May 30, 2007

more 'mos

I watched Coach Carter in my 9th grade class last week.1 Man, does that movie ever fail the Mo Movie Measure. There are two female characters with names, but they don't ever speak to each other. However, it does have a surprisingly respectable subplot about teen pregnancy. Ashanti and her boyfriend, the basketball star, fight over the fact that she's pregnant, break up temporarily, she has an abortion, they get back together. She's sad about it because she partly wanted to have the kid. Her boyfriend is mostly upset that he didn't know, so he couldn't support her. You know what's awesome, though? She doesn't get dumped, lose all her friends, go crazy, or die.

1. No, there was no valid educational purpose. Why do you ask?

May 23, 2007

10% is not enough

Dramatis Personae
Boy Genius is a junior who's talking to me about the Outward Bound course he might go on this Friday.
Vinny is his friend.
Mick is a 9th grader who has detention. He's in the same general crew as BG and Vinny.
I'm Ms. North. You know me already.

My classroom, after school.

Boy Genius: "Yo, Ms. North, this trip sounds bangin'."

Vinny: "Is there any 'mos going to be going on this trip?"

Ms. N: "Any what?"

V: "'Mos. Like, uh, ho - mo - sexuals."

N: ::Thanks for clearing that up::1 "I don't know.2 Why, you got a problem with gay people?"

V: "Not if they're girls..."

N: "Y'know, Vinny, it's good for you when guys are gay. 'Cuz if two guys are dating each other, it's less competition for you. They won't be going after the girls, and you can be all like Hello, Ladies. Really, you should get all your friends to be gay."3

V: "YO!! Ms. North! You totally right. I gotta get some skin for that one." /high five/ "Yo, Mick, do me a favor and be gay. Yo, T, get this."

Vinny walked all the way down the hall expounding to his friends about what I had said - evangelizing, if you will. I swear on my life I did not laugh until he was gone.

1. Ten bonus points on the final exam for anyone who can identify the trash fantasy author who uses that format for internal speech.
2. Not strictly speaking true, since one student is out and I'm going. Though homosexual isn't a label I have any affinity for.
3. Credit where due to Deb the Dramaturg for this line of 'reasoning.'

May 18, 2007

slightly revelatory

1. The Mathemagician and I have been recommending American Apartheid1 to anyone who will listen. Today I mentioned it to my dad and a friend from college. This book is what quantitative analysis is for. It argues, using quantitative data explained in incredibly clear terms, that African-American residential segregation in the US was created and is enforced by the actions of white homeowners and credit institutions, and that segregation necessarily acts to concentrate the effects of poverty so that the segregated community passes through various tipping points with respect to housing abandonment, property disinvestment, crime, educational attainment, and neighborhood solidarity. Past those tipping points, a spiral of decline creates and perpetuates an underclass, which eventually perpetuates itself. The book builds its argument so solidly that every time you wonder about something, something is addressed two pages later. It came out in 1995, though, and it doesn't talk about gentrification at all. I have a post on gentrification in mind in light of American Apartheid, but that will have to wait.

2. The Political Schmientist helped me realize what I want to do with my life.
I think I take things too literally sometimes. I've been walking around since I saw that picture saying, "A lighthouse operator! How do I become a lighthouse operator?" Even though I know that's not what I want: I want an interesting place to walk and swim, and a job where I feel good about myself and my work every day, and to fulfill some of my childhood fantasies about being important.

Do they even have lighthouse operators anymore?

1. Massey, Douglas and Nancy Denton. American Apartheid. Harvard University Press, 1998 (reprint of 1995, I think).
2. "xkcd - A webcomic of romance, sarcasm, math, and language." I haven't looked at the rest of it, but, um, YES.

May 14, 2007

another new thing that's just not that new

Apparently a number of people, including some Planned Parenthood volunteers, are concerned about the moral ramifications of using genetic testing to decide whether to have an abortion. Normally I would sympathize, but several are presenting this concern as being somehow in conflict with current abortion support.

People. Say it with me. My uterus belongs to me. Your uterus belongs to you. Legally, I'm not sure there should be any other relevant statement.

