Friday, October 31, 2008

The Beautiful Melancholy of Peanuts Holiday Specials

This is great:

What sound is most evocative of autumn? The crackling of dry leaves? The singsong chant of trick-or-treaters? The zip-zipping of corduroy jeans as you walk down the street? For anyone who remembers watching the original Charlie Brown Christmas special in 1965—or in any of the 42 years it's aired since—the single best aural reminder of the waning year has to be the bouncy piano vamp of Vince Guaraldi's "Linus and Lucy," better known as the Peanuts song. The Van Pelts' theme doesn't appear until midway through A Charlie Brown Christmas, but it was so instantly and indelibly associated with Charles Schulz's characters that it became the opening song for subsequent specials...

The whole thing is worth a read. I love watching these specials with Liko.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

The Longest War

A reader responds to Andrew Sullivan.

Earlier this week, in your post “The Top Ten Reasons Conservatives Should Vote For Obama”, you wrote under Point 4: “A truce in the culture war. Obama takes us past the debilitating boomer warfare that has raged since the 1960s. Nothing has distorted our politics so gravely; nothing has made a rational politics more elusive.”

On the one hand I agree with you; on the other hand, you don't go nearly far enough. An Obama presidency means much more than a truce in the 60’s culture war. It means the end of a much older and more terrible war, in which the 60's was merely one battle: the American Civil War. That is what is at stake here.

The Civil War was fought from Sumter to Appomattox, from April 12, 1861, to April 9, 1865. But the roots of the war predated 1861, and the consequences lived on long after 1865. In reality the Civil War never ended, it just shifted from a military to a culture war - the same culture war that is still going on today....

The 1960’s was part of that larger war, marking the struggle to end Jim Crow, the century-long regime of American apartheid (Vietnam was, in my opinion, related but secondary). The end of apartheid was a second humiliating defeat for the forces of the conservative "South" at the hands of the liberal "North", and it subsequently gave rise to those decades of distorted and irrational politics you so deplore, as the reactionary and fundamentalist forces regrouped and mounted yet another rearguard insurrection against their liberal "oppressors", culminating in their partial ascension to power under Bush...

So let's be clear - it is not "boomer warfare" which has distorted our politics, or made rational politics so elusive since the 60's: it is something far deeper, something far older, something which has been with us from the beginning in this country, and which we in turn brought with us from the Old World; something which in fact traces back to the very origin of humanity - spiritually, psychologically, politically, evolutionarily. That depth is what gives the American story its pathos and its importance. That is why the world watches us: to see if we can work it out - to see if there is hope.

Seems like a stretch? Check out these three maps.

This one represents the pattern of support for McCain (red) and Obama (blue):

[Source: FiveThirtyEight]

Compare that to a map of the two sides of the American Civil War:

And here's the 2004 electoral map:

All three maps also closely reflect population density, a big topic I tackle in this sprawling 2006 essay on anti-urban politics in America.

Three conversations with my four year old

First conversation:

"Last night I had a dream, Daddy."

"Tell me about it."

"I dreamed that Mommy and Daddy took me to a museum, and in the museum we saw everything that is alive and everything that is not alive, and there was a wall, and there were monsters sitting on the wall."

Second conversation:

"Mommy, I'm an announcer for Obama!"

"What are you announcing?"

"I'm telling everyone that it's OK for girls to marry girls and for boys to marry boys!"

[The Obama campaign wishes to state that, in fact, it does not endorse gay and lesbian marriage, that Liko is not employed by the campaign, and that Liko will have no role in an Obama administration.]


Liko is taking a book off the shelf in a bookstore, direct quote: "'I want to read this book,' he said, as he took the book off the shelf." And later, eating pizza: "'I love this pizza,' he said, as he ate another piece of pizza."

This is becoming a pattern: Liko is narrating his own life, living simultaneously in his life and in the story of his life. His imagination is his life. It's a little bit disconcerting to watch, but also kind of cool.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Don't let this happen to you

Infidelity: Brought to you by the Internet (thanks a lot, Al Gore!)

New studies reveal that "younger women appear to be cheating on their spouses nearly as often as men."

How many are we talking about? "University of Washington researchers have found that the lifetime rate of infidelity for men over 60 increased to 28 percent in 2006, up from 20 percent in 1991. For women over 60, the increase is more striking: to 15 percent, up from 5 percent in 1991."

