Are there communities that are good at being good when things get bad?

Margaret Paxson writes:

Let’s just say that suddenly you are a social scientist and you want to study peace. That is, you want to understand what makes for a peaceful society. Let’s say that, for years in your work in various parts of the world, you’ve been surrounded by evidence of violence and war. From individual people, you’ve heard about beatings and arrests and murders and rapes; you’ve heard about deportations and black-masked men demanding your food or your life. You’ve heard about family violence and village violence and state violence. You’ve heard these stories from old women with loose, liquid tears and young men with arms full of prison tattoos.

There were men on horseback calling the boys to war and long black cars arriving to steal people away in the dead of night; there were girls who’d wandered the landscape, insane after sexual violations; there was the survival of the fittest in concentration camps; there were pregnant women beaten until their children were lost and bodies piled up in times of famine; there was arrest and exile for the theft of a turnip; there were those who were battered for being a Jew or a Christian or a Muslim or a Bahá’í.

Let’s say that, in the world of ideas that swirled around you, approximations were made of how to make sense of this mess: the presence of certain kinds of states; the presence of certain kinds of social diversity; the presence of certain kinds of religions. And let’s say that the shattering stories had piled on over the years and at some point you just snapped. And you wanted to study war no more.

As it turns out, it’s harder to study peace than you might think.

Or it has been for me. I’m an anthropologist who spent years living among country people asking basic questions about how memory works in groups. I thought I had some ideas for how I might start a search for peace. After all, even though the stories of violence were many, for the most part people seemed occupied with other things in life: they were working in kitchens or fields, hauling water, making decisions about what to do based on the weather, eating with guests, cleaning up after livestock. In normal times, even if they bristled sometimes, people faced each other day-to-day with working problems and working solutions. There was love and there were revelries and heartbreaks. And in spite of what they’d seen in life or what their very own hands might have wrought on their worst days, people saw themselves as basically decent, and expected basic decency back from the world.

Surely, there had to be ways of looking for that kind of eye-to-eye decency. Surely, there were ways to study its power and its limits, particularly when people were faced with tempestuous times. Were there communities out there that were good at being good when things got bad? In my research on memory, I’d studied practices of resistance and persistence. Could there be communities that were resistant to violence, persistent in decency? I didn’t know exactly what I was on to, but I knew I wanted to study it. In shorthand, I called it peace. [Continue reading…]

Thanks to genetic genealogy, anonymity will soon become a thing of the past

The New York Times reports:

The genetic genealogy industry is booming. In recent years, more than 15 million people have offered up their DNA — a cheek swab, some saliva in a test-tube — to services such as 23andMe and Ancestry.com in pursuit of answers about their heritage. In exchange for a genetic fingerprint, individuals may find a birth parent, long-lost cousins, perhaps even a link to Oprah or Alexander the Great.

But as these registries of genetic identity grow, it’s becoming harder for individuals to retain any anonymity. Already, 60 percent of Americans of Northern European descent — the primary group using these sites — can be identified through such databases whether or not they’ve joined one themselves, according to a study published today in the journal Science.

Within two or three years, 90 percent of Americans of European descent will be identifiable from their DNA, researchers found. The science-fiction future, in which everyone is known whether or not they want to be, is nigh.

“It’s not the distant future, it’s the near future,” said Yaniv Erlich, the lead author of the study. Dr. Erlich, formerly a genetic-privacy researcher at Columbia University, is the chief science officer of MyHeritage, a genetic ancestry website. [Continue reading…]

Deported parents may lose their children to adoption

The Associated Press reports:

As the deportees were led off the plane onto the steamy San Salvador tarmac, an anguished Araceli Ramos Bonilla burst into tears, her face contorted with pain: “They want to steal my daughter!”

It had been 10 weeks since Ramos had last held her 2-year-old, Alexa. Ten weeks since she was arrested crossing the border into Texas and U.S. immigration authorities seized her daughter and told her she would never see the girl again.

