Robert Reich, former Secretary of Labor in the Clinton Administration and now a distinguished professor at Berkeley, shared this memory on his Facebook page the other day:

DEPARTMENT OF PERSONAL HISTORY. Yesterday I was reminded by a lawyer friend that when I was at Yale Law School in the early 1970s I took a class in civil and political rights. In that same class were Hillary Rodham, Bill Clinton, and Clarence Thomas. When the professor asked a question, Hillary was the first to raise her hand and almost always had the correct answer. I raised my hand fairly often but got it wrong half the time. Bill missed most classes. Clarence never said a word.

Robert Reich, former Secretary of Labor in the Clinton Administration and now a distinguished professor at Berkeley, shared this memory on his Facebook page the other day:

DEPARTMENT OF PERSONAL HISTORY. Yesterday I was reminded by a lawyer friend that when I was at Yale Law School in the early 1970s I took a class in civil and political rights. In that same class were Hillary Rodham, Bill Clinton, and Clarence Thomas. When the professor asked a question, Hillary was the first to raise her hand and almost always had the correct answer. I raised my hand fairly often but got it wrong half the time. Bill missed most classes. Clarence never said a word.

Yesterday was officially Equal Pay Day. One day of social media posts, protests and news articles about how women make less money than men. One day where we are all more aware of the gender inequality built into society, and then we get on with our lives.
Not so fast. 
On average, women make $0.77 on the dollar compared to men, which means that as a white woman, I have caught up with my male counterparts’ earnings by April. But women of color across the country have a ways to go. The wage disparity is even wider when you account for a woman’s race:
February 20th: Asian Women, 86%
April 8th: White Women, 77%
May 11th: Black/African-American Women, 64%
June 17th: Hispanic/Latina Women, 56%
Learn more from the National Organization of Women.

Yesterday was officially Equal Pay Day. One day of social media posts, protests and news articles about how women make less money than men. One day where we are all more aware of the gender inequality built into society, and then we get on with our lives.

Not so fast. 

On average, women make $0.77 on the dollar compared to men, which means that as a white woman, I have caught up with my male counterparts’ earnings by April. But women of color across the country have a ways to go. The wage disparity is even wider when you account for a woman’s race:

  • February 20th: Asian Women, 86%
  • April 8th: White Women, 77%
  • May 11th: Black/African-American Women, 64%
  • June 17th: Hispanic/Latina Women, 56%

Learn more from the National Organization of Women.

A couple of thousand miles worth of rivers and 375,000 acres of lake water in Florida are considered “impaired,” that is, dirty. The Indian River ecosystem has collapsed, fish kills are increasing, and between floods and profligate pumping, we risk contaminating our aquifer. We keep destroying wetlands and marshes, which act as water recharge areas. This isn’t abstract; it’s not some “green” trifle you can simply ignore. Nature isn’t a place outside your air-conditioned house, beyond your nice subdivision. It’s in your drinking water. When you look at a Florida spring, you’re looking at our aquifer.

—Diane Roberts, Florida State University professor and Florida Wildlife Federation board member.

Roberts was scheduled to give a public talk on Florida’s waters through a Department of State speaker series, but the event was abruptly cancelled by Governor Rick Scott’s administration. Read her Tampa Bay Times editorial, “Perspective: What I would have said about water.”

Privilege & Perspective

This afternoon, I’m sitting in the law school library feeling frustrated and overwhelmed with the appellate brief I am writing. One, I am struggling to figure out the most persuasive structure for an important argument of the brief. Two, it is painful to be stuck in the library during spring break, when the sun is shining and it looks like a beautiful day! Tough, right?

I look out the library window at the street below. A (probably) homeless man shuffles slowly down the sidewalk. He stops at a garbage can and reaches in. He checks the contents of a paper bag and a few cups. Apparently finding nothing worthwhile, he shuffles across the street and moves on with his day.

Was I really feeling angry and frustrated moments ago about my appellate brief? Living in a big city and looking out the window every once in a while can certainly provide a healthy dose of perspective. 

I might be living on student loans, and I might be working hard when others are relaxing, but I am still very privileged. I have a nice apartment, I can afford healthy food, and my “hard work” involves sitting in a comfortable chair, typing on my expensive laptop. Privilege, on its own, doesn’t have to be a bad thing. I am grateful, and frankly lucky, to have the life I do. What’s important is to recognize and apply perspective to my privilege, and to help those less lucky than myself.

