On One Hand

March 28, 2010

Out Front Colorado’s Stuff Gay People Like: Being Shirtless

Filed under: culture — ononehand @ 10:00 am

If a straight man suddenly strips off his shirt in public, it means he wants to fight somebody. Either that or he just found out there’s a bee in it. But the bottom line is that wearing shirts is considered the norm for most straight guys.

Not so for gay men, who take great pleasure in letting everyone know when they’ve been to the gym, and reminding them of it, again, and again, and again. A gay man requires little provocation to bare skin and any of the following factors suggest shirtlessness: It’s a nightclub. He’s jogging. It’s a sunny summer day. Somebody shouted “strip!” A webcam is on. He’s just been brutally defeated at beer pong. It’s his Connexion profile. He’s in California. He wants to get back at his boyfriend, or ex-boyfriend. He is in a gay-themed advertisement. His drunk friend made an unserious comment about him taking off clothes so now he has to make her regret it. He’s at Pride. Someone is taking a picture. He is dancing. It is part of his Halloween costume. He wants you to see his tattoo.

You get the idea.

And when it comes to willingness to take off pants in public, gay guys are light years ahead of straight guys. (more…)

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March 26, 2010

Protected: A Case Study in The Complexities of Being Against Racism

Filed under: Uncategorized — ononehand @ 3:25 pm

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March 24, 2010

Protected: Stuff Gay People Like: The Full List

Filed under: Uncategorized — ononehand @ 10:59 pm

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March 23, 2010

Healthcare Reform: Post-Mortem

Filed under: culture,elections,policy — ononehand @ 1:05 am
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Two comments; first: Yeah! We did it! Change!

And then: what the hell happened?

We had a popular new Democratic president with outstanding rhetorical skills, elected with the biggest percentage of voters in 20 years – largely on plans to reform healthcare – allied by the biggest Democratic majority in congress since 1976 – and in spite of that it took a year-long, caustic and fierce battle to the brink of political suicide to enact a bill that is so moderate and incremental that a liberal Republican could have thought of it. Indeed it has key elements John McCain supported in 2008 and looks somewhat like what Mitt Romney enacted in Massachusetts.

I’ll say it again: “Obamacare” is moderate and incremental. It doesn’t go as far to cover everyone as we will need to go in the future, and some will say it doesn’t even go far enough for now. Yet we’ve come out with a country more divided, with a more fearful status-quo, than we have seen since the Civil Rights era.

Lets create a scale of government involvement in a healthcare system for perspective. A totally government-run and non-optional healthcare system where all doctors and healthcare workers are government employees – say Cuba’s system – is ranked as 100 in government involvement. A totally unregulated “Ayn Rand’s Dream” free-market system where you only get what you can personally pay for even if you’re dying, and providers can set whatever price they want, will be a 0 in government involvement.

That would mean “Obamacare” moved us from about a 25 to a 35. Most of the developed world is between 50 and 90.

The National Health Service in the U.K., in which the government employs all doctors but a small minority of citizens still choose private plans and there are small fees for most services, would be a 95. Canada’s government-insured system where the government pays for care but you get it from private doctor’s offices and hospitals, would be about a 60 with some government and some market. A private insurance system that contains one “public option” letting people buy insurance from the government if they want – a true balance letting individuals opt for a government or private system – would be about a 45. Switzerland’s system with compulsory health insurance from nonprofit private companies (banned by law from earning a profit on their services) would be about a 40. America’s pre-2010 system, which guarantees care in worst-case scenarios where you are broke but dragged to the hospital bleeding, and provides mostly-free care to seniors, some poor people and veterans – but is mostly market-run and leaves many uninsured – would be about a 25. The new system, when fully initiated after 2014, will ensure that anyone can some level of routine care if they want it and enforces penalties to encourage everyone to do so, but from private companies that earn lots of profit for providing care. It’s a 35.

The changes will make a big difference for many uninsured and under-insured Americans, but the post-“Obamacare” American healthcare system is still one of the most right-leaning and market-oriented systems in the developed world. And the right-leaning half of the country is treating it like the plague.

So, what the hell happened!?

One word: politics. (more…)

Healthcare Reform Post-Mortem: What Happened, and Where we Are Now

Filed under: Uncategorized — ononehand @ 12:48 am
Tags:

Two comments; first: Yeah! We did it! Change!