What followed — one foster family’s initially successful attempt to win full custody of Alexa — reveals what could happen to some of the infants, children and teens taken from their families at the border under a Trump administration policy earlier this year. The “zero-tolerance” crackdown ended in June, but hundreds of children remain in detention, shelters or foster care and U.S. officials say more than 200 are not eligible for reunification or release.

Federal officials insist they are reuniting families and will continue to do so. But an Associated Press investigation drawing on hundreds of court documents, immigration records and interviews in the U.S. and Central America identified holes in the system that allow state court judges to grant custody of migrant children to American families — without notifying their parents.

And today, with hundreds of those mothers and fathers deported thousands of miles away, the risk has grown exponentially. [Continue reading…]

The conflict over Kavanaugh’s nomination centered not on tribalism, but on a lack of justice

Peter Beinart writes:

When it comes to Brett Kavanaugh, there are three camps. The first believes it’s a travesty that he was confirmed. The second believes it’s a travesty that he was smeared. The third believes it’s a travesty that the process was so divisive.

David Brooks is in the third camp. The Kavanaugh hearings, he wrote on Friday, constituted an “American nadir.” You often hear such phrases from people who think the biggest problem with the Kavanaugh battle is that the participants weren’t more courteous and open-minded. Jeff Flake said that in debating Kavanaugh, the Senate “hit bottom.” Susan Collins called it “rock bottom.” Think about that for a second. For most of American history, Supreme Court nominees—like virtually all powerful men—could sexually assault women with complete impunity. Now, because allegations of such behavior sparked a raucous, intemperate political fight, America has hit “rock bottom,” a “nadir.” How much better things were in the good old days, when sexual-assault allegations didn’t polarize the confirmation process, because sexual-assault victims were politically invisible.

Implying, as Brooks, Flake, and Collins do, that America’s real problem is a lack of civility rather than a lack of justice requires assuming a moral equivalence between Brett Kavanaugh’s supporters and Christine Blasey Ford’s. “What we saw in these hearings,” writes Brooks, “was the unvarnished tribalization of national life.” The term tribe implies atavistic, amoral group loyalty: Huns versus Franks, Yankees versus Red Sox, Hatfields versus McCoys. There are no larger principles at stake. “There was nothing particularly ideological about the narratives,” laid out by Kavanaugh and Ford, Brooks declares, “nothing that touched on capitalism, immigration or any of the other great disputes of national life.”

But gender is indeed one of the “great disputes of national life.” The Kavanaugh fight pitted people who worry that #MeToo hasn’t changed America enough, that it’s still too easy for men to get away with sexual assault, against people who fear that #MeToo has changed America too much, that it’s become too easy for women to ruin men’s lives by charging them with sexual assault. That’s not a tribal struggle; it’s an ideological one. It involves competing visions of the relationship between women and men. [Continue reading…]

The price of speaking out against a powerful man

Tanya Selvaratnam writes:

Early in our relationship, he told me that he could tap my phone and have me followed. I knew he had the power to do this. His power was a thread that ran throughout our relationship.

We met in July 2016 at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia. I had been involved in the arts and social justice causes for more than 20 years, but producing election-related videos in 2016 was my first step into electoral politics. He approached me and was surprised I didn’t know who he was. I told him I lived in New York. He said, “Then I’m your lawyer.”

His name was Eric Schneiderman, and he was the New York State attorney general.

By August, we were spending weekends together. Soon after, we were living together. He didn’t want me out of his sight, and I was falling in love. I admired him, especially after the election, when he was celebrated as part of the opposition to the president.

One night, while we were making love, he slapped me on the face. It was as if he was testing me to see how far he could go. I could see his hand approach my cheek, tap, tap again, then slam. I was stunned. A man who had been praised for his advocacy for women and the vulnerable had just hit me.