Thoughts: Sochi on the World Stage

The Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia have barely begun and torrents of criticism are pouring forth from all directions. I certainly would not consider myself a dedicated enthusiast to the Games, but over the past few days I have been taken aback by the cloud of negativity surrounding the coverage of the Olympics in Sochi. Just below the #Sochi2014 hashtag on Twitter is its unhappy counterpart, #SochiFail. 

But what, exactly, is everyone complaining about? 

  • Russia’s lack of preparedness as an Olympic host. — There have been so many photo compilations of unfinished streets, double toilet stalls, and athletes breaking through locked doors, I can’t keep track. Funny? Yes. But also stressful for international visitors, athletes and spectators alike, who came prepared to focus on sportsmanship and fun. And then too, I can’t help but wonder, are we dramatizing Sochi’s rough edges far beyond reality? Are we laughing at the brown-tinted tap water, or are we laughing, uncomfortably, at Russia? A country many of us think of vaguely as large, cold, dark, unsophisticated… (Maybe I’m reading too much into this.) (Or, maybe not.)
  • Russian LGBT rights violations. — Last June, the Russian Duma passed a law, signed by President Putin, banning the “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations to minors.” The vague wording has been used so far to cancel pride parades, shut down LGBT organizations, and arrest pro-LGBT protestors in Russia. There have been many messages of solidarity from Americans to the LGBT community in Russia, but within those messages there seems to be an underlying sense of superiority. I’m just not sure the United States has that much room to talk. Many dedicated and passionate individuals are working hard to bring equality to all in our society, but we’re certainly not there yet. I feel uncomfortable that we would criticize Russia for anti-gay policies when there is still so much work to be done at home.
  • The historical “edits” of the opening ceremony. — After reading a New York Times article describing the opening ceremony of the Games, I was struck by an undercurrent of criticism. Describing the magnificence of the stadium and the pageantry, the article carefully noted what was not depicted in the historical tour of Russia: Stalin’s purges, the gulags that killed millions, etc. This angered me. The United States has its own bloody past, and at Salt Lake City in 2002 we didn’t appear to feel obligated to acknowledge slavery, the Civil War, the Japanese interment camps of WWII. I certainly don’t think Russia’s past should be glossed over or forgotten, but there is a time and place for such discussions. 
  • Arresting protestors. — In Sochi and the surrounding region, at least 61 people were detained on Friday alone for protesting an array of issues (including gay rights protests in Moscow and gatherings to raise awareness for the Circassian people.) Such a blatant suppression of freedom was particularly alarming as the Russian government seeks to prevent embarrassment or disruptions at the Games. More threatening still is the unrest in  rural Caucasus, where security has been tightened to prevent any possible attack.

My feelings on these issues cut two ways: anger, followed by disappointment. Like many people, evidently, my initial response was anger towards Russia, and Putin as its leader. Why host the Olympics if you can’t provide enough functional toilets? Why enact brutal anti-gay policies just as the international spotlight is swinging your way? Why Sochi, if the region is politically unstable and prone to terrorism threats? (There’s so much else going on right now, too: Ukraine, Syria.)

The more I reflect on these emotions, the more they give way to a deeper sense of disappointment. The Olympics is a tradition where people come from all over the world to compete, but also to meet each other, make friends, and share cultures. Sure, I want America to win the gold in hockey, but remember that incredible moment in Vancouver when in overtime, on their own soil, the Canadians pulled off a fantastic win? Those are the moments we love at the Olympics - pure joy and celebration, as medalists and athletes come together to shake hands, to hug, to laugh, to cry. For a few weeks, people around the world share the common experience of watching the Olympic games.

I don’t want that tradition to falter at Sochi this year. The Olympics should be about putting aside the things that divide us, and I hope that the Winter Olympics can still bring us together. I don’t want Sochi to fail.

I love today’s Google Doodle. Happy birthday, Zora Neale Hurston!

I don’t know any more about the future than you do. I hope that it will be full of work, because I have come to know by experience that work is the nearest thing to happiness that I can find… I want a busy life, a just mind and a timely death.

— Zora Neale Hurston, Dust Tracks on a Road

I love today’s Google Doodle. Happy birthday, Zora Neale Hurston!

I don’t know any more about the future than you do. I hope that it will be full of work, because I have come to know by experience that work is the nearest thing to happiness that I can find… I want a busy life, a just mind and a timely death.

— Zora Neale Hurston, Dust Tracks on a Road

Sights from today. Gorgeous skies at sunset on the National Mall, and the shuttle Discovery at the Air and Space Museum.

It’s hard to explain how incredible it was to see the shuttle up close. An amazing example of human ingenuity that entered space 39 times on different missions.