My daughter, who goes to Stuyvesant High School only blocks from the World Trade Center, thinks we should fly an American flag out our window. Definitely not, I say: The flag stands for jingoism and vengeance and war. She tells me I'm wrong--the flag means standing together and honoring the dead and saying no to terrorism. In a way we're both right: The Stars and Stripes is the only available symbol right now. In New York City, it decorates taxicabs driven by Indians and Pakistanis, the impromptu memorials of candles and flowers that have sprung up in front of every firehouse, the chi-chi art galleries and boutiques of SoHo. It has to bear a wide range of meanings, from simple, dignified sorrow to the violent anti-Arab and anti-Muslim bigotry that has already resulted in murder, vandalism and arson around the country and harassment on New York City streets and campuses. It seems impossible to explain to a 13-year-old, for whom the war in Vietnam might as well be the War of Jenkins's Ear, the connection between waving the flag and bombing ordinary people half a world away back to the proverbial stone age. I tell her she can buy a flag with her own money and fly it out her bedroom window, because that's hers, but the living room is off-limits.
There are no symbolic representations right now for the things the world really needs--equality and justice and humanity and solidarity and intelligence. The red flag is too bloodied by history; the peace sign is a retro fashion accessory. In much of the world, including parts of this country, the cross and crescent and Star of David are logos for nationalistic and sectarian hatred. Ann Coulter, fulminating in her syndicated column, called for carpet-bombing of any country where people "smiled" at news of the disaster: "We should invade their countries, kill their leaders, and convert them to Christianity." What is this, the Crusades? The Rev. Jerry Falwell issued a belated mealy-mouthed apology for his astonishing remarks immediately after the attacks, but does anyone doubt that he meant them? The disaster was God's judgment on secular America, he observed, as famously secular New Yorkers were rushing to volunteer to dig out survivors, to give blood, food, money, anything--it was all the fault of "the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians...the ACLU, People for the American Way." That's what the Taliban think too.
As I write, the war talk revolves around Afghanistan, home of the vicious Taliban and hideaway of Osama bin Laden. I've never been one to blame the United States for every bad thing that happens in the Third World, but it is a fact that our government supported militant Islamic fundamentalism in Afghanistan after the Soviet invasion in 1979. The mujahedeen were freedom fighters against Communism, backed by more than $3 billion in US aid--more money and expertise than for any other cause in CIA history--and hailed as heroes by tag-along journalists from Dan Rather to William T. Vollmann, who saw these lawless fanatics as manly primitives untainted by the West. (There's a story in here about the attraction Afghan hypermasculinity holds for desk-bound modern men. How lovely not to pay lip service to women's equality! It's cowboys and Indians, with harems thrown in.) And if, with the Soviets gone, the vying warlords turned against one another, raped and pillaged and murdered the civilian population and destroyed what still remained of normal Afghan life, who could have predicted that? These people! The Taliban, who rose out of this period of devastation, were boys, many of them orphans, from the wretched refugee camps of Pakistan, raised in the unnatural womanless hothouses of fundamentalist boarding schools. Even leaving aside their ignorance and provincialism and lack of modern skills, they could no more be expected to lead Afghanistan back to normalcy than an army made up of kids raised from birth in Romanian orphanages.
Feminists and human-rights groups have been sounding the alarm about the Taliban since they took over Afghanistan in 1996. That's why interested Americans know that Afghan women are forced to wear the total shroud of the burqa and are banned from work and from leaving their homes unless accompanied by a male relative; that girls are barred from school; and that the Taliban--far from being their nation's saviors, enforcing civic peace with their terrible swift Kalashnikovs--are just the latest oppressors of the miserable population. What has been the response of the West to this news? Unless you count the absurd infatuation of European intellectuals with the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance of fundamentalist warlords (here we go again!), not much.
What would happen if the West took seriously the forces in the Muslim world who call for education, social justice, women's rights, democracy, civil liberties and secularism? Why does our foreign policy underwrite the clerical fascist government of Saudi Arabia--and a host of nondemocratic regimes besides? What is the point of the continuing sanctions on Iraq, which have brought untold misery to ordinary people and awakened the most backward tendencies of Iraqi society while doing nothing to undermine Saddam Hussein? And why on earth are fundamentalist Jews from Brooklyn and Philadelphia allowed to turn Palestinians out of their homes on the West Bank? Because God gave them the land? Does any sane person really believe that?
Bombing Afghanistan to "fight terrorism" is to punish not the Taliban but the victims of the Taliban, the people we should be supporting. At the same time, war would reinforce the worst elements in our own society--the flag-wavers and bigots and militarists. It's heartening that there have been peace vigils and rallies in many cities, and antiwar actions are planned in Washington, DC, for September 29-30, but look what even the threat of war has already done to Congress, where only a single representative, Barbara Lee, Democrat from California, voted against giving the President virtual carte blanche.
A friend has taken to wearing her rusty old women's Pentagon Action buttons--at least they have a picture of the globe on them. The globe, not the flag, is the symbol that's wanted now.
The best thing about my summer in the country was
that I didn't have a TV and usually got to the market after the tiny
clutch of papers had already been snatched up by the local
information junkies. So I missed a lot of Really Important News. Gary
Condit, who? Most of my friends believe he had "something to do" with
Chandra Levy's disappearance, despite the lack of any evidence or
motive or even credible scenario for same. This shows how desperately
we long for life to be more interesting than it really is, but will
somebody please tell me why the people at Buzzflash.com and other
hardcore Democratic propagandists want progressives, liberals,
Dems--whatever Nation readers are calling themselves these
days--to rally to the defense of this slimeball? He doesn't even have
a good voting record! (During the Contract With America years he
voted with Newt Gingrich 77 percent of the time, and he has been
pressed often to switch parties.) Count me out--I used up all my
humor and worldliness on Bill and Monica, not to mention their
numerous real-life equivalents. My position on sexually predatory
politicians, with their interns (and aides and flight attendants), is
the same as for the ever-popular aging male professor/bushy-tailed
young grad student combo: These people, both the men and the women,
are on their own. If half of Congress had to go home in
disgrace to Modesto, and half the intern pool learned the hard way
that there's more to getting ahead than giving head, why would that
In sports news, we had the story of Danny Almonte,
the 14-year-old 12-year-old who pitched a perfect game for his Bronx
Little League team, leading them to a third-place finish in the
international championship. Bring on President Bush and Mayor
Giuliani, the television cameras and the ticker-tape parade! The
unearthing of Danny's true birth certificate, showing he was born in
1987, not 1989, was spun out in the press for days on end, with vast
quantities of shocked fake-solicitous moralizing ladled on by every
sports commentator in America and then some. Said sports agent Drew
Rosenhaus on CNN's TalkBack Live, "If you start cheating and
start making excuses for that, you're destroying the American dream
here." In quest of baseball glory, Danny's parents lied and exploited
him, messed with his head and, it was believed at one point, hadn't
even enrolled him in school--all very bad. But what do you expect in
our sports-and-entertainment-addled country? As Joyce Purnick pointed
out in an acid column in the New York Times, no one makes a
fuss about New York City public school kids who, against great odds,
win writing competitions or debating championships or excel
academically (not even the Board of Education, which had trouble
coming up with a list of relevant names)--and then we wonder why so
many inner-city kids blow off their education in favor of a "dream"
about being a rapper, a movie star, a model, a sports hero. The Bronx
is full of teenage Dominican immigrants like Danny, who've dropped
out of their awful schools, where they learned nothing, to face bleak
futures in the subproletariat, without even a chance at getting their
pictures in the paper unless they happen to be run over by a drunken
policeman. Where's the outrage about that?
