sex sux

13 06 2009

When I started working as a teacher in the Recovery School District in the fall, there were a lot of things I wasn’t really prepared to see. Fights breaking out in the hallway, for instance, and graffiti on the walls of the hallway scrawling out prison release dates for assorted used-to-be students. And then, on my second day of teaching, I saw for the first time in my life a pregnant girl wearing a high school uniform.

At the time, predictably, I looked her as a symbol of tough times in a tough city; more of a visual phenomenon than a human being, with her stomach resembling a taut beach ball, and her definitive waddle in place of the usual sassy high school stride. “Wow, this must be a REALLY rough school,” I thought; but I didn’t think much more about it.

Fast forward three months. Round bellies had become a lot more commonplace among the female student body at my high school. “Summer accidents,” they were called under hushed voices, and sometimes out loud; testaments to the consequences of a long and boring season off. One day, the woman who came in once a week to help the mothers-to-be in the Family Center called all the names of the pregnant students over the loudspeaker. I counted the names as they came: 29. If there were 300 students in total at this high school, and 150 of those were female, that meant almost 20% of all the girls who went to my school were knocked up. In other words, statistically, one out of every five female students I’d teach that year would be pregnant.

We must ask, of course, if there is a possibility that these young women are INTENDING to get pregnant. According to a nationwide study conducted by the Guttmacher Institute in 2006, 86% of all teen pregnancies are unintended; so these girls probably didn’t jump for joy when the stick turned blue. That leads me to believe that these young women (and the young men who charm themselves into their lives) — who are not by any means, I promise you, inherently stupid — are woefully and embarrassingly uninformed about what happens when people have sex.

As NPR put it in an article way back in 2004,

The debate over whether to have sex education in American schools is over. A new poll by NPR, the Kaiser Family Foundation, and Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government finds that only 7 percent of Americans say sex education should not be taught in schools.

The article goes on to assert that there are only “pockets of controversy” surrounding what kind of sex education should be taught. In some states — Vermont, for instance, — students can expect to begin learning about sex in the fourth grade, and will continue learning about it until they graduate from high school, with a working knowledge of dozens of contraceptive methods and their success rates. In other states, though — Louisiana is one of many examples — not only is sexual education not required to be taught in public school, it may only be taught in a federally funded A-H definition of abstinence-only education.

A lot of states take advantage of the highly censored Title V abstinence-only funding, and it’s been going on for a long time (long enough for it to be officially be considered outdated, in my opinion). The federal government first began supporting these programs in 1982, and then stepped it up a notch in 1996, when President Clinton’s welfare reform law included a clause for $50 million a year to be spent on abstinence-only sex ed programs. This was a groundbreaking year for sex ed in America. The law amended Title V of the Social Security Act, and provided an unprecedented amount of money for sexual education (which pleased liberals), and also provided an anal-retentive definition (see above) of what abstinence-only means (which pleased social conservatives).  See? Everybody wins!

Except for public school students. Because the definition of abstinence-only is so conservative and narrow that it doesn’t let teachers do so much as admit that condoms exist, let alone explain how to use them. So now I have students who legitimately believe that they can achieve the same effect with a scrap of a Winn-Dixie bag wrapped around their penis as they would with a Trojan.

Since 1996, the funding provided for abstinence-only sexual education has swelled enormously. It is rarely re-examined. And as teen pregnancy rates among America’s low income and racial minority populations continues to grow, so do federally funded sex ed programs which teach them only a fraction of what they need to know.

To ask how this federal funding impacts the teen pregnancy rate in America at large is a complicated question. Of the states with the top five highest teen pregnancy rates (Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, Mississippi, and Texas), only Nevada requires that students at public school receive sex ed. Three of the five states receive Title V funding, and not a single state requires students to learn about safe sex or contraceptives.

