentoring programs for black first-year students involving upperclassmen have been successful at many colleges and universities. Other institutions appear to improve graduation rates through strong black student organizations that foster a sense of belonging among the African-American student population. The presence or absence of these programs may have some impact on graduation rates.

  • The presence of a strong and relatively large core of black students on campus is important. Among the highest-ranked colleges and universities, institutions that tend to have a low percentage of blacks in their student bodies, such as CalTech, Bates, Middlebury, Grinnell, Davidson, Carleton, and Colby, also tend to have lower black student graduation rates. Black students who attend these schools may have problems adjusting to college life in an overwhelmingly white environment. And these schools are less likely to have a large number of black-oriented social or cultural events to make black students feel at home.

  • Curriculum differences also play an important role in graduation rates. Carnegie Mellon University and CalTech are heavily oriented toward the sciences, fields in which blacks have always had a small presence. It continues to be true that at many high-powered schools black students in the sciences often have been made to feel uncomfortable by white faculty and administrators who persist in beliefs that blacks do not have the intellectual capacity to succeed in these disciplines.

  • High dropout rates appear to be primarily caused by inferior K-12 preparation and an absence of a family college tradition, conditions that apply to a very large percentage of today’s college-bound African Ameri-cans. But equally important considerations are family wealth and the availability of financial aid. According to a study by Nellie Mae, the largest nonprofit provider of federal and private education loan funds in this country, 69 percent of African Americans who enrolled in college but did not finish said that they left college because of high student loan debt as opposed to 43 percent of white students who cited the same reason 3.

    These statistics, while not encouraging are not as bad as I had feared when I started my response.



I Am Not Whoopi Goldberg

I won my local Humorous Speech contest and will be representing my club at the Toastmaster's division speech competition on next month! The speech I gave is below:

I am Not Whoopi Goldberg:

A Toastmaster's Speech

It should go without saying, given that I didn't waltz in here with an entourage, that I am not Whoopi Goldberg. Yet, the chances are that at some point today, if I have done something other than just stay at home, someone has come up to me and said “you look like Whoopi Goldberg”. Now, this isn't a bad thing, it isn't a good thing, it can be, at times, a source of humorous situations.

I've been hearing that I looked like Whoopi Goldberg since I was in the Army, long before the dreadlocks and when I was skinny, skinny, skinny. The first time was in the produce department in a grocery store. I didn't hear it too much until Whoopi started playing Guinan on Star Trek: Next Generation and showing up on Hollywood Squares. Then it took off! Oh, did it ever take off!

Now, sometimes, it's an annoyance. In '96 I was out in Ames, IA with my girlfriend, visiting her family for Christmas. For nine days, in what felt like, to my Alabama-born and California-raised body to be the tundra, I could scarcely walk outside without some perfect stranger going out of their way to rush up to me to say “You look like Whoopi Goldberg!” To which I would nod politely, say a few kind words about my far richer and more well-known look-alike and then be on about my merry way. Nine days of this. Several times a day. For nine, long and cold days.

I mention this only because it brings me to one of the few times that this resemblance has worked in my favor. On that same vacation, as we were boarding the plane for our return trip, we had just sat down in our chairs, just posterior of first class. A man got on the plane and said, loudly:

“Oh my god! It's you! You play the bartender on Star Trek. You did those nun movies, I LOVE YOU1”

To which I replied, loudly but as calm as I could manage given that it was 11:00 at night.

“Yes, I'm Whoopi Goldberg. I'm flying a red-eye coach on a bargain airline on New Years Eve because I was trying to fly incognito. Thanks for blowing my cover!” If this sounds somewhat harsh, I remind you, several times a day, for nine days. At any rate, there was this raucous laughter from the stewardess just on the other side of the wall, yet more raucous laughter coming from the cockpit and then the stewardess comes back and says “Are you really Whoopi Goldberg?”

“No, I'm really not”. I replied.

“Well, you just made the entire aircrew's evening. Would you like to come up to first class?:

My parents didn't raise me to be a fool so, of course, I accepted and so we drank champagne over the Sierra Nevada mountains as 1997 began.

Other times, it has provided endless amusement to friends of mine. Like the time I met a friend for dinner at a restaurant just outside of Olympia. We were meeting for a end-of-the-workweek feeding frenzy and she got to the restaurant before me. When I arrived, there was a short waiting list so I asked what name she put it under. She said “ you'll see”. No sooner had she spoken than the hostess calls out. “ Goldberg, party of two. Party of two for W. Goldberg”

We walk into the restaurant, we've been given a table near the center and now everyone is looking at us! My friend could barely contain her laughter. I, on the other hand, still plot my revenge.

