Monthly Archives: March 2003

following the war from Greece

We’re back from a week in Greece. This is a civic/political blog, not a personal diary, so I will refrain from describing our many adventures. I can, however, file a report on how the current war looks from Greece. A few vignettes:

  • We’re staying in the medieval walled village of Kastro, on the island of Siphnos—at the opposite side of the island from the port. It would seem to be a remote and isolated spot (especially during the off-season, with all ferries cancelled because of gale-force winds), far from the world and its troubles. But when we go upstairs to answer the phone in our landlords’ apartment one morning, the whole family is weeping (quite literally) at al-Jazeera’s coverage of the first marketplace bombing in Baghdad. The father clutches his chest and says, “My heart is black, black. Bush—this all for money.”
  • A repeated scene, replayed in every taverna, coffee shop, ferryboat lounge, and hotel lobby we enter. A TV is on in the corner showing the al-Jazeera feed from Baghdad with Greek commentary that we can’t read, while Greeks, wreathed in cigarette smoke, sit watching and forming their opinions. These TV’s are often our only source of news, so we peer at the Greek text for clues about what is happening one time zone to the east, conscious all the time that everyone knows we are Americans.
  • Eating ice cream at the elegant cafe atop Lykavittos Hill, overlooking the Parthenon and hundreds of thousands of Greeks who are marching from Parliament toward the U.S. Embassy. We’ve picked this spot, in part, because we’re responsible for two kids whom we want to keep away from any rioting, and we don’t think that the marchers will possibly try to ascend Lykavittos. Chants, unintelligible to us, float up from the Athens streets.

And now we’re back. Time always seems to slow while you travel, or expand like a fan with all the details of each day still clear in your mind. It seems forever since you left your usual life. And then you return to your routine, and the fan snaps closed. You feel that you were gone for just a dimly remembered day or two.


This blog is going on vacation as my family and I head off to Europe

for ten days. I have some moral misgivings about vacationing abroad while

people are being killed in the Middle East. I also feel some jitters about

traveling with loved-ones while terror warnings are high and there are

protests against my government (but not against my views) in the very

places that we intend to visit. Basically, I am looking forward to the

trip. This blog, however, is going to have to lapse into silence until

I return, since I will have no Internet access.

talking about desegregation

Our high school students interviewed

a white graduate of largely African American public schools in Prince

George’s County (class of ’98). It was interesting to compare her experience

to that of the African Americans who first attended the County’s all-White

schools in the 50’s. In short, she fared much, much better. She professed

never to be uncomfortable because of race, although her friends were mostly

among the other white students.

We asked our students to frame possible answers to the question: "What

should have been done with the County’s segregrated schools in 1954?"

They come up with these options:

  • "leave it alone" (1 vote)
  • improve the County’s two Black schools and let White students in (7


  • build more Black schools (in different parts of the County); also

    let Black students attend White schools (5)

  • integrate the teaching staffs first (5)
  • ignore schools and integrate housing patterns by pressuring realtors


  • allow students to transfer on request, and advertise this opportunity


  • send everyone to the nearest school (6)
  • bus to achieve an equal racial distribution in all schools(4)

(I list the students’ votes not because they necessarily represent the

views of any larger population, but only to give a sense of the class’s


There could have been two kinds of "diversity" in the schools

of 1954 when the County was about 11 percent African American. Some schools

could have been predominanly Black and others predominantly white (diversity

among schools); or all schools could have been 11 percent African

American (diversity within schools). Our students, who are all

kids of color, unanimously preferred the latter.

We also asked them about these value priorities:

  • choice in what school to attend (2)
  • having a racial mixture in all schools (3)
  • having a few excellent, minority-dominated schools (1)
  • convenience (4)
  • avoiding disruption and conflict (2)
  • quality of education*

*"quality of education" won hands down on the first ballot,

so everyone had to vote for another choice.

local government & online civil society


in Civics Classes Mirrors Decline in Youth Vote": this is a pretty

good article on youth civic engagement in yesterday’s Boston Globe.

I gave a paper today at the American

Society for Public Administration‘s Annual Conference, arguing that

local governments should support independent voluntary associations

in producing elaborate websites with databases, interactive maps,

searchable archives, researched and edited articles, structured deliberation

forums, and streaming videos. I believe that local governments can and

should help in some of these ways:

  • Providing modest grants and technical assistance. Even a total pool

    of grant money on the order of $100,000 in a county of (say) one million

    people would catalyze a lot of good work

  • Publicizing the availability of relevant information that can be put

    online in enhanced and creative forms—information such as GIS mapping

    data, historical records, and photographs.

  • Regulating local Internet service providers (ISP’s), especially cable

    companies, to ensure that they do not provide services that discriminate

    against nonprofits or against people who want to create their own websites.

    If an ISP were to block you from visiting a particular site, you would

    switch carriers (as long as there was a choice). But ISPs can discriminate

    more subtly by speeding up content from certain favored commercial sites

    and slowing down other sites, by making certain portals and search engines

    the defaults for their users, by making it artificially slow to transmit

    data, etc.

  • Creating state-of-the-art local information networks (especially wireless

    ones) that provide cheap access and do not discriminate on the basis

    of the type of content transmitted.

liquid reason

We met over lunch with the founder of Liquid

Reason, an interesting Website whose purpose is to teach young

people social marketing. I also answered quite a few press calls that

arose from yesterday’s press conference. Reporters are mainly interested

in what is actually a fairly peripheral topic: the size of the decline

in youth turnout since 1972. In the evening, I briefed students from

University of Maryland and other Maryland state campuses about the Rhodes

Scholarship. I tried to persuade them that the application process can

be valuable, even though the odds of success are very low, because writing

an application essay forces you to come up with a provisional plan of

life just at the point when you are finishing college and your future

is less planned than it has ever been before.