Saturday, September 30, 2006

Queer Response to Gay History in Philadelphia

A lot of people in Philadelphia are up in arms over the school district recognizing gay and lesbian history month. Most of the parents seem to be objecting because "it involves sex." That is a very narrow minded definition of homosexuality, I've always been gay even before I knew what sex was. In a way the reaction of the parents and the 70% of people who voted in the local CBS poll on whether the school district should have the calendars are the reason there is a need for the school to recognize Gay and Lesbian month. Parents flipping out and taking their kids out of class because "Gay and Lesbian History Month" is printed on a calendar they may not even notice. In a city with a climbing murder rate and a school system that is under funded and undermined continually by the state to have parents put their prejudices against a some of the students, potentially their own children, is offensive.

It isn't the first time that the school district has received flak for the calendars. People complain about Black History month and the noting of Ramadan. The district also notes Asian and Pacific Islander Month, Hispanic Heritage Month, and Jewish and Christian holidays. The school district has to train students to compete and work alongside others in a global marketplace with people of different nationalities, races, genders, and sexual orientations. The school district has to be The only problem I have with the calendar is that there are no lesson plans to go along with it. They have the opportunity to tie in many other communities as well. There areBayard Rustin, Sappho, Socrates, James Baldwin, Bessie Smith, Alan Turing, , Michael Foucault, Virginia Woolf. The list really is endless lesbians and gay men have contributed to the world as much as anyone else to fear talking about their existence is to give into the belief that acknowledging their existence is somehow going to "turn" the kids gay is as idiotic as thinking Rosh Hashanah or Ramadan being marked is going to "turn" the kids Jewish or Muslim. It would be nice if things worked that way then September 21st of every year all violence would stop.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

America's Pipes Don't Measure up for Broadband

I have a bit of an interest in Internet connectivity. Not just because I work in IT, not just because I work with a lot of people who are part of the digital divide but in part I like to download the sweet multimedia content that's available. The problem is that broadband is expensive and in comparison to other developed countries kind of slow. Ars points to a report by the Consumer Federation of America, Consumer's Union, and Free Press.

One thing that gets forgotten in the paying more to get less reality of American broadband is that the policies of the FCC and the companies perpetuate the digital divide. Yes, the gap is shrinking a bit but still 16th in penetration and 15th in terms of growth, is to be frank pretty piss poor performance especially when one considers the price we pay. For example, Verizon offers FiOS at 30 Mbps / 5Mbps for $179.95 per month, yet in Japan or South Korea one can get 100 Mbps /100 Mbps for $35 and $32 per month respectively.

The reason Americans get screwed is that in most metropolitan areas customers have at most two broadband providers. Others have only one and in large swaths of the country there are none. There is no real profit driven reason for cable or DSL providers to provide service in rural areas, just ask Verizon why they don't want to offer FiOs in Swanksville and other areas in westwern PA. The duopoly and the inherent lack of real competition is due in no small part to the Brand X case and the subsequent FCC ruling on DSL. Cable and DSL providers don't have to lease their lines to competitors and can therefore charge highly for rather slow speeds and poor customer service.

Congress is trying to fix some of the problems with broadband. They are trying to overturn bans on municipal broadband which some states have passed. Municipal is one strategy to bring in much needed competition but congress could go further. They could require broadband providers to lease the lines. The broadband companies are given exclusive right of way in many locales. Doing so would not only shrink the divide in large cities but could help in rural areas. There is a lot of dark fiber that companies are putting to use that can be lit for consumers. If competitors can lease lines then the larger companies would have to compete on price and speed, there would be an incentive to get more customers in unserviced areas because of the competition in former monopoly areas.

On a somewhat related note this puts the whole anti-network neutrality of the cable and telephone companies in perspective. It's bad enough they want to throttle down the speeds of companies that don't pay extortion but the speeds of the fastlane are pretty damn slow.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Meme: Surviving the race

As anyone who is interested in such things already knows Survivor will be dividing people into tribes based on race. There isn't an obvious library angle on this but race is an interesting and persistent social construct. A number of people have already pointed to the Herbert Spencer inspired quality to the whole endeavor of "survival of the fittest." There are calls to boycott the show, since it does have the unfortunate potential to degenerate into racist boosterism based on arbitrary criteria taken out of context in the same way as the bestselling but disproved Bell Curve.

Ever since the first Survivor almost everyone tries the same strategy as Richard Hatch. Form alliances and lie and cheat anyone not in your alliance and then lie and cheat those in your alliance until there is only three left. Then it is a simple matter of either winning the last challenge or being such a villain throughout the show they take you to the final two because who would vote to give a million dollars to a guy who faked his grandmother's death. With this the lying and backstabbing can have the accusation of race traitor, racist, and Uncle Tom that race baiting always brings out. Some critics point out that it is a crass attempt to pull up sagging ratings of the show by having people root for their own race, which I think is true. Unfortunately the coarser language that comes with race baiting probably will be edited out for family viewing. The race war would have to be fought over the water cooler instead. Which with the show losing steam isn't going to amount to much fighting.

What would have been more interesting is an examination of the idea of race. Race is not a scientific categorization despite the fact that most people would think it is. In fact the host found out that lumping people under Asian puts together people who see ethnic divisions and may have tensions with other "Asians." If he did more searching he would find some people from the West Indies who do not see themselves as being Black or "Blacks" from Africa who do not see themselves as being in the same race as "Blacks" in America. Race is one of the most arbitrary ways to categorize human beings what constitutes a race is highly influenced by the society one is raised in. In America race is defined largely by visual cues even when the visual cues aren't there. A light skin Black man is Black even if he can pass for White.

Whiteness itself is an interesting concept. It took decades for the Irish and the Italians to be considered White. The Jewish community is considered White by the mainstream sometimes but as a minority that is separate and apart at others. The lines are flexible and exist only to hang myths upon. Those myths that tell people to clutch their purse when a black man approaches, that Asian men are all foreigners, and that Latinas are sex crazed freaks. They aren't remotely true in most cases but they let you shut your brain off for a few minutes, and that is what reality TV is all about.

If someone is looking for good resources that treat the construct of race in a meaningful way there are a few choices. There is the series "Matters of Race" that aired on PBS. It examines the meaning of race from a number of perspectives. Race: the Power of an Illusion provides an interactive site to learn about the realities of race. It's a good site for teens and younger kids. There are a lot of books on the subject of Race but two recent ones to mention are Covering: The Hidden assault on Our Civil Liberties by Kenji Yoshino and What White Looks Like by George Yancy. Covering deals in part with race but also gender and sexual orientation. It is an interesting take on the need to assimilate, when is assimilation necessary and when is it the destruction of the self. What White Looks Like tries to expand the field of White studies which is in its infancy by having professors in Black studies tackle philosophical concepts of Whiteness put forth by Foucault and others.