The next day we go shopping at, I believe Wal-mart or somesuch like that and the cashier insists that I give her my 'autograph' as Whoopi Goldberg. Now, I've paid with my credit card, I have established beyond any possible illusion that I am NOT, in point of fact, Whoopi Goldberg and she STILL wants my autograph.

If I were of a more larcenous bent, I might try to pass myself off as her.

So, while I am me I also appear to share enough facial features that Whoopi Goldberg's fame is tied up, in some fractally strange way, with mine. So if you see me on the street, even if I do look Hollywood, remember; I am NOT Whoopi Goldberg.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

30 days of GNOME -- Not quite

Well, that hasn't worked out as well as I thought. Nautilus, the GNOME file manager appears to want to eat system resources but never actually give me a file manager window. I think I'm going to uninstall GNOME and then reinstall it with an actual disk of Ubuntu 7.10 instead of the downloaded upgrade.

Thirty Days of Gnome

I have been a loyal user of KDE since the 2.x days. I've never really given Gnome its fair chance as a desktop environment. From the first I have disliked it immensely and I cannot, for the life of me give a good answer to that question. So having installed the Gutsy update to my trusty workstation, a four year old AMD with a gig of RAM and an NVIDIA 64 mb card I have decided to spend thirty days in the land of Gnome. At least initially, I won't be using any of the really cool Compiz eye-candy because fo the aforementioned underpowered video card.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

AlterNet: Bill Cosby's New Book Full of Racial Stereotypes

Predictably, folks I otherwise agree with have the same knee-jerk reaction to a black person making statements that black folks need to clean up our own house.

AlterNet: Bill Cosby's New Book Full of Racial Stereotypes

For instance, it is considered a myth that black kids will accuse other blacks, who pursue intellectual excellence, as 'acting white'. However, I am not a mythical figure and although anecdotal evidence isn't good evidence it is also not entirely empty.

The first time I heard that I was 'acting white' for getting good grades and reading for pleasure was junior high school, back in 1980, which was the first time I went to a school that had more than just one or two other blacks in it. The last time I heard it was sometime around my last year of undergrad. The difference? Between junior high and my junior year of college, I was going to school with a fair number of other black folks--the height coming in high school. After high school the number of other blacks I was in school with tailed off dramatically. Coincidence? Perhaps but the correlation is too tight to be dismissed out of hand. Look, what I think pisses people off when folks like Cosby make these kinds of public pronouncements is this; MOST of what you'll hear coming from the left side of the spectrum will put the emphasis on the larger society with a tossing, obligatory nod to education or some other kind of self-determination bromide. So when Cosby or McWhorter or Steele makes a statement emphasing more what black folks should be doing--pushing one another hard to do well in school, etc.--it can *appear* that that is all they are saying. In this it is like white privilege--no small number of white folks feel, not entirely unjustfiably--that things are different and they are. There was a time when no white person was going to have to worry that a black woman was going to be *better* qualified for their job than they are. So now that they have to compete to *any* degree with folks from the chocolate side of the Force feels like a loss of position and privilege. Please note that one can acknowledge the above while *still* recognizing that this is precisely what a equal society *should* feel like--a loss of privilege for one group as things even out.

Now, all I'm saying--and I want to be clear that this is all that is being said--is that the vague hand-waving of "yes, yes, black folks should encourage one another to get an education" isn't *enough* emphasis. As I said on another thread here related to race, black folks have got to strive to be the best and brightest people in the room, every time, every room. Anything less than that must, until we are *truly* an equal society (or least more just in a Rawlsian sense than we are now), be considered less than smashing success simply because it will be *seen* as such.

Fury at DNA pioneer's theory: Africans are less intelligent than Westerners - Independent Online Edition > Science & Tech

James Watson...

has opened up his big mouth yet again. The man who, along with Francis Crick, won the Nobel prize in chemistry in 1962 for their discovery of the structure of DNA has opined that blacks are less intelligent and that we have a higher sex drive. (sigh) I hate it when really smart people say really stupid things.

Fury at DNA pioneer's theory: Africans are less intelligent than Westerners - Independent Online Edition > Science & Tech

This is going to make it harder for those of us who are black and work in the sciences to get pro-science memes spread through communities of color because of idiots like Watson who make pronouncements like those quoted in the article above. Already I've read on one discussion group people calling into question his research (without really taking the time to delineate WHICH research might be subject to racial bias and which wouldn't) which means that there'll be yet more of a hill to climb when attempting to get black folks in America interested in genetics.