Over time, the slaps got harder and were accompanied by demands. He would slap me until I agreed to a three-way (something I never did). He would slap me until I agreed to call him “master” or “daddy.” He called me his “property” and recounted fantasies of bringing me from somewhere far away to be his “brown slave.” He would hurl spit into my mouth and mash his lips against mine or put his hands around my throat so that it was hard for me to breathe. He sometimes looked as if he were possessed. I felt as though I had vertigo. I was scared. But when I said stop, when I jumped out of bed, he made me feel as if I wasn’t meeting his needs, that I was boring and not sexually liberated. [Continue reading…]

Whiteness won’t save white women

Alexis Grenell writes:

The voting patterns of white women and white men mirror each other much more closely, and they tend to cast their ballots for Republicans. The gender gap in politics is really a color line.

That’s because white women benefit from patriarchy by trading on their whiteness to monopolize resources for mutual gain. In return they’re placed on a pedestal to be “cherished and revered,” as Speaker Paul D. Ryan has said about women, but all the while denied basic rights.

This elevated position over women of color comes at a cost, though. Consider what Kellyanne Conway, a top adviser to the president, said at a dinner last year for New York’s Conservative Party. She suggested that higher birthrates are “how I think we fight these demographic wars moving forward.” The war, of course, is with non-white people. So it seems that white women are expected to support the patriarchy by marrying within their racial group, reproducing whiteness and even minimizing violence against their own bodies.

Recently, Ms. Conway even weaponized her own alleged sexual assault in service to her boss by discouraging women from feeling empathy with Christine Blasey Ford or anger at Judge Kavanaugh.

Ms. Conway knows that a woman who steps out of line may be ridiculed by the president himself. President Trump mocked Dr. Blasey in front of a cheering crowd on Tuesday evening. Betray the patriarchy and your whiteness won’t save you. [Continue reading…]

Cruelty is the social glue that unites Trumpworld

Adam Serwer writes:

The Trump era is such a whirlwind of cruelty that it can be hard to keep track. This week alone, the news broke that the Trump administration was seeking to ethnically cleanse more than 193,000 American children of immigrants whose temporary protected status had been revoked by the administration, that the Department of Homeland Security had lied about creating a database of children that would make it possible to unite them with the families the Trump administration had arbitrarily destroyed, that the White House was considering a blanket ban on visas for Chinese students, and that it would deny visas to the same-sex partners of foreign officials. At a rally in Mississippi, a crowd of Trump supporters cheered as the president mocked Christine Blasey Ford, the psychology professor who has said that Brett Kavanaugh, whom Trump has nominated to a lifetime appointment on the Supreme Court, attempted to rape her when she was a teenager. “Lock her up!” they shouted.

Ford testified to the Senate, utilizing her professional expertise to describe the encounter, that one of the parts of the incident she remembered most was Kavanaugh and his friend Mark Judge laughing at her as Kavanaugh fumbled at her clothing. “Indelible in the hippocampus is the laughter,” Ford said, referring to the part of the brain that processes emotion and memory, “the uproarious laughter between the two, and their having fun at my expense.” And then at Tuesday’s rally, the president made his supporters laugh at her.

Even those who believe that Ford fabricated her account, or was mistaken in its details, can see that the president’s mocking of her testimony renders all sexual-assault survivors collateral damage. Anyone afraid of coming forward, afraid that they would not be believed, can now look to the president to see their fears realized. Once malice is embraced as a virtue, it is impossible to contain. [Continue reading…]

Most Americans are too ignorant to pass a citizenship test

Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation:

Only one in three Americans (36 percent) can actually pass a multiple choice test consisting of items taken from the U.S. Citizenship Test, which has a passing score of 60, according to a national survey released today by the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation.

Only 13 percent of those surveyed knew when the U.S. Constitution was ratified, even on a multiple-choice exam similar to the citizenship exam, with most incorrectly thinking it occurred in 1776. More than half of respondents (60 percent) didn’t know which countries the United States fought in World War II. And despite the recent media spotlight on the U.S. Supreme Court, 57 percent of those surveyed did not know how many Justices actually serve on the nation’s highest court.