On the other hand, of the states with the bottom five teen pregnancy rates (Maine, North Dakota, Minnesota, New Hampshire, and Vermont) all but North Dakota requires sexual education in the classroom. Vermont, Maine, and New Hampshire have extensively comprehensive sex ed programs, which combine the benefits of abstinence with various contraceptive methods. New Hampshire and North Dakota do, however, accept Title V funding.

So the bottom line is pretty clear here: States which require that students receive sexual education have a lower rate of teen pregnancy than states with no requirement. Shocker.

Now let’s take a leap from state statistics to statistics by race and ethnicity. According to the same study done by the Guttmacher Institute, the pregnancy rate among nonwhite American teens is more than twice the pregnancy rate among white American teens. And that particular statistic has remained unwavering since 1986. Now, Biology will tell us that in no way, shape, or form are nonwhite teenage girls more fertile than their white peers; however, Sociology will tell us that white Americans generally receive a better education than nonwhite Americans. It is not a far stretch to assume that white Americans are more likely to receive comprehensive sex ed than nonwhite Americans. I believe that this is the root cause of the education gap in America today.

Yes, that was a big leap. So let me tell you about Raqueisha.

Raqueisha (not her real name) was a favorite student of mine. I know, I know: You’re not supposed to have favorites; but Raqueisha was really, really on top of everything. She always had her work done on time. She always did the extra credit. She aced all her Biology exams. She raised her hand. She made everyone laugh. She stayed after school. She was just one of those kids who gives you hope for the future, and that was that.

Raqueisha had been accepted to Xavier University of Louisiana — a prestigious historically Black Catholic school in New Orleans — and she was going to go in the fall. I remember thinking, “She’s getting out of this horrible cycle too many young New Orleanians fall into. She’s going places. She’s going to make it.” And of course, you know how the story ends.

Raqueisha told me she was pregnant two weeks before graduation. My jaw dropped. “Can’t you get an abortion?” I blurted out at her, completely unprofessionally, in a desperate attempt to go back. She started to cry — of course not. She would never do that. God gave her this baby for a reason, so college was just going to have to wait. I was speechless; aghast. I let her walk out of the room without offering so much as a word of moral support.

Later, Raqueisha left a poem she had written about the whole experience on my desk. An excerpt:

She don’t know what to do

She thinks her life is completely through

She never thought this day would come

So soon.

Now she wishes her problem was a balloon

Where it can go away and don’t come back

Just float to the moon

Something clicked for me with Raqueisha. Here was someone who could have truly made it on her own and achieved the kind of success she had always dreamed of. But now she’s going to have to raise a kid, and she has no idea how to do it. She doesn’t even know how to take care of herself.

I started thinking about the young mothers I met with all year about their problematic sons — hardworking women never older than 35 pulling multiple shifts at dead-end jobs to make ends meet. Single mother cliches, to put it bluntly. But what if they had had another five years before they had their first child? Or another ten? Is it possible they would have had the experience, humility and fundamental human tools necessary to give their children just a little bit more?

If we look at a school system which is failing the most at-risk youth in the country, we must examine all the components of the system. Yes, we must hold teachers and administrators accountable. Yes, we must raise the bar and hold students to the highest standards possible as well. So too, we must pay attention to the parental roles in the lives of our students. Too often, at-risk students are coming from families where their initial conception was not a welcome surprise to their parents. Becoming pregnant should be a choice.

I am not saying that my students’ parents do not love their children. They do. They love their children unconditionally, and they have made sacrifices for them that I would have otherwise considered unimaginable. But we live in a world in which all human beings should be able to live the lives they dream of living; should be able to reach the private goals they set for themselves. If our young people were more aware of the consequences of unprotected sex, they would finally be given that chance.


race race

22 11 2008

A national poll taken last week showed that 69 percent of Americans believe that race relations will improve with Obama in office. And I don’t blame this majority for their optimism: after all, didn’t you see all those people — black and white alike — crying their eyes out in Grant Park on November 4th? Didn’t you read all those heartening quotes from the little old ladies who never thought they would see the day? At last, the Constitution has been ratified, more than a century after the fact. At last, we are learning the true meaning of equal rights.