being expended on superpublicist-to-the-stars Lizzie Grubman's
automotive rampage in the parking lot of the Hamptons' Conscience
Point Inn. Or perhaps it's been kidnapped by the Rev. Al Sharpton,
who's taking a break from black-Hispanic bridge-building over target
practice on Vieques to feud with right-wing New York Post
columnist Rod Dreher, who questioned the good taste of 22-year-old
singer Aaliyah's funeral procession down Fifth Avenue: "A
traffic-snarling, horse-drawn cortege in honor of a pop singer most
people have never heard of? Give us a break!" Dreher went on to
cruelly contrast Aaliyah's song lyrics with the poetry of Byron,
deserving recipient of lavish obsequies from a grateful nation. In
response Sharpton called for a boycott of the Post and its
advertisers: "It was ugly and divisive. She was degraded," he said.
"What would make her not worthy of this type of
Too right. I can't think of a more important
issue than celebrity funerals for a self-described national black
leader to be addressing right now! Unless, of course, it is the
absence of black faces on television, the pet cause of Kweisi Mfume,
president of the NAACP. Syndicated columnist Cynthia Tucker and
others have charged that Mfume was pushing this issue in order to
promote himself as a talk-show host, although media imagery and
representation is a standard issue for identity-based organizations
from NOW to the Anti-Defamation League. In any case, Mfume, a
national figure and former Congressman who appeared on cable for
years, would make at least as worthy a regular commentator as, oh I
don't know, the racially humorous Don Imus, or Rush Limbaugh, or
Chris Matthews. I'd watch.
The real issue, though, is that
television is the least of black America's problems. Sure, it's
absurd that all the young nudnicks on Friends, Will &
Grace, Dawson's Creek and other top-ranked shows my
daughter loves are white, but life is short and time's a-wasting. How
much energy does the nation's largest black organization want to
spend shoehorning an African-American best friend into Dharma
& Greg or getting Clarence Page more face time on CNN? It was
left to one Emory Curtis, whose essay "Blacks on TV or Educate Our
Kids?" was posted on the Black Radical Congress e-mail list in
August, to make the obvious point. For three years the NAACP has been
making a major issue out of the prime-time lineup. Where is its
crusade against the terrible state of education for black children?
Curtis notes that black kids trail by almost every measure: On last
year's National Assessment of Educational Progress, one in three
white fourth graders performed at grade level, which is itself pretty
shocking--but only one in twenty black fourth graders did. In
California, three out of four black fourth and eighth graders were at
the lowest level, "below basic"--about the same as eight years
Well, summer's over. Time to turn off the set?
Courtney Love's plea to fellow recording artists
to join her in the creation of a new musicians' guild, printed below,
is the latest blow to the beleaguered "Big Five
The President now says he will make the decision on federal funding of embryonic stem cell research before Labor Day--in time to catch the wave of his just-announced refocusing of his Administration on "values." (Apparently tax cuts for the rich and drilling in the Arctic aren't catnip to women voters. Who knew? Bring on that all-abstinence-all-the-time cable station America's soccer moms are clamoring for!) Perhaps revealing more than he intended about customary decision-making procedures at the White House, Bush has said that his Administration is being "unusually deliberative" about stem cells. Most people, not to mention the powerful biotech industry, say they want the research to go forward, even though it involves the destruction of four- to six-day-old blastocysts left over from fertility treatments. However, Bush not only promised during the campaign that he would eliminate the funding, he went to the Vatican in July for direction, as any good Methodist would do, where the Pope declared that "a tragic coarsening of consciences accompanies the assault on innocent human life in the womb," and out of it, too. If only Bush had gone to a rabbi--modern medicine practically is the Jewish religion.
In a rational world, the President would decide on funding by thinking about whether this was the best use of the country's money and brainpower--but then, in a rational world, the President would not be making this decision at all, as if he were a medieval king dispensing largesse and boons. In this world, the stem cell debate is not about health policy, it's about abortion: Is a 150-cell blastocyst--the equivalent of a fertilized egg not yet implanted in the womb--a person or not? Many people usually lined up on the antichoice side have a hard time visualizing a frozen speck as a baby, especially since, as my friend Dr. Michelle pointed out, that frozen speck could be helping to cure diseases Republican men get, like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's. (Would we be having this debate if the research showed promise to cure Chagas' disease and sleeping sickness?)
According to Orrin Hatch, it's OK to destroy a frozen embryo because the embryo is only a person if it's in a woman. This location theory of personhood is obviously unsatisfactory: You put the cells in the woman, it's a person, you take them out, it's not a person, you put them back in, voilà!--it's a person again. You might as well say Orrin Hatch is a person in his office but not in his car. If, as antichoicers like to claim, what makes personhood is a full set of chromosomes--rather than, say, possession of a gender, a body, a head, a brain--then a clump of cells in an ice cube tray is at least as much a person as Trent Lott. Maybe more.
I think I see a way to help the President out of his difficulties. The White House should ask opponents of embryonic stem cell research to sign a legally binding pledge forgoing any treatment or procedures derived from it, both for themselves and their minor offspring. If they really believe that frozen embryos are children, they should have no problem with this. An impressive list of right-wing pundits have laid out the argument in characteristically colorful fashion: Andrew Sullivan, for instance, insisted in The New Republic that the blastocyst is "the purest form of human being" and to kill it is to "extinguish us." (Someone should tell him that nearly half of all fertilized eggs fail to implant and are washed out with menstruation--maybe there should be funerals for tampons, just to be on the safe side.) In the Washington Times, Michael Fumento writes that stem cell research "rightly or wrongly" summons up visions of Dr. Mengele's Auschwitz experiments. Who, after all, would be willing to treat their illness with a potion of boiled 5-year-olds? Well, maybe some very bad 5-year-olds, already set on the path to crime and low SAT scores by single mothers, but you see my point. As Eric Cohen put it in The Weekly Standard, "to ask the sick and dying to love the mystery of life more than their own lives" is a bit like asking comfortable Americans to sacrifice themselves in wars against tyranny around the globe: "Both require a courageous commitment to something larger than self-interest." The mystery of life versus, well, life. Let's put people on record.