In other words, almost three out of ten men have cheated on their wives by the time they hit 60; meanwhile, 1.5 women out of ten have cheated on their husbands. Another survey shows that in any given year, 12 percent of men and 7 percent of women say they have had sex with someone who isn't their spouse. Which sounds about right. For the youngest cohort of happily marrieds, women and men have achieved rough equality when it comes to deceiving their spouses.

Why the increases for both men and women?

Personally, I have no idea, but researchers advance a number of theories. On the female side, it is likely that more women are just more likely to report infidelity--but it's also the case that contemporary women, who spend less time with young children, just have more opportunities to cheat.

In the past, said Helen E. Fisher, research professor of anthropology at Rutgers, men have wanted to think women don’t cheat, and women have wanted men to think they don’t cheat, "and therefore the sexes have been playing a little psychological game with each other."

On a practical level, being universally charged with care of young children also pretty much zeroed out opportunities for extracurricular sex for the moms. (As most caregivers of preschoolers know all too well, the Little Children scenario, in which a stay-at-home dad and stay-at-home mom get it on while their respective kids nap every day at the exact same time, is very unlikely.)

And as women gain more personal freedom and sexual mores loosen, more women are fessing up to infidelity. It's probably not a coincidence that in urban areas the youngest group of husbands and wives also earn more or less the same amounts of money.

These days, "married women are more likely to spend late hours at the office and travel on business. And even for women who stay home, cellphones, e-mail and instant messaging appear to be allowing them to form more intimate relationships." One Atlanta psychiatrist who specializes in family crisis and couples therapy told the New York Times "he has noticed more women talking about affairs centered on 'electronic' contact."

Technology might also be driving male infidelity. Researchers blame the widespread availability of pornography on the Internet, which is known to affect sexual behavior, as well as the invention of Viagra, which essentially makes sex outside of marriage possible for senior citizens.

OK then. People are cheating more, or at least becoming more likely to cop to it. And this activity is being facilitated by technology.

But what's interesting about these studies is that it appears to still be the case that most people, a two thirds majority, don't ever cheat. That goes for men (who are still vastly more likely to admit that they do it) as well as women. You'd expect that over the course of a lifetime most baby boomers (because that's the group we're talking about here) would have dallied at some point--but empirically it appears that they have not.

I've often thought that the stereotypical notion that men think with their sexual organs (and its corollary, that women never do) is fundamentally flawed; this usually goes hand in hand with the idea that men are by nature emotionally stunted.

Of course, men have rich emotional lives and their relationships with women are more than just sexual. Quite a few studies of womanizing husbands suggest that it is emotional, not just sexual, craving that motivated them to cheat. (I'm not suggesting anything about the maturity of these emotional needs; that's a separate issue.)

I think few people would dispute that men are, in general, more consistently horny than women. That makes a certain amount of biological sense: men are constantly producing sperm but women's hormonal cycles make proneness to arousal more periodic.

However, as I think most wives (secretly?) realize, the vast majority of men deal with this mismatch through covert masturbation, not cheating. Frankly, it's a complementary part of married life for men, and not a few women.

Neither sex is a slave to its biology; our bodies may provide the raw material, as it were, but morality, emotion, and imagination (which allows us to imagine long-term consequences) play much stronger roles in regulating our day-to-day behavior than biological drives ever will.

Friday, October 24, 2008

One more reason why Macs are better than PCs

Apple posted this to the very top of their homepage today:

No on Prop 8: Apple is publicly opposing Proposition 8 and making a donation of $100,000 to the No on 8 campaign. Apple was among the first California companies to offer equal rights and benefits to our employees’ same-sex partners, and we strongly believe that a person’s fundamental rights — including the right to marry — should not be affected by their sexual orientation. Apple views this as a civil rights issue, rather than just a political issue, and is therefore speaking out publicly against Proposition 8.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Doing the right thing

The more I think about it, the more moved I am by this post from Ta-Nehisi Coates:

I've reflected a lot--personally--on Obama's campaign and the values of parenting. I often think about how his Dad left him, and never knew that his son would be within days of the presidency of the greatest power in history. Think about this--what else could a father want? My own Dad often says that too many black men see child-rearing as "responsibility" and not "personal investment." They forget about the joy that children bring, and instead focus on the bills, or on stupid, petty beefs with women. As my own son creeps past eight, I've been reminded of that.