I’m among those pessimistic liberals who sees Obama’s election as symbolic more than anything else. This is an unpopular camp to be in these days, at least in my circle. My friends, students, and family members alike have told me to give the man a chance. He really might be the change we can believe in. Well, I’m certainly glad about the victory — elated, even. And I don’t think there’s anything all that WRONG with electing a symbol. He’s qualified, he’s articulate, he evokes the kind of hero-worship celebrity that the American people hunger for. And more than anything, I hope he will inspire people. I hope he will drive people to commit acts of sacrifice and goodness that stretch beyond their own lives. In that way, I think he could significantly change the world.

But will Obama improve race relations? That’s an interesting question.

I remember the worry that surrounded certain black activists during the election season. They were scared that if Obama was elected, white people would say, “Well, we’ve done it. We’ve evolved to be a truly colorblind society.” And no one is saying that outright, but you can tell that people are feeling it. People are letting their guard down a little bit.

It’s not just white people. My (all African-American) students have been spending the last three weeks saying, “I don’t have to do what you say anymore; I’ve got a black man as my president.” They don’t get it. They don’t understand that the racism in the education system is about the fact that they are often 20 years old and for some reason cannot read on a first grade level. Is Obama’s presidency magically going to fix that? Of course not.

And it’s interesting. We hear all these stories about grown black men moved to tears over the election, and they make us feel good, we understand them, they give us hope. But we seem to pass over the deep red items that seem like they should have come from a newspaper in the early 1900s: The second graders on a school bus in Boise, Idaho who were heard chanting “Assassinate Obama” over and over again; or the African-American church in Massachusetts that was burned down hours after Obama’s election.

In fact, worldwide, race-based threats and incidents have skyrocketed since the United States’ 44th president was announced. As reported in an article in the Times of London U.K.:

The phenomenon appears to be at its most intense in the Southern states, where opposition to Obama is at its highest and where reports of hate crimes were emerging even before the election. Incidents involving adults, college students and even schoolchildren have dampened the early post-election glow of racial progress and harmony, with some African American residents reporting an atmosphere of fear and inter-community tension.

But for me, the most frustrating story I’ve read was in the Times Picayune. It was nothing all that sensational or outwardly terrible. There are always going to be the ratty, nasty few who burn churches or hit people with bats; luckily, they are everywhere within the minority. I mean, the people who reported the story about the children chanting “Assassinate Obama” voted for McCain. Generally, we can tell right from wrong.

But in St. Tammany Parish, a small, mostly-white parish outside New Orleans (76 percent of the population here voted for McCain, and 13 percent of the demographic is African-American), frustrated teachers banned student from talking about the election. As the story reports:

In some cases, students said they were threatened with punishment if they talked about the election.

“She said that if we did talk about (the election) she’d write us up,” 14 year-old Briana Seals, who is black, said of a teacher at Slidell Junior High School.

In Covington, parent Dominique Elzy, who is black, said she complained to the principal at E.E. Lyon Elementary School after her 7-year-old son told her that he was made to stand along the playground wall after he shouted, “Obama won!” during recess.

I know it’s a small thing. But this is the kind of small thing that bothers me the most. Public school should be a place where students begin to understand the world around them. The students at my school should start to understand what it is that a president does, and the students in St. Tammany should be allowed to talk freely about what is going on in the world. I don’t care if discussions like these might make some people upset. That’s what this country is all about, after all: we talk about our differences, we discuss our options, we give each other the freedom to believe what we believe.

Places in this country that are stubbornly conservative have stayed stubbornly conservative, despite the overwhelming shift to the left sparked by this election. I think we ought to be wary of celebrating too soon. It is desperately important that we continue discussions on race, class, politics, what is going on in the world. This country is still so young, and it is going to take a long time to get to reach some kind of nationwide understanding as to what it all means.

