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 Two recent studies, one issued by the &amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;lt;a target=&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;quot;_blank&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;quot; href=&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;quot;http://www.nwea.org/&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;quot;&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;gt;Northwest Evaluation Association&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;lt;/a&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;gt;, show that the &amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;lt;a target=&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;quot;_blank&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;quot; href=&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;quot;http://www.nytimes.com/2006/11/20/education/20gap.html?hp&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;ex=1164085200&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;en=50afd2f22c6d95fa&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;ei=5094&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;partner=homepage&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;quot;&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;gt;“achievement gap” between white and minority children is not narrowing&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;lt;/a&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;gt;, despite Bush’s &amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;lt;a target=&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;quot;_blank&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;quot; href=&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;quot;http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/No_Child_Left_Behind_Act&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;quot;&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;gt;No Child Left Behind &amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;lt;/a&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;gt;law (often mocked as “Every Child Left Behind“), which was intended to close the achievement gap by 2014.  Now, why is this?

No Child Left Behind is, overall, not a bad piece of legislation.  Keep in mind that the NCLB bill was not simply Bush’s bill.  NCLB was a truly bipartisan effort, co-sponsored by Ted Kennedy, that was partly intended to update and expand the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, something that desperately needed to be done.

The basic provisions of NCLB require the states and school districts to hire highly-qualified teachers, fully-certified in their subject areas; develop more stringent standards for teacher certification in general; and implement standardized testing across the board.  In order to receive continued federal funding, schools must be 100% staffed with certified teachers and must make adequate yearly progress in raising test scores, particularly in relation to the achievement gap.  If they don’t do this, then the states must monitor them more closely and sometimes intervene to remedy the situation. 

So, what’s wrong with this?  Well, first, many education professionals and parents object to standardized tests because they consider them culturally-biased, and they force teachers to “teach to the test” in order to preserve their school’s standing and, in turn, their jobs.  And many don’t believe that “teaching to the test” makes kids any smarter.  They would prefer more subjective, qualitative forms of assessment and broader, sometimes more culture-specific curriculum.  Also, the tests differ slightly from state to state, and some are easier than others and rely more on rote info than critical thinking skills.

Standardized testing is only one indicator of progress and generally should be viewed as such, but it shouldn’t be discarded.  Used in combination with other forms of assessment, such as portfolio review, overall GPA, projects and individual achievements, results on college admissions tests, etc., it can provide a pretty good picture of student knowledge and skill attainment.  One hopes that individual teachers and school districts are not relying solely on standardized test results when they teach and evaluate their students.  One hopes that they are treating them as individuals, with individual strengths, weaknesses, and learning styles.  For the purpose of school assessment at the state and especially federal level, however, it is nearly impossible to gauge progress based on criteria that widely differs from state to state and school to school.  A consistent and more objective measure is needed.  The basic premise behind standardized testing is a sound one—apply a uniform quantitative measure that can easily be used at the state and federal level to analyze trends.  Standardized testing alone is not a 100% accurate measure of student progress, but it is a pretty good one. 

Are the tests culturally-biased, favoring European-Americans and their learning styles?  Is it true that culture plays a significant role in shaping how we process and demonstrate knowledge?  For sure.  But standardizing the basic skills needed to acquire and demonstrate knowledge in a diverse society is one function of education, in my opinion.  And, if started in preschool, it actually levels the playing field.  A properly developed standardized test is not about rote teaching or putting kids in little boxes so they all come out the same.  It’s about teaching everyone the same reasoning, critical thinking, computational, and language skills that we all need to communicate in the modern world and to accomplish our own particular objectives, whether that is to be a CEO, a dairy farmer, or a social worker.  “Teaching to the test” needn’t and shouldn’t be primarily about teaching students the specific content that it is expected will be on the tests (but it often is).  It should be about teaching them the basic skills necessary to deal with any age-appropriate content that is put in front of them.  And that’s damned hard work.