Obama's mother, a relatively young woman when he was born, will not be here to see him inaugurated, should he win. Whenever, I think of that I just get sad--mostly because she did know the rewards of parenting and threw herself at her kids. There's something unjust in the fact that she won't get to see the results of all her work.

But now, more than anyone, I am thinking of Barack Obama's grandparents. One of the big mistakes we make when we look at the history of race in this country is to focus on big people and big events. What should be remembered is that, though our racial history is mired in utter disgrace, though the deep cowardice of post-reconstruction haunts us into the 21st century, at any point on the timeline, you can find ordinary white people doing the right thing. Frederick Douglass, himself a biracial black man, is a hero of mine. But arguably more heroic, is Helen Pitts, his second wife--a white woman, who traced her history back to the Mayflower, whose ancestors founded Richmond Township, NY, and who was cast out for marrying Douglass. Here is a white woman who spent the best years of her life fighting for suffrage and racial justice. After Douglass died, she dedicated the rest of her life to seeing him honored, when everyone else was on the verge of forgetting.

Likewise, I was looking at this picture of Obama's grandparents and thinking how much he looks like his grandfather. And suddenly, for whatever reason, I was struck by the fact that they had made the decision to love their daughter, no matter what, and love their grandson, no matter what. I'd bet money that they never even thought of themselves as courageous, that they didn't give much thought to the broader struggles in the the world at the time. They were just doing what right, honorable people do. But the fact is that, in the 60s, you could be disowned for falling in love with a black woman or black man. There is a reason why we have a long history of publicly biracial black people, but not so much of publicly biracial white people.

We often give a pass to racists by noting that they were "of their times." Fair enough, and I know Hawaii was a different beast, but still, today, let us speak of people who were ahead of their times, who were outside of their times. Let us remember that Barack Obama learned the great lessons of life from courageous white people. Let us speak of those who do what normal, right people should always do when faced with a child--commit an act of love. Here's to doing the right thing.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Dads, girls, and sports

Lisa Belkin has a perspective I share:

A study released this week, called “Go Out and Play: Sport and American Families” finds, not surprisingly, that kids who are physically active are healthier and happier. Their family lives are more satisfying and less stressful too, according to the survey of 2000 students (third grade through 12th) and 850 of their parents by the Women’s Sport Foundation.

Also not surprising, in a less welcome way, is the finding that things are still not equal for girls and boys when it comes to resources for athletics, particularly in urban areas.

And somewhat surprising, and very welcome, is the suggestion in the report that there is a real role for dads in setting the ratios right.

When girls were asked to name their mentors when it came to sports and exercise, they mentioned coaches and physical education teachers. In other words, people outside their families. When boys were asked, the top two answers were coaches and fathers. Forty-six percent of boys, compared with 28 percent of girls, credited their father for teaching them “the most” about sports and exercise.

My response to news like this is complicated. As a former middle-school girl, back in a day when we wore “bloomer” uniforms for gym and weren’t really expected to ever break a sweat, I root for the girls and the new expectation that they can be strong, too.

But as the mother of two sons who are still in the middle of the sports-centric world that is adolescence, I am troubled by the emphasis on athletics, particularly for boys.

One of the surprises of parenting is how hard it is to keep a child physically active if they are not athletically talented. Both my kids have sports they enjoy, but they aren’t stars in the sports that have currency here in suburbia – soccer, baseball, football, basketball.

Back when I was a kid, you didn’t have to be the best in order to play. There were pick-up games and informal neighborhood play, most of which is now gone. Any time a child older than 7 or 8 takes the field in many neighborhoods, it is with an adult and wearing a uniform. The message comes early — in third grade, maybe fourth — that if you aren’t good you shouldn’t really be on the team, and if you aren’t on the team there’s no place to play. Those fathers who are trying to coach their sons are most likely doing so for a team, not just for the joy of running fast and breathing hard.

There is an interesting finding in the foundation’s 180-page report, which says that girls enter sports (read: organized sports) at a later age than boys (7.4 years old compared with 6.8 years old in general) and that girls also drop out sooner than boys. “Girls’ late start may set them up for failure in sports during the middle-school years,” the report says.

Failure? By sixth grade? Because you didn’t start at age 6 instead of age 7? That can only be true in a culture in which the only definition of success is making the team. And if, as the foundation finds, our children really are emotionally and physically healthier when they are physically active, then that’s not a definition that is helping them.