I was pleased to hear Cornel West on Democracy Now last week talking on this issue in particular. On a the new presidential elect he had this to say:

Barack Obama is a symbol, but we’ve got to move from symbol to substance. We’ve got to move from what he represents in a broad sense—and it’s a beautiful thing to have a black man in the White House, we know that, and black slaves and laborers and other white immigrants built the White House. …But can we revitalize democratic possibilities on the ground with Barack in the White House? I think we can. We can put some serious pressure on him, and we can actually continue the democratic awakening among working people and poor people and push Barack in a progressive direction.

Seconded. I am interested in the forward motion of this country. I want the newspaper to make me happy. I want to see our school systems truly integrated, I want to see our laws fairly enforced, I want to see children whose opinions have stretched to outgrow the opinions of their parents. That’s the future of America. That’s what I have faith in.

guns, horns

10 11 2008

I work at a high school in the Recovery School District in New Orleans. I love my job, for the most part, but I am every day emotionally stretched thin by how quickly my students have had to grow up. There is a boy who sits in the Academic Resource Room with me during my planning period and quietly browses New Orleans murder blogs. You can’t get him to go to class. We’ve called in disciplinarians, other teachers, his parents, you name it, but he always comes back, privately researching real-time death. When I asked him about it — why he looks at these every day, what he is trying to find — he told me that he was looking for the names or stories of friends he’d lost in gang incidents or battles of ambiguous turf. And I thought, “No wonder you don’t want to go to class.”

And that’s pretty typical. All the students here have lost someone too early. Drugs, fighting, Katrina, you name it. But mostly, the stories you hear are about guns.

New Orleans is gun-happy. Before I moved here I had never actually seen a gun — even when I went to the homes of proud hunters. In Portland, having an automatic is like having a zombie locked up in your basement: so ludicrously dangerous it’s absurd. But now I’ve seen several. They’re on peoples’ shelves in their homes; they’re in the passenger seats of cars; people take them everywhere. Guns are treated less like zombies and more like precious babies.

Any time a gun is mentioned in a piece of literature or in a movie at school, my students are quick to call out factual inconsistencies (“He’s shooting that wrong; a semi-automatic is always a double-action only”) — but they’ll believe you if you tell them 2 + 2 is 5. Gun toting is a rite of passage. Forget buying porn and cigarettes (or registering to vote) — your eighteenth birthday is marked by your first legal gun purchase in the state of Louisiana.

There was a brief period following Hurricane Katrina when the city tried to disarm the entire population. You can imagine how well that went over with 2nd Amendment activists. Here, you don’t need a permit to purchase a weapon (although you do need one to carry it in public).

As the number gunshot homicides creeps up every day, I find myself scared to walk around at night — something I’ve never been before. I find myself terrified to answer my phone when another teacher is calling because I don’t want it to be bad news. I can’t imagine what it’s like for the kids who have to live through it every day. But still, no one seems to want to change the law. Kids and adults I talk to argue passionately that they need firearms to protect themselves. “If someone came into my house and tried to get at my family, I wouldn’t want to be caught without a gun,” a student told me last Friday as he was leaving school. Doesn’t he see that the lax attitude with which we treat weapons is causing a city-wide warzone?

There’s no obvious solution. But James Morris of the musician’s advocacy group Sweet Home had a thought.

After Katrina, he proposed to provide musical instruments for anyone who would trade in a gun, no questions asked. He knew it would be difficult to implement, but when the NOPD and a bevy of churches signed on, the project was officially green lighted. Dubbed “Horns for Guns,” community members gained interest:

Musicians signed on. Roots of Music founder and drummer Derrick Tabb joined the effort. Tulane medical students volunteered to conduct health screenings and stress tests for adults. Jim Belfon, a local photographer, agreed to take on a dozen or so interested children as students. The group YA/YA (Young Aspirations/Young Artists) offered to provide art instruction to other teenagers who might stop by.