What’s really wrong with standardized testing?  It’s used to penalize the neediest and most disadvantaged schools by linking funding with progress.  While underperforming schools generally receive the lion’s share of state and federal subsidies, they often receive the least local funding and private support, due to an impoverished tax base.  Federal and state funds hardly make up for that.  So the schools with the greatest need often have the least amount of money.  How can they recruit “highly-qualified” teachers and diminish class sizes so that students get individual attention?  Something that will never happen should happen—local tax dollars dedicated to schools should be put in a state pot and redistributed equitably.

The big problem with NCLB is that it is an unfunded, or under funded, mandate.  It raises the bar for school achievement and teacher quality without proportionally raising education funding.  The billions that are being poured into Iraq plus the trillions that are being poured into the defense budget dwarf both the K-12 and higher education budget.  The shortsightedness of these priorities is remarkable.

Another problem with NCLB is that it puts the entire onus for closing the achievement gap on the schools and disregards the numerous socio-economic factors that contribute to it, expecting teachers to compensate for all of them.  Poverty is the best indicator for poor school performance, not color, so if more Black, Hispanic, and Native-American kids, relative to whites, live in poverty, then they are less likely to do well in school.

Teachers cannot be expected to compensate for the deficits that might occur when a single parent, who never received a proper education him or herself, must work 10-12 hours a day, sometimes at minimum wage, to make ends meet.  Such parents, due to various complex socio-economic factors, seldom have books, magazines, or newspapers in their homes; seldom if ever read to their kids; don’t take them to cultural events and activities; can’t travel with them; and often use the TV or the Nintendo as a baby sitter.  Sometimes, they don’t have high expectations for their kids, and that message gets through.  They often don’t have the time, energy, and/or knowledge to help their kids with their homework.  They don’t have the knowledge and experience to guide their children in college and career decisions.  In short, they often cannot provide a context for what their children are learning in school.  Many poor kids go to school on an empty stomach. 

This all seems obvious to me, but it is almost never mentioned when discussing the achievement gap.  It is the 800 pound gorilla in the room, in my opinion.  Somehow, the teacher, who sometimes works 10-12 hours a day for 40 or 50 thousand a year, is supposed to make up for the enormous deficits that these kids bring to school with them.  Middle and high school teachers are expected to instill a love of reading in the heart of a child who has grown up in a home without books and has never had anyone read to him.  This is simply too much to ask in many cases.

The best way to tackle these problems is through Head Start and similar preschool programs that get all kids on the same positive track from day one.  But despite the overwhelming success of such programs, they remain perennially under funded.  Raising the minimum wage so that it keeps pace with inflation would also help, as would finding ways to lift the lower classes out of poverty rather than keep them cycling in it through limited or no access to credit, car loans, insurance, mortgages, and reasonably-priced services.  Someone in the US needs to take a hint from Nobel Prize winner Muhammad Yunus who helped lift perhaps millions of people out of poverty by offering them capital (&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;lt;a target=&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;quot;_blank&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;quot; href=&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;quot;http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Microcredit&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;quot;&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;gt;micro-credit&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;lt;/a&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;gt;) to start businesses and change their lives.  And if you want to close the achievement gap that, I believe, is one place to start.

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This is interesting—Hannaford, in an effort to cut its own throat it seems, has provided a rating system that indicates the nutritional value of the food that it sells, and, surprise, most of the processed foods fared poorly because they contained, surprise, too much salt and sugar. Even those processed foods that were labeled as “healthy” got low ratings. Yes, because half the items that you pick up in a supermarket have “high fructose corn syrup” in them and other glutinous concoctions and chemical preservatives. Salt and sugar can make any garbage taste better. The last time I consumed a frozen pizza, I had to drink about a half gallon of water to get through the night. And when I looked at the package I saw why—it contained more salt than I usually consume in several days.

When it comes to food, nutrition, and diets, it seems to me that common sense, simplicity, balance, and moderation rules. I once heard a nutritionist give some excellent advice, which is to stick to the perimeter of the supermarket—first the fruits and vegetables, then the meats, then the dairy, then the deli, then the bread. In other words, whole, simple foods that are not processed or only minimally processed.