I understand the lifelong lessons that can be learned on teams. But there are others, which last as long if not longer, that can be learned without them.

I didn’t discover that I had muscles, nor the exhilaration of using them, until I was an adult and found a trainer at a gym who dragged me out of my psychological bloomers. My husband, always athletic, did not get on a racing bike until he was 40, and now he rides every chance he gets. My sons, in turn, discovered tennis in their teens, and while they probably won’t be playing Wimbledon, it is a central part of their lives.

If fathers want to prepare their daughters for a lifetime of health, then coaching their teams is not the only way. Sometimes it might even be the wrong way. Take your girls for a bike ride. Or on a hike or a run. Or just throw a Frisbee for the fun of it. It counts as a victory, even if nobody wins.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Wages of Sexism, Part II

A creative new study reveals a new dimension of the wage gap between men and women:

In previous studies, academics have looked at variables like years of education and the effects of outside forces such as nondiscrimination policies. But gender was always the constant. What if it didn't have to be? What if you could construct an experiment in which a random sample of adults unexpectedly changes sexes before work one day?

Kristen Schilt, a sociologist at the University of Chicago and Matthew Wiswall, an economist at New York University, couldn't quite pull off that study. But they have come up with the first systematic analysis of the experiences of transgender people in the labor force. And what they found suggests that raw discrimination remains potent in U.S. companies.

Schilt and Wiswall found that women who become men (known as FTMs) do significantly better than men who become women (MTFs). MTFs in the study earned, on average, 32% less after they transitioned from male to female, even after the authors controlled for factors like education levels. FTMs earned an average of 1.5% more.

Good things

You might have heard about this:

A group of San Francisco first-graders took an unusual field trip to City Hall on Friday to toss rose petals on their just-married lesbian teacher - putting the public school children at the center of a fierce election battle over the fate of same-sex marriage.

The 18 Creative Arts Charter School students took a Muni bus and walked a block at noon to toss rose petals and blow bubbles on their just-married teacher Erin Carder and her wife Kerri McCoy, giggling and squealing as they mobbed their teacher with hugs.

Mayor Gavin Newsom, a friend of a friend, officiated.

A parent came up with the idea for the field trip - a surprise for the teacher on her wedding day.

"She's such a dedicated teacher," said the school's interim director Liz Jaroslow....

The students' parents are planning to make a video with the children describing what marriage is to them.

Marriage, 6-year-old Nolan Alexander said Friday, is "people falling in love."

It means, he added, "You stay with someone the rest of your life."

The San Francisco Chronicle article has drawn over 3,000 comments, many of them full of hate. “It’s just utterly unreasonable that a public school field trip would be to a same-sex wedding,” said Chip White, press secretary for the anti-gay-marriage Proposition 8 campaign. “This is overt indoctrination of children who are too young to have an understanding of its purpose.”

As a straight parent in San Francisco--who is raising his son on Castro St., right on the border of Noe Valley and the Castro--I want to tell these people: In San Francisco, this is normal. Hell, my family is going to a lesbian wedding this weekend. There will be something like twenty kids there, all of them members of my son's community.

I can pretty much guarantee that the hateful comments on the Chronicle article are from people who don't live in San Francisco. Because those of us who are raising children in neighborhoods with large numbers of gay and lesbian families know a secret: They are great environments in which to raise kids. We have a good community and we're happy.

To people like Chip White, I say: You can rant, you can rave, you can shout your ignorance at my kid through your TV ads, Prop 8 might even pass, but you can't win. Gay and lesbian families are here to stay, and that makes our world a better place.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Mad Men vs. Mr. Moms

OK, this is kind of funny: Hey, Mr. Mom: Your Wife Wants To Bang Don Draper. (And here's the funniest reader comment: "I think you're preachin' to the converted, dude. Mr. Mom wants to fuck Don Draper, too.") C'mon. Laugh. You know it's funny.

I just started watching Mad Men, largely on the recommendation of my pal Jessica (who is getting married this weekend! yay!).

The writing and characters are gripping, but Mad Men is also a fascinating sociological and historical study of womanhood, manhood, and gender roles at a dramatic point of transition.

It made me think right away of Susan Faludi’s 1999 book Stiffed: The Betrayal of the American Man--in fact, the parallels between the POV of both the series and Faludi’s book makes me think that Stiffed must be required reading for Mad Men’s writers.