“With voters heading to the polls next month, an informed and engaged citizenry is essential,” Woodrow Wilson Foundation President Arthur Levine said. “Unfortunately this study found the average American to be woefully uninformed regarding America’s history and incapable of passing the U.S. Citizenship Test. It would be an error to view these findings as merely an embarrassment. Knowledge of the history of our country is fundamental to maintaining a democratic society, which is imperiled today.” [Continue reading…]

To all the fathers of all the silent victims

Monica Hesse writes:

A man emailed recently in response to something I’d written about street harassment. He was so glad, he said, that his college-age daughter never experienced anything like that. Less than a day later, he wrote again. They had just talked. She told him she’d been harassed many, many times — including that week. She hadn’t ever shared this, because she wanted to protect him from her pain.

For all the stereotypes that linger about women being too fragile or emotional, these past weeks have revealed what many women already knew: A lot of effort goes into protecting men we love from bad things that happen to us. And a lot of fathers are closer to bad things than they’ll ever know.

“Two of my daughters have told me stories that I had never heard before about things that happened to them in high school,” Fox News anchor Chris Wallace mused on air last Thursday, as he urged skeptical viewers to carefully consider the testimony of Christine Blasey Ford.

If you are a father who hasn’t heard these stories, that doesn’t mean they don’t exist. They’ve been pouring into my inbox almost every day.

To the father of the young woman who was assaulted by the student athlete she was hired to tutor: She never told you because she didn’t want to break your heart. But she told me, in a long email, because the memory of it was breaking her own heart and she’d spent five years replaying it.

To the father of the junior high student who was pinned down and undressed at a gathering 30 years ago: She didn’t tell you because she didn’t want to see you cry. But she told me that she still remembers every detail.

To the father of the teenager who was raped at a party. You don’t know about this, because she was certain that if you knew, you would kill her attacker and go to prison, and it would be her fault.

To the father of the son who was assaulted by an older man: I wish I could tell you more about what happened to him, but he wouldn’t tell me, and he definitely won’t tell you, because manliness is important to you, he says.

To all the fathers of all the silent victims: Your children are quietly carrying these stories, not because they can’t handle their emotions but because they’re worried that you can’t. [Continue reading…]

Kavanaugh’s problem with alcohol

Jessica Francis Kane writes:

Alcoholism runs through my family, and what I saw every time Kavanaugh was questioned about his drinking was achingly familiar. The defiance, the casual references to “liking beer,” the mentioning of a friend who has a real problem, the insistence that he was the “Ralph King” because he has a “delicate stomach,” the turning the question on the questioner—all are tactics of the person with alcoholism who has been cornered. I’ve seen this scene before—in a kitchen, and in a driveway. But I was stunned to see it on the floor of a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing.

I watched some of the news analysis of the hearing, hoping this angle would be discussed. But while there’s been quite a bit of discussion about Kavanaugh’s high school and college habits, there’s been very little discussion about his drinking now. Yet Kavanaugh used the present tense often. He said “I like beer” a number of times. He even asked two of the senators what they like to drink, the implication being now, not when they were in high school. When pressed during the hearing about whether he drank to excess in the past, Kavanaugh avoided the question and instead recited his accomplishments: Yale, Yale Law School, 12 years a federal judge. But high achievement in these realms doesn’t actually tell us anything about Kavanaugh’s drinking habits, now or in the past. Going to Yale is not an assurance of sobriety, and it does not rule out the possibility that he was also a problem drinker.

Based on the testimony of Ford and numerous accounts of people who knew, and drank with, Kavanaugh in college, we have good reason to believe that he abused alcohol in his youth. Liz Swisher, a former classmate, has said, “He drank heavily. He was a partier. He liked to do beer bongs. He played drinking games. He was a sloppy drunk.” Another acquaintance, Charles Ludington, released a statement saying, “On many occasions I heard Brett slur his words and saw him staggering from alcohol consumption, not all of which was beer. When Brett got drunk, he was often belligerent and aggressive.” We do not know whether he continues to drink this way, but the way he responded to questions about his past drinking makes it a relevant question. And yet, even in one of the most charged Senate committee hearings in decades, no one was willing to ask about his current drinking habits. [Continue reading…]