Yes, morally, deciding to abort a disabled (or gay or retarded or female) kid is, well, icky. And maybe, in certain cases, wrong. Abortion is morally sticky territory, being that involves the blurring of categories like 'alive' and 'not alive.' Generally, women make serious, carefully considered decisions about their personal, individual situations, which they know much much better than anyone else.

As a consequence, no law ever applies well in these situations. Outlaw abortion (or any type of abortion) and you end up with situations where someone is trying to figure out when a health exemption turns into a life exemption. Ridiculous if it weren't so awful.

For many pro-choicers, this is where it ends, and I think this focus on the legalism doesn't give a clear picture of how abortion actually happens in the real world. Worse, it obscures the other side of choice, which is the choice to have a child and have the resources to raise it. That type of choice is often less important for middle+ class (often white) feminists, and a huge deal for women of color and poor women. White feminists need to be on that shit, because it is also choice, and it is also a way in which women find their reproductive options limited and constrained by state action. And it will reduce the number of abortions: the world's lowest abortion rates are in countries (Scandinavia, the Netherlands) with easy access to abortion and contraception and a solid social safety net. Reducing abortion isn't the point, though: the point is to honor and expand people's choices.

This is the same schema that ought to be applied to genetic testing. Abortion should still be legal for any reason, but we should be working to make this a friendlier world for kids with Down syndrome or other disabilities or, hell, kids. Because outlawing some reasons to have abortion and keeping others will be a disastrous muddle; but helping people know what their options are and have more and better options? and being nicer to kids? Not problematic. People seem to have trouble understanding that not everything icky needs to be illegal. I mean really, if we're going to go that route, we might as well make canned clam sauce illegal.

May 13, 2007

traditional nuclear family

The cast
The Mathemagician - male, 26, math tutor
Deb the Dramaturg - female, 24?, underemployed dramaturg (duh)
The Hipsterest Grad Student (Pterest, with a silent p) - male, 23?, anthro grad student at the local Ivy
Mech - Deb's [male] Israeli partner, 30-something, interested in Judaism, landscaping, and sex education
The Gardener - my girlfriend, currently an apprentice at a rad farm in the suburbs
Me - female, 25, math teacher in hell

The back-story
Deb and the Mathemagician are the lesbian moms. Pterest is the adolescent son. I'm the sperm donor dad. Gardener is my gay male partner, and she and I are supposed to be positive male role models for Pterest, but are always falling down on the job. Gardener in particular is a deadbeat, says Deb, because when she's around she makes cake and indulges us all, then takes off on her next adventure when she feels like it. "Are you going to teach Pterest that people just leave??"

The situation
Pterest asks for advice about using some canned clam sauce on pasta. I say gross. We all get into a big [fake] argument about who's allowing him to eat what and how the moms indulge him too much and why aren't the Gardener and I better role models and why wasn't Pterest helping us clean the house anyway? Deb says, "I'm going out with my other partners now, and so is Mathemagician. You have to take care of our son."

This is what passes for theater around here.

May 11, 2007

in case you were wondering

Dear Clyde,
Thanks for your affection. However, when I leave my room in the morning, what I really want is to go to the bathroom in peace. I don't lock the door because it doesn't have a lock, not because I want you to come in and rub your head against my knee. Also, could you start getting out of my way when it's dark? I stepped on you three times yesterday. I'll try to be more careful, but you're the one with the night vision!
Your cat-mom

Dear 1st and 2nd period class,
I'm sorry I'm so grumpy. I really, really am. You all are great, and have learned vast amounts about exponential functions this week. I did notice.
Your Algebra II teacher

Dear 2nd period boys,
You guys need to shut up. Or stop coming to class, either way.

Dear 9th-grade boys,
I am so impressed with your turn-around the last two weeks. One of you got a 98 for the week - I think it's your first passing weekly grade, and your project looks awesome. It's really cute when you come in during 1st period to get the previous day's homework. Another of you just got into Upward Bound, which is one of the few programs related to the public schools that I can recommend without reservation. I'm so glad that I stuck around that day and was in the room when the coordinating teacher told you the paperwork was too late: another teacher and I ended up finagling you a second (third? fourth?) chance. I fully believe that you and all my other 9th grade boys will escape the sad fates of my 11th graders, become brilliantly successful, and save the world.
Your transitional math teacher

Dear English teacher across the hall,
Jesus H. Christ, please stop the gay-bashing.
Your semi-closeted co-worker

Dear student's older sister,
Fuck you. Ok, also: when your brother gets suspended for threatening to punch me, it's not helpful for your mom to call me up, tell me what a horrible teacher I am, then put you on the phone. Furthermore, screaming at me to tell you my room number will not make me give it to you. And you know what's not smart? Calling me back after I hang up and leaving a lengthy, profane message in which you identify yourself and threaten to kill me. That's called evidence.
Fuck you.