In both, traditional masculine values like self-reliance, steadfastness, and dedication to community welfare are steadily undermined by the encroachments of a culture that prizes image and performance over principle and real accomplishment.

It's a process that pushes both the interview subjects of Faludi’s book and protagonist Don Draper of Mad Men into a state of spiritual free fall.

At the same time, however, we’re reminded by both works that we cannot go back: Thanks in part to its terrific attention to the details of its characters’ lives, Mad Men makes a sexist social order real and concrete, and reminds us of how far we’ve advanced from the “good old days” when women were prisoners in their own homes.


It's important to remind ourselves that these people are not America. Every poll is now saying that Americans are rejecting the McCain campaign's scapegoating stupidity.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Not so different

I've been pondering why this stuff bothers me so much. There was never any doubt that I would vote for Obama: I support reasonable government intervention in the economy, environmental protections, a nonviolent foreign policy, and so on. So yes, I'm a progressive. I was ten years ago, I was five years ago, I am now.

But I wasn't always a parent. And as a childfree person, I don't think I would have been nearly as disturbed by this ugliness as I am now. When I see this stuff, I feel a kind of panic sweep over me. If I put the panic into words, it sounds like this: "No, no, no, I don't want my son to grow up in this kind of world, no."

The roots of this panic are probably evolutionary; of course, we all want our kids to grow up in a safe, stable environment. When that environment is threatened, the fight or flight response kicks in.

I have no doubt that the parents in these mobs would agree with me, and, indeed, conservatism by definition seeks to slow social change in an effort to maintain stability. That's what people mean when they say that parenthood made them more conservative. It's true for me, too; in a personal sense, I have become more conservative since becoming a parent.

But political conservatism can turn into its opposite when the changes come too fast and furious. It mutates into extremism. And when in groups, people will sometimes behave in ways that fly against their individual values and morals. Social scientists call this phenomenon deindividuation.

Faced with the end of an era, the people at these rallies are feeling a sense of panic that resembles my own. They're not so different from me. And so I think we all have to pause and look in the mirror and ask ourselves if we're doing our best to create a world that is safe for children.

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The campaigns address work-life balance

Sue Shellenbarger at the Wall Street Journal has a solid overview of work-life issues in the presidential campaign:
Ellen Galinsky, president of the nonprofit Families and Work Institute, a nonpartisan research organization, quizzed spokesmen for both candidates’ campaign organizations recently in a conference call with more than 100 corporate executives and advocates. Transcripts were published today on the Institute’s Web site. [Note: If you have the time, click over to the transcript; it makes for instructive reading.]

The transcripts pose some sharp contrasts. Sen. Obama supports expanding federal mandates for both paid and unpaid leave for employees, a spokeswoman said. He would move to require employers to provide seven paid sick days a year for employees who are ill, or who need to care for a sick family member. He backs expanding the Family and Medical Leave Act to cover more employees, including those at businesses with 25 employees instead of 50, as the current law requires. He’d expand allowable purposes for family leave, including more elder-care duties and children’s school matters. He’d provide some federal funds to encourage more states to mandate paid leave. Sen. Obama also backs setting up a formal process for employees to petition their employers for flexible hours, with employers mandated to at least reply.

Sen. McCain wants to make labor laws more flexible, to allow employers to pay workers for overtime in compensatory time off, rather than money. He advocates creating a bipartisan commission on workplace flexibility, to figure out how to overhaul and update labor and tax laws to promote flexible hours and telecommuting. He wouldn’t back expanding the family-leave law or mandating paid family or sick leave. “Sen. McCain has not been one to issue mandates on what a business would choose to pay” for leave, a spokeswoman said. He does propose to bring down health care costs to give businesses more latitude to provide paid leave if they choose.

Bottom line: The Republican Party is on the side of employers, the Democrats are on the side of parents, especially poor, working- class, and middle-class parents. As if you needed any more reasons to vote for Obama.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Fear vs. Hope

I'm writing this in a cafe near Market and Castro in San Francisco. The weather is perfect. I see people outside, ordinary people doing ordinary things. Then I turn back to the Internet and cruise through right-wing blogs, youtube footage, news coverage, and I don't know whether to laugh or take my family and run to Sweden.