If frozen embryos really are children, though, is it enough not to kill them? Don't we need to rescue them from the icy wasteland to which they have been consigned? Their selfish yuppie biological parents may have abandoned them, but the Family Research Council says that every frozen embryo should have "an opportunity to be born" and I am surprised that the antichoicers haven't yet rallied to the cause. True, a few women unable to conceive naturally have been implanted with the leftover embryos of others, but there are some 100,000 frozen embryos in need of homes--it's like a whole other foster-care system.
Antichoice women are the only hope to get those embryos out of Frigidaire limbo. As they like to say, an extra pregnancy is just an inconvenience, its health dangers much exaggerated by prochoice babykillers and its opportunities for moral growth scorned by our culture of death. So, Concerned Women for America, give a frozen embryo the gift of gestation! Mona Charen, Ann Coulter, it isn't enough to write columns comparing stem cell research to tearing transplantable organs out of freshly killed prisoners--you could be leading the way! Think of the talk-show opportunities. ("Chris, some people think we right-wing women are a pack of peroxided harpies, but when I thought of those adorable cells just trapped in there with the yogurt, I knew I had to help!") They can always put the baby up for adoption so it will be raised by normal people, as they think pregnant singles ought to do. Frozen embryo rescue would be an interesting project for the Sisters of Life, the antichoice order of nuns founded by the late John Cardinal O'Connor. Sort of a virgin birth kind of thing.
In a pinch, the President can always call on welfare moms laid off from their jobs at Wendy's in the looming recession. It would be a natural extension of his plan to offer healthcare directly to poor fetuses, a sort of housing program for blastocysts. Compassionate conservatism at its best!
Somethin's happenin' here
What it is ain't exactly clear.
Unstable chemistry can cause spectacular effects--that's one way to think of Buffalo Springfield. Another is to consider the band an American musical smorgasbord (though it had three Canadians in it), descended from the Whitmanian ideal to be vast and multitude-containing, and from the self-invented musical yawps of folks like Harry Partch. Yet another is to see it as a pivotal pop avatar, with direct spinoffs like Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young and Poco, and a big impact on every major rock band of the past thirty-five years, from the Band to the Eagles to the Police.
It was a smaller world in 1966; the few narrow byways off mainstream culture, whether jazz or the folk revival or political satire or Beat poetry, all eventually intersected. Which brings us to that fabled day when five folk-revival refugees connected. Richie Furay and Stephen Stills pulled up behind Neil Young's 1953 Pontiac hearse with Ontario plates in a traffic jam on the Sunset Strip. Furay and Stills had been part of a nine-member New York City outfit called the Au Go-Go Singers. Young had met Furay in New York and taught him a surreal song, "Nowadays Clancy Can't Even Sing." Stills, who'd grown up everywhere from Illinois to Central America, first met Young on tour in Canada; the two had decided to try to work together then, but Young split, so the day was postponed until LA gridlock brought them together. Stills had come to LA to audition for the Monkees; he failed because of bad teeth. Young had come looking for Stills. In the hearse with Young was fellow Canadian folkie Bruce Palmer. They agreed to form a band virtually on the spot, and went to pick up Dewey Martin, who played drums. Thus was born, in the best mythic rock and roll manner, Buffalo Springfield, one of the period's best garage bands.
Its members had very different voices and their harmonies blended richly; they could be edgy or gentle. Their songwriting was strikingly diverse, their individual musicianship adept and adaptable. Their music ran the gamut from the raunchiest rock to the trippiest, from cutting-edge to banal; it was frequently powered by soul-music bass and beats, and constantly stirred in soul, country, blues, gospel, jazz, raga, Latin--you name it. Between 1966 and 1968 they held together, as periodic pot busts banished bassist Palmer back to Canada, and ego blowups between Stills and Young escalated and sent Young packing for part of 1967; they were arguably the most important rock band in America, even with only one significant hit. Then in May 1968, after yet another pot bust in Topanga Canyon with Eric Clapton and the financial collapse of a Southern tour after Martin Luther King's assassination, Buffalo Springfield disintegrated.
Which brings us to Buffalo Springfield (Rhino/Atco), a prosaically titled four-CD set that, for better and worse, captures the band's kaleidoscopic range. They could be blandly commercial. On their first album, Beatlesy efforts like "Sit Down I Think I Love You" and "Do I Have to Come Right Out and Say It," with earache-inducing harmonies right out of the British Moppet Handbook, inadvertently highlight meatier material. For when the Sunset Strip riots hit in 1966 as the LAPD cracked down on Pandora's Box, a teen rock club, Stills penned the group's only AM hit, "For What It's Worth"; when it made the charts, it was inserted into the hastily revamped first album.
The song marked a new sound: ominous, with its identifying riff of two single reverb-dripping guitar notes over rumbling bass, its vaguely threatened and threatening lyrics, its stark yet sweet harmonies. (It's also inevitably popped up in contemporary film and ad soundtracks.) That filed the band forever under "folk-rock," although it's hard, listening back, to imagine why.
Live, the Springfield's shows were renowned for their volume and violence, as guitarists Young and Stills dueled and thrashed for power--a stage-bound parable of the group's inner workings, perhaps, but also a fabulous generator of sonic ideas. Young's experimentalism and lunges into feedback were complemented by Stills's sweeter melodic turns--though they could, and often did, switch roles at the drop of a beat. Furay's rhythm guitar nestled between the athletic, r&b-meets-McCartney bass of Bruce Palmer and the shape-shifting drumwork of Dewey Martin. They made awesome homemade improvisations.
The boxed set's second disc gives glimpses of those, via previously unreleased jams. "Kahuna Sunset" is a hippie fantasy, an updated surf-guitar lilt that left-turns into a raga-inspired jam. (Not to worry that raga is a complex form demanding discipline and knowledge: Ravi Shankar, discipled by the Beatles and John Coltrane, was the moment's international-music icon. And thousands of teen guitar players, fascinated by the altered sounds that would flower most fully in Jimi Hendrix, wanted to sound like a sitar doing modal runs.) It closes with Young's Yardbird-influenced rave-up style, though his attack is almost diametrically opposed to Yardbird guitarist Jeff Beck's: Young frets slowly with his left hand and with his right picks feverishly.