It didn’t really work. The event, which took place last week took in only about a dozen guns, mostly from people who had “extras” lying around their homes.

Still, the notion is romantic. What if, instead of violence, there was music? Art? Revelry? What a world that would be.

But that’s not the world we live in. Since Obama’s election, gun sales have skyrocketed nationwide, as folks fear that the “gun-snatching” elect will pull the trigger on lax laws. Frankly, I think that would be great, but Obama has a lot on his plate, and he’s currently concerned with reaching across the aisle as far as he can in an effort to “unite” the country.

And last night I went to New Orleans’ “Battle of the High School Marching Bands.” It was in City Park. The attendance was 99.99 percent black. Throughout the show, MCs hailed Obama, hailed America, and issued long-winded pleas to end the violence in New Orleans.

Then someone came out with a gun. Everyone started running, like it was to be expected. As I was heading for my car in the shuffle, a little girl (as if on some cliched cue) screamed at her mom, “I DON’T EVER WANT TO GO TO ANOTHER BATTLE OF THE BANDS AGAIN.”

outside the lines

14 09 2008

Still an avid reader of The Nation, I was interested this recent article by Lizzie Ratner about apparently abundant and rampant racism in New Orleans, particularly in terms of housing laws in a post-Katrina society. It’s a good article; it’s poignantly punctuated with horror stories from real residents from outer New Orleanian parishes and antediluvian-seeming statistics about low income housing opportunities (or lack thereof) for citizens here. I think what I was most struck by was this snapshot of one couple’s housewarming in Jefferson Parish:

[Incidents of racism] continue in vigilante acts of intimidation like the one visited on Travis and Kiyanna Smith, a young African-American couple who moved into the area in May and were treated to a crude welcome: three crosses and the letters KKK burned into their lawn.

I do think it’s worth noting, however, that this article is not really about New Orleans. It’s more about the outlying parishes in the Greater New Orleans area. Not that this makes the issue any less important, of course, but it’s a necessary distinction. In the several months I’ve lived here I’ve been struck by two things regarding parishes like Jefferson and St. Bernard (two of the main parishes discussed in this article). First, tourists and “outsiders” don’t realize that the social and physical damage from Katrina extended well beyond the Lower Ninth Ward; and second, that these largely ignored parishes are truly suffering.

My housemates both teach in Jefferson Parish. One works at a mostly-white school, and she tells me stories about racist comments in her classroom that I have a really difficult time believing (and which I feel uncomfortable repeating so as to respect her privacy). But perhaps I should be less shocked: After all, the parish only just desegregated its schools this year.

Yes, the housing laws are at the very least classist. And the parishes on the outskirts of New Orleans, like so many small towns in the deep south, are undeniably racist. But I don’t think this is because of the aftermath of a hurricane. I think it runs deeper.

What we fail to recognize too often is how complicated 21st Century racism is. Most of today’s big law-makers and policy-enforcers weren’t alive to experience Jim Crow America. Racism isn’t taught to us the way it used to be: it’s much more subtle. The problem is mostly hereditary — the rich stay rich and the poor stay poor, and institutionalized systems reinforce these patterns. We could talk about criminal justice, or about housing, or about education (I don’t want to get into how many of my 20-year-old students will not vote in the upcoming election — or any election, for that matter — because they cannot read the complicated language on ballots), but that’s the basic gist of it. It’s about money and power these days, plain and simple.

So when an incident like Jena 6 happens, we can call it “The Civil Rights battle of our time,” but that’s not really true. The Civil Rights battle of our time is far less extraordinary, far less obvious than that. It’s not black and white.

Why do white people hate black people in the parishes on the outskirts of New Orleans?