And then: what the hell happened?

We had a popular new Democratic president with outstanding rhetorical skills, elected with the biggest percentage of voters in 20 years – largely on plans to reform healthcare – allied by the biggest Democratic majority in congress since 1976 – and in spite of that it took a year-long, caustic and fierce battle to the brink of political suicide to enact a bill that is so moderate and incremental that a liberal Republican could have thought of it. Indeed it has key elements John McCain supported in 2008 and looks somewhat like what Mitt Romney enacted in Massachusetts.

I’ll say it again: “Obamacare” is moderate and incremental. It doesn’t go as far to cover everyone as we will need to go in the future, and some will say it doesn’t even go far enough for now. Yet we’ve come out with a country more divided, with a more fearful status-quo, than we have seen since the Civil Rights era.

Lets create a scale of government involvement in a healthcare system for perspective. A totally government-run and non-optional healthcare system where all doctors and healthcare workers are government employees – say Cuba’s system – is ranked as 100 in government involvement. A totally unregulated “Ayn Rand’s Dream” free-market system where you only get what you can personally pay for even if you’re dying, and providers can set whatever price they want, will be a 0 in government involvement.

That would mean “Obamacare” moved us from about a 25 to a 35. Most of the developed world is between 50 and 90.

The National Health Service in the U.K., in which the government employs all doctors but a small minority of citizens still choose private plans and there are small fees for most services, would be a 95. Canada’s government-insured system where the government pays for care but you get it from private doctor’s offices and hospitals, would be about a 60 with some government and some market. A private insurance system that contains one “public option” letting people buy insurance from the government if they want – a true balance letting individuals opt for a government or private system – would be about a 45. Switzerland’s system with compulsory health insurance from nonprofit private companies (banned by law from earning a profit on their services) would be about a 40. America’s pre-2010 system, which guarantees care in worst-case scenarios where you are broke but dragged to the hospital bleeding, and provides mostly-free care to seniors, some poor people and veterans – but is mostly market-run and leaves many uninsured – would be about a 25. The new system, when fully initiated after 2014, will ensure that anyone can some level of routine care if they want it and enforces penalties to encourage everyone to do so, but from private companies that earn lots of profit for providing care. It’s a 35.

The changes will make a big difference for many uninsured and under-insured Americans, but the post-“Obamacare” American healthcare system is still one of the most right-leaning and market-oriented systems in the developed world. And yet the more conservative 40 percent of the country is treating it like the plague.

So, what the hell happened!?

One word: politics.

To some extent there are Americans who would prefer our healthcare system to be closer to a 10 or 15 in government control, so of course they’re going to be bothered by any change that makes the system more universal or more regulated. But they’re a fringe that doesn’t manifest highly in polls – perhaps no more than 25 percent of the country – so what’s going on with these caustic remarks from independent voters, and this anger at Democrats for passing the bill?

Americans have a cultural preference for balance. Some libertarians and liberals are drawn to ideological consistency, but the the crucial bloc that usually decides which direction the country moves in prefers a system that draws a little influence from any two sides of opposition.

The manifestations of a desire for balance are clear and predictable in our recent history: Americans like divided government, and the party that has control of the White House will inevitably, eventually lose seats in Congress. We like Republicans who come from liberal states and Democrats who come from conservative states. Americans usually elect a new president from the opposite party from the last one, and there haven’t been three presidents in a row from the same party since 1928 when Herbert Hoover followed Calvin Coolidge and Warren Harding. Candidates always win votes by proving “bipartisan” credentials and a willingness to hear out the other side, whether the sentiment is genuine or not.

Sometimes Americans’ view of “balance” is skewed by privilege or history. For example, the word “feminist” means a belief that women should have equal rights and opportunities compared to men, but most people consider feminism an “extreme” word – though equality would suggest feminist ideals represent a perfect balance. A lot of Americans think 25% representation from women in Congress is reasonably diverse and sounds about right, even though a straightforward analysis would consider it blatantly lopsided. Similarly, it is hard to find middle ground when it comes to issues involving race and sexual orientation when history is full of white and heterosexual dominance – most peoples’ compromise position ends up looking more like milder forms of prejudice, rejecting past generations’ attitudes but still making life harder for minorities than it is for most people. They like black people as long as most of the black person’s friends are white, though they’d never have the same standard for white people. They’re OK with gay people as long as the gay person doesn’t act “too flamboyant,” etc. (It’s especially hard for people to find balance when the unfairness tilts in their own favor.)