On "Buffalo Stomp," guitars wind in and out until the jam revs into squalls of feedback against a backdrop of interwoven solos--rock Dixieland. Among the players is Skip Spence on kazoo; he was Jefferson Airplane's first drummer and would soon co-found Moby Grape, a multivocalist guitar army from San Francisco's Flower Power era, much like Buffalo Springfield itself. And pieces like "Bluebird," a guitar-stuffed four-minute mini-suite on disc, would open into mammoth jams onstage.
In the studio, Buffalo Springfield grazed even more widely. They could unchain their pop imaginations and their record collections and run wild across an American landscape that had recently been opened wide by Bob Dylan and the Beatles.
When British rockers invaded the United States in 1964, they peddled reworked American r&b, rockabilly and other pop to American kids tired of saccharine hits by voiceless commercial fabrications named Bobby and Fabian--forerunners of today's teenypop idols. The Brits were especially good at recycling r&b hits by black artists, often invisible on the white-dominated pop charts of the time, into guitar-powered pop with Everly Brothers vocals. Far from the land where these forms were born, British kids heard them as a release from the boredom of homemade UK folk-revival offshoots like skiffle; they became building blocks to be played with as much as styles to be mimicked. It was the same energy that had led 1950s blue-collar Southern kids to refashion r&b and country into rockabilly in their back yards.
Eclectic, populist, postmodern--choose what terms you like--this was key to the 1960s transition of rock and roll into rock. The guitar, portable and cheap, made music-making widely available; garage bands were the ubiquitous result. As electric amplifiers became smaller and cheaper, even basement-bound guitarists could experiment with sound shaping--punching holes in a speaker to get fuzztone, loosening tubes for distortion, rolling the volume pots for violin effects. Early effects boxes for plugging into the signal chain started to appear. It was like getting a do-it-yourself art kit.
It was also an extension of America's postwar cultural renaissance. Whitman's heirs--jazz artists, the Beats, the Abstract Expressionists, the folk revivalists--all shared a romantic, if sometimes romantically cynical, critique of that hangover from the Great Depression and World War II, the gray-flannel 1950s. As counterweight they re-emphasized the value of play, long recognized as one of art's core cultural values; influenced by jazz improvisation and the civil rights movement, they revamped play into an artistic and a moral code. The subcultures of black America were valued even when they were misunderstood.
The romantic notion of authentic popular culture--a folk culture where there is minimal mediation between artists and audience--is an elusive grail. In modern commercial pop culture, that polarity is always in flux, but the folkie notion was a potent one during the 1960s. It was ironic that Bob Dylan, in a characteristic paradox, translated that model into both artistic and commercial success; inevitably, he was accused of selling out. And yet, armed with his nonvoice and limited guitar skills and panoramic musical taste and rapidly growing imagination, he personified the folk revival's longing for a popular hero who would forge a new sound and, incidentally, a new sense of community.
He had plenty to play with: Postwar America was full of new musical syntheses. Both jazz and folk musicians were interested in music from Africa and India, the Caribbean and Asia, for instance, as well as African-American gospel and blues. Thanks to the likes of Dylan and the Beatles, this legacy energized garage bands, crackling across the Anglo-American world, where forming a band became something countless thousands of kids did. Think of garage bands as the inheritors of the 1950s folk-revival aesthetic, and as the precursors of hip-hop: the street-level site where the reassimilation of pop culture becomes a feedback loop. In that sense, Buffalo Springfield was one of rock's ultimate garage bands.
Naming themselves after a logo Stills spotted on a steamroller, they were late for the party that was already cresting toward the Summer of Love and Woodstock, but they quickly made up for lost time and joined the central cast. Soul music was their touchstone; it wasn't just an accident that they recorded for Atlantic Records, a big indie label that made its fame by recording black artists from Joe Turner to Solomon Burke. And in the mid-1960s, soul music ruled the dance floors of America. The Rascals and the Righteous Brothers lifted blue-eyed soul into artistic and commercial payoff. Even whitebread folk-rockers like the Byrds were, thanks to Gram Parsons, countrifying soul hits like "You Don't Miss Your Water."
Neil Young, by contrast, wrote "Mr. Soul," a fierce attack on celebrity (including his own) and the record biz; his wispy vibrato rode with metalloid and country guitars over thundering Four Tops-style bass. He also wrote "Burned": "Been burned," he yelps, "and with both feet on the ground," a characteristic verbal incongruity backed by musical incongruity. Chugging Motown bass and honky-tonk piano share center soundstage: The piano takes a just-enough-out-of-tune solo, followed by Hawaiian-flavored slide guitar, which downshifts into a Beatles-knockoff rideout. This was the band's second single.
With its demos and remixed and finished tracks, Buffalo Springfield amply demonstrates how explosive and creative the band's chemistry could be. It leaves a curious fan wanting more when a more casual fan has had more than enough. In me, it inspires a list of highlights:
Two Young demos of early interior dreamscapes--the painfully ethereal "Out of My Mind" and vulnerable "Flying on the Ground Is Wrong." The tight-wound Stills-Furay harmonies and beautiful acoustic simplicity on the demo for "Baby Don't Scold Me," ultimately released as a mix of stiff Supremes' drumbeats, reverb and psychedelic guitar raunch that overshadowed the bittersweet lyrics. "Nowadays Clancy Can't Even Sing," an early Young art-rocker with twining guitars, opaque lyrics and a time-signature shift that highlights Furay's unpleasantly blocky phrasing. The massed-guitar country-rock and Miles Standish love triangle of "Go and Say Goodbye." The r&b goodtime feel of Stills's "Hot Dusty Roads," with its heavily treated guitar solo and whimsical genre twist: "I don't tell no tales about no hot dusty roads/I'm a city boy and I stay at home." The Zombies-ish jazz-bossa inflections of "Pretty Girl Why," and the walking bass and jazzy modal drone of "Everydays," cut more than a year before Miles Davis's Bitches Brew. The guitar-orchestra suite called "Bluebird." The drippy psychedelic orchestration and Moody Blues-like choir on "Expecting to Fly." The vocal handoff, straight out of two-tenor gospel groups, on "Hung Upside Down," where Furay's soulful lead yields the chorus to Still's raunchy wails. The gently stinging ironies of "A Child's Claim to Fame," underlined by hired hand James Burton's dobro solo. (Burton played guitar with Ricky Nelson, Elvis Presley and Gram Parsons.) The galloping drive and stinging guitar lines of "Rock and Roll Woman" that leave you feeling like you've just danced with a truck. The Dylan-modeled imagery and phrasing of Young's demos like "The Rent Is Always Due." The art-house melodrama and Sgt. Pepper orchestration of "Broken Arrow." The dark blues of Stills's husky musings and piano on the demo for "Four Days Gone." The punk flipping the bird to convention of "Special Care," where Stills plays all the instruments but drums.