Well, a few reasons, I think. For one thing, the media acts like the only people who commit crimes are black people. A day doesn’t go by when I don’t read a story in the Times Picayune about a black kid standing trial for homicide or gang activity. And if you take the Claiborne Exit on I-10 driving into New Orleans, the first thing you’ll see is an enormous billboard with 5 black faces and a tacky announcement proclaiming that these men are dangerous criminals wanted for murder, and if you see them you should call this number. On top of that, the law teaches us that crack is tremendously worse than cocaine; that robbing a liquor store is a greater offense than stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars from the inside as a CEO; and that enough money can get you out of jail no matter WHAT you’ve done. There is also a disconnect along color lines in extremely poor communities (like some of the places mentioned in the articles) out of sheer competition for limited land, food, and money. That’s when issues like affirmative action become canon fodder for whites in low socio-economic situations, and the Ronald Reagans and Jesse Helmses of the world rally Republican voters around the Fundamentalist-fueled conservatism we on The Left love to hate.

Of course, the sad reality is that there are still thousands of American families who continue to teach their children to hate Difference. I don’t know what to say about that besides the insultingly obvious.

The short version is this: Yes, racism is rampant. Yes, Katrina cast a huge spotlight on that reality in New Orleans. But there is so much beneath the surface here. When it comes to race, I find myself confronted with more questions than I could possibly hope to answer. All we can do is fight for our fellow human beings, no matter what. Sadly, as articles like this crushingly articulate, we are not currently doing that.

milk cartons

28 06 2008

So I’ve been teaching first graders here in Phoenix, Arizona. Here are some facts about Phoenix:


  1. There are cool bicycle riders and cool vegan food here, even though it seems like cool vegans and cool bike riders should not be in Phoenix.
  2. It’s the fifth largest city in the United States. I don’t understand this. Sometimes it is 121 degrees here. Why would you want that?
  3. Phoenix has 15 libraries. Here is what one person says about the Burton Barr Central Library: “It gets the vote as being the best library in Phoenix, but then agian it didnt have very good competition. I only dislike the employees about 50% to 75% of the time. “
  4. There are roadrunners. I don’t know that this is a fact. My mother told me there were roadrunners.
I’m teaching at a great little school called Pastor Elementary.  I am teaching first grade. Here are some things I had forgotten about first grade:
  1. It’s difficult to say the word “sphere.” (relatively unrelated sidenote: here’s a cool website that connects blog entries to real articles. it’s called sphere. it’s pretty nerdy.)
  2. It’s difficult to listen to other first graders talk when you are also in first grade.
  3. Hannah Montana is kind of a bfd.
  4. Ditto High School Musical. And even Camp Rock (albeit prematurely).
  5. It’s difficult to solve puzzles using tangrams.
But probably the most important thing I’ve forgotten about 1st grade is that it’s exceedingly difficult to open milk cartons. You know, those little lunch milk cartons you always got with your (disgusting) hot lunch. Every day, I go to lunch with these kids. And every day I am asked to open at least ONE milk carton which I cannot physically open. This is embarrassing.
Milk cartons generally fascinate me. Why did anyone decide that milk should go in little cardboard waxy boxes? Why can’t milk cartons take on juice box format? Wouldn’t that be just as efficient and much easier to open?
I Technorati-ed “milk cartons” today and only found one thing of interest. I guess this guy ordered a computer from eBay and whoever mailed it to him mailed it in a box which also contained an old pizza box, an empty soda container and (wait for it) a milk carton (really it was a milk JUG, but it’s still gross). The site has pictures. They’re gross. It’s every eBay user’s nightmare.
The last thing to note is that the academic achievement gap is worse than I thought it was. I have kids in my class who can’t read a word. And then there are kids in my friends’ seventh grade classes reading at a Kindergarten level. Maybe it’s cliche, but you see it happening and you wonder HOW we let it get this bad. It’s the most depressing evidence of institutionalized classism and racism that I’ve seen in my entire life.
Check out some statistics:


missing in action

28 03 2008

I kind of dropped the ball last week, and I’m sorry. There are many perfectly good reasons for it, though, and I thought I might detail them for you so you can feel like you’re more involved in my life.