And who says that such a diet has to be spartan? Who says that you have to take such a diet to the extreme by, as it says in the article, eating for lunch, “grilled chicken on a bed of spinach with a multigrain roll and an apple.” I can think of little more unappetizing than that. It is these sorts of extremes—nutritionists encouraging people to go from a processed food and junk food diet to a spartan diet, that discourages many people from eating healthy.

Why should you be prevented from putting a moderate amount of butter on that roll? Or, for that matter, a moderate or small amount of salt on the chicken? And rather than a yucky bed of plain spinach, how about a proper salad with a bit of healthy olive oil on it and some fresh tomatoes and cucumbers and croutons? And how about washing the whole thing down with an indisputably healthy glass of red wine? And rather than a disappointing apple for dessert, how about some good cheese and crackers or at least grapes? What’s wrong with a flavored yogurt that has a moderate amount of sugar in it? Such a lunch may have more calories in it than the former, but it will definitely be more tasty, definitely be more balanced, and, quite possibly, be even more healthy. And even the calories wouldn’t be an issue if you kept the portions moderate, or exercised, or didn’t eat a huge meal the same evening. If you exercised, you could even have chocolate for dessert, and dark chocolate is another thing that’s supposed to be good for you.

And while I’m at it, let me talk about vegetarianism. Organizations like PETA, despite all the good work that they do, actually discourage people from eating less meat by suggesting that they go from a meat based-diet straight to a vegan diet.  Their publications actually suggest that.  This is exactly like asking a junkie to go cold turkey, so to speak.  It is completely crazy, and it rarely works, unless the person is strongly motivated by some external factor.  For your health and for the sake of the animals and the environment, eating fish is better than eating chicken, eating chicken is better than eating pork, and eating pork is better than eating red meat. And eating organic meat from farms that raise the animals humanely is better than eating meat from factory farms.  If you want to go vegetarian, reduce the amount of red meat that you eat for awhile. Then stop eating red meat completely. Then gradually cut pork out of your diet. Then eat chicken for awhile and, if you feel you can do it, cut out even the chicken.  Or switch to free-range chicken from farms that raise the chickens properly.  But taking any of these steps, it seems to me, is better than taking no steps at all, as with most problems, including global warming.  If you can’t change the kind of car you drive, at least change your lightbulbs.

Why do it this way? First of all, in terms of your health, you’re gradually moving away from the unhealthy to the healthy and the bio-engineered to the less bio-engineered. In terms of the environment, you’re gradually moving away from the foods that add to global warming and other environmental problems through their processing and consumption. And in terms of the animals, you’re reducing the suffering of the higher order mammals first, and, regardless of what some people say, these are the animals whose central nervous systems are most advanced and most like our own and that are most likely to experience pain and suffering in the way that we do. In other words, these are the animals that are most likely to be consciously aware of their pain and suffering in the way that we are. I know that I’m treading on dangerous ground here by using human suffering as a standard and by diminishing the pain and suffering that a fish might feel, but, if people want to cut fish out of their diets, I can understand that as well.  

And as for cutting out things like milk, eggs, and cheese, I think that this is completely unnecessary and a little bit crazy, unless you’re doing it for health or allergy reasons. As long as you buy these products from local and/or family farms that treat the animals humanely and raise them in the old-fashioned way, there is absolutely nothing wrong with eating them. And the prices for locally produced and organic products are getting lower all the time. There is nothing more natural in the world than a hen laying eggs or a cow producing milk, and, if the animals are properly cared for, their lives can be quite good on a farm. I used to commute daily past a traditionally-run, family dairy farm, and the look of contentment I observed on the faces of the cows lazing in the field was unequivocal. We should think about diminishing or eliminating factory farming and putting into place proper animal cruelty laws for farm animals, rather than forcing people to go vegan.  The conditions on factory farms are horrific and disturbing, and anyone with the slightest bit of sensitivity to animals would be affected by observing them or knowing about them.  But dietary habits are among the hardest things for people to change, and it’s probably not going to work to guilt-trip people into trying to change overnight, as PETA seems to do.