That last cut is from Last Time Around, which was recorded over nearly a year; as time wore on, the band was disintegrating, as the Beatles did during the White Album. Stills and Young started producing their own sessions; Stills sang and played nearly all the parts on cuts like "Questions," here a biting soul-rocker with blues-drenched vocals, later cutely rearranged as a harmony piece for Crosby, Stills & Nash.
Young was out of the Springfield when they appeared at Monterey Pop, the June 1967 fete launching the Summer of Love. He was back for the Topanga Canyon bust. His bandmates would recombine: latter-day bassist/engineer Jim Messina with Richie Furay in Poco; Stills with the Byrds' David Crosby and later Young again. They'd all pursue solo careers: Young most spectacularly, Stills with solo projects and co-op ventures like "Super Session," which joined him with Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper. Meantime, Buffalo Springfield became a legend.
Is the boxed set an effective representation of the legend? Well, it's got the same middle-finger whimsy the group itself had: The booklet, perhaps as a tipoff to its sensibility, opens with a Wallace Stevens-inspired page titled "Various Accounts of Their Meeting in Hollywood." And it's taken ten years to put together because of the same old egos. It's definitely worth complaining that the twenty-six duplicated album cuts could have been replaced by additional rarities. The booklet's sometimes hard-to-read design, a postmodern swirl of artfully collaged documents and pictures, leaves misinterpretation rampant, though the one-page historical essay by Pete Long is fact-packed. The fan's-eye view by Ken Viola jumps disconcertingly around the booklet. The discographical annotation is complete but could use explication. And there's a complete tour schedule, which ends with Buffalo Springfield opening for the Beach Boys and Strawberry Alarm Clock on the last 1968 tour. It's worth recalling that at just about the same time, Jimi Hendrix was opening a tour for the Monkees.
Is human cloning a feminist issue? Two
cloning bans are currently winding their way through Congress: In the
Senate, the Human Cloning Prohibition Act seeks to ban all cloning of
human cells, while a House version leaves a window open for cloning
stem cells but bans attempts to create a cloned human being. Since
both bills are the brainchildren of antichoice Republican yahoos, who
have done nothing for women's health or rights in their entire lives,
I was surprised to get an e-mail inviting me to sign a petition
supporting the total ban, organized by feminist heroine Judy
Norsigian of the Boston Women's Health Book Collective (the producers
of Our Bodies, Ourselves) and signed by Ruth Hubbard, Barbara
Seaman, Naomi Klein and many others (you can find it at
www.ourbodiesourselves.org/clone3.htm). Are feminists so worried about "creating a
duplicate human" that they would ban potentially useful medical
research? Isn't that the mirror image of antichoice attempts to block
research using stem cells from embryos created during in vitro
My antennae go up when people start talking about
threats to "human individuality and dignity"--that's a harrumph, not
an argument. The petition raises one real ethical issue, however,
that hasn't gotten much attention but by itself justifies a ban on
trying to clone a person: The necessary experimentation--implanting
clonal embryos in surrogate mothers until one survives till
birth--would involve serious medical risks for the women and lots of
severely defective babies. Dolly, the cloned Scottish sheep, was the
outcome of a process that included hundreds of monstrous discards,
and Dolly herself has encountered developmental problems. That's good
reason to go slow on human research--especially when you consider
that the people pushing it most aggressively are the Raelians, the
UFO-worshiping cult of technogeeks who have enlisted the services of
Panayiotis Zanos, a self-described "cowboy" of assisted reproduction
who has been fired from two academic jobs for financial and other
Experimental ethics aside, though, I have a hard
time taking cloning seriously as a threat to women or anyone
else--the scenarios are so nutty. Jean Bethke Elshtain, who took a
break from bashing gay marriage to testify last month before Congress
against cloning, wrote a piece in The New Republic in 1997 in
which she seemed to think cloning an adult cell would produce another
adult--a carbon of yourself that could be kept for spare parts, or
maybe a small army of Mozart xeroxes, all wearing knee breeches and
playing the Marriage of Figaro. Actually, Mozart's clone would
be less like him than identical twins are like each other: He would
have different mitochondrial DNA and a different prenatal
environment, not to mention a childhood in twenty-first-century
America with the Smith family rather than in eighteenth-century
Austria under the thumb of the redoubtable Leopold Mozart. The clone
might be musical, or he might be a billiard-playing lounge lizard,
but he couldn't compose Figaro. Someone already did
People thinking about cloning tend to imagine Brave New
World dystopias in which genetic engineering reinforces
inequality. But why, for example, would a corporation go to the
trouble of cloning cheap labor? We have Mexico and Central America
right next door! As for cloning geniuses to create superbabies, good
luck. The last thing most Americans want are kids smarter than they
are, rolling their eyeballs every time Dad starts in on the gays and
slouching off to their rooms to I-M other genius kids in Sanskrit.
Over nine years, only 229 babies were born to women using the sperm
bank stocked with Nobel Prize winners' semen--a tiny fraction, I'll
bet, of those conceived in motel rooms with reproductive assistance
from Dr. Jack Daniel's.
Similarly, cloning raises fears of
do-it-yourself eugenics--designer babies "enhanced" through gene
manipulation. It's hard to see that catching on, either. Half of all
pregnancies are unintended in this country. People could be planning
for "perfect" babies today--preparing for conception by giving up
cigarettes and alcohol and unhealthy foods, reading Stendhal to their
fetuses in French. Only a handful of yuppie control freaks actually
do this, the same ones who obsess about getting their child into a
nursery school that leads straight to Harvard. Those people are
already the "genetic elite"--white, with lots of family money. What
do they need genetic enhancement for? They think they're perfect
Advocates of genetic tinkering make a lot of assumptions
that opponents tacitly accept: for instance, that intelligence,
talent and other qualities are genetic, and in a simple way. Gays,
for example, worry that discovery of a "gay gene" will permit
selective abortion of homosexual fetuses, but it's obvious that
same-sex desire is more complicated than a single gene. Think of
Ancient Greece, or Smith College. Even if genetic enhancement isn't
the pipe dream I suspect it is, feminists should be the first to
understand how socially mediated supposedly inborn qualities
are--after all, women are always being told anatomy is their
There's a strain of feminism that comes out of the
women's health movement of the seventies that is deeply suspicious of
reproductive technology. In this view, prenatal testing, in vitro
fertilization and other innovations commodify women's bodies, are
subtly coercive and increase women's anxieties, while moving us
steadily away from experiencing pregnancy and childbirth as normal,
natural processes. There's some truth to that, butwhat about the side
of feminism that wants to open up new possibilities for women?