My life mentor, Salim Muwakkil, came to speak at Whitman this week, which was a big deal for me. Sometimes I wonder if I have opinions of my own or if I just steal all of my ideas from Salim’s columns. Here are a few of my favorites:

+ Nas: Whose Word Is This?: I think the best articles Salim writes are about hip-hop. Here, he writes about Nas’s crusade to reclaim the n-word, which Salim backs up:

Those who use the word with malicious intent may still be able to inflict pain, but they are brandishing a weakening weapon. The word is being so relentlessly denuded it may one day be effectively defused. Nas’ album continues that process.

+ Throwing Away the Key: Perhaps Salim’s biggest crusade is the institutionalized racism inherent within the American criminal justice system. The insane disproportion of African-American men in American prisons (when compared with the racial demographics of the population as a whole) is, as Salim pointed out many times, something the United States will one day look back on with shame. Although many political writers touch on this subject, none do it with Salim’s passion.

+ Paying Back The Slavery Debt: This is the most compelling argument I’ve ever read in favor of slavery reparations, which was a hot topic almost a decade ago. Unfortunately, the conversation has practically become extinct, despite the coherent reasoning backing the idea (Salim wrote about it again in 2006 as a means to fund the horrific disrepair left by Hurricane Katrina, but to little dispute or rise.)

+ Katrina’s Racial Wake: Written in the direct aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Salim tells us what we all know now about race in America. If only it hadn’t taken a devastating storm to teach us that. Almost three years later, we still haven’t rebuilt what was once one of America’s greatest cities; FEMA continues to screw up, lacking any real or drastic solutions; and so many people who lived in The Big Easy have not moved back home.

Salim’s talk last week was about Barack Obama’s speech in Philadelphia, which Salim pointed out was probably the most groundbreaking speech on race made in the last century (John Stewart said as much when he told his audience in a state of make-believe shock that a politician had spoken to the American people about race as if they were adults). For those of us who had felt Obama had grown perhaps a bit spineless in the bright lights of the presidential election, the speech was a breath of fresh air which addressed the racial purple elephant legitimately for the first time. Finally, we can take a step back and recognize that a black candidate for president does not mean we leave in a post-racial society.

You Ain’t No Picasso posted a link to the entire downloadable Ghostface Killah remix album. And it’s sick.

MP3: Ghostface Killah: Charlie Brown (DJ Medhi Remix)

I don’t know if you know this, but I’m the president of the Whitman branch of Action for Animals. I know. I’m a pretty big deal. And this week, adding to the excitement of Mr. Muwakkil’s visit, was Veggie Week. So here is a veg-friendly Albert Einstein quote (he was vegetarian btw) and a recipe you might want to try out.

Our task must be to free ourselves… by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature and its beauty.

If you haven’t visited the Post-Punk Kitchen online yet, you have to. It’s really, really good. The writer, Isa Chandra Moskowitz should probably be enshrined for proving that vegan food is often better than non-vegan food. If you don’t believe me, check out this cupcake recipe. I’m not kidding when I say that you will have a food-related orgasm (FRO).

RECIPE: Gingerbread Cupcakes with Lemony Frosting

more quotes.
ALSO this week, my boyfriend Alex Kerr turned 21 this week. So in honor of the biggest Rolling Stones fan I know (Alex), an excerpt from Wednesday’s interview with Keith Richards posted on golden fiddle. It’s one of the best interviews I’ve ever read.

Q: You should sell your body on eBay.
Yeah, I think so. Apparently, I do have an incredible immune system. I had hepatitis C and cured it by myself.

Q: How?
Just by being me.

Q: Do you regret not moisturizing your face?
No. I leave that up to other people.

Q: Ever think about getting Botox?
No one’s ever talked me into doing that. You’re lucky if you walk out of there alive. God bless you.