Americans try to find the middle ground, so when they hear two parties taking two perspectives on a single issue, they assume that both are somewhat right and somewhat wrong, and shoot for the middle. The debate over healthcare reform was no different, and Americans wanted something both Democrats and Republicans would like.

To this cause, Republicans found a brilliant winning strategy to have an unfair amount of influence in the debate. That is: keep crying “government takeover!” and “socialism!” and “leftism!” on healthcare no matter how many items Democrats give up on to move their policy in your direction, and most voters will keep trying to find the “middle” and decide the Democratic plan is too liberal, too much, too fast, or whatever. While all the while the voters are unaware they are moving to the Right compared to where they were months ago. In the end you come up with a product that is centrist or even center-Right, that people would have loved in the beginning, but they still end up thinking it’s an overreach by the left and conclude we need more Republicans in government. A win for Republicans, right? Current polls would say so. That’s why the first strategy of Republicans in congress was to unify their caucus against the bill, ensuring that not a single one of them voted for it, giving the appearance that the finished bill was totally unpalatable to anyone who isn’t on the far-left.

My guess is that this Republican strategy will backfire. They drooled over polls saying a majority of Americans oppose the bill, but a portion of those Americans opposed it because they wanted a more liberal and more far-reaching bill, which surely doesn’t make them Republican allies.

Significant numbers of other hesitant voters will be lost too. The problem is that keeping up the current rhetoric is painfully exhausting, and when the venom finally does die down, there will be less to distract voters from the bill itself, which is hardly leftist at all, and certainly not a government “takeover.” Meanwhile, the people the Republicans rallied to put out on their front lines – the Tea Partiers and the reactionary wing of Congress – are not an example of “balance” that defines most Americans, who will be at a loss to figure out who represents a reasonable counterpart to Obama and to moderate Democrats.

Newspapers will publish “what’s in it for you” stories listing some concrete things that the bill has to offer:

Many Americans age 23-26 will suddenly find themselves covered by their parents’ health insurance plans again; a huge benefit to them, and a big relief for their parents too. Many Americans who are just a little older will find themselves finally able to buy insurance due to generous subsidies that decrease with income. Those with pre-existing conditions will suddenly be able to get coverage and others will be saved from being dropped. A bunch of seniors with poor drug coverage will get checks for $250 to help them pay for it, and it’s hard to be oblivious to a check in the mail. Employees in small companies will be more likely to get health coverage since their company will be assisted by the government if they provide it and fined by the government if they don’t – those who do want to provide coverage will likely be grateful. People seeking individual plans will be able to choose from plans available to people in other states, putting some pressure on insurance companies to keep rates lower and stay competitive.

Most importantly, it will be illegal for insurance companies to deny coverage to those with existing conditions, so it will be possible for people with HIV or diabetes to buy health insurance individually. And it will be nearly impossible for insurance companies to randomly drop you, as they have done to many customers before when those customers got sick. And everyone will be required by law to buy health insurance or pay a fine, something they may resent at first but will likely get used to and be glad they have.

Most people will find these changes to be good, and enough of them will be personally helped that they’ll end up liking the bill. And the fact that Republicans unanimously opposed it won’t make Republicans look very “balanced.”

If I have to make a call, I’d guess that two weeks from now this “unpopular” bill will be seen as a positive step by a slim majority of Americans. The wording a poll uses will matter a lot, but I think that by November around 55 percent of Americans will like the bill, which will be a huge victory for Obama and Democrats. I could be wrong, and Republicans could have a surprising endurance in keeping up their current rhetoric, but my guess is that a small upward tick will result in a few of the more moderate Republicans backing off and providing the “balance” that Americans need to re-position themselves more in favor of healthcare reform.

March 17, 2010

Protected: Blast from the Past

Filed under: Uncategorized — ononehand @ 9:34 pm

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March 10, 2010

The Current Debate Over American Education is Classist

Filed under: culture,social justice — ononehand @ 9:29 pm
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You can’t convince me how you believe in the potential of kids from low-income, failing schools, and then in the same breath argue that people who grew up in those schools are bad candidates to be teachers.

But that’s what a recent article in Newsweek seems to do, in a discussion of the need to fire teachers whose students underperform, and the need to recruit new teachers who came from more prestegious colleges.