Reproductive technology lets women have children, and healthy
children, later; have kids with lesbian partners; have kids despite
disabilities and illness. Cloning sounds a little weird, but so did
in vitro in 1978, when Louise Brown became the first "test tube
baby." Of course, these technologies have evolved in the context of
for-profit medicine; of course they represent skewed priorities,
given that 43 million Americans lack health insurance and millions
worldwide die of curable diseases like malaria. Who could argue that
the money and brain power devoted to cloning stem cells could not be
better used on something else? But the same can be said of every
aspect of American life. The enemy isn't the research, it's
Most of the time I think of gay rights, women's emancipation and the decline of male dominance as irreversible historical processes, blah blah, driven as they are by powerful material, social and intellectual forces, blah blah blah. Then comes the Bush Administration and I find myself thinking: Yeah, right. Who would have imagined, for example, that the bright and shiny year 2001 would see the President moving to take away contraception coverage in insurance for federal workers? Is birth control "controversial" now? And what would Karl Marx say about abstinence education--slated for a huge increase in the budget, despite studies suggesting it is as worthless as the missile defense shield? Or about the angels-on-a-pinhead debate over stem cell research? I mean, why help actually existing people with painful fatal diseases when you can give an embryo a Christian burial?
According to the census, American families increasingly come in all shapes and sizes--single moms (7.2 percent), single dads (2.1 percent), live-togethers with kids (5.1 percent). "Nuclear households"--two married parents with children--are down to 23.5 percent of all households, the lowest ever. The census doesn't measure gay and lesbian parents, but their numbers are on the rise as well. So this is exactly the moment for Wade Horn, head of the Fatherhood Initiative and scourge of nontraditional families, to be nominated as assistant secretary for family support at HHS, where he'll be in charge of a vast array of programs serving poor children and families--from welfare and childcare to child support, adoption, foster care and domestic violence--and will have a great deal of influence over the reauthorization of welfare reform, coming up next year.
For Horn, "fatherlessness" causes every woe, from the Columbine massacre (hello?--both killers came from intact families) to "promiscuity" among teenage girls. "Growing up without a father is like being in a car with a drunk driver," he told the Washington Post in 1997. In other words, a woman raising a child alone, like a drunk driver, is the chief and immediate source of danger to that child--maybe she should be in jail! The cure for single motherhood is marriage, to be imposed on an apparently less and less wedlock-minded population by public policy. In his weekly "Fatherly Advice" column in the far-right Moonie rag the Washington Times, Horn has advocated giving married couples priority in public housing, Head Start places and other benefits, although he now says he's abandoned that idea--maybe someone clued him in that such discrimination was unconstitutional (tough luck, Sally, no preschool for you--your parents are divorced!). Horn favors paying people on welfare to marry (ah, love!), opposes abortion ("states should operate under the principle that adoption is the first and best option for pregnant, single women"), thinks spanking is fine, blames contraception for unwed pregnancies and STDs, and has kind words for the Southern Baptist dictum that wives should "submit" to their husbands--who are, in his view, rightly the primary providers, disciplinarians and "foundations of the family structure." Anyone who thinks gender roles aren't set in concrete--like maybe in some families Mom is "results-oriented" and Dad's a softie--is a "radical feminist," like those man-hating harpies at the National Organization for Women.
A long list of gay, feminist, welfare-rights, community activist and reproductive rights organizations have signed on to a letter protesting Horn's nomination; the Senate Finance Committee begins confirmation hearings on June 21. Unfortunately for those who want to blame the Republicans for everything, many Democrats share Horn's belief in marriage as a panacea for social ills--this is a favorite communitarian theme, after all, and Clinton's welfare reform bill explicitly called for marriage as "the foundation of a successful society." Readers of this column will remember that no less a progressive icon than Cornel West signed the Institute for American Values' Call to Civil Society, endorsing "covenant marriage" and the privileging of married people for public housing and Head Start and so on. The Child Support Distribution Act passed the House last year by a 405-to-18 vote and was just reintroduced--this would divert more than $140 million of welfare funds from poor mothers and children to job training and counseling for poor noncustodial fathers in the hope that the dads will pass along some of their earnings to their children (in one 1998 pilot project reported in the New York Times, the dads squeezed out an extra $4.20 a month).
Horn's not the only Bush nominee trying to turn back the clock on modernity. Fervent Bush supporter Scott Evertz, the new head of the White House AIDS office, whose major experience in AIDS education has been working with Catholic groups, was a fundraiser for Wisconsin Right to Life and fought to keep the antichoice plank in the state's Republican Party platform. Nonetheless, the Human Rights Campaign and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force praised the appointment--after all, Evertz is the first open homosexual to be appointed in a Republican administration! So much for those organizations' commitment to reproductive and "human" rights.
For the true flavor of the Middle Ages, though, consider John Klink, whose name has been floated for Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees and Migration. Klink is currently employed as a diplomat with the Holy See's Mission to the United Nations, in which capacity he has opposed any and all use of condoms and contraception, not to mention abortion. He was a major mover in the Vatican's defunding of UNICEF, on the grounds that it supported postcoital contraception on request for refugee women who had been raped, and he has led the Vatican's attempts to sabotage UN consensus documents on women's right to "methods of fertility regulation which are safe, efficacious, accessible and acceptable." Only "natural family planning" for the millions of women, very few of whom are Catholic, fleeing war, tyranny and famine around the globe!
Forward to the past, or a cynical bid for the Catholic vote? Stay tuned.
Memo to editors of campus papers: When the next right-wing ideologue shows up with an ad full of nonsense, just take the money and print it. That way, they will not be able to pose as the victim of "political correctness," they will not get millions of dollars' worth of free publicity and their ideas will not acquire the glamour of the forbidden. By the same token, you will not look afraid of debate and controversy, nor will you have to explain why you rejected their ad while printing something equally false, offensive or stupid on some previous occasion.
Never mind that the people accusing you of censorship practice it themselves: In an amusing riposte to David Horowitz's flamethrower ad opposing reparations for slavery, Salon's David Mazel proved unable to place an enthusiastically pro-abortion ad in papers on conservative campuses; and as Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting points out, the Boston Globe, which editorialized against students who rejected the Horowitz ad, itself rejected an ad criticizing Staples, a major advertiser, for using old-growth forest pulp in its typing paper. So there, and so there! But you're in a better place to make such arguments stick if you can stand--however cynically and self-servingly--on the high ground of free speech yourself.