The McCain campaign is now officially behaving like a cornered animal. Ta-Nehisi Coates, blogging at The Atlantic Monthly, puts it best: "Wow. They're just emptying the clip, throwing chairs, file cabinets, jabbing folks with keys and cell phones."

Thoughtful conservatives (and former conservatives) are starting to speak out against the hate and fear that the McCain campaign is hurling at Obama. It's actually somewhat inspiring, though I think they have waited far too long to speak out. I won't link to every piece here, but I can present a sampler.

David Frum writing at The National Review : "Those who press this Ayers line of attack are whipping Republicans and conservatives into a fury that is going to be very hard to calm after November. Is it really wise to send conservatives into opposition in a mood of disdain and fury for a man who may well be the next president of the United States, incidentally the first African-American president? Anger is a very bad political adviser. It can isolate us and push us to the extremes at exactly the moment when we ought to be rebuilding, rethinking, regrouping and recruiting."

Republican Gov. William Milliken
: "He is not the McCain I endorsed... I'm disappointed in the tenor and the personal attacks on the part of the McCain campaign, when he ought to be talking about the issues."

Lincoln Chafee, a former Republican U.S. senator from Rhode Island: "That's not my kind of Republicanism. I saw what Bush and Cheney did. They came in with a (budget) surplus and a stable world, and look what's happened now. In eight short years they've taken one peaceful and prosperous world, and they've torn it into tatters." As for McCain's choice of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin for his running mate, "there's no question she's totally unqualified."

Christopher Buckley in The Daily Beast: "John McCain has changed. He said, famously, apropos the Republican debacle post-1994, 'We came to Washington to change it, and Washington changed us.' This campaign has changed John McCain. It has made him inauthentic. A once-first class temperament has become irascible and snarly; his positions change, and lack coherence; he makes unrealistic promises, such as balancing the federal budget “by the end of my first term.” Who, really, believes that? Then there was the self-dramatizing and feckless suspension of his campaign over the financial crisis. His ninth-inning attack ads are mean-spirited and pointless. And finally, not to belabor it, there was the Palin nomination. What on earth can he have been thinking?"

Frank Schaeffer in the Baltimore Sun: "John McCain, you are no fool, and you understand the depths of hatred that surround the issue of race in this country. You also know that, post-9/11, to call someone a friend of a terrorist is a very serious matter. You also know we are a bitterly divided country on many other issues. You know that, sadly, in America, violence is always just a moment away. You know that there are plenty of crazy people out there. Stop! Think! Your rallies are beginning to look, sound, feel and smell like lynch mobs."

Andrew Sullivan at The Atlantic Monthly: "This election really is a classic battle between fear and hope. All Palin and McCain are offering right now is more fear: fear of a black man, fear of terrorism, fear of the other, fear of Iran, fear of the future, fear of Islam, fear of the truth. And above all: fear of defeat. On that last one, they're rational. Which side are you on?"

*** UPDATE *** Here's how McCain campaign spokesman Brian Rogers responded today to criticism of their tactics: “Barack Obama’s attacks on Americans who support John McCain reveal far more about him than they do about John McCain. It is clear that Barack Obama just doesn’t understand regular people and the issues they care about. He dismisses hardworking middle class Americans as clinging to guns and religion, while at the same time attacking average Americans at McCain rallies who are angry at Washington, Wall Street and the status quo."

In other words: Get ready for more of the same. Is it working? It seems that the answer is no.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

It's happening

Raw, mindless, frenzied hate:

In Clearwater, arriving reporters were greeted with shouts and taunts by the crowd of about 3,000. Palin then went on to blame Katie Couric's questions for her "less-than-successful interview with kinda mainstream media." At that, Palin supporters turned on reporters in the press area, waving thunder sticks and shouting abuse. Others hurled obscenities at a camera crew. One Palin supporter shouted a racial epithet at an African American sound man for a network and told him, "Sit down, boy."

...Palin, speaking to a sea of "Palin Power" and "Sarahcuda" T-shirts, tried to link Obama to the 1960s Weather Underground. "One of his earliest supporters is a man named Bill Ayers," she said. ("Boooo!" said the crowd.) "And, according to the New York Times, he was a domestic terrorist and part of a group that, quote, 'launched a campaign of bombings that would target the Pentagon and our U.S. Capitol,' " she continued. ("Boooo!" the crowd repeated.)

"Kill him!" proposed one man in the audience.