Q: Are you still cutting your own hair? You’ve done that all your life, right?
Yes. I did this bit here yesterday. [holds up a few strands on the side of his head] Also, I’m letting the dye grow out, since I’m not on the road. If the wife likes it, I’ll keep it.



the cause of violence

3 09 2007

Today the New York Times ran a pretty fascinating little piece on Colorado Springs and its music scene. Surprise, surprise: Police are blaming gangsta rap and hip-hop music for a spike in homicides in the area (there have been 19 already this year, compared with 15 in 2006).

I know what’s obvious, here: You can’t blame any form of art for what people choose to do in the long run. Just as the idea that listening to Linkin Park was a primary factor in the Columbine shootings of 2001 was purely ludicrous, the analogous conclusion that the glorification of drug hustlin’ and gun totin’ in rap music directly causes actual drug hustlin’ and gun totin’ in modern society is equally deranged.

As the Times article rightly addresses:

Others here say the police are focusing on hip-hop instead of addressing the growing pains of this largely white, conservative city, home to the evangelical groups Focus on the Family and New Life Church.

There’s something to be said about the fact that Colorado Springs is in so many ways just a ticking socio-political time bomb waiting to explode from the extreme antithetical forces at work here. The article extrapolates:

Since 1990, the metropolitan area of Colorado Springs, which sits south of Denver, has swollen to nearly half a million from 397,000. Though outright racial tensions, which led to marches here in the 1970s and ’80s, are largely of the past, there remains a sense of benign neglect toward minorities, said Dr. José J. Barrera, former director of ethnic studies at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs. That neglect has translated into a chasm between the city and its minority youth, Dr. Barrera said.

Bingo. The police are right to note that there’s something wrong with Colorado Springs. Blaming all this on gangsta rap is far and above one of the easiest solutions. But cutting down on the number of rap shows in the area (as scary press linking the music to homicides has effectively done, cutting the number of concert-goers at one venue from 700 on any given night to 300) is not going to stop anything. Seriously: What kind of person, feeling alienated by their country for whatever reason, goes to a rap concert and suddenly realizes that the answer to all their ills is a drive-by shooting? Homicide cases are far more common within ethnic groups (i.e., you’re far less likely, if you’re White, to be murdered by someone who isn’t), and homicides victims are disproportionately of ethnic minorities. Press releases about rap cultivating murder act only as further scare tactics for rich, White Americans who are already unjustly terrified of Black teenagers on killing sprees.

So to recap the obvious: Colorado police are delusional. And thank God the New York Times had the common sense to publish an article that rightfully concluded:

After the show, the crowd tumbled out of the club. Young men politely chatted up a group of women. A couple tried to coordinate a ride home. Two men exchanged solemn stories of prison.

The only sign of trouble was a flat tire on someone’s customized sedan.

What maybe isn’t so obvious to liberal readers of this article is that corporatized gangsta rap is actually a pretty big problem in America. It is unfortunately true that too many youth, victimized by institutionalized racism and classism in this country, idealize the lifestyle of drug dealers and ho hustlers, and a lot of the reason for that is an omnipresence of this kind of music. Corporate music producers exploit these ideals because they are known to sell. The saddest part of all of this is that the initial social and political cause behind hip-hop music is too often lost in the airwaves; Public Enemy-style Damn-The-Man music is at an all-time low since hip-hop was first assimilated into mainstream musical media in the ’70s and ’80s.

There are still hip-hoppers fighting the good fight, combating major domestic issues in America today; In These Times did a great cover piece on political hip-hop last year called “Bigger Than Hip-Hop,” for example, which chronicles the leagues of musicians who attend the National Hip-Hop Convention every year, rapping for social and political change. Local rappers in urban cities also make waves with gruesome tales of what it means to be a minority youth in America today (Immortal Technique famously comes to mind).

I’m personally very keen on this rapper from New York called Cause, too. I’m including a few MP3s in the hopes that rap artists like this will come into their own in the coming years.

MP3: Cause – More Than Music

MP3: Cause – Click Clack