Just as Horowitz faded, having shot himself in the foot by refusing to pay the Daily Princetonian after it printed his ad but editorialized against it, up comes the soi-disant Independent Women's Forum--you know, that intrepid band of far-right free spirits funded by the ultraconservative Sarah Scaife Foundation--with an ad in the UCLA Daily Bruin and Yale Daily News urging students to "Take Back the Campus!" and "Combat the radical feminist assault on Truth." The IWF charges "campus feminism" with being "a kind of cult" in which "students are inculcated with bizarre conspiracy theories about the 'capitalist patriarchal hegemony,'" a fount of "Ms./Information," "male-bashing and victimology." Brainwashing isn't exactly what comes to mind when I think of the revolution in scholarship that has produced such celebrated historians as Linda Gordon, Ellen DuBois, Joan Scott, Rickie Solinger, Leslie Reagan and Kathy Peiss. The sweeping, paranoiac language gives it away--this is IWF member Christina Hoff Sommers speaking from her perch at that noted institution of higher learning, the American Enterprise Institute.
The bulk of the ad consists of a list of "the ten most common feminist myths" and the "facts" that supposedly prove them false. Much of this is lifted from Sommers's Who Stole Feminism?, a book that attempted to deploy a few gotchas against hyperbolic statistics and questionable studies to deny the significance of violence, sexism and discrimination in women's lives. I mean, how important is it that "rule of thumb" may not derive, as some feminist activists believe and some newspapers have printed, from an old legal rule permitting husbands to beat their wives with a stick no thicker than their thumb (Myth #4)? Feminists did not make this folk etymology up out of nothing--actually, according to Sharon Fenick of the University of Chicago, writing on the Urban Legends website, it probably goes back to the eighteenth century, when the respected English judge, Francis Buller, earned the nickname "Judge Thumb," for declaring such "correction" permissible. That it was legal for premodern English husbands to beat their wives within limits is not in dispute (in her book, Sommers obscures this fact by omitting the Latin phrases from a passage in Blackstone's Commentaries); nor is the fact that wife-beating, regardless of the law, was, and sometimes still is, treated lightly by the legal system under the rubric of marital privacy. Thus, in 1910 the Supreme Court, in Thompson v. Thompson, barred wives from suing husbands for "injuries to person or property as though they were strangers." (I learned this, and much else relating to the history of American marriage, from Yale feminist historian Nancy Cott's fascinating Public Vows: A History of Marriage and the Nation.)
And what about Myth #2, "Women earn 75 cents for every dollar a man earns." That doesn't come from some man-bashing fabulator squirreled away in a women's studies department. It comes from the US government! The IWF argues that the disparity disappears when you take education, training, occupation, continuity of employment, motherhood and other factors into account--but even if that were true, which it isn't, to overlook all those things is itself advocacy, a politicized way of defining sex discrimination in order to minimize it.
And then there's #1, the mother of all myths: "One in four women in college has been the victim of rape or attempted rape." The IWF debunks this number, which comes from the research of Mary Koss, by citing the low numbers of reported rapes on college campuses, but the one-in-four figure includes off-campus and pre-college rapes and rape attempts. Are Koss's numbers the last word? Of course not. In 1998 the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that among all women, one in five had experienced a rape or attempted rape at some point in her life. In January the Justice Department released a report claiming that 3 percent of college women experience rape or attempted rape per school year, which does add up over four years.
Does irresponsible, lax or even slanted use of facts and figures exist in "campus feminism"? Sure--and out of it, too. (Try economics.) But what does that have to do with women's studies, a very large, very lively interdisciplinary field of intellectual inquiry, in which many of the supposed verities of contemporary feminism are hotly contested? The real debate isn't over the merits of this study or that--in social science "results" are always provisional. Now that the IWF has thrown down the gauntlet, feminist scholars should call for that real debate--Resolved: Women's lives were more seriously studied and accurately understood when almost no tenured professors were female. Or, Resolved: Violence against women is not a major social problem. Or, Resolved: If women aren't equal, it's their own darn fault.
They were kidnapped on the street, or summoned to the village square, or lured from home with false promises of work, to be forced into the Japanese military's far-flung, highly organized system of sexual slavery throughout its occupied territories in the 1930s and 1940s. Of some 200,000 so-called comfort women only a quarter survived their ordeal; many of those died soon after of injuries, disease, madness, suicide. For years the ones who remained were silent, living marginal lives. But beginning in 1991, first one, then a trickle, then hundreds of middle-aged and elderly women from Korea, China, Taiwan, the Philippines and other former Japanese possessions came forward demanding that the Japanese government acknowledge its responsibility, apologize and make reparations. Despite a vigorous campaign of international protest, with mass demonstrations in Korea and Taiwan, Japan has hung tough: In 1995 Prime Minister Tomiichi Muayama offered "profound"--but unofficial--apologies and set up a small fund to help the women, to be financed on a voluntary basis by business; this past March, the Hiroshima high court overturned a modest award to three Korean women. As if official foot-dragging weren't demeaning enough, a popular comic-book history of Japan alleges that the comfort women were volunteers, and ultraright-wing nationalists have produced middle-school textbooks, approved for use in classrooms, that omit any mention of the government's role in the comfort-woman program.
Frustrated in Japan, the comfort women have now turned to the US Court of Appeals for the Washington, DC, Circuit. Under the 212-year-old Alien Tort Claims Act, foreigners may sue one another in US courts for human rights violations; the women are also relying on a law against sexual trafficking passed last year by Congress. In mid-May, however, the State Department asked the Justice Department to file a brief expressing its sympathies with the women's sufferings but urging that the case be dismissed as lacking jurisdiction: Japan has sovereign immunity, under which nations agree to overlook each other's wrongdoings, and moreover, treaties between it and the United States put finis to claims arising from the war.
In other words, it's all right to seize girls and women and put them in rape camps--aka "comfort stations"--for the amusement of soldiers far from home, as long as it's part of official military policy. War is hell, as the trustees of the New School noted in their letter absolving their president, Bob Kerrey, of the killing of as many as twenty-one Vietnamese women and children. If it's OK to murder civilians, how wrong can it be to rape and enslave them?
"The Administration's position is particularly terrible and irresponsible when you consider the evolution of attitudes toward wartime rape over the last ten years," says Elizabeth Cronise, who with Michael Hausfeld is arguing the comfort women's case. Indeed, sexual violence in war has typically been regarded as the inevitable concomitant of battle, part of the spoils of war, maybe even, for the evolutionary-psychology minded, the point of it: Think of the rape of the Sabine women or the plot of the Iliad, which is precipitated by a fight between Achilles and Agamemnon over possession of the captured Trojan girls Chryseis and Briseis, although my wonderful old Greek professor Howard Porter didn't quite put it like that. It was only this past February that an international tribunal brought charges solely for war crimes of sexual violence, when three Bosnian Serbs were convicted in The Hague of organizing and participating in the rape, torture and sexual enslavement of Muslim women.