Common sense, simplicity, balance, and moderation rules. Or just try to eat more like your Mediterranean or Asian or Middle Eastern great grandparents did.


Digg!

Here’s an interesting little tidbit—Reporters Without Borders has just published its most recent Worldwide Press Freedom Index, and the Unites States has dropped to 53rd place, from 44th last year and from 17th in 2002, below a whole slew of developing countries. Just another example of the damage done by six years of the Bush administration.

According to Reporters Without Borders:

Relations between the media and the Bush administration sharply deteriorated after the president used the pretext of “national security” to regard as suspicious any journalist who questioned his “war on terrorism.” The zeal of federal courts which, unlike those in 33 US states, refuse to recognize the media’s right not to reveal its sources, even threatens journalists whose investigations have no connection at all with terrorism.

The jailing of blogger Josh Wolf was a case in point.

Reporters Without Borders compiles its index by sending a questionnaire to partner organizations throughout the world, in which it lists 50 criteria for assessing press freedom and “the degree of impunity enjoyed by those responsible” for various violations against reporters, ranging from murder and imprisonment to harassment.

This organization also publishes an excellent Handbook for Bloggers and Cyber-Dissidents:

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A very positive story came out of NPR this morning about two items that seem worth taking a look at: 

Literature from the Axis of Evil  

and Lullabies from the Axis of Evil 

Part of the effort here it seems is to humanize those that the government would dehumanize by using a phrase such as “axis of evil,” and also to help foster some cultural understanding of those that we would go to war with.   The story features some clips from the book and CD.

I generally don’t react to anything that Ann Coulter says because she is so extremely ridiculous and, as Svetlana on the Sopranos said about Janice—she is a “boring voman.”

However, the disinformation that she spreads is truly remarkable and troubling when you consider that Fox News at prime time has over two million viewers.

Ann Coulter to O’Reilly, in reference to the Foley scandal:

And by the way, this is a perfect example of the Democrats way overplaying their hands. They’re talking about, you know, just because Foley is gay and sending, you know, asking a kid what he wants for his birthday, we should have been wiretapping the guy’s phone. They don’t want to wiretap…

I think their [Democrats] hysterical overreaction to Foley — when the New York Times ethicist says we should boycott the Boy Scouts, because they don’t want gay men camping with a 14-year-old boy, but they think we should be wiretapping a congressman for asking a kid what he wants for his birthday.

That’s two separate references to Foley’s emails in which she reduces the content to “asking a kid what he wants for his birthday.”

Hmmm. Let’s look at one of these transcripts. A conversation in which someone asks a kid what he wants for his birthday doesn’t usually come with the following billboard-sized disclaimer, on the ABC News site:

READER DISCRETION STRONGLY

ADVISED: Foley’s Exchange With

Underage Page

And here’s an excerpt from the exchange, in which they discuss masturbation techniques:

Maf54 (7:53:54 PM): do you really do it face down
Xxxxxxxxx (7:54:03 PM): ya
Maf54 (7:54:13 PM): kneeling
Xxxxxxxxx (7:54:31 PM): well i dont use my hand…i use the bed itself
Maf54 (7:54:31 PM): where do you unload it
Xxxxxxxxx (7:54:36 PM): towel
Maf54 (7:54:43 PM): really
Maf54 (7:55:02 PM): completely naked?
Xxxxxxxxx (7:55:12 PM): well ya
Maf54 (7:55:21 PM): very nice
Xxxxxxxxx (7:55:24 PM): lol
Maf54 (7:55:51 PM): cute butt bouncing in the air
Xxxxxxxxx (7:56:00 PM): haha
Xxxxxxxxx (7:56:05 PM): well ive never watched myslef
Xxxxxxxxx (7:56:08 PM): but ya i guess
Maf54 (7:56:18 PM): i am sure not
Maf54 (7:56:22 PM): hmmm
Maf54 (7:56:30 PM): great visual
Maf54 (7:56:39 PM): i may try that
Xxxxxxxxx (7:56:43 PM): it works
Maf54 (7:56:51 PM): hmm
Maf54 (7:56:57 PM): sound inetersting
Maf54 (7:57:05 PM): i always use lotion and the hand
Maf54 (7:57:10 PM): but who knows
Xxxxxxxxx (7:57:24 PM): i dont use lotion…takes too much time to clean up
Xxxxxxxxx (7:57:37 PM): with a towel you can just wipe off….and go
Maf54 (7:57:38 PM): lol
Maf54 (7:57:45 PM): where do you throw the towel
Xxxxxxxxx (7:57:48 PM): but you cant work it too hard….or its not good
Xxxxxxxxx (7:57:51 PM): in the laundry
Maf54 (7:58:16 PM): just kinda slow rubbing
Xxxxxxxxx (7:58:23 PM): ya….
Xxxxxxxxx (7:58:32 PM): or youll rub yourslef raw
Maf54 (7:58:37 PM): well I have aa totally stiff wood now

