Category Archives: People

Happy 70th Birthday, George Clinton!

Today in History

June 24th, 1901 marked the beginning of Pablo Picasso’s first Paris exhibition, at the age of 19. Later that year, he entered his famous “Blue Period”. The two paintings featured here are from 1901. Some of the distinctive elements of Picasso’s style are already apparent, but the style is also quite different from what we see in many of his later works. It’s fascinating to trace the development of such a genius and prolific creator.

Reducing Cain to Race

Here’s another example (this time from Jeffrey Goldberg, writing for Bloomberg and then repeating the sentiment briefly at The Atlantic) of the absurd, ongoing media narrative about Herman Cain. It’s very simple: attach something faintly condescending about pizza to Cain’s name as an epithet, and then attribute his appeal primarily to the fact that his blackness makes Tea Party types feel excused for their racist reactions to President Obama.

Presumably, this argument is meant to reveal both the racism of Tea Partiers and the way Cain caters to it, by painting Obama as a foreign outsider and himself as the All-American descendant of slaves. However, the relentless focus on Cain’s race in the media, instead of analysis or criticism of the appeal his policy proposals or personal resume might have for voters, strikes me as far more offensive. When the media talks only about his race, it’s as if they aren’t taking him seriously as a candidate, or acknowledging that he has any ideas that might matter to people. This is not to say that race can’t be part of the discussion, of course. Cain does not avoid discussing race, his childhood in the segregated South, or his experiences with racism. He is dismissive of Obama’s background, but on the grounds that Obama is somehow tainted by all his time spent in academia, as an intellectual outsider to the mainstream. I disagree with Cain if he is suggesting that this is a liability for Obama as a leader, but there is nothing racist or racism-excusing about Cain’s discussion of Obama or himself.

The topic of primary interest to the media, unfortunately, seems to be the candidate’s race. If we’re going to focus on biography, I’d find it far more interesting to hear about Cain’s background in the Navy, and why he pursued mathematics and computer science. I’d like to know why, after rising to a business vice-presidency, he chose to go back for training in a Burger King just like any other employee from the ground-level up. How did the insights gained help him to turn around the profitability of a whole region? I want to know what Cain learned during his time with the Federal Reserve in Kansas City that influences what he thinks about economic policy today. Indeed, one reason I’m so eager to hear more about these topics is that I disagree with many of Cain’s proposals, especially on tax policy, and I’d like to know what he’s thinking that I might have overlooked. For the average Republican, though, Cain’s ideas about business, taxes, and social policy are music to the ears, so it’s not surprising why they’d want to vote for him regardless of race.

In addition, despite disagreeing with Cain on various issues, I appreciate his clear, fearless, no-nonsense way of speaking. I feel that I know exactly what I’d be getting with this guy–like it or not–and that so seldom seems true of politicians. He has a personal charisma that has nothing to do with either his race or with how voters may feel about Obama. [Hey, just check out the picture above: how can you deny that hat, if nothing else?!] Cain comes across as an “elder statesman” who has expertise in many areas, knows how to get things done effectively, speaks frankly to the press, overcomes obstacles and is not easily thwarted, and is shaking up the field of otherwise unappealing conservative candidates. Given these obvious reasons for his appeal–even to those who disagree with much of his stated platform–why do so many in the media delight in dredging up smears about Tea Party racism, reducing Cain simply to his appeal as The Black Conservative, in order to grasp why he’s gaining popularity? Meanwhile, the real story is passing them by, and it does all of us a disservice.

Never in the Closet?

A mother writing a blog called “Raising My Rainbow”, about “Adventures in raising a slightly effeminate, possibly gay, totally fabulous son”, asks whether it is possible to raise an LGBT child who never has to be in the closet, “thus making the coming out process (with the immediate family) obsolete?”

