Tuesday, October 20, 2009

It Takes a Father

Do children need fathers? The fatherless children quoted in the beginning of this Washington Post article seem to think so:
"Why don't you guys study like the kids from Africa?"

In a moment of exasperation last spring, I asked that question to a virtually all-black class of 12th-graders who had done horribly on a test I had just given. A kid who seldom came to class -- and was constantly distracting other students when he did -- shot back: "It's because they have fathers who kick their butts and make them study."

Another student angrily challenged me: "You ask the class, just ask how many of us have our fathers living with us." When I did, not one hand went up.

The article raises the question in my mind whether we are asking teachers to do more than is reasonable and that we need to focus on re-educating men to be good fathers:
"The real problem," says Glenn Hopkins, president of Alexandria's Hopkins House, which provides preschool and other services to low-income families, "is that school superintendents don't realize -- or won't admit -- that the education gap is symptomatic of a social gap."

Hopkins notes that student achievement is deeply affected by issues of family, income and class, things superintendents have little control over. "Even with best teachers in the world, they don't have the power to solve the problem," he says. "They naively assume that if they throw in a little tutoring and mentoring and come up with some program they can claim as their own, the gap will close."

Some fathers are making the decision on their own to do a better job:
For Junior Bailey, a senior in my Advanced Placement English class, school has never been a foreign place, a fact he attributes to his dad. "He has always been on me; it's been hard to get away with much," Junior said. He also told me that hardly any of his friends have their fathers living with them. "Their mothers are soft on them, and they don't get any push from home."

On parents' night a few weeks ago, I was thrilled to see Junior's dad, Willie Bailey, a star on T.C. Williams's 1983 basketball team, walk into my classroom. Willie told me that after seeing how the guys he grew up with were affected by not having their dads around, he promised himself that he would be a real presence in his son's life.

With more parents like Willie Bailey, someday schools might realistically talk about closing the gap between students' potential and their performance.

Hat Tip: Titus One Nine

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Somalia: Women whipped for wearing bras by Al-Shabaab Islamists

Both Reuters and the Mail Online reported on Friday that women are being whipped for wearing bras because they are against Islam when they make the breasts look firmer than they naturally are.

As the Mail Online put it:
A hardline Islamist group in Somalia has begun publicly whipping women for wearing bras that they claim violate Islam as they are 'deceptive'.

The insurgent group Al Shabaab has sent gunmen into the streets of Mogadishu to round up any women who appear to have a firm bust, residents claimed yesterday.

The women are then inspected to see if the firmness is natural, or if it is the result of wearing a bra.

If they are found wearing a bra, they are ordered to remove it and shake their breasts, residents said.

Reuters put it this way:
Residents said gunmen had been rounding up any woman seen with a firm bust and then had them publicly whipped by masked men. The women were then told to remove their bras and shake their breasts.

Both articles carry this quote:

"Al-Shabaab forced us to wear their type of veil and now they order us to shake our breasts," a resident, Halima, told Reuters, adding that her daughters had been whipped on Thursday.

"They first banned the former veil and introduced a hard fabric which stands stiffly on women's chests. They are now saying that breasts should be firm naturally, or just flat."

I would think that this demand that women remove their bras and shake their breasts would be against the modesty requirement of Islam. But the Reuters story includes a sad story about one man that sought to defend his sisters modesty:
Jailed for defending his sister

Abdullahi Hussein, a student in north Mogadishu, said his elder brother was thrown behind bars when he fought back a man who humiliated their sister by asking her to remove her bra.

"My brother was jailed after he wrestled with a man that had beaten my sister and forced her to remove her bra. He could not stand it," Hussein said.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Minneapolis: Harassment by Episcopal High School Students

At least four recent students of the elite Episcopal High School named The Breck School have been caught for the latest in two years of harassment of a former Breck student, Caleb Dayton. Caleb had attended the Breck School since kindergarten, and the harassment began when he transferred to another elite school, Blake, in junior year. The acts of harassment are described by the New York Times:
The house, its owners say, was festooned in toilet paper. It was bombarded with eggs. Pumpkins were smashed. Human waste was deposited on the front stoop, grease was smeared on a car, tampons were left behind. All the while, they say, taunting notes and phone calls arrived.

The Breck School explains its affiliation with the Episcopal Church here:
Breck was founded in 1886 by, and is still affiliated with, the Episcopal Church. The Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Minnesota chairs the Board and presides at the most important events of the year, such as Baccalaureate and Commencement. Breck often hosts the most important Diocesan events, such as the election of a new Bishop. Neither Breck nor the Diocese supports the other financially in any way.