Well, you know what comes next, so to speak. That’s one heck of a yucky birthday present that they’re discussing there. I almost feel guilty just posting that conversation within close proximity of yesterday’s innocent panda bears.

I would say “shame, shame, shame,” to Coulter, I mean, except that when you look the word shameless up in the dictionary, you find Ann Coulter’s picture.

It’s a topsy-turvy world indeed when Mr. Foley, as Chair of the Caucus for Missing and Exploited Children can be allowed to continue in his job after sexually preying on an adolescent in his charge, but an art teacher can be suspended for taking her students to an art museum, one that featured nudity, of all things.

I feel sorry for the teacher, but I also feel sorry for the culturally-starved child, if he or she is to be raised by parents who can’t recognize the difference between works that celebrate the human form and those that degrade it. 

The District is now trying to say that she wasn’t the greatest teacher, but that accusation doesn’t seem to hold up to scrutiny and, anyway, I’ve never heard of a less than optimal teacher being suspended after 28 years of tenure for that reason alone. If that were the case, we would have even bigger teacher shortages than we do now—huge ones in fact.

I have dug up the names and numbers of School and School District administrators. Please call them and help save this poor woman’s job.

 

Wilma Fisher Elementary

Nancy Lawson
Principal

(469) 633-2600

 

Frisco Independent School District

Rick Reedy

Superintendent

(469) 633-6000

Two of the offending images:

Rodin’s “Shade”

Flora by Aristide Maillol 1911

 

Maillol’s “Flora”

Yesterday’s Morning Edition on NPR featured a story on parents’ use of Global Positioning Systems technology or “black boxes” to secretly track their children’s movements and monitor their driving.  Black box or “car chip” devices are, unbeknownst to many consumers, now standard on higher-end vehicles.   

So, using any computer, parents can monitor not only their kids’ locations, but the speed at which they are driving and their rate of acceleration and deceleration.  If the kids are aware that they’re being monitored, parents can honk the horn or flash the lights in warning.  Similar tracking chips are able to be hidden in cell phones, and, soon, cell phones will be available with hidden cameras that can transmit images back to Daddy’s laptop at work. So much for necking in the back seat of the car. 

It isn’t so much the technology itself that I find troubling; it’s the temptation that parents will have to use it furtively, as did the parents who were featured on the radio spot.  Too much control is not necessarily a good thing.  Tracking a six or eight year old by installing a GPS chip in his belt might make sense and might provide enormous relief to parents with reasonable fears about small ones getting lost or abducted.  But even the smallest child needs his own private space—a spot to which he can comfortably retreat and know that under reasonable circumstances it won’t be trespassed, even by those who mean him well.  Such autonomy, gradually increased with age, is critical to children’s development, allows them to learn from their mistakes, and teaches decision-making and judgment.  As Steve Shlozman, a child psychiatrist that was interviewed for the spot, says: 

 . . . kids need enough slack to learn to make good choices on their own, not just because they know Mom and Dad are watching. . . that’s the moment of growth — and you lose that if you monitor them . . . they won’t grow up; they’ll get stuck developmentally.