I don’t dispute the article’s sentiment towards bad teachers, but this quote from a sidebar in the Newsweek article caught my eye: in “2000, 37% of teachers [came] from colleges with SAT scores in the lowest 5%,” explaining that this happens because teaching is an “undesirable” fall-back job.

The SAT, like the ACT and every standardized test, does not measure intelligence: it measures the value of your pre-college education. So if the public education system is flawed – and the Newsweek article argues yes, it is – it seems ridiculous to be judging students or their colleges on what their SAT scores were or what their school’s average SAT scores were. Consider also that a college with SAT scores in the lowest 5% are not representing the lowest 5% of students, but rather, the lowest 5% SAT-scoring colleges, which still select from higher-performing high school graduates and represent closer to the 50th percentile of all students.

Essentially, the statement in Newsweek is like saying low-income people who graduated from urban schools with average test scores and worked their way through school at the city college are a black stain on the educational system as teachers, compared to students who went to major universities and lived in the dorms. This is a prime example of the politics of privilege.

Yes, there are myrad problems with schools in America, which is why, as Newsweek itself cites, kids who grow up in low-income households underperform middle-class students, and black and hispanic kids underperform white kids in public schools year after year. It has been a permanent problem plaguing the country and proving that some injustice is taking place. And while teacher incompetence might be a factor in school districts everywhere, it does not explain the fullness of this disparity.

Poverty is one of the most obvious unaddressed factors here, but here’s something else that stands a chance of explaining much of this issue. The vast majority of teachers are white and come from middle-class backgrounds. In schools where the majority of students are Hispanic or black, the white teachers are a “ruling class” of sorts in an intrinsically sensitive situation as the ones making crucial decisions for and wielding authority over people who are different from them. We know that to grow up white in America is to be instilled with subtle and overt cues that your own culture, values and experiences are superior; considering the power a teacher has over her or his students, it would be so easy for conscious and unconscious biases to affect the students. Teacher training programs often pay some lip-service to diversity, but cannot be truly effective unless they are led and organized by people from diverse backgrounds who aren’t afraid to “go there.”

Perhaps the fact that white, middle-class people who have not been thoroughly trained in anti-racism dominate the American teaching class is responsible for some of the following facts: (more…)

The Current Debate over American Education is Classist

Filed under: Uncategorized — ononehand @ 9:21 pm

You can’t convince me how you believe in the potential of kids from low-income, failing schools, and then in the same breath argue that people who grew up in those schools are bad candidates to be teachers.

But that’s what a recent article in Newsweek seems to do, in a discussion of the need to fire teachers whose students underperform, and the need to recruit new teachers who came from more prestegious colleges.

I don’t dispute the article’s sentiment towards bad teachers, but this quote from a sidebar in the Newsweek article caught my eye: in “2000, 37% of teachers [came] from colleges with SAT scores in the lowest 5%,” explaining that this happens because teaching is an “undesirable” fall-back job.

The SAT, like the ACT and every standardized test, does not measure intelligence: it measures the value of your pre-college education. So if the public education system is flawed – and the Newsweek article argues yes, it is – it seems ridiculous to be judging students or their colleges on what their SAT scores were or what their school’s average SAT scores were. Consider also that a college with SAT scores in the lowest 5% are not representing the lowest 5% of students, but rather, the lowest 5% SAT-scoring colleges, which still select from higher-performing high school graduates and represent closer to the 50th percentile of all students.

Essentially, the statement in Newsweek is like saying low-income people who graduated from urban schools with average test scores and worked their way through school at the city college are a black stain on the educational system as teachers, compared to students who went to major universities and lived in the dorms. This is a prime example of the politics of privilege.

Yes, there are myrad problems with schools in America, which is why, as Newsweek itself cites, kids who grow up in low-income households underperform middle-class students, and black and hispanic kids underperform white kids in public schools year after year. It has been a permanent problem plaguing the country and proving that some injustice is taking place. And while teacher incompetence might be a factor in school districts everywhere, it does not explain the fullness of this disparity.