And as the economy crashes, it's only going to get worse. People are starting to look for scapegoats. Brace yourselves.

Palling around with terrorists

Sarah Palin continues to accuse Obama of "palling around with terrorists"--namely, Weatherman founder Bill Ayers, with whom Obama has a very, very tenuous connection.

Basically, it seems, over a decade ago both Ayers and Obama lived in the same Chicago neighborhood, they attended some of the same charity board meetings, and Ayers once hosted a house party for Obama when Obama was starting out in Chicago politics. Shocking. Not as bad as meeting with Saddam Hussein in order to supply him with weapons to kill Iraqi dissidents as well as Iranians, but still, absolutely shocking.

Well, I am standing up to admit that I'm even friendlier with terrorists than Obama. I met Ayers once, he and I have some mutual acquaintances, we share a book publisher, and I once spent an evening (in a farm in Waldo, FL) with two of Ayers' former comrades in the Weather Underground. You're shocked, I know.

Fortunately, I'm not running for President of the United States.

One of the things I've learned from my travels in radical America is that most veterans of 60s underground organizations deeply regret endorsing and participating in violence; they saw themselves as soldiers, but when the war was over, they moved on with their lives. Many of the survivors have gone on to make positive, even extraordinary, contributions to our society, not to mention becoming fathers, mothers, neighbors. In short, they're human beings, more passionate and committed than most; they made mistakes and they've had to live with them.

Ayers is actually a good example. If you go to his webpage, you'll see that "terrorist" is a pretty small part of his biography. He's still very much a left-winger, but after the fires of the 60s died, Ayers became a respected educator.

He's now a Distinguished Professor of Education and Senior University Scholar at the University of Illinois at Chicago, and author of many books with titles like A Kind and Just Parent: The Children of Juvenile Court (Beacon Press, 1997), The Good Preschool Teacher: Six Teachers Reflect on Their Lives, (Teachers College Press, 1989), and To Teach: The Journey of a Teacher, (Teachers College Press, 1993) "which was named Book of the Year in 1993 by Kappa Delta Pi, and won the Witten Award for Distinguished Work in Biography and Autobiography in 1995."

I'm sure that many people have worked with Ayers over the years, not just Obama, and many children have learned from him. You can demonize people like him as "terrorists" if you want to score a few quickie political points, but the truth is much more complicated.

Just to really drive the point home, here's a video of that vicious, radical terrorist Bill Ayers giving a talk to a group of new teachers:

Horrible, isn't it? And to imagine, the next president of the United States once sat in a room with him.

Two events and Two Interviews

1. This Friday, October 10, 2008 at 7 p.m., I'll be celebrating the opening of a new San Francisco bookstore and discussing the role of media in U.S. social movements on a panel with Jen Angel and Bob Ostertag. This event marks the opening of The Green Arcade, a new bookstore located at 1680 Market Street at Gough in San Francisco. This is intended to be a fairly informal discussion. If you're a Daddy Dialectic reader and you stop by, please introduce yourself to me!

2. On October 22, 2008, 6:00-7:30 p.m., Greater Good magazine (where I serve as senior editor) will host an evening with legendary psychologist Paul Ekman, who will discuss his new book with the Dalai Lama. Emotional Awareness: Overcoming the Obstacles to Psychological Balance and Compassion distills 40 hours of conversation between Ekman and the Dalai Lama about the roots of love, compassion, anger, and morality. At this free event at UC Berkeley, Ekman--one of the world's foremost authorities on emotions and facial expressions, and a member of Greater Good magazine's editorial board--will present highlights from their discussions, accompanied by photos and audio excerpts from his conversations with the Dalai Lama. A Q&A with the audience will follow. This event will occur at the UC Berkeley journalism school, North Gate Library, Hearst at Euclid Avenue; for more details and directions, see the j-school website.

3. I recently interviewed Harvard cognitive psychologist and bestselling author Steven Pinker and UC Santa Barbara neuroscientist (and member of the President's Council of Bioethics) Michael S. Gazzaniga about science policy, the legacy of the Bush administration, and what the next administration needs to do to restore trust in science. Though the Pinker interview will appear in print and I will be using the Gazzaniga interview for a forthcoming article, due to their timeliness we decided to post both discussions in Q&A format to our blog. You can read the Pinker interview here and the Gazzaniga interview here. We invite your comments.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Links, links, links

Paid Family Leave in the United States and Around the World: "Just 13 percent of U.S. employers offered paid paternity leave in 2008, according to a survey by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), down from 17 percent in 2007. (By comparison, SHRM found that only 15 percent of U.S. employers offer paid maternity leave.) But the news among the 100 Best Companies isn’t all about growth; the number of paid weeks offered to new dads last year averaged three weeks, only a week more than was offered on average five years ago." (Dads: I really recommend reading this article.)