The students learned the values of the Roach Motel Episcopal Church well: You can check out but you can never leave.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

San Francisco: Teenager's Problems with Father Smoking Pot

The Atlantic Monthly started a new feature a few months back, "What's Your Problem?" by Jeffrey Goldberg. Sort of like "Dear Abby", this includes questions from readers with Jeffrey Goldberg's advice. In the October issue, the column concluded with this exchange:
I’m in high school and my father smokes a lot of pot. He does it privately (in our living room), but I just found out that he buys his pot from one of my friends. My friend is in college, and he told everyone that he’s my father’s dealer. Should I tell my father to stop smoking pot, or to just stop buying from my friends?

J. P., San Francisco, Calif.

Dear J. P.,

What your father is doing is terribly selfish. It sounds as if you have more sense than he has. You must lay down the law: absolutely no buying illegal drugs from your friends. You are being raised in a catastrophically lenient household (has your father never heard the tragic story of Robert Downey Jr.?), and you’re going to have to be unequivocal. And by the way, how did he convince you that the living room is “private”?

I think this is terrible. J. P. asked, "Should I tell my father to stop smoking pot, or to just stop buying from my friends?" and Goldberg's answer seems to imply that he should "lay down the law: absolutely no buying illegal drugs from your friends." I hope Goldberg is just being funny. Otherwise I have no idea what the morality is here. Why is buying the illegal drug's from the child's friend somehow worse than using illegal drugs?

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Afghan Women to Code Pink "We Need US Troops"

The Christian Science Monitor is reporting that Code Pink came to Afghanistan to meet with feminists and learned that the women in Afghanistan want US troops to protect them from the Taliban.

'Code Pink' rethinks its call for Afghanistan pullout
In Afghanistan, the US women's activist group finds that their Afghan counterparts want US troop presence – as well as more reconstruction.
By Aunohita Mojumdar | Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor

Kabul, Afghanistan - When Medea Benjamin stood up in a Kabul meeting hall this weekend to ask Masooda Jalal if she would prefer more international troops or more development funds, the cofounder of US antiwar group Code Pink was hoping her fellow activist would support her call for US troop withdrawal.

She was disappointed.

Ms. Jalhal, the former Afghan minister of women, bluntly told her both were needed. "It is good for Afghanistan to have more troops – more troops committed with the aim of building peace and against war, terrorism, and security – along with other resources," she answered. "Coming together they will help with better reconstruction."

Rethinking their position

Code Pink, founded in 2002 to oppose the US invasion of Iraq, is one of the more high-profile women's antiwar groups being forced to rethink its position as Afghan women explain theirs: Without international troops, they say, armed groups could return with a vengeance – and that would leave women most vulnerable.

Though Afghans have their grievances against the international troops' presence, chief among them civilian casualties, many fear an abrupt departure would create a dangerous security vacuum to be filled by predatory and rapacious militias. Many women, primary victims of such groups in the past, are adamant that international troops stay until a sufficient number of local forces are trained and the rule of law established. (Read more about Afghan women's concerns here.)

During their weeklong visit here, in which they met with government officials, politicians, ministers, women activists, and civil society groups, the small team of Code Pink members had hoped to gather evidence to bolster their call for US troop withdrawal within two years, and capitalize on growing anxiety back home about the war.

While the group hasn't dropped its call for a pullout, the visit convinced them that setting a deadline isn't in Afghanistan's interests, say Ms. Benjamin and fellow cofounder Jodie Evans.

"We would leave with the same parameters of an exit strategy but we might perhaps be more flexible about a timeline," says Benjamin. "That's where we have opened ourselves, being here, to some other possibilities. We have been feeling a sense of fear of the people of the return of the Taliban. So many people are saying that, 'If the US troops left the country, would collapse. We'd go into civil war.' A palpable sense of fear that is making us start to reconsider that."

Code Pink says it will continue to oppose sending more troops to Afghanistan – a move facing heated debate in Washington – and advocate for more funding for aid and humanitarian projects instead.

The group's visit coincided with a "peace trialogue" organized last week by the Delhi Policy Group that brought together women of Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India. Some participants of the meeting, who have traditionally seen demilitarization as a key to peacebuilding, also faced strong opposition from local activists when they tried to include demilitarization in a statement published at the end of the gathering.

"In the current situation of terrorism, we cannot say troops should be withdrawn," Shinkai Karokhail, an Afghan member of Parliament and woman activist, told them. "International troop presence here is a guarantee for my safety."