Poverty is one of the most obvious unaddressed factors here, but here’s something else that stands a chance of explaining much of this issue. The vast majority of teachers are white and come from middle-class backgrounds. In schools where the majority of students are Hispanic or black, the white teachers are a “ruling class” of sorts in an intrinsically sensitive situation as the ones making crucial decisions for and wielding authority over people who are different from them. We know that to grow up white in America is to be instilled with subtle and overt cues that your own culture, values and experiences are superior; considering the power a teacher has over her or his students, it would be so easy for conscious and unconscious biases to affect the students. Teacher training programs often pay some lip-service to diversity, but cannot be truly effective unless they are led and organized by people from diverse backgrounds who aren’t afraid to “go there.”

Perhaps the fact that white, middle-class people who have not been thoroughly trained in anti-racism dominate the American teaching class is responsible for some of the following facts:

• Statistically, black and Latino students recieve receive harsher punishments for misbehavior in school compared to white students, which has costly psychological effects that impact learning.

• As an ultimate extension of this problem, black students are more likely to be suspended or expelled from school than students of any other race, resulting in absence from the classroom that causes them to fall behind in learning.

• Statistically, black students – particularly boys – are more likely to be placed in special ed when they don’t need to be, which results in confusion and reduced learning among those who don’t belong there.

• Statistically, black and Latino students, as well as female students, are less likely to be recommended for gifted programs by their teachers. Many schools in poor districts are less likely to have gifted programs in the first place.

These are all extreme cases that have measurable proof, but I could have brought in many more links. And if all these things are true, I think it would indicate that more subtle attitudes that privilege whiteness, “giftedness” and middle-class experience are definitely present dividing students and teachers.

Teachers across America, who are mostly white, are obviously not adequately trained to handle a racially-diverse, income-diverse and ability-diverse group of students. This is not to dog on teachers; it just seems to be the fairest and most precise explanation for why it is consistently the nonwhite and low-income students who have lower average test scores and struggle with the lowest graduation rates. Teachers are verifiably misenterpreting social and cultural differences as learning disabilities. Teachers are verifiably singling out people of color for extra dicipline. Teachers are verifiably less likely to recognize hard work and achievement in students who are not white. The way that these things work is subtle: the actions that perpetrate inequalities may be subconscious and un-self-recognized. You may not be able to easily single out individual teachers and say “you’re racist” or “you’re sexist,” but the way the system ia working makes it so: the facts are indesputable.

So this other Newsweek excerpt struck me as well: “About 20 years ago, a Princeton senior named Wendy Kopp wrote her senior thesis proposing an organization to draw graduates from elite schools into teaching poor kids. Her idea was to hire them for just a couple of years, and then let them move on to Wall Street or wherever. Today, Teach for America sends about 4,100 grads, many from Ivy League colleges, into inner-city schools each year.”

I’ve written about my issues with the Teach for America program in the past, but the way it was put here struck me as an enormous conceit that parallels my thoughts on privilege in education. Somehow, it suggests, ivy-leaguers are so genetically or dispositionally superior to everyone else that their 6 weeks of training before they teach is superior to the years of teaching experience and cultural experience shared by the teachers already in that district. It suggests that 22-year-old Berkely graduates are the crucial element that will revolutionize poor school districts and communities. It reminds me of the white hero narrative we often see in American film (acknowledging that TFA members are mostly but not all white and their students are not all people of color), and it turns out that research varies drastically when it comes to the corps’ effectiveness for students and on its ability to empassion its teaching staff. (Naturally, the studies the organization cites about itself are only the positive ones.) A young person’s passion and enthusiasm may contribute something positive to students, and the organization is good at instilling its corps with the most up-to-date research on pedagogy, which a 10-year teacher may not have – but while everyone seems to want badly for the program to work, communities it serves can be ambivalent.

The Internet has countless hellish accounts of privileged people importing to low-income schools and hating it, which represent extreme cases where students and schools were very clearly caught up in something damaging. Ultimately, I think that the exact opposite is the answer to work on education in America: the thing we need to do is recruit and train people more from within that community to teach there, and allow them to take crucial roles in training prospective teachers. Teaching should not be a “fall back” for suburban people who don’t know what to do with their degree, it should be a way for people from poor communities to demonstrate their own success and inspire students who identify with them.

As for middle class suburban people who do want to travel to low-income districts to “make a difference,” there needs to be an affirmative-action program for the faculty of every teacher education program in America, and programs need to focus not on connecting college students with diverse students, but on connecting them to diverse teachers who can model, from personal experience, better ways to approach “diversity.”

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