Sure, it’s possible, but I don’t think it depends entirely on how accepting or encouraging the parents may be. Even children who know that their parents don’t care whether they are gay or straight may nevertheless choose to conceal this aspect of their lives from the parents at some point. We’re still living in a culture that stigmatizes being gay, children are still teased for appearing to be different in various ways, and as children grow older they’ll learn about political conflicts over gay marriage, adoption, and other equal rights issues. Hopefully, things are easier when a child has supportive parents and has known this all along, but the pressures to be and stay in the closet come from other powerful sources too. The question posed here was specifically about “the immediate family,” as opposed to having a gay public identity, but I suspect the same forces could cause children to enter the “closet” even around their parents.

I admire the mother who writes that blog because she embraces her son no matter how he chooses to be, and I’m glad she is asking challenging questions about gender expectations. However, I have a few concerns about the story presented so far. First, I’m not sure why being “possibly gay” is tied to the non-gender-conforming behaviors of one child, but is not apparently tied to the more traditional preferences and behavior of their other male child. Perhaps children whose gendered expressions differ more from the norm are also more likely to be gay–I don’t know if evidence supports such a claim. Regardless, many gay adults are largely “gender-conforming”, and presumably this is also true of children. It seems parents who want to accept their kids as they are should avoid attaching labels, even qualified labels about “possible” gayness, to one child or another based on perceptions about non-traditional gender.

Second, a resistance to such definitions and labels seems particularly important when the child in question is still very young (preschool age, I believe). Children may develop preferences or behaviors early on that they retain throughout adulthood, and they may go through various stages that are quickly abandoned. Their expressions and interests may or may not match up neatly with the gender categories and boundaries typically recognized by adults in a particular culture. Why then bother marking “rainbow” behavior so keenly at this young age?

Third, it’s not as if children make completely free choices about what to prefer or avoid without being influenced by the surrounding culture. When a preschooler shows a marked interested in Barbie dolls, is it more noteworthy that this is unusual for a boy, or that we choose to offer children playthings like Barbie dolls in the first place? Perhaps we take special note when a girl wants to play hockey or a boy wants to be a figure skater, because of cultural perceptions about those sports, but we simply don’t bother much over gender when it comes to swimming, skiing, or soccer. From the perspective of the child choosing an enjoyable activity, though, our gendered associations may mean very little.

I hope I’m raising my children in such a way that they would find it comfortable to be honest and open about themselves. In the interest of achieving that, I don’t want to preemptively interpret their behaviors or preferences through the lens of this culture’s traditional gender associations.

Weiner Press Conference

Well, time to eat some crow! Maybe I should be taking Breitbart’s news more seriously next time. I was truly surprised to hear Weiner confessing not only to sending the underpants picture, but to other such correspondence with different people. Honestly, gray underwear pictures make for a pretty silly scandal, but I suppose it still pays the media’s bills! I feel sorry for his wife, having to go through all of this in the public eye.

Scripps Spelling Bee

As a Nebraskan, I’m very excited to see that Jenny Solheim of Westside Middle School in Omaha has made it to the 6th round of the Scripps National Spelling Bee! She did not make it on to round 7, unfortunately, but she was among the top-26 national finalists, a terrific performance. Congratulations to Jenny and her family. I think all the kids who get that far deserve a major prize, not to mention great celebration. What if we treated these intellectual achievements the way we treat achievement in sports? I love sports and am glad we promote and celebrate them, but just imagine if we did something comparable with academics…

Weiner-gate

I’m not terribly impressed by this trumped-up scandal involving a picture tweeted from Rep. Weiner’s account.

a. Nobody should immediately trust a story first reported by Breitbart or his associates. Hasn’t the media learned this lesson already, after ACORN and Sherrod?

b. What was the actual foul supposed to be, assuming it’s true? That Rep. Weiner at some point had taken a picture of himself in his undies and put it on his internet photo storage site? That seems pretty darn tame. We don’t really know how or why the photo then appeared on his Twitter. In the worst case, he broadcast it himself by accident? Still not a big deal. Or someone posted it there as a political prank? Then he did nothing wrong at all.