Hat Tip: The Two Malcontents

Obama appointed activist “inspired” by NAMBLA supporter to protect the nation’s children

Zombie's blog today provides some very interesting research showing that Kevin Jennings, Obama's Safe Schools Czar, praised Harry Hay, a leading advocate for Man-Boy Love. Zombie found Harry Hay to be so linked to NAMBLA (North American Man Boy Love Association) that he was unable to find information about any NAMBLA conference which Harry Hay didn’t attend. Zombie found that Harry Hay gave appearances at and gave speeches at every known NAMBLA conference, and spoke out publicly in NAMBLA’s defense, and wrote a blurb for a NAMBLA books. So why was Kevin Jennings praising Harry Hay?

Read Zombie's blog post here.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Prop 8 Backers Must Release Strategy Documents to Opponents

The San Francisco Chronicle has an article this morning that has huge ramifications for anyone opposing same-sex marriage. Communications that indicate prejudice against homosexuals may be used to over-rule laws against same-sex marriage.

Judge to Prop. 8 backers: Turn over your papers

(10-02) 18:10 PDT SAN FRANCISCO -- A federal judge has ordered sponsors of California's Proposition 8 to release campaign strategy documents that opponents believe could show that backers of the same-sex marriage ban were motivated by prejudice against gays.

Plaintiffs in a federal suit seeking to overturn Prop. 8 - two same-sex couples, a gay-rights organization and the city of San Francisco - contend that the measure's real purpose was to strip a historically persecuted minority group of rights held by the majority.

If the courts find that the ballot measure was motivated by discrimination, they could strike it down without having to decide whether gays and lesbians have a constitutional right to marry.

"The intent or purpose of Prop. 8 is central to this litigation," Chief U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker declared Thursday in requiring backers of the November 2008 measure to give the opposing side their internal campaign communications.
Backers' argument

A day earlier, Prop 8's sponsors told Walker in a court filing that their opponents' claim of anti-gay motivation is legally irrelevant.

In a final round of arguments seeking to uphold the measure without a trial, defenders of the ballot measure said California voters were entitled to amend their Constitution to preserve the traditional, male-female definition of marriage for numerous reasons - including a belief that "extending marriage to same-sex couples carries a risk of weakening the institution of marriage."

Because there is no constitutional right to same-sex marriage, it wouldn't matter if the plaintiffs could show that Prop. 8 "was also accompanied by irrational attitudes such as animus," or prejudice against lesbians and gays, said attorney Charles Cooper.

The initiative, approved by 52 percent of the voters, overturned the state Supreme Court's May 2008 ruling that gave gays and lesbians the right to marry in California. The state court upheld Prop. 8 as a valid state constitutional amendment in May but also ruled that 18,000 same-sex couples who married before the election were legally wed.

Walker has scheduled an Oct. 14 hearing in San Francisco on whether to dismiss the suit or let it go to trial in January.
Judge looks for bias

In previous rulings, Walker has said the constitutionality of Prop. 8 is not an open-and-shut legal question but could depend on a variety of factors, including whether backers were biased against gays and lesbians.

He amplified that view Thursday in ordering Prop. 8's sponsors to disclose documents, including notes and e-mails between campaign officials and consultants, that discussed their strategy and the message they wanted to send to the voters.

Although "voters cannot be asked to explain their votes," Walker said, a ballot measure's authors and strategists can be scrutinized to see what their motives were.

He cited a magazine article last year by the heads of the public relations firm that managed the Prop. 8 campaign in which they discussed their strategy, including plans to show how advocates of same-sex marriage would indoctrinate schoolchildren. Walker said the article undermined the campaign's insistence that its strategy discussions were confidential.
Bad precedent?

Andrew Pugno, a lawyer for the Prop. 8 sponsors, said Friday it was unprecedented to allow "the losing side of a campaign to pry into the most intimate strategy discussions of the winning side."

"This will make any citizen group think twice before attempting a ballot initiative," Pugno said. He said his clients might ask a federal appeals court to intervene.

A lawyer for the plaintiffs, Theodore Boutrous, said Walker's order would allow them to see whether the justifications Prop. 8's defenders are now claiming for the measure were part of the campaign or after-the-fact rationales.

"Our position is not dependent on the notion that everyone who voted for Proposition 8 was acting out of bad motives," Boutrous said. He said the plaintiffs would look for "evidence that bolsters our argument that Proposition 8 was irrational and disfavors a group in a way that's unconstitutional."

Friday, October 2, 2009

Pew Poll Confirms Support for Abortion Has Declined

New Pew Poll results from August confirm the March 2009 Pew poll results showing a decline in support for Abortion. A clear majority, over 50%, answered in 2008 that they thought abortion should be legal in all/ most cases. Now this year less than 50% have answered legal in two polls in two polls in a row:

August 2009
Illegal 45
Legal 47

March 2009
Illegal 44
Legal 46

Late October 2008
Illegal 40
Legal 53

Mid October 2008
Illegal 36
Legal 57

August 2008
Illegal 41
Legal 54