Dear Lucy: "There will come a night when the phone rings for me to bail you out of jail and I will probably be angry. I will drive to the jail and mull over the possibility of smoking cigarettes again. But I hope that I’ll be able to remember the day you stormed a soccer field to devour the horizon. Because on that day your rebellion made me smile. You reminded me that I am truly inside your bones, testing the limits of what can be done."

A Mother’s Perspective on Palin, Disability Issues, and Reproductive Rights: "My son Ansel always hated the notion, growing up, that he should hang around with other 'disabled' kids. If I tried to hook him up with the other physically challenged boy in his school, or wanted to send him to muscular dystrophy camp, he resisted. 'Mom,' he'd complain, 'Just because I use a wheelchair doesn't mean I have anything in common with other people in wheelchairs.' He thought that, even though muscular dystrophy was a genetic illness he had, it was only a very small part of who he was. And I had to rather reluctantly agree."

Another way of thinking about "racism without racists": "Allow me the liberty of generalizing here--whites are most concerned about racial bigotry. That is, 'I don't believe in interracial marriage' or 'I don't want black people living next to me' or even 'I think black people are prone to crime.' Black folks don't like racial bigotry, but they're mostly concerned--not about racism as bigotry--but racism as oppression. That's a loaded word, I know. But let's go to the dictionary-- 'an unjust or cruel exercise of authority or power.' I think job discrimination falls under that category. I think redlining falls under that category... Blacks aren't so much worried about whether white people like them, they're worried about the fact that in New York City, their job prospects are about the same as white guy with a record. In that world you can have a guy who isn't a racist bigot--but in fact is a racist oppressor. It may be 'racism without racists' but it's still 'racism with racist oppressors.' Frankly, that terrifies me."

A CAMPAIGN JOHN MCCAIN WILL REGRET: If McCain were to accept the likelihood of loss, his incentives would be to ensure he falls with honor. Instead, he insists, understandably, on holding fast to the increasingly slim possibility of winning. But that requires an increasingly vicious and desperate strategy that is, by turns, racist, bigoted, fear-mongering, and dishonest. Barack Obama does not picnic with Bill Ayers or seek to plant bombs beneath the White House... McCain knows all this, but a recognition of that knowledge would require an acceptance of his likely loss. McCain will not accept that loss, and so he will deny this knowledge, and his campaign strategy will be shaped accordingly. This next month will be ugly. And it contains a great danger: If it works, McCain's vicious strategy will be purified in the clean light of victory."

Thursday, October 02, 2008

No, not live blogging, but...

Here, predictably, was my favorite part of the debate. From Biden:

Look, I understand what it's like to be a single parent. When my wife and daughter died and my two sons were gravely injured, I understand what it's like as a parent to wonder what it's like if your kid's going to make it.

I understand what it's like to sit around the kitchen table with a father who says, "I've got to leave, champ, because there's no jobs here. I got to head down to Wilmington. And when we get enough money, honey, we'll bring you down."

I understand what it's like. I'm much better off than almost all Americans now. I get a good salary with the United States Senate. I live in a beautiful house that's my total investment that I have. So I -- I am much better off now.

But the notion that somehow, because I'm a man, I don't know what it's like to raise two kids alone, I don't know what it's like to have a child you're not sure is going to -- is going to make it -- I understand.

I understand, as well as, with all due respect, the governor or anybody else, what it's like for those people sitting around that kitchen table. And guess what? They're looking for help. They're looking for help.

That felt true and heartfelt to me; I don't think he was faking it.

As long as I'm blogging, my opinion on the debate: Palin played up all her strengths and minimized her weaknesses. Good for her. Meanwhile, Biden was Biden, seasoned and real. Biden clearly won on the substantial points, which everyone, even the stalwarts of the right, expected. I wish that were more important. I predict a slight poll bump for McCain/Palin tomorrow, followed by more decline.

No good reason