But, even if you don’t agree with this particular philosophy of child-rearing, even if you believe that constant monitoring is an indication of constant love and protection, you must agree that secret surveillance sends kids the wrong ethical message.  It basically sends the message that if authority figures, regardless of their competence or own sense of good judgment, determine that it is in your best interest, they can violate your right to autonomy and privacy without your knowledge.  They can engage in deception, can lie through omission, and breach your trust.  Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?  If Big Daddy Cheney had his way, secret monitoring devices would likely be installed in the cell phones of not only suspected terrorists, but in those of their associates and family members, regardless of probable cause and without a court order. 

As noted above, such chips are now standard in many new autos and have been used after major accidents, by police and insurance investigators, to determine culpability.  Not such a bad idea, except that the people involved were not even aware that the chips were in their cars.  Proposed legislation is still trying to grapple with this.  KeepYourSecrets.com  (and I can’t vouch for the credibility of this source) provides the following anecdote:

EDR [Event Data Recorder] technology burst out into the public eye in a big way in 2002, when Walter Rhoads was successfully prosecuted in Pennsylvania (in May 2002) using data taken from his cars’ EDR.  The Pennsylvania Highway patrol, without Rhoad’s permission, took the EDR information from his wrecked car and used it to prove his speed and braking just prior to the crash.     In this instance, Rhoads had been driving far too fast and tried to brake only 2 seconds prior to the accident.     However, despite the specifics of Mr. Rhoad’s bad driving habits, the mere fact that data from his automobile was taken without his permission and then used against him in court…creating a troubling precedent and raises the question…. To whom does the information in your car’s EDR belong??
 

Children, adults, and especially teenagers have always and will continue to test limits, to their greater or lesser peril.  I see this every day when I observe nitwits driving 10-20 MPH over the speed limit and tailgating others.  They are putting not only their lives at risk, but mine as well.  But would I advocate installing sensors in their cars that would emit ear-piercing high-frequency warnings every time that they transgressed?  Tempting, but no.  Limit testing is sometimes positive, sometimes negative, and, particularly for teenagers, is a way of learning what is bad and what is good.  Criminals violate rules, but so did early scientists, without whom we wouldn’t have this technology in the first place. 

If parents want to track their kids, they should inform them that they’re tracking them, and then they can sit down and have a discussion about responsibility, freedom, and consequences, if they are the type to have such discussions.  If they are not, then that may be the reason they need the tracking devices in the first place.  And if the kids, consequently, turn off the cell phone so that they can visit that restricted friend, then so be it.  They will at least feel that their trust has not been violated and will have a chance to develop into capable, strong-willed individuals, right or wrong, scathed or unscathed.


Digg!

Last night on Larry King Live, Bill Maher complained vociferously about the overblown cable news coverage of the latest chapter in the JonBenet Ramsey story, referring to the coverage as “eye candy.”    

Eye candy, of course, is standard on cable TV news.  News anchors and commentators, particularly female ones, are nearly indistinguishable from mannequins.  Their appearance is so extraordinarily polished and perfected that most supermodels, placed next to them, would appear more flawed and natural.  Add to this the surreal colors and lighting of the newsrooms; the careful selection of compelling images regardless of relevance to content; and busy, complex graphics, and you have a recipe for visual fixation and mental distraction.  Maher is disappointed by this because he was brought up, as he said, to think of cable news as news for “smart people.”  Come now, Bill, PBS and C-Span is news for smart people, not CNN.  A whole team of makeup artists could work on Margaret Warner, and she would still look like the neighborhood librarian, god bless her.  And I suspect that most “smart people” prefer her that way, given her necessarily serious and authoritative role.

But this is neither new or surprising. What shocked me is that Maher proceeded to provide a more specific example of “eye candy” by suggesting that the revival of the JonBenet story gave the media the chance to show images of the child “prancing around like a whore,” as he put it.  Now, this was a remarkable statement, even for Bill Maher, and I expected Larry’s switchboard to light up with outraged callers defending the child’s and, perhaps, even the parent’s innocence.  But either those calls weren’t put through or they were never received, perhaps because too many agreed with Maher’s assessment to comment.  But what exactly might they have agreed with?