But even by these ghastly standards, the case of the comfort women stands out for the degree of planning and organization the Japanese military employed. Noting, for example, that subject populations tended to resent the rape of local women, authorities typically shipped the women far from home; although the women saw little or no money, "comfort stations" were set up as brothels with ethnically graduated fees, from Japanese women at the top to Chinese women at the bottom. The system was not, strictly speaking, a wartime phenomenon: It began in 1932, with the Japanese occupation of Manchuria, and continued after the war's end. In fact, according to Yoshimi Yoshiaki, whose Comfort Women: Sexual Slavery in the Japanese Military During World War II (Columbia) is crucial reading, the Japanese military authorities set up comfort stations for the conquering American troops. As Cronise points out, even if the United States has closed the books on Japan's wartime atrocities, it could still side with the comfort women on the grounds that many of them were enslaved during peacetime.
"The government's position is technically defensible," says Widney Brown, advocacy director for women's rights at Human Rights Watch. "What's not defensible is the Department of Justice's giving as a reason that it doesn't want to jeopardize relations with Japan." Incredibly, the Justice Department is arguing just that, along with the further self-interested point that a ruling in favor of the comfort women would open the United States to human rights lawsuits in other countries. (Remember that the United States has sabotaged the International Criminal Court.) Says Brown, "It shows a failure to understand the significance of the comfort women case as a major step in the development of human rights for women. After all, their case could have been brought up in the Far East tribunal right after World War II, but it wasn't. This is a major chance to move beyond that. You could even argue that the view of women as property--if not of one man, then another--was what prevented sexual slavery from being seen as a war crime until now."
The US lawsuit may well be the comfort women's last chance. Now in their 70s and 80s, most will soon be dead, and since few married or had children, there won't be many descendants to continue the fight for reparations. By stonewalling, the Japanese government will have won. And the Bush Administration will have helped it. All that's missing is the call for healing and mutual forgiveness.
When we left that old journalistic evergreen, the evils of daycare, two weeks ago, the media hysteria over the NICHD study had just about peaked. The researchers had begun to turn on each other in public, never a good sign--Jay Belsky, a champion soundbiter who had seized the media initiative by strongly suggesting that the study showed that more than thirty hours a week with anyone but Mom would risk turning little Dick and Jane into obnoxious brats, was sharply challenged by numerous co-researchers, who claimed the study's results were tentative, ambiguous and negligible, hardly results at all, really. After a few rounds of this, the media suddenly remembered that no one had actually seen the study, which won't be published for another year and which does seem on the face of it rather counterintuitive: Daddy care is bad? Granny care is bad? Quality of care makes no difference? What really did the trick, though, I suspect, was that every fed-up woman journalist in America sat down and bashed out a piece telling the doomsayers to lay off, already. With 13 million kids in daycare, and two-thirds of women with children under 6 in the work force, working moms are a critical mass, and they are really, really tired of being made to feel guilty when they are, in fact, still the ones doing double duty at work and home.
Compare the kerfuffle over the quantity of hours spent in daycare with the ho-hum response to studies of its quality. On May 1, Worthy Wage Day for childcare workers, came a study from Berkeley and Washington, DC, that looked at staffing in seventy-five better-than-average California daycare centers serving kids aged 2 1/2 through 5. According to Then and Now: Changes in Child Care Staffing 1994-2000, staffers and directors are leaving the field in droves. At the centers in the study, 75 percent of teachers and 40 percent of directors on the job in 1996 had quit four years later. Some centers had turnover rates of 100 percent or more (!) from one year to the next. Half the leavers abandoned the field entirely--raising their incomes by a whopping $8,000 a year compared with the other half, who remained in childcare. Nor were those who left easily replaced: Most of the centers that lost staffers could not fill all their job slots by the next year.
The demoralization and turmoil caused by constant turnover stress both the workers who stay and the children. Making matters worse, the new workers are "significantly less well-educated" than those they replace--only a third have bachelor's degrees, as opposed to almost half of the leavers. Pay, say the researchers, is the main issue: Not only have salaries not risen with the rising tide supposedly lifting all boats; when adjusted for inflation, they have actually fallen. A daycare teacher works twelve months a year to earn $24,606--just over half the average salary of public-school teachers, who work for ten months (not that schoolteachers are well-paid, either). Center directors, at the top of the field, earn on average a mere $37,571; the recommended starting salary for elementary-school teachers in California is $38,000. (In France, which has a first-rate public daycare system, daycare teachers and elementary-school teachers are paid the same.) Daycare teachers love their work--two-thirds say they would recommend it as a career--but simply do not earn enough to make a life in the field.
It's a paradox: Even as more and more families, of every social class, rely on daycare, and even as we learn more and more about the importance of early childhood education for intellectual and social development, and even as we talk endlessly about the importance of "quality" and "stability" and "qualified" staff, the amount of money we are willing--or able--to pay the people we ask to do this demanding and important job goes down. Instead of addressing this reality, we endlessly distract ourselves with Mommy Wars. (You let your child have milk from the store? My child drinks nothing but organic goat milk from flocks tended by Apollo himself!) And because as Americans we don't really believe the rest of the world exists, when a study comes along suggesting that other-than-mother-care produces some nasty and difficult kids, we don't think to ask if this is a problem in Denmark or France, and if not, why not.
Two new books of great interest, Ann Crittenden's The Price of Motherhood and Nancy Folbre's The Invisible Heart: Economics and Family Values, point out that there is a crisis of care in America. Women are incredibly disadvantaged when they perform traditionally female work--childcare, housework, eldercare--unpaid within families. (According to Crittenden, motherhood is the single biggest cause of poverty for women.) The free market cannot replace this unpaid labor at decent rates, Folbre argues, because it would be too expensive: Even now, most families cannot afford tuition at a "quality" daycare center, any more than they can afford private school. And men are hardly falling over themselves to do their share--nobody's talking about the Daddy Track, you'll notice. Both writers call for recognizing the work of care as essential to the economy: Top-quality daycare should be funded by the government, like school, because it is a "public good."
Unfortunately, funding public goods is not exactly a high priority of government, which is busily cutting programs for children in favor of a huge tax cut for the rich. These days our main public goods seem to be prisons ($4.5 billion), the drug war ($19 billion, including $1 billion in military aid to Colombia), abstinence education ($250 million) and executing Timothy McVeigh ($50 million, not counting plane tix for celebrity death witness Gore Vidal). You can always find money for the things you really want.
Once again the Bosnian Initiative Frankfurt, a German human rights group, is asking Nation readers to help fund summer camp for Bosnian refugee children. Many readers have become an integral part of this wonderful effort, sometimes going beyond donations to correspond with particular children. $150 makes you a "godparent" and pays for two weeks of camp for a child, but gifts of any size are welcome. Send checks made out to the Bosnian Initiative Frankfurt to me at The Nation, and I will forward them.