Dear 911 operators,
I've called you more in 2007 than in the rest of my life combined. Thanks for not making me feel stupid when I call and it's not a life-threatening emergency requiring immediate response. I sincerely hope to go back to my normal level of calling, though I understand that part of the increase is that I now know to call 911 when there's a traffic signal out at a busy intersection.
That woman you just talked to

Dear friends,
When you read this, please remember that the good things do exist. I sincerely doubt that the crazy sister is serious. I called the police anyway. They're sending a car out. I'm taking care of myself. Also, just fyi, the adrenaline rush of listening to that voice mail is crazy. However, I still think it's safe to go to school on Monday, and I promise that my personal safety is important. I also want you to know that until 5 pm, today was pretty good. Some kids learned some stuff.

May 7, 2007

show me what you got

One of the many pleasures of Lil' Mama's Lip Gloss is the clarity with which it summarizes a particular 3rd Wave narrative arc: lack of confidence solved by greater beauty, life revolutionized, goals accomplished, but of course, "it wasn't the lip gloss, it was you all along." Empowerful lip gloss.

Other pleasures: displays of talent from other dancers, including the boy who tears his glasses off. The ambiguously middle-school setting, complete with lunch trays, old-school iMacs, double-Dutch, and slightly dorky clothes. Lil' Mama's surprising butchness: rapping, the hat, grabbing her crotch. The universal technology, including video-shopped pin with Lil' Mama performing on it, videos playing on iMacs, even the flip book.

Also the beat.

May 1, 2007

we are the only people who have ever lived

"I was going to write about [whatever]" is probably the most over-used intro ever, at least out here on the internet. However. I've been meaning to write about a Times article from April 10 since April 10. Unlike many such inclinations, this one's stuck with me, like a burr that you can't get out of your bootlaces. Thus, today's expression of irritation.

The article in question is about sexual desire, and, specifically, about what determines the gender of the people you're attracted to. Ok. Let me just state, for the record, that gender doesn't affect attraction for me. At least not mostly. Gender presentation does, a little bit, but that's a story for a different time. So when the article suggests that desire may be pretty fluid for women, at least in terms of what our brains do, that rings kind of true. Anyway, I know a lot of women who are kind of flexible, and very few men (though I do know some). Not that that's worth mentioning in the newspaper.

But people! Come on! To argue that men have a fixed sexual orientation that cannot be changed, and that whatever the level of same-sex male desire is, it's fixed? That's just irresponsible ahistoricity. There are a lot of societies other than the modern-day US where men had sex with men at certain times, and with women at other times. See ancient Greece. Also Elizabethan England. Also present-day Sri Lanka, where my housemate says it's pretty accepted that young men will have all sorts of same-sex encounters, because female virginity at marriage is highly valued. Also the down-low cultures in the US. These guys are getting it up for men and for women, and actively choosing to have both kinds of relationships. I'm sure some of it is about limited options (e.g. jail and the British Navy, which was once said to run on rum, sodomy, and the lash), but it happens all over the place. Claiming that "Sexual orientation, at least for men, seems to be settled before birth" ignores the fact that 'sexual orientation' is a concept of the last 200 years at the absolute most. Before that, you did this, and you did that, but it wasn't about identity, and it might change. Unless the professors quoted in the article seriously believe that men in western/European/US culture have actually evolved genetic differences from their ancestors within the last 200 years (and while the Y chromosome evolves faster than the X, 200 years?!), they're looking directly in front of their noses and nowhere else.

Not that I was expecting that they would. Just, you know. That paragraph above? That's introductory stuff. Seems like you might could think of considering it if you're a professor and all.