This statement, “JonBenet prancing around like a whore,” particularly within the context of its reference to constant media coverage and image repetition, is remarkable for a number of reasons:

First, it suggests that the child was so successfully fetishized and sexualized that her image fascinates people to the point of obsession;

Second, it suggests that an innocent child, when fetishized in such a manner, appears “whore”-like and thus, by definition, sexually provocative to an adult male onlooker—a clear taboo;

Third, it suggests the public voyeurism that is inherent in such a display, which is both remarkable and hypocritical in a culture in which pedophilia is so demonized that its perpetrators are literally cast out of society, even after they have served their time;   

Fourth, it openly acknowledges the culture’s obsession with what is, according to Maher’s characterization, taboo imagery intended to titillate or at least fascinate even a “normal” man; and

Fifth, it imparts some of the blame on the victim, or, in this case, not the poor child but the parents who were complicit in her victimization by using her in such a manner.

Public and law enforcement suspicion of the parents’ involvement in the girl’s murder, which has never really let up since the beginning, is a direct consequence of item five.  Any mother who would treat her child as a doll and display her as such might be tempted to objectify her in more perverse and horrible ways.  So it goes. The Boulder D.A.’s latest efforts to vindicate the parents led to the current fiasco—a first-class trip out of Thailand for a very creepy, but apparently innocent man.  As has been pointed out countless times, had this been a poor black child that was so murdered, her case would be long forgotten, as would any efforts to vindicate the parents.  Her image would not fascinate in the same way as that of the blonde-haired blue-eyed child whose defiled innocence captured the imagination of those such as Mr. Karr and John and Jane Q. Public, who were raised to admire the fair-haired, fair-skinned face and regard it as the cultural standard for beauty and wholesomeness.

As for CNN, eye candy, and tabloid TV—nothing new.  What is troubling is what lies beneath the surface, the subtext of the imagery, whether it is Nancy Grace’s highly buffed and plasticized face or JonBenet’s dolled-up one.  Those who would object to open and natural depictions of human sexuality (within the context of a narrative about and for adults, for example) will continue to be fascinated by imagery that fetishizes the individual and thus obscures reality and distracts from the conscious awareness that is the essence of civic and political involvement and responsibility.  Such imagery might be appropriate in entertainment, but not in the news.


Digg!

I was very amused when I came across this article about “Crocs,” because I had recently purchased a pair of black rubbery shoes with holes in them for wearing in the garden so that I wouldn’t track dirt in the house. As it turns out, they are not so practical, because dirt and water actually gets IN them, and your feet get very dirty if you’re not wearing socks. They are cute in a funny sort of way, but essentially ugly, I thought, and not smart for wearing beyond the backyard. I purchased them at a local supermarket for around eight dollars, not, apparently on sale (an “everyday low price”) and, actually, I thought that was too pricey for plastic clogs.  Among the bright colors offered, I selected the understated and more sophisticated black ones (figuring they would get dirty).  I wore them once beyond the garden, when shopping, and imagined that people were looking at my feet.

So, imagine my surprise when I was visiting Boston and saw the same exact shoes on sale at a vendors stall in the fashionable Quincy Market for $29.99, before tax.  And imagine my further surprise when I saw a number of people wearing them, and in all the vivid colors, no less. And then I came upon this article in which a city resident bemoans what he deems an ugly “fashion trend,” these “clown shoes” that he calls “crocs,” and remarks that some people will pay as much as $35 for them. He complains that he can’t get away from them and that people even wear them in restaurants.  Of course, I googled “crocs” and found that I was hopelessly out of touch here and those plastic things I purchased were actually Croc knock-offs, sans the little crocodile emblem on the button!   

This article, by the way, is followed by 26 pages of comments, mostly by Croc devotees defending their odd shoes, some who own five pairs in various colors.  I am now pleased with my Croc-offs, and might even venture to wear them beyond the garden.

 

'Crocs' shoes, available at Whole Foods for $29.99.

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